“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.

REEF Lionfish Expeditions Lead to New Information

Pterois volitans AKA lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo
August Blackbeard's Lionfish Project.
Hesperis dissection by Everton Joseph (College of the Bahamas), Tim Schwab (Nassau Guardian) and Marcian Tucker (College of the Bahamas)
Juvenile lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo

Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.

To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers.  REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.

Interesting data to date include:

  • Average size:188mm
  • Most species: Pterois volitans (though there are some Pterois miles present also)
  • Stomach content: about 70 % fish and 30 % crustacean with the most prevalent prey families including basslets, gobies and shrimp. Also found in stomachs: whole crab, whole sand diver, jawfish with eggs still in its mouth, and juvenile grouper (including Nassau)
  • Genetics: It appears that there were at least 11 females involved in the original founding population. This number is up from previous indications of four fish.
  • Reproduction: Fish are reproducing year-round with age at reproduction as young as 1-2 years.
  • Habitat preference: Lionfish have been found in almost all habitat types including artificial sites, canals, deep reefs, shallow reefs, small ledges and sand bottom.
  • Parasites: Compared to native fish, lionfish have almost no parasites, leaving more energy and time for growth and reproduction.
  • Growth: Lionfish appear to grow faster than similar sized native fish species like the graysby and the red hind.

REEF Remembers Chile Ridley

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Just before the holidays, REEF was saddened to learn of the passing of long-time volunteer and friend, Chile Ridley of Bonaire. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, especially his wife, Linda. The following article by Buddy Stockwell was published in the Caribbean Compass.

"On December 16, 2007 , the Cruising Community, the Island of Bonaire, and Mother Earth all lost one of their most wonderful, talented, and trusted friends. Edward Alton Ridley, known to all as " Chile" Ridley, took his own life at the age of 58. Chile was born in Valentine, Texas, and had battled the disease of depression all of his life. He is survived by his wife, Linda Ridley of Marfa, Texas . The Ridley's began their Cruising life aboard their Valiant 42 "Natural Selection" by departing Galveston in 1998 and sailing to St. Petersburg, Florida , where their new Valiant was part of the 1998 boat show. Thereafter, they cruised down the Eastern Caribbean , finally arriving in Bonaire five years later on Valentine's Day of 2003. As avid SCUBA divers, both Chile and Linda instantly fell in love with Bonaire and remained there as residents living aboard "Natural Selection." Chile was Manager of Bonaire's Capture Photo and also worked as a Dive Master. Most important, he was an indispensable volunteer for environmental organizations such as REEF, STINAPA and the Bonaire Seaturtle Conservation Project. Chile completed 300 Level 5 surveys for REEF, collected hundreds of amazing underwater images on film, and completed almost 2,000 dives. Chile's "True Grit" Texas spirit, fine character, and exceptional skills combined to make him an unflagging Champion of the environment like no other. Loved by all, Chile was not just a gentleman but a gentle man, always willing to lend a hand and always the first to volunteer. He will be missed by all who knew him, including all of the beautiful sea creatures of Bonaire that he loved so well and fought so hard to protect. The family asks that in lieu of cards or flowers, donations should be made in his name to support the Sea Turtle Conservation Project by visiting https://www.supportbonaire.org or to www.REEF.org for the fish survey projects."

New England Online Data Entry Teased Apart from TWA

REEF will separate our online dataentry interface for New England region from the tropical western Atlantic (TWA) where it currently resides, in the coming month.  Just in time for the Great Annual Fish Count, for more information, please contact gafc@reef.org or call 305-852-0030. We hope that this will facilitate an increase in the New England region survey efforts starting this summer.  In the next few weeks, login at http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php and you will be able to select New England for uploading New England fish surveys.  There are a few New England members who are willing to assist and guide those REEF members who are interested in participating in New England surveys.

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REEF in the Northwest

Janna Nichols presented the REEF Invasive Tunicate Program at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin conference.
Visit REEF's booth at the NW Dive Expo, April 25 & 26th.
A recent REEF ID class in Redondo Beach, WA, part of a series of training workshops being held in the Pacific region.

REEF staff and volunteers are attending several events in the Northwest this winter and spring to spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project. These include scientific conferences and dive shows. REEF volunteer and instructor, Janna Nichols, represented REEF at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin (PSGB) Ecosystem Conference last month in Seattle, Washington. Over 1,000 scientists, decision-makers and others attended the PSGB and the overall conference theme was to share knowledge and commit to action to protect the region's marine environment. Janna presented posters on two of REEF's important programs in the Pacific Northwest, tracking the presence and spread of invasive tunicates and the long-term monitoring of sub-tidal fish and invertebrates in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

If you weren't able to attend the PSGB Conference, REEF is participating in two upcoming events in Washington. The first is a workshop organized by the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) and others, "Exploring the Spectrum of Citizen Science". The workshop is being held April 10-11 at Fort Wordon State Park and will bring together many citizen science practitioners to discuss what make successful programs. Later that month, come visit the REEF booth at the Northwest Dive and Travel Expo in Tacoma, April 25 & 26th. REEF volunteers and Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, will be at the booth to spread the word about REEF. We'll have survey materials and guide books on hand and will be presenting a seminar, "REEF: Diving That Counts" on Saturday afternoon at 2pm. See you there!

The REEF Pacific Region, which includes California through British Columbia, continues to be one of our most active areas. This is thanks to funding support from several West Coast foundations as well as partnerships with some great organizations. REEF survey and identification training opportunities abound, long-term monitoring projects in several National Marine Sanctuaries continue, the number of REEF Expert surveyors is increasing, and REEF data and projects are being presented at conferences and used by scientists and agencies. REEF greatly appreciates the continued support of several West Coast funders, including The Russell Family Foundation and the Sustainable Path Foundation, as well as our dedicated volunteers for making this continued success possible. If you are in the Pacific Northwest, check out the REEF PNW Critter Watchers webpage, which connects area REEF surveyors for training and surveying opportunities.

News Tidbits

  • Check Out the REEF Store! It's your one stop shop for all of your REEF Gear, ID Books and REEF Survey Supplies. Just added - "Not On My Reef" Lionfish Invasion Research T-shirts.

  • Remember REEF in Your Year-End Giving We need your help to continue REEF's important marine conservation work. Please donate during our Fall campaign using our secure online donation form, by mailing a check to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call the office at 305-852-0030. Every amount helps and donations are 100% tax-deductable. Donations of $250 or more will receive a limited edition signed print of a South Pacific coral reef by Paul Humann.  Our secure online donation form is https://www.reef.org/contribute

  • Holiday Open House at REEF HQ  If you will be in the South Florida area next week, please join us at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo (MM 98.3) for our Holiday Open House on December 8 from 6 - 8 PM. Ned and Anna DeLoach will be on-hand to sign books and talk fish, and our Gift Shop has lots of unique holiday gifts. Call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030 or email reefhq@reef.org to find out more information

  • Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook. The REEF Facebook Page gives you the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and see exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind.
  • Free REEF Training in California Next Month

    REEF classes are a great way to learn more about what you are seeing during your dives!

    There's still space in some of the fish and invertebrate identification and REEF survey training classes being held next month in Southern California. Classes will be held June 24, 25 and 26 in Dana Point and Long Beach. To find out more, see this article in last month's REEF-in-Brief. Classes are informative, fun and free, but registration is required. To register go to: http://www.pnwscuba.com/critterwatchers/calclasses.htm.

    Winter Fundraising Update

    Donors of $250 or more will be sent this signed and numbered, limited edition print of a beautiful Fiji reef scene by Paul Humann.
    Donors of $500 or more will be featured on a fish as part of the Giving REEF along the fence at our Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida.

    For everyone who donated this winter to support REEF’s critical marine conservation programs, we thank you! For those of you who are still thinking about giving, we are very close to reach our goal this year and still have a limited amount of Paul Humann’s beautiful print of a Fiji reef scene featuring stunning soft corals and colorful Anthias. Please support our work.

    You can donate online at www.REEF.org/donate, call in your donation at 305-852-0030, or mail your donation to REEF HQ, P.O. Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037.

    We are already putting donations to work since the start of the fundraising campaign! Not only did we announce that REEF surveyors hit the milestone of 200,000 surveys submitted, but these data were also used to evaluate our changing seas. Examples include:

    • Evaluating temperature-sensitive species, Radiated Shanny and Atlantic Seasnail, which were added the list of Species of Concern under the State of Connecticut’s Endangered Species Act
    • Documenting the potential of the Regal Demoiselle to invade and impact native populations in the western Atlantic
    • Assessing the status of Goliath Grouper populations for fishery management decisions
    • Contributing toward strategies to manage the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and the East Coast


    Please take a moment now to support the largest marine sightings database in the world and help us reach our goal! We rely heavily on member contributions to ensure our critical programs can continue. Every donation makes a difference.

    Baby Grouper Adrift, Where Are They Now?


    As part of the Grouper Moon Project, REEF launched the Baby Grouper Adrift! webpage in late February. We developed this outreach tool to display in real time the results of state-of-the-art satellite drifter research being conducted by researchers from REEF, the Cayman Island Department of Environment, and Oregon State University. The Adrift project aims to better understand where Nassau grouper larvae end up after being spawned. Webpage visitors can follow the current drifters in real time as they complete a 45-day ocean journey (the amount of time Nassau grouper larvae spend floating in the currents), and even take a guess where the drifters will end up. It's been about 35 days since the drifters were released. Check out where those drifters are now -- visit the webpage at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift. Funding for the Baby Grouper Adrift project was provided by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub