REEF Launches Long Awaited South Pacific Survey Program!

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REEF's newest region -- the South Pacific!
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One of REEF's newest surveyors and partners in American Samoa, Janet Faafoi (left), with long-time REEF volunteers in Hawaii, Patricia Richardson and Donna Brown.
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Finding Leslie's Cardinalfish (Ostorhinchus leslie) was one of the fish highlights of the week. Past REEF staff member, Leslie Whaylen Clift, discovered this new species while working in American Samoa. Photo by Donna Brown.
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The majestic Emperor Angelfish is found throughout the South Pacific region. Photo by Paul Humann.

Last month, the launch of our 6th REEF survey region was a big success due to the combined efforts of our newest partners in American Samoa, and numerous volunteers and partners in the scientific community. Thanks to support from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and other donors, we were able to bring fish ID training workshops and surveying opportunities to over two dozen local participants on the main island of Tutuila. The launch included distributing locally oriented underwater fish ID cards, underwater paper, and a number of Tropical Pacific Fish ID books to an enthusiastic group of local residents. Through meetings and trainings with staff at the Fagatelle Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, the National Park Service, the Coral Reef Advisory Group, local residents and business owners, we established a network of snorkelers and divers who will continue surveying at sites such as Alofau, Faga`alu, and Tisa’s Barefoot Bar at Alega Beach.

At over 1,500 known reef fish species, the fish diversity of South Pacific coral reefs is higher than in the Caribbean. Our survey team definitely had our work cut out for us, but with the help of cameras, video, and the REEF training materials, we managed to positively identify over 200 species in a total of 60 surveys throughout the week. A few of the highlights included charismatic emperor angelfish (including a juvenile), saddled butterflyfish, mimic surgeonfish, longnose filefish, and Leslie’s cardinalfish - named after former REEF employee Leslie Whaylen Clift, who first discovered it in 2004 while living in American Samoa.

Originally scheduled for last fall, this launch was delayed by the devastating tsunami that hit American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga in September 2009, and evidence of the disaster was apparent with numerous toppled plate and branching corals at some of the sites. REEF surveys will provide important information about fish populations as the local reefs rebuild over the coming years.

In the coming months, REEF will continue to grow the Samoa program with the help of local coordinators as our pilot region in the South Pacific, and has developed a curriculum that will be available soon on our website. Our next step in expanding into this vast region will be our first survey trip to the South Pacific in May 2011 to Fiji, where surveyors and will use a new set of survey materials designed for broad use throughout the South Pacific region. Click here for more information about this exciting field survey into our newest region, which will be led by Paul Humann.

REEF’s Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, along with REEF Board of Trustee member Heather George, and longtime REEF science advisor, Dr. Brice Semmens, led the expedition. A big thank you to frequent Hawaii surveyors Donna and George Brown, and Pat Richardson, who also participated in this expedition. Thank you also to New World Publications, Leslie Whaylen Clift, Neil Ericcson, Dr. Jack Randall, and Doug Fenner, whose contributions to the development of these new materials has been invaluable. And we greatly appreciate the support of the many photographers who generously donated the use of their underwater images for use in our training materials: Donna Brown, Paul Brown, Joyce Burek, Bob Fenner, John Hoover, Paul Humann, Josh Jensen, Ed Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Keoki Stedner, and Marty Snyderman.

If you would like to make a contribution specifically to support the South Pacific regional expansion, you can donate online here, or mail your donation to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Include “South Pacific Expansion” with your donation information.

Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, February 2011

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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 collaborator from the Global Underwater Explorers Project Baseline initiative is using REEF data to document environmental conditions in the Florida Keys.

- NOAA scientists requested data to help develop biogeographic assessment products for the Florida Reef Tract from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Jim Pendergrass

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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 Jim Pendergrass (REEF member since 2008). To date, Jim has conducted 113 surveys along the west coast from California to British Columbia, and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Jim had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? Seven years ago my wife Chris and I took a Habitat Diver class from Eugene Skin Divers Supply and began volunteer diving at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. We became interested in fish/invert ID and the DSO, Vallorie Hodges, told us about REEF. It was a perfect fit for us!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? We’ve been on several REEF Advanced Assessment Team projects, and I think the most memorable was the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary out of Neah Bay, WA. The habitat was unique, the critter diversity was astounding, and the folks on the trip were great. We learned a lot!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? We’re always interested to see what we’ll find this dive and compare it to our previous dives and those other divers have logged. Every dive is guaranteed to be a little different than the last one. We enjoy sharing our experiences with others and encouraging them to become involved. That’s why we started teaching the classes and holding REEF dives for our dive club. Oregon hasn’t had that many surveys completed yet, and our goal is to change that!

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Where is your favorite place to dive and why? We average about 100 dives/year in Oregon, Washington and BC, and travel to CA and the tropics when we can. We really like cold water diving. Our ‘home’ dive sites are at the mouth of Yaquina Bay in Newport and at the north Jetty of the Siuslaw – but our favorite place to dive is Browning Pass off the north coast of Vancouver Island. The diving there is really spectacular, and the topside scenery can’t be beat.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? Our local shop and mother REEF field station is Eugene Skin Divers Supply. We can’t say enough good things about Mike, Diana, John and the rest of the staff. They’re knowledgeable, friendly and committed to making every dive experience a rewarding one. They treat everyone like part of the family. We couldn’t do this without them!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? I think the biggest thing is to go slow – or you miss the little things. And sometimes they are the coolest of all! Take pictures if you can for future reference and identification, and realize that learning fish and inverts is a constant process. One at a time. After hundreds of dives we’re still learning!

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Paul and Marta Bonatz

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 Paul and Marta Bonatz. Marta joined REEF in 1998 and she drew Paul in 2005. They have become active surveyors, and each has conducted 240 surveys. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Our favorite part of being REEF members is working with a network of other “citizen scientists” to make a difference. Interacting with like-minded divers in an organization that is focused on saving the marine environment is fulfilling. It’s also gratifying to see the change in newly recruited “fish geeks” as they learn more about the underwater world.

If you have been on a REEF field survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

We’ve been on two REEF field survey trips and plan to do more! The first, which hooked us on fish watching, was to Culebra, Puerto Rico. The highlight was the abundant staghorn coral. Unfortunately, it was totally devoid of adult fish. Our second trip was a lionfish control study in Belize. Spending a week focused on spotting and capturing 506 lionfish in the Belize Atolls with Peter Hughes and Lad Akins was exhilarating. We learned about the hazard this invasive species poses to the indigenous Caribbean fish population, and we now work to educate others about this urgent problem.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

Avid divers are frequently asked to name their favorite vacation destination. When we are asked this question our honest response is “Wherever we are currently diving”. REEF surveying teaches you to appreciate interesting finds on every dive. We sometimes spend an entire dive in a few square yards watching small critters in their habitat. Although every location is unique, the place we visit most frequently is Little Cayman. The sheerness of Bloody Bay wall, the healthy marine environment, and the stunning Nassau Grouper make for an incomparable mixture.

What is the most fascinating marine encounter you’ve experienced?

We have to include two favorite underwater encounters – we couldn’t agree on just one! The first was on a Manta Ray research trip to the Maldives. At a break in the action while monitoring Mantas on 5 x 1 hour shifts at North Male Atoll, we discovered an octopus positioned on a rock quietly observing us from the distance of a few feet. He welcomed us back every shift! The second was an encounter with a dolphin named “Spot" on Cayman Brac. Spot arrived on Cayman Brac after Hurricane Mitch, and he swam and played with divers on many of the Brac dive sites. Spot disappeared one day and everyone feared the worst. Two years later while diving in Cayman Brac we noticed a pod of dolphins near the boat. Spot edged up to the boat to show off his new family. He wouldn’t let us interact with him anymore, but he wanted everyone to know he was healthy and happy in his new life. It was an electric moment.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Hornby Island Diving

Tiger Rockfish, a great find for a PacNW surveyor. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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

This month we feature Hornby Island Diving in British Columbia, a REEF Field Station since 2010. Owners Rob and Amanda Zielinski have always been conservation-minded and involved in local projects, so when they heard about REEF several years ago through their repeat customers (who were REEF surveyors) and through discussions with REEF staff, it was an easy choice to become a REEF Field Station. Although divers have been flocking to this area for years, not many surveys had been conducted in the area, so they felt this would be a good way to get the word out about REEF and to encourage divers in that direction. Being a dive charter and lodge, they have the facilities and space for classes. They just hosted twelve enthusiastic surveyors for 5 days for a REEF Field Survey complete with nightly seminars in their meeting area. Amanda is very knowledgeable about marine life and has conducted REEF surveys herself, so she is a good one to ask any questions you might have if you’re just getting started. The area boasts some big attractions for REEF surveyors, including frequent sightings of Tiger Rockfish and Yelloweye Rockfish, both adult and juvenile.

Amanda has some great ideas up her sleeve for getting divers involved in conducting surveys while at Hornby Island Diving, whether for just a weekend or for a week. She says, “If everyone who is a REEF surveyor comes and does one survey, and everyone who’s not, joins REEF and gets started, think of the possibilities.” She’s also been collaborating with another REEF Field Station in the area (The Edge Diving Centre in North Vancouver, BC) to provide more in-depth fish and invertebrate ID training.

New REEF Program for South Atlantic States - North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia

SAS Launch attendees dove on the artificial reef, the Indra, with Discovery Diving.
Oyster Toadfish, a fun find on the Indra Wreck off North Carolina. Photo by Janna Nichols.
Two days of workshops were held at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll to kick off the new SAS region.

After several years of planning and collaborating with local marine scientists and divers, REEF has expanded the Volunteer Fish Survey Project into another region: the South Atlantic States (SAS). Recreational and scientific divers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia now have survey materials specific to the local ecosystem, including waterproof color ID cards, waterproof survey paper, teaching curriculum, data entry, and online data summaries. Like all of REEF's regions, all species of fish are reported, but in addition the SAS program also monitors fifty-one species of invertebrates and algae that are important indicator species.

Divers have been able to conduct REEF surveys in coastal waters off these three states since the early 1990s when REEF surveying began, but divers had to use survey materials and data entry tools designed for the entire Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean). Large differences in species between the TWA and SAS meant the survey materials were less than ideal for divers in this region.

To launch the new region, REEF and our partners at NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) led two days of training workshops and survey dives during "Bringing Shipwrecks to Life", a NOAA program for divers to appreciate shipwrecks as historical treasures loaded with divers and plentiful biological treasures. Nearly 70 people attended the workshops and completed 40 survey dives over the weekend in early September. Many workshop attendees passed their REEF Level 2 exam.

REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, reported many people learned to really see underwater. “The divers had the usual buzz and excitement that you often hear on a boat full of REEF divers. One diver said, ‘I have dove on that wreck (the Indra) so many times before but I had never noticed that it was covered in coral.’ It's literally covered in Ivory Coral, Occulina spp, one of the invertebrates that we now monitor in the SAS region.

If you live or dive in the SAS region, please contact us to find out more about how you can get involved in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. And please encourage your local dive clubs, dive shop, or education center to teach the new fish and invertebrate curricula.

The Faces of REEF: Randall Tyle

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 Randall Tyle. Randall has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 539 surveys (many in his home state of Oregon). He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and has participated in several of REEF's west coast special projects. Here's what Randy had to say about REEF:

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

At one of my very First Eugene Dive Club meetings, Janna Nichols (REEF Outreach Coordinator) did an "Introduction to REEF" presentation. From that point forward, I have been doing surveys on almost every dive!

Have you been on any REEF Trips?

I have participated in two of the AAT projects to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, in 2011 and 2012. These trips, in addition to surveys I do in the Channel Islands, have been some of my most rewarding dive adventures.

What's your favorite thing about conducting REEF surveys?

I am inspired by the possibility of spotting something unknown, rare or even just something I personally have not seen before. In addition to keeping track of all the cool marine life you have seen on your dives, the REEF website allows you to go back and look at your dive history.

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

During my most recent trip to the Channel Islands NMS, I witnessed a flying formation of over 20 Bat Rays. From my first encounter with a California Giant Sea Bass to past encounters with the tiny Spiny Lumpsucker, I would have to say, I enjoy all of my fish encounters. I am especially fond of our resident (Pacific Northwest) Giant Pacific Octo’s and Wolf Eels.

Putting It To Work: New Publication from the Grouper Moon Project

Approximately 5,000 Nassau Grouper gather, temporarily, on the west end of Little Cayman each winter. Photo by Paul Humann.

A new scientific paper that features research from REEF's Grouper Moon Project, "Hot Moments in Spawning Aggregations", was recently published in the journal, Coral Reefs. The study looked at the impact of a Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation in creating biogeochemical "hot moments", which occur when a temporary increase in one or more limiting nutrients results in elevated rates of biogeochemical reactions. In this case, the limited nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. And the temporary increase is from the large amount of grouper excrement that results when approximately 5,000 Nassau Grouper gather in a small area for 10 days during the spawning season, as happens around winter full moons on Little Cayman. The authors estimated the rate of nutrients supplied by the Nassau Grouper at the Little Cayman aggregation site, and found that the temporary surge in the nutrient supply rate was larger than nearly all other published sources of nutrients on coral reefs, an ecosystem that is typically a food and nutrient desert. Beyond the loss of this iconic species in the Caribbean, the significant decline in Nassau Grouper and their spawning aggregations over the last few decades has likely had large consequences on the productivity of the reefs that historically hosted spawning aggregations. To read the full paper, click here. And to see all of the scientific papers that have included REEF's data and programs, visit our Publications page.

Review Us On GreatNonprofits.org

Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the GreatNonprofits.org website at: http://gr8np.org/go/yKD

Thanks to such great feedback by our members in 2014, REEF achieved "Top-Rated" status on the GreatNonprofits webpage. We need at least ten new reviews in 2015 to maintain this honored status. Please help us.

Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member: "I have been contributing to REEF's database of dive surveys for over 5 years now and I really like the amount of support they provide to divers and snorkelers at any level. Their web site is a wealth of information, not only their database but also quizzes for all different regions. Their free webinars aka "Fishinars" are always fun and entertaining to be experienced from the comfort of your home. To top if all off, they have friendly staff to answer any kind of questions you may have from your dive experiences. I learned so much regarding the critters I see in the ocean and it keeps it interesting and fresh. REEF offers a lot for FREE but actually they are priceless." Thanks Gerald!

Great Annual Fish Count Summary (GAFC)

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New England Aquarium Dive Club GAFC event in Gloucester, MA
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GAFC 2007 - Dive Friends at Yellow Submarine, Bonaire

Thanks to everyone who participated in a GAFC event this summer! This July, over twenty-three events were hosted throughout REEF's survey regions. We are still receiving data from these events and have processed a large amount already!

Since REEF's GAFC's inception in California in the early 90's, it has continued to grow and expand. More people are become involved in REEF by making a meaningful contribution to marine conservation by conducting REEF Fish Surveys. Previous events have generated over 2,000 surveys during the month of July. This year, the New England Aquarium Dive Club hosted an event in Gloucester, MA, with 103 surveyors! 

GAFC is REEF's biggest annual signature event which mobilizes our wonderful partners, volunteers, and dive shops throughout much of our survey regions.  All of whom coordinate their own local events which include offering free REEF Fish ID courses, organizing survey dives/snorkels, and other fun events tied into the theme of counting fish. The GAFC draws local, national (US), and international media attention each year. It reengages veteran REEF volunteers and also serves as a terrific mechanism to expose new ones to what REEF is all about. Though the GAFC takes place each July, it highlights nothing more than what we do year-round - engaging individuals to become active stewards of the marine environment. Volunteers learn by taking REEF Fish ID courses and conducting fish surveys as part of The Fish Survey Project. 

Grant Gove, who attended the GAFC event hosted by the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop in Bonaire, Netherlands Atillies, sent REEF wonderful DVD's of their successful event for our public library! If you hosted an event this year, or participated in one, we encourage you to either mail a DVD to REEF HQ, Post Office Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037 or email your pictures to intern@reef.org. 

Thank you to everyone who made GAFC successful this year and look forward to next years 17th annual GAFC event!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub