Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Eco-Dives

Pugjaw wormfish, one of Rob's best finds.

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

This month we feature Eco-Dives in Key West, Florida, which has been a Field Station since 2010. Eco-Dives owner, Rob McCall, is fascinated by learning and finding new species and enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Rob has been a REEF surveyor since 2001 so it was a natural to incorporate REEF into his business. Eco-Dives primarily teaches advanced open-water scuba certifications because it enables them to focus on fun courses such as underwater photography and the REEF Fish ID specialty. Eco-dives was also one of the first dive operators to offer a Lionfish Diver specialty that teaches divers the basics of the lionfish invasion, why it is so detrimental to our reefs, and how to report sightings.

“Out of 775 REEF survey dives and countless other dives with students, the most unusual fish we have found on our dives has been a pugjaw wormfish.” says Rob. Fortunately Rob was able to snap a couple pictures of it to confirm the identification of such a unique fish. Rob's sighting was only the sixth time that species had ever been reported on a REEF survey.

Although Key West is not known for its pristine reefs, Rob says the dive sites are convenient, the reefs are well-populated with small-to-medium size fish, and they have mature wrecks with plenty of big fish. The newest addition to the armada of artificial reefs in the Keys, the Vandenberg, is a great dive and a fish magnet. REEF has been monitoring the Vandenberg since it was sunk and Rob has been a great help on a number of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveys documenting reef fish recruitment over time.

Rob says that he "really enjoys working with REEF surveyors; they are always so enthusiastic. Doing surveys has made me look much harder at fish, looking for distinguishing features so I can identify them. This results in you seeing so much more during a dive."

REEF Notes


Thanks to everyone who donated during our Summer Campaign, you helped us reach our goal. REEF members contributed over $34,770, with a generous match of $30,000 from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, for a grand total of $64,770. REEF will use these donations to maintain our current programs and expand our special projects, the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Research Program. Donations from our members make it possible for REEF to carry out our mission of conserving marine ecosystems. Thank you!

Don't forget to check out the 2012 REEF Field Survey 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. Many are starting to fill up so don't delay.

Have you checked out our new innovative online Fish Identification "Fishinars"(aka webinars)? These fun and short (45 minute) sessions are a great way to learn marine life ID from the comfort of your home. And they are free. The schedule is available at www.reef.org/resources/webinars. We are always adding more sessions, so check back often.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Maui FIN


REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our fintastically outstanding field station this month is the Maui FIN (Fish Identification Network) group in Hawaii. This enthusiastic group of divers and snorkelers has been going strong for years. They meet on the 2nd Saturday of each month to conduct surveys at different spots around Maui. After introducing REEF to the Hawaiian Islands 10 years ago, Donna Brown and Liz Foote (who taught our online Hawaiian Fishinar last week), started building a team of enthusiastic fish surveyors. It was out of that enthusiasm that surveyor Mike Fausnaugh started the FIN group. Flo Bahr and Rick Long have been longtime active leaders of the group. When snorkeling, they all put orange duct tape at the tops of their snorkels. This helps the group find each other while in the water, as well as make them easy to spot from the beach. Tourists also ask about what they're doing and this helps show how many are out there doing REEF surveys. In addition to the monthly FIN survey dives, they maintain a Facebook page for the group that serves as a great communication tool. Through the Facebook page, they organize their next survey spots, share zone codes, spread announcements, and post photos and mystery fish questions. Keep up the enthusiastic surveying, FINsters!

2012 REEF Lionfish Derby Series Remove 2,694 Invasive Fish

Members of Team Frapper with REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins (center), holding a huge lionfish that the team captured during the Key Largo Derby.

This summer REEF, in partnership with Divers Direct and SeaGrant Florida, hosted its third annual Lionfish Derby Series. The series included four derbies in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Key Largo) and one in Green Turtle Key, Bahamas. The event series was a huge success—in total, 219 participants in 60 teams brought in a total of 2,694 lionfish! Lionfish are invasive predators capable of consuming prey in excess of half their body size and have become a hazard to Caribbean reefs by consuming commercially, recreationally and ecologically important fish and crustaceans. Using published estimates of lionfish consumption, the removal of the 1,923 lionfish collected in the Florida derbies corresponds to preventing between approximately 3.5 million to 14.8 million prey fish from being eaten by these lionfish over the next year.

Lionfish derbies serve as a way to engage the public and media, enhance awareness, encourage removals and provide samples for researchers. During each the derby over $3,500 in cash prizes sponsored by Divers Direct were awarded to first, second, and third place winners in three categories: Most, Largest, and Smallest.

Since their introduction in the 1980’s, invasive lionfish have become the first marine predator to successfully establish in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Unfortunately, complete eradication of lionfish is unlikely, but where removal efforts are sustained, population numbers and impacts can be reduced. REEF and Simon Fraser University partnered throughout the 2012 Derby Series to conduct research on the effectiveness of derbies in controlling local populations. Preliminary data analysis from the 2012 Green Turtle Key, Bahamas, Derby shows that lionfish derbies are effective at removing 65% of lionfish off of local reefs. The Derby Series is one of the many ways REEF is promoting lionfish control. A big thank you goes out to the derby sponsors, hosts, teams and everyone who came out to support the events. To find out more about the REEF Invasive Lionfish Program, including the derby series, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. You can also follow all of our lionfish news through our Lionfish Facebook page.

Lionfish Food and Wine Event Held In Key Largo

Lad Akins shows the audience which spines contain venom. Photo by: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
Four course lionfish dinner at Fish House Encore. Photo by: Donna Dietrich.
The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's Website.

More than sixty people gathered earlier this month at the Fish House Encore in Key Largo, Florida, for Lionfish Food and Wine Night. Before dining, event attendees learned about the lionfish invasion and the importance of removing lionfish from marine environments. Peter Tselikis, chef at Fish House Encore, showed the audience how to cook two popular lionfish dishes. Lad Akins, a renowned lionfish expert and REEF Director of Special Projects, taught the audience how to fillet lionfish, avoiding the venomous spines.

The invasive species, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction, was prepared four different ways with a creative medley of ingredients and wine selections. Entrées included bacon-wrapped barbeque lionfish, sea salt-cured lionfish ceviche, and poached lionfish. Many guests said their favorite dish was Lionfish Bermuda, a lionfish fillet encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked and served with a sweet and sour sauce atop baby arugula salad.

“It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Akins. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have now invaded the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. In the invaded range, they have been documented to be gluttonous predators of native fish and invertebrates. One published study co-authored by Akins (Green et al. 2012) shows lionfish reduced the native fish prey community at some sites in the Bahamas by an average of 65% in just two years. Some sites had a 95% decline. Despite the dismal outlook, there is good news. Published studies show local control by divers and fishers can be effective, Akins notes. “Removing lionfish from local reefs is like weeding a garden. Remove weeds and the garden is healthier. Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round.”

For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. Creative lionfish recipes, as well as information on catching, cleaning, and cooking lionfish, can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook available on the REEF Store.

Upcoming Fishinars -- Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Series and more

Photo by Janna Nichols.
Photo by Janna Nichols.

Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar 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:

Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - While Pacific Northwest waters are not known for their schools of colorful fish, the amazing invertebrate life will blow you away! In these four sessions we'll cover a select group of invertebrates from 8 phyla, all of which are monitored by REEF volunteer divers.

Sponges and Stingers - January 8th, 2014

Gettin' Crabby - January 9th, 2014

Marvelous Molluscs - January 15th, 2014

Stars and Squirts - January 16th, 2014


Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - January 21, 2014

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

The Faces of REEF: Judith Cucco

Cooperative hunting is always a great find for a REEF surveyor. Here, Blueifn Trevally, Blue Goatfish, and a moray eel (not shown) are hunting together. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A badly damaged sea turtle flipper, the result of entangled fishing line. Photo by Judith Cucco.

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 Juddith Cucco. Judith has been a REEF member since 2010, and has conducted 555 surveys (all in her home state of Hawaii, and all as a snorkeler!). She is a member of the Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Judith had to say about REEF:

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

I first heard about REEF through Reef Watch Waikiki while taking a fish identification course with them in February 2010. I immediately started doing surveys as I felt it was a fun way for me to share my enthusiasm for all the fish I see while snorkeling in Hawaii, where I live...and I wanted a record of the many species I've encountered.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite fish find?

Even though I've seen it many times, it still fascinates me to see cooperative hunting, for example jacks following a moray eel or blue goatfish. My favorite fish is the juvenile rockmover wrasse. They look like drifting seaweed in the ocean when they move and I enjoy watching them turn over rocks with their snout. My favorite discovery is a semi-circle angelfish (not native to Hawaii) that Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF Director of Science ) helped my swimming buddies and me identify from some very poor photos.

Where do you do most of your surveying?

I used to do most of my surveys at the outer reef in Hanauma Bay and still go there occasionally, however my favorite place to survey on Oahu is Kaiona Beach Park. You really need to look to find the fish and if one has the patience, there are ample rewards. I've seen so many species that one does not see at Hanauma Bay (knifefish, bigeyes and several types of scorpionfish). Because I snorkel, the fish are also much closer at Kaiona as it's more shallow.

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

The most exciting thing for me when doing surveys is when I encounter a species I haven't seen before. After my snorkel, I go home and look it up in one of my fish books or online and enjoy learning about it. My biggest challenge is staying warm as I like to stay in the ocean until my fingers get numb (not recommended), which is usually around three hours even with a full wet suit.

Do you have a memorable story from a survey?

Just the other day, I had gone out for a snorkel survey (which ended up not happening). A little while into our swim, my buddy and I found an entangled green sea turtle. I saw it on the bottom in about ten feet of water. We first asked its permission, then dove down to bring it to the surface. We saw that it had fishing line wrapped around its neck and two front flippers. We were really far out on the reef and swam it in to shore. We recruited two fishermen to cut off the line and they also built a pen out of rocks for the turtle. I went to my car and called our local NOAA turtle stranding office. When NOAA staff arrived, we loaded the turtle in a carrier and the turtle was taken to a surgeon. It needs to have the front right flipper amputated, but it is going to survive and should eventually be released back in the wild. What an amazing and cooperative experience!!!!

The Faces of REEF: Roger Skillman

A great find, especially for a first dive - the Striated Frogfish. Photo (c) Ned DeLoach.
Roger with some students at the Blue Heron Bridge.
The majestic Sand Tiger Shark. Photo by Jeff Haines.

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 Roger Skillman. Roger has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 45 surveys. Despite being landlocked in the Smoky Mountains, he is an active surveyor in the Carolinas and Florida. He also teaches SCUBA and incorporates REEF in to his classes! Here's what Roger had to say about REEF:

What’s your favorite part of REEF surveying?

I like completing REEF surveys to document what was seen on any given day at a particular dive site. Completing surveys helps establish baseline data for a site. REEF members are “Citizen Scientists” with their eyes in the water and we provide valuable data for researchers that can’t be everywhere. The most interesting thing I have found about completing surveys is the importance of an underwater camera and a variety of good fish ID books to help with identification after the dive.

Do you have a favorite place to do surveys?

I have two favorite places that I like to dive. Most of my 34 years of diving have been on the shipwrecks offshore of Beaufort, North Carolina. The historical shipwrecks and abundant marine life that can be found rivals diving anywhere around the world! During the last 5 years, I have discovered the great diving around Jupiter, Florida, to include the world famous Blue Heron Bridge. BHB, with its unusual creatures and the ledges offshore, provide as many different species of fish as many tropical locales.

What is your favorite fish find?

My most fascinating fish encounter has to be diving with the Sand Tiger Sharks on the shipwreck “Caribsea” offshore Cape Lookout, NC. Diving while surrounded by 50 of these magnificent creatures was a marvelous experience. A most memorable fish find occurred at Blue Heron Bridge in 2013. I was completing open water evaluations with two of my students when we found not one, but two, Striated Frogfish. I had never seen a frogfish and these “neophyte” divers saw TWO on their first ever open water dives! Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair!

What advice do you have for other REEF members?

The best way to benefit from REEF is to get INVOLVED! I belong to inland-based REEF Field Station (Smoky Mountain Divers-Carolinas) but that doesn’t stop us from conducting surveys. Contact our field station or a field station near you and participate in their fish ID programs. Sign up and participate in the numerous webinars and classes offered by REEF to expand your knowledge. It’s not hard, just FUN!

Be On The Lookout - Indo-Pacific Damsel Reported in Gulf of Mexico

Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.

We are encouraging all REEF surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic region to be on the lookout for a new non-native fish! Researchers from the University of Veracruz have documented a new non-native species in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico with the potential to spread throughout the region. Sightings of the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos) have recently come from the nearshore reef systems south of Veracruz, Mexico. The species is native to a broad region of the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. The damselfish was documented at depths from 2-21 meters, though it was more common on deeper reefs. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel can reach sizes of up to 9 cm (3.5 inches) in length and is distinguished by a yellow or white spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin, a dark spot behind the gill, and yellow rear margins of the tail, dorsal and anal fins. In contrast, the native Brown Chromis is identified by dark margins on the tail and a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin. Observations from Dr. Ross Robertson indicate the Regal Demoiselle can be a bit more cryptic than the native Chromis, tending to hide under ledges and in crevices between corals, rather than swimming in the open. Experts in Mexico believe that this damsel has the potential to disrupt natural systems around Caribbean reefs, as they have witnessed displacement of the native Brown Chromis on heavily-invaded sites.

If you see this fish while doing a REEF survey, be sure to report it on your form in the unlisted fish section. Please also report detailed information on the sighting to REEF through the invasive species reporting page.

DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE OF REEF . . .

Joe Cavanaugh and Leda A. Cunningham with new fall intern Erin Whitaker
Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, presents our fabulous Summer interns, Marissa Nuttall our Texas Aggie and Paige Switzer our South Carolina girl, with a certificate of appreciation for all the tremendous work they accomplished this summer

We had a number of applicants for the Fall session and narrowing the intern pool to just two applicants was tough because everyone that applied were wonderful candidates.   This month we're introducing you to Catherine Whitaker (aka Erin) who (thankfully) arrived early to cross train with our fabulous summer interns before they departedon August 17th.  Next month we'll highlight our final recipient, Lauren Finan, who will arrive the week of August 20th.

Erin is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.    She's had a variety of jobs during her undergraduate career all of which honed her skills in preparation for a career in Marine Biology.  She is well versed in the REEF methodology having completed juvenile fish, fish, and coral abundance and distribution surveys while working with Centro Ecologico de Akumal.  As a Scuba Divemaster, Erin taught scuba to tourists and locals of all ages instilling a sense of excitement and pride for marine life to her students.  During her time at Duke, she served as research assistant to many professors and non-profit organizations and volunteered as an assistant aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium. 

While in Maine she was sampling algae and young lobsters for a census survey (we could use that here).  At the Linney genetics laboratory Erin was responsible for feeding and cleaning tanks of 3000 zebra fish.  At the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems branch of the Smithsonian, Erin assisted a PhD candidate on her research relating to the effect of parrotfish on corals as well as the coral-symbiont relationship in a stressful environment, the list goes on as does her travels.  She has been to Ankarafantsika, Madagascar as a field assistant; Caye Caulker, Belize as an underwater tour guide; Manila, Philippines as a U.S. Embassy Protocol Office Assistant; Sofia, Bulgaria as a U.S. Embassy Consular Section Aide.  REEF is very fortunate to have someone of Erin's caliber interning with us this fall.  She feels working with REEF is an ideal opportunity for her to test her ability to integrate scientific investigation, conservation efforts and a flair for reaching out to people for the betterment of our environment, while working toward her masters.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub