The idea of an annual fish monitoring came over 25 year ago, with the first official Great American Fish Count (GAFC) in 1992. Dr. Gary Davis led the Channel Islands National Park effort as way to encourage sport divers to report fish sightings. The small number of marine scientists, the immensity of the oceans and the scarcity of funding required that volunteers be trained to assist with a nation-wide fish monitoring effort.
The use of volunteers to monitor animal species has proven to be extremely successful. The GAFC was modeled after the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which continues to play a significant role in documenting and raising awareness of the declining populations of migratory birds, and has helped reduce destruction of their habitat.
The first GAFC event was held at Anacapa Island, California with fifty participants. The event was focused during the first two weeks of July to attempt to capture as many divers as possible and attract media attention. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary joined in 1994. By 1995, the GAFC had become a coordinated effort between the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The ultimate goal of the GAFC was to have divers become interested enough in fish monitoring to map and adopt sites that could then be visited year-round.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program expressed interest in the GAFC and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) working together to support and promote volunteer fish monitoring throughout the entire Sanctuary program. By the end of 1997, the GAFC evolved into a national event held during July of each year coordinated by American Oceans Campaign, REEF, and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program. By 1999, REEF became the sole organizer of the GAFC with continued partnership with and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program.
In 2001, a full-time dedicated staff was hired to managed the logistics and planning of the GAFC thanks to the Curtis & Edith Munson Foundation, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and PADI Project Aware. The 2001 event was a huge success. The number of seminars quadrupled and many dives were conducted throughout the nation, Canada, and in the Caribbean. Many GAFC dives were conducted within National Marine Sanctuaries, such as Florida Keys, Gray's Reef, Stellwagen Bank, Flower Garden Banks, Monterey, Channel Islands, and Hawaii. Approximately 900 people participated and over 1,900 surveys were conducted during the July event that year.
Due to the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia, in 2002, the Great American Fish Count officially changed its name to the Great Annual Fish Count.
Today, REEF is the sole coordinator for the event which continues to grow and brings in approximately 2,000 marine life surveys in the month of July alone. These efforts reach hundreds of volunteers throughout REEF's survey regions in dozens of countries. 17th GAFC this year in 2008 is sure to be a great one - get involved!
While every one of REEF’s 10,000+ volunteers who have conducted a survey as part of the Volunteer Survey Project are Making Dives That Count, there is a small cadre of surveyors who have taken their passion for fish and critter watching to the next level. They are the volunteers, those most active in each of REEF’s project regions, who have actively strived to move through the REEF Experience Level system, often becoming REEF Experts and members of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). And among this group, there are a handful of surveyors who have reached a significant benchmark – the 1,000 survey mark! Passing this benchmark gets you a place in the REEF Golden Hamlet Club. And this Summer, REEF welcomes two new GHC members - Bruce Purdy and Dave Grenda. They join Peter Leahy, Linda Baker, Lad Akins, Judie Clee, Linda Ridley, and Linda Schillinger.
Bruce Purdy is the owner/operator of the Bahamas diving liveaboards Aquacat, Cat Ppalu and Blackbeard's Cruises. He's been a REEF member since 1994 and a member of REEF's Tropical Western Atlantic AAT since 2002. Bruce is a staunch conservationist and has been integral in supporting REEF's lionfish work in the Bahamas. In addition to his work with REEF assessments and lionfish projects, he has also pioneered sea urchin restoration efforts in the Bahamas. Even though he has reached the milestone of 1,000 surveys, Bruce continues to encourage his diver to join him in surveying Bahamian reefs and supporting REEF's conservation projects - Way to go Bruce!!!
Dave Grenda has been a REEF member since 1998, and is one of the very few of our volunteers who have conducted REEF surveys in all four regions -- Tropical Western Atlantic, Tropical Eastern Pacific, West Cost of the US, and Hawaii! He joined the Tropical Western Atlantic AAT in 2001 and has participated in multiple AAT special projects. Dave is also a NOAA Science Diver and has participated in multiple NOAA research cruises in National Marine Sanctuaries. Most recently, Dave started helping with the REEF Grouper Moon Project and just returned from a few weeks on Grand Cayman helping to tag Nassau grouper. His passion for fishwatching shines through on projects and he is always eager to share the joy of a new find. In his "other" life, Dave is a retired Air Force Colonel. Way to go Dave!!!
After many years of planning, financial woes and last minute negotiations, it appears that the Hoyt S Vandenberg, a 520-foot troop transport/missile tracking military vessel, will be sunk as the newest artificial reef in the Florida Keys. Recent communication with the State of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission has given the go ahead for REEF to initiate pre-deployment monitoring of the sinking site and 7 other adjacent reef areas to study the recruitment and movement of fish around the wreck and reef sites.
The one year study will also include surveys of non-native orange cup coral, titan acorn barnacle and Indo-Pacific lionfish. While exact dates have not been set for the sinking, plans are for the ship, located now in Virginia to be towed to Key West in early April and then scuttled 6 miles offshore in May. REEF Advanced Assessment Teams will survey the sites prior to deployment, then again one month following the sinking and quarterly through the remainder of year one. It is anticipated that the wreck will provide significant habitat for fish as well as additional recreational opportunities for fishing and diving activities. Data gathered during REEF’s efforts will aid in determining how effective the ship is in meeting its biological objectives.
For more information on the Vandenberg fish survey project, contact Lad Akins, Lad@reef.org (305) 852-0030.
One of the best parts about fishwatching is that no matter how many surveys you have under your belt, there's always a chance to see something unexpected. Recently I was diving on Davey Crocker Reef near Tavernier in the Florida Keys with four REEF surveyors. As often happens, we got separated, me with my photography and the others surveying. I spotted a brown fish about 8 inches long “drifting” in the water just under a ledge overhang. It sort of looked like a croaker to me, but not one that I recognized. I photographed it from a distance and continued to photograph while moving closer. The fish remained still, just looking at me. Finally, when I got about 6 feet away it retreated into the gloom under the ledge.
Back on the boat we were talking fish -- as usual. One of the others commented about a strange brown fish she had seen under a ledge. It turns out everyone had seen it and no one knew what it was. The entire group were members of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team (AAT, Expert Surveyors), so no one knowing is surprising. After downloading my photos, I researched the mystery fish. My hunch was correct; it was a Croaker, a rarely seen Blue Croaker, Bairdiella batabana. These were the first sightings of this species to go into the REEF database!
So how do you know if it's a Blue Croaker? The body coloration can be copperish to bluish brown. The only distinctive marking is a white crease on the gill cover.
REEF is proud to release the latest version in our series of instructional marine life identification courses – Fishwatching in California. The California curriculum consists of three courses on one CD – divided into Southern California, Channel Islands, and Central/Northern California. Pictures and text are included and are geared for anyone interested in teaching Fish ID – ideal for dive shops and instructors, dive clubs, marine science centers and aquariums, and other groups. This course completes the library of West Coast curricula: California Fish ID, California Invertebrates and Algae, Pacific Northwest Fish, and Pacific Northwest Invertebrates. We would like to thank all of the photographers who generously donated underwater images for these courses!
These instructor-led courses are a great way to introduce divers and snorkelers to the variety of marine life that can be seen during their time in the water. Each module contains a CD-ROM with images with an easy-to-use teaching curriculum to train students in identification and REEF survey methodology. A sample starter kit is also included. Courses can be taught in approximately 2-3 hours and cover 50-70 of the most common species for an area.
The California Fish ID curriculum, along with all of the other curricula modules, are available online in REEF's store here -- http://www.reef.org/node/437
Lionfish Derby T-Shirt Available Through REEF Store - The special edition Florida Keys Lionfish Derby T-shirts are available through the store while supplies last. Check out the REEF Store today for REEF gear, survey supplies, books, and more.
New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed the following to our growing list of Field Stations. They join over 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.
Fish & Friends Monthly Speaker Series - Every month, on the second Tuesday of the month, REEF hosts an engaging speaker and social hour as part of our Fish and Friends series. The monthly seminars are held at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, FL. October's speaker is Steven Frink, who will be presenting "Reflections From The Road----Images and Observations from 3 Decades as an Underwater Photojournalist." Everyone is welcome. We hope you will join us.
REEF Field Survey Schedule 2011 Posted Online - Now is the time to plan your next "dive trip that counts". REEF Field Surveys 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. 2011 destinations include many exciting locations that offer great diving and prime fishwatching experiences, including the San Blas Islands in Panama, Saba, Hawaii, and for the first time, a South Pacific destination -- Fiji! REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Check out the schedule on the REEF Trips page.
Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook -The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!
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 highlight Franklin Neal (REEF member since 2000). Franklin and his wife Cassandra (also an active REEF member) spend much of their time in Bonaire these days, but they originally called New York home. Franklin has conducted 1,179 REEF surveys! and he is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Franklin had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? How did you first hear about REEF?
Cassandra wasn’t diving when I had my first encounter with a REEFer. We were on Bermuda in 2000 with several friends. I was the only diver, so I buddied with strangers on the dive boat. On the second or third day, a woman came aboard who was doing surveys. Between dives I asked her about what she was doing, and she invited me to buddy with her. That woman was Judie Clee, long time REEF member and REEF's Volunteer of the Year in 2005. Judie told me about REEF and the website, so when we returned home, I joined. The following year we signed up to be with Paul Humann on Bonaire for his first “Discovery” trip. We did that because it was advertised for inexperienced fish and critter watchers. After doing those first surveys, I was hooked. I have been on over a dozen Field Survey Trips and/or AAT projects, in locations from the Florida Keys and the Biscayne National Park to Barbados. I really like diving with other REEF members. They are very friendly, and we share a common interest. The excitement level on the boat after a dive can be very high as the previous dive and the sightings are discussed.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? If you don’t dive nearby, where do you most often dive? Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
We retired in 2006, and moved from Long Island New York to Michigan and Bonaire. We own a condo at Sand Dollar on Bari Reef, the #1 site for species diversity in the Tropical Western Atlantic. That is also the year that Cassandra started diving. With Bari in our front yard, Cassandra now has over 950 dives. Bonaire is wonderful because of the shore diving. You don’t need a boat … just a “dive truck.” Starting and ending a dive in one foot of water allows for many more habitats to explore with a greater variety of species. To prove my point, go to the ReefNet Reef Fish ID DVD and look at the video for the nineline goby.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
Everyone loves the queen angelfish because of its beauty. I think the male rainbow wrasse is equally beautiful. I love the combination of colors and patterns on the redspotted hawkfish. Several years ago, Cassandra discovered a redface moray eel (also known as the orange moray) just a ten minute swim from our dock. We have now seen almost 20 of these rare fish (Check them out in the REEF database if you doubt my use of the term “rare.”). Cassandra has a photo of a redface sharing the same hole as a chestnut moray. It is wonderful. I use it as my computer wallpaper.
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:
- Scientists from NOAA Fisheries are using REEF data to conduct stock assessments on parrotfishes in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.
- REEF Advanced Assessment Team members joined the Living Oceans Foundation's Global Reef Expedition in the Bahamas. Scientists from LOF are now using the REEF data collected to generate species distribution maps of remote areas including Cay Sal Bank.
- A researcher from the Gilbert Ichthyological Society at the Burke Museum in Washington is evaluating the distribution of the two sub-species of blue rockfish along the west coast.
If you haven't had a chance to attend one of our Fishinars yet, you should! New sessions are continually 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 open to divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers alike. Participation is free but 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:
QUE PASA? THE TOP 12 FISH OF THE NORTHERN SEA OF CORTEZ - Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) region REEF Fish ID: Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan, on how to ID Sea of Cortez fish. Wednesday, April 18th at 5pm PDT / 8pm EDT
LIONFISH 101 - Join REEF's Special Projects Director, Lad Akins for an hour long update on the lionfish invasion, biology/ecology, impacts and what is being done throughout the region. Lad's talk will be followed by a 15 minute Q&A session; Wednesday, April 25th at 8pm EDT
SPEED DATING FISHY STYLE: HOW FISH SPAWN AND WHEN YOU'RE LIKELY TO CATCH THEM IN THE ACT- Ned DeLoach, world renowned marine life photographer/author, Co-Founder of REEF, fish behavior guru and all-around nice guy, will teach you about making fish babies. Ned's talk will be followed by a Q&A session. Wednesday, May 9th at 8pm EDT
THE NORTHEAST'S DIRTY DOZEN - What those die-hard drysuit divers in the North Atlantic are seeing on their dives. A great way to prepare yourself for the Great Annual Fish Count in July. Friday, May 18th at 7pm EDT
A new paper was just published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation documenting a key monitoring technique established by scientists from REEF and our Grouper Moon collaborators. The paper, "Documenting recovery of a spawning aggregation through size frequency analysis from underwater laser calipers measurements", describes a technique to monitor changes in fish size on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation through time that does not require the capture and handling of fish. Analysis of seven years of data show that length-distribution data can be collected by divers using a video-based system with parallel lasers calibrated to a specific distance apart. This novel technique is one of just several being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. View the paper online here. Find out more about our work on endangered Nassau Grouper by visiting the Grouper Moon Project webpage.