New Advanced Assessment Team Monitoring Project in the San Juan Islands

Members of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team who participated in the San Juan Islands monitoring project.
Red Irish Lord, found in the Salish Sea. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Thanks to support from the SeaDoc Society (http://www.seadocsociety.org), REEF has initiated a multi-year monitoring project around the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The goal of the 10-year project is to identify changes in sub-tidal fish and invertebrate communities. The project will use recreational SCUBA divers from REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (Level 4 and 5 Expert surveyors), conducting about 100 REEF surveys each Fall. The project kicked off in September, with a team of 18 enthusiastic surveyors diving in the cold (49-degree!) but beautiful waters around the San Juan Islands. Data from this long-term project will be used by SeaDoc and other researchers over the coming years to see how well efforts to restore the Salish Sea ecosystem are working. A major mortality event among sunflower sea stars in the region was coincident with this year's monitoring effort. The team was able to provide valuable information to collaborating scientists from Cornell University and Wildlife Conservation Society on sightings of healthy and sick sea stars.

The SeaDoc Society is a program of the Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. It was founded in 1990, and strives to find science-based solutions for marine wildlife in the Salish Sea using a multi-species approach. Dr. Joe Gaydos (see REEF Member Spotlight in this enews issue) is SeaDoc's Director and Chief Scientist. We extend a big thanks to Joe and all of the SeaDoc Society supporters for making this important long-term project possible. We also greatly appreciate the Friday Harbor Laboratory and Bandito Charters for their logistical support

REEF Begins Expansion to Eastern Atlantic

Underwater Azores scenery. Photo courtesy of ImageDOP.

We are excited to announce a new expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the eastern Atlantic, beginning with a new program in the Azores. REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., spent time in the islands earlier this summer developing new survey and training materials. This Portuguese archipelago is the northern extent of a bioregion known as Macaronesia, which also includes Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Cape Verde Islands. The underwater habitat features volcanic rocky reefs and common fish species include colorful wrasses, damselfish, sea breams, and pelagic rays.

The new REEF program will include the standard fish survey protocol as well as an invertebrate and algae monitoring component. The expansion is in collaboration with the local government agency, Direção Regional dos Assuntos do Mar, as well as the University of the Azores, Observatório do Mar dos Açores, and Parques Naturais de Ilha. We expect to offiically launch the new region later this year.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, March 2015

Identifying YOY rockfish habitat is one recent use of REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Northwest Fisheries Science Center are using REEF data on juvenile (YOY, young-of-year) rockfishes to evaluate potential YOY habitat for development of a monitoring program in the Puget Sound.

- A scientist from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) is using REEF data to evaluate the spread of invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico.

- Another scientist from Florida FWCC is using REEF data to evaluate populations of Goliath Grouper in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico as part of the species' protected status review.

- Graduate students from Coastal Carolina University are assessing biodiversity, status, and trends of fishes and invertebrates in the South Atlantic States (SAS) region (the Carolinas and Georgia).

A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Support REEF's Conservation Science Programs

An acoustic receiver listens for pings emitted from nearby tagged fish.
REEF Grouper Moon scientists used acoustic tracking data to better understand Nassau Grouper ecology on Little Cayman.
A mobile receiver used to find tagged fish.
Nassau Grouper is the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Brice Semmens.

Acoustic tagging is one of the most powerful marine conservation technologies currently available. REEF uses this technology in both the Grouper Moon Project and the Invasive Lionfish Program to help determine movement, ranges, behavior, and more. But tags and receivers are expensive! We need your help in furthering REEF's valuable marine conservation initiatives by supporting the purchase and implementation of these valuable tools. You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute. Read on to learn more about these high-tech tools.

What is an acoustic tag, hydrophone, and array? Acoustic tags are small electronic devices that, once secured to a fish, broadcast their identification by ultrasonic sound. Hydrophones that can detect these ultrasonic sounds are placed underwater via a buoy to record the presence or absence of fish. A group of hydrophones strategically placed in an area is called an array. Data from the array are periodically downloaded and analyzed to determine fish movement, residency, behavior, and more.

How do tagging studies make a difference for marine conservation?

  • Allows researchers to determine home ranges of fish to better inform management strategies including sizes and locations of protected areas
  • Documents behavioral activities, such as spawning or seasonal movement, to help researchers and managers better understand the biology and ecology of key species
  • Facilitates collaborative marine research through sharing of hydrophone data and array setups
  • Contributes to inspiring visualizations of fish movements for scientists, policymakers, and marine life enthusiasts

REEF's Grouper Moon Project has relied heavily on this technology to help answer questions necessary to hep conserve Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations. Populations of this iconic species have declined dramatically over the past half-century due to overfishing during winter months as they aggregate to reproduce. To find out more about this activity, REEF researchers and our partners at Cayman Islands Department of Environment set up an array of acoustic receivers and started tagging Nassau Grouper in 2005. Using data from this technology, REEF created a video that shows the remarkable migrations Nassau Grouper undertake during the spawning season. This visualization tool played a critical role in the creation of proposed legislation aimed at species conservation in the Cayman Islands. To watch this movie and read more about it, please click here.

Please make a donation at www.REEF.org/contribute so REEF can continue using acoustic tagging in projects and programs. This valuable tool helps ensure that we can protect iconic species like Nassau Grouper in the most effective manner. Thank you for your support.

Oceans of Thanks to Our Members

There are a few limited-edition 2015 prints left. Donors of $250 or more, received by April 4, will be sent this signed and numbered, limited edition print of a beautiful Fiji reef scene by Paul Humann.

I want to thank everyone who donated during our winter fundraising campaign. With member support, REEF was able to raise $115,000. Your contributions drive REEF programs, from protecting keystone species to educating the next generation of ocean enthusiasts. If you haven't donated yet, there are still a few limited-edition prints left for donations of $250 and over that are received by April 4th. You can donate online or call us at 305-852-0030.

This year’s campaign focused on our changing seas. Now, more than ever before, it is critical for REEF to monitor the effects from pressures on marine ecosystems. Pressures of great concern include overfishing on endangered species like Nassau Grouper, invasive species that threaten native ecosystems like Lionfish, and temperature changes that shift species habitat range like El Nino. Our dedicated surveyors have seen the changes over decades of underwater exploration. With your donations, REEF can ensure these changes are documented and distributed to researchers for the protection of marine species and habitats.

Thank you again for donating this season!

Grouper Moon Project Results in Sweeping Science-Based Protections For Nassau Grouper

Nassau Grouper, an icon of Caribbean reefs, receives broad protections in the Cayman Islands. Photo by Stephanie Archer/Grouper Moon Project.
One of thousands - Nassau Grouper at the spawning aggregation on the west end of Little Cayman, the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn, (c) Grouper Moon Project.
A spawning burst of Nassau Grouper, captured at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation. Photo by Jim Hellemn, (c) Grouper Moon Project.

We are excited and very proud to share amazing news – on August 15, 2016, the Cayman Islands government enacted a comprehensive set of regulations aimed at recovering Nassau Grouper, an endangered Caribbean reef fish. The new rules are based on more than a decade of collaborative fisheries research carried out by the Grouper Moon Project. REEF initiated the Grouper Moon Project in 2001 in collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, and it has become one of our flagship programs. We work in partnership with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Oregon State University. The project is the Caribbean’s oldest continuous grouper spawning aggregation research program, and represents one of the most advanced, multi-faceted tropical fisheries research programs in the world.

The regulations represent the Caribbean’s most progressive set of management actions for Nassau Grouper, and include:

  • All take, possession, or sale of Nassau Grouper is prohibited from December through April (during the spawning months for the species)
  • When take is permitted (May – November), only fish between 16"-24” can be kept and no more than 5 Nassau Grouper per fishing vessel per day can be kept
  • Nassau Grouper may not be taken on spear gun at any time

Many of you have followed the progress of the Grouper Moon Project through the years. Our research has focused on the west-end aggregation site on Little Cayman, which supports one of the last great reproductive populations of this endangered species. Lessons learned in the Cayman Islands have benefited Nassau Grouper conservation efforts throughout the Caribbean.

The sweeping protections enacted for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands last month represent the kind of action-oriented work that REEF is known for. This science-based management action would not have been possible without the dedication of Grouper Moon scientists and the support of REEF donors and volunteers. We greatly appreciate all our members who have contributed financially to REEF to make this important work possible.

We look forward to continuing our important work on spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands and beyond. In addition to support from our members, REEF's work in the Grouper Moon Project has been supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program and Disney Conservation Fund. Significant field logistics support has been provided by Peter Hillenbrand, Southern Cross Club, and Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers.

For more information, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. And be sure to check out the PBS Changing Seas documentary filmed a few years ago about our work in the Cayman Islands.

Protecting Our Oceans Through Citizen Science

Donors giving $250 or more will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered Paul Humann print featuring two Mandarinfish.

In December, we described ways REEF is working to inspire people around the world to cherish and protect our marine resources. We hope you were inspired to make a contribution so we can continue this critical work. If you haven’t already given, please donate online at www.REEF.org/donate, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030.

Now, more than ever, we need your help to foster support for the amazing biodiversity of marine species and ocean ecosystems. Our programs promote citizen science as a way to fill data gaps in our understanding of ocean creatures and habitats. Collecting these data on temperature fluctuations, invasive species, and overall declines in fish populations, is critical to ensure these impacts are documented.

In 2017, your donation will enable REEF staff to:

  • Continue adding to over 211,000 surveys in REEF’s Fish Survey Project database, making it the largest fish sighting database in the world and an invaluable resource for scientists
  • Ensure new ground-breaking protections for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands stay in effect, and provide local students innovative educational experiences about this iconic fish
  • Protect native fishes that are being threatened by the invasive lionfish in the Atlantic
  • Provide high quality hands-on experiences that connect youth to the ocean through our Explorers Program and Marine Conservation Internship Program
  • Coordinate fun and interesting “Fishinars” that teach people about fish identification and other marine conservation issues from the comfort of their own home

Please make a donation to REEF today so we can continue our mission and demonstrate why our oceans are worth protecting. From the tiniest zooplankton to a large fish like the Nassau Grouper, marine species rely on each other and more importantly, they rely on us to ensure our ocean ecosystems are healthy.

And remember, for your donation of $250 or more, we will be happy to send you a limited-edition, signed and numbered print of this Mandarinfish scene. All donors who contribute $500 or more will receive their name on a fish plaque on the “Giving REEF” at Headquarters in Key Largo, FL.

2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Series

REEF Staff taking scientific samples and processing lionfish at a derby.
Invasive lionfish are found to grow much larger in the invaded western Atlantic than they do in their native range of the Indo-Pacific.
Lionfish Culinary Demonstration at a REEF Derby. Photo by Donna Dietrich.

Summer is just around the corner and that means the annual REEF Lionfish Derby Series is almost here! Whether you just want to watch the festivities and taste some delicious lionfish bites, or you want to join the derby and compete with other lionfish hunters for over $3,500 in cash prizes, we have something fun for you. This year, REEF will be hosting four lionfish derbies throughout Florida: Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Key Largo, and Juno Beach. REEF Derbies are hugely popular events that remove hundreds to thousands of invasive lionfish from local reefs over a single weekend. The derbies significantly reduce the numbers of lionfish and help native fishes maintain healthy populations. Find out  all the details on REEF’s 2017 Lionfish Derby Series here: www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.

This year, at the Palm Beach County Derby, in partnership with Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the NUISANCE Group, we are turning the derby into a festival! There will be a kids' craft area, live music, a lionfish culinary competition, and Lagunitas Brewing Company will be providing the adult refreshments. In order to taste the delicious lionfish dishes that our competing chefs will be cooking up, be sure to purchase a VIP Pass on our website!

If you can’t make it to the Palm Beach County Derby, don’t worry, every derby has fun and educational activities for the whole family to enjoy, including cornhole, lionfish dissection demonstrations, and a raffle.

2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Dates:

    • Sarasota Lionfish Derby – July 7th-9th
    • Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby – July 14th-15th
    • Upper Keys Lionfish Derby – July 28th-29th
    • Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby – August 11th-13th

Check out the REEF Derby webpage for more information. The 2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Series is sponsored in part by the Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Whole Foods, ZooKeeper LLC and hosted in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory, 15th Street Fisheries, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

The Faces of REEF: Marjorie Davis

Marjorie (right) having fun topside.
Marjorie (left) having fun underwater in Palau.
Marjorie (right) with REEF Friends on the Micronesia REEF Field Survey in 2016.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Marjorie Davis, member since 2013. Marjorie has conducted 56 surveys. She lives and dives in Florida and she is a Level 3 Advanced surveyor in the TWA region. Here's what Marjorie had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF? My sister, Pam Slutz, found the REEF website and she and her husband, Ron Deutch, and I signed up for a REEF trip in Cozumel in Dec 2013. We had such a great time we became members and went back the following year, and Pam and I also did a REEF trip with Paul Humann in Key Largo in summer 2014. Carlos and Allison Estape gave a talk about the fish diversity at REEF HQ during that summer REEF trip, and that’s when I discovered Islamorada.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? My first REEF trip was a real eye-opener for me because I had never really studied the reefs or fish when I dove; I was just siteseeing and couldn’t tell you what fish I was seeing. After one week, I was so excited to actually know some of them! It forever changed the way I dive. My favorite diving is on a REEF trip, especially live aboards, because there are so many people that know the fish and everyone is so willing to help you figure out what you’re looking at! I also find fish surveyors move much more slowly through the water than typical “sightseeing” divers, so I don’t get left behind so much when trying to ID an elusive blenny or cardinalfish.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I’m an hour from Blue Heron Bridge/Phil Foster Park in West Palm and about four hours from Islamorada, and these are my favorite spots because of the diversity and relatively easy diving. Blue Heron gets bonus points because there are many interesting critters and because it’s a super easy 2+hr shore dive! My favorite dives in Islamorada are long 2+hr dives along the outside of the shallow reef and back on the shallower, rubbly side. The variation in habitat means I have a better chance of spotting more fish species, and someday I may actually be able to identify most of them! Add a Thursday night fish ID class at REEF HQ for a great 3-day weekend!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? I love blennies, any and all, though eels and cardinalfish are also favorites. They are all elusive and hide so spotting them isn’t easy, and even with a magnifying glass it can be hard to ID those blennies! I thought blennies were so cute until I saw a picture of one eating another one!! Oh well, they still LOOK cute. Identifying a cardinalfish in a deep, dark reef crevice is also challenging, and while eels aren’t exactly shy, it’s always a thrill to spot one swimming; I got to watch a huge green moray swim for quite a while on a REEF trip to Palau last year.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? My favorite dive operator is Key Dives in Islamorada. Friendly and professional, they know the reefs and probably most of the local REEF members. I especially like going out with other REEF members on one of their boats.

DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE OF REEF . . .

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Joe Cavanaugh and Leda A. Cunningham with new fall intern Erin Whitaker
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Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, presents our fabulous Summer interns, Marissa Nuttall our Texas Aggie and Paige Switzer our South Carolina girl, with a certificate of appreciation for all the tremendous work they accomplished this summer

We had a number of applicants for the Fall session and narrowing the intern pool to just two applicants was tough because everyone that applied were wonderful candidates.   This month we're introducing you to Catherine Whitaker (aka Erin) who (thankfully) arrived early to cross train with our fabulous summer interns before they departedon August 17th.  Next month we'll highlight our final recipient, Lauren Finan, who will arrive the week of August 20th.

Erin is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.    She's had a variety of jobs during her undergraduate career all of which honed her skills in preparation for a career in Marine Biology.  She is well versed in the REEF methodology having completed juvenile fish, fish, and coral abundance and distribution surveys while working with Centro Ecologico de Akumal.  As a Scuba Divemaster, Erin taught scuba to tourists and locals of all ages instilling a sense of excitement and pride for marine life to her students.  During her time at Duke, she served as research assistant to many professors and non-profit organizations and volunteered as an assistant aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium. 

While in Maine she was sampling algae and young lobsters for a census survey (we could use that here).  At the Linney genetics laboratory Erin was responsible for feeding and cleaning tanks of 3000 zebra fish.  At the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems branch of the Smithsonian, Erin assisted a PhD candidate on her research relating to the effect of parrotfish on corals as well as the coral-symbiont relationship in a stressful environment, the list goes on as does her travels.  She has been to Ankarafantsika, Madagascar as a field assistant; Caye Caulker, Belize as an underwater tour guide; Manila, Philippines as a U.S. Embassy Protocol Office Assistant; Sofia, Bulgaria as a U.S. Embassy Consular Section Aide.  REEF is very fortunate to have someone of Erin's caliber interning with us this fall.  She feels working with REEF is an ideal opportunity for her to test her ability to integrate scientific investigation, conservation efforts and a flair for reaching out to people for the betterment of our environment, while working toward her masters.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub