Thank You To Our Winter Fundraiser Donors

Last chance to get your 2012 limited edition print. Donate $250 or more before the end of the month.

On behalf of the REEF Staff and Trustees, I want to thank all the donors from our Winter Fundraising campaign who helped us reach our target goal. With your help, we can continue REEF's core conservation programs, such as fighting the Lionfish invasion in the Caribbean, protecting Grouper spawning aggregations, collecting data through our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, and providing free online "Fishinars" to the general public and fish experts worldwide.

If you haven't given already, there are a few days left in our campaign to receive my limited, signed print of a Grouper Moon aggregation for contributions of $250 and over. In addition to donating online, you can also call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Thank you again for your support!

Offline Data Entry Program - The Next Generation of REEF Survey Technology

Earlier this summer, we proudly released the next generation of REEF survey technology, the REEF Data Entry Program. When surveying began in 1993, divers and snorkelers wrote out each sighted fish species on a slate and submitted the surveys to the database using paper scantron forms. In 1994, we developed pre-printed underwater survey paper to make surveying easier, and in 2005 we said goodbye to bubble-filling and premiered online data entry using the Internet. The time had come to innovate yet again.

With our members in mind, we looked to develop a data entry tool that would meet the varied needs of our surveyors, including those who are traveling or live in areas with limited Internet access. The REEF Survey Data Entry Program allows our volunteers to enter REEF surveys without an Internet connection. When they have access to the web, the entered surveys are uploaded to the REEF online entry portal. Users then logon to the portal, complete error checking, and submit the surveys to REEF. The program operates on both Mac and PC computers, and is available for all of REEF’s survey regions. Our Beta-testers and early users agree it’s a great program, and many of them prefer the offline data entry program over online data entry.

The program is free to download at: www.REEF.org/dataentryprogram. Give it a try next time you survey! We hope you enjoy the program as much as we do. Feel free to send feedback to data@REEF.org. REEF extends a huge thank you to programmer, Chris MacGregor, for his work on this project, as well as REEF members who encouraged us to pursue this option and made contributions to support its development.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Reef Biodiversity Using REEF Data

REEF surveyors are great at recording diversity! There are at least 5 species of fish in this picture. Photo by Nathan Brown.

Data generated by the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project provide an unparalleled opportunity to examine patterns in reef fish diversity (the number and types of species) at the scales of reefs, regions, and even an entire ocean basin. Authors of one recent scientific study took advantage of the over 25,000 Expert REEF surveys conducted at 80 sites from 6 Caribbean ecoregions over 17 years. The authors of the paper, which was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, used the REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity across many spatial scales (from individual sites to ecoregions). They also incorporated factors such as fisheries impacts and how connected different regions are to each other through ocean currents. They compared levels of different types of diversity-- alpha diversity (α-diversity) that explains local diversity (the number of species found in a given place), and beta diversity (β-diversity) that explains the difference in diversity among sites. Their results showed that fish assemblages are more homogenous than expected, particularly at the ecoregion scale. Within each ecoregion, diversity was mainly attributed to alpha diversity, indicating that fishes within each ecoregion are a subsample of the same species pool. Studies like this one that examine regional patterns of diversity in coral reef systems are important because of declining biodiversity in many areas. The paper's citation is: Francisco-Ramos V, Arias-González JE . 2013. Additive Partitioning of Coral Reef Fish Diversity Across Hierarchical Spatial Scales Throughout the Caribbean. PLoS ONE. 8(10): e78761. To read the full paper, or any of the other 50+ scientific papers that have included REEF data and programs, visit the REEF Publications page.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, July 2014

Rainbow Parrotfish - one of the important grazers on Caribbean reefs. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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:

- Scientists from NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources are using REEF data to evaluate populations of seabass and grouper in the Caribbean.

- A scientist from the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs is using REEF data on fishes and invertebrates to evaluate MPAs in the Puget Sound.

- A professor from California State San Luis Obispo is using REEF data to evaluate populations of three large parrotfish species in the Caribbean (Blue, Midnight, Rainbow).

The Faces of REEF: Joyce Schulke

Joyce diving with a turtle.
Purple Reeffish, a species typically found on deep reefs, can sometimes surprise us. Photo by Carol Cox.
Joyce surveying in Cozumel.

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 Joyce Schulke, one of REEF's earliest members. She has been a REEF member since 1996. An active surveyor who lives in Florida, Joyce has conducted almost 900 surveys to date and has been a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropcial Western Atlantic region since it's beginnings. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

In 1989 I snorkeled in Cancun. Diving lessons followed and the underwater world was wide open. Being a professional photographer, it was natural for me to learn underwater photography as well. Identifying those fish led me to the Humann and DeLoach book, Reef Fish Identification. It talked about REEF and so I followed through and became a fish surveyor in 1996. In 1999 I qualified as a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team. Being a surveyor inspired me to look harder and enjoy each dive more.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

Suddenly, even common fish are important to find and record. It is exciting to be part a larger goal and I have gotten a good idea of distribution of species, habitat, behavior, and changes to specific areas over the years. There is always a surprise. After diving to 130 feet to see my first Purple Reeffish in the southern Caribbean, I found one at 13 feet in Marathon Key. Recently, seeing the Longnose Batfish far from its normal habitat in 13 feet of water at Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, Florida, is another great example of the treasures awaiting those who really search.

I have specialized in the TWA and have done all of my diving there. I get enthusiastic when talking fish. I have currently seen and identified 519 species of TWA fish. My husband, Tom, and I used to divide the cost of a dive trip by the number of new species we found. You can imagine how expensive some of those species have become!

Where is your favorite place to dive?

Without hesitation, St. Vincent has added most of my unusual finds, with dozens of new species added on each trip. One trip produced 18 species of eels alone. The diversity of types of diving spots and willingness of Dive St. Vincent to take us to the odd spots makes this a favorite. However, now that I live in Florida, the lure of Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, has added a few more dozen new species in the last two years.

What fish am I looking for now?

If I haven’t seen it yet, I want it! Whether it’s a Spanish Sardine or a Longnose Batfish, I’m elated. Of course, when I see one that’s never been on a REEF survey before, I grin while emailing REEF for a new fish code.

What do you say to others about joining REEF?

I cannot encourage others enough. Being a REEF surveyor is a great contribution to ocean research and preservation. The real bonus, however, is how it adds a whole new purpose and enjoyment to your personal diving adventures.

The Faces of REEF: Peyton Williams

Peyton doing a buddy check with his favorite dive buddy, grandson, Andrew.
The stunning male Bird Wrasse. Photo by David Andrew.

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 Peyton Williams, a REEF member since 2012. An active member based in Hawaii, Peyton teaches SCUBA and passes on the fun of doing REEF surveys to others. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I had been diving for about 30 years when I decided to become an instructor. With my increase in diving on trips, I grew bored with blowing bubbles, and decided it was time to learn more of the ecology of the dive sites (mostly in the Caribbean) I visited. My mentor was Marty Rayman, who had worked as a volunteer at the National Aquarium. Marty offered an outstanding Fish ID course that was based on the REEF program. I have been teaching Fish ID for both the TWA and Hawaii ever since using the REEF program, requiring my students to perform at least the two survey dives to become a Level 2 surveyor. Unfortunately, as an instructor, I do not get to do as many surveys as I would like, but I do get to point out many interesting critters to students and others as we dive that I would not have learned as easily without the REEF programs.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Being able to learn more about the ecology of areas I am diving in. I am a regular with the Fishinars, even for regions I do not survey in regularly. It also gives purpose to my observing fish by completing the surveys and entering them into the database.

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

While taking a Venturing scout on her 4th open water dive while on a live-aboard in Bimini, I saw a large hammerhead come up on our left. I decided not to tell her, but when the hammerhead passed us and curved about 20 feet in front, I changed my mind and pointed him out. Her excitement was palpable. And she had no fear. When we returned to the boat she yelled, “I saw a hammerhead!” My wife, helping at the ladder, said, “You saw what! He never takes me where I see the big fish.” Oh, well.

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

I always try to carry at least a small camera when doing surveys. On a recent trip to St. Lucia where I was teaching fish ID, I saw several fish that I had not known which I photographed and identified at leisure and added to my surveys.

What is your favorite fish?

In Hawaii, it is the Bird Wrasse. It is a very interesting fish. My favorite invertebrate (other than the blue crab that I love to eat) is the banded shrimp. They are fun to play with.

REEF Lionfish Study Trips

Lionfish Trip co-leaders, Peter Hughes and Lad Akins.
Lionfish Field Survey Team in Curacao

REEF’s 2016 REEF Trips schedule is well underway! Two trips have already happened (Dominica and Barbados), and a group of eager fishwatchers is heading to the Philippines in a few days for our inaugural Field Survey to the Indo-Pacific. Be sure to check out the Trips schedule at www.REEF.org/trips, if you haven’t already. In addition to the traditional fish identification and surveying trips, we also host several Lionfish Study Trips each year. There are still a few spaces left on lionfish trips to Honduras in May and Curacao in August, and we are looking for team members. These important projects provide valuable data, and result in the removal of hundreds of the invading fish during the week.

During the week-long projects, either liveaboard or land based, team members are presented with training and opportunities to remove lionfish through spearing or hand netting. All collected lionfish are measured and some dissected on site to get valuable biological and impact information and some fish are prepared for team and public tastings to help promote the market for lionfish as a food fish. Team members can get fully immersed in as much of the collecting and research activities as they would like. Divers not wanting to take part in removals, still provide valuable sighting information and conduct REEF fish surveys to augment the long-term data used to look at ecological changes.

One example of Lionfish Study Trip data includes a series of annual projects we held in Belize between 2009 and 2012 that documented the progression of the invasion. From zero fish seen or collected during the first year of the project, to over 500 fish removed in a single week during year three, divers were able to document the incredible explosion in numbers but also dramatic increases in sizes. Average size of lionfish collected in 2010 was 194mm, exploding to 270mm in 2012. Another example was from our lionfish recent trip to Dominica in February. This was our second lionfish trip there. In 2012, our team collected 45 lionfish. This year, in the same locations, the team collected 566. Click here to see other examples of findings from Lionfish Study Trips.

And keep an eye on your inbox because we will be sending out the full 2017 REEF Trips schedule next week!

REEF Fest 2016 is Coming Up

A group photo during the Sunset Social Hour during REEF Fest in 2014.

REEF Fest 2016 in Key Largo, Florida, is just one month away, Thursday, September 29 – Sunday, October 2. Events include ocean-themed seminars, scuba diving, and social gatherings alongside marine conservation and dive industry leaders. Attendees will enjoy opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard in the truly unique habitats of the Florida Keys. Diving and other eco-ventures are offered each morning. Each afternoon, sit back and enjoy our exciting and compelling ocean-themed seminar series. Finally, wrap up your evenings wining and dining, in good company alongside a breathtaking sunset. All REEF Fest events are open to the public.

Check out full event details at www.REEF.org/REEFFest.

We hope you will join us for an unforgettable event in the beautiful Florida Keys! Click here to register. Don't forget to purchase your ticket for the Saturday Celebration Dinner Party! Seating is limited, so reserve your space today. Click here to purchase your ticket.

On Facebook? Please join the REEF Fest 2016 Facebook event page for updates on dive opportunities, event locations, and seminar topics! Click here to connect to the Facebook event!

The Faces of REEF: Bob Weathers

Masked Hamlet, a rare and exciting find. Photo by tomh009/wikimedia.

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 Bob Weathers, a REEF member since 2002. Bob lives in Washington State, and while he was an active diver in the Pacific Northwest for a long time, he now prefers the warmer waters of the Caribbean and Hawaii! He just recently started doing REEF fish surveys, and so far he has submitted 84. He achieved Level 3 Surveyor status in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region last year. Here's what Bob had to say about REEF:

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

I first heard about REEF when it was being launched in the early ‘90s, but I didn’t join until 2002 or start volunteering until 2012 because I had the erroneous impression that training and testing by REEF were prerequisites. I also had the mistaken impression that snorkeling surveys were not allowed.

Have you participated in a REEF Field Survey?

I’ve now been on three REEF trips (Dominica, Bonaire, Cozumel), and the highlights for me have been meeting and learning from REEF staff and volunteers.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

My favorite part is being able to contribute to and access information in an incredible database on fish distribution and abundance. I appreciate that REEF projects and programs promote understanding and stewardship of marine organisms and their environments.

Where is your favorite place to dive?

I thoroughly enjoyed diving primarily on the US West Coast for 40 years, but I now dive primarily in the Caribbean and Hawaii. I love the warmth, visibility, biological diversity, and simplicity of diving in tropical waters.

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

I would say that REEF is a citizen-science organization that encourages snorkelers and SCUBA divers to submit reports about fish (and some invertebrates) that they can identify with confidence whenever they “dive” in geographic areas for which databases are maintained.

Fish! What is the most fascinating encounter, most memorable, and still on your wish list?

While snorkeling in Belize one late afternoon, a pair of Scrawled Filefish made three laps around me at a speed much faster than I would have imagined filefish to be capable of. Then they came together for a spawning rise to the surface! As for most memorable - thinking that it is so rare that I would never see one, I was recently delighted to encounter a Masked Hamlet in Cozumel. And on my list - although I’ve had reasons to anticipate sighting Whale Sharks while diving and snorkeling in Belize and the Galapagos, seeing one remains an unfulfilled dream.

REEF’s “The Lionfish Cookbook” named Best in the World at Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Lad Akins accepting the award in China from Gourmand Founder Edouard Cointreau.
The second edition of "The Lionfish Cookbook."
The 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were held in China in May.
A spread from REEF's "The Lionfish Cookbook"

Competing against thousands of books from more than 200 countries, REEF's The Lionfish Cookbook was awarded Best in the World status in two categories at the 22nd annual Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held last month in Yantai, China. The Lionfish Cookbook was recognized one of the top three books in the world in the categories of Sustainable Food Book and Fundraising/Charity Book. The book had also reached the short list in the Seafood category.

The second edition of The Lionfish Cookbook, co-authored by Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins with photography by David Stone, features a collection of more than 60 appetizer and entrée recipes designed to encourage the removal and consumption of invasive lionfish. Adding to the original 45 recipes in the first edition, the highly awarded second edition features 16 new recipes from guest chefs serving lionfish throughout the Caribbean. The 160-page book also contains detailed information on the background and impacts of the lionfish invasion and how to safely collect, handle and prepare lionfish. To purchase your own copy of the cookbook, visit REEF's online store at www.REEF.org/store.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are the first non-native marine fish to successfully invade Atlantic waters. Their thriving populations pose a serious threat risk to marine ecosystems through their predation on native marine life, including commercially and ecologically important species. Lionfish densities in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast of the United States are on the rise due to their lack of natural predators and their prolific, year-round reproduction.

“Many countries in the affected region are encouraging consumption of lionfish to create a demand and incentive for lionfish removals,” says Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and co-author of the book. Contributing chef Francesco Ferraris, of New Especias Italian Restaurant in Cozumel, Mexico, adds, “From a culinary standpoint, lionfish are incredible. The fish has a mild, white meat and is not too overpowering.”

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were created in 1995 to celebrate global cookbook and wine publishing and feature many world-renowned chefs each year. Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, attended this year’s Gourmand World Cookbook Awards Ceremony in Yantai, China, accepting the award from Gourmand Founder Edouard Cointreau.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub