Putting It To Work: Special Issue on the Lionfish Invasion

Invasive Lionfish are now found throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic region. Photo by Carol Cox.

Earlier this year, a special issue of the scientific journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series, was published titled "Invasion of Atlantic Coastal Ecosystems by Pacific Lionfish". The issue is a compilation of papers presented at the 2015 special session of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute meeting, which was co-organized by REEF and partner organizations. New findings include mechanisms that enhance the success of the invader, the extremely broad and variable diet of invasive lionfish, the ecological effects of the invader on native fish populations in various environmental contexts, and non-consumptive interactions between invasive lionfish and native predators. REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is a co-author on the introductory paper. The entire issue is available open access online at http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v558/#theme.

Great Annual Fish Count 2017 -25 Years of Fun!

Celebrating it's 25th year - the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) kicked off this weekend! During the entire month of July we encourage you to try your hand at conducting your first survey if you're new to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, or to do a few more if it's been a while.

The GAFC began in 1992 when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists conducted a visual fish count in California's Channel Islands National Park. The effort was modeled after the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and has now grown into an international event coordinated by REEF.

Check out the GAFC website (www.fishcount.org) to find everything you need to join in the fish counting fun as a participant or to organize your own local event. It can be as simple as hosting a survey dive (throw in a BBQ), or an ID class or presentation about your local fish. We especially encourage shops, dive clubs, marine science centers and others to organize a GAFC event.

The Faces of REEF: 2015 Volunteer of the Year, Ed Martin

REEF is proud to announce Ed Martin, of Islamorada, Florida, as our 2015 Volunteer of the Year. Ed became a REEF member in 2012, and has since conducted 60 REEF surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region. He is also a skilled underwater photographer and a member of the Century Club, having recorded at least 100 fish species on a one tank dive. In 2015, Ed became a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team by achieving 'Expert' surveyor status in the TWA. Shortly afterwards, he participated in a weeklong AAT Monitoring Project to survey the Vandenberg artificial reef and surrounding reefs in Key West, Florida.

Ed has also dedicated his survey skills, ingenuity, and countless hours of time to REEF's Invasive Lionfish fieldwork in South Florida and the Florida Keys. He continually goes above and beyond by supplying ideas and tools to support this important research. A skilled lionfish hunter, Ed has also participated in several REEF lionfish derbies. He is known for his wonderful sense of humor and positive attitude, making him a fun and upbeat team member who is instrumental to REEF's field research. In addition to his involvement in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and Invasive Lionfish Program, Ed has even helped with 'behind the scenes' REEF projects, including photography for REEF's webpages. Ed's all-encompassing support and participation in REEF programs make him an invaluable member of the REEF family. We are lucky and thankful to have a super volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you and congratulations, Ed!

Three "REEF" Non-Profits Team Up to Protect Akumal Reefs

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Eric Engler, Gabriela Nava Martinez, Joe Cavanaugh - ReefAid, Reefcheck, and REEF
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Aerial View of Protected Area
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Mayan Ruins Near Resort at Tulum
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Shore View from Bahia Principe
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Large Elkhorn Coral Stand Near Protected Area

In an Enews article last May, I wrote about a collaborative effort between REEF and the Bahia Principe Resort in Akumal, Mexico.  The Resort has been working with ReefAid ever since Hurricane Wilma (2005) did major damage to the reefs just in front of the resort, in an effort to study, protect, and restore these reefs. I was originally invited down to conduct a fish census on a large patch reef area off the beach from the property.   The destruction to the inshore reef during Wilma was severe and ever since, Bahia Principe has worked with ReefAid to restore this patch reef area, establishing a protected zone around the most hard-hit areas.  Part of Bahia Principe's long-term plan is to create a mitigation plan for future storms and to educate guests about ways they, too, can help protect the reefs.  The Hotel Gran Bahia Principe is the Yucatan's largest resort complex, and there are currently 14 such resorts worldwide.  After our last visit, ReefAid's Founder, Eric Engler and I co-wrote a protection and monitoring plan for the Resort that included periodic roving diver surey assessments, special signs and enforcement of no-swim areas, a coral nursery, and coral and invertebrate monitoring using another non-profit's methodology (ReefCheck). 

On our last trip a few weeks ago, Eric and I received Reefcheck training over two days with Gabriela Georgina Nava Martinez, learning their survey methodology.  Gaby also taught a Reefcheck class to the Bahia Principe dive staff , their onsite turtle rescue non-rpfit, Ecologica Bahia, and some of the Resort public relations personnel..   Bahia Principe is now a REEF Field Station and is close to becoming an educational center for REEF, teaching fish ID classes and training Resort guests in how to conduct fish surveys.   Resort staff will soon routinely conduct Roving Diver Surveys of both the protected area and the offshore reefs frequented by multiple dive operators. Additionally, Reefcheck will train the dive staff to conduct 3-4 surveys per year at first to form a baseline assessment of the inshore protected reef.   And finally, this year REEF is running a Field Survey to Bahia Principe (May 17-24, 2008).  Please see our Field Survey page on our website at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule  to learn more about our upcoming survey and how to participate.

The collaborative efforts between our three non-profits in Akumal represent a proactive involvement among multiple stakeholders to protect a critical resource, one that is very susceptible to damage from development and excessive tourist pressures.   The ultimate goal of this synergistic, cooperative effort is to protect a large inshore reef area (see images) and improve the reef integrity with the addition of well-placed coral recruitment modules.  To be candid, much of the Mexican Riviera is slated to be developed by an increasing number of resorts, most with requisite golf courses.  And there are other environmental concerns in addition to the coral reefs offshore that form part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef such as all the cenotes (sink-holes) with their endemic terrestrial and aquatic species; the crucial watershed provided by the cenotes; loss of mangroves; the regional rainforest cover that is in jeopardy; excessive nutrient loading from all the resorts and urban development; not to mention the cultural world heritage significance of the Mayan communities and archaeological sites.  However, the good news is that if Gran Bahia Principe is voluntarily willing to adopt special protection measures for their resort, these may serve as a "eco-friendly" archetype for other resorts in the region.   This partnership building between organizations at the regional and international level bodes well for the adoption of some conservation plans for the area.  Whether the proposed regional development can be slowed to a sustainable level is another story that time will tell. 

If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent summary article on some of the initiatives between resorts and non-profits working to preserve the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from the NY Times last week. http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/travel/24headsup.html?emc=eta1

REEF to Host Two Citizen Science Panel Discussions in Florida Keys

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REEF volunteers are citizen scientists, collecting underwater data to expand knowledge about marine life populations. Photo by Ron Lucas.

On Tuesday, February 26, REEF will host a community panel discussion to raise awareness about how volunteers contribute to scientific understanding of the Florida Keys environment. Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York will lead the discussion. Florida Keys-based citizen science practitioners will present on local projects and ways for volunteers to get involved. Topics include fish and bird surveying, native plants and coral restoration. A reception with the speakers will begin at 6:30, followed by presentations at 7 PM. This event will be held at the Key Largo Public Library and is free and open to the public.

Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Bryant and Nancy Diersing, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (volunteers)
  • Janice Duquesnel, Florida State Parks
  • Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation

A second panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West and will focus on citizen science projects in the lower Florida Keys. Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Alison Higgins, The Nature Conservancy
  • Cory Walter, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service

Please join REEF staff and community partners for at least one of these educational evenings.

17th Great Annual Fish Count is Here

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REEF Member Judie Clee Surveying. Photo by Ron Lucas.
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REEF Member Brian Hufford Surveying.

The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) has arrived! GAFC is a month long event coordinated by REEF Field Stations that encourages volunteer divers and snorkelers to participate in recreational trips to raise awareness regarding marine habitats and trends in fish populations. REEF partners and Field Stations have organized everything from group dives and snorkels to photo contests, BBQs, and aquarium tours. This is a great opportunity to take a free REEF Fish ID class and connect with other individuals as well as groups, such as local dive operations and non-profit organizations, who are also interested in doing the same objectives. Numerous activities have been scheduled for the Pacific Coast, Hawaii, California, Washington, Florida, Maine, British Columbia, and many other regions- and still more are being added! Details for scheduled events can be found on the GAFC website. Each year GAFC events generate approximately 2,000 surveys in July alone and increase the interest and involvement of hundreds of surveyors worldwide. Participating in a GAFC event is a great way to make an active contribution to marine conservation and get involved with what REEF does year round- engage volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect critical, valid, and cost-effective data. We hope you get involved!

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.

Show Your Support For REEF

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REEF members who donate $250 or more during our Fall Campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print of a South Pacific reef by Paul Humann.

As another amazing year draws to a close, we are reaching out to our valued members to contribute financially. REEF is a member-driven organization that is focused on the conservation of our world's ocean environments. The key to our 20-year success story is a close partnership between our volunteers, contributors, and staff, who share both an affinity for marine wildlife and a commitment to its sustainability. As never before, we are counting on your tax-deductible financial support, which is the cornerstone of our grass-roots efforts to protect the marine environment. Watch your mail for REEF's Fall fundraising drive, or better yet, donate today using our secure online form.

We are lucky once more that REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, Paul Humann, has donated a special signed print as a premium gift for REEF members who contribute $250 or more. This year's print features a beautiful South Pacific reef scene, illustrating a diversity of colorful coral and tropical fish.

Since its inception, REEF’s accomplishments have been powered by volunteers and donations from members like you. We attribute our longevity to service, ethics, innovation, and the wise use of your funding. We are proud to maintain one of the lowest administrative to program cost ratios in the non-profit sector. Yet we are still able to increase our services and support long-term projects, such as:

  • The Volunteer Survey Project;
  • The Grouper Moon Project, and;
  • The Lionfish Invasion Research Program
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    We hope that we can count on your support during our Fall fundraising drive. We are tightening our belts and doubling our efforts to keep our long tradition of service alive during these challenging financial times. Please consider REEF’s unique environmental mission, our 20-year track record of service and growth, the power of volunteers, and our sterling reputation as a can-do, no-nonsense organization that appreciates, respects, and gets the most out of your contributions. Thank you for considering a gift of any size, we truly appreciate your support and your belief in our mission. Donate today using our secure online form - https://www.REEF.org/contribute.

    New Species of Goby Discovered, REEF Data Support the Research

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    A new species discovered in Utila - the Redcheek Goby. Photo by Keri Wilk/ReefNet.
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    Greenbanded Goby, a close relative of the new species. Photo by Jim Burke.
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    The Redcheek Goby sports an extra red stripe on it's face, and is currently only known from Utila. Photo by Paul Humann.
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    Range of the Greenbanded Goby group in the Western Atlantic. Greenbanded Goby superspecies complex (red), Redcheek Goby (purple), Panamanian Greenbanded Goby (yellow). Shading represents species range based on REEF survey data sightings and other sources.

    Long-time REEF supporters, Les and Keri Wilk of ReefNet, recently discovered and photographed a distinctively marked population of the Greenbanded Goby, Elacatinus multifasciatus, on the island of Utila, Honduras. The population was distinguished by a prominent red stripe across the cheek that is not found on other populations of Greenbanded Gobies, as well as more numerous green bars on the body. The Wilks contacted Dr. Benjamin Victor (coralreeffish.com), a reef fish taxonomic expert, who conducted a regional genetic comparison of Greenbanded Gobies to evaluate hidden diversity within this colorful reef fish. As part of the study, the REEF database was used to document the current geographic range of the species. Dr. Victor's results identified the unique looking fish to be a separate species that is now called the Redcheek Goby (E. rubrigenis). He also discovered that, based on genetic results, Greenbanded Goby along coastal Panama, despite looking just like others in the species complex (i.e. a cryptic species, distinguished mainly by differing DNA sequences), are a distinct species that will now be called Panamanian Greenbanded Goby (E. panamensis). The study was published last month in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation.

    The new species, the Redcheek Goby, replaces the Greenbanded Goby on the island of Utila and has not been sighted at any other location, potentially one of the smallest ranges reported for a Caribbean reef fish. With few exceptions, coral reef fishes have pelagic larvae that spend weeks to months developing in off-reef waters. As a result of this high dispersal ability, most Western Atlantic reef fish species have geographic ranges throughout the Caribbean Sea and adjacent areas. Endemic marine species (those only found in a given region or location and nowhere else in the world) are generally uncommon in the western Atlantic region. Furthermore, many of these widespread species show little, if any, variation in their genetic patterns between areas, particularly within the bounds of the Caribbean Sea with its many stepping-stone islands. Nevertheless, some groups of fishes, presumably those with more-restricted larval dispersal and strong local selection, show interesting patterns of endemism, genetic structure, and cryptic speciation within the region, for example among the Elacatinus cleaning gobies (e.g. Sharknose, Cleaning, Neon, Yellowline, etc.). Those reef fish taxa that contain cryptic species can provide valuable insights into the processes of speciation and the biogeographic history of the region, but also seriously challenge the traditional species concept. The results of Benjamin Victor's study highlight these challenges.

    REEF is proud to be able to contribute to scientific studies such as this one. We are also thrilled that fishwatching by amateur non-scientists like our Fish Survey Project volunteers has been elevated beyond just a hobby, and is increasing the state of knowledge about reef fish diversity. The full citation of the publication is: Victor, B.C. 2010. The Redcheek Paradox: the mismatch between genetic and phenotypic divergence among deeply divided mtDNA lineages in a coral-reef goby, with the description of two new cryptic species from the Caribbean Sea. The Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation, Vol 3. It is freely available online here. To find out more about this and other scientific publications that have featured REEF data, visit our Publications page here.

    Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station

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    REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

    This month we feature Naknek Charters and Diving, based in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington State. They became a REEF Field Station in October of 2008. Owners Kurt and Peggy Long first got involved with REEF about 10 years ago when they were on a liveaboard dive charter in the British Virgin Islands, and took an onboard REEF Fish ID class. Since then, Kurt has gone on to submit many surveys and has advanced up to REEF Level 5, and is now on the Pacific NW Advanced Assessment Team. One of the reasons that they became a Field Station was because they were very interested in educating divers and the public in general about the wonderful critters that live under the water. Peggy writes, “We live in a beautiful area with an abundance of wildlife. We want the public to realize that the beauty extends to the underwater world. This is America’s best year-round cold water diving destination - we have walls, current, fish life. In other words we have it all!”

    So what Field Station activities have they chosen to put into action? “Our goal is to hold a REEF weekend at least twice a year. This involves a Saturday morning class with a two-tank boat dive in the afternoon. We also offer an optional two-tank dive on Sunday. This is a great way for divers to learn about fish ID and helps them put that knowledge into practice. We sell REEF slates in our shop and our boat is identified with REEF decals.” Peggy and Kurt have a 45' charter boat that can hold 14 divers and they run charters year round.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub