As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.
It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist.
"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).
To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.
Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.
The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.
REEF recently awarded Nancy Perez the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award. Nancy joined during REEF's inaugural year in 1993! She lives in the Florida Keys and has become an instrumental volunteer at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo. Nancy helps connect REEF with the local community through planning special events, including holiday parties, the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters dedication, and participation at local festivals. Nancy has also encouraged other locals to volunteer at REEF HQ and is always available to assist REEF staff on projects. Nancy's biggest impact has been through her role coordinating the Fish and Friends gatherings at REEF HQ. During these popular monthly meetings, which started in 2009, REEF supporters come together to socialize with fellow fish followers and listen to presentations about various marine species and habitats. The success of this event would not be possible without the hard work and time that Nancy puts in to finding speakers, getting volunteer hosts, coordinating the snacks and beverages, and always wearing a smile. Her tireless dedication to the REEF Fish and Friends event is admired by all. In her spare time, Nancy is out diving and completing REEF surveys! On behalf of the REEF Staff and Board of Trustees, we extend Nancy our deepest appreciation.
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 Dave Grenda (REEF member since 1998). After retiring from the military, he became a volunteer, divemaster, and an American Academy Of Underwater Sciences Scientific Diver at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Dave has conducted over 1,800 REEF surveys and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor. In addition to his own diving activities, Dave has participated in numerous research projects, including numerous REEF Advanced Assessment Team trips, Nassau grouper tagging in the Caymans, mutton snapper spawning in the Dry Tortugas, piscivore cooperative hunting research off Georgia (see "Putting it to Work"), queen conch population surveys in St. Croix, Aquarius undersea laboratory support in Key Largo, Tampa Bay Civil War shipwreck archeology, Paleolithic Indian archeology in North Port Florida, coral spawning in the Flower Gardens and Key Largo, Gulf Red Tide recovery, reef health assessments with the Living Oceans Foundation in the Caribbean, point/transect fish surveys throughout the Keys, and collecting exhibit animals for aquaria educational displays. Here's what Dave had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first hear about REEF? What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? I became involved with REEF after attending a fish ID lecture at the Florida Aquarium given by John Pitcarin - a founding REEF staff member. Being a REEF member has opened an entirely new world to me. The fish identification skills I've acquired through REEF has opened many doors for me as a citizen scientist. I'm extremely grateful for the many opportunities I've been provided through my association with REEF. Attaining Expert survey level has enabled me to join numerous research efforts with NOAA, National Park Service, Universities, Aquaria, and of course REEF itself. Working with marine scientists has been very interesting and those scientists have relied extensively on my fish identification skills that I've acquired during my REEF survey diving. While these scientists knew their particular specialty very well, they were often rusty in general fish identification. I quickly became a valued member of their team, treated as an equal colleague, and sought after for future projects.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEFís projects and programs? Doing REEF surveys not only provides valuable data, it's a great way of "giving back" (helping the aquatic environment), but it also greatly enhances your diving enjoyment. What I like about the REEF survey method is that it can adapt to any type of dive site - regardless of visibility, current, depth, etc. While other divers might be disappointed at the visibility, or the failure to see certain animals (like sharks, turtles, eels, etc.), I will have had a great dive doing a REEF survey. I see more during my dives by doing surveys and I get excited at a rare sighting and adding a new species to my lifelist.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? What new fish ID'ers need to do is SLOW down. It's much easier to see the movement of a cryptic fish, or just about any fish, when you aren't moving. If conditions allow, I'll start my dive by hovering in the water column. I'll write down every species I see as I slowly make a complete turn - looking in the water column as well as on the bottom below. To get the most species from each dive site, I'll try to hit as many different environments as possible (sand, rubble, top/middle/bottom of the reef, shallow/deep, etc.). Bring a flashlight to look into crevices and every tube sponge. It also helps to use the REEF database to know what species have been previously sighted at your dive destination. Before the dive you can acquaint yourself with the descriptions of new fish you might see there, so if you do come across that new fish, you'll already know how to identify it. Chance favors the prepared mind. You should also jump at the chance to dive with other fish watching experts. I've learned so much and so quickly by diving with other REEF folks - gaining confidence, learning new techniques, and just sharing wonderful fish stories.
REEF Field Surveys trips that are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF coordinates Field Surveys to locations throughout our project regions each year. These projects are led by REEF staff and other REEF instructors and feature daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Many of the 2012 REEF Field Survey trips are sold out, but there are still a few spots on the lionfish research expedition to Dominica, the fish behavior trip to Bermuda, and a liveaboard through the British Virgin Islands. We are also working on an exciting lineup for the 2013 schedule. We will announce the full lineup and details soon. Destinations include Fiji, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Utila, and the Soccoro Islands. Get in touch with our travel experts at Caradonna to find out more and to book your space - 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. The full schedule and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips.
To celebrate 20 years of ocean conservation and education through the Volunteer Survey Project, and to honor our members for making these successes possible, REEF will be hosting a fun-filled weekend of diving, learning, and parties -- August 8-11, 2013, in Key Largo. Please mark your calendar and save the date! More details will be announced in the coming months. The first REEF surveys were conducted during a Field Survey trip in Key Largo, Florida, in the summer of 1993. Led by co-Founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, as well as founding Executive Director, Lad Akins, a total of thirteen volunteers conducted 102 surveys. Almost 20 years later, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project has grown to become the largest ocean citizen science program. Approximately 14,000 volunteer divers and snorkelers have conducted over 165,000 surveys at 12,000 sites throughout the world. These data have been used by scientists, government agencies, and other conservation groups, and have been featured in dozens of scientific publications. Our marine conservation programs, education initiatives, and research efforts are backed by over 50,000 REEF members. We hope you will join us next August to celebrate 20 years of education, surveys, fish stories, and friendships!
On behalf of our current, past, and future REEF Marine Conservation Interns, we would like to thank all those who donated during our Spring fundraising campaign to support our internship program. Thanks to the generous contributions of many members, we reached (and surpassed) our goal, raising $10,196! These funds will help ensure that we can continue this important program and support these enthusiastic young professionals as they gain critical career skills. Although less known, the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program is one of our most successful endeavors. Our interns are a key part of ensuring smooth operations at REEF Headquarters, as they contribute in so many ways to the daily tasks and activities required to manage REEF’s important programs. Through experiences gained and connections made during their internship, many of our interns have gone on to work at government agencies or other non-profit organizations. Others have gone on to complete graduate programs focused on ocean issues. And several of them have come back to work at REEF!
On December 3rd and 5th, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) held free educator workshops on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The professional development workshops presented the Grouper Education Program, a marine sciences curriculum for intermediate/elementary and high school students that was developed as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Nineteen teachers from 12 schools participated, including 2 schools from the Bahamas. Participants received the materials and resources necessary for successfully implementing the Grouper Education Program in their classrooms. This exciting project focuses on bringing the Nassau Grouper into classrooms through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect classrooms with Grouper Moon scientists in the field.
The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important fish. Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations. In addition to classroom lessons, the program includes live-feed video sessions that take place at the Grouper Moon Project research site on Little Cayman, bringing real-world field science into the classroom.
The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support for the workshops was provided by Cayman Airways, Brac Reef Beach Resort, and LIME. The program curriculum was developed to complement the research and scientific efforts of the Grouper Moon Project. Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, along with Grouper Moon scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. (REEF), and Mr. Bradley Johnson (DOE), have led the educational effort. Activities were developed in consultation with teachers at Cayman Prep on Grand Cayman, Verity Redrup and Brenda Bryce, and Cynthia Shaw, author of the youth fictional book, Grouper Moon. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.
We have just the thing for after the holiday rush is over -- free, educational REEF Fishinars. These hour-long sessions let you learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we will be adding new ones for 2015 soon. On the schedule so far....
Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!
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 research group at Palm Beach State College is using REEF data on South Florida fish assemblages to evaluate beach renourishment projects.
- Researchers from NOAA's Biogeography office are including REEF data in the development of a management plan for the marine portion of the NE Ecological Corridor Reserves in NE Puerto Rico and Culebra Island.
- Researchers at Bimini Biological Field Station are using REEF sightings of two endangered sawfish species to better understand the species' current distribution and status.
A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.