Reports From the Field - 2009 Bermuda Field Survey

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Thirteen lucky REEF members joined Anna and Ned Deloach, Judie Clee, and Chris Flook for a Field Survey to remember in Bermuda.
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The beautiful Puddingwife, one of the largest wrasse species in the western Atlantic. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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Yellowhead Wrasse in Bermuda show unique coloration patterns. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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A teeny tiny, baby Bermuda Chub found under floating Sargassum. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Over eight years ago, REEF expanded its flagship Fish Survey Project into Bermuda. Since then, local surveyors have contributed over 2500 surveys to the sighting database! In October, thirteen volunteers joined local REEF hosts Judie Clee and Chris Flook for a delightfully full schedule. After two extended survey dives each day, we were treated to a night snorkel and picnic to watch glowworms, a slideshow and dinner at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, a private, guided tour of the nature preserve on Nonsuch Island, and a reception and presentations by the scientists from BREAM (Bermuda Reef Ecosystem Assessment and Mapping Programme). The week was topped off with a grand finale dinner and behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoological Park.

One of the best things about fishwatching is seeing something new. Many areas have endemic fish and experienced fishwatchers know that fish coloration and behaviors can vary a lot from region to region. We arrived prepared to add Bermuda Bream, Bermuda Halfbeaks and Gwelly jacks to our lifelists but found ourselves equally thrilled to see the Bermuda version of the Yellowhead wrasse, called the Redback (for its distinctive red coloration) and the brilliant jewel colors of their Puddingwives. Between dives, Chris Flook, from the Bermuda Aquarium, filled buckets with rafts of Sargassum seaweed and pointed out juvenile chubs, crabs, shrimps, pipefish and frogfish. Judie’s expert eye helped us sort out the damselfish puzzle. We dived several times in an area where the Emerald Parrotfish was once quite common but has not been seen for many years. Our possible sightings have generated some excitement and Judie and Chris are investigating further. Our total species count for the week was 115 and included a rare sighting of a Conchfish.

Thanks go out to Triangle Diving for the welcome BBQ (and Lionfish hors d’oeuvres) and their excellent diving services. And very special thanks to the Bermuda Zoological Society for funding REEF in Bermuda and for underwriting many of our special activities of the week. We’ll be back – and promise that it won’t take eight years!

As this report reminds us -- REEF trips are more than just your average dive vacation. Be sure to check out the REEF trip 2010 schedule, which can be found online at www.REEF.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. We encourage you to join us on our adventures in 2010 and Take a Trip the Counts!

REEF Volunteers Conduct Annual Expedition to Monterey Bay

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The REEF team aboard the Monterey Express.
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Long-time Pacific REEF surveyor and AAT member, John Wolfe, reviews sightings with Keith Rootsaert.
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Stunning underwater habitat at the outer pinnacles near Carmel Bay in the MBNMS. The bottom is covered with invertebrates, like the colorful Purple Hydrocoral. Great fish life too, like the gopher rockfish resting on the rock. Photo by Chad King/MBNMS.

Members of REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) and other active surveyors gathered in central California earlier this month to survey fish and invertebrate life in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). Twenty-two divers conducted over 140 REEF surveys at twelve sites during the week-long project. This was the 8th year that the coordinated expedition has been conducted, and the data collected serve as a valuable time-series of information on the status and trends of populations within the Sanctuary. The team was led by REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens. Dr. Steve Lonhart, a lead scientist from the MBNMS, and Chad King from the MBNMS, also joined the group for the week to provide valuable local expertise.

In addition to this annual monitoring project, volunteers conduct REEF surveys year-round during their regular diving activities in the area. REEF surveys have been conducted in the Sanctuary since 1997, and to date, over 2,600 surveys have been submitted from the MBNMS in to the REEF database. Click here to see a current summary of REEF data from the MBNMS. The Sanctuary is home to many colorful fish and invertebrates and is a popular spot for sport diving. REEF data collected in the MBNMS are currently being analyzed to document changes in key rocky reef fish species. Projects like the annual MBNMS monitoring are a great way for active REEF volunteers to apply their skills and expertise. These projects are also just one more reason for REEF surveyors to improve their identification skills and increase their survey experience level.

A big thank you to the participating AAT members and other REEF volunteers, and to Dr. Steve Lonhart and Chad King for their participation and logistical support. We also greatly appreciate George Peterson and Justin Kantor from the Monterey Bay Aquarium for hosting our first evening seminar. Field support was provided by the Monterey Express; thanks to owner Tim Doreck and to Captain Phil Sammet for serving at the helm of our adventures. This project would not be possible without the financial support of an anonymous foundation.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Marker Buoy Dive Club

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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

This month we feature Marker Buoy Dive Club in Washington, which has been a Field Station for about a year. The Marker Buoy Dive Club was founded in 1961 and some of its club members have been diving in Puget Sound since the 1960s and 1970s, so they are very aware of long-term changes in some local fish populations. The Marker Buoy Dive Club currently has about 145 members. They have a dedicated group of members who encourage club participation in the REEF program and in other local activities that raise public awareness of the marine life in Puget Sound. The club is very fortunate to have an active REEF Level 5 surveyor (Rhoda Green) who is willing to teach REEF Introduction to Fish and Invertebrate Identification classes.

In addition to offering ID classes, the club hosts survey dives on a regular basis (sometimes as often as once/week) and encourage club members to report their sightings from their own dives. They have added a REEF News section to our monthly newsletter and are featuring a “Critter of the Month” from the PNW Critter Watchers archive. The club will be recognizing the volunteer efforts of members who have been most active in the REEF program and all club members who turn in at least 10 surveys this year will be entered in a drawing for some fun prizes. Some future plans include encouraging members to become advanced level REEF surveyors and to broaden the range of ID classes including Hawaiian fish identification class for club members who are planning to go on a dive trip to Maui. Club members recently remarked "REEF wouldn’t be the program that it is without the efforts and dedication of our regional Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, and all of the people who volunteer their time to teach the classes, host survey dives, log their surveys and report their sightings – keep up the good work!"

Thanks Marker Buoy Dive Club – you’re a shining beacon to us all!

REEF Volunteers of the Year 2010

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Liz teaching fish ID at Kahekili Beach on Maui.

REEF proudly awards our 2010 Volunteer(s) of the Year award to Donna Brown and Liz Foote. Donna and Liz both live on Maui in Hawaii, where they have been active in REEF since 2001 when we expanded the Fish Survey Project to the Hawaiian Islands. Donna has been a REEF member since 1994 and Liz since 1999. Both are members of the Hawaiian Islands Advanced Assessment Team and collectively have conducted 361 surveys. Donna and Liz were instrumental during the expansion to Hawaii. They provided technical assistance in the development of the survey and training materials and supported a growing network of local REEF surveyors. Through the years, these volunteers served as incredible ambassadors of the program, generating a core group of dedicated REEFers, who have in turn have carried the REEF torch. The Fish Identification Network (FIN), a local REEF group, grew out of their efforts. 10 years and 10,000 Hawaii surveys later (as of January 2011), REEF is going strong on the islands. Donna and her husband George have also been a part of the South Pacific expansion team, and participated in two REEF training trips to American Samoa. Both Donna and Liz continue to be very active in many other regional marine environmental issues in addition to their REEF activities.

REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 14,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program.

The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Liz and Donna and congratulate them on all of their marine conservation efforts and great work on behalf of our organization!

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Kenny Tidwell

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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 Kenny Tidwell (REEF member since 1998). Kenny is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 291 surveys. Here's what Kenny had to say about REEF:

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

I had been scuba diving for many years and after several hundred dives, I was honestly getting a little bored with what seemed to me as basically the same stuff on every dive. Little did I know I had been blindly swimming by some pretty amazing stuff that I didn’t even realize was there! I was lucky enough to take a dive trip to Bonaire in 1993 where I first met Jerry Ligon who is a naturalist in the area and inspired me to become a fish watcher! I immediately bought Paul Humann’s Caribbean fish ID book and made it my mission to learn something new on every dive. Around that same time, I started reading about REEF in dive magazines and liked what I saw about the organization's mission and activities. I had long wanted to go on one of their field survey trips and finally signed up along with my wife, Vickie, to go on my first REEF Discovery field survey trip to Puerto Rico led by Paul Humann. After that first trip, I was hooked and would rather dive with other REEF divers than do any other dive activity. I had finally figured out why I was getting a little bored with scuba. REEF really breathed new life into my diving!

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

I have been on about one or two field survey trips each year since I started diving with REEF. In addition to my first Discovery trip to Puerto Rico, I have been to the Sea of Cortez, Lee Stocking Island, Bonaire, Little Cayman, a lionfish research trip to Bahamas, and several times to Cozumel. The highlight of each trip was the opportunity to meet and learn from other REEF divers who share a similar mission.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I strongly believe in the mission of the organization and sincerely want to contribute something from my diving efforts. It has been a real challenge to me to try and learn as much not only about fish ID, but also about fish behavior. I am just like a birder who wants to find that new species to add to their list. It is a real thrill to me to add something new to my list and to find something I have been looking at in the books, but haven’t yet seen in the ocean!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Going on field survey trips and interacting and learning from other divers. I have learned a lot and have met some wonderful REEF members who have really inspired me, including Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach, Sheryl Shea, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, Lad Akins, Brice and Christy Semmens, Judie Clee, and many many others! I actually enjoy the classroom time almost as much as the diving itself! I only wish I had hooked up with REEF sooner! I have also used the opportunity to invite other divers and snorkelers that I meet on trips outside of REEF to tell them about the organization and invite them to participate. Each time I am on a dive boat and have a survey slate in my hand, it always seems to invite an inquiry as to what I am doing? I use that window of opportunity to try and inspire new fish watchers. We have given away many of the waterproof underwater fish ID books to divers and snorkelers that we meet in order to get them more interested in learn the amazing variety of marine life around them that most seem to not even recognize that they are there, much less know what they are looking at.

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

All of the REEF field stations that I have visited are great, but if I had to pick one, I would choose Aqua Safari. I first dove with them in 2005 about 5 wks after Hurricane Wilma struck Cozumel. That is when I had the opportunity to meet Sheryl Shea and the rest of the staff at Aqua Safari. I have been back for every field survey there since that time with the exception of last year when I was in a severe accident that curtailed my diving for quite a while. Sheryl is a GREAT teacher and a real inspiration to dive with as is all of the staff at Aqua Safari. Tracy Griffin is also a great teacher and will be leading the trip this year. There are places in the Caribbean that you can count on finding more species to log on your survey, but the field survey trip to Cozumel always is a lot of fun.

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

Increasing the awareness of the fragility or our marine environment I think is critical to REEF’s mission. The contribution of an enormous amount of data to document declining fish populations is valuable, which changes how people view the fragile nature of the environment and ultimately affects public policy to protect those resources. The lionfish project is extremely important in addressing an issue that is rapidly decimating fish populations on reefs where they have established themselves and in finding solutions to this problem is critical to protecting the reefs.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

Usually the last place that I have visited, but if I had to pick one it would probably be Bonaire or Little Cayman. You can’t beat the number of species and abundance of fish life in Bonaire, but I really like the island of Little Cayman for its beauty and lack of development and it also has some of the best diving in the Caribbean along Bloody Bay Wall. I have been to each location several times and would go back to either in a heartbeat.

2012 Field Survey Season Kicked Off In Nevis & St. Kitts

Nine REEF members joined REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, for a Field Survey week in Nevis last week, kicking off the 2012 REEF Trip season with a bang. The group stayed at Oualie Beach Resort on Nevis and dove with the on-site dive operator, Scuba Safaris. Over 120 surveys were conducted, which is a great addition to the REEF database for this region (prior to this trip, there were only 7 surveys from Nevis). Each afternoon, the group would gather for a few hours to discuss the day's sightings, review images and video, and enter survey data. Everyone really enjoyed the diving. Fish diversity and abundance was relatively high, and during the week the group documented just under 200 species of fish! Some of the more rare and exciting finds included bluestripe dartfish, mimic blenny, dwarf sand perch, flying gurnard, striped croaker, Atlantic spadefish, and nine line goby. Participants ranged from brand new REEF surveyors to a few of our most experienced, and a great time was had by all. Check out the online album posted here. To find out more about the Field Survey Trips program, visit www.REEF.org/trips.

Support Marine Conservation With a Year-End Donation

Happy Holidays! On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff at REEF, I urge you to show your support of our crucial marine conservation programs, which resulted this year in important long term victories.

In a matter of minutes, you can contribute at www.REEF.org/contribute, mail your donation to P.O. Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call REEF Headquarters (305-852-0030). For donations of $250 or more, you will receive the 2012 limited edition, signed print of a Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation. REEF is a registered 501(c)(3) US charity and your donation is tax-deductible.

In 2012, REEF program milestones included:

• Working with the Cayman government to pass a new Grouper Amendment Law granting Nassau Grouper permanent protection through complete closure of the fishery throughout the reproductive season.

• Co-authoring Invasive Lionfish – A Guide to Control and Management, which tackles the invasion on an international level and provides direction on how best to deal with this emerging lionfish risk to marine systems.

• Coordinating 34 online "Fishinars" through the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, which allow members worldwide to learn interactively about marine life from the comfort of their home.

Donate today so REEF can continue making these critical accomplishments! We sincerely appreciate your support and thank you for your dedication to healthy ocean ecosystems around the world. We hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season and have a great new year!

Putting It to Work: REEF Data on Cabezon Used by Washington State Agency

Cabezon. Photo by Steve Lonhart/NOAA.

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission are currently reviewing existing size limits, bag limits, and fishing season for cabezon in Puget Sound waters. Cabezon are bottomfish that inhabit rocky areas. They can measure up to 30-inches and weigh up to 25 pounds. REEF data from the Puget Sound, representing 11,646 individual survey from 427 sites throughout the region, were used as part of the Commission's review to identify trends in cabezon abundance in Puget Sound. WDFW researcher, Dayv Lowry, conducted the analysis. According to the REEF data, there is a decreasing trend in the frequency of detection of cabezon between 1998 and 2012. This trend is most pronounced in the central Sound from Seattle to Tacoma. The majority (81%) of cabezon sightings in the REEF database are from Edmonds Underwater Park, a long-time marine reserve north of Seattle. At Edmonds, cabezon appear to have decreased sharply since 1998. These findings were included in a report submitted the Commission (report available online here). Earlier this year, the Commission voted to reduce the daily catch limit of cabezon to one fish and prohibit the retention of cabezon measuring less than 18 inches in length. They are currently reviewing the fishing season length and are meeting in June.

The Faces of REEF: Mike Delaney

Mike hitting the books during the 2012 REEF Trip to Hornby Island.
Mike (left) at The Edge Diving, a REEF Field Station.

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 Mike Delaney, one of REEF's earliest Pacific Northwest volunteers. Mike has been a REEF member since 1999, and has conducted 433 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and he has the distinction of conducting the 20,000th REEF survey in the Pacific region back in 2011 (see story). Here's what Mike had to say about REEF:

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

I heard about REEF through the Living Oceans Society’s Living Reef Project. I began my training course with Susan Francis and Dana Haggarty in 1999 and I was part of the LOS’s pilot PNW Invertebrate Survey Project. To improve my identification skills of PNW species, I was mentored by Donna Gibbs and Andy Lamb of the Vancouver Aquarium. In an effort to gain more buddies to survey with, I began organizing Great Annual Fish Counts and teaching the REEF curriculum. Fish watching, conducting surveys, and REEF became a passion.

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

I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite dive destinations Hornby Island and take part in the 2012 Field Survey lead by Janna Nichols and hosted by Hornby Island Diving . I have been to Hornby Island numerous times, and it is always a treat because it offers a great variety of marine life. During the trip, the group was able to dive a site that is not visited frequently and was inhabited by large schools of rockfish, lingcod, cabezon and colourful invertebrate life that adorns the sandstone walls. Another great thing about REEF is the ability to learn and survey in other regions, whether it is a REEF trip or not. I have had the opportunity to complete surveys in the TWA and in the TEP!

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

The concept of scuba divers as citizen scientists is inspiring. As an individual we can contribute to a greater good: the understanding of the ocean and its inhabitants! As ocean explorers we can collect data and know that the information collected is being used to support science initiatives to protect the oceans.

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

In Vancouver we are fortunate to have numerous local dive sites to visit and most of my surveys are completed in the rich emerald waters of British Columbia. One of my frequented dive sites is Whytecliff Park and I had the unexpected surprise of completing the 20.000th PNW survey at the same site in which I conducted my very first REEF survey! Whytecliff is a great site because you never know what critters you might come across. Whytecliff Park offers wall diving with lots of sponges and a sandy bay with eel grass beds for poking around on your safety stop.

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

In 2006 I began working at The Edge Diving Centre, which was quickly registered as a REEF Field Station, one of the first in British Columbia! I have been able to introduce numerous new divers to the REEF survey project!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?

I have an affinity for our local PNW Rockfish! Ray Troll’s Rockfish poster adorns my wall as a tribute to my love of rockfish. Discovering something out of the ordinary always gets me excited. In 2008, I spotted a lone Black Rockfish at Whitecliff Park, which is notable because Black Rockfish have just about all been extirpated from Howe Sound. In 2009, also at Whytecliff Park, I confirmed a Blue Rockfish sighting, a species known mostly only from the outer coast. Sharks are my an all time favorite! I had the chance to visit and survey the Socorro Islands with it’s great number of shark species that inhabit the islands. Always awesome to dive with big sharks!

Upcoming Fishinars - Exploring the New Fish ID Book, and more

Topsail Chub is one of the almost 100 species that have been added to the new 4th edition of Reef Fish ID.

We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. Fishinars coming up include:

  • Digging Deeper in to Caribbean Fish ID - Exploring the 4th Edition of Reef Fish ID - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, June 16th (Part 1) and June 30th (Part 2)
  • Eastside vs Westside: Lookalike Fish from the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, June 19th
  • Playing in the Sandbox: Top 12 Sand Dwellers of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, October 7th
  • That Face, That Face, That Wonderful Face! Top 12 Blennies of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, November 4th

REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub