REEF TWA Advanced Assessment Team member, Rob McCall, has over 625 surveys under his belt and 281 fish species on his lifelist. But earlier this summer, during a dive in the Florida Keys, he found something that surprised him - the extremely rare Pugjaw Wormfish (Cerdale floridana). Here is his story -- Last June, while diving at Rock Key off Key West, I noticed a very slender (about the diameter of thin drinking straw) white fish about 6 cm long. I could see the fish had a rounded head but could not see dorsal or tail fins. The fish swam with a sinuous movement, much like an eel or worm, and dove into a burrow when it saw me. It did not immediately reappear and I soon swam off in search of other fish. That night I attempted to identify the mystery fish in my reference books, but was unable to get even a rough idea of what it might be.
Subsequent to the first sighting, I saw a similar fish on two other occasions at Rock Key. All sightings were within an area about 8 x 4 meters, with sand bottom bordered by high profile reef. On the second sighting, the fish dove into a burrow and did not reappear. On the third sighting, the fish immediately dove into a Yellowhead Jawfish burrow (the normal occupant was a male Yellowhead Jawfish who happened to be mouth-brooding eggs at the time; the jawfish was hovering above the burrow and did not seem particularly upset that the mystery fish “borrowed” his home.) The mystery fish did not reappear during the ten minutes or so I spent photographing the jawfish.
I stopped by REEF Headquarters in early August and asked Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, if he had any ideas to help me identify the fish. Based on my hazy description, Lad thought it might be a type of worm-eel. But when I researched online, it did not seem to be a good fit.
On August 22, while diving at Nine Foot Stake off Key West (and armed with my camera set up for macro) I came across one of the mystery fish – truly a case of me being in the right place at the right time. The fish was out in the open but dove into a nearby burrow – I don’t know if it was his or a “borrowed” one – when he saw me. I decided to wait a couple of minutes to see if it would reappear, and within a minute or two, it stuck its head back out. Over the next ten minutes it made several darting forays from the burrow, getting a little more used to me, or perhaps a little more desperate to get home. This fish seemed longer than the one(s) at Rock Key – perhaps 8 cm or so.
The four sightings shared some common features. All were at 20-24 ft. depth with sand bottom. Three of the four burrows were within 5-10 cm of small coral heads or rubble clumps. Dorsal and tail fins are visible in the photos; the fish is not actually as slender as it appears to the naked eye.
I was pretty well stumped over identifying what the fish was, even with photos, until one night I was re-reading Ned DeLoach and Paul Humman’s Reef Fish Behavior and under the article on Yellowhead Jawfish, I noticed a reference to Pugjaw Wormfish sharing a burrow with the jawfish. The next morning I researched it online and found a photo which appeared to be a very good match for my mystery fish.
We don’t know how rare the Pugjaw Wormfish might be, but according to the REEF database, they have been reported only five other times: one in Florida, one in Cuba and three in Bonaire. Convinced there are more Pugjaw’s waiting to make an appearance here in Key West, I’ve got the other instructors on our dive boat keeping their eyes open in the hopes that one of us will once again be in the right place at the right time.
Rob McCall is a scuba instructor in Key West and has been a REEF member and surveyor since 2000.
REEF is taking our message on the road this spring and summer to a few of the regional dive shows. Last month, several volunteers and REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, greeted visitors at the Northwest Dive and Travel Show in Tacoma, WA. The REEF booth provides an opportunity to spread the word about the fun of conducting marine life surveys and the valuable role that citizen science data can have in marine conservation and management. Our next stop is SCUBA Show 2009 in Long Beach, May 30 and 31. Come by and visit us at the booth!
REEF is working in close partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) to diligently track lionfish reports and initiate removal efforts in South Florida. The first confirmed lionfish in the Florida Keys was reported and captured within 24 hours in January 2009 (see previous enews article). Subsequent early reports in March-June were met with successful rapid response. However, beginning in July, reports began to increase beyond the capacity and range of available trained responders. To help combat the growing problem, REEF introduced over 100 on-the-water professionals to the latest lionfish information and collecting and handling techniques during workshops held in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West earlier this Fall. The workshops were funded by the NOAA Aquatic Invasive Species Program.
Because most Florida Keys reefs are managed under the guidance of the FKNMS and some of the most visited sites are no-take Sanctuary Protected Areas, special protocols and permits were developed to allow removal of lionfish in safe, effective and environmentally considerate manners. The goal of the program is to continue to track sightings and remove lionfish as soon as they are sighted to minimize impacts on key reef areas. Successful control of invasive lionfish requires adaptive management to include involving the general public and REEF is proud to be a part of this effort. With a large corps of dive professionals trained and additional workshops planned for early next year, the Keys are working to stay ahead of the invasion through early detection and rapid response. To report a lionfish sighting, visit REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Form -- http://www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report For more information on the program or to join in future workshops, contact Lad Akins at Lad@reef.org or call REEF HQ at (305) 852-0030.
REEF Field Surveys - Take a dive vacation that counts! There's still some space left on a few of the Field Surveys in 2010. Destinations include Cozumel with Sheryl Shea, Key Largo with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bonaire with Jessie Armacost, and Grand Cayman with Lad Akins. These trips all offer unique treasures and are sure to please every level of diver as well as beauty above water for your non-diving companions. Join us on one of these exciting weeks full of fish ID, friendship, new discoveries and great memories! Our full field survey schedule, trip details, and sign up information can be found here.
New Field Stations - Welcome to our newest Field Stations who have joined us in the last month. Field Stations are shops, charters, instructors and organizations that support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out the other 170+ REEF Field Stations, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 40,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Pam Wade (member since 1998). Pam lives in California and has 381 REEF surveys under her belt as a level 4 surveyor. Through REEF, Pam’s interest in fishwatching has encouraged her not only to dive more, but to explore the world’s oceans in other regions. Earlier this month, Pam was on a REEF Field Survey in the Sea of Cortez with REEF scientists, Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens. Here’s what Pam had to say about diving with REEF:
What is your favorite thing about being a REEF member?
When you join REEF you have the opportunity to do more than just send in a donation and get a beautiful calendar. You actually get to be an active participant in fulfilling the mission of conserving marine ecosystems. I love feeling that my dives have a purpose. You don't have to change the way you dive, the only difference is that you know what you are looking at, you see a lot more and the enthusiasm transfers to everyone you dive with. Pretty soon, everyone wants to know the names of the fish and everyone is learning and appreciating and protecting the treasure we have under the sea!
What was your experience with REEF trips?
The very first trip I signed up for was a REEF Discovery trip to Bonaire with Paul Humann in July 2001. Those classes gave me a good foundation in fish identification: what to look for, where to look, fish anatomy and the identification clues that really matter. Paul pointing out a Yellow Tube Sponge, said you can always add one more fish to your survey; those sponges are home to the Short Striped Goby! I met Ann B. from Arkansas on that trip, and I’ve been following Ann across the oceans identifying fish and invertebrates ever since. In August 2008, I participated in the REEF Critter trip to Saint Vincent with Paul and Ned. That’s where I passed the level 3 test. Bill Twees was invaluable in his help pointing out the Black Brotula, Sunshine Fish, Flag Fin Blenny…..I’m looking forward to diving Saba with REEF in 2011!
Do you have any surveying tips to pass along to other REEF surveyors?
Lately I have been working on ways to more efficiently record my survey information on my slate to ensure that it’s complete and ready to enter on the computer when I get home. As part of this, I’ve been using the various tools and reports available on the REEF website, including the Geographic Zone Reports for the specific area that I am going to dive and the Geographic Zone Code lists with site names. This gives me more time between dives to enjoy getting to know the other divers and identifying fish for everyone else onboard. The enthusiasm is catching! Why else would a dedicated photographer on the Sea Hunter at the Cocos Islands be excited enough about capturing a Cocos Barnacle Blenny feeding that they missed the whale shark passing overhead?
We are pleased to announce the 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. 2012 destinations include: Nevis, San Blas Islands in Panama, Dominica, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel. Dates and details are given below.
To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Prices listed below are double occupancy; single occupancy are available on some trips. An additional REEF Fee ($200-$300) is added to each package to cover survey materials, seminars, and the trip leader. Airfare is not included in any of the REEF packages. However, Caradonna is happy to price airfare from your preferred departure airport. Please call for quotes.
The schedule and additional information will be posted on the Field Survey Trips page - http://www.reef.org/trips
REEF 2012 Field Survey Trip Schedule
April 21-28, 2012 - Nevis - Oualie Beach Resort. Led by Christy Semmens, REEF Director of Science. Flying in/out of St. Kitts. $1,558 per person, double occupancy, includes all meals, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives, and r/t boat transfer from St. Kitts to Nevis. This will be our first Field Survey to Nevis, an area with very little REEF data. It is also an ideal destination for non-diving companions.
June 9-16, 2012 - San Blas Islands, Panama - Coral Lodge (rescheduled from January), led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author. Flying in/out of Panama City. $2,417 per person, double occupancy, includes 7 nights accommodation in an over-the-water bungalow, all meals, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives, and r/t airport transfers. Limited to 12 divers.
June 16-23, 201 - San Blas Islands, Panama - Coral Lodge (second week added), led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author. Flying in/out of Panama City. $2,417 per person, double occupancy, includes 7 nights accommodation in an over-the-water bungalow, all meals, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives, and r/t airport transfers. Limited to 12 divers. Join Paul on one or both weeks of this unique trip for a week in remote islands that are home to the Kuna Indians, beautiful coral reefs, and a great diversity of fishes.
July 14-21, 2012 - Lionfish workshop in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects. Team members will conduct surveys and dissect lionfish for research being conducted by REEF and local and international partners. **trip information and cost are still being finalized, details will be posted to the REEF website shortly. Lionfish are just starting to arrive in Dominica and data are needed to establish baselines and determine impacts.
July 29 - August 4, 2012 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author. $1,462 per person, double occupancy, includes lodging, all meals, 5 days of 3-tank boat dives plus one night dive, and an island tour of this historic location. This beautiful destination is perfect for beginner fishwatchers as well as REEF experts.
September 22-29, 2012 - Northern Sea of Cortez - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Brice and Christy Semmens, REEF Scientific Advisors and researchers. Flying in/out of Phoenix, AZ. $2,295 per person, double occupancy, includes on-board accommodations, all meals, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, and up to 5 dives per day for 5 days. R/T airport transfers by group van is arranged separately. Brice and Christy are returning to Baja Mexico after a wonderful trip aboard the Rocio del Mar in 2010. In addition to great diving, we will be treated to amazing topside scenery, whales and dolphins breaching around us while in transit, and a topnotch crew.
September 26-30, 2012 - Hornby Island, British Columbia - Hornby Island Diving, led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator.**trip information and cost are still being finalized, details will be posted to the REEF website shortly. Janna will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about Pacific Northwest fishes and invertebrates at this premier cold-water diving destination.
October 20-27, 2012 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers. **trip information and cost are still being finalized, details will be posted to the REEF website shortly. Ned and Anna will cover fish identification and behavior, and the group will learn more about the local black grouper spawning aggregation and the Sargasso Sea.
November 10-17, 2012 - British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert Instructor. Flying in/out of Tortola. $2,200 per person, double occupancy, includes six nights of accommodations, all meals and non-alcoholic drinks, unlimited use of kayaks and other water toys, and five days of diving. The Cuan Law is a unique 105ft long, 50ft wide tri-maran that offers a wonderful itinerary of diving through the BVI.
December 1-8, 2012 - Cozumel - Aqua Safari.**trip information and cost are still being finalized, details will be posted to the REEF website shortly. This annual REEF Trip is always a favorite.
As part of our 2012 Field Survey trip lineup, REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is leading Lionfish Research trips to Belize and Dominica. If you haven't checked out our 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule - check it out online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting list of destinations planned. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Additional 2012 destinations include: Nevis, San Blas Islands in Panama, San Salvador in the Bahamas, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel. We hope you will join us.
Our Webinar team is at it again! New Fishinars continue to be added, and upcoming sessions include a California Critters series, plus several on Caribbean fish families (including those pesky Damsels)! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online 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:
California Fish ID Part One and Two - Nov 27, Nov 29
Caribbean Hit Parade! Top 25 Fish - Dec 6
Those Darn Damsels! Top 12 of the Greater Caribbean - Jan 17
California Invertebrate ID Part One and Two - Feb 6, Feb 7
Hamlets: To Be or Not to Be (Counted, that is) - Feb 12
Triggers and Files: The ID Tools of the Trade - Mar 21
Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Carl Gwinn, a REEF surveyor in California. Carl joined REEF in 2001 and has conducted 328 surveys. He is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what he had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
Not long after we started to dive in California, my wife and I saw an advertisement for a fish ID seminar and survey trip out of Santa Barbara. We couldn’t make the trip, but we attended the seminar, learned quite a bit about fish, and started doing surveys. As we dived more, we became more engaged and more serious about it. We went on some trips and filled out quite a few surveys. Lately, I’ve had to slack off, because of work responsibilities, but I’m hoping to do more in the future.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Being a citizen scientist! I enjoy doing the dive, but it’s also making a contribution to human knowledge. So, the experiences of the dive add a little something to human knowledge, rather than being merely for my own entertainment. I also think REEF does great work in getting people to experience, appreciate, and learn about the ocean.
If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
Dive for science! Identify and count fish while enjoying your dive.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Of course the data are important. But I think that the education aspect is also really important. People appreciate more what they understand. Counting fish can help them to realize how complicated and interconnected the ocean is. It’s also vulnerable, but has tremendous regenerative capacity. That’s something that surveyors can experience directly, after gaining a bit of knowledge.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
My favorite place to dive is probably Refugio State Beach, not far from my house. I’ve done over 200 dives there. I like it because it’s easy to get in and out, and is relatively well sheltered from the swell. Once you get in it has a wide variety of different habitats in a small area. You can really see how the populations of fish and invertebrates change, both with the seasons and in ways that never repeat. The beach there tends to get overcrowded, but usually once you get offshore it is pretty empty.
What is the most fascinating fish (or invertebrate) encounter you’ve experienced?
Certainly my most memorable encounter was being attacked by a Giant Pacific Octopus. He tore off my mask and my regulator, and tried to yank off my hood. I was diving in the Olympic Marine Sanctuary in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on a REEF survey trip. I slammed my regulator back in, and surfaced from 50 feet depth with the octopus on my head. Its suckers left hickeys all over my face, which lasted about 10 days! The photo has become widely circulated on the internet! Although my dive buddy had a camera, he was enjoying a crevice full of sculpins too much to notice the encounter: my only regret is that he didn’t get a series of photos.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?
Probably my favorite kind of fish is the rockfish. There are lots of different species, and sometimes they seem to blend into one another, so ID can be a challenge. They exhibit some interesting types of behavior, sometimes species-specific. I love to see the schools of juvenile and smaller rockfish: they have bright, clear markings and seem curious. They change from year to year, as the different species have more or less success in recruitment. And, they are hope for the future.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Jump in. I remember taking a boat trip to the Naples Seamount and Platform Holly. The visibility started at 5 feet and got worse with each dive, and the surge was over 3 feet at depth. On the way back to the harbor we stopped at the Goleta sewer pipeline, which runs from shore to a few of miles out to sea, and has some good fish in the rocks covering the pipeline. I decided to skip the dive, I’d had enough. My nap was interrupted by a lot of shouting up on deck. A gray whale had swum up to a few of the divers, on the bottom, and inspected them with its enormous eye. I wish I’d seen that! So, jump in.
What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
I remember spotting an unusual rockfish on a dive off Santa Cruz Island: later identified as a xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish (or black-and-yellow rockfish) south of Santa Rosa Island. It was nearly completely yellow. It was probably the most unusual fish I have seen: essentially a mutant. I managed to get a photo. What haven’t I seen yet? I haven’t yet managed to spot many of the local fish, some common: an embarrassing lapse! I’d like to see more and different kinds of sharks, spot some turtles (they show up around here occasionally), watch a few different kinds of whales and dolphins swim by underwater. I would love to see a white abalone underwater: they are extremely rare.