REEF Welcomes New Trips Program and Communications Manager

Next time you sign up for one of REEF’s Field Survey Trips, you’ll be greeted by a new voice. REEF has added a new member to the team; welcoming Jamie Dietrich as the new Trips Program and Communications Manager! As Jamie’s position title implies, her main responsibilities revolve around managing REEF’s Field Survey Trips Program. Each year, REEF leads 10-15 week long international Field Survey Trips to diving destinations across the world. Led by marine life experts, participants learn about the ocean while contributing to marine conservation as citizen scientists. Anyone can join REEF and likeminded divers for an itinerary of diving, seminars and fun! Jamie will also be managing communications and marketing efforts for all of REEF’s programs.

Jamie is a midwesterner at heart, but comes to the Keys from the Big Apple where she spent eight years after university working in Experiential Marketing; listing several Fortune 500 companies among her clients. These days, her clientele seem a bit fishy, as she’s traded in the boardroom and business suit for the beach and a wetsuit. Jamie recently became a certified Divemaster and Coral Reef Research Diver, and she spent the majority of the last year developing her conservation expertise on a volunteer marine mission in Fiji. After leaving her island home and returning to the States, she decided to make “island-time” a permanent staple in her life by relocating to the dive capital of the world. Jamie is excited to get her feet wet and continue to contribute towards meaningful work that aids in the protection of what she’s come to love most, the ocean.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, June 2015

REEF sightings are an important source of information for rare species such as sawfish. Photo courtesy Simon Fraser University.

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 research group at Palm Beach State College is using REEF data on South Florida fish assemblages to evaluate beach renourishment projects.

- Researchers from NOAA's Biogeography office are including REEF data in the development of a management plan for the marine portion of the NE Ecological Corridor Reserves in NE Puerto Rico and Culebra Island.

- Researchers at Bimini Biological Field Station are using REEF sightings of two endangered sawfish species to better understand the species' current distribution and status.

A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Planning For Grouper Moon

A spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman, the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our partners at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are gearing up for the annual Grouper Moon Project next month. Scientists will be on the ground and in the water during the full moon in January. Since 2002, the group has conducted ground-breaking research to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations, to help ensure recovery of the populations of this iconic species. This year, the team will be collaborating on new work using cutting-edge technology including underwater microscopes to evaluate larvae in-situ. We will also be hosting several live-feed videos through Google Hangouts as part of REEF’s Grouper Education Program. In 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched the education program to engage Caymanian students in the project. This exciting initiative brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and the Hangouts that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. We will post Hangout details on our Facebook page and www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject in a few weeks.

The Faces of REEF: Adam Nardelli

Adam and the lionfish research team.
The cryptic frogfish that Adam found in Cozumel.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Adam Nardelli. Adam has been a REEF member since 2009, and he served as a REEF Intern in 2014. He has conducted 54 surveys and has participated in several of REEF's programs. Here’s what Adam had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I first learned about REEF as a PADI dive master when I became involved in doing group fish surveys and held a Great Annual Fish Count event at a local dive shop in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I eventually became a PADI instructor and started teaching my own fish identification courses for many of the local dive shops. In 2009, the spread of invasive lionfish started to reach the shores of south Florida, and as a dive professional and passionate steward of the local reefs, I quickly saw this issue as an important threat that needed to be understood and treated for management. I started a research project on the lionfish invasion while I studied a graduate program at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, and partnered with REEF and Lad Akins as a REEF Intern.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

My involvement with REEF has influenced most of my diving career well into shaping my view as a marine conservation steward and professional educator today. As a REEF Intern, I was fortunate to assist with several field surveys, and I would have to say that among all of them the single highlight was the ability to dive and learn from the staff members. Of course, my most memorable surveys were conducting lionfish transects with Lad, Stephanie, and the other REEF volunteers. There were as many long, cold, wet days as there were warm, sunny ones where we spent hours in the water surveying many of the diverse reef habitats around the Florida Keys. There were so many dive stories that we came away with, but I would have to say the most memorable was when we were approached by a huge sailfish chasing bait.

I also had the extraordinary experience of assisting with the Grouper Moon project in Little Cayman with Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Brice Semmens. This was an opportunity to help conduct research and promote continued protection for the endangered Nassau Grouper. It was an honor to learn from the sharp set of fish identification skills that Christy and Brice possess as expert field researchers. Swimming with large schools of these charismatic fish was a memorable dive adventure.

Lastly, just this past summer in 2015, I participated in the Roatan Field Survey group, which was led by Anna and Ned DeLoach. It was wonderful to dive with these two fish “aficionados” as we explored every coral crevice and sand hole in search of rare, cryptic and elusive creatures. It’s hard not to have fun with them around, as diving with these two really makes one appreciate how remarkable life under the ocean can be.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I am inspired to continue to do REEF surveys because it adds value to every dive I make. Not only am I contributing data for scientific endeavor, but it also enables me to appreciate the reef in a very real, detailed way. During each dive, I can account for every creature that I observe and take the time to watch their behavior. Diving becomes more like a visit with a friend than just being a passerby.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

There are so many diverse and fascinating fish in the oceans that it would be hard to choose just one to top the list. However, during my most recent dives in Cozumel this year I encountered a perfectly cryptic Longlure Frogfish. When the dive master pointed to the coral head, I thought critically, “this guy thinks I’ve never seen a sponge before.” But then upon closer visual inspection, the pectoral fins and eyes began to take shape. With greater concealment than any octopus or scorpionfish I have encountered, this creature is truly unique.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

My best tip for fishwatching and being a good surveyor is to slow down and take your time to dive. Be still in the water and watch the fish school around you. Practice good buoyancy control as well. You will not only appreciate the reef more, but the fish will respond better towards your presence and allow you the close inspection you may need to get that positive key identification feature.

New Lionfish Reportings App Just Released

REEF is exctied to announce the launch of our new Lionfish Sightings App – a free app designed specifically to connect divers to remove lionfish from the Tropical Western Atlantic. Report lionfish you have collected or simply report lionfish sightings so other divers know where to look! Follow this link to download the app for iOS or follow this link to download the app for Android. Data on lionfish sightings and removal efforts are kept active on the app for 30 days and then archived for research and management purposes. Special thanks for contributions from Wild About Whales NSW, US Fish and Wildlife Service, REEF staff, interns, volunteers, and Jason Nocks.

The Faces of REEF: 2016 Volunteer of the Year, Janet Eyre

Janet Eyre, REEF's 2016 Volunteer of the Year.
Janet receiving her award from Christy Semmens.
Janet with two fellow fish nerds, Doug Harder (l) and Kreg Martin (r).

REEF is proud to announce Janet Eyre as our 2016 Volunteer for the Year. Janet has been a REEF member since 2002, and she is one of REEF’s most active surveyors. She is a Golden Hamlet member and to date has conducted 1,612 surveys (and counting!).

Janet spent her early years with REEF climbing the ranks of surveying in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. In recent years, she has been instrumental in REEF’s expansion efforts to the tropical Pacific, including the South Pacific and Central Indo-Pacific regions. She is a Level 5 Expert Surveyor in all four of those regions. She has also conducted surveys in our Tropical Eastern Pacific region, and Janet participated in our REEF Expedition to the Azores Islands last summer to assist with our expansion to the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. She has participated in 18 REEF Trips and several Advanced Assessment Team projects.

Janet’s expertise in tropical Pacific fish taxonomy rivals any academically-trained scientist. She has documented over 2,000 fish species in her REEF surveys, and 1,478 of those species have been in the tropical Pacific regions. She holds the record for the most fish seen on one REEF survey: 260 species in 73 minutes at the dive site “Edy's Black Forest” near Waigeo in Indonesia.

Janet volunteers countless hours helping REEF staff create new survey and training materials, and she assists with the error checking and quality control of topical Pacific surveys. She is looking forward to working with our staff on developing the next region for the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Janet loves to find new-to-her species, which, after all the surveys in the different regions of the world, is getting harder and harder. She gets particular satisfaction finding undescribed species. In 2015 her quest for getting a fish named after her finally became a reality when she found an unidentified goby in Fiji. It was later described as Eviota eyreae, Eyre's Dwarfgoby.

Janet spends about 100 days a year diving (or traveling to dive). When she is home, she splits her time between San Francisco and Nantucket. We are so grateful for Janet’s enthusiasm and dedication to REEF and our mission. Janet - thank you and congratulations!

REEF Lionfish Expeditions Lead to New Information

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Pterois volitans AKA lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo
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August Blackbeard's Lionfish Project.
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Hesperis dissection by Everton Joseph (College of the Bahamas), Tim Schwab (Nassau Guardian) and Marcian Tucker (College of the Bahamas)
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Juvenile lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo

Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.

To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers.  REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.

Interesting data to date include:

  • Average size:188mm
  • Most species: Pterois volitans (though there are some Pterois miles present also)
  • Stomach content: about 70 % fish and 30 % crustacean with the most prevalent prey families including basslets, gobies and shrimp. Also found in stomachs: whole crab, whole sand diver, jawfish with eggs still in its mouth, and juvenile grouper (including Nassau)
  • Genetics: It appears that there were at least 11 females involved in the original founding population. This number is up from previous indications of four fish.
  • Reproduction: Fish are reproducing year-round with age at reproduction as young as 1-2 years.
  • Habitat preference: Lionfish have been found in almost all habitat types including artificial sites, canals, deep reefs, shallow reefs, small ledges and sand bottom.
  • Parasites: Compared to native fish, lionfish have almost no parasites, leaving more energy and time for growth and reproduction.
  • Growth: Lionfish appear to grow faster than similar sized native fish species like the graysby and the red hind.

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

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub