REEF Joins Leading Volunteer Organizations to Develop Citizen Science Toolkit

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Leda Cunningham test drives an online bird ID portal with other conference participants.
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REEF volunteer (and family member) Brice Semmens takes in the REEF display during the poster session.

In late June, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) hosted the first ever Citizen Science Toolkit Conference in Ithaca, New York. Widely known for projects like FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the CLO is a pioneer in bringing people closer to nature through cooperative research, cutting edge technology and innovative science programs across many natural science fields. Leda Cunningham and Dr. Christy Semmens represented REEF at the 3-day meeting, where fifty leaders of citizen science organizations around the world – from worm watchers to bird counters to star gazers – came together to build a toolkit for citizen science practitioners and others seeking to engage volunteers in meaningful science activities.

There is some debate about what citizen science is, not to mention what it does. Many participants noted that “volunteer monitoring” more accurately captures the nature of their programs (much like the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project) while others thought that volunteers fill more of a role than just data collectors and should be involved in all parts of the scientific process, beginning with posing the research question. The group periodically split into five focus groups and reconvened at the end to present a model based on each group’s focus area: Education, Evaluation and Impact, Community Building, Technology and Cyberinfrastructure, and Research and Monitoring. The resulting Toolkit will include resources, recommendations, and case studies from each of these areas, as well as a key to existing citizen science programs. Christy participated in a panel on the impacts of citizen science and presented examples of how REEF data are used by resource agencies and scientists. She presented details of how REEF volunteers helped identify a hotspot of non-native fishes along the south Florida coast and the resulting management actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the important role that REEF data can play as a fisheries-independent source of data for the development of stock assessments and fisheries management plans, the discovery of new species by several REEF members, and the value of using our most experienced divers (the Advanced Assessment Team) to conduct annual monitoring of selected sites inside and around no-take marine reserves.

REEF was proud to contribute its fourteen years of experience building the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the group discussion. Many citizen science organizations deal with the same issues of volunteer recruitment, recognition and retention, engaging the “real” science community, standardizing data collection methods and measuring success. REEF has addressed many of these issues with innovative strategies that may be adopted by other citizen science initiatives: engaging the private retail sector (dive shops) to recruit volunteers within a target audience (scuba divers and snorkelers), developing strong partnerships with science and resource management agencies (such as university-based researchers and the National Marine Sanctuary Program), 5-level expertise testing (in fish identification) to assist with quality control, a published standardized data collection method and the Advanced Assessment Team as an incentive for volunteers to become more proficient surveyors and a measuring stick for training programs.

For more information on the conference or Citizen Science Central, the CLO’s initiative to provide information for practitioners and volunteers, click here. Look for the Citizen Science Toolkit, a robust and practical framework for citizen science program development, implementation, and evaluation, in the fall 2007.

REEF Parts - Things to Know (10/07)

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

  • 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!
  • Going on a trip? Order Scan forms, underwater survey paper, books, and other items at the REEF online store

4 Spots Now Available on Turks and Caicos Field Survey

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REEF Live-aboards provide a great way to become expert surveyors!
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Orange Moray, one of many cryptic species off T & C, Photo by Todd Fulks

Four spots recently opened on our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II, April 19-26, 2008.  This is a wonderful opportunity for new and experienced REEF surveyors to spend a week diving in one of the jewels of the Caribbean. You can take advantage of our live-aboard accomodations and make up to 5 dives per day at all the best sites these islands have to offer. 

There are quite a few expert surveyors on this trip, so if you're a beginning surveyor, you'll have plenty of mentorship and you could even work toward becoming an expert by the end of the week.  For our experts, there are many cryptic species to challenge us on our surveys. We will have a number of REEF Fish ID classes and time to catch participants up on the many exciting upcoming REEF projects worldwide for 2008.

To reserve your spot - please call Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030, ext. 3 or Tami Gardner at Travel for You, 1-888-363-3345,  For more information about the trip, please visit our Field Survey page atField Survey page   Hope you can join us!

REEF Lionfish Partnership to Lead Interagency Workshop

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The rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish throughout the eastern US and Bahamas is prompting a technical workshop. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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REEF, in partnership with USGS and NOAA, is hosting a technical workshop on Non-native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida in the Florida Keys June 18 and 19.

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.

REEF News Tidbits for September

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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.

Belize Lionfish Project - Last few remaining spots

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Lionfish are rapidly invading Belize and other Central American countries. Help do something about the problem on a special benefit trip aboard the Sun Dancer. Photo by Rich Carey.

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 (lad@reef.org, 305-852-0030).

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sevengill Shark Sightings on the Rise in Southern California

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The majestic broadnose sevengill shark. Photo by Scott McGee - underpressurephoto.com

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).

Second Annual Bahamas Lionfish Derby Brings in 941 Lionfish

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Zane Carney, from Team Meander, captured the largest lionfish of the day - a whopping 43.4cm in length (approx. 19 in) and weighing about 4 pounds!
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Preparing the lionfish for the cookout.
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Derby First Place Team, White Roach.

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 -

  • Most Lionfish: 1st Place: White Roach 2nd Place: Goofin’ Off 3rd Place: Cajun Bahamas
  • Largest Lionfish: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place: Meander
  • Smallest Lionfish: 1st and 2nd Place: Goofin’ Off 3rd Place: All Play
  • Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Horizon Divers

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

    This month we feature Horizon Divers in Key Largo, FL. Just down the street from REEF Headquarters, they have been a long-time supporter of REEF’s efforts. One of their hallmark efforts is supporting the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program by allowing REEF Interns to come out on the boat for free and conduct fish surveys. Horizon dive instructor, Mike Ryan, says, “It’s a lot of fun having them out on the boat regularly and getting to know them. When other divers see their slates and see them tallying fish underwater, they become curious and often ask the interns what they are doing and why count fish. The interns are great because they have the ability to inspire divers to learn fish names and start surveying which, in turn, brings us more business!” Mike also gets into REEF surveying himself. When asked about his best lifetime sightings, he quickly said they were a Manta Ray at one of their popular dive sites and a resident Longlure Frogfish that was regularly surveyed on the Speigel Grove for nearly a two-year timespan.

    Horizon Divers regularly teaches fish identification specialty courses and always encourages their students to become REEF surveyors. The shop is also very active in REEF’s Lionfish Control Program in the Keys. Most of their staff have been through REEF’s Lionfish Collection and Handling Workshop and they hold current permits to collect lionfish in the no-take Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs). The dive shop also serves as a Lionfish Collection Bank, collecting, labeling, and storing collected lionfish until they pass them to REEF for research purposes. Mike recently developed a “Lionfish Safari” PADI specialty course. Mike says, “Although lionfish are an ecological nightmare, we are trying to make the best of it by engaging divers in lionfish control efforts and drumming up business at the same time.”

    REEF and Florida Keys Sanctuary to Host Second Annual Lionfish Derby Series

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    Divers will return to Florida Keys waters next month on a mission: net thousands of dollars in cash and prizes while protecting the environment from invasive lionfish. REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are hosting the second annual lionfish derby series starting May 14, in Long Key, Fla. In 2010, the inaugural series of lionfish derbies removed 664 of the Pacific invaders from sanctuary waters. “Anyone who appreciates the diversity of the Keys coral reef should be concerned about these invasive fish,” said Sean Morton, Sanctuary Superintendent. “Divers have been actively engaged in lionfish removal in the Keys since 2009 and these tournaments are a way to reward them for their dedication to the reef.” Researchers will collect samples from lionfish caught at the derbies to learn more about lionfish genetics, growth, and impacts to native marine life. Each tournament also includes a detailed awareness and training briefing and lionfish tasting. In addition to the derby on May 14, two other events will be held later this year -- August 20 at Coconuts Restaurant in Key Largo and November 5 at Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West. To find out more about the Derby Series, visit the Derby Webpage.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub