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REEF Divers Net Quite a Find

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A derelict gill net found by REEF surveyors in the Puget Sound. The net had ensnared dozens of animals and was damaging habitat. Photo by Pete Naylor.
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A lingcod entangled in the gill net, a result of "ghost fishing". Photo by Pete Naylor.
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The net was draped over rare cloud sponges. Photo by Pete Naylor.

Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.

AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.

Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.

Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”

Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”

If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.

REEF News Tidbits for July

  • One female space just opened up on the upcoming Baja Mexico Field Survey aboard the Don Jose Liveaboard. This trip has been sold out for a while and we don't expect the space to last long.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz and runs October 5-12.  Check out the trip flyer to find out more.  Contact Jeanne from Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 or travel@bajaex.com.
  • Get your limited edition "It's All About the Fish" t-shirt today.  Available in 4 tropical colors.  Order yours today from the REEF Store.  Also available from the REEF Store is the brand new 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification field guide by Paul Humann.  This book covers species found from California to Alaska and the new edition includes more than 30 new species and over 70 new photographs.  Click here to order your copy.

REEF Gearing Up For Another Year of Nassau Grouper Aggregation Research

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Approximately 3,500 Nassau grouper, an endangered species, gather off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons to reproduce. Photo by Scott Heppell.
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A light trap deployed underwater in Little Cayman to study the recruitment of larval Nassau grouper.

REEF scientists, volunteers and collaborators will be in the Cayman Islands next month for the 8th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded last year by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF has greatly expanded the critical conservation research conducted as part of this study of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations. We will have teams on all three of the Cayman Islands conducting field research as part of the project, “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”. The Little Cayman team will continue the long-term visual monitoring of the large aggregation located there. Work on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will focus on studying the remnant aggregations that remain on these islands after years of fishing. There is currently a harvest ban in effect for all aggregations in the islands. This ban is set to be lifted in 2011 unless the extension of the protections are warranted.

Despite logistical complications, weather anomalies and difficulties locating fish, the Grouper Moon Project had a successful year of field-work in 2008. The team conducted preliminary work on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, tagging Nassau grouper with pinger acoustic tags and then installing hydrophone arrays to track the movements of those tagged individuals. Studies were also conducted to better understand the patterns of recruitment by larval and juvenile Nassau grouper to the islands. In addition, members of our team attended major scientific conferences both nationally and internationally, and presented aspects of our research and findings to date.

In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched the Grouper Moon Project with a ground breaking expedition to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. This work is a collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and researchers from Oregon State University.

To find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

REEF Regional Lionfish Workshops in Georgia and Mexico

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REEF's Special Project and Lionfish expert, Lad Akins, demonstrates collecting techniques during a Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary workshop.
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Director of the Cozumel Marine Park, Ricardo Lozano, explains the lionfish response plan to media.

As part of REEF's efforts to increase awareness about the invasive lionfish, train removal teams and develop regional response plans, REEF recently conducted a series of workshops, talks and lionfish removals in partnership with the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) in Georgia and the Cozumel Marine Park in Mexico. Combined the two projects held in July 2009 included 15 talks to more than 370 people.

The Gray's Reef project included a meeting of Sanctuary personnel from the Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks and Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuaries, working to develop a regional coordinated response plan. Sanctuary and REEF staff also conducted two days of lionfish collecting and handling dives, including the removal of 54 lionfish averaging almost 30 cm from sites just outside the GRNMS boundaries. Talks to the general public, Sanctuary Advisory Council and Georgia Law Enforcement working groups also helped increase awareness of the lionfish issue and conveyed removal plans for the region.

Immediately following the Gray's Reef project, a week-long series of workshops and talks were held in Mexico to initiate development of the Mexican regional lionfish response plan focusing on the Yucatan. An initial day-long meeting included over 40 representatives, including national environmental regulators, regional marine park directors, conservation and science groups, academia and the Mexican Navy. Presentations and discussions resulted in the development of an early detection/rapid response plan. The plan was then unveiled in numerous public and key user group talks including those to dive operators, fishermen, medical/first responders and university groups. Training dives with Marine Park staff also resulted in the removal of 3 juvenile lionfish from local Cozumel reefs.

To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program and to report a lionfish or other non-native fish sighting, visit the REEF Lionfish Webpage.

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Original Grumpy Grouper Painting by Rogest, On Auction Now!

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For the next 10 days (starting 10am PST on March 25), the original "Grumpy" grouper painting will be up for auction on eBay. Bidding ends on April 4.

VISIT the AUCTION eBAY PAGE HERE

Own the original painting by Rogest and at the same time benefit an endangered reef fish species. Proceeds from this auction will go to the support REEF's important work on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations.

Last Summer, REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), created a brand new piece celebrating the Nassau grouper. Rogest was inspired after talking with REEF scientists about the REEF Grouper Moon Project and the important conservation research being done to study one of the last remaining spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Rogest painted "Grumpy", which features the face of a Nassau grouper, with the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". He has since been inspired to create additional pieces with Grumpy.

“The Ocean is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more. My life is the Ocean and its critters. I created this grumpy grouper for REEF. It is my hope it will give a little back to the Ocean we all love so much." -- Rogest

The original "Grumpy" painting is 18"x24", created with acrylic, saltwater and sand on 100% cotton canvas, stretched ready to frame or hang.

Place your bid today and help make this auction a success!

News Tidbits

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New Additions to the REEF Store - The newly revised and expanded "Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest" by Andy Lamb and Phil Edgell is now available through the REEF online store. This useful guide is a must for any PNW fishwatcher! Lionfish Derby T-shirts are also available through the store while supplies last. Check out the REEF Store today.

New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed the following to our growing list of Field Stations. They join the almost 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.

  • Eugene Skin Divers Supply, Eugene OR
  • Pleasure Diver, Key Largo FL
  • Dive Bequia, Bequia VC
  • Marine Science Station / Citrus County Schools, Crystal River FL
  • REEF Survey Processing - Thank you to all of our members who have submitted REEF surveys in the last few months. As usually happens toward the end of the busy summer season, we have gotten a bit behind on processing. But rest assured that your surveys have been received and will be available in the database soon. Thank you for your understanding, and for your support of the REEF Survey Project.

    Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook - The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Doug Harder

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    One of Doug's favorite finds -- a sailfin blenny. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

    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 Doug Harder (REEF member since 1996). Doug lives in Monument, Colorado, and has conducted 759 REEF surveys. Doug is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. Here's what Doug had to say about REEF:

    What inspires you to do REEF Surveys?

    For me, jumping in the ocean with a slate is the ultimate, there is just nothing better. The ocean is always a mystery as to what I will find. Even if I have been on a site before, I have learned that the sea and its habitants are always changing and moving. I have become quite aware of the overall reef ecosystem and have learned about fish, such as where on the reef they live, how they behave, and what they eat. Are they vegetarians or are they carnivores, are they the hunters or the hunted, dine in or dine out?

    What is your favorite fish find?

    When I survey in the Caribbean I am always be on the lookout for the sailfin blenny, which is only 1 ½” long. It will flap its pectoral fins and wave its dorsal fin at me. How could you miss that fish? Then there is the 14’ manta ray off the island of Molokini, Hawaii, how do you compare?

    In addition to doing surveys, what else do you appreciate about REEF?

    Of course giving back to Mother Earth is a part of the good thing that REEF is. Looking after our mostly unknown and least observed animals on earth and trying to help scientist understand what is going on with the fish. That to me is what REEF really is and how it is helping. The fact that I get to be a part of it makes me feel lucky.

    Any tips for surveyors out there?

    Do you want to see more fish, the unusual fish, the hard to find fish? Well here is a tip for the REEFers -- be the first off the boat and the last one up. Unless of course I am on the boat, then second will work!

    Have You Signed Up For a 2012 REEF Trip Yet?

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    REEF Field Surveys are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Don't miss out, spaces are filling up for our 2012 trips. The schedule and more details are posted online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. 2012 destinations and dates:

  • Nevis, April 21-28, led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens
  • Belize, lionfish expedition aboard the SunDancer II, May 26-June 2, led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes
  • San Blas Islands in Panama, June 9-16 and June 16-23, led by Paul Humann
  • Dominica, lionfish research trip, July 14-21, led by Lad Akins
  • San Salvador in the Bahamas, July 29 - August 4, led by Paul Humann
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico, aboard the Rocio del Mar, September 22-29, led by Christy and Brice Semmens
  • Hornby Island in British Columbia*, September 26-30, led by Janna Nichols
  • Bermuda, October 6-13, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach
  • British Virgin Islands, aboard the Cuan Law, November 11-17, led by Heather George
  • Cozumel, December 1-8, led by Tracey Griffin
  •  

    To inquire about a trip and to reserve your spot, contact the REEF Travel Consultant at Caradonna, 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. *Hornby Island trip is being booked directly with the resort; contact owner/operator Amanda at info@hornbyislanddiving.com, or 250-335-2807.

    Top of the Charts: Survey Stats, February 2012

    A big fish thanks to the 222 volunteers who conducted REEF surveys in the last three months (Dec '11-Feb '12). A total of 1,746 surveys were conducted and submitted during this time!

    REEF members who have conducted the most surveys in the last three months:

    TWA – Dee Scarr (78), Franklin Neal (45), Michael Phelan (43)

    NE – Joseph Mangiafico (13), Michael Murphy (5), Eric Heupel (5)

    PAC – Randall Tyle (38), Phil Green (32), Georgia Arrow (15)

    TEP – Pam Wade (20)

    HAW – Judith Tarpley (41), MJ Farr (35), Patricia Richardson (30)

    To date, 157,298 surveys have been conducted by REEF volunteers.

    Visit www.REEF.org/db/stats to see the Top 10 surveyors with the most surveys conducted to date, the most species-rich locations, and most frequently sighted fish species.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub