Support REEF's Impact by Donating Today

Donors of $250 or more during our Winter Campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print of aggregating Goliath Grouper by Paul Humann.

Please join me this year by giving a gift to REEF this holiday season! I want to thank all those who have been so generous and have donated already. If you haven’t given yet, we are still a long way from our goal. Your donation this winter is critical so we can continue protecting marine species all year. Click here to donate now.

Examples of REEF’s important work that directly benefit marine species include:

  • Helping to bring back the Goliath Grouper from the brink of extinction
  • Contributing to the growth of Nassau Grouper populations
  • Researching the effectiveness of invasive lionfish control techniques
  • Providing data about the spread of the seastar wasting disease on the west coast
  • Supplying data about predator populations of grouper and snapper in the Caribbean (see article below)
  • Contributing data to researchers studying the effect of Marine Protected Areas on rockfish and other species in the Pacific Northwest
  • Providing data for researching trends in large parrotfish species in the Caribbean, including Blue, Midnight, Rainbow Parrotfish
  • Assisting in conservation efforts for manta and mobula rays

As you can see, REEF works hard all year to ensure our oceans are healthy and the creatures within are protected. As my personal thank you for donations $250 or more, I will send you a limited-edition, signed print of a Goliath Grouper aggregation. Check out this webpage, www.REEF.org/impact, describing this rare photo opportunity!

Six Great Fishinars Coming Up in July

Yellowface Pikeblenny is one of the fun finds on a Bonaire shore dive. Learn about it at the Fishinar on July 28th! Photo by Ned DeLoach.

We have a SIX great Fishinars planned for July. These hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. We hope you will join us - it's free for REEF members. Check out the full schedule and links to register at www.REEF.org/fishinars.

  • July 8, Rock On! California Rockfishes and Scorpionfish, Taught by Jonathan Lavan
  • July 14, Invertebrates of New England, Taught by Janna Nichols
  • July 16, Fishes of New England, Taught by Janna Nichols
  • July 21, Puffers and Porcupines of the Caribbean, Taught by Carlos and Allison Estapé
  • July 23, Pacific Coast Young of the Year (YOY) Rockfish ID, Taught by Janna Nichols
  • July 28, Fishes of Bonaire Shore Diving, Taught by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

The Faces of REEF: Jason Feick

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 Jason Feick, a REEF member since 2003. Jason has been an active surveying member in his home state of Massachusetts, and he's a proud member of the Advanced Assessment Team of Expert surveyors for the Northeast (NE) region. He has also done almost 200 surveys in the warmer waters of the Caribbean and Hawaii. To date, he's conducted 403 surveys. Here's what Jason had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I came up from a dive in Curacao and everyone was talking about the fish they saw and when they asked me what I saw my response was “a bunch of blue fish (blue tangs) and a potato looking thing with fins (Porcupinefish.)” After that I was determined to know what I was looking at. Around the same time, I saw an advertisement for REEF in a dive magazine and went to the website, bought the Reef Fish Identification book, and have been during surveys ever since.

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

Yes, I live in Massachusetts and dive the chilly waters off Cape Ann, MA often. The best part about diving here is the variety of marine life in different geographic areas. South of Cape Cod the waters are slightly warmer and the marine life is very different. A short drive to Rhode Island and one can see juvenile tropical fish, while a little longer drive to Maine and one can see abundant invertebrate life, such as northern red anemones and stalked tunicates.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

On a recent trip to Eastport, Maine, I videoed two Ocean Pout either having a territorial dispute or engaged in mating behavior. They started off lying side-by-side, then one bit the other in the back and shook vigorously. The second Pout then returned the favor to the first. They ultimately locked jaws as one of them pushed the other into my camera. This was quite an exciting interaction to witness. You can watch the video here.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

A couple months ago I came across a goosefish while diving Halibut Shores, MA. This is an “ugly” (beautiful to me) fish that I thought I would never find. It is an ambush predator that uses a lure, similar to a frogfish, to draw in prey that it gulps up with its huge mouth. I saw its outline from a distance and couldn’t believe my eyes. As I got closer this crab came bumbling down a rock towards the goosefish. I was afraid the crab was going to chase the goosefish off and I wouldn’t be able to get a good picture. Well the crab did spook the goosefish, but he only moved a little and actually the movement shook off the silt that was covering the goosefish and I was able to get some good pictures and video of him. Top on my list of critters to see is an Atlantic Wolffish. My friends recently saw three of these on a dive I chose not to go one, D’oh!

Fishinars This Summer - Learn About Bermuda Fishes and more

A "redback" wrasse, the unique looking Yellowhead Wrasse found in Bermuda. Learn about this and more in the Fishinar this summer with Ned and Anna DeLoach. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
Learn all about porgy and chub with Carlos and Allison Estape, in their Fishinar. Photo by Paul Humann.

Even though it's summer, we aren't slowing down on our Fishinar series (www.REEF.org/fishinars). We have two great sessions planed, reviewing fishes of the Virgin Islands and Bermuda!

  • Thursday, July 14th - Less Frequently Seen Fish of Virgin Gorda with Janna Nichols
  • Tuesday, August 30th - Fishes of Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach

And later this year, we have even more on the schedule.

  • Thursday, September 8th - Underwater Residents of Barkley Sound, BC with Janna Nichols
  • Thursday, September 15th - Don't Forget the Chubs and Progies! with Carlos and Allison Estape
  • Wednesday, September 21st - Common Fishes of Micronesia with Christy Pattengill-Semmens
  • Tuesday, October 4th - Sea Saba Underwater with Jonathan Lavan
  • Wednesday, November 2nd - Digging Into Data: How to Use REEF's Database
  • Monday, Novemer 14th - Hawaii: Life in the Sand with Christy Pattengill-Semmens

Everyone, including divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers, is welcome to join in these free, online webinars. You don't need any special equipment (other than your computer or mobile device) to log on and join in. Be sure to visit www.REEF.org/fishinars to look over the entire 2016 schedule, get more details, and register for your favorite ones. We record all sessions for later viewing, and our archives are available for free viewing for REEF members.

Learn All About Chubs and Porgies During This Month's Fishinar

A Saucereye Porgy, one of the many species that Carlos and Allison will cover at the Fishinar this month! Photo by Paul Humann.

2016 wraps up with one more REEF Fishinar - this time by Carlos and Allison Estapé about those pesky look-alike Caribbean Chubs and Porgies. Join us December 15th at 8pm Eastern time for this live, online session. If you've never been to a REEF Fishinar, we welcome everyone! It's free, of course, and you'll have one hour of fun, camaraderie and learning. And keep an eye out for a brand new schedule of great Fishinars coming to you in 2017. While we have some of them already scheduled, we'll have the complete schedule posted soon!

Register here and be sent automatic reminders: www.REEF.org/fishinars

REEF Joins Leading Volunteer Organizations to Develop Citizen Science Toolkit

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Leda Cunningham test drives an online bird ID portal with other conference participants.
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REEF volunteer (and family member) Brice Semmens takes in the REEF display during the poster session.

In late June, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) hosted the first ever Citizen Science Toolkit Conference in Ithaca, New York. Widely known for projects like FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the CLO is a pioneer in bringing people closer to nature through cooperative research, cutting edge technology and innovative science programs across many natural science fields. Leda Cunningham and Dr. Christy Semmens represented REEF at the 3-day meeting, where fifty leaders of citizen science organizations around the world – from worm watchers to bird counters to star gazers – came together to build a toolkit for citizen science practitioners and others seeking to engage volunteers in meaningful science activities.

There is some debate about what citizen science is, not to mention what it does. Many participants noted that “volunteer monitoring” more accurately captures the nature of their programs (much like the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project) while others thought that volunteers fill more of a role than just data collectors and should be involved in all parts of the scientific process, beginning with posing the research question. The group periodically split into five focus groups and reconvened at the end to present a model based on each group’s focus area: Education, Evaluation and Impact, Community Building, Technology and Cyberinfrastructure, and Research and Monitoring. The resulting Toolkit will include resources, recommendations, and case studies from each of these areas, as well as a key to existing citizen science programs. Christy participated in a panel on the impacts of citizen science and presented examples of how REEF data are used by resource agencies and scientists. She presented details of how REEF volunteers helped identify a hotspot of non-native fishes along the south Florida coast and the resulting management actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the important role that REEF data can play as a fisheries-independent source of data for the development of stock assessments and fisheries management plans, the discovery of new species by several REEF members, and the value of using our most experienced divers (the Advanced Assessment Team) to conduct annual monitoring of selected sites inside and around no-take marine reserves.

REEF was proud to contribute its fourteen years of experience building the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the group discussion. Many citizen science organizations deal with the same issues of volunteer recruitment, recognition and retention, engaging the “real” science community, standardizing data collection methods and measuring success. REEF has addressed many of these issues with innovative strategies that may be adopted by other citizen science initiatives: engaging the private retail sector (dive shops) to recruit volunteers within a target audience (scuba divers and snorkelers), developing strong partnerships with science and resource management agencies (such as university-based researchers and the National Marine Sanctuary Program), 5-level expertise testing (in fish identification) to assist with quality control, a published standardized data collection method and the Advanced Assessment Team as an incentive for volunteers to become more proficient surveyors and a measuring stick for training programs.

For more information on the conference or Citizen Science Central, the CLO’s initiative to provide information for practitioners and volunteers, click here. Look for the Citizen Science Toolkit, a robust and practical framework for citizen science program development, implementation, and evaluation, in the fall 2007.

Weeding the Good from the Bad: Deciphering “YOUR” Scanform . . .

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TWA scanform

A few reminders to our surveyors:

  • Always write your member number, your name, AND your email legibly on your survey form. It's not necessary to fill in the other contact information unless your information has changed or if you are a new member and do not yet have a REEF member number.
  • Please fill in the full 8-digit Geographic Zone Code for the site where your survey was conducted. You can find a list of these hierarchical codes online [Click here]. If the site is currently not on our list, contact our Field Operations Coordinator, Joe Cavanaugh, to have a site code assigned (please provide as much information as possible, including as many digits as you can pinpoint for your location. A site code should never end in two zeros.
  • The temperature fields on the survey form (Surface and Bottom) are both water temperature. Please do not report air temperature for the surface value.
  • Remember to use a pencil, but do not to use the pencil that was underwater to fill out your scanform. The residual water can cause the paper to rip and it's almost impossible to erase.
  • We graciously ask, moving forward, that team leaders handling a Field Trip survey, review the forms before your trip is over to make sure the participants have indeed filled all the necessary fields correctly, that also goes for current members that mail them in independently as well. Only send us your original form, not a copy and always use a pencil. NOW, to avoid all this, for non members, you can join REEF online, this way you fill out the information we need, thus eliminating the mind reading on our end.
  • And finally - for surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) or Northeast (NE) regions, please consider using our online data entry interface. This will save you time and postage as well as grant you the eternal gratitude of our small staff. Your surveys will also be processed quicker, and it's better for the environment!

REEF Welcomes New Office Manager

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Bonnie Greenberg recently joined REEF as the office manager. She brings with her more than 20 years of experience in non-profit management and entrepreneurship: including work with Marathon Community Theatre, Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys , director of marketing with a family business in Pennsylvania and a few years working as a journalist for local media. She likes to snorkel, sail, spend time with friends, read great books now and then, and create a good meal. Having said for years she was writing her own version of the Great American Novel - Bonnie spent the past two years as the front desk associate with a small Florida Keys Resort while she toiled at her story. She’s about half-way there. She holds a BFA from Emerson College. Bonnie resides in Key Largo, FL with her long-term boyfriend and 3 cats. Next time you find yourself in Key Largo, please swing by REEF HQ to meet Bonnie and the other REEF staff.

Believe It Or Not -- REEF Volunteers Grow a Coral Reef

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REEF volunteers measure their staghorn coral transplants.
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Ken Nedimyer clip a coral fragment from a "mother" colony for use as a transplant.
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A staghorn coral "garden" created with transplant fragments off Key Largo, FL. REEF volunteers helped create several of the coral modules last month.
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Ken, wife Denise and daughter Julia pose behind one of their remarkable coral creations.

During the last week of April, divers from around the country gathered at Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida for a REEF Fish Behavior Tour hosted by Ned and Anna DeLoach. After making two morning dives each day, the group spent their late afternoons and early evenings attending entertaining talks about the myriad fish they encountered on the reef. Lad Akins, REEF’s Special Projects Director, dropped by to explain the science behind the recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish in the western Atlantic. But the highlight of the week was the rare opportunity for everyone to create their own coral garden.

Yes, you read it right: After being giving instructions by coral scientist Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation, participants headed out the following morning to Ken’s coral nursery located in Hawke Channel where they transplanted cuttings of staghorn coral from a mother colony onto a set of nursery blocks.

After watching 90 percent of the Keys’ staghorn coral die off from a variety of reasons over the past decades, Ken, an aquaculturist by trade, decided to do something about the disheartening problem. In the late 1990’s, he began nurturing small buds of rapidly growing staghorn that by chance settled on his underwater “live rock” farm. Following several years of trial and error, Ken pioneered the first successful method for cultivating and transplanting large quantities of coral. His current success rate hovers at an incredible 90 percent.

After the REEF divers carefully epoxyed their branches on numerically coded pedestals and recorded measurement data, the group headed off to a site on Molasses Reef where, in 1984 the M/V Wellwood, an ocean-going freighter, ran aground destroying 644 square meters of coral reef framework. Federal agencies began extensive restoration of the site in 2002 including emplacement of numerous high-profile limestone modules (click here to read about REEF's post-restoration monitoring of the fish populations on these modules). Unfortunately, to date, the new structures have had limited success recruiting new coral growth. However, the area has one extraordinary success story and the focus of our second dive: Ken’s rapidly growing staghorn coral garden – the two-year result of transplanting nursery grown corals to the grounding site.

Dates for next year’s 2nd Annual Key Largo REEF Fish Behavior Tour at Amoray are scheduled for May 29 to June 5, 2009. The popular fish behavior talks cover Reproductive Strategies, What Fish Eat, Cleaning Stations, Discovering the Night Reef, and Fish Life Cycles. Participants will once again establish their own coral colonies and transplant this year’s nursery crop onto the reef.

REEF Surveyor Notes a Rare Find

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A mystery fish, captured on film by REEF surveyor Rob McCall.
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The mystery fish turned out to be the rarely seen Pugjaw Wormfish.
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The swimming motion was sinuous, much like an eel.
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The wormfish shared a burrow with a yellowhead jawfish.

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.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub