Putting it to Work: New Publication Updating Fishes of Alligator Reef in the Florida Keys

Tessellated Blenny, Hypsoblennius invemar, one of the 41 species added to the species inventory of Alligator Reef as part of the publication. Photo by Carlos Estapé.
Allison Estapé, one of the paper's co-authors surveying in the Florida Keys. Photo by Carlos Estapé.
Spotfin Jawfish, Opistognathus robins, one of the 41 species added to the species inventory of Alligator Reef as part of the publication. Photo by Carlos Estapé.
Carlos and Allison Estapé, active REEF volunteers and co-authors on a new paper on the Fishes of Alligator Reef.

We are excited to share a new publication recently co-authored by active REEF volunteers, Carlos and Allison Estapé. Carlos and Allison are members of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team and were honored as REEF's Volunteers of the Year in 2013. In that same year, Carlos and Allison became aware of an extensive historical study that had been conducted documenting the fishes of Alligator Reef, which happened to be their "home" reef. From 1958-67, Walter A. Starck II conducted marine biological studies and fish collection efforts in the area of Alligator Reef, off of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. In 1968, he published A List of Fishes of Alligator Reef.

After reading Stark's study, Carlos and Allison undertook a four-year census of the fishes of the area with a goal to photo-document as many of their sightings as possible. This effort subsequently entailed 1,039 combined dives devoted to fish counts, photographic documentation, or both. During these surveys, they photographed 278 of the species reported by Starck (1968) plus 35 additional and/or newly described or reclassified species not recorded in the earlier study. During this time, Carlos and Allison started working with Dr. Stark to update the classic publication. The updated paper was published in Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation in August 2017.

An update of the checklist of fishes of Alligator Reef and environs some fifty years later provides an unparalleled opportunity to evaluate the species richness for a limited reef area, as well as a unique opportunity to explore changes in diversity over a half-century time scale. In the updated study, the authors added 107 species and subtracted 5 from the original total of 516 species: thus the checklist now totals 618 species, of 122 families, the most recorded for any similarly sized area in the New World. The additional species records are made up from a number of subsequent collections as well as from Carlos and Allison's sightings. Over the half-century since the original Alligator Reef survey, there have been great advances in the taxonomy of Greater Caribbean reef fishes, with numerous changes in scientific names and classification. These changes were addressed in the updated publication so as to bring the list to current status.

The authors used the REEF database for analysis and comparison including three photos from Ed Martin, also a REEF member. REEF maintains an online database of worldwide visual fish-count surveys conducted by volunteer researchers and fish-count enthusiasts. While such surveys can be biased towards easily observed species, they are indicative for a large portion of the reef fish fauna and comprise a valuable source of comparative information (Schmitt & Sullivan 1996, Pattengill-Semmens & Semmens 2003, Holt et al. 2013). The local REEF data includes that of the Estapés, who have conducted 185 roving-diver REEF surveys on Alligator Reef. An additional 1,807 surveys at 94 sites in the study area have also been conducted by other REEF volunteers (as of July, 3, 2016).

To view a link to the Stark and Estapé paper, as well as all other publications that have included REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Putting It To Work: New Study Looks at Spawning Aggregation Population Genetics

The largest known spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, found in the Cayman Islands, is the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

A new publication in the scientific journal, Coral Reefs, evaluates population genetics of spawning aggregations and the role of juvenile recruitment, from both local and external sources, in sustaining and increasing local aggregations. The study included information from REEF's Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands.

Like many places throughout the Caribbean, Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the US Virgin Islands were overfished until their disappearance in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 2000s, however, Nassau Grouper were found gathering at Grammanik Bank, USVI, a mesophotic coral reef adjacent to one of the extinct aggregation sites, and regulatory protective measures were implemented to protect this fledgling aggregation. The authors of this study addressed two objectives: 1) which factors (local vs. external recruitment) are important in shaping recovery of the USVI spawning aggregations, and 2) the impact of severe past overfishing on the genetic structure of the Gremmanik Bank aggregation. For this second objective, REEF Grouper Moon Project scientists provided genetic samples from individual Nassau Grouper taken from the Little Cayman spawning aggregation, a much larger and less impacted aggregation.

No population structure was detected between the USVI and Cayman spawning aggregations. Additionally, the USVI spawning population showed signs of a genetic bottleneck, typical of greatly reduced populations. These collective results suggest that external recruitment is an important driver of the USVI spawning aggregation recovery. These findings also provide a baseline for future genetic monitoring of the spawning aggregations. The paper, titled "The ups and downs of coral reef fishes: the genetic characteristics of a formerly severely overfished but currently recovering Nassau grouper fish spawning aggregation", was published earlier this month in the March 2016 issue of Coral Reefs. Grouper Moon scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, was a co-author on the paper. To find out more about this study and to see a list of all publications that have included REEF projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Intern Spotlight: Meet Our Fall 2016 Interns

Our Fall 2016 Marine Conservation Interns!

This month, we are excited to introduce you to our Fall 2016 interns, who are a part of our Marine Conservation Internship Program. Since 1994, REEF has hosted over 110 interns. Our internship program has expanded over the years and our interns serve an important role in the day-to-day management at REEF. The internship provides an array of diverse experiences including scientific diving, outreach and education, data collection and management, non-profit operations, and public speaking.

A big welcome to our new Fall 2016 interns:

Emily Volkmann (from Grafton, Wisconsin), recent graduate from Smith College, BA in Biology and Environmental Science and Policy

Ellie Place (from Bellevue, Washington), recent graduate from Brown University, BA in Geological Sciences and Hispanic Studies

Katherine Ilcken (from Tampa, Florida), recent graduate from University of Florida, BS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

Thomas Hyduk (from Central New Jersey), recent graduate from University of Miami, BS in Marine and Atmospheric Science

For more information about our interns, please visit www.REEF.org/internship/interns.

Putting It To Work: New Publication Out of the Grouper Moon Project

Results from the study authored by J Egerton et al shows the visualization provided by the hydroacoustic technology used to evaluate size and location of the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation off Little Cayman. Figure (c) Coral Reefs, 2017.
A team of REEF scientists and volunteers have visually monitored the Little Cayman spawning aggregation annually since 2002. Photo by Phil Bush.

A new publication in the scientific journal Coral Reefs was recently issued based on science conducted as part of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. The paper, titled "Hydroacoustics for the discovery and quantification of Nassau grouper (Epinephelus stratus) spawning aggregations", summarizes results from work conducted during the 2014 Grouper Moon Project field season in the Cayman Islands. Led by Jack Egerton from Bangor University in the UK, the research focused on the use of hydroacoustic technology as a means to monitor the status and ecology of fish spawning aggregations. Egerton was assisted by Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Scott Heppell, as well as Grouper Moon collaborators from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment. Using a split-beam echo sounder, data were used to visualize and estimate fish abundance and biomass at three Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. The estimates were compared with diver-collected data. Additionally, the technology was used to examine fish aggregation locations in relation to protected zones.

Patterns in the acoustic abundance matched that observed by the visual estimates reported by our Grouper Moon diver teams - total numbers found at the Little Cayman aggregation were significanly higher than the depeleted aggregations found on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. 

Spawning aggregation location examined with reference to seasonal marine protected areas (Designated Grouper Spawning Areas) showed that the aggregations were partially outside these areas at Grand Cayman and very close to the boundary at Cayman Brac. The aggregation on Little Cayman appears to be contained within the protected zone (at least in 2014). However, we know from other Grouper Moon Project data that the fish spend a lot of time traveling in and out of the zone during the day. Additionally, in 2015, the aggregation on Little Cayman shifted a significant distance to the north of the historical location and partially out of the protected zone. The results of this study show the importance of making use of many different approaches for monitoring and aggregations in order to most effectively inform future management of aggregating fish species.

To read more about this study and others that have been published based on REEF's programs, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications. To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

Donate Today to Support Ocean Conservation!

Your donation will help ensure that REEF can continue our critical ocean conservation work, including our Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Joshua Stewart.
REEF is undertaking an ambitious transformation of the Headquarters Campus this summer. Get your name engraved on a brick in the "Pathway to Ocean Conservation".

On World Oceans Day, REEF kicked off our annual summer fundraising campaign. Thanks to our largest matching opportunity ever, every donation made this summer will be matched dollar for dollar up to $150,000! We are almost halfway to our goal, but we need your help so that we may continue to grow and build REEF’s ocean conservation legacy. Every donation makes a difference – donate today at www.REEF.org/contribute.

We recently announced our exciting plans to expand the REEF Campus in Key Largo, Florida. This transformation includes adding an Interpretive Center building, installing new educational exhibits in the existing REEF Headquarters building, and creating a Native Plants Trail. This facility will engage 40,000 visitors annually while furthering our mission and supporting new programs.

As a special thank you, donors of $500 or more this summer will be honored with a personalized brick in the "Pathway to Ocean Conservation" that we are installing in front of REEF Headquarters as part of our campus expansion. Two sizes of brick are available (4” by 8” - $500 donation, 8” x 8” – $1,000 donation) and each can be personalized with an inscription of your choosing! Brick donations must be made by August 14th.

To find out more about our plans for the REEF Campus, visit the Interpretive Center webpage. There are a limited number of other sponsored landscape features along the new Native Plants Trail, including interpretive signs, benches, and picnic tables. Please contact us directly at giving@REEF.org or 305-852-0030 if you are interested in these opportunities.

From all of us at REEF, thank you to all of our donors! Our work would not be possible without your support. Please have a safe and fun-filled 4th of July!

REEF Parts - Things to Know (Oct 07)

Here are a few notes and news bits we'd like you to know about:

  • Catch up with REEF at DEMA! The biggest annual dive and travel trade show is in Orlando again this year from Wed. October 31 - Sat. November 3. REEF is at booth 1133 and is running 2 seminars on the new home-study DVD for Florida, the Caribbean and Bahamas: Reef Fish Identification-A Beginning Course. We hope to see you there!
  • If you're lucky enough to be in the Dominican Republic this time of year, come say hi to REEF at the annual meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) held November 5-9. REEF will be presenting findings on two artificial reef monitoring projects and Nassau grouper research through the REEF Grouper Moon Project. 
  • Keep an eye on your mailbox for /REEF Notes/, our annual print newsletter, coming soon!
  • Field Survey Update (2007-2008): Thanks to all who have made our 2007 Field Survey year a successful year with just a few trips left!

REEF Benefit A Success

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Suzanne Holmquist, Amy Slate, Peter and Alice Hughes and Evelyn McGlone enjoy a photo op. Photo by Matt Standal, Keys Weekly.
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Ned DeLoach, Leda Cunningham and Paul Humann gave presentations on REEF and new underwater wildlife photography. Photo by Matt Standal, Keys Weekly.

On Saturday, February 9, REEF hosted the first annual For the Love of the Sea benefit dinner and auction at Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida. The event was a huge success! More than 150 guests attended a sold-out event, enjoying a picturesque sunset set to island music and the awe-inspriring underwater photography of authors and REEF founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. REEF raised more than $25,000 thanks to successful silent and live auctions and the generosity of event sponsors in the Keys and greater REEF community. Proceeds of the event will support ongoing citizen science projects to engage volunteers in marine conservation.

Many thanks to event sponsors for their support and to the local REEF "Fun Raisers" event planning committee. Please click here for more information on the event.

Bigger Than Ever – Lionfish Research Continues

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Lad Akins and Andy Dehart capture a lionfish during a recent REEF Lionfish Research Project. The lionfish was measured, tagged, and released. A team subsequently recaptured the lionfish to learn more about site fidelity and growth in this species.
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A juvenile lionfish recently found in Little Cayman by Dottie Benjamin, a local divemaster and avid REEF surveyor. REEF's program serves as an early warning program for the arrival of exotic species. Photo by Matt Lewis.
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REEF volunteers give the lionfish sign at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in May

The recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into Atlantic waters has been causing great concern among researchers, marine park and fisheries managers, and divers. REEF, in partnership with Bahamian dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy, NOAA, the United States Geological Service (USGS), the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem. As part of REEF’s Lionfish Research Program, over the last two years REEF has coordinated 12 research projects that have involved over 175 REEF volunteers. This research has generated a wealth of in-situ observations and over 1,000 lionfish specimens, which have led to great advances in the understanding of the biology and potential impacts of this most unwanted invader.

REEF’s most recent field project at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in May 2008, involving over 20 volunteers and researchers, found that the problem continues to get worse. The team gathered data on nearly 200 specimens of lionfish to determine relative abundance, size increases, reproductive status, growth rates, predator prey relationships and movement.  Findings included:

Lionfish continue to grow in size: Tagging data show growth rates exceeding 190mm/year, far larger than necessary to reach sexual maturity.

Site Fidelity: All 12 previously-tagged specimens that have been recaptured indicate strong site fidelity even after 6 months.

Prey: Lionfish continue to amaze us during stomach content studies. The recent effort turned up new records including two entire spotted goatfish, a large brown chromis, a small reef octopus, and even a small mollusk in its shell. Lionfishare eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.

Reproduction: Lionfish reproduction occurs throughout the year – many gravid females and a small recently settled juveniles have been found.

REEF’s future fieldwork will concentrate on lionfish movement, trap design, habitat preference, and local control measures. Our next project is scheduled to take place at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau from September 14-20. If you would like to help with our ongoing work please consider joining us as a field volunteer and/or making a contribution to REEF’s Exotic Species Program.

For more information on REEF’s Exotic Species Program, to volunteer on a future research project or to discuss funding opportunities, contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, Lad@reef.org.

REEF News Tidbits for October

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  • Just added to the REEF Online Store -- Columbia Sportswear Bonehead Long Sleeve REEF Shirts. These Performance Fishing Gear (PFG) long sleeve shirts provide protection from the sun and chilly waterfront breezes, with the flexibility to roll up your sleeves making it the perfect REEF Fish Survey attire. They are generously cut, 100% cotton, and discretely but proudly let the world know that you support REEF and Diving that Counts! Also recently added to the online REEF store -- Limited Edition Lionfish Print by Rogest and stylish REEF caps.
  • The Cozumel REEF Trip in December, which has been sold out for almost a year, just had 3 spaces open up. These trips are led by REEF Expert and Cozumel Naturalist, Sheryl Shea, and are extremely popular. Please give us a call for more information and to reserve your space 305-852-0030.
  • A special thanks to all the REEF members who volunteered at our DEMA booth -- Park Chapman, Andy Dehart, Chris Flook, Heather George, Stephanie Green and Sue Thompson, and to Evelyn McGlone and Janet Bartnicki for holding down the fort at REEF HQ. We couldn't have done it without you!
  • Please remember to support REEF during our Fall Fundraising campaign.
  • REEF Team Surveys Vandenberg Sinking Site

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    REEF Advanced Assessment Team members who were part of the team that conducted the pre-deployment monitoring for the Vandenberg.
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    The Vandenberg, just prior to being sunk off Key West as the second largest artificial reef in the world, in May 2009. Photo courtesy of © Stephen Frink.

    The USS Hoyt Vandenberg is the most recent ship to be placed as an artificial reef in the waters off Key West, Florida. The ship was sunk on May 27, 2009, but three weeks prior to the sinking the REEF team was in action conducting surveys of the sinking site and 7 other adjacent sites for comparison. The data will be used by the State of Florida to document fish recruitment onto the wreck and response of nearby reef sites to the new structure. In addition to regular REEF fish surveys, the team is also gathering important fish biomass data at two sites and recording any observations of non-native titan acorn barnacles, orange cup corals or non-native fish including lionfish.

    The pre-deployment surveys at the sinking site did not document any fish present at the sandy bottom site though one barracuda was seen swimming through the area shortly after. Combined data from the 7 reference sites documented 159 species including rare sightings of pugjaw wormfish and cherubfish (rare for the Keys). The summary of data can be found here.

    REEF will continue regular monitoring of the Vandenberg and reference sites through next summer, with a final report due by the end of 2010. A huge thank you to all of the REEF experts joining in on the effort including Rob McCall, Tracy Harris, Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Jamie Giganti, Lisa Canty and Pat Zuloaga.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub