REEF Welcomes Two New Staff

Jonathan Lavan is REEF's new Volunteer Fish Survey Project Program Assistant.
Heather George is REEF's new Trips Program Manager.

We are very excited to welcome two new members of the REEF Staff team - Jonathan Lavan and Heather George. Both have been involved as volunteers in the organization for many years and collectively bring a wealth of experience and passion for REEF's mission.

Jonathan will serve as the Volunteer Fish Survey Project Program Assistant, and will be based in San Diego. Jonathan has been a REEF member since 2004 and has submitted almost 500 REEF surveys in 5 of the Survey Project's 8 survey regions. He is a REEF Trip Leader and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast. He was REEF’s 2012 Volunteer of the Year. Jonathan is also known to many as the voice of REEF’s Fishinars, and he teaches several of these popular webinars each year. Jonathan will be assisting with many aspects of our corner-stone citizen science program.

Heather will serve as the Trips Program Manager. Heather has been an active member of the REEF community since 2002. In addition to serving as a REEF Trip Leader, Heather is an expert-level surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii regions, and has conducted over 200 surveys. She also assisted with REEF's expansion to the South Pacific, participated in the Grouper Moon project, and served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010. In 2011, Heather was awarded the Volunteer of the Year award. Heather is based on the Garden Island of Kauai, where if you visit she welcomes the opportunity to survey with you!

Please help us extend a warm fishy welcome to Heather and Jonathan!

Upcoming Fishinars - YOY Rockfish, Pesky Damselfish, and more!

Hey you! Want to learn tips and tricks for identifying the pesky Caribbean damsels. Sign up for the free Fishinar, September 1. Photo by Carol Cox.

Whether you've attended one of our famous Fishinars (REEF's version of an online webinar) before or not, you're sure to enjoy one of our upcoming free classes! From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device (using the Citrix GoToWebinar app), you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information.

  • Yo Yo YOYs! Pacific Northwest Young of Year Rockfish ID
  • Those Darn Damsels - REBOOT!
  • Invertebrates and Algae of REEF's California Survey Project
  • The Nightstalkers! Eels of the Caribbean
  • Islands in the Stream: Fish of the California Channel Islands
  • The Ones You Should Know - Top 25 Fishes of the Caribbean

Fishinars This Month: Grunts, the Gulf of Mexico, and more

Bluestriped Grunt, one of the many we will talk about in next week's Fishinar. Photo by Carol Cox.

Don't miss REEF's Fishinars scheduled for this month. We'll talk about Grunts in the Caribbean, and a two-part session to compare common fishes of northern and southern Gulf of Mexico. And then next month, we welcome back the fabulous Ray Troll, who will talk about cool sharks, both modern day and extinct. These free, online webinars offer the opportunity to learn from our experts on a multitude of topics. For the complete 2016 schedule and to register, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars. Upcoming Fishinars include:

The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm EST, with Jonathan Lavan

Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm EST, with Carol Cox

Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm EST, with Artist Ray Troll

“Finding Dory” and Promoting Responsible Pet Ownership

"Dory" is a Palette Surgeonfish. Photo by Efraim Stocher.

The highly-anticipated sequel to Disney and Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”, “Finding Dory” opened in theaters in June, and was recently announced to be the highest-grossing animated film of all time. The titular character, Dory, is a Palette Surgeonfish (Paracanthurus hepatic), who spends the film searching for her family. Native to the tropical waters of the Western Pacific Ocean (REEF’s Central Indo-Pacific and South Pacific regions), these bright blue, reef-dwelling, algae-eating fish are also referred to as Pacific Blue Tangs, Hippo Tangs, or Regal Tangs. In addition to the film’s endearing characters and entertainment value, the release of “Finding Dory” carries the potential for an increased demand for Palette Surgeonfish in home aquariums, as well as the message that marine fish should be released into the wild.

Marine biologists worry that the release of “Finding Dory” could cause an increased demand for Palette Surgeonfish, threatening wild populations as well as coral reef habitats. National Geographic estimates that following the release of “Finding Nemo” in 2003, the demand for Clown Anenomefish (Amphiprion percula) like Nemo, more than tripled. Anenomefish are able to be aquacultured, or bred in captivity. Until recently, Palette Surgeonfish had never successfully been captive-bred, however, researchers at the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory recently announced that for the first time they have successfully raised the Palette Surgeonfish in captivity. This conservation breakthrough means that aquarists may soon have a source for Palette Surgeonfish that does not rely on fish removed from the wild. REEF encourages pet owners to educate themselves about fish ownership before buying a marine fish, including specifics on living requirements such as tank size, and whether the fish was bred in captivity or caught in the wild.

In addition, pet owners should have a plan in place in case they are ever unable to care for their fish. In “Finding Dory”, we learn that Dory was born and raised in a facility on the California coast, but eventually ended up in the wild. Releasing non-native marine fish into the ocean from home aquariums, while well-intentioned, can create severe problems for marine ecosystems. One threat includes the spread of invasive species, like the Indo-Pacific Lionfish, which has caused dramatic impacts since their initial introduction in the 1980’s. Non-native fish may also carry diseases and parasites that can have harmful impacts on native fish species.

In 2015, REEF launched the “Don’t Release Me” campaign to educate pet owners about responsible pet ownership, teach the public about the effects of releasing non-native pet species into the wild, and work cooperatively with other organizations to promote alternatives to pet release and stop the spread of invasive species. To learn more about Don’t Release Me and responsible pet ownership, visit www.dontreleaseme.org.

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!

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.

REEF and Lionfish Do the DEMA Show

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Some of the REEF DEMA team pose at the REEF booth - Stephanie Green, Lad Akins, Andy Dehart, Chris Flook, Lisa Mitchell.
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A popular feature at DEMA this year was REEF's display of lionfish in an aquarium.
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This special edition Lionfish print by Rogest is available through the REEF store.

Earlier this month, the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) held its once a year industry-wide, international trade show in Las Vegas. As part of the show, which attracts over 10,000 industry professionals and businesses, DEMA recognized the importance of the recent lionfish invasion into the Atlantic and asked REEF to present four show-sponsored talks for attendees and members.  

DEMA organizers also provided premium space at the show for an aquarium display and informational exhibit on the issue. REEF responded by providing an all-star cast of speakers and experts including Lad Akins (REEF), Andy Dehart (National Aquarium in DC), Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium) and Stephanie Green (Simon Fraser University). The talks were very well attended and the response from industry leaders was extremely positive. Marine Life artist, Ron Steven - better known as Rogest, was also on hand to sign special edition lionfish prints that he donated in support of REEF's efforts. During one seminar, Ron stood up to say that he never thought he would be encouraging divers to remove fish from the environment he works so hard to protect, but based on what we are seeing we should get rid of all lionfish (in the Atlantic). Similar sentiments were expressed by all who attended the talks. In addition to the talks, the 250 gallon aquarium set-up donated by ATM Aquariums in Las Vegas was a big hit. Ten lionfish were on display and provided excellent opportunities for in-depth discussions at the booth.

Next steps for work within the dive industry as outlined at the DEMA show are to work with inland dive operators to organize educational and data gathering lionfish projects and to work with island governments and on-island dive operators to conduct week-long workshops including education/outreach, monitoring, collecting/handling techniques and market development themes.

REEF will be leading its next week long in-country workshop in the Turks and Caicos in November and the next diver oriented project with Dive Provo January 17-24. For more information on how to organize a REEF-led lionfish project or to host a REEF workshop, please contact Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects, Lad@reef.org, (305) 852-0030.  To sign up for the Turks and Caicos project with Dive Provo call our REEF travel specialist at 877-295-REEF.  To find out more about REEF's efforts on lionfish, visit the REEF Lionfish Research page. 

Summer Fundraising Campaign - $30k in 30 Days

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REEF kicked off our summer fundraising campaign last week with a goal of raising $30,000 over the next 30 days. Help us meet this goal by contributing today! Although membership is free, REEF counts on financial support from individuals like you who believe in our work. Your donation will enable REEF to continue to support the Volunteer Survey Project and provide much needed data that will help to protect and preserve the underwater ecosystem. To find out more about the fundraising campaign and our plans for the next six months, read this special message from REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann. Please take a moment to make a donation now using our secure online donation form at https://www.reef.org/contribute. Our capacity to successfully implement and grow ongoing programs is directly tied to your support. REEF can’t do it alone, and we thank you generously for your contribution!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub