Live From the Field Web Chats With the Grouper Moon Project

Live-feed webcast of Dr. Brice Semmens on the Little Cayman Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation. This year's broadcast is set for February 6th at 11:45am EST. Photo by Josh Stewart.
Grouper Education Program activities include scientific drawing, food web explorations, and more.
Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, teaching students at Little Cayman Primary School about components of the coral reef food web.

Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our parters at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are gearing up for the annual Grouper Moon Project. Scientists will be on the ground and in the water this coming Tuesday for the full moon. Since 2002, the group has conducted ground-breaking research to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations, to help ensure that populations of this iconic species recover. In 2011, with funding from Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, REEF launched an education program to engage Caymanian students in the Grouper Moon Project. This exciting project brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and live-feed videos that connect classrooms with scientists in the field.

Three live-feed webcasts are planned over the next two weeks. While the students will be communicating directly with the Grouper Moon scientists, anyone can watch the feeds live or archived. The live-feed schedule is:

- Friday February 6th, from underwater at the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation

- Monday February 9th, from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, featuring scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project.

- Wednesday February 11th, from underwater on the famous Blood Bay Wall.

All webcasts are planned to start at 11:45am EST and will last about 45 minutes. The live feeds stream through YouTube on TheGrouperTeacherREEF channel. The first live feed, on February 6th, will be here. We will post URLs for the other feeds on REEF's Facebook page. The webcasts are archived online here.

Now in its fourth year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species. It is expected that fifteen classrooms at ten schools will participate in the program this year.

The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef DiversCayman Airways, and LIME.

The Faces of REEF: Tracey Griffin

Trip leader, Tracey, holding the REEF flag during the 2014 REEF Trip to Cozumel.
The dainty Cherubfish, a small angelfish found in the Caribbean. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

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 Tracey Griffin, a REEF member since 2005. An active surveyor who lives in Cozumel, Tracey has conducted 851 surveys to date. She is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the TWA region, has taught several Fishinars, and leads the annual REEF Field Survey to Cozumel each December. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I first heard about REEF on a live-aboard trip in the eastern Caribbean. One of the other divers was doing surveys, and I was fascinated! Soon after, I was lucky to be in Cozumel during the annual REEF week there, where I soon became an aficionado! And lucky me, little did I know that years later, I would become the leader of that annual trip!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I tell divers that doing REEF surveys is like going on a scavenger hunt on every dive. And learning about fish behavior makes diving even more interesting. Knowing what the fish are doing is just as fun as knowing all their names! Even though I have done hundreds of dives in Cozumel, I am still surprised to find new and rarely reported fish.

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

Reaching out to new divers and snorkelers. I have given give short lectures at dive clubs, but also at events where people may be new to the ocean. I love to see people getting excited about seeing something they may have never noticed before. I believe that getting people excited about the fish will make them more likely to help conserve it.

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

I now live and dive in Cozumel. I think this is one of the most beautiful places to dive in the Caribbean. The majestic coral pillars are amazing, and the schools of fish are magnificent. I often hear people say ‘I have never seen a ____ so big!’ Just another day in Paradise!

Do you have a favorite local REEF field station or dive shop?

I dive with Chili Charters, who is our REEF field survey dive operation in Cozumel. The DM and owner, Rene, has previously taken our REEF field survey course, and loves to help us find fish! It is always nice to dive with a dependable shop that is also interested in REEF and fish ID and ocean conservation.

What is your favorite fish?

Although picking a favorite is difficult, if I had to, I would take the Cherubfish! These skittish little angelfish are very common, and often abundant in Cozumel. And many regular Cozumel divers don’t even see them!

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, February 2016

Red Snapper and Gray Snapper are two of the species being evaluated in the Gulf of Mexico using REEF data. Photo by Carol Cox.

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:

- A PhD student at University of Washington is using REEF data to evaluate the distribution of Giant Pacific Octopus in the Pacific Northwest, and how their abundance is related to urbanization.

- REEF data were provided to researchers from University of Miami for use as part of the project, "NOAA RESTORE: Ecosystem modeling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico: current status and future needs to address management and restoration activities." Data will be used to produce maps depicting stressors in the Gulf.

- Researchers from the Sea Doc Society are using REEF data to evaluate Salish Sea fish and invertebrate assemblages and population trends over the last 15 years.

- A student from Indiana University is using REEF data to evaluate fish populations at the Florida Keys artificial reef, Hoyt S. Vandenberg. REEF Advanced Assessment Team members have been annually monitoring the Vandenberg since it was deployed in 2009.

Where and When Are REEF Surveys Conducted

REEF Survey Project Regions

Did you know? While the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project was started in South Florida in 1993, today it has been expanded worldwide! REEF surveys are conducted as part of a diver's regular diving activities; anytime they are in the water, in any of these regions. And more regions are coming soon.

REEF's Survey Project areas:

  • Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA; Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico), 
  • South Atlantic States (SAS; Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)
  • Northeast US & Canada (NE; Virginia through Newfoundland)
  • Eastern Atlantic & Mediterranean (EAM; Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, and Mediterranean)
  • West Coast of the United States and Canada (PAC; California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia)
  • Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP; Sea of Cortez to the Galapagos Islands).
  • Hawaiian Islands (HAW; main islands and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands)
  • South Pacific (SOP; Fiji, Samoan Archipelago, Line Islands, Cook Islands)
  • Central Indo-Pacific (CIP; Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Australia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan)

To find out more about the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project, visit www.REEF.org/programs/volunteersurvey.

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.

Weeding the Good from the Bad: Deciphering “YOUR” Scanform . . .

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TWA scanform

A few reminders to our surveyors:

  • Always write your member number, your name, AND your email legibly on your survey form. It's not necessary to fill in the other contact information unless your information has changed or if you are a new member and do not yet have a REEF member number.
  • Please fill in the full 8-digit Geographic Zone Code for the site where your survey was conducted. You can find a list of these hierarchical codes online [Click here]. If the site is currently not on our list, contact our Field Operations Coordinator, Joe Cavanaugh, to have a site code assigned (please provide as much information as possible, including as many digits as you can pinpoint for your location. A site code should never end in two zeros.
  • The temperature fields on the survey form (Surface and Bottom) are both water temperature. Please do not report air temperature for the surface value.
  • Remember to use a pencil, but do not to use the pencil that was underwater to fill out your scanform. The residual water can cause the paper to rip and it's almost impossible to erase.
  • We graciously ask, moving forward, that team leaders handling a Field Trip survey, review the forms before your trip is over to make sure the participants have indeed filled all the necessary fields correctly, that also goes for current members that mail them in independently as well. Only send us your original form, not a copy and always use a pencil. NOW, to avoid all this, for non members, you can join REEF online, this way you fill out the information we need, thus eliminating the mind reading on our end.
  • And finally - for surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) or Northeast (NE) regions, please consider using our online data entry interface. This will save you time and postage as well as grant you the eternal gratitude of our small staff. Your surveys will also be processed quicker, and it's better for the environment!

Visit a REEF Discussion Forum Today

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Hairy Blenny Pair in Courtship Behavior, Photo by Todd Fulks
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Mutton Hamlet in Bonaire, Photo by Todd Fulks
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Greenbanded Goby, Photo by Todd Fulks
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Glass Blenny in Bonaire, Photo by Todd Fulks

A couple of months ago, REEF launched our new website. Along with the new website, REEF launched some new membership Discussion Forums that will become more valuable as the survey season ramps up this spring/summer. There are 3 forums: ID Central for posting mystery fish and invert pics for other members to help identify and to post interesting fish behavioral observations; Trip Reports, where members can post trip reports for Field Surveys, Exotic Species, AAT, and any REEF or other group efforts; and the General Discussion forum where you can post stories and links about marine conservation concerns, ideas for REEF programs, and myriad other things. These forums are for our 35,000+ members to interact and create a synergistic connection around our conservation diving and snorkel efforts worldwide. Below is a post from long-time member, Todd Fulks, who recently witnessed Hairy Blenny (Labrisomus nuchipinnis) courtship/mating and took a really great picture of the mating pair. I have pasted it here so you can get an example of what could be posted in the ID Central Forum. To post to the forums you have to be a registered REEF.org website user which you can do easily from our homepage in the top left corner under the heading, "Register for an account on our new site." Once registered, you can visit our forums by going up to the menu bar at the top of the homepage and moving your cursor over the Resources option, then clicking on Discussion Forums which is the second item down.

Dive Encounter by Todd Fulks -

"There I was at the end of our dive in just a few inches of water near shore, when I noticed a brilliant bright green fish with red hues on its lower jaw and streaking down its belly. It was sitting near a textbook example of a hairy blenny. I’d been told the males can have brilliant colors when mating so I knew I’d stumbled upon something interesting. As I looked around, I found two more drab olive green females. The girls were just blah-looking in comparison to the clownish colorations of the male hairy blenny. I lurched in the surf a bit as I watched a female slip up against a rock next to the brightly colored male. She jittered and shook violently. Then the male convulsed a few times and shook his body as he finned the underside of the rock. The female flitted a few feet away and the male convulsed again and then jolted to a new perch. The surge was such that I wasn’t able to look under the rock without causing damage so I’m not sure exactly what I witnessed. I’ll have to defer to the experts. Perhaps this was a courtship dance, perhaps they were actually breeding, or maybe egg care by proud parents. Or it could have been something else entirely… I mean it is Carnival time here in Bonaire and I’ve seen some guys wearing strange colorful costumes recently. None of the blennies left the two foot area the entire time and I was able to show all of them to two giddy divers that barely had room on their slates for the 100+ species we saw on the dive. I was determined to catch a good photo of the male, but it was tricky. He was more elusive and shy than the females and moved around frequently. Finally he settled between some rocks and one of his partners nuzzled in close and they posed. ‘Click.’"

REEF News Tidbits

A Big Win-Win: Have a Great Dive Trip in Key Largo and Support REEFFor REEF Members: Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort will donate 20% of the cost of your Key Largo dive vacation to REEF. This offer of support has no time or package restrictions. Contact the folks at Amoray for more information.

Very Few Spaces Left on 2008 REEF Field Survey TripsStill to come in 2008 are REEF Field Survey trips to Key Largo, St. Vincent, Sea of Cortez, and Cozumel. Very few spaces are left and several trips are sold out, book today. Coming soon -- the 2009 Trip Schedule!

Don't Just Blow Bubbles This Summer!  Participate in the 17th Great Annual Fish CountAn exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners.  Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event.  And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.  

Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry For the Northeast and Tropical Eastern PacificFollowing the successful expansion of our Online Data Entry interface for surveys in Hawaii and the Pacific West Coast regions last year, REEF is currently adding the capability for the Northeast (Virginia - Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja - Galapagos Islands). We hope that this will facilitate an increase in surveying in these important regions. To log your data online, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php.

Lionfish Letters from the Field - Eleuthera

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Lad Akins (REEF) and Stephanie Green (Simon Fraser University) show Island School students the finer points of lionfish netting.
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Indo-Pacific Lionfish are now omni-present throughout the Bahamas, including this one sighted in Exuma. Photo by Sean Nightingale.

Following the most recent Indo-Pacific Lionfish expedition at Stuart Cove’s in Nassau, Bahamas, we kicked off the next phase of our critical research on this invasive species in Eleuthera. Supporters, Trish and David Ferguson, served as hosts for the week. Earlier this summer, REEF staff set up 11 study sites, tagging 30 fish on six different patch reef and clearing the other 5 sites of lionfish. This past week, I revisited those tagging sites and documented any movement of lionfish. We then following up with early morning, mid-day and evening activity observations to see what the fish were up to and when. The observations involved pre-sun up dives and 2-3 hour bottom times. With some very early and late dive times, the data collected is showing interesting patterns of low light activity.

After five days of intense data collecting at the Ferguson’s we headed down to Cape Eleuthera to meet with staff and students at the Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute(CEI). The facility is completely self contained, producing their own electricity via solar and wind, their own biodiesel, raising cobia and tilapia in an aquaculture facility and even growing their own hydroponic vegetables. A very impressive operation and an incredible group of staff and students. We were able to conduct collecting and dissecting demonstrations for the coral research class and then do a packed house talk to all of the staff and students from TIS as well as a number from the local Deep Creek Middle School. There is strong interest in collaborating on future lionfish studies as well as incorporating fish surveys into the regular research curriculum at the IS and CEI. Look for future REEF projects to be scheduled here in 2009.  Visit our Lionfish Research page for more information.

Endangered Species Day 2009

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REEF's research on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations will be webcast from the Smithsonian this week. The Nassau grouper is considered endangered by the IUCN. Photo by Selina Heppell.

Last Friday, May 15th, America celebrated Endangered Species Day. While very few marine species have technically been declared as endangered, many of the critters that REEF volunteers see while conducting marine life surveys have experienced declines in recent years. REEF programs and data provide much needed information for scientists and resource agencies charged with evaluating the status of such species. A recent example is a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposal to list 5 species of rockfish in the Puget Sound under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The status review was just published on April 22 and REEF data were extensively used in the assessment. This example highlights the value of REEF data as a fisheries-independent data source; such information is critical for those species that are too rare to be targeted for harvest. A copy of the assessment is posted online.

The Nassau grouper, which is the focal species of REEF’s Grouper Moon Project, has been classified as endangered under the IUCN’s Red List. The Grouper Moon Project is a collaborative conservation program between REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment to study one of the last known large Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in the Caribbean. Grouper Moon Project lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, will be presenting the ground-breaking findings of this research during a special one day session to be held in the Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History this Wednesday, May 20th. "Beyond the Obituaries: Success Stories in Ocean Conservation" will feature some of the good news coming out of work being conducted in the oceans. Brice’s talk, along with all of the success stories, will be webcast online. The Grouper Moon talk is scheduled in the Coral Reef session, which is from 2-3:25.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub