Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, entitled "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.
In 2003 the Cayman Islands government protected all five known current and historic Nassau grouper spawning sites in the Cayman Islands. This move was motivated by the 2001 discovery and rapid depletion of a large spawning aggregation (~7000 fish) on the west end of Little Cayman. This rapid legislative response protected the west-end spawning site before all the fish were taken (~3,000 remain), and the site is now one of the largest fully-protected Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in existence. However, the other four spawning sites had previously been fished to exhaustion and are believed to be inactive, i.e. aggregations no longer occur during spawning season.
Over the next three years, REEF will continue the ongoing aggregation monitoring and acoustic research that has been conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation since 2002 and expand efforts to Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, where historical spawning aggregations were fished out during the last ten years. Four primary research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest-funded project are: 1) Do aggregations form in regions that have been fished out? 2) If aggregations form, do the fish ultimately spawn? 3) Do these aggregations form at historic sites or somewhere else? And, 4) Does spawning at these remnant aggregations result in new recruitment?
The new research kicked into gear last month with a team of Grouper Moon scientists and REEF volunteers who conducted twelve days of field work in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The team visually monitored the Little Cayman aggregation, documenting the largest number of fish since the fishing ban was implemented in 2003. Spectacular mass spawning was documented at dusk seven days after the full moon. Grouper Moon scientists conducted extensive work on Cayman Brac to enable future visual monitoring on the historical aggregation site and initiate an acoustic tagging study that will facilitate a better understanding of the behaviors of Nassau grouper on an island with a limited number of reproductively-aged individuals. Later this Spring and Summer, REEF researchers, volunteers and an OSU graduate student will return to the Cayman Islands to conduct larval recruitment studies and begin acoustic tagging on Grand Cayman.
Capitalizing on the the increased breadth of research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest Ocean Program grant, the CIDOE is supporting a larval dispersal study that also kicked off this year under the guidance of Dr. Scott Heppell from OSU. Three satellite drifters were deployed at the Little Cayman aggregation site on the night of spawning. The paths will be recorded by ARGOS satellites for 45 days and the resulting data will be used to develop a larval dispersal model in collaboration with researchers from University of Miami. Check out the 2008 image gallery to see where the drifters are today.
REEF extends a big thank you to the island business who continue to support this project, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, as well as Peter Hillenbrand and Mary Ellen Cutts, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and the 2008 REEF Volunteer Team -- Judie Clee, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell, and Leslie Whaylen. We also greatly appreciate the continued support of our collaborative team, including the CIDOE and OSU, and the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In response to the growing threat of lionfish in the Atlantic and the need for coordinated planning, REEF, NOAA and the USGS are hosting a technical workshop on Non-native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida in the Florida Keys June 18 and 19. The workshop, jointly funded through a recent Mote Marine Laboratory’s Protect Our Reefs grant, NOAA’s Exotic Species and National Marine Sanctuary Programs and the Gulf and Atlantic States Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species,will bring together personnel from more than 18 different agencies and organizations. Plans for the workshop include presentations by State and Federal agencies, breakout groups and round table discussions that will focus on disseminating the most current information, and drafting a coordinated plan of early detection, notification, and rapid response.
Lionfish have been recorded in large numbers from North Carolina through the Bahamas and are rapidly expanding into the Caribbean. Fortunately, the fish have not yet shown up in the southeast Florida reef tract including Biscayne National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas National Park and Ecological Reserves. This planning workshop will endeavor to put in place mechanisms to help minimize lionfish impact in these treasured marine protected areas. While lionfish are the “poster fish” of invasive species, the protocols developed in this workshop will be widely applicable for sightings of other non-native marine fish as well, with the goal of preventing future invasions by other species.
REEF will continue to host training and planning workshops, as funding allows, to help downstream countries plan for the arrival of lionfish. Efforts to control populations and minimize impactswill be highlighted as research answers key questions and we are able to develop control methods. To find out more about REEF's Exotic Species Program, contact Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects.
- Limited Edition Lionfish Print by Rogest! REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), has offered a limited edition version of his lionfish print as a vehicle to focus attention on the huge problem of invading Pacific Lionfish in Caribbean and Atlantic Waters. Limited Edition, 200 prints available. Only $25. 100% of the proceeds to benefit the REEF Lionfish Research Program. Buy yours through the online REEF store today.
- REEF's Lionfish Research Project continues to be widely covered by the media. Some of the recent coverage includes National Geographic and The Nature Conservancy's Magazine. Check out the Lionfish Media page for a complete list and links.
- There are still a few spaces left on the second Cozumel trip, December 13-18.
Needed -- a few more volunteers for this critical marine conservation project in Belize! Peter Hughes and REEF’s Lad Akins will lead this great project aboard the livaboard dive vessel Sun Dancer II, June 13-20. I am sure that most of you have been following the news about the lionfish invasion and the recent updates on fish beginning to show up in Belize. We are really concerned about this. The Central American coast is going to be the most likely pathway for introduction of the fish into the Gulf of Mexico and the extremely valuable fish and shrimp industry there.
What can we do? One of the first things that can be done is early detection and rapid response to remove these fish as they show up. To that end Peter Hughes Diving has worked with REEF to organize the first lionfish assessment and removal project in Belize (or anywhere in Central America for that matter!). This is going to be a great first effort on detecting fish, removing what we see and training local staff on how to collect and handle the fish so they can remove them year-round.
What do we need? We need more of you! We need your interest, expertise and involvement to make this project a success. We know that times are tight and there is concern over travel to some areas, but this project is not to be missed. We will be offshore on the Sun Dancer II, one of the most highly regarded liveaboards in the region. First class service, first class diving and a very important mission!
We hope you can make this project! For more information and to sign up, call Peter Hughes Diving at 1-800 9 DANCER (800-932-6237). You can also contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, with any of your lionfish questions and to find out more about this trip (email@example.com, 305-852-0030).
We look forward to seeing you there!
Active REEF surveyor, Mike Bear, and other San Diego area divers started noticing something unexpected earlier this year -- increasing numbers of encounters with the Bluntnose Sevengill Shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark. Knowing first hand the impact that divers and snorkelers can have as citizen scientists, Mike set up a website - http://sevengillsharksightings.org -- to serve as a central repository for photographic, videographic and written data on these magnificent creatures. Submissions on the site will allow REEF surveyors who are lucky enough to encounter this prehistoric species to provide additional information and images beyond the sighting and abundance information recorded as part of their REEF survey. It will also enable divers who were not doing a REEF survey to report their encounter. One of the most interesting parts of the website will be the development of an informal photographic database of Sevengill sightings that will facilitate the comparison of photographs and the potential identification of individual sharks using the unique pattern of dark "freckles" on the backs of each shark, similar to the patterns seen on whale sharks. To date, six REEF surveys in San Diego have reported a Sevengill (click here to see the sightings report).
The second annual Abaco Lionfish Derby, held at Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, on Saturday June 19th, was a huge success. Teams on twenty-one boats from Florida and the Bahamas enjoyed perfect weather and conditions while collecting a grand total of 941 lionfish. Over $5,000 in cash was awarded to the winning teams for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. This event, held in the Bahamas and sanctioned by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, is one of many REEF efforts to cull invasive lionfish populations and raise awareness about the issue.
The award for most lionfish collected in the one-day event went to team White Roach from Abaco. Repeat winners, the trio of skilled lionfish collectors significantly exceeded their tally from 289 lionfish last year to a whopping 345 this year. This number is both astonishing and alarming when you consider how dense lionfish populations must be for three people to have the ability to collect over 300 lionfish in the span of a single day.
Team Meander from Jacksonville, FL, clenched 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for largest lionfish collected. Zane Carney captured the largest lionfish ever recorded in the Abacos, which measured just 2cm short of the national record. Zane told Derby organizers that he found a hole outside the main barrier reef off of No Name Cay in 45 feet of water that was full of very large lionfish. He used a pole spear to bag the winning fish, which was 43.4 cm in length (roughly 19 inches long) and weighed approximately 4 pounds.
Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Operations, and Stephanie Green, a collaborative research partner from Simon Fraser University, recorded valuable data during the event, including lionfish sizes, stomach contents, and sex for many of the lionfish before they were filleted and cooked by the Green Turtle Club. Observers and participants, many of whom had never tried lionfish, found the fish quite tasty, resembling hogfish or grouper. This year, Tropic Seafood Limited of Nassau also arranged to purchase some of the larger fillets of lionfish for distribution in local markets. According to Derby organizer, Bobbie Lindsay, “Tropic’s offer to purchase lionfish is an exciting development, because creating a market for lionfish is the best way to control the population of this invasive fish.”
Thanks to the Derby co-sponsors, Green Turtle Club, and Brendal’s Dive Center, who offered special discounts for Derby participants. REEF also extends sincere gratitude to all of the participants, and especially Bobbie Lindsay, an active REEF member and volunteer who took the lead in organizing the Derby making it a successful event again this year. Next year’s Derby is set for June 24-25, 2011. For full results and pictures go to www.lionfishderby.com.
Summary of Team Results -
Current Most Active Surveyors
Conducted the most surveys in the last three months:
TWA – Peter Leahy (169), Michael Phelan (67), Dave Grenda (48)
NE – Jason Feick (9), John Feehan (8), Michael MacDonald (7)
PAC – Rhoda Green (36), Jan Kocian (34), Betty Bastai (31)
TEP – Carol Cline (16), Daniel Richards (12), Gerald Winkel (3)
HAW – Don Judy (41), Rick Long (34), Flo Bahr (23)
To date, 140,234 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.
In addition to maintaining the REEF Survey database and providing data files to scientists, government agencies, and other groups, REEF staff participate in a variety of scientific conferences and workshops each year. Earlier this month, REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, participated in "Engaging and Learning for Conservation". Christy and 49 others were invited to the workshop to discuss ways to enhance biodiversity conservation and environmental stewardship through public participation in scientific research (PPSR). PPSR encompasses citizen science and other programs where the public is involved in one or more phases of scientific research. With support from the National Science Foundation, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, a leader in bird citizen science programs, initiated this effort to bring together conservation scientists and practitioners, resource managers, academics, educators, and community and project leaders. The overarching goal of the workshop was to discuss best practices to build the field of public participation in scientific research, and lay the groundwork for the workshop team to refine ideas into tools and resources. The two-day workshop was held at an epicenter of biodiversity and conservation research, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. With almost 20 years of working with REEF, Christy had valuable perspectives on how a citizen science program can meaningfully contribute to conservation and stewardship.
I am excited to announce the launch of our Winter Fundraising Campaign. During this holiday season, please consider a contribution to protect and conserve our marine eco-systems. Donate today using our secure online form, call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Members who donate $250 or more will receive a limited, signed, and numbered print of a beautiful Peppermint Basslet.
This year, we give thanks to all our supporters and donors who have made REEF's programs in 2011 successful. Your donation supports a database of over 154,000 fish and invertebrate surveys, marine conservation research, Nassau Grouper and Goliath Grouper protections, lionfish invasion control, educational outreach, and a whole lot more.
Please give thanks this month to our oceans! They cover 70 percent of this planet, are home to millions of magnificent species, and contain important resources that we all depend on. We appreciate your ongoing dedication to our marine conservation initiatives and wish you a happy holiday season.
REEF proudly names Heather George as our 2011 Volunteer of the Year. Since becoming a member nearly a decade ago, Heather has conducted 192 REEF surveys throughout the world and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. In 2010, Heather joined the volunteer research team for the Grouper Moon Project. Through the years, she has conducted fish identification trainings for dive shops and aquaria and has led several REEF Field Survey Trips. Heather also served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010 and brought a wealth of knowledge about fundraising and membership development to the organization. In 2011, Heather assisted with the expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the South Pacific as part of the field team to American Samoa. When Heather is not underwater looking at fishes or teaching others about the joys of fish watching, she is helping other ocean-related organizations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Waterkeeper Alliance. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Heather!