Long-Spined Sea Urchin To Be Added to TWA Survey Protocol

Diadema antillarum, the Long-Spined Sea Urchin, will soon be part of the TWA REEF survey protocol. Photo by Paul Humann.

In response to requests from the scientific community, we are adding a new species to monitor on REEF surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) - Diadema antillarum, the Long-Spined Sea Urchin. In the early 1980s, a large die-off of Diadema occurred throughout the TWA. This has had a significant and long-lasting impact on coral reefs in the region because Diadema is (was) one of the primary grazers on Caribbean coral reefs (keeping rocks clear for baby corals to establish and keeping algae from overgrowing established corals). The disappearance of Diadema, coupled with overfishing of grazing fish species such as parrotfish and surgeonfish in some parts of the Caribbean along with other complicating factors, has resulted in many algae-dominated reefs. Despite 20+ years since the die-off, the once wide-spread and abundant species has failed to recover in most places in the Caribbean. There is a growing collective of researchers who are hoping to map the current distribution and abundance of Diadema. REEF will be assisting this effort by including Diadema in our TWA protocol. Surveyors will report whether they were actively looking for Diadema or not, and if they were, in what abundance category (S,F,M,A - same as for fish). We are currently working on the necessary training materials and additions to the database, and the new protocol will be in place soon.

Explorers Summer Camp

If you know a child with a sense of adventure and a passion for the ocean, check out REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp! The 5-day program in Key Largo, Florida, immerses campers into an ocean of learning and fun! REEF will introduce campers to the underwater world and all the amazing things found beneath the sea. Meet a sea turtle, swim alongside reef fishes, and explore the beautiful Florida Keys. We have 4 sessions planned this summer and registration is now open!

Each camp session includes:

  • Snorkel trips to the coral reef
  • Kayak ventures into winding mangrove trails
  • Cruise on the glass bottom boat
  • Marine science lessons, experiments, and crafts
  • Opportunity to connect with nature and make new friends

Join REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp to make a splash this summer. We welcome campers ages 8 - 14. Sibling discount available. A $275 camp tuition includes park entry fees, activity expenses, equipment rentals, and souvenir REEF gear including a T-shirt and water bottle! Camp hosted at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, FL June 20-24, July 18-22, and August 1-5. Camp hosted at Post Card Inn at Holiday Isle in Islamorada, FL July 11-15. For more information please visit www.REEF.org/Explorers/Camp or call (305) 852-0030.

Putting It To Work: REEF Staff Attends International Coral Science Conference

Christy and Brice posing with a shark at ICRS2016 to raise awareness about the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands

In June, REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, attended the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium meeting held in Hawaii. This conference, held every four years, brings together several thousand scientists, policy makers, and managers to discuss coral reefs and share latest research. During the week, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, presented an analysis of REEF survey data collected by volunteers in Bonaire Marine Park over the last 20 years. This valuable citizen science dataset includes over 22,000 surveys and 26,000 hours of underwater time. The findings reveal precipitous declines in large-bodied fishes such as grouper, but steady increases in mid-sized parrotfish. Hundreds of other talks were given, on a range of topics from the severe bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, to the impacts of harmful fishing practices such as dynamite and cyanide, to discovering bright spots in some coral reef areas. Also at the conference, Dr. Jack Randall was awarded the Darwin Medal for his lifetime of achievements. All us fish watchers owe Dr. Randall a lot! Jack has described 815 reef fish species in his lifetime. He is 91 years old and has published 878 papers and dozens of fish ID guides.

Rapid Response To Non-native Onespot Rabbitfish

Onespot Rabbitfish, native to Asia Pacific. Photo by Florent Charpin.
REEF's rapid response team after removing the non-native rabbitfish from Dania Beach.

In October 2016, REEF's Rapid Response Team removed a non-native Onespot Rabbitfish from Florida waters within 24 hours of its reporting. The rabbitfish is the 36th non-native marine fish documented in Florida waters through REEF’s Exotic Species Sightings Program, and its removal is the 5th successful rapid response effort led by REEF.

The Onespot Rabbitfish was seen by a REEF member while diving offshore of Dania Beach, Florida, who then reported it through REEF’s Non-native Sightings Program. Within 24 hours of receiving the sighting report, REEF and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) coordinated a successful live-capture of the fish. The fish was placed at the new Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami and will be displayed as part of an educational exhibit on the dangers of non-native species.

Like the lionfish, the rabbitfish is a venomous fish with a voracious appetite. Rabbitfish eat marine vegetation like seaweeds, algae, and seagrasses, and could impact native fish habitat. They are native to the Asian Pacific region. It is probable that, like the lionfish, the Onespot Rabbitfish was introduced to the South Florida reef via an aquarium release. Please spread the word about the dangers of introducing exotic fish to local waters. Other options include reaching out to a local fish or pet shop, asking other fish owners to adopt, looking for a local fish club, or donating the fish to school or office. If you are a diver in Florida, please keep your eyes open for this species. If you see one, please fill out an exotic species reporting form at www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report.

Over the last several years, USGS and REEF have coordinated the removal of the rabbitfish and four other non-native marine fish species from Florida waters. All four species were captured alive, and three of the four are currently on display at educational institutions. The rabbitfish will be on display at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida, when it opens its doors in early 2017.

Fishinars Coming Up - Galapagos, Roatan, and more!

The Galapagos Blue-banded Goby, is one of the many endemic species that will be discussed in the upcoming Fishinar. Photo by Paul Humann.

We have some fantastic Fishinars coming up in the next few months, and we’d like for you to join us. Fishinars, REEF's brand of online webinars, are live, fun, interactive, and educational. Never boring! They last one hour, and you can log on from your home computer or mobile device.

Our next Fishinar in May (Wednesday the 3rd) will focus on “Fish in the Land of Finches: Galapagos”, and will be taught by our Science Director Christy Semmens. After that, shift your focus to a favorite destination of divers, Roatan, when Scott and Patti Chandler teach the Fishes of Roatan on Thursday May 11th.

You can register and get more information on these and other great Fishinars scheduled for 2017 by going to: www.REEF.org/fishinars. ‘Sea’ you online!

It's Not Too Late to Get the Hammerhead Print

During our Winter Campaign, donors contributing $250 or more will receive this limited edition, signed print of a schooling Hammerhead Sharks taken by Paul Humann.

Now that we are well into the swing of this new year, it has never been a better time to contribute to a very important cause: conserving the oceans that connect us all. If you haven't already given this winter, please do so today! You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/donate or call REEF at (305) 852-0030. And if you donate at least $250 before the end of February you will receive my limited-edition, signed print of Schooling Hammerheads taken in the Galapagos Islands. By supporting REEF, you are protecting biodiversity and making an investment in the health of our oceans.

Fish Tales from Our Members

"Did you ever have a fish experience that both excited and sadden you?"

That feeling recently happened to me at the dive site Kalli's Korner in Bonaire. My husband, Chile, and I were having a great day of diving with our friends Bryan and Phyllis McCauley in their boat, Pufferfish. Towards the end of our second dive that day, I noticed a pair of eyes peeping out of some coral rubble. As I watched suddenly a small eel darted out and raced few feet before hiding again. I was immediately intrigued and, using my rattle, got my buddy Phyllis' attention. Pointing out the location, we watched as once again the little conger eel slipped out of his cover and moved away. We slowly began to approach in hope of a better look. The process continued as we sought to identify him and he continued his trek. Each time we were able to get a bit closer and look for characteristics. Finally he seem comfortable enough to look at us, as we looked at him. Suddenly, a barred hamlet appeared above him and scooped him up. Imagine our shock and horror!!! Anger raced through my body and instinctually I reached for my dive knife and took off after that (blank blank) hamlet. The chase continued as the hamlet, with his full tummy, eluded me and viewed me as if to say 'why are you after me?' What was my plan I thought later? Well, I only know if I had caught the sucker, oops fish, he would have been disemboweled in the search for the little conger eel. The sound of laughter underwater reaches me. By this time, my dive buddy is in stitches as I sheepishly return. Later research found a margaintail conger that matched our descriptions. 

Now as I continue my search for what I hope are his companions, I will be keeping a wary eye out for hamlets in the surrounding area. So that’s my fish tale and now for the question: Should you report to REEF a fish, found, identified but not longer living in the underwater world?

You can bet I did.

 

Intern Dives into Science and Bahamian Waters

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Ken Marks doing a fish transect
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Chris Moses and Judy Lang gathering coral data
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Brooke Gintert making headway on her benthic transect

REEF once again participated in the Perigee Environmental's yearly evaluation of the coral ecosystems along the eastern coast of Andros, Bahamas in cooperation with the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). Using the newest Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveying protocol, scientists gathered coral, benthic and fish data during the first 2 weeks of October. The data gathered will complement the existing 30 year data that demonstrates AUTEC's continuing efforts to preserve coral reefs around their facilities and military training ranges. Judy Lang, coral ecology expert, and Chris Moses, University of Southern Florida graduate student, were in charge of gathering the coral data. Brooke Gintert was conducting her Ph.D. work for the University of Miami and assisting with the benthic data collection. One of the REEF founders, Ken Marks and REEF intern Catherine Whitaker were responsible for the fish counting.

AUTEC has been actively monitoring and protecting the coral reef near shore environment since the establishment of the facilities in the 1960s. For the last six years, AUTEC has used the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment surveying protocol, which is a method that compares the complex relationship among corals, fish and algae and provides a quantitative scale on the health of a reef's ecosystem by comparing the survey results in terms of a regional comparison. In this case, it is also being used to track temporal changes to 35 reef sites around central Andros. Point-count data and general coral data were collected to estimate coral condition and algal cover. Fish variety, abundance, and size was estimated by transects and the rover diver method.

For more information concerning this trip or AGRRA please contact Patricia Kramer of Perigee Environmental (p_kramer@bellsouth.net).

Top ten things I learned from my AGRRA trip:
10. Exhaustion is a state of mind and is not cured by more work, less sleep and diving. Food (especially Pringles and chocolate) helps though.
9. Golf carts should be used more often in the US.
8. Dinner waits for no man, so floor the pedal on that golf cart and RUN!
7. The floating pier at site 1 is cursed and sets off the rain whenever any member of the AGRRA trip steps on it to load or unload anything from the boat.
6. Snakes do not belong on planes, I mean, in camera cases but seem to like it there.
5. Crashing mountainous waves and cement-like waters are not conducive to good science or a pleasant dive.
4. Post-trip pep talks should always include sweets and beverages.
3. Rick makes the barren rock that is Site 4 look and feel like Club Med. Thanks Rick.
2. Things to do on your only day off (because of 30 knot winds and 6ft waves) include but are not limited to swimming against a raging outgoing tide at a blue hole, resting by snorkeling for 2 hours in an inland blue hole, spearing lionfish, dissecting said lionfish and having a horseshoe tournament.
1. Making new friends, doing science and experiencing a sense of accomplishment for conservation efforts... priceless.

My warmest wishes go out to our AUTEC liaisons, Tom Szlyk and Marc Ciminello for their invaluable assistance. I would also like to thank everyone who put in extra effort so that I could participate in this fantastic trip as well as anyone who taught me anything while I was on it. Thank you very much.

REEF Data Used To Evaluate Effect of Marine Reserves in the Channel Islands

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Kelp bass, one of the 25 species included in the analysis of marine reserves in the Channel Islands. A harvested species, this species showed a positive effect of marine reserves through time.
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A REEF volunteer descending to conduct a survey in one of the Channel Islands marine reserves. Photo by Carl Gwinn.

REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, joined a dozen other scientists in presenting the findings of monitoring the marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Channel Islands, California, earlier this month during a special session of the California Islands Symposium.   The presentation highlighted the effect of reserves on common nearshore rocky reef fishes based on 10 years of REEF survey data.  During this time, REEF volunteer divers have collected 1,595 visual fish surveys from 113 sites throughout the Channel Islands before and after state marine reserves were established in 2002.  Using analysis methods developed to analyze volunteer bird watching data, collaborators Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA NMFS) and Dr. Steve Katz (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) developed a model to detect trends in fish densities. The analysis included 25 species of common rocky reef fishes, including targeted and non-targeted species. Rather than focusing on changes in the density of individual species, the analysis evaluated changes in multiple species to characterize responses of marine communities to protection from fishing in reserves.  The analysis suggests that reserves are positively influencing fish population trajectories in both targeted and non-targeted species.  On average, fish populations had ~20% higher growth rates inside reserves as compared to outside, although there was a high degree of variability across species.  Dr. Pattengill-Semmens notes that this study is one of the first applications of Pacific region REEF data for use by marine resource agency officials to evaluate the effects of management actions.  The results will ultimately be published and will join the many existing published studies of the utility of Tropical Western Atlantic REEF data.  The cumulative impact of the data and results from the entire suite of monitoring programs being conducted around the Channel Islands will "help to inform future management of the region, aid in the implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act in southern California, and contribute to our understanding of MPAs worldwide," said John Ugoretz, manager of the Marine Habitat Conservation Program for the California Department of Fish and Game.   To find out more about REEF monitoring activities in the Channel Islands, visit the Channel Islands project webpage.

Lisa Mitchell Takes the Helm of REEF

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Captain Lisa Mitchell, new REEF Executive Director, returns from a survey dive.

June will mark a change at the helm for REEF. We would like to wish Leda Cunningham well in her future endeavors, and welcome Lisa Mitchell as our new Executive Director. Lisa is eager to bring her extensive experience in the dive industry to REEF, as well as her natural passion for ocean conservation.

Lisa’s involvement with REEF almost goes back to the organization’s inception when, in 1993, she was owner/manager of Baskin in the Sun in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. After participating in a REEF Field Survey she immediately went to work involving BVI dive operators in the new program. In fact, because of her enthusiasm, Tortola became the first destination where 100% of the island’s dive businesses became REEF Field Stations. The REEF staff and Board were so impressed that she was asked to bring her organizational expertise and energies to the Board of Trustees in 1995 where she served until leaving Tortola in 1998 to pursue an Executive MBA at the University of Central Florida.

Lisa is a diver’s diver whose life has evolved around the underwater world. She earned her first scuba certification at age 12 while attending Sea Camp in Big Pine Key, Florida where she later became Assistant Scuba Director. During the following years, while gaining experience working at dive resorts in the Florida Keys and with Peter Hughes in Bonaire, she became a Master Dive Instructor and ultimately an SSI Instructor Certifier, and holds a USCG 100 Ton Master’s License. In the process Lisa has made well over 8,000 dives. To honor her many accomplishments Lisa was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2001.

Most recently Lisa has worked as a marketing and business analysis consultant within the dive industry with clients such as Scuba Schools International (SSI), Expedition Fleet Liveaboards, and Dive Dominica.

It goes without saying the REEF staff and Board are delighted to have Lisa back in the fold, and look forward to many prosperous years with such a capable and energetic Captain at the helm.

REEF members and Lisa’s many friends are invited to join us for a “Welcome Back to REEF and the Keys” evening to be held in her honor at 7 PM June 21st, 2008 at the Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo.

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