REEF 2009 Volunteer of the Year

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David Jennings is REEF's 2009 Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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David conducting a survey along the Olympic Coast. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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Never without his slate! Photo by Janna Nichols.

REEF proudly awards our 2009 Volunteer of the Year award to David Jennings, a dedicated REEF surveyor and ambassador. David has been a member of REEF since 2006. He has conducted 154 REEF surveys and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT).

David is a textbook example of the phrase “Learn it, Love it, Protect it”. After participating on REEF’s annual AAT survey project of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in 2008, David became concerned that the rockfish populations he was documenting had significantly decreased from those that the REEF teams documented in the earlier years of the project. Rockfish are especially vulnerable to over-fishing because they are long-lived species, some living to be over 100 years old! After looking at the REEF data for the region as well as the existing rules for rockfish harvest, David put together a series of proposed rule changes and submitted them to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for consideration.

What makes David special is he then took the extra step of getting involved directly. In June 2009, David was appointed by the Washington Governor to a six-year term as one of Washington’s nine Fish and Wildlife Commissioners—another volunteer conservation position.

David is also just about as active above water, working on forest conservation work. He helped establish a grassroots forest conservation organization, the Gifford Pinchot Task Force (GPTF) and serves as volunteer chair of that organization.

Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 12,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.

The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to David and congratulate him on all of his efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation.

News Tidbits

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Great Annual Fish Count 2010 - An exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners. Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event. And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.

New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcome five new businesses to our growing list of Field Stations. These now join the other 196 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide:

Cedar Beach Ocean Lodge/49th Parallel Dive Charters - Thetis Island, BC

Divers Cove - Davie, FL

Dive Club of Silicon Valley - Santa Clara, CA

Earth, Sea and Sky - Zakynthos, Greece

Scuba Set Adventure Center - Puyallup, WA

Check Out the REEF Store! It's your one stop shop for all of your REEF Gear, ID Books and REEF Survey Supplies. Recently added items include the "Not On My Reef" Lionfish Invasion Research T-shirts and REEF water bottles.

Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook - We recently surpassed the 1,200-fan mark on the REEF Facebook Page. The REEF Facebook page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind.

REEF Organizes Regional Lionfish Strategy Workshop

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Lionfish populations in the Florida Keys, like many other places in the region, have rapidly increased over the last 12 months. Photo by Matt Hoelscher.

As the spread and impact of the invasive Indo-Pacific red lionfish explodes in the western Atlantic region, REEF continues to take a lead in addressing this complex environmental issue. In addition to extensive outreach and education efforts, REEF staff is involved in several field research projects to study the ecological impact of this voracious predator. REEF is also coordinating regional response efforts. In partnership with the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), NOAA, Mexico and France, REEF helped fund and organize the first Regional Lionfish Strategy Workshop in August. The two day workshop brought together more than 40 key Marine Protected Area and fisheries managers from 17 countries and territories in the Caribbean to discuss control strategies, initiate cooperative efforts to address the invasion, and begin development of a best practices document. Participants shared stories on successes, challenges, and needs for responding to this highly invasive species. Many of those participating have worked with REEF over the last two years to initiate training and lionfish culling programs. A report from the workshop and initial steps on developing the lionfish best practices manual will be presented at the annual conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute this Fall.

Baby Grouper Adrift, Where Are They Now?

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As part of the Grouper Moon Project, REEF launched the Baby Grouper Adrift! webpage in late February. We developed this outreach tool to display in real time the results of state-of-the-art satellite drifter research being conducted by researchers from REEF, the Cayman Island Department of Environment, and Oregon State University. The Adrift project aims to better understand where Nassau grouper larvae end up after being spawned. Webpage visitors can follow the current drifters in real time as they complete a 45-day ocean journey (the amount of time Nassau grouper larvae spend floating in the currents), and even take a guess where the drifters will end up. It's been about 35 days since the drifters were released. Check out where those drifters are now -- visit the webpage at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift. Funding for the Baby Grouper Adrift project was provided by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, New England Aquarium

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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

Our outstanding Field Station this month is the New England Aquarium, and their affiliated dive club, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Begun in 1975, the New England Aquarium Dive Club (NEADC) is one of the world's oldest, largest, and most active dive clubs. They host an annual event for Northeast divers in conjunction with REEF's Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). This past July, they hosted their 10th annual GAFC event, and over 90 divers submitted 100+ surveys. The event took place simultaneously at 8 dive sites in Massachusetts and Maine. After the morning surveys, divers gathered for a feast and to distribute over $8,000 in prizes at Stage Fort Park. The event not only gathers important data, but it also introduces divers to REEF surveying and encourages them to continue surveying on their dives throughout the year. Local REEF volunteers, Bob Michelson and Holly Martel Bourbon, help ramp up the event by offering fish ID classes in the preceding months.

The Northeast is a cold water dive location, with REEF surveyors commonly finding Cunner, Winter Flounder, Striped Bass and Rock Gunnel. However, they have the added bonus of having some tropical fish find their way into the area as waters warm up in the summer. REEF staff are currently working with Bob and Holly to implement an invertebrate monitoring program into the Northeast REEF program. Thank you New England Aquarium Dive Club for promoting REEF and the volunteer survey project in the NE!

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Randy Keil

Coney. Photo by Janna Nichols.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Randy Keil. Randy joined REEF in 1996 and has conducted 279 surveys. He is a member of REEF's TWA Advanced Assessment Team and teaches REEF surveying and fish ID through his dive shop, Paradise Watersports in the British Virgin Islands (see REEF Field Station profile here). Here's what he had to say about REEF:

What do you feel is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

I feel as if REEF surveys are the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs for the simple reason that this data would not be available otherwise. To have scientists survey all the areas REEF covers would be an impossible undertaking. The lionfish invasion is a good example. To see what effect the lionfish are having on our reef communities all we need to do is look at past surveys and compare them to present surveys. Without past historical data we would have no way to of knowing which species are most effected by the lionfish or what kind of time scale it takes for the effects to become noticeable. Are the areas where the lionfish appeared first the most effected? Is there any effect noticed on the surveys? These questions can only be answered by comparison of data.

Do you have any surveying tips for REEF members?

One tip I would give other surveyors is to watch the coneys. Coneys seem to have an interesting relationship with goldentail morays. Anytime you see a coney staring intently, stop and see if you can make out what he/she is staring at. Often there will be a tiny goldentail in the vicinity.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

I do most of my diving in the British Virgin Islands where I have both a home and a dive shop/REEF Field Station. The best thing about diving in the BVI is the diversity of dive sites. Our sites are all moored and this allows us to build up an intimate knowledge of the underwater terrain. This means that if we find a juvenile queen angel or juvenile spotted drum we can follow it as it grows until it is eaten or moves on. Fish such as frogfish and creatures such as seahorses often will stay in the same area for months at a time.

What is your favorite place to dive outside of where you live?

My favourite place to dive is the Galapagos. If schooling hammerheads, hundreds of Galapagos sharks, dozens of white-tipped reef sharks, whale sharks, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins and abundant creatures and fish life are not enough then there are species of fish that exist nowhere else in the world. The land excursions are almost as exciting as the diving and the guides the most knowledgeable I’ve ever encountered in almost 30 years of traveling the globe seeking out underwater phenomena.

My last trip to the Galapagos was the first one after Paul Humman had published his Galapagos Fish Identification book and I poured over the book to find species seen nowhere else. Being a confirmed “fish nerd”, the Meyer’s butterflyfish really caught my imagination. So here we are in the far reaches of the northern islands and I have my slate with a list of what we might see and a blank slate for messages.. I moved closer to the guide and wrote on my slate” Meyer’s Butterfly” with a question mark. He took my slate and wrote hammerheads and pointed to the hundreds of sharks passing in front of us. I erased the hammerheads message and again wrote” Meyer’s butterfly?” and this time pointed to the sloping reef wall that was packed with fish. The guide once again pointed out the schooling sharks. As a 30 foot whale shark came into sight I realized that not only was this not going to be the dive where I sighted my first Meyers butterfly but also that no one was going to be the least sympathetic to my plight.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Ken Marks

Ken working with the Living Ocean Foundation's Global Reef Expedition.
Yellow Garden Eels at the Blue Heron Bridge in Florida. Photo by Mike Phelan.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

As REEF heads into the 20th year of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, we will be looking back at some of the milestones that got us here. In this month's Faces of REEF, we feature one of our earliest members, Ken Marks. Ken was instrumental in helping guide REEF in our early years, building the first data processing and storage tools. Ken first met REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann, on a dive trip in 1992. Paul soon realized Ken's computer background and mentioned the idea that he and Ned DeLoach were working on for a diver-led fish survey program. The unsolved problem was the logistics of collecting data. They had thought of mailing out 3.5" floppies (remember them?!) that would be mailed back by the volunteer diver to REEF HQ (which didn’t even exist at this time). Because this was back in the days before smart phones, tablets, and ubiquitous laptops, Ken suggested a more low-tech approach. After several rounds of prototypes, Ken produced what would become REEF's very first survey scanform. Today, Ken remains an important part of our IT volunteer team, and has conducted 311 REEF surveys. Here's what Ken had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

After meeting Paul on a liveaboard dive boat, we got to talking about ways divers could report fish sightings. I suggested a computer scannable form as a solution and upon my return to Chicago researched the specifications for creating such a form. Over the next couple of months I wasted lots of Paul’s fax paper sending him 17 evolving versions of what came to be the first version of the REEF survey form, which was first printed in 1993. The creation of the REEF underwater survey sheets, guides such as Fish-in-a-Pocket and waterproof ID cards, training DVDs and courses, and the web-based online data entry are all indications that REEF has matured from its humble beginnings.

Do you dive close to where you live? Where is your favorite place to dive?

Though my involvement with REEF I have been fortunate to be able to work with scientists and various organizations surveying and teaching fish identification. This has allowed me to dive in many places throughout the Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean area but one of my favorites is just a 45-minute ride from my home – the Blue Heron Blvd Bridge near West Palm Beach. Experienced fish surveyors sooner or later start diving in “alternative habitats” in order to see species that they haven’t seen before. The shore dive under the BHB is a great way to experiencing muck diving without a passport and a 24-hour flight to Indonesia. There are all sorts of things to see “under the bridge” from octopus and bobbit worms to frogfish, stargazers, seahorses, and sea robins.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

First – slow down; it’s not a race. The mooring buoy at a dive site is usually placed in the middle of the best area. Let the others burn their air swimming around for hundreds of yards searching for turtles, sharks, dolphins (or whatever “big ticket” species will make their dive). Spend your time slowly searching over the reef (and alternative habitats near the reef) for the odd and unusual that will help you expand your list of species seen. Use the REEF forums, database, and field stations to plan your trip so you can extend your lifelist and see something you’ve never seen before on a dive.

It also helps to really know your fishes. Study your ID books or take one of the REEF courses or webinars to increase your knowledge. When you are very proficient at identifying the common species that are encountered on most dives, the unusual species will be much easier to spot when you come across one. You might even spot a species new to science – several REEF surveyors have made such discoveries over the years.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

My most memorable fish find would have to be the Yellow Garden Eel (Heteroconger luteolus). Back in 1997, a coworker had mentioned diving on a wreck where a Goliath grouper (then known as Jewfish) had taken up residence for several weeks. At the time I had not yet added this species to my lifelist and was eager to get a photo. The following weekend we dived the site and I was ready with my Nikonos and my wide-angle 15mm lens. Of course the fish had cleared out and I never got the picture. This wreck, a tug boat, was part of a cluster of three closely spaced wrecks so we took a compass bearing and headed across the sand at 70 feet heading for the larger wreck for the rest of the dive. Along the way I noticed a colony of unusual garden eels out feeding in the Gulf Stream current.

About two weeks prior to this dive I had been helping Paul on a new printing of the Reef Fish ID book. I had purchased a reference book from the American Fisheries Society and was using it to verify that Paul’s book was using the AFS accepted common and scientific names. In that reference book, I noticed that the species previously just known as Garden Eel had been renamed to Brown Garden Eel due to a recently described second species of garden eel from the Florida area. The new species name “luteolus” implied that the species was yellow. And bright yellow was the color that I saw while crossing that sand plain at 70 feet between wrecks. I knew in an instant that this must be the newer species of garden eel. I had a friend pull the scientific paper containing its description and it matched exactly what I saw (bright yellow dorsally with a white belly). The paper mentioned that the species was described from a few partial specimens that had been dredged from deep water off Tampa as well as a few larvae that appeared different from the “standard” Brown Garden Eel. I contacted the paper's author and he suggested I try to capture one and send it to him. A short time later Ned & Anna DeLoach, Eric Riesch, and John Pitcairn joined me on a dive to photograph this species and collect a specimen. The fish we collected now sits in the Smithsonian’s collection and is, to this date, the only whole adult specimen of this species in any collection. The photo taken on the collection dive can be found in the latest edition of Reef Fish ID.

Though this was not a new species to science we were able to provide an important specimen and REEF data has subsequently found this species on other sites throughout Florida expanding our knowledge of this colorful little species. Citizen science for the win!

REEF Fest This Summer - Are You Coming?

Have you made your plans to join us in Key Largo this summer for REEF Fest? Come celebrate 20 years of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project with 4 days of diving, learning, and parties. REEF Fest is planned for August 8-11. The schedule is packed with intrested workshops, diving oportunities, organized kayaking and snorkeling expeditions, and evening socials. Special room blocks have been reserved at several area hotels. Complete details can be found online at: www.REEF.org/REEFFest2013

All REEF Fest events are open to the public, but pre-registration is requested for social events and workshops. Register using this online form. Tickets are required for the Saturday Dinner Cruise celebration. Purchase dinner cruise tickets online here. A quick look at the schedule can be seen here. Questions? Please send us an email at REEFHQ@REEF.org or call us at 305-852-0030. We look forward to seeing you all in August!

Why the celebration? In the summer of 1993, a group of pioneering volunteers conducted the first REEF fish surveys. Twenty years later, the Volunteer Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. You are invited to join us this summer to celebrate 20 years of success.

Upcoming Fishinars -- Featuring a Great Line Up of Guest Speakers

Artwork by Ray Troll.

We have lined up a great Fishinar schedule for 2014, including marine fish icons Milton Love and Ray Troll! We also will see an east versus west fish face off between Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, a "Coralinar" and a "Crabinar", and more. Not sure what Fishinar is? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

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Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - Taught by Janna Nichols -- January 8, 9, 15, and 16th, including Sponges and Stingers, Gettin' Crabby, Marvelous Molluscs, and Stars and Squirts

Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - Taught by Jonathan Lavan -- January 21

California Lookalikes! - Taught by Janna Nichols -- February 5th

Top 25 Fish in the South Atlantic States - Taught by Christy Pattengill-Semmens -- February 25th

Crabinar! - Taught by Greg Jensen -- February 26th

What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - With Milton Love -- March 25th

A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - With Ray Troll -- April 16th

Coralinar! - Taught by Marilyn Brandt -- May 29th

East Coast vs. West Coast - With Andy Martinez and Andy Lamb -- June 19th

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

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REEF Team Aquarius 2007: The Life Support Buoy, which provides power and communications to Aquarius, tethered 60 feet below, appears in the background. Courtesy of Lillian Kenney.
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Volunteer Dave Grenda surveys the northeast site off Aquarius. Courtesy of NMSP.

 Six volunteer divers from the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyed two sites off the Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, to assist the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) with the science component of the Aquarius 2007 Mission: If Reefs Could Talk. Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory, is part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and sits seven miles off shore at Conch Reef. A valuable resource and good neighbor to REEF HQ, Aquarius hosts scientists from around the world, from sponge chemists to astronauts, in innovative research and education.

The team included REEF Special Projects Manager Lad Akins and AAT members Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Mike Phelan. Twelve fish surveys were conducted at each of two research sites near Aquarius using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT). This year's data will be compared to surveys collected during a 2001 mission to assess change in resident fish populations. The team also assisted NMSP in documenting the occurrence of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) at each site. Once abundant on Florida Keys coral reefs, herbivorous Diadema play an important role in keeping coral-stifling algae from overtaking the reef structure. 

Click here to read more about the 2007 mission and the Aquarius habitat, including daily broadcasts and interviews with the REEF survey team. 

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub