The first time we ever saw Hamlets spawn, Ned and I were on a liveaboard REEF trip in Belize. We were just starting serious work on the behavior book at the time and still unaware of just how rewarding dusk dives can be for fish watchers. Trying to squeeze in a fourth dive before dark, our group dropped in just before sunset, agreeing to be back up in time for dinner.
These were the days when I could still add new fish to my life list on almost every dive trip and the charismatic Hamlets with their 11 distinct color morphs and various “hybrid” variations were especially prized sightings (we’ll save the species debate for another day). Hamlets are solitary hunters during the day. So when we saw two chasing each other about, we instinctively knew something out of the ordinary was happening. But, was it love or war?
The traditional color of one of the pair was noticeably blanched. We’d seen that happen with fighting Sailfin blennies - the fish that was out of its hole turns very pale. But the behavior of the Hamlets was more reminiscent of flirtation rather than conflict. The fish being pursued would race ahead then stop, usually with its nose pointed up, twitch, and immediately take off once again as soon as the pursuer caught up. For over twenty minutes they dashed about in all directions before always returning to the same coral head.
Finally, just as the last light was fading, the hamlets paused above the coral head only inches apart, entwined their 3-inch bodies and slowly rose together a foot or two. I know we aren’t supposed to anthropomorphize, but it certainly looked like love to us. Suddenly, they popped apart releasing a white puff of gametes and immediately darted back toward the reef. Instead of going their separate ways, the chasing, nuzzling and twitching began anew and shortly they spawned again, then again and again before they finally disappeared, going their separate ways into the night.
Later we learned to our amazement that Hamlets are simultaneous hermaphrodites, with each partner possessing both male and female reproductive organs. This unusual scenario, known as egg trading, allows each couple to play both the male and female role each evening. The fish assuming the role of the female plays the aggressor, twitching and chasing the blanched, interim male about. After each spawn the roles reverse until the lovers are finally spent.
The best news for fishwatchers is Hamlets appear to spawn each evening year-round. So, on your next dusk dive in the Tropical Western Atlantic make a point of watching for Hamlets; if you do you’re sure to be entertained.
Note: a short video of Spawning Hamlets is available on REEF’s YouTube Channel, WeSpeakFish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEMCqVBB0CM
REEF recently completed a Field Survey trip to Roatan, Honduras, led by REEF co-founder, Paul Humann. Over six days, the group completed 17 survey dives including one night dive. Both novice and highly experienced REEF surveyors enjoyed the near perfect weather and dive conditions. Shortfin pipehorses, wrasse blennies, linesnout gobies, peppermint basslets, orangesided gobies, dash gobies, and blue dartfish are a sample of the cryptic fishes that were observed. Spotted Eagle Rays and Southern Stingrays graced us with their presence on a number of dives.
The group stayed on the east end of the island at Turquoise Bay Resort and dove with Subway Scuba. The highpoint of the trip was the Aguila Wreck and surrounding reef where there were numerous species of large grouper and snapper. There was a dog snapper displaying body bars similar to those sometimes on Cubera Snappers and Schoolmasters. Also, there was a Yellowmouth Grouper with an unusual pattern of dense brown dots covering the body. Paul remarked that he had never seen either species with these unusual markings.
A not so welcome sighting was the invasive red lionfish; one or more were sighted on nearly every dive. Alecia Adamson, REEF’s new Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator, collected 15 lionfish over the course of the week ranging in size from 2 to 14 inches. The local divemasters were also collecting lionfish but were not aware that lionfish filets are delectable. Alecia gave them a demonstration on how to safely filet lionfish. Now the dive staff captures lionfish for both control and culinary purposes!
Congratulations to those who attained a higher surveyor experience level during the week - Bobbi Kerridge and Peter Rae are now Level 3 surveyors and Pat Lommel is a new Level 5 Expert surveyor!
Field Surveys are a great way to take a dive vacation that counts! If you would like to join in one of our future Field Surveys, there are a few spots available for the upcoming trips to Cozumel, Key Largo, Bonaire, and Grand Cayman. Please visit the Field Survey Trip Schedule online to find more information.
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 researcher from Florida State University requested data from sites along the west coast of Florida to evaluate how fish species richness is influenced by the presence of certain grouper species.
- A scientist from the Smithsonian Institute is mapping the distribution and co-occurance of garden eel species in the western Atlantic.
- A researcher from NOAA Fisheries is looking at the species distribution of Gray Snapper.
The 20th annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July. You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.
The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at email@example.com.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we feature Keith Rootsaert (REEF member since 2009). Keith is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Pacific Coast region and has conducted 138 surveys. He has become one of the Pacific region's most active surveyors, and during our interview, revealed that he is gunning to be the top surveyor someday! Keith has also started teaching marine life ID and is an instructor for our newest training tool, the Fishinars! Here's what Keith had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? I first found out about REEF at a 2009 Great Annual Fish Count event sponsored by the Dive Club of Silicon Valley at Lover’s Cove. This was my first and second surveys and when I first met Alex Matsumoto and John Wolfe. Over the years I dove with them many times and expanded my knowledge and interest in REEF. Now I am a level five Expert and I teach Fish and Invert ID seminars at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with Alex.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? I have attended the West Coast REEF Advanced Assessment team survey of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary the last two years and it is always fun to do surveys with fellow fish geeks. Even though it is just for fun, there is always an element of competition among these adventure seeking divers. At the onset of the trip we all pick a number for the total number of fish species we will survey. My first year on the team I was closest at 55 species and won a postal fish stamp sheet which I have on the wall in my study.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? I first started diving in Monterey Bay in 1984 and there were a lot more fish back then. Over the years I have noticed a gradual decline until now there are not as many and not as big fish as before. REEF helps me to share my actual observations in my dive log with scientists that can crunch that data and make informed decisions about conservation. For me, knowing what I am looking at makes all the difference in the world, it makes diving interesting and sharing my surveys and teaching others to properly survey and identify fish helps me to feel like I am giving back to community.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? I have resigned myself to being a competitive fish geek so after coming in second place in the number of surveys in California in 2010 I set out to do the most surveys in California in 2011. About November my number was looking good for California in 2011. So then I had to ask Janna Nichols about my chances of being “Best in the West”. The PNW divers have a solid base of divers and there was just no way to catch them. California has so many more divers but less than half the total number of surveys done in the PNW. My future goal is to help grow the California survey group and become Best in the West. Look out Randal T. - you’re going down!
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? My most fascinating fish encounter just happened recently. In mid-December, we were diving at the Metridium Fields like I’ve done 50 times before and my buddy was staring over my shoulder. I looked to my left and two feet away was the eye of a four foot Ocean Sun Fish (mola mola). I tried to approach it but it backed away but then it followed us and at times led us back on a reciprocal course. It was just magical to watch this huge fish swim/row above the bright white plumose anemones.
New Fishinars have been added! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars). These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:
Sculpins Under Scrutiny - Sculpins have been called some pretty bad names through the years, because it's so difficult to tell them apart. Well, it's time to master the art of identifying the little buggers and Sculpin Master Guru, Dr. Greg Jensen, will be the one to help you along your journey to loving sculpins. Greg will cover some of the lesser-known and lookalike sculpins. Thursday, July 19th at 7pm PDT. REGISTER
The Blennywatcher!- Oooh, this is gonna be a good one! Videographer and blenny expert Anna DeLoach will walk us through some of her favorite Blennies and how to tell them apart. Tuesday, July 31st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER
Holy Moly Gobies - Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan, on how to ID the top 12 gobies in the Caribbean. Essential for dive travelers heading to Cozumel, Bonaire, and any other Caribbean destination. This short, fun fishinar won't make your brain explode with fish overload - just the right amount of info! Thursday, September 6th at 8pm EDT. REGISTER
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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.
When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.
What is your favorite non-fish sighting?
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.
REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.
REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects including Invasive Lionfish Research and the Grouper Moon Project, data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2013 such a success! Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about any of the information presented in our Annual Report.
Despite uncertainties surrounding the population status of the protected Atlantic Goliath Grouper’s, fishery managers in Florida are under pressure to end the harvest moratorium in place since 1990. A new study published this month in the scientific journal, Fisheries Research, sought to measure the proportion of anglers interested in reopening the Goliath Grouper fishery and to identify key reasons for this interest. The authors also estimated the amount that anglers would be willing to pay for a Goliath Grouper harvest tag (the right sold to an angler to harvest one Goliath Grouper). REEF data on Goliath Grouper were used to compare with the fishermen-perceived grouper population trends. REEF data have been cited as the best available index of abundance for Goliath Grouper in Florida (see Koenig et al., 2011, www.REEF.org/db/publications/9754). The study found that about half of Florida’s recreational anglers believe that the ban on fishing for Goliath Grouper should be lifted, with many anglers reporting that they feel "there are too many goliath grouper and that their populations need to be controlled." These anglers are willing to pay between $34 and $79 for the right to harvest one Goliath Grouper in Florida.
As fishery managers work to determine the future of Goliath Grouper in Florida and the rest of the southeast United States, this study's findings can help them better understand stakeholder intentions and better communicate to the public. Additionally, fishery managers can compare the amount of money recreational anglers are willing to pay to open the fishery to the amount of money other stakeholders, such as recreational divers who visit goliath grouper, are willing to pay to keep the fishery closed. The new paper is titled "Lifting the goliath grouper harvest ban: Angler perspectives and willingness to pay", and was published by Geoffrey Shideler, a scientist at Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science University of Miami, and colleagues from NOAA Fisheries. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.