Gearing up for GAFC

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The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is just around the corner. While REEF staff updates the event website, www.fishcount.org, we are asking our field stations and partners to begin planning their 2008 GAFC activities.

Events can be as simple as gathering a group of local divers for a one-day dive and a covered-dish party for after. Or, schedule a huge blow out to introduce more people from your town to what a difference can be made when you do more than just blow bubbles while diving. The latter could include Fish ID seminars, counting challenges, a planned picnic and whatever else you can dream up to gather a crowd and show them the fun of fish-watching.

Whatever you choose to do, please don't forget to register your event with REEF by clicking here.  Or give us a call at 305-852-0030. For more information, please contact gafc@reef.org

Life List Mania – St. Vincent Style

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Some of the lucky participants during the two weeks of Field Surveys in St. Vincent.
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Striated frogfish - one of the many amazing fish seen during the Field Survey in St. Vincent. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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It wasn't just about the fish. Many spectacular invertebrates, such as this longarm octopus, were seen too. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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A find for any fishwatcher, the St. Vincent folks found six! Black Brotula on one dive.

As any veteran fish surveyor is well aware, dive travel is the spice of fishwatching. No matter how many dives you’ve made, or how many species you’ve recorded a visit to a new destination will send you scurrying for your ID books. That was certainly the case during back-to-back REEF Field Surveys held in St. Vincent during early August. During the two weeks, 40 sets of eyes ferreted out 261 different fish species, many rare, many first-time sightings, and a few that still have the trip leaders Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach scratching their heads.

Tucked away in the distant reaches of the southeastern Caribbean, the towering volcanic island is not only home to a hearty population of Caribbean fishes, but also harbors a scattering of novel species that ride the currents north from Brazil. Add to this, pumice sand and freshwater runoff (a combination that tends to attract exotic creatures), a variety of underwater habitats ranging from bold boulder and coral seascapes, to thick sea grass meadows, and protected bays bottomed with fine sediment and scattered algae patches, fondly known as muck. Oh yeah, add one more dynamic to the amazing mix, the group’s host Bill Tewes, owner of Dive St. Vincent, and his eagle-eyed dive guides. In dive parlance, Bill is a critter hunter extraordinaire. After exploring the island’s undersea riches for 25 years, his infectious enthusiasm for the hunt won’t allow him to miss a dive, and the man certainly loves to show off his animals.

So what were some of the highlights of the week? For starters: a single dive to a clearwater site, known as the Pinnacle, revealed not one, not two, but six cryptic Black Brotula. A plunge to 110 feet on the Wall, uncovered Yellowcheek Basslet, Three-lined Basslet and Cave Bass hiding under a ledge. On their way up the surveyors spotted a Golden Hamlet, Bridled Burrfish, and during their safety stop a flashy red fin of a perky little Red Banner Blenny caught their eyes.

But as good as the reefs and wall are the majority of the team’s treasures were discovered in the muck – the seldom-dived otherworldly realm where Bill’s fishwatching prowess shines. Let’s begin in the shallows where the team found, along with a long list of more common species, clingfishes, Longsnout and Lined Seahorses, a Striated Frogfish, Shortnose Batfish, an assortment of pipefish, seldom-seen pipehorses, and about every species of snake eel you’ve ever heard of, and some you haven’t. As the seemingly barren bottom angled down Jackknifefish, Spotfin Goby, Dwarf Sand Perch and tiny Blackear Bass appeared. If you continued to 90 feet an uncommon sighting of a juvenile Snowy Bass could be made.

One would be remiss without mentioning a few spectacular St. Vincent invertebrates including, the Atlantic Longarm Octopus, the rare Brownstripe Octopus, skeleton shrimp, and a spectacular Red Banded Lobster.

Did we mention Blackfin Cardinalfish, Whitemouth Croaker, Snakefish, Cornetfish, Cardinal Soilderfish, Flying Gurnard, and pikeblennies? Whew, have to stop somewhere, this is REEF-in-Brief you know. You’ll just have to contact one of the lucky participants for more details.  

A gallery of all images linked from this article can be found here.

Lionfish Letters from the Field -- Government, Divers Move Into Action Mode on Lionfish issue

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Following REEF training, DECR Jodi Johnson works with dive operator Smitty Smith in Grand Turk to bag a lionfish.
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The DECR collection team during a lionfish round-up dive in the Turks and Caicos.

With the rapid expansion of lionfish into the Caribbean, downstream and recently invaded countries are starting to gear up for early detection and rapid response efforts. REEF is leading the way with in-country workshops focused on increasing awareness and training both fisheries and dive operators in collecting and handling techniques. The week of January 25th-31st was spent working with the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Starting in Grand Turk, we hit the ground running and less than an hour after landing, DECR officer Jodi Johnson and I had covered collecting and handling techniques and had our first 2 lionfish in the bag. Things did not slow down. Two days in Grand Turk followed by two days in Provo and a day in South Caicos resulted in 7 seminars to well over 150 people, 6 collecting training dives, over 40 lionfish collected and an evening lionfish tasting at Smokey’s on the Beach in Provo. Media coverage of the effort was also prominent with local TCI Channel 4 running a feature segment on the issue. The workshop was a huge success with both dive operators and government officials now moving forward in combined efforts to control and minimize impacts of lionfish.

In separate upcoming events, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Cozumel and Belize are also bringing REEF in to conduct lionfish workshops this spring and early summer. The goals of these programs are to build capacity for local communities and governments to be able to enact early detection and rapid response measures and increase public awareness of the issue.

For more information on in-country workshops, contact Lad Akins. Lad@reef.org (305) 852-0030. Report sightings of invasive lionfish through REEF's online sightings form.

REEF News Tidbits

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New REEF Survey T-Shirts - Our latest addition to the REEF Online store, these T-shirts provide a comic look at our world of fish surveying. The shirts sport a REEF logo and "REEF Survey Team" on the front and a cartoon on the back. Shirts are available in three colors. Click here to get yours today!

Visit REEF this weekend at the Beneath the Sea Dive show in Secaucus, New Jersey - REEF volunteers will be there to tell you about our latest activities and sign up new members. Sensational Seas Two will premiere at the show and we’ll be selling the DVD in the booth as a fundraiser. Many of the production contributors will join us during the day to sign DVDs. Anna and Ned DeLoach will be there to talk fish. Stop by Booth 220 and say "hello"! You can check out a sample of the DVD on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bC4T5bMu_s

Free California Fish and Invertebrate Identification Seminars Scheduled - Thanks to support from a regional foundation, REEF is offering a series of free training classes to be held at The Ocean Institute in Dana Point and The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Classes will be held this June. Pre-registration is required. There will also be a coordinated REEF survey dive aboard the SunDiver at a reduced cost just prior to the SCUBA2010 show in Long Beach. For more information, check out the class page here.

Preview of REEF 2011 Field Survey Schedule

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Lucky REEF members joined Ned and Anna DeLoach in Bermuda during a memorable Field Survey in 2009.
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REEF Trips offer fishwatchers of all levels opportunites for learning. Photo by Jessie Armacost.

We are pleased to present a preview of the 2011 REEF Field Survey Schedule to our valued members. 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! These trips 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. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

Our travel consultants at Caradonna Dive Travel are finalizing many of the trip details, and the full schedule with prices and package information will be posted on the REEF Trips website in the coming weeks. We hope that this early preview will allow you to start planning your REEF dive travel. Some of these trips will sell out quickly, so if you are interested in reserving your spot, or being on a list to find out more, contact Caradonna today at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. They can also handle your airfare.

Preview -- REEF 2011 Field Survey Schedule*

*Please note that details are still being finalized. Dates listed below are tentative for some trips.

  • Saba, March 19-26, 2011, at Sea Saba Dive Centre – led by Heather George, REEF Board of Trustees member
  • Hawaii, mid-April 2011 (tentative), details TBA – led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science
  • Belize, May 7-14, 2011, aboard the Sun Dancer II, Lionfish Control Study – led by Lad Akins, REEF Director Operations, and Peter Hughes
  • Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, June 12-19, 2011, at Green Turtle Club and Brandal's Dive Shop, Lionfish Control Study – led by Lad Akins, REEF Director Operations
  • Blue Heron Bridge, West Palm Beach (FL), July 16-23, 2011, details TBA – led by Anna and Ned DeLoach, REEF Board of Trustees members, and Lureen Feretti, REEF Expert Surveyor and Blue Heron local
  • Fiji, July 12-19, 2011, aboard the Nai’a – led by Paul Humann, Renowned Underwater Author/Photographer and REEF Founder – REEF’s first Field Survey to the South Pacific
  • Roatan, August 2011, at Anthony's Key Resort – led by Alecia Adamson, REEF Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator
  • Cozumel, December 3-10, 2011, at Aqua Safari – led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert Surveyor and Cozumel Naturalist
  • San Blas Islands, Panama, January 14-21, 2012, at Coral Lodge – led by Paul Humann, Renowned Underwater Author/Photographer and REEF Founder
  • REEF Fish Survey Project in Hawaii Turns 10, and Reaches 10,000 Survey Milestone!

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    Flo Bahr conducted the 10,000 REEF survey in Hawaii on January 29, 2011.

    Almost 10 years to the day of launching the Fish Survey Project in Hawaii, the 10,000th REEF survey was conducted at Palauea Beach on Maui this past weekend! The landmark survey was conducted by long-time REEF member, Flo Bahr, who was diving the site with a group of active Hawaii REEFers. Flo was recently featured in our Member Spotlight (read her profile here). A huge thanks to Flo and all of the surveyors who have been busy in Hawaii. REEF launched our citizen science program in Hawaii on February 3, 2001, during a week-long celebration with partners from Project S.E.A.-Link, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Maui Community College Marine Option Program. Since then, many other partners have joined forces with REEF as Field Stations. We are looking forward to the next ten years! In honor of our anniversary, we have highlighted a local Field Station and one of our many local surveyors in this month's Making It Count. To celebrate our 10 years in Hawaii, we have scheduled a Field Survey Trip to Maui in April, we hope you will join us! Click here for more information.

    Visit REEF's Top 10 Stats webpage to see the number of surveys and other top stats for all of REEF's regions - http://www.reef.org/db/stats

    Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, July 2011

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    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:

    - NOAA scientists from the Protected Resources Division are using data on three species of endangered rockfish to evaluate their status in the Salish Sea.

    -University of Washington scientists are using REEF data on invasive tunicates to map distribution of the species throughout the Pacific Northwest.

    Meet the New REEF Marine Conservation Interns

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    We are pleased to introduce our latest Marine Conservation Interns - Lucy Davis and Brandon Lenderink. Lucy was born and raised in Texas and has spent the past few years traveling around the world. In 2009, she lived in New Zealand assisting with various research projects using her underwater skills as a diver and driving boats. She recently went backpacking through Southeast Asia where she was able to dive and see the Lionfish in its native habitat. Although she began her college degree in elementary education, Lucy now is focusing more on environmental education. Brandon is a Colorado native and a recent biology graduate whose passion for wildlife and conservation has led him to pursue a career in marine biology. Brandon has worked as an aquarist for the Denver Downtown Aquarium, promoting conservation and working the animals such as endangered turtles and Sumatran tigers, as well as for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the Aquatic Nuisance Species program. Brandon’s future goals are to become a research diver and scuba instructor.

    The REEF internship program provides college age juniors, seniors, and graduate students the opportunity to experience working at a nonprofit environmental organization. Interns assist REEF staff with education, outreach, lionfish research, and day-to-day office assistance. Many REEF interns move on to successful careers in conservation and the marine environment, including natural resource agencies, academics, and conservation non-profits (including REEF). If you or someone you know is interested in applying to be a future REEF Intern, visit the application page -- http://www.REEF.org/about/internships/application.

    Another GREAT Annual Fish Count

    The 21st annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) took place in July, with many dive shops, dive clubs, and other groups organizing fish ID classes, dive /snorkel days, BBQs and more fun gatherings. The concept behind the GAFC is not only to accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers/snorkelers to fishwatching and get them started doing REEF surveys. Groups from California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and new to the event in 2012 - New Brunswick, all participated! Once again, this year's largest one day event was held in the Northeast, coordinated by the New England Dive Club. Thank you to ALL participants, and we hope you'll continue conducting REEF surveys on your dives year round!

    Putting It To Work: New Publication Showing Validity of REEF Survey Data

    A REEF "Roving Diver" has free swimming range around a dive site. Surveyors are encouraged to search high and low for as many species as they can positively ID. Photo by Paul Humann.
    Transect surveyors follow a path for a pre-determined length (typically around 25m) and record all species within a 1-3 meter swath. Photo courtesy of Ken Marks.

    A new scientific paper published earlier this month in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution reports that REEF surveys conducted by citizen scientists compare well with traditional scientific methods when it comes to monitoring species biodiversity. The findings of the research, conducted by Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Angila in the UK, give weight to the growing phenomenon of citizen science programs such as REEF's Volunteer Survey Project. The field study compared methods used by REEF volunteer divers with those used by professional scientists to measure the variety of fish species in three Caribbean sites in the Turks and Caicos. The divers surveyed the sites using two methods – the 'belt transect', used in peer reviewed fish diversity studies, and the 'roving diver technique', used by REEF volunteers. Two teams of 12 divers made 144 separate underwater surveys across the sites over four weeks. While the traditional scientific survey revealed sightings of 106 different types of fish, the volunteer technique detected greater marine diversity with a total of 137 in the same waters. Dr Holt led the research in partnership with the Centre for Marine Resource Studies in the Caribbean and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He said: "The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs. Very few, if any, scientific groups can collect data on the scale that volunteer groups can, so our proof that both methods return consistent results is very encouraging for citizen science in general. We're living in a world that's changing very significantly. Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists." Click here to read the full paper, entitled "Comparing Diversity Data Collected Using a Protocol Designed for Volunteers with Results from a Professional Alternative".

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub