120,000! And Counting

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A REEF surveyor records a school of grunts. Photo by Paul Humann.
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REEF volunteer, Dana Haggarty, reviews her data after a survey dive in Monterey Bay.
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REEF data have been used in the stock assessment of Goliath grouper. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF eclipsed a milestone this week when the REEF Volunteer Survey Project Database passed the 120,000 survey mark.  This represents over 150,000 hours of underwater survey time from our volunteers.  The achievement comes almost 15 years to the day when the first REEF fish survey was conducted off Key Largo, Florida, on July 17, 1993.  Today, the program is going strong throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Galapagos Islands and Hawaii. In the tropical western Atlantic region alone, 96,469 surveys have been conducted at 6,085 sites and 795 fish species have been recorded.  Of course, improving your marine life identification skills, building your lifelist of sighted species, and conducting surveys are a lot of fun.  But have you ever wondered what good are all of these data?  

Volunteer data collection, or citizen science, provides a valuable alternative for scientists and resource agencies needing information but lacking sufficient resources to gather it. In addition, involvement in data collection leads to greater awareness about marine resources and creates a stewardship ethic among key user groups.

In addition to providing data summaries on the REEF Website, REEF staff provide raw data to scientists and resource agencies.  REEF data have been used in the development of stock assessments (Kingsley 2004), in the evaluation of trends of fish species (Semmens et al. 2000), to measure the effect of marine protected areas on kelp forest fish communities (Semmens et al. in prep) and coral reefs (REEF 2003), as an indicator of population pressure on natural resources (Burke and Maidens 2004), to evaluate interactions between species and species-habitat relationships (Auster et al. 2005), to asses the effect of restoration efforts in areas of damaged reef (REEF 2008), and to asses the status of a group of reef fish species that is experiencing significant declines (Ward-Paige et al., in prep A and B).  REEF volunteers have been instrumental in the identification and removal of exotic species (Semmens et al. 2004), in the identification of new species (Taylor and Akins 2007; Weaver and Rocha 2007) and morphological variants of known species (Pattengill-Semmens 1999), and in the documentation of previously unrecorded range extensions (M. Taylor and J. Van Tassel, Pers. Comm.). PDFs of most of these articles and a full listing of scientific papers and reports that have used REEF data are included in the Publications section of the REEF Website.

REEF extends a big thank you to the 10,000+ volunteers who have contributed to this database over the years and we are looking forward to the next 120,000 surveys!  Be sure to visit the Top 10 Stats page to see a quick rundown  of REEF survey activity.  You can also explore the data more in-depth by visiting the Database section of the REEF.org Website.

Peter Hughes Belize Lionfish Invasion Trip

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The upcoming Peter Hughes Belize Lionfish awareness/outreach trip turns to lionfish research/removal after the first lionfish was discovered in Central American waters. Join REEF aboard the Sun Dancer II from June 13-20 for this exciting and fun diving adventures. Following eye opening presentations by REEF staff and partners at the recent DEMA dive show in October, long-time supporter Peter Hughes took on a new mission - to support REEF's efforts in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean. With his world-renowned fleet of liveaboard dive vessels and concern for the marine environment, Peter became an instant supporter after hearing details of the invasion. In stepping up to the plate, he offered his Belize-based liveaboard, Sun Dancer II, as a platform to raise funds and increase awareness of the issue during a June 13-20 expedition. Little did he know that within 2 short months, lionfish would actually show up in Belize in advance of our planned project.

Sun Dancer II instructors, leading a group of divers on Turneffe Reef, spotted a juvenile lionfish on December 11, 2008. Subsequent dives provided images verifying the sighting and Sun Dancer Captain Ryan Barnett, who had previously worked with REEF during Bahamas lionfish projects, put the early warning system into action through his report to REEF HQ. While the fish has yet to be recovered, Sun Dancer staff now have divers on the lookout and are stocking the vessel with collecting supplies.

While the fundraising efforts of the June project remain, the focus of the June project has now shifted to include more detailed data gathering and collection of any lionfish specimens found. Additional workshops are being organized with Belizean authorities to assist in development and implementation of their lionfish response plan. For those interested in joining the June 13-20 project aboard the Sun Dancer, please view the project webpage or contact Peter Hughes Diving directly at (800) 9-DANCER.  For more information on the lionfish issue and to support REEF's efforts, go to www.reef.org/lionfish or contact Lad Akins (Lad@REEF.org) (305) 852-0030.

Discover Bermuda With Ned and Anna DeLoach

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Grotto Bay Resort will be home base for the week in Bermuda.
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Church Bay is one of the many beautiful snorkeling sites in Bermuda.
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The Blue Angelfish is one of the species divers and snorkelers will see in Bermuda. Photo by John Burville.

Make a dive trip that counts - in Bermuda, October 3- 10, on the Fish Behavior Tour! World-renowned marine naturalists, Ned and Anna DeLoach, authors of Reef Fish Identification and Reef Fish Behavior, will join local expert REEF instructor, Judie Clee, and Chris Flook, Collector of Specimens for the Bermuda Aquarium, as your trip leaders. Ned and Anna will schedule slide and video fish presentations about the wonderful world of marine life behavior and fish identification. This is an excellent destination for your non-diving friends and family as well.

This is going to be an awesome week for everyone. Bermuda is a wonderful destination and the Grotto Bay Hotel offers fine accommodation and dining. Their on site dive operation – Triangle Diving – is exceptional and their dive staff's knowledge and experience means they will be able to chose the very best dive sites each day. Ned and Anna's engaging and informative lectures will cover everything from fish identification to interesting behaviors, including reproduction and predation. In addition to many of the usual suspects, you will be able to see endemics like our Bermuda Bream and some species like the Blue Angelfish that are rarely seen elsewhere but common in Bermuda.

Bermuda is a also a wonderful place to come with your non-diving spouse/partner/friend/children. Anyone who just wants to snorkel will be able to do so comfortably at most of the dive sites or just along the shoreline and still see lots of fish and corals. On land there is so much to see and do, and local REEF volunteers will be on hand to give personal island sightseeing tours to anyone interested. Shopping is great with lots of local and British products. Don’t forget the pristine, beautiful beaches with the fine pink sand – there for anyone who just wants to chill out.

Our island hosts have arranged an exciting agenda for the week to make this not just a typical dive vacation. These opportunities include a presentation by the Bermuda BREAM Project scientists, a visit to Nonsuch Island (a magical place to explore and a birdwatcher's delight), viewing the glowworms at Whalebone Bay, watching the invasive lionfish culling team and the lionfish culinary team in action – as in “catch and eat” – yummy!, all topped off with a cocktail reception and behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.

Don't miss your chance to take a trip of a lifetime. The cost per person is $2,095, plus a $300 REEF Program Fee. The package Includes: 7 nights in Oceanfront Superior room, taxes and resort gratuities, round-trip airport transfers, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives with Triangle Divers, behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium, classroom sessions and survey materials.

This is just one of several REEF Trips that remain in 2009. A few spaces remain on the Field Surveys to Curacao in October and Cozumel in December -- check out the full trip schedule online. And stay tuned for our 2010 Field Survey schedule, which will be announced soon! For more information and to reserve your space please contact our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or you can e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.

Fishy Love

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Spawning butter hamlets. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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

Roatan Field Survey a Success!

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Twenty-four lucky REEF members joined Paul Humann for a week of diving in Roatan, Honduras.
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A Dog Snapper displaying an interesting barred pattern. Photo by Paul Humann.
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A pattern of dense brown spots covered this Yellowmouth Grouper. Photo by Paul Humann.

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.

Spread the Word...

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Would you like to help spread the word about REEF to your dive club, dive shop, local nature center, etc.? We now have a presentation about the REEF Volunteer Survey program in your area, complete with speaker notes. It takes about 30-45 minutes, and goes over how simple it is to conduct a survey, and how to get started. PERFECT for groups wanting to get involved with REEF but weren't quite sure how to go about it! Let us know if you'd be interested in showing it to your group - email janna@reef.org

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Eugene Dive Club and Eugene Skin Divers Supply

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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

This month we feature the Eugene Dive Club, an active club in Oregon with over 100 members. The club serves as the go-to arm of the official REEF Field Station at Eugene Skin Divers Supply. The club's involvement was spearheaded by two active northwest REEF surveyors and Eugene locals, Christine and Jim Pendergrass. Chris and Jim took the PADI Habitat class through Eugene Skin Divers Supply, which fed them into the volunteer dive program at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. That sparked their interest in fish ID and led them to REEF. Since then, Jim and Chris have been teaching REEF fish and invertebrate ID classes, sponsoring monthly REEF dives along the Oregon coast, and helping with REEF’s online training webinars. They have also created a fun ID game called ‘Cash Boat’, a fish/invert ID contest modeled after TV’s ‘Cash Cab’. Their efforts have paid off, and we have seen an increase in Oregon divers involved in the REEF survey program. They are now planning to expand their REEF class schedule, planning more REEF Blitz Weekends, and continuing to introduce folks from other dive clubs to the wonders of Oregon diving and critterwatching. When asked about what they like best about being involved with REEF, Jim and Chris say "It’s a great way to learn more about the marine environment and meet like-minded people. And you get to share exciting underwater finds, like the Monkeyface Prickleback!" Thanks to Jim, Chris, and the folks at the Eugene Skin Divers Supply for helping invigorate the REEF program in Oregon.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Paradise Watersports

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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our featured Field Station this month, Paradise Watersports, is based at Peter Island Resort and Spa in the British Virgin Islands. Their team is led by Randy Keil, an active REEF surveyor and member of the Advanced Assessment Team. Randy was first introduced to REEF over 10 years ago by Lad Akins. Since then, he has built a great program at Paradise Watersports. All of their instructors dive with slates and pencils, and fish and creature identification is done on every dive. Randy notes that “it has been our experience that our divers and snorkelers enjoy the experience of looking at marine life and immediately having it identified. It also gives them a basis on which we can talk about the dive when we’re back on the boat. Instead of ‘what was that big fish with all the colors?’ we get ‘now you called that fish a grasby, I thought it was a grouper?’ It serves as a springboard for discussion and an understanding of the relationships of the reef community.”

Paradise Watersports is also involved in helping track the invasive lionfish. Randy sees this as just one advantage of having the REEF survey program in place locally. With over 1500 surveys in the BVI and over 100,000 in the Caribbean region, the REEF database is a valuable tool in tracking the lionfish invasion and better understanding the impact the lionfish is having on the various areas. In the BVI, the dive operators, including Paradise Watersports, are making a determined effort to keep lionfish off of the moored reefs. Conservation and Fisheries has issued exemptions to the strict no spearfishing laws that allow each dive operation and several of the crewed charterboats to take lionfish. Thanks to Randy and his crew at Paradise Watersports for all you do to support REEF's programs!

Grouper Moon Episode of Changing Seas Now Online

Photo by Jim Hellemn.

'Changing Seas', an Emmy award-winning original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, premiered their newest episode, "Grouper Moon", earlier this month. The episode is now available to view online here. The episode 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 2013 - Protecting a Caribbean Icon

A lone Nassau Grouper in front of 4,000 others at the spawning aggregation site on Little Cayman. Photo by Josh Stewart.
Cayman Prep student showing off her Nassau Grouper drawing, one of several activities through the Grouper Education Program.
Christy and Brice doing a live-video feed from the spawning aggregation to classrooms. Students ask Brice questions in real time and get to virtually dive on the site! Photo by Josh Stewart.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for the species in the Cayman Islands. 2013 was a very exiting year - we continued to document increases in the number of fish at the site and there were many "teenagers" (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time). The number of spawning bursts and the number of nights spawning occured has increased. Watch this short video to see the action. We continued our education efforts. With support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we were able to expand the program to more classrooms at Cayman Prep and High School on Grand Cayman and initiated the program at Spot Bay Primary School on Cayman Brac. The Grouper Education Project introduces children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau Grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum has been developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. Seattle-based educator, Todd Bohannon, leads up this effort.

To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, watch the Changing Seas episode online here.

To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2013, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Pegasus Thrusters supported the project in 2013 through the donation of Diver Propulsion Vehicles. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub