REEF Joins Leading Volunteer Organizations to Develop Citizen Science Toolkit

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Leda Cunningham test drives an online bird ID portal with other conference participants.
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REEF volunteer (and family member) Brice Semmens takes in the REEF display during the poster session.

In late June, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) hosted the first ever Citizen Science Toolkit Conference in Ithaca, New York. Widely known for projects like FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the CLO is a pioneer in bringing people closer to nature through cooperative research, cutting edge technology and innovative science programs across many natural science fields. Leda Cunningham and Dr. Christy Semmens represented REEF at the 3-day meeting, where fifty leaders of citizen science organizations around the world – from worm watchers to bird counters to star gazers – came together to build a toolkit for citizen science practitioners and others seeking to engage volunteers in meaningful science activities.

There is some debate about what citizen science is, not to mention what it does. Many participants noted that “volunteer monitoring” more accurately captures the nature of their programs (much like the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project) while others thought that volunteers fill more of a role than just data collectors and should be involved in all parts of the scientific process, beginning with posing the research question. The group periodically split into five focus groups and reconvened at the end to present a model based on each group’s focus area: Education, Evaluation and Impact, Community Building, Technology and Cyberinfrastructure, and Research and Monitoring. The resulting Toolkit will include resources, recommendations, and case studies from each of these areas, as well as a key to existing citizen science programs. Christy participated in a panel on the impacts of citizen science and presented examples of how REEF data are used by resource agencies and scientists. She presented details of how REEF volunteers helped identify a hotspot of non-native fishes along the south Florida coast and the resulting management actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the important role that REEF data can play as a fisheries-independent source of data for the development of stock assessments and fisheries management plans, the discovery of new species by several REEF members, and the value of using our most experienced divers (the Advanced Assessment Team) to conduct annual monitoring of selected sites inside and around no-take marine reserves.

REEF was proud to contribute its fourteen years of experience building the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the group discussion. Many citizen science organizations deal with the same issues of volunteer recruitment, recognition and retention, engaging the “real” science community, standardizing data collection methods and measuring success. REEF has addressed many of these issues with innovative strategies that may be adopted by other citizen science initiatives: engaging the private retail sector (dive shops) to recruit volunteers within a target audience (scuba divers and snorkelers), developing strong partnerships with science and resource management agencies (such as university-based researchers and the National Marine Sanctuary Program), 5-level expertise testing (in fish identification) to assist with quality control, a published standardized data collection method and the Advanced Assessment Team as an incentive for volunteers to become more proficient surveyors and a measuring stick for training programs.

For more information on the conference or Citizen Science Central, the CLO’s initiative to provide information for practitioners and volunteers, click here. Look for the Citizen Science Toolkit, a robust and practical framework for citizen science program development, implementation, and evaluation, in the fall 2007.

REEF Parts - Things to Know (10/07)

Here are a few notes and news bits we'd like you to know about:

  • Field Survey Update (2007-2008): Thanks to all who have made our 2007 Field Survey year a successful year with just a few trips left!
  • Going on a trip? Order Scan forms, underwater survey paper, books, and other items at the REEF online store

4 Spots Now Available on Turks and Caicos Field Survey

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REEF Live-aboards provide a great way to become expert surveyors!
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Orange Moray, one of many cryptic species off T & C, Photo by Todd Fulks

Four spots recently opened on our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II, April 19-26, 2008.  This is a wonderful opportunity for new and experienced REEF surveyors to spend a week diving in one of the jewels of the Caribbean. You can take advantage of our live-aboard accomodations and make up to 5 dives per day at all the best sites these islands have to offer. 

There are quite a few expert surveyors on this trip, so if you're a beginning surveyor, you'll have plenty of mentorship and you could even work toward becoming an expert by the end of the week.  For our experts, there are many cryptic species to challenge us on our surveys. We will have a number of REEF Fish ID classes and time to catch participants up on the many exciting upcoming REEF projects worldwide for 2008.

To reserve your spot - please call Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030, ext. 3 or Tami Gardner at Travel for You, 1-888-363-3345,  For more information about the trip, please visit our Field Survey page atField Survey page   Hope you can join us!

REEF Lionfish Partnership to Lead Interagency Workshop

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The rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish throughout the eastern US and Bahamas is prompting a technical workshop. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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REEF, in partnership with USGS and NOAA, is hosting a technical workshop on Non-native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida in the Florida Keys June 18 and 19.

In response to the growing threat of lionfish in the Atlantic and the need for coordinated planning, REEF, NOAA and the USGS are hosting a technical workshop on Non-native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida in the Florida Keys June 18 and 19. The workshop, jointly funded through a recent Mote Marine Laboratory’s Protect Our Reefs grant, NOAA’s Exotic Species and National Marine Sanctuary Programs and the Gulf and Atlantic States Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species,will bring together personnel from more than 18 different agencies and organizations. Plans for the workshop include presentations by State and Federal agencies, breakout groups and round table discussions that will focus on disseminating the most current information, and drafting a coordinated plan of early detection, notification, and rapid response.

Lionfish have been recorded in large numbers from North Carolina through the Bahamas and are rapidly expanding into the Caribbean. Fortunately, the fish have not yet shown up in the southeast Florida reef tract including Biscayne National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas National Park and Ecological Reserves. This planning workshop will endeavor to put in place mechanisms to help minimize lionfish impact in these treasured marine protected areas. While lionfish are the “poster fish” of invasive species, the protocols developed in this workshop will be widely applicable for sightings of other non-native marine fish as well, with the goal of preventing future invasions by other species.

REEF will continue to host training and planning workshops, as funding allows, to help downstream countries plan for the arrival of lionfish. Efforts to control populations and minimize impactswill be highlighted as research answers key questions and we are able to develop control methods. To find out more about REEF's Exotic Species Program, contact Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects.

REEF Travel Trips and Tips - August

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REEF Field Surveys are a great way to learn more about what is seen in the water.
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REEF members having fun looking up a mystery fish on a Field Survey in Hawaii.

The 5 P’s, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance and hindsight give you 20/20 vision, both play into REEF Trips. Keeping these mantras in mind, let’s talk about the 5 P’s first.

Have you checked out the latest 2009 REEF Trip Calendar updates? If not, now is the time, several trips are already ½ filled. Don’t wait - you might be having to take second or third choice because the trip you really wanted to go on is filled up - now that would be poor performance – although in this case 2nd choice might not be so bad but don’t wait, start planning and make that call.

One of the first REEF Field Surveys of the year is to St. Lucia

On one of those big birthdays I promised myself among other things to visit somewhere I had never been before every year for the rest of my life. Well in 2009 it is going to be St. Lucia for me – St. Lucia has been on my list for quite a awhile and now I am going to make the trip and explore my 2009 new place on the earth from under and over the sea.

I love the excitement of reading and learning and contemplating the things I might do and see once I get there. We will be staying at Anse Chastanet and diving with Scuba St. Lucia. Who knows we might even spot a Snakefsh or a Bluelip Parrotfish – but in order to see them you have to be there – so call our REEF Dedicated Travel Desk and let’s go explore and experience the REEF way -- 1-877-295-7333 (REEF).

Don’t forget while we are on this trip you can earn your Level 3, 4 or 5 Surveyor – making your surveys Expert Surveys that count even more!

This month’s Tip is to seriously consider Travel Protection when you book your trip. It could save your vacation investment if you happen to need it. When you call our REEF Travel Desk at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) ask for the details. Benefits include:

• Trip Cancellation• Trip Interruption• Travel Delay• Baggage/Personal Effects• Baggage Delay• Emergency Medical, Hospital & Dental Expenses• Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation• Assistance Service

In addition REEF gets a commission for every policy purchased by REEF members on REEF Trips. So not only do you protect your valuable vacation investment but you also help REEF out in the process. How cool is that? So remember when our very own REEF Travel Consultant asks if you want to purchase Travel Protection for your trip – the answer is yes, absolutely.

All divers should also consider an annual Diving Accident Insurance Plan, like DAN's program. This covers diving related incidents and accidents, costly chamber fees, lost diving equipment and even non diving accidents that might occur during a dive trip. Insurance is designed to protect the financial well-being of an individual or other entity in the case of unexpected loss but it doesn’t work after the fact, so as the old county adage goes hindsight is 20/20 – don’t be the one saying I wish I would have…………………….

Our trips are filling up so to make sure you get your first choice - check out our 2009 REEF Trip Schedule and call the REEF Dedicated Travel Desk at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail us at REEF@caradonna.com. Let’s go make some Dives that Count!

REEF Travel Tips and Tricks Spring 2009

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REEF's next Field Survey destination -- St. Croix, May 9-16 at the Carambola Beach Resort. Join us!
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The sad faced Cardinal Soldierfish is often found in sponges and caves. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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St. Lucia Field Survey participants.
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Now that's service!! Dive master Chad carries REEF member, Martha Barrow, off the dive boat to dry land.

Field Surveys -- these fun and educational dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". I am looking for folks to join me in St. Croix in May, details are below. I recently returned from leading a group of amazing REEF volunteers on the Field Survey week in St. Lucia. The diving was great and everyone managed to see a new species during the week. Most notable for me – on my fish wish list was the Cardinal Soldierfish.

I had looked through the book many times and always paused on this photo – thinking it looked like a cartoon character with those crazy looking eyes. In fact I thought the sad sack face was just the angle Paul had taken the picture, but when James Brook shined his light into a vase sponge there it was – looking just exactly like the photograph, crazy eyes and all. I laughed out loud. Then I proceeded to look in every sponge I found for the rest of the week and I managed to find another dozen. How cool is that?

The REEF Team comprised of James and Ann Brook, Kay Tidemann, Pam McDevitt, Martha Barrow, Norbert and April Hoeller, Michael and Ellen Berson, west coast east, coast sisters Helen and Sally Davies, Marion Sinclair, Julio Esparza, and me the irreverent fish leader. We stayed at Anse Chastanet Resort, which is perched on a hillside (as per Michael and Pam who counted the steps to their rooms it was between 137 and 178 steps from beach to room). The food was great and the REEF package included all the meals (good thing we had all those steps) with a choice of 5 restaurants. The rooms looked out on the World Heritage Site of Gros Piton and Petite Piton, with birds and flowers everywhere.

The diving was close and diverse. The dive staff of Dive St. Lucia, Ponti, Ubald, Garfield and Chad could not have taken better care of us. Chad carried Martha off the boat so she wouldn’t get sand in her shoes – what service! Most gratifying for all of us was having Ponti and Ubald become the world's newest REEF Members one morning before our dives. Kay, Martha, and Pam showed them how to submit their survey data on line. Sally and Kay generously gifted their Reef Fish ID books to the newly minted REEF Members. Both guides said that we had given them a new excitement for their job. Ponti, like me, is an SSI Platinum Pro 5000 diver, and that means he has over 5,000 dives – so imagine how excited we all were to be able to share our philosophy of fish with them and teach an old fish some new tricks!

James shared his unbelievable knowledge about what we were all seeing and gave a guest lecture on Damsels in Distress, Parrot(head) Fish and something about Smart Wrasse. Kay, our other Level 5 Expert, generously dove with some of the newly minted fish watchers and coached them through some of their first surveys. It was a very diverse group in Fish IQ, sense of humor and goals for the week – so we made quite the eclectic team. The dive staff accommodated our unique style of diving and we had 1 hour + bottom times, a variety of environments and even made some 2 and 3 site dives on 1 tank. At James’ suggestion we even did a dusk dive and watched the changing of the guard. As Helen Davies said – “It was magical” I couldn’t agree more.

So what is the travel tip and trick – well I need some people to go with me to St. Croix, May 9-16. I have been there before and the north shore is great diving and absolutely gorgeous. The resort is the Carambola Beach Resort which recently went through a major renovation. You would think you were somewhere in the South Pacific from the architecture, palm trees and beach.

The dive operator is Cane Bay Dive Shop and they are fun to dive with and are all a bunch of fish nerds – really! They also have a brand new 36 foot Newton which is the Cadillac of dive boats. Since I can’t actually go by myself - something about doing lectures alone hints at insanity and doing a survey alone is not nearly the same amount of fun as being with a group (and remember we always need to dive with a buddy). So I am looking for 10 buddies to come with me. St. Croix is a key destination in the lionfish epidemic. They have had several confirmed sightings and we really need to get as much survey data about these reefs as we can. Now is the time.

We will also be doing a lionfish presentation and working with the local dive operators and stakeholders to help educate and raise awareness for this terrible environmental scourge. The REEF members on the trip will be able to see firsthand some of the invasive species work that REEF does. And just in case we see a lionfish we will bag it and eat it.

So here is the travel tip – St. Croix – beautiful, exotic and interesting, needs REEF divers to provide fish population density and diversity stats. Only a short plane ride, great accommodations, great diving and you never know what might swim by. We are shooting for a St. Croix Hat Trick (aren’t you curious now?). Time is of the essence so call our dedicated Travel Desk today and get your space booked. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.

California REEF Workshops a Huge Success

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One of three free REEF classes held in Southern California last month.
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Divers heading out for a REEF survey dive at Malaga Cove.

As part of REEF's ongoing efforts to engage new divers and snorkelers into the Volunteer Survey Project, as well as to provide existing REEF volunteers with continued training and survey opportunities, we coordinated a REEF Workshop in Southern California last month. The free identification classes, which were taught by REEF Instructor Janna Nichols, were very well attended and the workshop series was a success. Almost 100 divers turned out to take the REEF California Fish and Invertebrate Identification classes and about a dozen divers joined in the survey event at Malaga Cove. It was a great opportunity to reinvigorate REEF's programs in Southern California and to mobilize a corps of dedicated surveyors who will begin conducting surveys on their regular recreational dives.

Funding support for the workshop series was provided by a foundation grant. REEF is dedicated to continuing these opportunities and we are planning to return to LA/OC area next Spring, as well as plan similar events in San Diego and Central California. A huge thanks to Deb Karimoto of Orange County diving, Eric Frasco of Dive 'n' Surf dive shop and Heather George for logistical help, and to REI Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach Tennis Club for letting us hold the classes at their facilities.

REEF Data Used To Evaluate Evolution in Marine Species

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The golden hamlet is one of the more rare species, infrequently found in just a few locations. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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The distribution of yellowtail hamlet, as documented by REEF surveyors and analyzed by Ben Holt et al. This work was published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography 2010.

As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography

It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist. 

"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).

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.

Neon Goby Split Into Two Species

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Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops) is found in South Florida and the Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Caribbean Neon Goby (Elactinus lobeli), is known from Belize and Honduras. Photo by Paul Humann.

Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.

The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.

Key Largo Community Volunteer Award

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Paul Humann presents Nancy Perez with the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award.

REEF recently awarded Nancy Perez the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award. Nancy joined during REEF's inaugural year in 1993! She lives in the Florida Keys and has become an instrumental volunteer at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo. Nancy helps connect REEF with the local community through planning special events, including holiday parties, the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters dedication, and participation at local festivals. Nancy has also encouraged other locals to volunteer at REEF HQ and is always available to assist REEF staff on projects. Nancy's biggest impact has been through her role coordinating the Fish and Friends gatherings at REEF HQ. During these popular monthly meetings, which started in 2009, REEF supporters come together to socialize with fellow fish followers and listen to presentations about various marine species and habitats. The success of this event would not be possible without the hard work and time that Nancy puts in to finding speakers, getting volunteer hosts, coordinating the snacks and beverages, and always wearing a smile. Her tireless dedication to the REEF Fish and Friends event is admired by all. In her spare time, Nancy is out diving and completing REEF surveys! On behalf of the REEF Staff and Board of Trustees, we extend Nancy our deepest appreciation.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub