REEF Fest 2015 -Don't Miss It!

REEF Fest fun!

Join us in Key Largo this fall for REEF Fest 2015, September 24 - 27. Celebrate the success and impact of REEF's marine conservation programs and education initiatives with diving, learning, and parties. Festivities begin Thursday with afternoon seminars and then a welcome party at the Caribbean Club. Friday and Saturday are full days, with diving in the mornings, seminars in the afternoons, and social events in the evenings (Friday Open House at REEFHQ and Saturday Celebration Dinner Party). The fun wraps up on Sunday with more organized dives. All REEF Fest events are open to the public. Complete details on the schedule, including the lineup of seminars, diving opportunities, and social gatherings, as well as travel logistics and hotel arrangements, are available online at www.REEF.org/REEFFest2015.

REEF Fest: Explore. Discover. Make a Difference. Celebrating Marine Conservation in the Florida Keys!

Golden Hamlet Inductions in 2015

The Golden Hamlet. Drawing by Eleanore Pigman.

We are pleased to welcome two REEF surveyors to the Golden Hamlet Club in 2015 – Georgia Arrow and Janna Nichols. What is the Golden Hamlet Club? No, it is not a club of Shakespearean enthusiasts, but rather a club of citizen scientist superstars - those REEF members who have conducted 1,000+ surveys in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Georgia was the first member to complete almost all of the 1,000 surveys in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. Although many of Janna’s surveys were also conducted in the Pacific Northwest, as REEF’s Outreach Coordinator, Janna has conducted surveys in almost all of REEF’s project regions. She recently did her 1,000th on the Cozumel REEF Field Survey.

The very first Golden Hamlet member was Linda Baker, achieving the status in 2005. Today, there are eighteen members of the Golden Hamlet Club. A plaque hangs at REEF HQ in Key Largo, with the names of our honored volunteer surveyors -- Lad Akins, Georgia Arrow, Linda Baker, Judie Clee, Janet Eyre, Dave Grenda, Doug Harder, Lillian Kenney, Peter Leahy, Rob McCall, Franklin Neal, Janna Nichols, Mike Phelan, Bruce Purdy, Linda Ridley, Dee Scarr, Linda Schillinger, and Sheryl Shea. Congratulations to you all. To see pictures and profiles of these surveyors, visit the Golden Hamlet Club webpage. Thanks to their dedication, and those of the 16,000 other volunteers who have participated in the Survey Project since its inception in 1993, we have generated the largest marine fish sightings database in the world. Who's going to be the next Golden Hamlet surveyor?

Lionfish Tasting Dinner Held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A delicious lionfish dish. Photo credit: Piccolo Ristorante.
The event raised $1,500 to support REEF programs! Photo credit: DiveBar.
The second edition of The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's website.

On June 22, SCUBA divers, marine conservation enthusiasts, and foodies gathered at Piccolo Ristorante in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to attend the second annual Lionfish Tasting Dinner. During the event, patrons learned about effects of the lionfish invasion while sampling the tasty invader’s light, white meat. At the end of the evening, DiveBar, one of the night’s sponsors, presented REEF with a check for $1,500 to support our Invasive Lionfish Program.

The night’s menu featured invasive lionfish, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction. Each lionfish dish incorporated unique ingredients and creative preparations, beginning with a smoked fish dip appetizer, followed by four tapas-style courses, including a lionfish corn dog, surf and turf lionfish yucca croquette with marinated skirt steak, blackened lionfish taco with tropical salsa, and finally, an IPA beer-battered lionfish over rice. Each course was paired with a wine to complement the individual dish’s distinctive flavors.

Between courses, REEF Trips Program Manager Amy Lee gave a presentation to educate attendees about the lionfish invasion and the importance of lionfish removals. At the end of the night, Andres Avayú, chef at Piccolo Ristorante, demonstrated how to safely handle and fillet a lionfish. REEF’s second edition of “The Lionfish Cookbook”, published in February, features Chef Andres’ own unique recipe, lionfish with zucchini potato pancake and roasted red pepper coulis, as well as more than 60 lionfish recipes from many other chefs throughout the invaded region.

Red Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have invaded the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. Lionfish diets are very broad and include both fish and crustaceans. They have been documented to consume more than 120 species of prey, including commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species. “It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

Sponsors of the Lionfish Tasting Dinner include DiveBar, Miami Wine Buzz Club, Jack Scalisi Wholesale Fruit and Produce, and 8 Shades of Blue. All lionfish fillets used at the event were donated by Sean Meadows of World of Scuba, who recently hosted a REEF Sanctioned Lionfish Derby in Boynton Beach, Florida. Thanks to the joint efforts of these supporters and Piccolo Ristorante, the Lionfish Tasting Dinner raised $1,500 to support REEF’s marine conservation programs!

REEF hopes to organize more Lionfish Dinners to continue spreading awareness of the lionfish invasion and encouraging the public to consume this malicious yet delicious invader. For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. For more information on collecting, handling, and cooking lionfish, check out the second edition of “The Lionfish Cookbook”, available on the REEF Store at www.REEF.org/store/lionfishcookbook.

REEF Lionfish Expeditions Lead to New Information

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Pterois volitans AKA lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo
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August Blackbeard's Lionfish Project.
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Hesperis dissection by Everton Joseph (College of the Bahamas), Tim Schwab (Nassau Guardian) and Marcian Tucker (College of the Bahamas)
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Juvenile lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo

Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.

To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers.  REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.

Interesting data to date include:

  • Average size:188mm
  • Most species: Pterois volitans (though there are some Pterois miles present also)
  • Stomach content: about 70 % fish and 30 % crustacean with the most prevalent prey families including basslets, gobies and shrimp. Also found in stomachs: whole crab, whole sand diver, jawfish with eggs still in its mouth, and juvenile grouper (including Nassau)
  • Genetics: It appears that there were at least 11 females involved in the original founding population. This number is up from previous indications of four fish.
  • Reproduction: Fish are reproducing year-round with age at reproduction as young as 1-2 years.
  • Habitat preference: Lionfish have been found in almost all habitat types including artificial sites, canals, deep reefs, shallow reefs, small ledges and sand bottom.
  • Parasites: Compared to native fish, lionfish have almost no parasites, leaving more energy and time for growth and reproduction.
  • Growth: Lionfish appear to grow faster than similar sized native fish species like the graysby and the red hind.

REEF Remembers Chile Ridley

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Just before the holidays, REEF was saddened to learn of the passing of long-time volunteer and friend, Chile Ridley of Bonaire. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, especially his wife, Linda. The following article by Buddy Stockwell was published in the Caribbean Compass.

"On December 16, 2007 , the Cruising Community, the Island of Bonaire, and Mother Earth all lost one of their most wonderful, talented, and trusted friends. Edward Alton Ridley, known to all as " Chile" Ridley, took his own life at the age of 58. Chile was born in Valentine, Texas, and had battled the disease of depression all of his life. He is survived by his wife, Linda Ridley of Marfa, Texas . The Ridley's began their Cruising life aboard their Valiant 42 "Natural Selection" by departing Galveston in 1998 and sailing to St. Petersburg, Florida , where their new Valiant was part of the 1998 boat show. Thereafter, they cruised down the Eastern Caribbean , finally arriving in Bonaire five years later on Valentine's Day of 2003. As avid SCUBA divers, both Chile and Linda instantly fell in love with Bonaire and remained there as residents living aboard "Natural Selection." Chile was Manager of Bonaire's Capture Photo and also worked as a Dive Master. Most important, he was an indispensable volunteer for environmental organizations such as REEF, STINAPA and the Bonaire Seaturtle Conservation Project. Chile completed 300 Level 5 surveys for REEF, collected hundreds of amazing underwater images on film, and completed almost 2,000 dives. Chile's "True Grit" Texas spirit, fine character, and exceptional skills combined to make him an unflagging Champion of the environment like no other. Loved by all, Chile was not just a gentleman but a gentle man, always willing to lend a hand and always the first to volunteer. He will be missed by all who knew him, including all of the beautiful sea creatures of Bonaire that he loved so well and fought so hard to protect. The family asks that in lieu of cards or flowers, donations should be made in his name to support the Sea Turtle Conservation Project by visiting https://www.supportbonaire.org or to www.REEF.org for the fish survey projects."

New England Online Data Entry Teased Apart from TWA

REEF will separate our online dataentry interface for New England region from the tropical western Atlantic (TWA) where it currently resides, in the coming month.  Just in time for the Great Annual Fish Count, for more information, please contact gafc@reef.org or call 305-852-0030. We hope that this will facilitate an increase in the New England region survey efforts starting this summer.  In the next few weeks, login at http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php and you will be able to select New England for uploading New England fish surveys.  There are a few New England members who are willing to assist and guide those REEF members who are interested in participating in New England surveys.

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REEF in the Northwest

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Janna Nichols presented the REEF Invasive Tunicate Program at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin conference.
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Visit REEF's booth at the NW Dive Expo, April 25 & 26th.
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A recent REEF ID class in Redondo Beach, WA, part of a series of training workshops being held in the Pacific region.

REEF staff and volunteers are attending several events in the Northwest this winter and spring to spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project. These include scientific conferences and dive shows. REEF volunteer and instructor, Janna Nichols, represented REEF at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin (PSGB) Ecosystem Conference last month in Seattle, Washington. Over 1,000 scientists, decision-makers and others attended the PSGB and the overall conference theme was to share knowledge and commit to action to protect the region's marine environment. Janna presented posters on two of REEF's important programs in the Pacific Northwest, tracking the presence and spread of invasive tunicates and the long-term monitoring of sub-tidal fish and invertebrates in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

If you weren't able to attend the PSGB Conference, REEF is participating in two upcoming events in Washington. The first is a workshop organized by the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) and others, "Exploring the Spectrum of Citizen Science". The workshop is being held April 10-11 at Fort Wordon State Park and will bring together many citizen science practitioners to discuss what make successful programs. Later that month, come visit the REEF booth at the Northwest Dive and Travel Expo in Tacoma, April 25 & 26th. REEF volunteers and Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, will be at the booth to spread the word about REEF. We'll have survey materials and guide books on hand and will be presenting a seminar, "REEF: Diving That Counts" on Saturday afternoon at 2pm. See you there!

The REEF Pacific Region, which includes California through British Columbia, continues to be one of our most active areas. This is thanks to funding support from several West Coast foundations as well as partnerships with some great organizations. REEF survey and identification training opportunities abound, long-term monitoring projects in several National Marine Sanctuaries continue, the number of REEF Expert surveyors is increasing, and REEF data and projects are being presented at conferences and used by scientists and agencies. REEF greatly appreciates the continued support of several West Coast funders, including The Russell Family Foundation and the Sustainable Path Foundation, as well as our dedicated volunteers for making this continued success possible. If you are in the Pacific Northwest, check out the REEF PNW Critter Watchers webpage, which connects area REEF surveyors for training and surveying opportunities.

Rare Finds on the Grenada Field Survey

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Lucky participants on the REEF Field Survey to Grenada aboard the Peter Hughes Wind Dancer.
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A Longspine Sailfin Blenny was seen by the group in the Grenadines, a species previously thought to be restricted to Venezuela. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF Field Surveys are not just another dive vacation. These eco-trips offer divers and snorkelers the chance to really get to know the critters that are seen underwater. In mid-July Paul Humann lead a Field Survey trip to the fairly remote group of Caribbean Islands in Grenada and the Grenadines and the participants were rewarded with many exciting finds. The group was a mixture of expert, intermediate and beginning REEF fish surveyors, and it was a great opportunity for everyone to learn and have fun. The evening classes and general discussions led everyone to improve their identifications skills. During the week, Blue McRight took and passed the Expert Level exam - Congratulations Blue!

Beyond having fun and learning, the objectives of this trip were two-fold: build up the fish survey data for this remote area and document possible species range expansions. Because of the islands’ proximity to South America, the group was especially interested in learning if any species thought to exist only along that continental coast would be found on these islands to the north. On the first night, Paul gave a presentation about species of fish to be on the look out for. The results were amazing. First and foremost - the Longspine Sailfin Blenny and Resh Pikeblenny, never recorded outside Venezuelan waters before were found! Sighting confirmations of the Giraffe Garden Eel, Veija, Red Banner Blenny, Bluebar Jawfish, Corocoro and Bluestripe Dartfish, rarely in waters north of Venezuela or Tobago were important as well. Also recorded were the very rarely spotted Spiny Flounder, African Pompano, Unicorn Filefish and Snapper Snake Eel. A total count of 261 species is nearly a REEF Field Survey record! And the group conducted 221 surveys during the week. To see the project summary and fish list, check out the REEF database. Paul, REEF and the fish thank everyone involved for making this such a successful Survey Trip. A special thanks goes to Jill Ericsson for taking charge of the survey forms.

Be sure to check out the exciting line-up of destinations for the 2010 REEF Field Survey Schedule. Come join us and make a dive vacation that Counts!

Great Diving On One of the Friendliest Islands in the Caribbean

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Lucky REEF members who joined Board Member Heather George for a week in Dominica.
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The cryptic Reef Scorpionfish was a good find on the Dominica Field Survey. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

Last week, we kicked off the 2010 REEF Field Survey season with a spectacular trip to Dominica. Eight REEF members (and two non-diving spouses) headed out for 5 days of excellent dives with many wonderful discoveries along the way. Highlights included a glut of Secretary Blennies, Arrow Blennies and Lofty Triplefins along with Cherubfish, Longlure Frogfish, Longsnout Seahorses, Shortnose Batfish, a Reef Scorpionfish (see picture), most of the Hamlets and a Black Brotula found by yours truly and witnessed by James Brooke and trip leader Heather George. Another thrilling highlight was watching a pair of Barred Hamlets spawning during our dusk dive - the final dive of the trip. Congratulations go out to our new level 3 surveyors, Amy Kramer and Chris Ostrom, and a new level 2 surveyor, Kirsten Ostrom. Both topside and below, the crew at Dive Dominica was very enthusiastic. Not only were they very interested in REEF’s mission and pointing out the best fish and creatures, but also helped us coordinate daily travel and restaurant jaunts. Roseau, Dominica’s capital, has that small town feel, very friendly and accommodating to us, and everyone knows each other. On our “off-gas’ day, many of us explored the inner island, climbing up to Trafalgar Falls where three freshwater fish were discovered; a freshwater Grunt, Goby and Suckerfish. We also ventured up the beautiful Titou Gorge. Dominica is a truly beautiful island with fantastic views, great diving and some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean - an island not to be missed.

REEF Field Surveys are week-long dive trips coordinated by REEF and led by experienced staff, Board members, and instructors. These "Trips that Count" are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Check out the 2010 schedule here and reserve your space today!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub