Winter full moons mean that it's grouper spawning time! Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. We estimate that between 5,000 and 7,000 Nassau grouper come to the site to spawn. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Program, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. In 2003, the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands (both current and historic). This ban expires later this year and new legislation is being developed. We are rapidly compiling the results of our research, which will provide the Cayman Islands government guidance on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.
Earlier this month, we had a small team in the field- Dr. Selina Heppell (OSU researcher), Stephanie Archer (OSU graduate student), and Brenda Hitt (long-time REEF Grouper Moon volunteer). They witnessed spawning on two nights following the January full moon. We expect February to be the "main" spawning month (based on past research, we know it has to do with when the full moon is in relation to the winter solstice). A much larger team of researchers and volunteers will be on the island to conduct a full suite of research projects. We will also be producing several outreach products aimed at promoting the management and conservation of these spawning aggregations. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting and important marine conservation research. In the mean time, to find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. To see video of the aggregation during the day, check out this video on YouTube taken last year. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.
During our Summer Fundraising Campaign, we reach out to you, our valued members, and ask for your financial support. Your contribution will ensure that our important marine conservation work can continue. Donations made during the campaign will be matched dollar for dollar by the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, doubling the impact of your support. You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030. REEF is making a difference in the marine environment. We strive to stay on the cutting edge of science, education, and outreach initiatives, but we cannot do this without your support. Thank you to everyone who has already donated. Please help us meet our goal of raising $60,000 in 60 days.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we feature Patricia Richardson (REEF member since 2000). Pat lives on the Big Island in Hawaii, and is a member of REEF's Hawaii Advanced Assessment Tea. Pat has conducted 778 surveys, and most of these have been done at one site. She has really enjoyed getting to know every critter that lives in her neighborhood spot. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
Richardson Ocean Park in Hilo, Hawaii, is near my home – and by chance shares my name. In 2000, I decided I wanted to learn as much as I could about the fish life in this popular beach area with the purpose of keeping a record of species diversity and general ocean health. Not long after I began my project, Liz Foote and Donna Brown came to Hilo to conduct a REEF training session. The REEF survey methods were a perfect match with my personal project! Before I left the training session, I was signed up, tested for Level 2, and hooked! I submitted my first survey dated January, 2001.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Since then I have become SCUBA certified and have participated in four REEF survey trips in Hawaii led by Christy and Brice Semmens. My favorite was the trip to Kauai in August of 2006. I saw my first pair of Tinker’s Butterflyfish, also a Hawaiian Morwong and a Whiskered Boarfish. The last two fish are more common in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands than in our main islands. We were also thrilled to see Hawaiian monk seals on several dives. Another REEF adventure was a trip to American Samoa in 2010 to help REEF extend survey methods into the South Pacific. This was my first chance to do surveys out of my home waters. It was very exciting to see many new species along with familiar “faces” from Hawaii.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
Keeping a close watch on the fish life at Richardson Ocean Park is still my favorite activity. I use mask, snorkel, and fins because the average depth of the area I survey is 4 to 6 feet, with occasional drops to 20 feet if the surf is down. A single survey usually takes about 2.5 hours. After ten years and about 700 surveys in this one small area, I am still amazed each time I enter the water with the constant change and constant beauty I find there. From time to time, something new pops up to keep me alert. Recently it was a Yellowhead (Banded) Moray. And a couple times it was a Hawaiian Monk Seal! Unfortunately, there’s no place on the data sheet for that! I also drive to Kona on the west side of Hawaii Island to dive and snorkel, always with my underwater survey slate in hand.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
My connection with REEF gives me the satisfaction of being a “citizen scientist” and a good excuse to spend several hours each week following beautiful fish around and watching their fascinating behavior. After a decade as a REEF fish counter, I am looking forward to the next decade. It’s the greatest retirement project I can imagine!
Want to learn a few of the Hawaiian fishes that Pat loves so well? Join the upcoming Fishinar, March 21st:
Fish that Say Aloha! Hawaii's Top 15
Hawaiian REEF Fish ID: Learn tips from REEF Experts and fish geeks, Donna Brown and Liz Foote.
Essential for dive travelers heading to the Hawaiian Islands, and kama'aina alike.
Wednesday, March 21st at 4pm HST / 7pm PDT / 10pm EDT - Register
A big fish thanks to our recent active surveyors. Since the beginning of the year, 458 volunteers have conducted REEF surveys. A total of 4,353 surveys were conducted and submitted during this time (January - July 2012)!
To date, 162,059 surveys have been conducted by REEF volunteers.
REEF members who have conducted the most surveys in the last seven months (with survey number shown):
Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) - Dee Scarr (140), Franklin Neal (126), Michael Phelan (118), Dave Grenda (115), Isobel Flake (76), Douglas Harder (66)
Pacific Coast US & Canada (PAC) - Randall Tyle (109), Phil Green (59), Keith Rootsaert (54), Georgia Arrow (41), M. Kathleen Fenner (40), Doug Miller (37)
Hawaiian Islands (HAW) - Judith Tarpley (118), Don Judy (87), Patricia Richardson (65), MJ Farr (63), Rick Long (39), Kathleen Malasky (32)
Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) - Jonathan Lavan (21), Pam Wade (20), Dave Grenda (15), Mary Korte (4), Daphne Guerrero (2), Kim Amiot (1)
South Pacific (SOP) - Carole Wiedmeyer (4), MJ Farr (4), Alex Garland (2), Kreg Martin (34), Lillian Kenney (27), Barbara Anderson (25)**the last 3 surveyors in the SOP list are stats from 2011
Visit www.REEF.org/db/stats to see the Top 25 surveyors with the most surveys conducted to date, the most species-rich locations, and most frequently sighted fish species.
In the summer of 1993, the first REEF fish surveys were conducted by a group of pioneering volunteers. Twenty years later, REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. To celebrate, we will be hosting 4 days of diving, learning, and parties this August in Key Largo, Florida, and we hope you will join us! REEF Fest - Celebrating 20 Years of Marine Conservation Success will take place August 7-11, 2013. The weekend will include diving oportunities each day, as well as seminar offerings such as Intro and Advanced Fish ID, Lionfish Collection, Artificial Reefs in the Keys, Grouper Moon, and special talks given by REEF Co-Founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. We'll also have an open house at REEF HQ and a celebration banquet on Saturday night. More details will be coming soon, including the complete schedule, seminar registration, hotel room blocks with special rates, diving charters, and social gatherings. But in the mean time, please save the date and get ready to celebrate!
As part of our efforts to address the lionfish invasion to the western Atlantic, REEF received a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Aquatic Invasive Species Program to organize and lead lionfish workshops throughout the Southeast United States. Between August and October, REEF staff Keri Kenning and Lad Akins will be traveling to more than a dozen coastal communities to present information on the lionfish invasion and hands-on demonstrations on collecting and handling. Workshop topics include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, current research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development, and ways to get involved.
So far, nearly 400 people have attended workshops at Houston Zoo and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Headquarters (TX), North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (NC), South Carolina Aquarium (SC), and University of North Florida and University of Miami (FL).
The next workshop will be on Monday, October 21 in Cape Canaveral, FL. More workshops will be coming to Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Central and South Florida. The classes are free of charge and open to the public. All divers, fishers, and ocean enthusiasts are encouraged to attend. Check www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops as new workshops are added. Hope to see you there!
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. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon. Watch a short video montage of the aggregation and spawning action here - http://youtu.be/GwKVzPLgmbo
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 Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. This year, we tested out some new techniques for collecting and rearing fertilized eggs (in the montage video you will see a diver swimming through a spawn cloud with a plastic bag). After collecting Nassau grouper eggs during the two nights of peak spawning, Scripps scientists and REEF Grouper Moon Project volunteers cultured the eggs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman. After one night, a subset of eggs were preserved for research on fertilization rates. After two nights, the eggs had hatched, and researchers were surprised to find larval Nassau swimming around the tank the next morning. Check out this video of larval Nassau grouper under the microscope - http://youtu.be/0Vph6LzH9IE
In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.
Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, recently gave a Perspectives in Ocean Science talk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire talk is online. Click here to watch! 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 2014, 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 (especially Neil van Niekerk and the crew of the Lucky Devil for taking our team out in January), 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. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible - Adam, Alex, Brenda, Bradley, Croy, Guy, Hal, Ivan, James, Josh, Keith, Leslie, Laura, Lynn, Paul, Steve, and Todd. 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.
We are excited to announce a new expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the eastern Atlantic, beginning with a new program in the Azores. REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., spent time in the islands earlier this summer developing new survey and training materials. This Portuguese archipelago is the northern extent of a bioregion known as Macaronesia, which also includes Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Cape Verde Islands. The underwater habitat features volcanic rocky reefs and common fish species include colorful wrasses, damselfish, sea breams, and pelagic rays.
The new REEF program will include the standard fish survey protocol as well as an invertebrate and algae monitoring component. The expansion is in collaboration with the local government agency, Direção Regional dos Assuntos do Mar, as well as the University of the Azores, Observatório do Mar dos Açores, and Parques Naturais de Ilha. We expect to offiically launch the new region later this year.
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. 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.
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.
REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented a summary of 5 years of fish monitoring on two modified reef areas off Key Largo, Florida: the Spiegel Grove artificial reef and the Wellwood grounding restoration (see next month’s edition of REEF-in-Brief for more information on these projects). Brice was an invited speaker in the special session on Nassau grouper, presenting an overview of the conservation status of the species. During the Spawning Aggregation session, Brice also presented changes in the average size of Nassau grouper that are visiting the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site since it was protected from fishing in 2003. Scott presented a poster summarizing cleaning station research that the Grouper Moon team has been conducting on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site. Other presentations that included REEF data included a talk by Dr. Todd Kellison from NOAA Fisheries on trends in commercial species abundances in Biscayne National Park and a talk by Nicole Cushion from University of Miami on patterns of abundance in grouper species in the Bahamas.