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.

News Tidbits

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  • Check Out the REEF Store! It's your one stop shop for all of your REEF Gear, ID Books and REEF Survey Supplies. Just added in the REEF Gear section -- new colors of the REEF Hat.
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  • Do you eBay? If you buy or sell on eBay, here's an easy way to support REEF as part of Giving Works. Sellers chose to donate 10-100% of the proceeds. Go to the REEF Profile page for Giving Works. From there you can check out current auction items from sellers who have chosen REEF to receive part or all of their proceeds and you can list your own auctions. Thanks to Carlton A. for recently supporting REEF this way!
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  • New Lionfish Documentary. Miami filmmaker Alicia Zaitsu has recently put together a short documentary on the lionfish in South Florida including the first capture of a lionfish in Biscayne National Park. The film is undergoing additional editing into both a shorter and longer version for distribution, but for now, the current version is available for public viewing on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYPcnQW_YZs
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  • Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook. The REEF Facebook Page gives you the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and see exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind.
  • Doubling Our Impact, and Doubling Your Donations

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    Your donation will help support REEF's important marine conservation programs, including the Grouper Moon Project.

    Earlier this month, on World Oceans Day, we kicked off REEF's Summer Fundraising Campaign with a goal of raising $60,000 by July 31. Thanks to the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, who has generously offered to match your donations, we are over one-third of the way to our goal with $10,345 donated and matched so far. To all of our members who have already donated, we extend our sincere gratitude. If you haven't yet had a chance, please contribute today. You can double your donation in the upcoming month by contributing online, https://www.REEF.org/contribute, through our secure web form. Or you can print the donation form and mail or fax your donation, or call our staff at REEF headquarters (305-852-0030).

    Your donation will help support REEF services, which are increasingly in high demand. As the lionfish invasion continues to grow, so does our research and response. Legislation to ensure long-term protections of Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations are set to expire in 2011. And after the devastation in the Gulf, REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Program data can be invaluable in evaluating the impact of the oil spill to fish populations. Twenty years of support from members like you has made it possible for REEF to build and maintain this valuable history of fish populations throughout our program regions. We could not do this vitally important work without you. We are doubling our efforts now, and we hope you will double your contribution this summer.

    REEF Data Document Declines in Yellow Stingray

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    The decline in yellow stingray sightings in the Florida Keys beteween 1994 and 2007. Source: Ward-Paige, et al. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 2010.

    World-wide declines in shark and ray populations have prompted the need for a better understanding of their patterns of distribution and abundance. While much of the focus has been on the larger species of sharks, little attention had been paid to the most frequently sighted elasmobranch species in the greater-Caribbean, the yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). Despite being relatively common and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, little was known about the status of this species. Unfortunately, it has been quietly declining. Dr. Christine Ward-Paige and her colleagues at Dalhousie University worked with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to examine the status of yellow stingray. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes. Click here to read the paper.

    The study used 83,940 surveys collected by REEF surveyors in the western Atlantic. In total, yellow stingrays were observed on 5,658 surveys (6.7% sighting frequency) with the highest occurrence in the regions surrounding Cuba. Overall, sighting frequency declined from 20.5% in 1994 to 4.7% in 2007. However, these trends were not consistent in all regions. The strongest decline occurred in the Florida Keys, the most sampled region, where trends were similar among all areas, habitats and depths. Possible explanations for these changes include habitat degradation, exploitation (this species is collected for medical research and the aquarium trade), and changes in trophic interactions. The results of the study suggest large-scale changes in yellow stingray abundance that have been unnoticed by the scientific community. This study also highlights the value of non-scientific divers for collecting data that can be used to understand population trends of otherwise poorly studied species.

    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.

    Watch an Online Screening of Alien Invaders Tomorrow Night - June 2nd

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    Changing Seas, an original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of Alien Invaders, the series’ latest episode focusing on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Alien Invaders will be screened live on the Changing Seas website (www.changingseas.tv/webcast) on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. EST. During the screening, dive enthusiasts will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program. REEF's Lad Akins and researcher Stephanie Green will be be online to answer questions live during the event.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Patricia Broom

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    Pat with surveying dive buddy, Barbara Anderson (r), on the Baja Mexico Field Survey in 2010.
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    Pat in Fiji.
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    Pat in Turks and Caicos.

    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 feature Patricia Broom (REEF member since 2004). Pat is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 277 surveys in three of REEF's regions, including some of the first in our newest region, the South Pacific. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:

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

    About ten years ago while reading a favorite dive magazine I noticed an announcement about an introductory fish identification trip sponsored by REEF and led by Paul Humann. The love of REEF was born!! I responded to the advertisement, encouraged my brother to join me and attended that Field Survey trip. We joined a group of equally dedicated divers eager as we to learn about fish and how to identify them. Paul was a great teacher, very patient and concerned that we not only learn about fish but care about them and the ocean we love.

    If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was a trip highlight?

    One of my most memorable surveying moments occurred that week on Paul's trip. On a night dive of a very old wreck with exposed wooden beams I saw my first queen parrotfish in their nighttime cocoons. Each parrot fish occupied a space between two beams framed by basket stars in full bloom. It was a magical sight. I try to take two or three REEF trips a year, they are a great way to learn more and dive with great people. In addition to the regular ID trips, I have really enjoyed the REEF Behavior Trips that are led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. It really completes the learning experience! It is a beautiful sight to watch damselfish guard their algae gardens from predation, observe cooperative hunting, or watch a three foot Midnight Parrotfish at a cleaning station with open mouth and flared gills.

    What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

    Prior to that introductory course, I had been diving the Caribbean for twenty plus years. I witnessed the decline in fish numbers and species as well as reef degradation and wondered how many more years I could dive before there was nothing to see! REEF offered me a reason to continue diving, now there was opportunity to give back and enjoy diving again.

    Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

    I have found great enjoyment in Cozumel at the REEF Field Station at Aqua Safari, led by Sheryl Shea. She is a gifted teacher determined to make advanced assessment divers of all of us! It just so happens a few of my favorite fish are in Cozumel, the Splendid Toadfish, Sargassum Triggerfish, and Cherubfish, to name a few.

    Upcoming Fishinars - Caribbean Wrasse, Pacific Sculpins, and Blennies!

    Fighting Blennies. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

    If you haven't had a chance to attend one of our Fishinars yet, you should! New sessions are always being added, so check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to see the current schedule and to register for one or more sessions. These popular online training sessions (webinars) 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. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. Upcoming sessions include:

    The Wrasse Class: The Top 12 Wrasse of the Greater Caribbean  - Need help with those rascally wrasse? Come to this class and get the ID tips you seek! Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan. Thursday, Jun 21st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

    Sculpins Under Scrutiny  - Sculpins have been called some pretty bad names through the years, because it's so difficult to tell them apart. Well, it's time to master the art of identifying the little buggers and Sculpin Master Guru, Dr. Greg Jensen, will be the one to help you along your journey to loving sculpins. Greg will cover some of the lesser-known and lookalike sculpins. Thursday, July 19th at 7pm PDT. REGISTER

    The Blennywatcher!- Oooh, this is gonna be a good one! Videographer and blenny expert Anna DeLoach will walk us through some of her favorite Blennies and how to tell them apart. Tuesday, July 31st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

    Upcoming Webinars Include California Fish & Inverts, Caribbean Damsels, and More!

    Not sure which Caribbean damselfish this is? Then attend the "Those Darn Damsels" Fishinar next month! Photo by Paul Humann.

    Our Webinar team is at it again! New Fishinars continue to be added, and upcoming sessions include a California Critters series, plus several on Caribbean fish families (including those pesky Damsels)! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online 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:

    California Fish ID Part One and Two - Nov 27, Nov 29

    Caribbean Hit Parade! Top 25 Fish - Dec 6

    Those Darn Damsels! Top 12 of the Greater Caribbean - Jan 17

    California Invertebrate ID Part One and Two - Feb 6, Feb 7

    Hamlets: To Be or Not to Be (Counted, that is) - Feb 12

    Triggers and Files: The ID Tools of the Trade - Mar 21

    Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carl Gwinn

    Carl posing with his pumpkin at the yearly pumpkin carving contest of the Paradise Dive club.
    Carl at his day job. day job, standing in front of the RadioAstron spacecraft in Russia, now in orbit, and going out to nearly the distance of the moon every 9 days.
    A xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish that Carl found in the Channel Islands!
    The resulting "Ocot-tattoo" after his encounter with a Giant Pacific Octopus.

    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 Carl Gwinn, a REEF surveyor in California. Carl joined REEF in 2001 and has conducted 328 surveys. He is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

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

    Not long after we started to dive in California, my wife and I saw an advertisement for a fish ID seminar and survey trip out of Santa Barbara. We couldn’t make the trip, but we attended the seminar, learned quite a bit about fish, and started doing surveys. As we dived more, we became more engaged and more serious about it. We went on some trips and filled out quite a few surveys. Lately, I’ve had to slack off, because of work responsibilities, but I’m hoping to do more in the future.

    What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

    Being a citizen scientist! I enjoy doing the dive, but it’s also making a contribution to human knowledge. So, the experiences of the dive add a little something to human knowledge, rather than being merely for my own entertainment. I also think REEF does great work in getting people to experience, appreciate, and learn about the ocean.

    If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

    Dive for science! Identify and count fish while enjoying your dive.

    In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

    Of course the data are important. But I think that the education aspect is also really important. People appreciate more what they understand. Counting fish can help them to realize how complicated and interconnected the ocean is. It’s also vulnerable, but has tremendous regenerative capacity. That’s something that surveyors can experience directly, after gaining a bit of knowledge.

    Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

    My favorite place to dive is probably Refugio State Beach, not far from my house. I’ve done over 200 dives there. I like it because it’s easy to get in and out, and is relatively well sheltered from the swell. Once you get in it has a wide variety of different habitats in a small area. You can really see how the populations of fish and invertebrates change, both with the seasons and in ways that never repeat. The beach there tends to get overcrowded, but usually once you get offshore it is pretty empty.

    What is the most fascinating fish (or invertebrate) encounter you’ve experienced?

    Certainly my most memorable encounter was being attacked by a Giant Pacific Octopus. He tore off my mask and my regulator, and tried to yank off my hood. I was diving in the Olympic Marine Sanctuary in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on a REEF survey trip. I slammed my regulator back in, and surfaced from 50 feet depth with the octopus on my head. Its suckers left hickeys all over my face, which lasted about 10 days! The photo has become widely circulated on the internet! Although my dive buddy had a camera, he was enjoying a crevice full of sculpins too much to notice the encounter: my only regret is that he didn’t get a series of photos.

    What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

    Probably my favorite kind of fish is the rockfish. There are lots of different species, and sometimes they seem to blend into one another, so ID can be a challenge. They exhibit some interesting types of behavior, sometimes species-specific. I love to see the schools of juvenile and smaller rockfish: they have bright, clear markings and seem curious. They change from year to year, as the different species have more or less success in recruitment. And, they are hope for the future.

    Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

    Jump in. I remember taking a boat trip to the Naples Seamount and Platform Holly. The visibility started at 5 feet and got worse with each dive, and the surge was over 3 feet at depth. On the way back to the harbor we stopped at the Goleta sewer pipeline, which runs from shore to a few of miles out to sea, and has some good fish in the rocks covering the pipeline. I decided to skip the dive, I’d had enough. My nap was interrupted by a lot of shouting up on deck. A gray whale had swum up to a few of the divers, on the bottom, and inspected them with its enormous eye. I wish I’d seen that! So, jump in.

    What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?

    I remember spotting an unusual rockfish on a dive off Santa Cruz Island: later identified as a xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish (or black-and-yellow rockfish) south of Santa Rosa Island. It was nearly completely yellow. It was probably the most unusual fish I have seen: essentially a mutant. I managed to get a photo. What haven’t I seen yet? I haven’t yet managed to spot many of the local fish, some common: an embarrassing lapse! I’d like to see more and different kinds of sharks, spot some turtles (they show up around here occasionally), watch a few different kinds of whales and dolphins swim by underwater. I would love to see a white abalone underwater: they are extremely rare.

    Please Remember REEF In Your Year-End Giving

    Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.
    REEF Supporters who contribute $250 or more during the winter campaign will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered photo of a Sailfin Blenny.

    As we celebrate this holiday season, I am happy to report that REEF is also celebrating another successful year of protections for ocean habitats and the critters that live in them!

    Please take a moment to make sure REEF continues this critical work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

    With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

    • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
    • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
    • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
    • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
    • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

    Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

    From all of us at REEF, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub