Putting It To Work: New Publication on Reef Biodiversity Using REEF Data

REEF surveyors are great at recording diversity! There are at least 5 species of fish in this picture. Photo by Nathan Brown.

Data generated by the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project provide an unparalleled opportunity to examine patterns in reef fish diversity (the number and types of species) at the scales of reefs, regions, and even an entire ocean basin. Authors of one recent scientific study took advantage of the over 25,000 Expert REEF surveys conducted at 80 sites from 6 Caribbean ecoregions over 17 years. The authors of the paper, which was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, used the REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity across many spatial scales (from individual sites to ecoregions). They also incorporated factors such as fisheries impacts and how connected different regions are to each other through ocean currents. They compared levels of different types of diversity-- alpha diversity (α-diversity) that explains local diversity (the number of species found in a given place), and beta diversity (β-diversity) that explains the difference in diversity among sites. Their results showed that fish assemblages are more homogenous than expected, particularly at the ecoregion scale. Within each ecoregion, diversity was mainly attributed to alpha diversity, indicating that fishes within each ecoregion are a subsample of the same species pool. Studies like this one that examine regional patterns of diversity in coral reef systems are important because of declining biodiversity in many areas. The paper's citation is: Francisco-Ramos V, Arias-González JE . 2013. Additive Partitioning of Coral Reef Fish Diversity Across Hierarchical Spatial Scales Throughout the Caribbean. PLoS ONE. 8(10): e78761. To read the full paper, or any of the other 50+ scientific papers that have included REEF data and programs, visit the REEF Publications page.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, July 2014

Rainbow Parrotfish - one of the important grazers on Caribbean reefs. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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:

- Scientists from NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources are using REEF data to evaluate populations of seabass and grouper in the Caribbean.

- A scientist from the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs is using REEF data on fishes and invertebrates to evaluate MPAs in the Puget Sound.

- A professor from California State San Luis Obispo is using REEF data to evaluate populations of three large parrotfish species in the Caribbean (Blue, Midnight, Rainbow).

The Faces of REEF: Joyce Schulke

Joyce diving with a turtle.
Purple Reeffish, a species typically found on deep reefs, can sometimes surprise us. Photo by Carol Cox.
Joyce surveying in Cozumel.

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 Joyce Schulke, one of REEF's earliest members. She has been a REEF member since 1996. An active surveyor who lives in Florida, Joyce has conducted almost 900 surveys to date and has been a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropcial Western Atlantic region since it's beginnings. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

In 1989 I snorkeled in Cancun. Diving lessons followed and the underwater world was wide open. Being a professional photographer, it was natural for me to learn underwater photography as well. Identifying those fish led me to the Humann and DeLoach book, Reef Fish Identification. It talked about REEF and so I followed through and became a fish surveyor in 1996. In 1999 I qualified as a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team. Being a surveyor inspired me to look harder and enjoy each dive more.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

Suddenly, even common fish are important to find and record. It is exciting to be part a larger goal and I have gotten a good idea of distribution of species, habitat, behavior, and changes to specific areas over the years. There is always a surprise. After diving to 130 feet to see my first Purple Reeffish in the southern Caribbean, I found one at 13 feet in Marathon Key. Recently, seeing the Longnose Batfish far from its normal habitat in 13 feet of water at Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, Florida, is another great example of the treasures awaiting those who really search.

I have specialized in the TWA and have done all of my diving there. I get enthusiastic when talking fish. I have currently seen and identified 519 species of TWA fish. My husband, Tom, and I used to divide the cost of a dive trip by the number of new species we found. You can imagine how expensive some of those species have become!

Where is your favorite place to dive?

Without hesitation, St. Vincent has added most of my unusual finds, with dozens of new species added on each trip. One trip produced 18 species of eels alone. The diversity of types of diving spots and willingness of Dive St. Vincent to take us to the odd spots makes this a favorite. However, now that I live in Florida, the lure of Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, has added a few more dozen new species in the last two years.

What fish am I looking for now?

If I haven’t seen it yet, I want it! Whether it’s a Spanish Sardine or a Longnose Batfish, I’m elated. Of course, when I see one that’s never been on a REEF survey before, I grin while emailing REEF for a new fish code.

What do you say to others about joining REEF?

I cannot encourage others enough. Being a REEF surveyor is a great contribution to ocean research and preservation. The real bonus, however, is how it adds a whole new purpose and enjoyment to your personal diving adventures.

The Faces of REEF: Tracey Griffin

Trip leader, Tracey, holding the REEF flag during the 2014 REEF Trip to Cozumel.
The dainty Cherubfish, a small angelfish found in the Caribbean. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

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 Tracey Griffin, a REEF member since 2005. An active surveyor who lives in Cozumel, Tracey has conducted 851 surveys to date. She is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the TWA region, has taught several Fishinars, and leads the annual REEF Field Survey to Cozumel each December. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I first heard about REEF on a live-aboard trip in the eastern Caribbean. One of the other divers was doing surveys, and I was fascinated! Soon after, I was lucky to be in Cozumel during the annual REEF week there, where I soon became an aficionado! And lucky me, little did I know that years later, I would become the leader of that annual trip!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I tell divers that doing REEF surveys is like going on a scavenger hunt on every dive. And learning about fish behavior makes diving even more interesting. Knowing what the fish are doing is just as fun as knowing all their names! Even though I have done hundreds of dives in Cozumel, I am still surprised to find new and rarely reported fish.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

Reaching out to new divers and snorkelers. I have given give short lectures at dive clubs, but also at events where people may be new to the ocean. I love to see people getting excited about seeing something they may have never noticed before. I believe that getting people excited about the fish will make them more likely to help conserve it.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

I now live and dive in Cozumel. I think this is one of the most beautiful places to dive in the Caribbean. The majestic coral pillars are amazing, and the schools of fish are magnificent. I often hear people say ‘I have never seen a ____ so big!’ Just another day in Paradise!

Do you have a favorite local REEF field station or dive shop?

I dive with Chili Charters, who is our REEF field survey dive operation in Cozumel. The DM and owner, Rene, has previously taken our REEF field survey course, and loves to help us find fish! It is always nice to dive with a dependable shop that is also interested in REEF and fish ID and ocean conservation.

What is your favorite fish?

Although picking a favorite is difficult, if I had to, I would take the Cherubfish! These skittish little angelfish are very common, and often abundant in Cozumel. And many regular Cozumel divers don’t even see them!

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, February 2016

Red Snapper and Gray Snapper are two of the species being evaluated in the Gulf of Mexico using REEF data. Photo by Carol Cox.

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 PhD student at University of Washington is using REEF data to evaluate the distribution of Giant Pacific Octopus in the Pacific Northwest, and how their abundance is related to urbanization.

- REEF data were provided to researchers from University of Miami for use as part of the project, "NOAA RESTORE: Ecosystem modeling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico: current status and future needs to address management and restoration activities." Data will be used to produce maps depicting stressors in the Gulf.

- Researchers from the Sea Doc Society are using REEF data to evaluate Salish Sea fish and invertebrate assemblages and population trends over the last 15 years.

- A student from Indiana University is using REEF data to evaluate fish populations at the Florida Keys artificial reef, Hoyt S. Vandenberg. REEF Advanced Assessment Team members have been annually monitoring the Vandenberg since it was deployed in 2009.

Where and When Are REEF Surveys Conducted

REEF Survey Project Regions

Did you know? While the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project was started in South Florida in 1993, today it has been expanded worldwide! REEF surveys are conducted as part of a diver's regular diving activities; anytime they are in the water, in any of these regions. And more regions are coming soon.

REEF's Survey Project areas:

  • Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA; Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico), 
  • South Atlantic States (SAS; Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)
  • Northeast US & Canada (NE; Virginia through Newfoundland)
  • Eastern Atlantic & Mediterranean (EAM; Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, and Mediterranean)
  • West Coast of the United States and Canada (PAC; California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia)
  • Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP; Sea of Cortez to the Galapagos Islands).
  • Hawaiian Islands (HAW; main islands and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands)
  • South Pacific (SOP; Fiji, Samoan Archipelago, Line Islands, Cook Islands)
  • Central Indo-Pacific (CIP; Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Australia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan)

To find out more about the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project, visit www.REEF.org/programs/volunteersurvey.

2017 REEF Trips Spotlight: Turks and Caicos and Galapagos Islands

Join us for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos this May.
Explore the beautiful turquoise waters of the Turks and Caicos with REEF.
REEF Trips are a great way to explore and discover.

Have you checked out REEF’s 2017 Field Survey Trip schedule? This year, we are traveling to so many exciting destinations all over the world, from tropical reefs in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific, to the colder waters of the Canadian Pacific coast. This month we are highlighting two of our fish survey trips happening this May: the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Galapagos Islands! We have limited spaces remaining on both of these trips, and are looking for enthusiastic divers and surveyors to join us. As an added bonus, the Trip Leaders for each of these trips are hosting Fishinars – fun, free, fish identification-themed webinars, that you can tune into from the comfort of your home!

Spaces are limited, so book your spot today! Contact Trips@REEF.org for more information. And visit www.REEF.org/trips for the full 2017 schedule.

Turks and Caicos, May 6-13, Dive Provo and Ports of Call Resort (details)

Both beginning and advanced REEF surveyors will enjoy expanding their fish identification skills in this beautiful tropical setting, with fish ID reviews led each evening by REEF Trips Program Manager and expert Tropical Western Atlantic surveyor, Amy Lee. There is no need for your non-diving companions to stay at home either – Providenciales is easily accessible from many US-based airports, with several major airlines offering daily flights. Ports of Call Resort was recently renovated, and now has modern rooms and a luxurious pool area. The resort is only steps away from dock leading to the gorgeous white sand of Grace Bay Beach, awarded the designation of TripAdvisor’s Best Beach in the World in 2016. Dive Provo is known for excellent service and concierge diving. The owners are longtime REEF supporters and the week’s dive itinerary will include a variety of the reefs surrounding the islands, including West Caicos, Northwest Point, and French Cay.

And be sure to join us for the Fishinar on Monday, April 10: "Overlooked Fish of Turks and Caicos". Visit www.REEF.org/fishinars to sign up.

Galapagos Islands, May 14-21, M/V Galapagos Sky (details)

REEF’s inaugural Field Survey Trip to the Galapagos Islands is led by REEF Director of Science, and expert on Tropical Eastern Pacific fishes, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Known as Darwin’s “living laboratory,” the entire archipelago is a National Park and marine reserve filled with plenty of endemic species, not found anywhere else on the planet. Observe penguins swimming with tropical fish, iguanas feeding underwater and swim beside giant whale sharks and Galapagos sharks. Lucky attendees on this trip will visit the Wolf and Darwin Islands, which boast some of the best diving in the world, while enjoying three land-based excursions throughout the week to Bartolome, the highlands of Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora, and San Cristobal. The dive team aboard the M/V Galapagos Sky are Galapagos National Park naturalist certified to offer expert guidance both underwater and on land.

And be sure to join us for the Fishinar on Wednesday, May 3: "Fishes in the Land of Finches". Visit www.REEF.org/fishinars to sign up.

The Faces of REEF: 2015 Volunteer of the Year, Ed Martin

REEF is proud to announce Ed Martin, of Islamorada, Florida, as our 2015 Volunteer of the Year. Ed became a REEF member in 2012, and has since conducted 60 REEF surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region. He is also a skilled underwater photographer and a member of the Century Club, having recorded at least 100 fish species on a one tank dive. In 2015, Ed became a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team by achieving 'Expert' surveyor status in the TWA. Shortly afterwards, he participated in a weeklong AAT Monitoring Project to survey the Vandenberg artificial reef and surrounding reefs in Key West, Florida.

Ed has also dedicated his survey skills, ingenuity, and countless hours of time to REEF's Invasive Lionfish fieldwork in South Florida and the Florida Keys. He continually goes above and beyond by supplying ideas and tools to support this important research. A skilled lionfish hunter, Ed has also participated in several REEF lionfish derbies. He is known for his wonderful sense of humor and positive attitude, making him a fun and upbeat team member who is instrumental to REEF's field research. In addition to his involvement in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and Invasive Lionfish Program, Ed has even helped with 'behind the scenes' REEF projects, including photography for REEF's webpages. Ed's all-encompassing support and participation in REEF programs make him an invaluable member of the REEF family. We are lucky and thankful to have a super volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you and congratulations, Ed!

Three "REEF" Non-Profits Team Up to Protect Akumal Reefs

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Eric Engler, Gabriela Nava Martinez, Joe Cavanaugh - ReefAid, Reefcheck, and REEF
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Aerial View of Protected Area
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Mayan Ruins Near Resort at Tulum
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Shore View from Bahia Principe
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Large Elkhorn Coral Stand Near Protected Area

In an Enews article last May, I wrote about a collaborative effort between REEF and the Bahia Principe Resort in Akumal, Mexico.  The Resort has been working with ReefAid ever since Hurricane Wilma (2005) did major damage to the reefs just in front of the resort, in an effort to study, protect, and restore these reefs. I was originally invited down to conduct a fish census on a large patch reef area off the beach from the property.   The destruction to the inshore reef during Wilma was severe and ever since, Bahia Principe has worked with ReefAid to restore this patch reef area, establishing a protected zone around the most hard-hit areas.  Part of Bahia Principe's long-term plan is to create a mitigation plan for future storms and to educate guests about ways they, too, can help protect the reefs.  The Hotel Gran Bahia Principe is the Yucatan's largest resort complex, and there are currently 14 such resorts worldwide.  After our last visit, ReefAid's Founder, Eric Engler and I co-wrote a protection and monitoring plan for the Resort that included periodic roving diver surey assessments, special signs and enforcement of no-swim areas, a coral nursery, and coral and invertebrate monitoring using another non-profit's methodology (ReefCheck). 

On our last trip a few weeks ago, Eric and I received Reefcheck training over two days with Gabriela Georgina Nava Martinez, learning their survey methodology.  Gaby also taught a Reefcheck class to the Bahia Principe dive staff , their onsite turtle rescue non-rpfit, Ecologica Bahia, and some of the Resort public relations personnel..   Bahia Principe is now a REEF Field Station and is close to becoming an educational center for REEF, teaching fish ID classes and training Resort guests in how to conduct fish surveys.   Resort staff will soon routinely conduct Roving Diver Surveys of both the protected area and the offshore reefs frequented by multiple dive operators. Additionally, Reefcheck will train the dive staff to conduct 3-4 surveys per year at first to form a baseline assessment of the inshore protected reef.   And finally, this year REEF is running a Field Survey to Bahia Principe (May 17-24, 2008).  Please see our Field Survey page on our website at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule  to learn more about our upcoming survey and how to participate.

The collaborative efforts between our three non-profits in Akumal represent a proactive involvement among multiple stakeholders to protect a critical resource, one that is very susceptible to damage from development and excessive tourist pressures.   The ultimate goal of this synergistic, cooperative effort is to protect a large inshore reef area (see images) and improve the reef integrity with the addition of well-placed coral recruitment modules.  To be candid, much of the Mexican Riviera is slated to be developed by an increasing number of resorts, most with requisite golf courses.  And there are other environmental concerns in addition to the coral reefs offshore that form part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef such as all the cenotes (sink-holes) with their endemic terrestrial and aquatic species; the crucial watershed provided by the cenotes; loss of mangroves; the regional rainforest cover that is in jeopardy; excessive nutrient loading from all the resorts and urban development; not to mention the cultural world heritage significance of the Mayan communities and archaeological sites.  However, the good news is that if Gran Bahia Principe is voluntarily willing to adopt special protection measures for their resort, these may serve as a "eco-friendly" archetype for other resorts in the region.   This partnership building between organizations at the regional and international level bodes well for the adoption of some conservation plans for the area.  Whether the proposed regional development can be slowed to a sustainable level is another story that time will tell. 

If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent summary article on some of the initiatives between resorts and non-profits working to preserve the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from the NY Times last week. http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/travel/24headsup.html?emc=eta1

REEF to Host Two Citizen Science Panel Discussions in Florida Keys

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REEF volunteers are citizen scientists, collecting underwater data to expand knowledge about marine life populations. Photo by Ron Lucas.

On Tuesday, February 26, REEF will host a community panel discussion to raise awareness about how volunteers contribute to scientific understanding of the Florida Keys environment. Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York will lead the discussion. Florida Keys-based citizen science practitioners will present on local projects and ways for volunteers to get involved. Topics include fish and bird surveying, native plants and coral restoration. A reception with the speakers will begin at 6:30, followed by presentations at 7 PM. This event will be held at the Key Largo Public Library and is free and open to the public.

Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Bryant and Nancy Diersing, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (volunteers)
  • Janice Duquesnel, Florida State Parks
  • Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation

A second panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West and will focus on citizen science projects in the lower Florida Keys. Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Alison Higgins, The Nature Conservancy
  • Cory Walter, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service

Please join REEF staff and community partners for at least one of these educational evenings.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub