REEF Data Featured in New Scientific Publication on Shark Population Status

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Blacktip sharks are one of the 14 species that were analyzed in the recently published paper. Photo (c) Paul Humann.
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REEF data are well suited for rarely seen species like sharks because of the wide geographic coverage by REEF volunteers. Photo by Ned DeLaoch.

REEF Fish Survey Project data were recently featured in a paper in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, Large-Scale Absence of Sharks on Reefs in the Greater-Caribbean: A Footprint of Human Pressures. The study's authors evaluated the status of 14 species of sharks in the Caribbean. In recent decades, large pelagic and coastal shark populations have declined dramatically with increased fishing. However, the status of sharks in other systems such as coral reefs remains largely unassessed despite a long history of exploitation. The paper's authors used REEF data to explore the contemporary distribution and sighting frequency of sharks on reefs in the greater-Caribbean, and assessed the possible role of human pressures on observed patterns.

The analysis was based on 76,340 underwater surveys carried out by REEF volunteers between 1993 and 2008. REEF data are well suited for rarely seen species like sharks because of the wide geographic coverage by REEF volunteers.The authors compared sighting frequency to the number of people in each area surveyed, and used population viability analyses to assess the effects of exploitation on population trends. Sharks, with the exception of nurse sharks, occurred mainly in areas with very low human population or strong fishing regulations and marine conservation. Population viability analysis suggests that exploitation alone could explain the large-scale absence; however, this pattern is likely to be exacerbated by additional anthropogenic stressors, such as pollution and habitat degradation, that also correlate with human population. Preventing further loss of sharks requires urgent management measures to curb fishing mortality and to mitigate other anthropogenic stressors to protect sites where sharks still exist. The fact that sharks still occur in some densely populated areas where strong fishing regulations are in place indicates the possibility of success and encourages the implementation of conservation measures.

A PDF of the full paper can be downloaded here. The citation is Ward-Paige CA, Mora C, Lotze HK, Pattengill-Semmens C, McClenachan L, et al. (2010) Large-Scale Absence of Sharks on Reefs in the Greater-Caribbean: A Footprint of Human Pressures. PLoS ONE 5(8): e11968. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011968. To see a complete list of papers and other publications featuring REEF data, visit the REEF Publications page.

Exciting Results from the 2011 Grouper Moon Project

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Follow baby Nassau grouper on their 45-day journey at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift
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Guy Harvey joined the Grouper Moon team this year, filming a documentary on the spawning aggregation. Here's Guy interviewing long-time Little Cayman resident and fisherman, Mr. Bruce Eldemire.
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A great group of REEF volunteers and scientists, Oregon State University researchers, and staff from the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, made up this year's Grouper Moon team!
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Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from REEF and Dr. Scott Heppell from Oregon Sate University get ready to release a current drifter.

Researchers and volunteers from REEF, along with staff from the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, have just wrapped up another year of study on Nassau grouper spawning as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Our work this year focused on the spawning aggregation in Little Cayman, which is the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. Highlights from this year’s work include:

- REEF launched the Baby Grouper Adrift! webpage, which shows the results of state-of-the-art satellite drifter research being conducted. Working with scientists from Oregon State University, the Adrift project aims to better understand where Nassau grouper larvae end up after being spawned. Webpage visitors can follow the current drifters in real time as they complete a 45-day ocean journey (the amount of time Nassau grouper larvae spend floating in the currents), and even take a guess where the drifters will end up. Visit the webpage at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift

- In addition to copious amounts of Nassau grouper spawning documented in both January and February, several hundred tiger grouper were seen spawning over multiple evenings in February. Watch this video to see the tigers spawning! http://www.REEF.org/reef_files/REEF2011TigerGrouperSpawning.mov

Here's video of the Nassau grouper -- http://www.reef.org/reef_files/REEF2011NassauGrouperSpawning.mov

- World-famous marine life artist and conservationist, Guy Harvey, accompanied the Grouper Moon team this year to film a documentary on the project.

- The current Our World Underwater scholar, Josh Stewart, joined the project to help document our research. Josh will be working with REEF over the next several months to develop outreach materials that educate the public on the importance of spawning aggregations. To read more about Josh’s year as an OWU scholar, check out his blog – http://owussnorthamerica.org/

- Wayne Sullivan once again donated his time and his vessel, the Glen Ellen, along with her crew, to support tech diving operations. This year, they helped answer many unknowns at the Little Cayman site, including how deep the Nassau grouper are found during the day and during spawning (at least 150 feet), and whether the fish spawn after dark (yes!).

 

2011 is a critical year for the Nassau grouper of the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban on fishing at spawning aggregations is due to expire this year. Sometime in early spring, members of the Cayman Islands Marine Conservation Board and the CI Government will be deciding what, if any, protections will be enacted to replace the expiring ban. Based on research findings generated over the last 9 years, we know that Nassau grouper only reproduce during their spawning season (winter months around the full moons). The research has also shown that prohibiting fishing during the spawning season has resulted in higher numbers of this endangered species in Cayman waters, benefiting everyone, including future generations of Caymanians, divers and snorkelers, and fishermen. A healthy population of Nassau Grouper is also critical for healthy and productive coral reefs. The government is seeking input on extending protections. To provide feedback, send a letter to: Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Director, Department of the Environment, Cayman Islands Government, PO Box 486, Grand Cayman KY1-1106, Cayman Islands, Gina.Ebanks-Petrie@gov.ky

 

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 our supporters page to see the full list.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Sally Davies and Helen Davies

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One of Helen's favorite finds -- a Secretary Blenny. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.
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The sister duo aboard the Nai'a in Fiji, during the first REEF Field Survey to the South Pacific earlier this month.

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 highlight Sally Davies (REEF member since 2004) and her sister Helen Davies (REEF member since 2006). Collectively they have conducted 100 surveys, and both participated in the recent inaugural South Pacific REEF Trip (more on that next month!). Here's what Helen had to say about REEF:

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

Sally was first introduced to REEF by a colleague of hers, Neil Ericsson. The combination of science and nature combined with a desire to contribute something of value made REEF an excellent fit. Sally took her first REEF trip to Bonaire in 2004. It was a true whirlwind trip since hurricane Ivan blasted through, taking with it the dive dock at Buddy Dive. After her first trip with REEF, Sally was “hooked” and she started lobbying me (Helen) to learn SCUBA diving. Her persistence paid off and in 2006 I took my first REEF trip to Belize.

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

I think the most memorable moment for me was on a trip to St. Vincent diving with Bill Tewes. We were in about 20 ft of water and off in the distance I could see something dark near the sand. It was a group of about 7 flying gurnards digging through the sand with their pectoral fins, it was like something out of a science fiction movie, I’ll never forget it.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?

When I started surveying I was a new scuba diver still learning how to dive so learning both diving and underwater surveying took some time. However, once I learned how to ID the fish and see my data on-line, I began to get excited about adding to a much larger mission. REEF survey data are used by scientists and others all over the world to help better understand our planet. Pretty cool! It's great being part of an organization of conservation minded folks who are keenly interested in our oceans. My favorite fish is the secretary blenny in those blenny condos! The cirri get me every time!!

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

My local San Francisco dive shop is Bamboo Reef. They’ve been in business for 50 years and Sal Zimitti who started the business is still diving in California waters. They are incredibly professional and knowledgeable and fun!

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

Take a point and shoot camera, it will really help you learn the fish. Also, keep working at it, the surveying gets much easier with practice.

Grouper Moon Project - Protecting a Caribbean Icon

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REEF volunteer, Heather George, swims amongst thousands of Nassau grouper, collecting information for the Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Cayman Prep 4th year students working through a lesson on Nassau grouper as part of a new education initiative that REEF is leading in the Cayman Islands. Photo by Todd Bohannon.
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A juvenile Nassau grouper finds cover in shallow seagrass and rubble off Little Cayman. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
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Dr. Steve Gittings (REEF scientific advisor, center) with Dr. Guy Harvey (left) and Dr. Brice Semmens (right), after collecting eggs on spawning night. Photo by REEF.

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.

Putting It to Work: New Publication From the Grouper Moon Project

Parallel mounted lasers projected on the side of a Nassau grouper at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation.

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.

REEF Celebrates Our Supporters at Sustainers Event

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 LiveaboardRogestCaradonna Dive Adventures, Carrow Foundation, Herdeg, du Pont & Dalle Pazze, LLP, New World Publications, and Cheeko Douglas. 

REEF Database Tops 175,000!

Two of the 14,000+ REEF volunteers conducting a survey! Photo by Tom Collier.

A few weeks ago, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database topped 175,000 surveys! We are exicted and proud to have reached this milestone. Together with our 14,000+ volunteers, we have created the largest fish sightings database in the world! This vital dataset is used by marine scientists, researchers, and government agencies to better understand and protect marine resources. The number of scientific publications, requests for data, and policy decisions resulting from REEF data continue to increase. Visit our Publications page to see the citations list of scientific papers that feature REEF data. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors.

The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is the cornerstone program that supports REEF's mission to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting, and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, and the tropical West Pacific, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada and the South Atlantic States. The data are collected using an easy and standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. The first surveys were conducted 20 years ago in Key Largo, in July 1993.

Explore the REEF database online at www.REEF.org/db/reports.

Upcoming Fishinars

Our 2014 Fishinar schedule is off to a great start! We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. Fishinars coming up include:

  • Butterflies and Angels: Kings and Queens of the Reef - Jonathan Lavan, April 1st, tonight!
  • A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - Ray Troll, April 16th
  • What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love, April 22nd
  • Hawaii's Wrascally Wrasses - Heather George, Liz Foote, and Donna Brown, May 13th
  • Coralinar! - Dr. Marilyn Brandt, May 29th
  • Eastside vs Westside: Lookalike Fish from the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, June 19

REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!

Announcing the Next Generation of REEF.org

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The all new REEF.org.
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One of the many improved features of the new REEF.org - more flexibility in generating data reports, including exciting ways to view your own survey data.

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:

  • More ways to explore your own survey data, including a REEF Survey Log.
  • Interactive discussion boards, including “ID Central”, a place where you can post identification questions and images of unknown critters for others to comment on, and a “Trip Reports” forum.
  • A searchable map of REEF Field Stations.
  • A central REEF Events calendar, including information on upcoming REEF classes and organized survey dives hosted by Field Stations.
  • Learning resources including quizzes and galleries.
  • An improved REEF Store to order all of your identification resources and survey materials.
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  • And Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry for ALL of our Survey Regions. This long-awaited feature should be available by the end of this week!

     

    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).

  • New Learning Tool! REEF Launches Reef Fish Identification Home Study Course

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    Reef Fish Identification DVD Home Study Course for Sale!

    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!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub