It was a science lesson with a difference, broadcast live from beneath the waves with thousands of endangered fish in attendance. Earlier this month, Grouper Moon Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens from REEF, hosted three live-from-the-field web chats with students from 18 classrooms at 13 schools in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Washington State (US). The first of the three web chats was broadcast from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, and featured scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project. The other two featured Brice diving and answering questions from the students, first on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation and then on the famous Blood Bay Wall. The webcasts are archived online here.
Now in its third year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species.
Brice Semmens, who presented the underwater webcasts, said students were excited to witness science in action. “As they explore the aggregation with me, the immediacy and reality of the experience really touches them. We are giving students their first diving experience – and it happens to be with thousands of huge, endangered reef fish.”
The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef Divers, Cayman Airways, and LIME.
REEF staff co-authored a new publication in the scientific journal PeerJ that features research findings from our Invasive Lionfish Research Program. The paper, titled "Setting the record straight on invasive lionfish control: Culling works", evaluates the effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts. Frequent culling of the invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish throughout the Caribbean has been shown to cause a shift towards more wary and reclusive behavior by lionfish, which has prompted calls for halting culls. The paper addresses those concerns and reviews research conducted by REEF and other efforts. Culling successfully lowers lionfish numbers and has been shown to stabilize or even reverse declines in native prey fish. Partial culling is often as effective as complete local eradication, yet requires significantly less time and effort. Abandoning culling altogether would therefore be seriously misguided and a hindrance to conservation. The authors also offer suggestions for how to design removal programs that minimize behavioural changes and maximize culling success. The paper is available for online viewing here. You can find a complete listing of all publications that feature REEF's programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.
If you haven't participated in one of our free, educational webinars yet, you don't know what you are missing! Known as Fishinars, these hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. We recently added a new Fishinar scheduled for March 26th that will cover common fishes and invertebrates found in San Diego's La Jolla Canyon. The remaining schedule includes...
Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! You can also request viewings of archived Fishinars, a special perk for REEF members. No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!
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 scientist from Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) requested REEF data to evaluate fish assemblages in Bermuda with regard to no-take reserves, comparing shallow vs. deep water habitats, and to evaluate the impact of invasive lionfish.
- A scientist from Washington State Department of Transportation requested REEF data to help evaluate the impacts of a proposed ferry terminal at Keystone Jetty on three species of protected rockfish.
- A graduate student from University of Miami requested REEF data from New Providence, Bahamas, to compare the measures of rugosity used in various research research methods and their ability to predict fish diversity and abundance.
A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.
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 Anne Benolkin. Anne was a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the spring of 2013. She grew up in Alaska, and after going to college and interning in Florida, she returned to her frosty home state. Following her time as a REEF intern, Anne went on to become a Pro SCUBA Instructor and was awarded the prestigious Zale Perry scholarship, an award named after one of diving’s most celebrated women and the memorable lady-star of “Sea Hunt” (read more about Anne's award here). She is currently working on her Masters degree at Alaska Pacific University, studying the behavior of Day Octopus. Here’s what Anne had to say about her time at REEF and beyond:
What did you enjoy most about your experience as a REEF intern?
When I was a REEF intern my favorite thing was all of the connections I got to make with people all over the world. It was so inspiring to see this community of people brought together by a desire to make the world a better place. I loved leading seminars and teaching enthusiastic people all about reef fish and conservation. I especially loved watching people come together for a cause, like the work REEF does with the lionfish invasion. We took something negative and looked for positive solutions that bring people together.
What inspires you to do REEF surveys?
Diving is such a unique sport. There are a huge variety of people who come from all different backgrounds and they all got into diving for different reasons. Learning about fish and doing REEF surveys adds a whole other element to diving, making every dive uniquely exciting with new things to discover. I feel like I’m making a contribution when I do a REEF survey.
What are you doing these days, post-REEF internship?
My internship at REEF opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve since gone on to become a SCUBA instructor and enroll in a masters degree program. I moved back to Alaska and I was so thrilled when they expanded the REEF sites to include Alaska. I think sometimes people forget about the beauty and diversity that exists in cold water diving.
This month, we are excited to introduce you to our Fall 2016 interns, who are a part of our Marine Conservation Internship Program. Since 1994, REEF has hosted over 110 interns. Our internship program has expanded over the years and our interns serve an important role in the day-to-day management at REEF. The internship provides an array of diverse experiences including scientific diving, outreach and education, data collection and management, non-profit operations, and public speaking.
A big welcome to our new Fall 2016 interns:
Emily Volkmann (from Grafton, Wisconsin), recent graduate from Smith College, BA in Biology and Environmental Science and Policy
Ellie Place (from Bellevue, Washington), recent graduate from Brown University, BA in Geological Sciences and Hispanic Studies
Katherine Ilcken (from Tampa, Florida), recent graduate from University of Florida, BS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation
Thomas Hyduk (from Central New Jersey), recent graduate from University of Miami, BS in Marine and Atmospheric Science
For more information about our interns, please visit www.REEF.org/internship/interns.
A new publication in the scientific journal Coral Reefs was recently issued based on science conducted as part of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. The paper, titled "Hydroacoustics for the discovery and quantification of Nassau grouper (Epinephelus stratus) spawning aggregations", summarizes results from work conducted during the 2014 Grouper Moon Project field season in the Cayman Islands. Led by Jack Egerton from Bangor University in the UK, the research focused on the use of hydroacoustic technology as a means to monitor the status and ecology of fish spawning aggregations. Egerton was assisted by Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Scott Heppell, as well as Grouper Moon collaborators from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment. Using a split-beam echo sounder, data were used to visualize and estimate fish abundance and biomass at three Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. The estimates were compared with diver-collected data. Additionally, the technology was used to examine fish aggregation locations in relation to protected zones.
Patterns in the acoustic abundance matched that observed by the visual estimates reported by our Grouper Moon diver teams - total numbers found at the Little Cayman aggregation were significanly higher than the depeleted aggregations found on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.
Spawning aggregation location examined with reference to seasonal marine protected areas (Designated Grouper Spawning Areas) showed that the aggregations were partially outside these areas at Grand Cayman and very close to the boundary at Cayman Brac. The aggregation on Little Cayman appears to be contained within the protected zone (at least in 2014). However, we know from other Grouper Moon Project data that the fish spend a lot of time traveling in and out of the zone during the day. Additionally, in 2015, the aggregation on Little Cayman shifted a significant distance to the north of the historical location and partially out of the protected zone. The results of this study show the importance of making use of many different approaches for monitoring and aggregations in order to most effectively inform future management of aggregating fish species.
To read more about this study and others that have been published based on REEF's programs, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications. To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.
REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project. Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program - http://www.reef.org/member/aat.htm. Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff. To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here - http://www.reef.org/member/experience.htm.
Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments. The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework. In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.
The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002. Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef. Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented. The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites. Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.
I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks. In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight! Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.
Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled). Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year. Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA. It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854. We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event. You will hear more about this project in the coming months.
Hope to see you in the water soon.
On October 31, while many of you donned witch's hats and goofy masks, the REEF team suited up in Diving That Counts! t-shirts and made the annual pilgrimage to DEMA Show 2007, the largest dive industry trade show. DEMA was again held in Orlando, Florida, allowing local volunteers Mike Phelan, Tom Isgar, Dave Grenda, Lillian Kenney, and Nancy Eickelmann to generously donate their time in helping at the REEF booth. Fall interns Catherine Whitaker and Lauren Finan were rock stars as REEF ambassadors at the show by promoting the Volunteer Survey Project among attendees, helping recruit new Field Stations and selling REEF merchandise. Many thanks to Tom Isgar for donating four marine life prints to a daily raffle at the REEF booth.
One notable difference at DEMA this year was the undercurrent of environmental awareness among both exhibitors and attendees. REEF Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, co-led a workshop on using eco-activities (like the REEF Volunteer Survey Project) to increase diver acquisition with Project AWARE Director Jenny Miller-Garmendia. More than 12 organizations - non-profit, government, small business - have formed an alliance to serve as a resource for eco-activities and environmental education to the dive industry. We were honored to meet with White House representative, Gerhard Kuska, DEMA President, Tom Ingram and others with an interest in seeing this "Blue Diver Alliance" grow into active partnerships with the dive industry.
From the dive industry's perspective, the environment sells. Recent market research shows that the target dive consumer is the baby-boomer, for whom the environment is an important factor in their consumption decisions, including whether and where to go diving. Many exhibitor-sponsored seminars focused on practical strategies for marketing to the eco-conscious customer; one even demonstrated ways that a dive shop might "green" itself by, for example, using bio-diesel in its boats or installing energy efficient appliances. REEF continues to work with dive industry members in promoting the Volunteer Survey Project as a way to recruit and retain divers while helping collect important underwater information to help preserve the marine life that divers want to see. REEF survey materials like Starter Kits and the new home study DVD course (read the press release here) and the Field Station program (visit www.REEF.org for more info) are tools REEF uses to provide incentives to dive shops and other industry members to get involved with REEF.
REEF is excited to be working closely with the dive industry as DEMA launches its new "Be A Diver" campaign (January, 2008). We look forward to welcoming a new wave of environmentally engaged divers and training them to better understand and preserve marine life.
REEF had the opportunity to attend the 54th Annual Underwater Clinic of Boston Sea Rovers, March 8-9th in Boston, MA. The Boston Sea Rovers has sponsored the “Longest Continuously Running Dive Show in the World.” Each annual clinic attracts as speakers, educators, explorers, scientists, divers and underwater photographers. The purpose of the lectures is to help Sea Rovers achieve the club mission “to educate the general public about the underwater world.” Since 1954, Sea Rovers has held an annual clinic in Boston for the purpose of raising the level of knowledge of the underwater world. Early members of the club invented the first underwater film show or clinic as it was known then and is still called such today. In addition to over 40 speakers this year and many booths at the show, there was the Saturday evening film event which is a must-see showcase of underwater photos and videos from renowned leaders in the field.
Past speakers at the annual clinic include myriad famous names such as Jacques Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, Robert Ballard, George Bond, Peter Gimbel, Stan Waterman, Brian Skerry, Bob Talbot, David Doubilet, and many others. Really, the Sea Rovers history mirrors that of SCUBA diving and the presenters have always been those same individuals who have been pioneers and innovators in diving, underwater science, marine conservation, underwater archaeology and discovery, and photography/videography. I think if I were to describe the Sea Rovers in one sentence, it would be this: If every dive site in the world had 10' viz, 30 degree water temps, 1 fish and one moonsnail to see, it took the entire dive to find said fish and moonsnail, and you had to wear 40lbs in dive weight, there would still be an avid group of SCUBA enthusiasts in the Boston Sea Rovers! The annual event is really the last major dive show in America run solely by volunteers and proceeds from the event are used for scholarships, internships, in support of other non-profit organizations such as SeaMark and the Cotting School for Handicapped Children, and to continue to promote the goals of Sea Rovers.To learn more about the Sea Rovers, please visit http://www.bostonsearovers.com/BSRpublic/library
I also spoke at the New England Aquarium as part of their Lowell Lecture Series and to the Aquarium Dive Club while visiting Boston. The general motivation behind sending this native New Englander back home was to foster new and old liaisons in capacity building in the region. Most people who attended my talks did not know that REEF conducts surveys or has a presence in New England. Part of our goal in participating in the Clinic was to promote REEF programs such as the Great Annual Fish Count; increase our number of regional Field Stations; develop partnerships for utilizing the data that we hope to begin collecting in earnest in the coming year; create a regional list serve for interested individuals to connect on REEF programs; and develop a strategic plan for the region. For our part, REEF is committed to creating a separate New England online data entry interface for our website in the coming month, revamping the NE fish ID curriculum, and hopefully adding invertebrates to this curriculum, developing a NE Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) program, then utilizing this AAT team for regional monitoring and ad hoc conservation efforts. Encouraging regional dive clubs to conduct surveys while on their winter trips in the Caribbean offers another way for NE members to get involved. Stay tuned for more news from our NE partnerships and look to see the New England online data entry up and running very soon. Ultimately, nurturing REEF's survey efforts in New England will benefit many stakeholders just as these survey data currently inform marine management decisions in our other survey regions.
There are a few people I would like to thank here for making this trip possible: Vickie Cataldo (NEAQ Lowell Lecture Coordinator) for her generous travel support to REEF; Dan Laughlin and Sarah Taylor at NEAQ; David Caldwell (Exhibitor/Coordinator of Sea Rovers); David Morton (President Sea Rovers); Bob Michelson for ongoing support of REEF; Terri Rioux (WHOI DSO); Al Bozza (NEAQ Dive Club); and especially Holly Bourbon Martel for arranging my Sea Rovers talk, co-presenting with me, and for taking on the role of Volunteer NE Regional Coordinator for REEF. Also, thanks to The New England Aquarium in Boston and the Coastal Dive Center in Hingham, MA our regional REEF Field Stations. Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester and Divers Market in Plymouth also have recently assisted REEF.