Putting It To Work: REEF Staff Attends International Coral Science Conference

Christy and Brice posing with a shark at ICRS2016 to raise awareness about the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands

In June, REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, attended the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium meeting held in Hawaii. This conference, held every four years, brings together several thousand scientists, policy makers, and managers to discuss coral reefs and share latest research. During the week, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, presented an analysis of REEF survey data collected by volunteers in Bonaire Marine Park over the last 20 years. This valuable citizen science dataset includes over 22,000 surveys and 26,000 hours of underwater time. The findings reveal precipitous declines in large-bodied fishes such as grouper, but steady increases in mid-sized parrotfish. Hundreds of other talks were given, on a range of topics from the severe bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, to the impacts of harmful fishing practices such as dynamite and cyanide, to discovering bright spots in some coral reef areas. Also at the conference, Dr. Jack Randall was awarded the Darwin Medal for his lifetime of achievements. All us fish watchers owe Dr. Randall a lot! Jack has described 815 reef fish species in his lifetime. He is 91 years old and has published 878 papers and dozens of fish ID guides.

Rapid Response To Non-native Onespot Rabbitfish

Onespot Rabbitfish, native to Asia Pacific. Photo by Florent Charpin.
REEF's rapid response team after removing the non-native rabbitfish from Dania Beach.

In October 2016, REEF's Rapid Response Team removed a non-native Onespot Rabbitfish from Florida waters within 24 hours of its reporting. The rabbitfish is the 36th non-native marine fish documented in Florida waters through REEF’s Exotic Species Sightings Program, and its removal is the 5th successful rapid response effort led by REEF.

The Onespot Rabbitfish was seen by a REEF member while diving offshore of Dania Beach, Florida, who then reported it through REEF’s Non-native Sightings Program. Within 24 hours of receiving the sighting report, REEF and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) coordinated a successful live-capture of the fish. The fish was placed at the new Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami and will be displayed as part of an educational exhibit on the dangers of non-native species.

Like the lionfish, the rabbitfish is a venomous fish with a voracious appetite. Rabbitfish eat marine vegetation like seaweeds, algae, and seagrasses, and could impact native fish habitat. They are native to the Asian Pacific region. It is probable that, like the lionfish, the Onespot Rabbitfish was introduced to the South Florida reef via an aquarium release. Please spread the word about the dangers of introducing exotic fish to local waters. Other options include reaching out to a local fish or pet shop, asking other fish owners to adopt, looking for a local fish club, or donating the fish to school or office. If you are a diver in Florida, please keep your eyes open for this species. If you see one, please fill out an exotic species reporting form at www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report.

Over the last several years, USGS and REEF have coordinated the removal of the rabbitfish and four other non-native marine fish species from Florida waters. All four species were captured alive, and three of the four are currently on display at educational institutions. The rabbitfish will be on display at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida, when it opens its doors in early 2017.

Fishinars Coming Up - Galapagos, Roatan, and more!

The Galapagos Blue-banded Goby, is one of the many endemic species that will be discussed in the upcoming Fishinar. Photo by Paul Humann.

We have some fantastic Fishinars coming up in the next few months, and we’d like for you to join us. Fishinars, REEF's brand of online webinars, are live, fun, interactive, and educational. Never boring! They last one hour, and you can log on from your home computer or mobile device.

Our next Fishinar in May (Wednesday the 3rd) will focus on “Fish in the Land of Finches: Galapagos”, and will be taught by our Science Director Christy Semmens. After that, shift your focus to a favorite destination of divers, Roatan, when Scott and Patti Chandler teach the Fishes of Roatan on Thursday May 11th.

You can register and get more information on these and other great Fishinars scheduled for 2017 by going to: www.REEF.org/fishinars. ‘Sea’ you online!

Recent Manta Ray Sightings in the Florida Keys

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Manta ray at French Reef. Photo courtesy of Mike Ryan.
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Coral spawning at French Reef. Photo courtesy of Mike Ryan.

In the first few weeks of July we have started receiving reports of several Manta ray sightings at French Reef, near Key Largo, Florida. Mantas are found in the temperate, tropical, and sub tropical waters world wide. However, sightings in Florida waters are uncommon. Some observers saw the mantas swimming in large vertical loops, leading them to think that these animals were coming into the shallow reefs to feed on coral spawn.

Mantas inhabit near-shore and pelagic waters, and can grow up to ~14ft in width. They are primarily filter feeders, using large cephalic fins located on the head to help 'funnel' plankton into their mouths.

So, if your diving in the Florida Keys keep an eye out for one of these magnificent animals swimming by - and be sure to record it on your survey!

Putting It To Work: New Publication with REEF Data Reveals Link of Caribbean Fish Biodiversity Patterns and Sea Temperature

A diverse Caribbean coral reef. Photo by Daryl Duda.
A marine citizen scientist collecting data for the REEF fish survey project. Photo by Jeffrey Haines.
Map showing variation in numbers of fish species across REEF survey sites. Colors represent survey effort controlled estimates of numbers of species. Figure from Clauson-Kaas et al 2017.

We are excited to share the newest scientific publication that includes data from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The study, published in the Journal of Biogeography, used the power of the people in the form of citizen science to produce a new map of marine fish biodiversity across the Caribbean and tropical western Atlantic.

The work, performed by scientists from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution & Climate in Denmark and the Marine Biological Association, studied REEF’s extensive data base collected by our volunteer surveyors to produce the map and find that fish biodiversity is strongly linked to sea temperatures. However, results also show that while fish biodiversity is higher in warmer waters, the very hottest sites in fact have fewer species than sites with intermediate temperatures, something not shown before in previous studies. These results will be of concern given the rising water temperatures in the region.

This ground-breaking research is based on data collected by thousands of marine citizen scientists working within the REEF program. These volunteers have been recording data on the fish species they see during dives for over 25 years and inputting their records into REEF database. This work has enabled researchers to compare different coral reefs and other coastal sites across this tropical region for the first time. The resulting map shows high diversity areas in the Dutch Antilles and the Florida Keys, whereas relatively few species were found in Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Florida.

In order to examine potential explanations for these patterns, the research team looked at potential environmental factors that might be associated with them, including natural factors, such as temperature, salinity and depth, and human-based factors, such as population density. Analysis proved the number of fish species recorded at a site could be predicted by how warm the water was at that site, and, to a lesser extent, how deep the site was. While a positive relationship between temperature and biodiversity has been demonstrated in previous research of global patterns, the fine-scale detail provided by this huge citizen science dataset facilitated the discovery of important details of this relationship within the wider Caribbean. Senior author Dr Ben Holt said:

"Rather than being a simple relationship, whereby warmer waters equal more fish species, the relationship seen in the REEF data was “hump-shaped”; warmer sites tend to have more species up to an optimal temperature of around 27C and then the hottest sites become less diverse.”

Further analysis suggests that this result may be partly driven by a few species being adapted to the warmest temperatures. The findings of this study will inevitably be of concern given the fast-rising temperatures of Caribbean water, but the research team urge caution extrapolating their results based on future climate predictions. Dr Holt said:

“The efforts of citizen scientists have provided an invaluable opportunity to study spatial patterns of marine biodiversity. Their data suggest that the hottest reefs are not the most biodiverse but it does not necessarily mean that the diversity of any particular site will change as seawater temperatures change. This is an important area for further research given the importance of these habitats within the Caribbean and around the world.”

The full citation of the paper is: Clauson-Kaas, S, K Richardson, C Rahbek, and BG Holt. 2017. Species-specific environmental preferences associated with a hump shaped diversity/temperature relationship across tropical marine fish assemblages. Journal of Biogeography. 2017(00): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.13044.

To see a full list of scientific papers that have included REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

REEF to Host "For the Love of the Sea" Benefit Dinner and Auction

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On Saturday, February 9, REEF will host an ocean-themed dinner and auction at Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort to raise awareness about REEF in the Florida Keys community and help conserve local coral reef ecosystems. Underwater photographers Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach will present new images of sea life taken on their worldwide dive travels. A silent and live auction will offer prizes from local businesses and travel to destinations including Bonaire and Papua New Guinea. Tickets are $75 each and include buffet dinner, open bar and dancing.

For more information, including how to purchase tickets, become an event sponsor or donate auction items, please visit www.REEF.org/loveofthesea. If you are in the area, please join REEF for this unique opportunity to celebrate the Valentines season and kick off 2008 as the International Year of the Reef.

 

REEF Survey Tips

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Joe Cavanaugh searching wall for Cave Basslets
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Check for the Witness Protection Program Fish, here - the Yellowtail amongst Horse-Eyes
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Look closely at sharksuckers, 3 species seen on this one Nurse Shark
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Look for Exotics amongst the native species, here a Red Lionfish
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Report your Sea Turtle sightings on survey - linked to seaturtle.org
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Surveyors conferring on a sighting ID
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Large sponge "smoking," releasing gametes

Once again, it is that time of year when many of you are getting out on the water and conducting REEF Fish Surveys.  I have put together a few bullet points based on my experiences surveying with members and answering questions on techniques and things to watch out for when filling out your data sheets. Here are a few tips:

 

  • Roving Diver Surveys mean you are not restricted to a transect line while surveying and you can roam about within 100m of dive boat, mooring buoy, or shore during your survey, drift dives count, of course, and often cover a larger area. The area surveyed does not correlate to your fish sightings, in terms of sighting frequency and abundances, but rather,  your time surveying is directly correlated to your sightings data.  This is why it is important to fill in the time box on your scanform or on the dataentry page to reflect the time you actually spend surveying, not your total dive time.  If you spend 5 minutes prepping to survey and you stop surveying on your safety stop, for instance, than your survey time will not equal your total dive time.  Also, as you get better at identifying your fish, try and spend more time looking and searching for fish, and less time looking at your survey slate.
  • Set up your slate so that it is easy to get to but not necessarily in your hand throughout your dive.  I clip mine with a retractable clip to my BCD and use surgical tubing to hold a graphite pencil, the kind artists use.  You can get these at any art supply store and you'll get hundreds of surveys from one pencil providing someone doesn't smoosh it with their dive cylynder!  I typically census every couple of minutes or when I see something unique that I don't want to forget.  I periodically update my survey so that I really don't have much to add at the end of the dive and I can go through and make revisions while the dive is fresh in my mind.  I write in code such as LU (look up) for any fish I need to consult a book about later in the day.  I also carry a magnifying glass and a small flashlight to search under ledges and inside sponges for peppermint basslets and sponge cardinalfishes, for instance.

 

  • Use your time wisely when diving deeper profiles on wall dives.  As your dive profile changes depending on the site, you can adjust your survey strategy accordingly, to maximize your survey time and the scope of what you see.  For wall dives, I personally keep navigation simple, pick an unusual coral head or sponge and mark it in your mind and take a compass heading back to the boat.  Make your descent but while you do, search for the type of habitat you are likely to find the fish you are looking for.  On a recent trip to Turks I found that at around 100' depth, the Fairy basslets transitioned into Blackcap basslets, at this imaginary line I was likely to find some Cave basslets, or three-line basslets.   Then, knowing the dimensions of the cave openings they prefer, you can be choosy about which hiding spots you want to check out.  Checking the deeper tube sponges had rewards too in not just finding Sponge cardinals, but also Black brotulas (two for the trip).

 

  • Decide how much time you want to search for different species or families ahead of time.  Mike Phelan found with statistical analysis of his personal surveys that he would find 90% of his species in the first 10 minutes of his survey effort on coral reef dives.  If you have the luxury of diving a site twice, you can more easily survey the big picture and concentrate on finding cryptic species such as triplefins and other blennies and gobies on the second dive. Or you can focus on abundances for some of those cryptics, seeing how many of one species you can find, increasing Secretary blennies from Few on your first dive to Many on your second dive at the same site.

 

  • Can I count a fish I did not see in the water? The answer is no but here are a couple of examples where I or others have surveyed fish in an atypical manner.  Recently, on our Turks Field Survey, I was climbing onto the boat after a night dive when a flyingfish leapt from the water, bouncing off my knee onto the boat deck.  I picked him up, identified him as a Mirrorwing flyingfish and threw him back in the water.  Did I add him to my survey?  Yes, since he was in the water with me during the time of my dive and he was a new survey species for me.  I also added a Tripletail to a survey I did last year as I was gearing up on the boat, I saw this Tripletail and snorkeled over to it just before starting my dive.  One other quick example came two years ago with our Biscayne Bay AAT project where the group saw a Whale Shark but not on the survey site itself.  Some people filled out a species-only survey for this sighting as it was a first for many and a fortuitous sighting as the first time Biscayne Park recorded the species.  We created a dive site based on the coordinates.  But in general, you can only survey what you are seeing at the time you are actively engaged in your survey.  Feel free to email me at joe@reef.org with questions about this or any other questions you might have about surveying techniques.

 

  • Share what you're seeing with other divers, especially your buddy.  Surveying is not a competition and its good practice to corroborate your unusual and cryptic sightings with other divers, share your findings with them in the water when you can. This really becomes important when you are with a REEF group and you are trying to get the "lay of the land," sort of speak.  Are those Dusky Damselfish I'm seeing everywhere?  And are those Secretary or Roughhead blennies I'm seeing.  How do I find a Candy basslet, people keep seeing them, can you show me?"  Ask questions of your fellow surveyors and take advantage of the unique fish identification and fish finding akumen others have; I sure do on AAT projects.  And lastly, feel free to take notes on interesting events such as coral and sponge spawning, rarely seen or odd behaviors of fish, etc.  You can post these on one of our REEF forums accessible from our homepage. Photos for this article, courtesy Aggressor II, Turks and Caicos.

REEF News Tidbits for August

REEF Hats!  Just Added to the REEF Store.  Check them out and get yours today.

The 2009 Field Survey Schedule has been updated with several new trips, including a second trip to Cozumel this December and Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach in October 2009.

- REEF researchers and collaborators have been busy in the field this month on the Grouper Moon Project.  Watch for an update in next month's REEF-in-Brief.

- REEF's Lionfish Research was featured on the National Geographic News earlier this week.  This follows extensive coverage by the Associated Press earlier this month.  Also this month, Anna DeLoach produced this 5 minute video for Scuba Diving Magazine that looks at the the recent lionfish population explosion, the reasons lionfish are the perfect invader, how they got to the wrong sea, what REEF is doing about it, and how divers can help. Watch this informative video here. Read more about this project in this recent press release

REEF Fish and Friends Lecture Series

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The invasive lionfish will be the topic of next month's Fish and Friends lecture, April 14th. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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REEF Executive Director, Lisa Mitchell, introduces Paul Humann, at the first Fish and Friends lecture in March.
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Capt. Joanie Follmer and REEF Volunteers Jane Bixby, Nancy Perez and Julie Schneeberger attended Paul's Fish and Friends lecture earlier this month.

REEF has been around for over 15 years and we felt it was time to give back to the community that has housed and supported us since REEF’s inception. So we came up with REEF Fish & Friends, a monthly meeting/seminar in Key Largo that gathers snorkelers, divers and armchair naturalists to learn more about fish and have some fun. Our first REEF Fish & Friends was held March 10 at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters. Paul Humann, the opening night speaker, shared the history of REEF and highlighted milestones over the last decade and half.

Paul visited with guests and signed books and then spoke for about an hour. The room was packed and people were even standing in the hall to listen. As most of you know, Paul is the consummate story teller and we had some laughs, learned some new things about REEF and got to hear firsthand how the organization came to be.

REEF Fish & Friends will be held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar. We are planning a line-up of interesting guest speakers as well as REEF staff in the coming months.

In conjunction with the lecture series, we will also be working with local dive operators to arrange a monthly REEF survey dive/snorkel trip. No experience necessary. REEF Fish & Friends is all about learning how to survey and teaching others – its fun, easy and you will reap immediate results – making a dive that counts.

Upcoming Fish & Friends -- On Tuesday April 14, Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects and the recognized lionfish expert, will present Born in the Wrong Sea – a presentation about the invasion of the Pacific lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. He will present the latest information on sightings and the important marine conservation work that REEF is doing to manage this huge environmental problem.

Tuesday May 12, Lad will return to present Parrotfish and Wrasse. This will be a shortened version of the presentations that are done on REEF Field Surveys. Even if you think you know your Parrotfish and Wrasse come and listen as Lad presents ID techniques, habitat and behavior. These hermaphrodites are fascinating and are sure to provide fodder for an interesting presentation.

Keep an eye on our REEF Fish and Friends webpage (www.reef.org/fishandfriends) as we post info about presentations, trips, photos and more. So see you Tuesday April 14 at the James E Lockwood REEF House, MM 98.3 from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.

REEF Trips - Making Your Vacation Count

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Participants on a Field Survey to Curacao in October 2009.
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REEF trips are a great way to learn, both above and below water. Photo by Jesse Armacost.

Our t-shirt may say, “It’s all about the fish”, but if you’ve been on a REEF trip, you know it’s about the people too. Diving with like-minded enthusiasts who share your interest in learning more about our underwater world is one of the best ways to spend your dive vacation! Our recent trip to Curacao was no exception – a great group of surveyors of all levels came together to share their knowledge, fish encounters, and a lot of fun. Experts Doug Harder and Kay Tidemann showed us some of the unusuals, including the delicate Pale Cardinalfish and a rare reverse-pattern Goldentail Moray. We even taught our divemaster Elric about some of the various phases of wrasses and parrotfish. At the end of the week, our sister team of Helen and Sally Davies both passed their Level 3 tests, and beginning surveyors Amy Kramer and Norm Valor are now officially at Level 2.

If you are interested in taking a “dive (trip) that counts” and making new friends, there is no better way than to join us on a REEF trip next year. Our diverse schedule has something for everyone, and some trips are already starting to fill up…only a few spots are left on the Belize Lionfish trip for example. To see the full 2010 trip calendar, just click here and scroll down the page to find a trip that fits your schedule!

Please call 1-877-295-REEF (7333) to make your reservations or you can e-mail our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com.

REEF Trip Schedule 2010 -- Prices, package details and more available online.

 

  • Dominica with Dive Dominica and Ft. Young Hotel -- April 17-24, 2010. Led by Heather George.
  • Belize with Sun Dancer II Liveaboard -- May 1-8, 2010. Lionfish Research Expedition, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes.
  • Roatan with Turquoise Bay Resort -- July 17-24, 2010. Led by Paul Humann.
  • Cozumel with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn -- August 14-21, 2010. Led by Sheryl Shea.
  • Key Largo with Amoray Dive Center -- August 26 - September 2, 2010. Sea Critter Seminar, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Bonaire with Buddy Dive Resort -- September 26 - October 2, 2010. Field Survey and Coral Spawning Expedition, Led by Jessie Armacost.
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico with Rocio del Mar Liveaboard -- October 9-16, 2010. Led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens.
  • Grand Cayman with Dive Tech and Colbalt Coast -- November 6-13, 2010. Led by Lad Akins.

     

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