REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, to study this amazing natural phenomenon and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. It was a very exiting year - we documented significantly higher numbers of fish at the site than in previous years (we are estimating that the aggregation has surpassed 4,000 fish), there were a lot of small fish this year (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time), and there are hundreds of juvenile (young-of-the-year) Nassaus throughout the shallow habitats around Little Cayman (a result of 2011 spawning). Also this year, with support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we initiated an education program to introduce local children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum is being developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. We are working with educator, Todd Bohannon, and piloting this program with Cayman Prep school on Grand Cayman.
Other highlights from Grouper Moon 2012:
- To raise awareness about the importance of spawning aggregations and the iconic Nassau grouper, we hosted documentary crews and underwater photographers to help capture the magical scenes of spawning and document our research. Dr. Guy Harvey, famed marine artist, is putting the finishing touches on "Mystery of the Grouper Moon", an hour-long show that will air later this year. A crew from the PBS series "Changing Seas" is producing an episode about the conservation impacts of our research. Paul Humann, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, was on hand to document REEF's work in this important project. And Jim Hellemn brought his custom camera rig to generate wide-angle panorama images of the aggregation. These will be used to "immerse" the viewer into the aggregation at public displays.
- On spawning nights, samples of fertilized eggs were collected to use in future genetic work, to better understand spawning patterns and inter-conectedness between Nassau grouper populations throughout the Caribbean.
- Cynthia Shaw, author of the book "Grouper Moon", joined the REEF team both in the field and in the classroom this year. As a scientific illustrator, Cindy lent her expertise to helping document the details of juvenile Nassau gropuer habitat and led our Cayman Prep classrooms in drawning Nassau grouper. Cindy's book is now available in the REEF online store here.
- Research findings from the project, describing the timing and behavior of color phases on spawning in Nassau grouper, was published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Current Zoology. You can read this paper online here.
- A short compilation of underwater footage from the spawning aggregation is posted on YouTube here.
This year's effort came on the heals of the 11th hour extension of protections for the spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban that prohibits fishing at the aggregation sites during the reproductive season, originally implemented in 2003, was extended for eight more years in December 2011. The extension, enacted by the Marine Conservation Board, was in response to recommendations made by the CIDOE based on research findings of the Grouper Moon Project, showing that full protections during spawning season are critical to the long-term survival of this iconic species in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Ministry may soon review a package of more thorough legislation that would enact seasonal closures for Nassau grouper during reproductive time (rather than only protecting the few spots on the map of known spawning sites).
Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. Visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.
A new paper was just published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation documenting a key monitoring technique established by scientists from REEF and our Grouper Moon collaborators. The paper, "Documenting recovery of a spawning aggregation through size frequency analysis from underwater laser calipers measurements", describes a technique to monitor changes in fish size on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation through time that does not require the capture and handling of fish. Analysis of seven years of data show that length-distribution data can be collected by divers using a video-based system with parallel lasers calibrated to a specific distance apart. This novel technique is one of just several being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. View the paper online here. Find out more about our work on endangered Nassau Grouper by visiting the Grouper Moon Project webpage.
Over 100 REEF Sustainers, marine conservationists, scientists, and prominent figures in the diving industry gathered in South Florida earlier this month to commemorate REEF's successes at the biennial REEF Sustainers Event. REEF Sustainers are donors who contribute at least $1,000 a year to support REEF's programs. REEF Board of Trustees and Staff welcomed our Sustainers and other invited guests to Mango Manor, the home of esteemed underwater photographer and REEF President, Paul Humann, for a day of presentations and camaraderie. It was an honor to have so many of our donors as well as leaders from the scientific and diving communities show support for REEF’s ocean conservation projects. Their support is critical and provides the resources to continue running REEF’s key programs: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, Invasive Lionfish Program, and the Grouper Moon Project. If you would like to join REEF as a Sustainer, please contact Martha Klitzkie at martha@REEF.org or 305-852-0030. You can also make your donation through our secure online contribution portal. A special thanks to the event's sponsors and auction donors: Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, Rogest, Caradonna Dive Adventures, Carrow Foundation, Herdeg, du Pont & Dalle Pazze, LLP, New World Publications, and Cheeko Douglas.
REEF is excited to announce the launch of a completely redesigned REEF.org website! A unique look, enhanced features, and pages of fresh content ... the address is the same but almost everything else about the REEF website is new. Through enhanced technology and innovative tools, the new Website will enable REEF to more effectively recruit, train and engage divers and snorkelers in the Volunteer Survey Project and REEF’s larger conservation science program. The new REEF.org will also facilitate communication among the REEF community through Member Forums.
The new and very much improved REEF.org is the result of a grant from the Norcross Foundation and a huge amount of work and patience by Ben Weintraub. Ben, a University of Washington Computer Sciences student, created the new site, which includes several new interactive features and a member log-in as well as many of the existing content and features in an updated, easy to navigate and user-friendly site.
Just a few of the features that you will find are:
To get the most out of the new website, you will need to become a registered REEF.org user, so be sure to create a user login profile.
The new REEF.org website will enable REEF to more effectively achieve it's mission to educate, enlist and enable divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active stewards and citizen scientists. The site will also facilitate collaboration with REEF’s existing and new partners and allow our programs to reach a broader audience.
In the coming months, REEF will continue to add new content, and areas still under construction will be completed. All of the REEF staff appreciate your patience in advance as the transition to REEF’s new website is completed.
This is the third major revision to the REEF website. REEF’s online home was originally launched ten years ago in 1997. REEF would like to extend a huge thank you to Ben Weintraub and the Norcross Foundation for making this new site possible, as well as Dr. Michael Coyne (REEF’s primary IT Support Volunteer and developer of the REEF database), and Brice Semmens and Ken Marks (the designers of the previous two versions of REEF.org).
By popular demand, REEF has adapted its classrrom course into a home study DVD course package for beginning "fishwatchers" in the Caribbean, Florida and Bahamas. Click here to read the press release; click here to purchase the DVD course. This would make an ideal holiday gift for your favorite fishwatcher!
Only one space is open for the upcoming Turks and Caicos live-aboard Field Survey, April 19-26th aboard the Aggressor II. We have an ecclectic, well-rounded group of surveyors committed to making this a special trip. Time is running out to join. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Tami at Travel for You (1-888-363-3345) or Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030.
Spaces are also available for the Paul Humann Discovery Tour this summer in Key Largo scheduled June 21-28, 2008. This Field Survey provides a great opportunity for new and seasoned surveyors to interact with renowned marine life author, Paul Humann, and learn from his many years experience, photographing and surveying marine creatures worldwide. Horizon Divers is the dive shop for this trip and also a REEF Field Station. Horizon Divers has worked with REEF on a number of projects over the past several years. Your time on the Discovery Tour will be split between class-work with Paul Humann, learning fish and invertebrate species identification and behavior, and diving multiple sites in Key Largo. Paul will review fish and invertebrate sightings from the dives and incorporate what you are seeing into his classes. Summer diving in the Keys cannot be beat and all the dives will be less than 60 feet depth. There will be opportunities for a night dive and ample time for touring many of the local attractions in the Keys.
Thanks to funding from The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF) and a lot of hard work and coordination by regional REEF instructor, Janna Nichols, the Pacific Northwest is REEF's fastest growing region. The goals of the TRFF project were to enlist new divers into the REEF Volunteer Survey Project and provide incentive for existing surveyors to stay involved and increase their experience level. Between 1998 when REEF was launched in the Pacific Northwest and the beginning of the training program funded by TRFF, 4,101 surveys had been conducted in Washington State. During the 12 months of the project, the number of surveys increased an incredible 25% as a result of the funded project activities.
Eighty-three volunteers conducted these 1,065 surveys; 40 of the surveyors were new to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project (a total of 398 volunteers have conducted surveys in Washington since 1998). Many of these new volunteers have already become quite active and as a result of the project, 98 REEF surveyors advanced at least one level in their survey experience rating (including 10 new Expert rated surveyors!). This surge of involved and invested volunteers is invaluable to REEF capacity building efforts in the Pacific Northwest region. Another outcome of the TRFF project was the development of an advanced fish identification course for the Pacific Northwest. The course was debuted to a crowd of sixty divers at the Seattle Aquarium in May and will be available through the REEF online store later this month.
The TRFF project highlighted the importance of providing continued education for our members and opportunities for organized surveying. While the TRFF project has come to an end, REEF recently secured a grant from the Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation (SBLF) to continue these training opportunities. The SBLF project is also supporting REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to attend the annual Ecological Society of America conference later this summer to present a talk on the importance of citizen science for conservation and management applications.
To find out more about REEF activities in the Pacific Northwest, visit the PNW Critter Watchers webpage.
REEF continues our efforts as a leader in confronting the invasion of Indo-Pacific Lionfish into the eastern US, Caribbean and Bahamas. In November, we participated in a workshop to help craft a national response to the invasion in the Bahamas, conducted training in the Turks and Caicos where lionfish are just starting to show up and shared findings from our field work at an international conference (see GCFI article). Our work, both in the field conducting research with our academic and government partners as well as conducting education and outreach with the public, is making a big difference in this critical environmental problem. To get involved and help with control efforts in the Turks and Caicos, join on REEF's upcoming lionfish project with Dive Provo, January 17-24.
On November 6th and 7th, the Bahamas government hosted their National Lionfish Response Planning Workshop in Nassau, Bahamas with over 40 representatives from government agencies and NGOs. REEF’s Lad Akins was invited as a key presenter during the first day of lectures and lead instructor during the second day of collecting and dissections. Organized by Marine Resources’ Lakeshia Anderson, the workshop was designed to bring officials up to speed on the current state of knowledge and ongoing lionfish research, what potential solutions were available for addressing the invasion, proposed legal changes relating to lionfish collection, collecting and handling techniques, first aid, dissections and even a cooking demonstration. During the field operations with Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, participants were exposed to collecting and handling techniques and were able to collect over 60 lionfish on 2 short dives. Later that day, dissecting demonstrations were held then the remaining fish were battered and fried (to rave reviews) by local lionfish cooking expert Gregory Maillis. Attendees of the workshop were praised by director of Marine Resources, Michael Braynen, and were then charged with continuing education, outreach, and collecting efforts in their local communities and out-islands.
At the end of the month, Lad traveled to the Turks and Caicos Islands to conduct training and education workshops for staff at Dive Provo and for the Turks and Caicos Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR). The effort, funded by Dive Provo, included three days of training for Dive Provo staff and instructors including morning seminars and afternoon field work. In addition, local residents joined in on the third day to learn about the issue and help locate lionfish during afternoon dives. On day four, Lad met with DECR Scientific Officer Marlon Hibbert and Director of DECR Wesley Clerveaux. A two-hour seminar was presented to DECR fisheries officers followed by discussions about REEF’s return visit in January. The January effort will represent the first focused lionfish project in the Turks and Caicos and will also gather fish diversity information that will be compared to historical REEF data to assess changes to the local reef systems over the past 10 years. While lionfish are not as abundant in the Turks and Caicos as they are now in the Bahamas, the situation does provide the perfect opportunity to implement country-wide education and control efforts. REEF’s upcoming project with Dive Provo on January 17-24 will be critically important in getting a good start on these control efforts. To join in REEF’s Turks and Caicos Project, call REEF Reservations at 877-295-7333 or email REEF@caradonna.com.
To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program, visit our lionfish webpage.
Make a dive trip that counts - in Bermuda, October 3- 10, on the Fish Behavior Tour! World-renowned marine naturalists, Ned and Anna DeLoach, authors of Reef Fish Identification and Reef Fish Behavior, will join local expert REEF instructor, Judie Clee, and Chris Flook, Collector of Specimens for the Bermuda Aquarium, as your trip leaders. Ned and Anna will schedule slide and video fish presentations about the wonderful world of marine life behavior and fish identification. This is an excellent destination for your non-diving friends and family as well.
This is going to be an awesome week for everyone. Bermuda is a wonderful destination and the Grotto Bay Hotel offers fine accommodation and dining. Their on site dive operation – Triangle Diving – is exceptional and their dive staff's knowledge and experience means they will be able to chose the very best dive sites each day. Ned and Anna's engaging and informative lectures will cover everything from fish identification to interesting behaviors, including reproduction and predation. In addition to many of the usual suspects, you will be able to see endemics like our Bermuda Bream and some species like the Blue Angelfish that are rarely seen elsewhere but common in Bermuda.
Bermuda is a also a wonderful place to come with your non-diving spouse/partner/friend/children. Anyone who just wants to snorkel will be able to do so comfortably at most of the dive sites or just along the shoreline and still see lots of fish and corals. On land there is so much to see and do, and local REEF volunteers will be on hand to give personal island sightseeing tours to anyone interested. Shopping is great with lots of local and British products. Don’t forget the pristine, beautiful beaches with the fine pink sand – there for anyone who just wants to chill out.
Our island hosts have arranged an exciting agenda for the week to make this not just a typical dive vacation. These opportunities include a presentation by the Bermuda BREAM Project scientists, a visit to Nonsuch Island (a magical place to explore and a birdwatcher's delight), viewing the glowworms at Whalebone Bay, watching the invasive lionfish culling team and the lionfish culinary team in action – as in “catch and eat” – yummy!, all topped off with a cocktail reception and behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.
Don't miss your chance to take a trip of a lifetime. The cost per person is $2,095, plus a $300 REEF Program Fee. The package Includes: 7 nights in Oceanfront Superior room, taxes and resort gratuities, round-trip airport transfers, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives with Triangle Divers, behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium, classroom sessions and survey materials.
This is just one of several REEF Trips that remain in 2009. A few spaces remain on the Field Surveys to Curacao in October and Cozumel in December -- check out the full trip schedule online. And stay tuned for our 2010 Field Survey schedule, which will be announced soon! For more information and to reserve your space please contact our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or you can e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.
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