The first time we ever saw Hamlets spawn, Ned and I were on a liveaboard REEF trip in Belize. We were just starting serious work on the behavior book at the time and still unaware of just how rewarding dusk dives can be for fish watchers. Trying to squeeze in a fourth dive before dark, our group dropped in just before sunset, agreeing to be back up in time for dinner.
These were the days when I could still add new fish to my life list on almost every dive trip and the charismatic Hamlets with their 11 distinct color morphs and various “hybrid” variations were especially prized sightings (we’ll save the species debate for another day). Hamlets are solitary hunters during the day. So when we saw two chasing each other about, we instinctively knew something out of the ordinary was happening. But, was it love or war?
The traditional color of one of the pair was noticeably blanched. We’d seen that happen with fighting Sailfin blennies - the fish that was out of its hole turns very pale. But the behavior of the Hamlets was more reminiscent of flirtation rather than conflict. The fish being pursued would race ahead then stop, usually with its nose pointed up, twitch, and immediately take off once again as soon as the pursuer caught up. For over twenty minutes they dashed about in all directions before always returning to the same coral head.
Finally, just as the last light was fading, the hamlets paused above the coral head only inches apart, entwined their 3-inch bodies and slowly rose together a foot or two. I know we aren’t supposed to anthropomorphize, but it certainly looked like love to us. Suddenly, they popped apart releasing a white puff of gametes and immediately darted back toward the reef. Instead of going their separate ways, the chasing, nuzzling and twitching began anew and shortly they spawned again, then again and again before they finally disappeared, going their separate ways into the night.
Later we learned to our amazement that Hamlets are simultaneous hermaphrodites, with each partner possessing both male and female reproductive organs. This unusual scenario, known as egg trading, allows each couple to play both the male and female role each evening. The fish assuming the role of the female plays the aggressor, twitching and chasing the blanched, interim male about. After each spawn the roles reverse until the lovers are finally spent.
The best news for fishwatchers is Hamlets appear to spawn each evening year-round. So, on your next dusk dive in the Tropical Western Atlantic make a point of watching for Hamlets; if you do you’re sure to be entertained.
Note: a short video of Spawning Hamlets is available on REEF’s YouTube Channel, WeSpeakFish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEMCqVBB0CM
REEF recently completed a Field Survey trip to Roatan, Honduras, led by REEF co-founder, Paul Humann. Over six days, the group completed 17 survey dives including one night dive. Both novice and highly experienced REEF surveyors enjoyed the near perfect weather and dive conditions. Shortfin pipehorses, wrasse blennies, linesnout gobies, peppermint basslets, orangesided gobies, dash gobies, and blue dartfish are a sample of the cryptic fishes that were observed. Spotted Eagle Rays and Southern Stingrays graced us with their presence on a number of dives.
The group stayed on the east end of the island at Turquoise Bay Resort and dove with Subway Scuba. The highpoint of the trip was the Aguila Wreck and surrounding reef where there were numerous species of large grouper and snapper. There was a dog snapper displaying body bars similar to those sometimes on Cubera Snappers and Schoolmasters. Also, there was a Yellowmouth Grouper with an unusual pattern of dense brown dots covering the body. Paul remarked that he had never seen either species with these unusual markings.
A not so welcome sighting was the invasive red lionfish; one or more were sighted on nearly every dive. Alecia Adamson, REEF’s new Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator, collected 15 lionfish over the course of the week ranging in size from 2 to 14 inches. The local divemasters were also collecting lionfish but were not aware that lionfish filets are delectable. Alecia gave them a demonstration on how to safely filet lionfish. Now the dive staff captures lionfish for both control and culinary purposes!
Congratulations to those who attained a higher surveyor experience level during the week - Bobbi Kerridge and Peter Rae are now Level 3 surveyors and Pat Lommel is a new Level 5 Expert surveyor!
Field Surveys are a great way to take a dive vacation that counts! If you would like to join in one of our future Field Surveys, there are a few spots available for the upcoming trips to Cozumel, Key Largo, Bonaire, and Grand Cayman. Please visit the Field Survey Trip Schedule online to find more information.
Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:
- A researcher from Florida State University requested data from sites along the west coast of Florida to evaluate how fish species richness is influenced by the presence of certain grouper species.
- A scientist from the Smithsonian Institute is mapping the distribution and co-occurance of garden eel species in the western Atlantic.
- A researcher from NOAA Fisheries is looking at the species distribution of Gray Snapper.
The 20th annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July. You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.
The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, Seattle Scuba, is based in the always-green but often-rainy Pacific NW. Yes, the water's cold there. Seattle Scuba is a full service facility that provides training, equipment rentals/sales, fun dives and more - all served up with an ample helping of personality and humor to their customers and friends. They are passionate not only about teaching diving, but about instilling awareness of the marine environment in divers. The REEF survey program is an ideal tool in this mission. Their training director/resident mermaid Heidi Wilken got involved in REEF surveying after encountering some fish geeks on a fun dive one day. Wanting to incorporate and support REEF's mission she decided to provide resources at Seattle Scuba. They have been a Field Station for about 4 years now. Now two of their training staff are REEF Advanced Assessment Team members (Heidi and David Todd). They hold periodic Fish Geek Dives, fish & invertebrate ID Classes, testing to move up in REEF Experience Levels, and offer a full range of Fish ID books for sale.
Heidi had this to say about Pacific NW diving: "Sometimes people look at Puget Sound and surrounding areas and think it will just be cold and dark - they have no idea of the colors and amazing critters that lurk beneath the surface! We are blessed to have not only lots of amazing and cool fish like the Red Irish Lord and the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, but also incredible invertebrate life, from the Giant Pacific Octopus to the tiny Opalescent Nudibranch." And what does Heidi like best about REEF? "You don't have to be a scientist to be involved, even if you can only identify ONE fish or invertebrate, you can contribute surveys - and you can do so to whatever level fits into your life, be it a survey a year or 200 a year." Her parting words: "Dive safe and survey often!" Thanks Heidi and the staff at Seattle Scuba - we're glad you're a REEF Field Station!
Changing Seas, an Emmy award-winning original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of their newest episode, "Grouper Moon", which focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project last winter, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish.
"Grouper Moon" will be screened live on the Changing Seas website on Wednesday, June 6th, at 2:30pm EST. During the screening, viewers will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program, including REEF's Director of Science Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. and Grouper Moon Project Scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. from Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Scott Heppell, Ph.D. from Oregon State University.
Check out a preview of the "Grouper Moon" episode on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEAemdElBlg. If you miss it, the program’s premiere broadcast in south Florida will be at 7:30 pm EST June 20. The program will be posted online in its entirety by the end of June. To find out more about REEF's Grouper Moon Project, visit http://www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.
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 Carol Cox. Carol joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 159 surveys. Carol is a member of the Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has been an active volunteer and instructor in REEF's Fishinar series. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
After retiring from the Air Force, and returning to our home in Mexico Beach, Florida (20 miles east of Panama City), I became active as a volunteer research diver for the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA). To receive State grants for our program, we are required to monitor the condition of artificial reefs we deploy. MBARA decided to incorporate fish surveys with the monitoring program, and I found REEF when researching ways to do fish surveys. REEF serves as our model, but we tailor our survey forms for the local area because our fish population is very different than the fishes found further south.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
When I saw how REEF data are used by naturalists and scientists, I wanted to add fish count data from where I live, especially because there were only a few surveys for my community. I really saw the need after the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our community was lucky, barely escaping the oil slick when a storm blew the approaching oil slick back in the direction it came from. Although we suffered few effects, I realized we needed to catalogue what we had, otherwise, how would we know how our biodiversity was adapting to environmental changes? Since I started volunteering with REEF, I have had opportunity to interact with scientists and fish enthusiasts from around the world. The education REEF provides is phenomenal. I began my self-education by doing the fish quizzes. Then I attended many of the online Fishinars and they are all very educational and FUN! I also learn a lot from other fish watchers using the online fish identification forum.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
The data that are being captured by REEF fish surveys will be invaluable to scientists of the future. As the environment changes, the REEF database will be looked at more and more. We need to record what we have now if we are to know what is affected by global warming, red tide, or the next big oil spill. Who knows, the REEF database may eventually provide the knowledge on how to control the lionfish invasion.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?
Most of my diving is where I live, in Mexico Beach, Florida. MBARA has deployed over 150 artificial reefs, everything from reef balls to a large shrimp boat, which is my favorite dive. We see everything from giant Goliath Groupers, to small arrow shrimp (a species that had never been photographed until I discovered them during a survey). Because the survey programs for MBARA and REEF are similar, I encouraged MBARA to become a local Field Station. We are always looking for divers interested in doing surveys on our artificial reefs and can now provide training. I use training gained from REEF, along with my local experience, to teach regional fish identification and throw in some local knowledge for enthusiasts that primarily dive in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
We were 20 miles offshore of Mexico Beach, when our boat was surrounded by small Mahi Mahi. I had a few shots left on my camera, so I slipped into the water to use up my film (am I dating myself?). Suddenly, a Mahi sped towards me, followed by a large, dark shadow in pursuit. In a matter of seconds, I could see fins, tails, and bubbles, as a large sailfish did a 360-degree turn right in front of me as it tried to capture the Mahi. In an effort to escape, the Mahi swam over my shoulder smacking me in the side of the head. The bill of the sailfish missed by chest by inches as it veered away. Having lost its prey, it swam around me three times before disappearing into the depths. The entire event lasted less than a minute, but the memory of it will last me a lifetime, especially because I got the photos.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? What is your most memorable fish find? What fish are you still waiting to find?
I love blennies! They are such a great photo subject—colorful and expressive. With a little patience, most will gladly pose for the camera exhibiting as many poses as a Vogue covergirl. Of course I am a big, big fan of Anna DeLoach’s Blennywatcher blog. My favorite find wasn’t a fish, but a sawblade arrow shrimp, Tozeuma serratum. I have REEF to thank for putting me in touch with Les Wilk who requested critter photos for the upcoming Reef Creature DVD to be published by ReefNet. I didn’t know what a rare find I had until I sent a photo of the unidentified shrimp to Les for the DVD. He sent the photo off to a marine biologist, who identified the shrimp after I collected one. It turns out this shrimp had never been photographed in its natural environment and scientists believed it only lived in deeper waters. The marine biologist was so excited she flew from Texas to our home so we could take out and show her some of “our” shrimp. The fish I would love to check off my life list is the whale shark. With all the diving we do in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure it is only a matter of time, but I am still waiting!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Doing surveys for both MBARA and REEF, I’ve learned it can be fun to get away from the big sites and spend time on something small that isn’t frequented by divers. I’ve spent 45 minutes looking at two 3-foot reefballs. If I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really look, I would never have seen the small juvenile jackknife-fish, or a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish.
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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.
When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.
What is your favorite non-fish sighting?
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.
REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.
REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects including Invasive Lionfish Research and the Grouper Moon Project, data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2013 such a success! Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about any of the information presented in our Annual Report.