Putting It To Work: A New Non-native Fish in the Gulf of Mexico

The Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species in the Gulf of Mexico. This picture was taken in its native range of the Indo-Pacific. The invasive individuals are more drab. Photo by Paul Humann.

Last year we shared an article about a new non-native fish, the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos), showing up in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. REEF surveyors in the Yucatan region of Mexico have since reported the species. And now a new publication co-authored by REEF staff Lad Akins documents that the species could become established and spread in the western Atlantic. The study incorporated a computer model to evaluate the the non-native species’ potential to impact native populations. On the basis of this work, it is foreseeable that the reefs presently harboring Regal Damselfish will likely see increased abundance of this damsel. Immediate attempts to eliminate the fish, therefore, should be focused in nearshore shallow waters spanning Veracruz to Frontera, Mexico. To find out more about this study, published last month in the journal Marine Biology, and to see a complete list of the 50+ scientific publications that have featured REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The species is native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel is distinguished by a yellow or white spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin, a dark spot behind the gill, and yellow rear margins of the fins and tail. In contrast, the native Brown Chromis is identified by dark margins on the tail and a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin.

If you see this fish while doing a REEF survey, be sure to report it on your form in the unlisted fish section. Please also report detailed information on the sighting to REEF through the invasive species reporting page.

Support Discoveries This Summer; Your Donation Will Be Matched

Make a donation today so that REEF staff can continue research and discovery on the impacts and solutions of the lionfish invasion in the western Atlantic. Photo by Rich Carey.

We have one week left in our summer matching campaign, and want to thank everyone who has given so far. This summer, we are highlighting all the amazing discoveries made possible by generous donations from members like you!

To make a contribution, please visit www.REEF.org/donate.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “To date, we have explored less than five percent of our oceans.” What does that mean for REEF and our members? It means that there is so much out there to discover! Every year, REEF members are finding new species, and REEF scientists are investigating the lifecycles and behaviors of critical marine species. We are constantly learning new things about ocean wildlife that contribute to their survival.

It also means that all these new discoveries can help regulatory agencies and policymakers to make more informed decisions on how to manage our fisheries. In cases like the threatened Nassau Grouper, seasonal protections during spawning seasons have been developed. In the case of invasive species, like lionfish, removal events are being encouraged because they have been proven effective at controlling lionfish populations.

Please take this opportunity to make a contribution this summer and help REEF continue to make these important discoveries that ultimately protect marine species around the world! Thank you again to all our members who support us in our mission, and have a great summer!

The Faces of REEF: Jet Long

Jet (second from the left) with fellow surveyors on the Micronesia Field Survey.
In addition to his volunteer work with REEF, Jet also helps with other causes like this 75-story climb for the YMCA.
A face-off between Black-saddled Toby. Photo by Jet Long.
Jet's underwater selfie!

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 Jet Long. Jet lives in California, and has been a REEF member since 2013. He has participated in several REEF Field Survey Trips and has conducted over 50 surveys. Here’s what Jet had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

I first heard about REEF from fellow REEF member Hideko Kawabata during a volunteering trip. Doing fish surveys all over the world sounded like an interesting idea to me. I spent more time learning about REEF when I got home and decided to join. My first REEF trip was in 2013 to Southern Bahamas on Turks and Caicos Explorer II. I learned a lot about lionfishes (e.g. anatomy, how to hunt and cook them). Since then, I try to do at least one REEF fish survey trip every year.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

I have done a few REEF Field Surveys. The one I like the most so far is the Philippines Dumaguete Atlantis Resort trip. It might be because it was the first time I did muck diving. The fishes and creatures that you could find were amazing (e.g. many types of anemone fishes, bobtail squids, slingjaw wrasse, mantis shrimps). The highlight was no doubt swimming with the world’s largest fish – whale sharks!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

There are a lot of good reasons why you want to be a REEF member. You can help to establish a fish database which is used by different research projects. You will visit places that you may not think of visiting. But the best part is the expansion of your knowledge on fishes, sea creatures, and the ocean when you are on a field survey trip. You will see the underwater world differently once you learn more about it. You will learn the importance of protecting our ocean.

What is your favorite place to dive?

I would have to say the Coral Triangle. Its high concentration of fishes, corals, and other species is really amazing.

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

When I was in Dumaguete Philippines, I saw two Black-saddled Tobies facing off with each other. At first, they were in the middle of the water column. They then spiraled down towards the bottom. They eventually glided through each other’s body. I didn’t expect this to happen.

What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?

Ocean’s giant gentle Manta Ray is my favorite fish. It was absolutely beautiful to watch them swimming and hovering the cleaning station.

Do you have any surveying, fish watching or identification tips for the REEF members?

Do more! The more you do, the better you will be in identifying the fishes in a particular region. Before each field trip, one should spend some time watching the Fishinars to get familiar with the fishes. In addition, a fish ID book is a really useful tool to learn about the fishes before and during the trip.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

Seeing a Crocodile Flathead hiding in the sea grass during the Palau trip was really neat. Its camouflage body made it almost impossible to locate. I was just lucky to look at that specific patch of sea grass. The fish that I really want to sea underwater is Ocean Sunfish (aka Mola Mola), which is supposed to be the world’s heaviest bony fish.

REEF’s “The Lionfish Cookbook” named Best in the World at Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Lad Akins accepting the award in China from Gourmand Founder Edouard Cointreau.
The second edition of "The Lionfish Cookbook."
The 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were held in China in May.
A spread from REEF's "The Lionfish Cookbook"

Competing against thousands of books from more than 200 countries, REEF's The Lionfish Cookbook was awarded Best in the World status in two categories at the 22nd annual Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held last month in Yantai, China. The Lionfish Cookbook was recognized one of the top three books in the world in the categories of Sustainable Food Book and Fundraising/Charity Book. The book had also reached the short list in the Seafood category.

The second edition of The Lionfish Cookbook, co-authored by Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins with photography by David Stone, features a collection of more than 60 appetizer and entrée recipes designed to encourage the removal and consumption of invasive lionfish. Adding to the original 45 recipes in the first edition, the highly awarded second edition features 16 new recipes from guest chefs serving lionfish throughout the Caribbean. The 160-page book also contains detailed information on the background and impacts of the lionfish invasion and how to safely collect, handle and prepare lionfish. To purchase your own copy of the cookbook, visit REEF's online store at www.REEF.org/store.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are the first non-native marine fish to successfully invade Atlantic waters. Their thriving populations pose a serious threat risk to marine ecosystems through their predation on native marine life, including commercially and ecologically important species. Lionfish densities in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast of the United States are on the rise due to their lack of natural predators and their prolific, year-round reproduction.

“Many countries in the affected region are encouraging consumption of lionfish to create a demand and incentive for lionfish removals,” says Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and co-author of the book. Contributing chef Francesco Ferraris, of New Especias Italian Restaurant in Cozumel, Mexico, adds, “From a culinary standpoint, lionfish are incredible. The fish has a mild, white meat and is not too overpowering.”

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were created in 1995 to celebrate global cookbook and wine publishing and feature many world-renowned chefs each year. Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, attended this year’s Gourmand World Cookbook Awards Ceremony in Yantai, China, accepting the award from Gourmand Founder Edouard Cointreau.

Recent Manta Ray Sightings in the Florida Keys

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Manta ray at French Reef. Photo courtesy of Mike Ryan.
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Coral spawning at French Reef. Photo courtesy of Mike Ryan.

In the first few weeks of July we have started receiving reports of several Manta ray sightings at French Reef, near Key Largo, Florida. Mantas are found in the temperate, tropical, and sub tropical waters world wide. However, sightings in Florida waters are uncommon. Some observers saw the mantas swimming in large vertical loops, leading them to think that these animals were coming into the shallow reefs to feed on coral spawn.

Mantas inhabit near-shore and pelagic waters, and can grow up to ~14ft in width. They are primarily filter feeders, using large cephalic fins located on the head to help 'funnel' plankton into their mouths.

So, if your diving in the Florida Keys keep an eye out for one of these magnificent animals swimming by - and be sure to record it on your survey!

Putting It To Work: New Publication with REEF Data Reveals Link of Caribbean Fish Biodiversity Patterns and Sea Temperature

A diverse Caribbean coral reef. Photo by Daryl Duda.
A marine citizen scientist collecting data for the REEF fish survey project. Photo by Jeffrey Haines.
Map showing variation in numbers of fish species across REEF survey sites. Colors represent survey effort controlled estimates of numbers of species. Figure from Clauson-Kaas et al 2017.

We are excited to share the newest scientific publication that includes data from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The study, published in the Journal of Biogeography, used the power of the people in the form of citizen science to produce a new map of marine fish biodiversity across the Caribbean and tropical western Atlantic.

The work, performed by scientists from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution & Climate in Denmark and the Marine Biological Association, studied REEF’s extensive data base collected by our volunteer surveyors to produce the map and find that fish biodiversity is strongly linked to sea temperatures. However, results also show that while fish biodiversity is higher in warmer waters, the very hottest sites in fact have fewer species than sites with intermediate temperatures, something not shown before in previous studies. These results will be of concern given the rising water temperatures in the region.

This ground-breaking research is based on data collected by thousands of marine citizen scientists working within the REEF program. These volunteers have been recording data on the fish species they see during dives for over 25 years and inputting their records into REEF database. This work has enabled researchers to compare different coral reefs and other coastal sites across this tropical region for the first time. The resulting map shows high diversity areas in the Dutch Antilles and the Florida Keys, whereas relatively few species were found in Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Florida.

In order to examine potential explanations for these patterns, the research team looked at potential environmental factors that might be associated with them, including natural factors, such as temperature, salinity and depth, and human-based factors, such as population density. Analysis proved the number of fish species recorded at a site could be predicted by how warm the water was at that site, and, to a lesser extent, how deep the site was. While a positive relationship between temperature and biodiversity has been demonstrated in previous research of global patterns, the fine-scale detail provided by this huge citizen science dataset facilitated the discovery of important details of this relationship within the wider Caribbean. Senior author Dr Ben Holt said:

"Rather than being a simple relationship, whereby warmer waters equal more fish species, the relationship seen in the REEF data was “hump-shaped”; warmer sites tend to have more species up to an optimal temperature of around 27C and then the hottest sites become less diverse.”

Further analysis suggests that this result may be partly driven by a few species being adapted to the warmest temperatures. The findings of this study will inevitably be of concern given the fast-rising temperatures of Caribbean water, but the research team urge caution extrapolating their results based on future climate predictions. Dr Holt said:

“The efforts of citizen scientists have provided an invaluable opportunity to study spatial patterns of marine biodiversity. Their data suggest that the hottest reefs are not the most biodiverse but it does not necessarily mean that the diversity of any particular site will change as seawater temperatures change. This is an important area for further research given the importance of these habitats within the Caribbean and around the world.”

The full citation of the paper is: Clauson-Kaas, S, K Richardson, C Rahbek, and BG Holt. 2017. Species-specific environmental preferences associated with a hump shaped diversity/temperature relationship across tropical marine fish assemblages. Journal of Biogeography. 2017(00): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.13044.

To see a full list of scientific papers that have included REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Don’t Miss the REEF Trip to Baja Mexico This Fall

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A school of king angelfish, one of the hundreds of reef fishes that can be seen during a dive in Baja. Photo by Paul Humann.
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A REEF volunteer checks over her survey on a previous Baja Field Survey.

The REEF 2008 Field Survey Schedule is in full swing. Many of the trips are already sold out, but we wanted to bring your attention to one that still has some space on it -- the Field Survey to Baja Mexico aboard the Don Jose in the Sea of Cortez this October. This is a great trip, with spectacular diving and lots of tropical fishes, warm and clear water, and beautiful topside scenery. Some of the highlights include giant hawkfish, jawfish the size of your leg, whale sharks and manta rays, and spectacular sunsets over unpopulated desert islands.  This will be the 5th time that REEF has done this amazing trip, and there is a good reason we keep going back.  Come see what it's all about.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz Mexico aboard the Don Jose live-aboard.  Dr. Brice Semmens, reef fish ecologist and expert in Baja fishes, will be leading this trip. 

  This Field Survey is only held every few years so don't miss your chance!  To find out more, check out the trip flyer.  To secure your space, contact Jeanne at Baja Expeditions, 800-843-6967, travel@bajaex.com.

October 5 - 12, 2008 -- $1,550 - $1,750 per person, depending on room type.  Package Includes:  Six nights shipboard accommodations and one night local hotel accommodations in La Paz.  Meals are included, beginning with breakfast on Day 2 and end with lunch on Day 7, and includes beer, soda and wine while shipboard.

Bahamian Tale of Two Gobies

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A great find -- the rare Exuma goby! Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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An even greater find -- the very rare lemon goby! Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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Exuma gobys up in the water column. They behave similar to masked/glass gobies. Photo by Andy Dehart.

In January, 2008 the National Aquarium Institute organized and conducted a Bahamian conservation expedition on the Aqua Cat live-aboard dive vessel. Our mission was to conduct REEF surveys and work on the invasive lionfish project. On board this trip were Lad Akins (REEF Special Projects Director), Ned and Anna DeLoach, Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium), National Aquarium staff, and aquarium and REEF volunteers. In addition to meeting the lionfish research goals of the cruise, we were treated to not one but two exciting and rare finds - the Exuma goby and the lemon goby.

At a dive site in Eleuthera called Cave Rock Reef we geared up and readied ourselves for lionfish behavior monitoring. Just as I started getting my gear together Anna came to the surface to tell me she had found a school of Exuma gobies, Gobiosoma atronasum. What I had not realized was that the keen eye of Bruce Purdy, owner of the Aqua Cat and avid REEF surveyor and supporter had noticed them at this site before and he had directed Anna to the exact coral head. I have logged over 400 dives in the Bahamas and until this day the Exuma goby had always eluded me. To the casual observer this fish looks like a cleaning goby or sharknose goby until you notice its behavior. Unlike most other “neon-type” gobies, the Exuma Goby spends most of its time hovering in the water column, not perched on the coral. They act very similar to the masked and glass gobies. Excited to add a new species to my life list I leave the small cluster of these great fish and head down to my assigned duty of monitoring a lionfish.

Two days later, while on a dive at Blacktip Wall in the Exumas, I noticed a few fish mixed in with school bass. These fish looked out of place and very different from anything I had ever seen. I noted as much detail as possible on my REEF slate and swam on hoping that one of my fellow trip members would be able to help me identify it. As it turns out no one had any idea what it was, but luckily Ned had also seen this odd fish and had taken some great photos of it. After some research when we returned from the trip, we discovered this fish was a lemon goby, Vomerogobius flavus. The lemon goby is an exciting new fish to the REEF database. This species was identified and described in 1971 from 11 Bahamian specimens, but this sighting in the Exumas is a range extension for the species.

It was truly a rewarding experience to finally see and survey the Exuma goby that I have searched for on many trips. To document a fish that I did not even know existed was the icing on the cake. For a fish lover like me, getting to find a new species for the REEF database is an honor. REEF surveying truly keeps diving exciting and new. I am concerned about the effects that the invasive lionfish could have on these two species of gobies with such a narrow range in which they live, but the data from all of our great volunteers helps us track these changes. It would be a shame to lose such unique endemic species due to this foreign invader. We hope you enjoy seeing some of the first photos ever published of these two goby gems.

REEF Data Entry Tips

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Never far from internet access! Sitting on the boat in Makah Marina, Olympic Coast REEF surveyors submit their survey data for the day. Online entry is the preferred way to submit REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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It's always a good idea to review your data soon after your dive.
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REEF surveyors in Hawaii, as well as the West Coast/Pacific region and the Tropical Eastern Pacific, can all enter data online.

Processing and error checking the 1,000+ REEF surveys submitted each month by our members as part of the Volunteer Survey Project is one of REEF's highest priorities. With limited staff and resources, there are a few things that you can do to help us maintain the integrity of this incredible database. Most importantly - whenever possible, please submit your data through the Online Data Entry interface, http://www.REEF.org/dataentry. Turnaround time is typically 1-3 weeks, compared with 8-12 weeks for paper scansheets. Plus it saves postage and paper! The second most important way you can help -- if you are submitting data on scansheets, please have your REEF member number and complete 8-digit zone code filled in on the form before mailing it to REEF. Read on for more helpful hints.

Online Data Entry Tips

  • You need to be a REEF member in order to submit data. If you aren’t already a member, join online. It’s easy and FREE! If you are a member but you do not know your survey number, you can check it here http://www.reef.org/user/numberlookup. If you have trouble retrieving your number, email us at reefhq@reef.org.
  • You must have pop-up windows enabled for the Online Data Entry program to work.
  • As you progress through the screens using the Next and Back buttons, your entries will be saved. If you lose your Internet connection or need to logout before finishing, the information will be there to complete and submit when you log back in.
  • In order to submit a survey from a location, REEF must have an 8-digit zone code for the site in our database first. Existing zone codes are listed at http://www.reef.org/db/zonecodes. To have a zone code assigned for a new site, please contact us at reefhq@reef.org.
  • Listed and Unlisted Species - The listed species screens navigate you through a list of the most common species from the region you surveyed. At any time, you can jump directly to a particular family using the navigation list on the left-hand side. After you have entered all of your listed species, you will then be able to add any additional fish species. You will be able to search by common, scientific, and family names or be entering in the specific species code if already known.
  • Summary and Error Checking - After you are finished entering the data, your entries will be summarized. Please review this summary and confirm that all information is correct. Your sightings data will be compared to REEF’s existing data and any rare or new sightings or species that are commonly misidentified will be flagged. You will be asked to confirm these sightings.
  • Submit - Once you select “Submit” the survey data will be stored in a permanent file and you will no longer be able to review or edit the data. The data will then be loaded into the REEF Database, however, note that data will be not immediately added to the database. Each survey submitted will be assigned a survey number that will be shown on the final confirmation page; this unique number is similar to the form number printed on each paper scanform and should be kept for your records. You can use your browser’s print function to print the final review page.
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    REEF is currently modifying our Online Data Entry program for surveys from the Tropical Eastern Pacific and the Northeast. We hope to have this available soon.

    3 Paths that Merged As One

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    The James E. Lockwood REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida.
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    Members of REEF's Board of Trustees and representatives of Mr. Lockwood's estate cut the ceremonial ribbon.

    On April 25, 2009 we celebrated history in Key Largo. It was a beautiful tropical day with the REEF parking lot covered in tents, tables and chairs, fish balloons with cold drinks and appetizers island music being offered up. People came from near and far as we all helped celebrate the dedication of the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters. The afternoon celebrated the merging of three paths - that of a dive industry pioneer, a historic building in the Florida Keys and a grass-roots environmental organization. The gift by James E. Lockwood will go a long way in helping REEF protect, educate and enable divers, snorkelers and armchair enthusiasts to make the world a better place.

    Casey Wilder, REEF Program Assistant, designed a beautiful program that outlined how we all ended up in the parking lot on this day. Make sure you check out the online version of this little piece of history. The program provides an overview of the history of James E. Lockwood, a true diving pioneer, the 1913 Conch House that houses REEF and the history of REEF and how all three ended up moving forward together as of 4/25/09.

    Special guests Mike Dorn and John Campbell provided the history of Mr. Lockwood, which is incredibly fascinating and diverse. Paul Humann and Ned De Loach spoke on behalf of REEF and talked about how REEF is Key Largo’s very own home grown environmental 501(c)(3), making it very relevant that REEF’s office are housed in the oldest building in Key Largo. Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, we unveiled the beautiful new plaque commemorating the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters and the date the house was built. The Conch house even received a spiffy new coat of paint so she was dressed for the occasion. Special thanks to Bill Corbett of Keys Home Improvement for doing such a superb job in record time!

    The next time you are in the Keys be sure to stop by the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters, MM 98.3 in the median and enjoy a little history, mingle with REEF staff and shop for the fish.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub