Two REEFers Survey the Galapagos Islands

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Whale Shark encounter
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True poetry in motion, squadron of Spotted Eagle Rays

My dive partner and I, both celebrating significant birthdays this year, decided to give ourselves the best gift of all, a dive trip to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, one of the world's largest, covers approximately 138,000 square kilometers (53,282 square miles). On May 8, 2008, supplied with Paul Humann's Galapagos Fish Identification book and REEF fish survey forms, we set off aboard the Aggressor II for an eleven-day adventure. Our itinerary included diving seven islands (among them Wolf and Darwin), as well as four land excursions, one of them a visit to the famed Darwin Research Station.  Fifty-three surveys later, we had identified well over a hundred species, will have to wait for the data report to know just how many species we surveyed. We were lucky enough to see four whale sharks, and an Ocean sunfish.  Appearing almost daily were schools of Hammerhead sharks, as well as Galapagos, White-tip, Silky and Reef sharks. Green turtles, three to four feet in diameter often accompanied us and allowed the divers to swim alongside them. In addition, Manta Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, Mobula, Devil and Golden Cowrays, would suddenly appear from the deep blue below us. We had to be careful when holding onto the rocks in the strong currents not to grab onto one of the well-camouflaged Stone Scorpionfish. A special 110-feet deep dive was made to a cave to find three Red Lipped Batfish, thought to be endemic to the area. Schools of Bottlenose dolphins followed our boat and dove with us often, as did the playful Fur Sealions which would pull on the fins, swim circles around us and come right up to our masks to say “hello!” Flightless cormorants, penguins or marine iguanas would occasionally startle us when least expected under water. We were surprised by the abundances and larger sizes of several fish species. At times, it seemed like we were behind a moving curtain of fish.

Since both of us were fairly new to Pacific diving, we were thrilled even to watch commonly seen fish, such as King Angelfish, Leather Bass, Moorish Idols, Giant Damselfish, Barberfish, Burrito Grunts and the most common of all, the ubiquitous Pacific Creole Fish. The parrotfish and wrasses were also a treat to see; Blue-chins and Bicolor Parrotfish were common and the Harlequin Wrasses, with their distinctive bump on the forehead, seemed to compete for the award in the most original in “pattern and color” combination category. Even though Galapagos diving is best suited for large fish observation, it is also home to many smaller species, among them the endemic Galapagos Triplefin Blennies, Marbled Gobies and Galapagos Pike Blennies, as well as Blue-banded Gobies, Bravo Clinids. Nooks and crannies in the rock walls hid colorful seahorses and even a frogfish. Yellowfin tuna, while not abundant, were seen on many dives and averaged about 3-4 feet long. Unfortunately, their size and market value encourage illegal fishing, since they fetch a high price on some Pacific Rim markets. The land and sea environment of Galapagos is unique, consisting of volcanic islands of varying sizes; consequently, the ocean floor is made up of lava boulders with very little coral. Black coral (golden green in color) was found on some sites. Near shore, most islands had a good amount of green algae, a good source of food for the marine iguanas and green turtles. Galapagos diving is truly unique; its strong, converging currents bring abundant and rich nutrients, providing a perfect environment for the pelagics. We urge you to go see this wonder for yourselves!  The Galapagos Islands are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Located approximately 1,000 kilometres off the Ecuadorian coast, within the confluence of three ocean currents, most of the marine and terrestrial fauna is truly unique. Recent efforts at education and outreach to the Ecuadorian community are in direct response to increased illegal poaching within the Marine Reserve that has included shark finning, increased squatting from migrants from the mainland, and an increase in non-indigenous species. such as goats.   A recent response from the Ecuadorian Government has enacted a Special Law for protection of the Galapagos Islands.  This Special Law provides stricter control over immigration, a quarantine system for combating invasive species, extending the boundary of protection around the islands, limiting property rights and economic activity, and increased national funding for conservation and enforcement - all of which are needed to maintain this unique biosphere for our collective future.  Photo credits for this article -  Dusan Richtarik and Barbara Anderson

REEF Fish Academy

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Participants of the first ever REEF Fish Academy.

Where people get fish smarts! Over the weekend of October 12, six REEF Level 1 & 2 surveyors got a chance to become Level 3 Advanced surveyors and increase our fish smarts with Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach and Lad Akins. I personally became a REEF customer for this event and participated in the classroom, the fun, hanging out with Paul, Ned and Anna at the cookout, diving with Lad as he found new (for us) exciting additions to our life list and took the 100 Fish - Level 3 test (good thing I passed).

As part of the event, the first of its kind, we invited surveyors who had submitted 25 or more surveys but were still rated Introductory/Novice. Linda Crouse, Kelly Drinnen, Lureen Ferretti, Karen Hausheer and Dawn Vigo were the very fist participants in REEF Fish Academy. The weekend included classroom sessions, survey dives, and evening socials. Anna DeLoach shared REEF’s vision for this new training program with our participants, “We are looking to provide our enthusiastic REEF members with a way to share their passion and knowledge for Fish Watching. REEF Fish Academy is designed to tap into this enthusiasm and provide our members a way to become mentors for others, spreading the word about fish watching and surveying. REEF Fish Academy graduates are ready share the fun and excitement of fish ID and show people what fish surveying and contributing to REEF’s database is all about - making dives that count”.

The diving and a cookout were provided by Horizon Divers, one of REEF’s valued partners here in the local community. We had two great days of diving and over 80 species of fish sighted during the intensively fish orientated weekend. We are already planning for our next REEF Fish Academy, so keep an eye out for your invitation – coming soon.

Congratulation to Lureen Ferretti – who even passed her Level 4 Fish Test during the weekend and is now an Expert Surveyor. Special thanks to the participants for their support, coming to Key Largo to dive with us, their enthusiasm and all the great feedback and suggestions. It was a fantastic weekend.  Click here to find out more about REEF's Experience Levels.

First Bahamas Lionfish Derby Huge Success: 1,408 lionfish in 1 day!

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Thomas Roberts (left), with his family, Lad Akins, and Bobbie Lindsay (right, event organizer), won first place in the derby. Mr. Roberts brought in 289 lionfish during the one day event.
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Lionfish have proven to be a dangerous invader to Bahamian and Caribbean reefs. Photo by Lenny Zwik.

The first Bahamas Lionfish Derby, held on June 6 at the Green Turtle Club in Abaco, was a great success on many fronts. This test case for the Bahamas government was the first to allow (by special permit) the use of compressed air and spearing to remove lionfish in a derby type event. Organized by Abaco and Palm Beach resident Bobbie Lindsay and REEF, the one-day event drew 26 registered teams and brought in 1, 408 lionfish. Over $5,000 in prize money was awarded including $2,000 for the most fish by any team – 289 by team White Roach from Abaco. The largest fish award went to Team Panga with a 349mm fish and the smallest fish was brought in by Big T with a 57mm juvenile. Pre-event talks, including a school wide talk to the Amy Roberts elementary school, were well attended and generated significant awareness of the lionfish issue. Over 200 participants, residents and visitors attended the scoring and awards banquet and were treated to a lionfish tasting as well.

This is the first large scale event aimed at controlling lionfish populations in the Caribbean. More events are currently being organized in other areas and dates are being set for next year’s 2nd annual Abaco Derby. Special thanks goes out to the Green Turtle Club, Brendal’s Dive Shop and all of the great teams and volunteers who participated in the event. A great time was had by all and the lionfish population around Abaco was dramatically reduced.

Derby results –

  • Most Lionfish – White Roach (289), Little Big Fish (234), Sweet Thing (173)
  • Largest Lionfish – Team Panga (349mm), White Roach (344mm), Team Pineapple (341)
  • Smallest Lionfish – Big T (57mm), Bolo Boys (81mm), Sweet Thing (82mm)
  • Special Dreamy Timber award for most frozen lionfish – Team Panga
  • Grouper Spawning Aggregation Research Continues in 2010

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    The Grouper Moon Project studies the spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Photo by Selina Heppell.
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    Over 3,000 Nassau grouper aggregate at a site off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons. Photo by Scott Heppell.

    Scientists and project volunteers from REEF and our partner institutions, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and Oregon State University, are getting ready for another year of the Grouper Moon Project. The team will be in the field for two weeks beginning on the full moon, January 30. Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species.

    In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. This followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.

    The broad goals for the 2010 spawning season are to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman. Watch future issues of REEF-in-Brief for field season results and what's next for the protection of spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands as the current harvest ban is due to expire. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit the webpage http://www.reef.org/programs/grouper_moon

    REEF Annual Report 2009 Released

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    REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2009 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects (e.g. invasive lionfish and Grouper Moon), data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2009 such a success!

    REEF Data Document Declines in Yellow Stingray

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    The decline in yellow stingray sightings in the Florida Keys beteween 1994 and 2007. Source: Ward-Paige, et al. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 2010.

    World-wide declines in shark and ray populations have prompted the need for a better understanding of their patterns of distribution and abundance. While much of the focus has been on the larger species of sharks, little attention had been paid to the most frequently sighted elasmobranch species in the greater-Caribbean, the yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). Despite being relatively common and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, little was known about the status of this species. Unfortunately, it has been quietly declining. Dr. Christine Ward-Paige and her colleagues at Dalhousie University worked with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to examine the status of yellow stingray. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes. Click here to read the paper.

    The study used 83,940 surveys collected by REEF surveyors in the western Atlantic. In total, yellow stingrays were observed on 5,658 surveys (6.7% sighting frequency) with the highest occurrence in the regions surrounding Cuba. Overall, sighting frequency declined from 20.5% in 1994 to 4.7% in 2007. However, these trends were not consistent in all regions. The strongest decline occurred in the Florida Keys, the most sampled region, where trends were similar among all areas, habitats and depths. Possible explanations for these changes include habitat degradation, exploitation (this species is collected for medical research and the aquarium trade), and changes in trophic interactions. The results of the study suggest large-scale changes in yellow stingray abundance that have been unnoticed by the scientific community. This study also highlights the value of non-scientific divers for collecting data that can be used to understand population trends of otherwise poorly studied species.

    To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.

    Watch an Online Screening of Alien Invaders Tomorrow Night - June 2nd

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    Changing Seas, an original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of Alien Invaders, the series’ latest episode focusing on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Alien Invaders will be screened live on the Changing Seas website (www.changingseas.tv/webcast) on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. EST. During the screening, dive enthusiasts will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program. REEF's Lad Akins and researcher Stephanie Green will be be online to answer questions live during the event.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Patricia Broom

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    Pat with surveying dive buddy, Barbara Anderson (r), on the Baja Mexico Field Survey in 2010.
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    Pat in Fiji.
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    Pat in Turks and Caicos.

    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 Broom (REEF member since 2004). Pat is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 277 surveys in three of REEF's regions, including some of the first in our newest region, the South Pacific. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

    About ten years ago while reading a favorite dive magazine I noticed an announcement about an introductory fish identification trip sponsored by REEF and led by Paul Humann. The love of REEF was born!! I responded to the advertisement, encouraged my brother to join me and attended that Field Survey trip. We joined a group of equally dedicated divers eager as we to learn about fish and how to identify them. Paul was a great teacher, very patient and concerned that we not only learn about fish but care about them and the ocean we love.

    If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was a trip highlight?

    One of my most memorable surveying moments occurred that week on Paul's trip. On a night dive of a very old wreck with exposed wooden beams I saw my first queen parrotfish in their nighttime cocoons. Each parrot fish occupied a space between two beams framed by basket stars in full bloom. It was a magical sight. I try to take two or three REEF trips a year, they are a great way to learn more and dive with great people. In addition to the regular ID trips, I have really enjoyed the REEF Behavior Trips that are led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. It really completes the learning experience! It is a beautiful sight to watch damselfish guard their algae gardens from predation, observe cooperative hunting, or watch a three foot Midnight Parrotfish at a cleaning station with open mouth and flared gills.

    What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

    Prior to that introductory course, I had been diving the Caribbean for twenty plus years. I witnessed the decline in fish numbers and species as well as reef degradation and wondered how many more years I could dive before there was nothing to see! REEF offered me a reason to continue diving, now there was opportunity to give back and enjoy diving again.

    Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

    I have found great enjoyment in Cozumel at the REEF Field Station at Aqua Safari, led by Sheryl Shea. She is a gifted teacher determined to make advanced assessment divers of all of us! It just so happens a few of my favorite fish are in Cozumel, the Splendid Toadfish, Sargassum Triggerfish, and Cherubfish, to name a few.

    Upcoming Fishinars - Caribbean Wrasse, Pacific Sculpins, and Blennies!

    Fighting Blennies. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

    If you haven't had a chance to attend one of our Fishinars yet, you should! New sessions are always being added, so check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to see the current schedule and to register for one or more sessions. These popular online training sessions (webinars) provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. Upcoming sessions include:

    The Wrasse Class: The Top 12 Wrasse of the Greater Caribbean  - Need help with those rascally wrasse? Come to this class and get the ID tips you seek! Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan. Thursday, Jun 21st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

    Sculpins Under Scrutiny  - Sculpins have been called some pretty bad names through the years, because it's so difficult to tell them apart. Well, it's time to master the art of identifying the little buggers and Sculpin Master Guru, Dr. Greg Jensen, will be the one to help you along your journey to loving sculpins. Greg will cover some of the lesser-known and lookalike sculpins. Thursday, July 19th at 7pm PDT. REGISTER

    The Blennywatcher!- Oooh, this is gonna be a good one! Videographer and blenny expert Anna DeLoach will walk us through some of her favorite Blennies and how to tell them apart. Tuesday, July 31st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

    Scholarship Available For Educator To Participate in REEF Trip

    REEF is once again partnering with CEDAM International to support an educator to participate in one of our REEF Trips. The selected Lloyd Bridges Scholar will join Paul Humann on the Little Cayman Field Survey in July 2013. The goal of the scholarship program is two-fold: One, to have educators experience the wonders of the underwater world and then be able to share these wonders with his or her students or constituents. Two, to have these inspired individuals go out and do what they can to help protect one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. To be eligible, applicants must be a certified scuba diver, a teacher (elementary or secondary level), or actively engaged in an education program at an institution or environmental organization, such as an aquarium, science center, or relevant non-profit organization. More information and application information is posted on the CEDAM website.

    The 2013 REEF Trips Schedule includes destinations in the Caribbean, Canada, and tropical Pacific. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Each trip features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Complete package details and prices can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips.

    2013 dates and destinations with space --

    May 11 - 21, 2013 Fiji, aboard the Nai'a, Led by Paul Humann FULL, waiting list available

    May 18-25, 2013 Southern Bahamas, Lionfish Research Cruise aboard Explorer II, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes

    July 13-20, 2013 Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

    July 20-27, 2013 Utila, Deep Blue Utila, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers FULL, waiting list available

    August 31-September 7, 2013 Curacao, with GO WEST Diving and Sandton Kura Hulanda Lodge, Lionfish Research Trip, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes

    September 25-28, 2013 Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

    September 28-October 1, 2013 Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

    October 5-12, 2013 Grenada, with True Blue Bay Resort and Aquanauts Diving. Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science

    December 3-12, 2013 Socorro Islands, aboard Rocio del Mar, led by Andy Dehart and Marty Snyderman, Shark Experts, Photographers, and REEF Board Members

    December 7-14, 2013 Cozumel, Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin and Sheryl Shea, REEF Fish Experts and Cozumel Naturalists

     

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