In January, 2008 the National Aquarium Institute organized and conducted a Bahamian conservation expedition on the Aqua Cat live-aboard dive vessel. Our mission was to conduct REEF surveys and work on the invasive lionfish project. On board this trip were Lad Akins (REEF Special Projects Director), Ned and Anna DeLoach, Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium), National Aquarium staff, and aquarium and REEF volunteers. In addition to meeting the lionfish research goals of the cruise, we were treated to not one but two exciting and rare finds - the Exuma goby and the lemon goby.
At a dive site in Eleuthera called Cave Rock Reef we geared up and readied ourselves for lionfish behavior monitoring. Just as I started getting my gear together Anna came to the surface to tell me she had found a school of Exuma gobies, Gobiosoma atronasum. What I had not realized was that the keen eye of Bruce Purdy, owner of the Aqua Cat and avid REEF surveyor and supporter had noticed them at this site before and he had directed Anna to the exact coral head. I have logged over 400 dives in the Bahamas and until this day the Exuma goby had always eluded me. To the casual observer this fish looks like a cleaning goby or sharknose goby until you notice its behavior. Unlike most other “neon-type” gobies, the Exuma Goby spends most of its time hovering in the water column, not perched on the coral. They act very similar to the masked and glass gobies. Excited to add a new species to my life list I leave the small cluster of these great fish and head down to my assigned duty of monitoring a lionfish.
Two days later, while on a dive at Blacktip Wall in the Exumas, I noticed a few fish mixed in with school bass. These fish looked out of place and very different from anything I had ever seen. I noted as much detail as possible on my REEF slate and swam on hoping that one of my fellow trip members would be able to help me identify it. As it turns out no one had any idea what it was, but luckily Ned had also seen this odd fish and had taken some great photos of it. After some research when we returned from the trip, we discovered this fish was a lemon goby, Vomerogobius flavus. The lemon goby is an exciting new fish to the REEF database. This species was identified and described in 1971 from 11 Bahamian specimens, but this sighting in the Exumas is a range extension for the species.
It was truly a rewarding experience to finally see and survey the Exuma goby that I have searched for on many trips. To document a fish that I did not even know existed was the icing on the cake. For a fish lover like me, getting to find a new species for the REEF database is an honor. REEF surveying truly keeps diving exciting and new. I am concerned about the effects that the invasive lionfish could have on these two species of gobies with such a narrow range in which they live, but the data from all of our great volunteers helps us track these changes. It would be a shame to lose such unique endemic species due to this foreign invader. We hope you enjoy seeing some of the first photos ever published of these two goby gems.
Processing and error checking the 1,000+ REEF surveys submitted each month by our members as part of the Volunteer Survey Project is one of REEF's highest priorities. With limited staff and resources, there are a few things that you can do to help us maintain the integrity of this incredible database. Most importantly - whenever possible, please submit your data through the Online Data Entry interface, http://www.REEF.org/dataentry. Turnaround time is typically 1-3 weeks, compared with 8-12 weeks for paper scansheets. Plus it saves postage and paper! The second most important way you can help -- if you are submitting data on scansheets, please have your REEF member number and complete 8-digit zone code filled in on the form before mailing it to REEF. Read on for more helpful hints.
Online Data Entry Tips
REEF is currently modifying our Online Data Entry program for surveys from the Tropical Eastern Pacific and the Northeast. We hope to have this available soon.
On April 25, 2009 we celebrated history in Key Largo. It was a beautiful tropical day with the REEF parking lot covered in tents, tables and chairs, fish balloons with cold drinks and appetizers island music being offered up. People came from near and far as we all helped celebrate the dedication of the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters. The afternoon celebrated the merging of three paths - that of a dive industry pioneer, a historic building in the Florida Keys and a grass-roots environmental organization. The gift by James E. Lockwood will go a long way in helping REEF protect, educate and enable divers, snorkelers and armchair enthusiasts to make the world a better place.
Casey Wilder, REEF Program Assistant, designed a beautiful program that outlined how we all ended up in the parking lot on this day. Make sure you check out the online version of this little piece of history. The program provides an overview of the history of James E. Lockwood, a true diving pioneer, the 1913 Conch House that houses REEF and the history of REEF and how all three ended up moving forward together as of 4/25/09.
Special guests Mike Dorn and John Campbell provided the history of Mr. Lockwood, which is incredibly fascinating and diverse. Paul Humann and Ned De Loach spoke on behalf of REEF and talked about how REEF is Key Largo’s very own home grown environmental 501(c)(3), making it very relevant that REEF’s office are housed in the oldest building in Key Largo. Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, we unveiled the beautiful new plaque commemorating the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters and the date the house was built. The Conch house even received a spiffy new coat of paint so she was dressed for the occasion. Special thanks to Bill Corbett of Keys Home Improvement for doing such a superb job in record time!
The next time you are in the Keys be sure to stop by the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters, MM 98.3 in the median and enjoy a little history, mingle with REEF staff and shop for the fish.
REEF proudly awards our 2009 Volunteer of the Year award to David Jennings, a dedicated REEF surveyor and ambassador. David has been a member of REEF since 2006. He has conducted 154 REEF surveys and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT).
David is a textbook example of the phrase “Learn it, Love it, Protect it”. After participating on REEF’s annual AAT survey project of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in 2008, David became concerned that the rockfish populations he was documenting had significantly decreased from those that the REEF teams documented in the earlier years of the project. Rockfish are especially vulnerable to over-fishing because they are long-lived species, some living to be over 100 years old! After looking at the REEF data for the region as well as the existing rules for rockfish harvest, David put together a series of proposed rule changes and submitted them to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for consideration.
What makes David special is he then took the extra step of getting involved directly. In June 2009, David was appointed by the Washington Governor to a six-year term as one of Washington’s nine Fish and Wildlife Commissioners—another volunteer conservation position.
David is also just about as active above water, working on forest conservation work. He helped establish a grassroots forest conservation organization, the Gifford Pinchot Task Force (GPTF) and serves as volunteer chair of that organization.
Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 12,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.
The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to David and congratulate him on all of his efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation.
REEF has been on the road this past month, and was well-represented at two prominent West coast dive shows – the Scuba Show held in Long Beach, CA, and the NW Dive and Travel Expo, in Tacoma, WA. Volunteers - composed of active surveyors and members of the Advanced Assessment Team in California, Oregon and Washington - helped staff the booths. Show-goers seemed to get a kick out of the ‘pop quiz’ (a few common local fish) they were given as they walked by the booth – demonstrating the fact that even if divers only know the ID of one fish, they can get started doing REEF surveys in the Volunteer Survey Project. “Friend of REEF” stickers were freely handed out and put on shirts.
While our main objective was to spread the word about REEF's programs, connect with current REEF supporters, and engage new volunteers, we also sold REEF gear – hats, books, slates, T-Shirts and the new Sensational Seas 2 DVD. Particularly popular were the new REEF water bottles. As always, these items are always available through REEF’s online store if you missed a chance to pick them up at the shows.
Special thanks to Heather George, Sasha Medlen, Matt Dowell, Gerald Winkel, Todd Cliff, Jeanne Luce, Georgia Arrow, Michael Johnstone, Carol McLagan, and Rhoda Green for helping with the booths. We couldn't do it without these REEF ambassadors. REEF also appreciates the support of the show organizers, including Kim and Dale Sheckler and Rick and Kathy Stratton.
As the spread and impact of the invasive Indo-Pacific red lionfish explodes in the western Atlantic region, REEF continues to take a lead in addressing this complex environmental issue. In addition to extensive outreach and education efforts, REEF staff is involved in several field research projects to study the ecological impact of this voracious predator. REEF is also coordinating regional response efforts. In partnership with the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), NOAA, Mexico and France, REEF helped fund and organize the first Regional Lionfish Strategy Workshop in August. The two day workshop brought together more than 40 key Marine Protected Area and fisheries managers from 17 countries and territories in the Caribbean to discuss control strategies, initiate cooperative efforts to address the invasion, and begin development of a best practices document. Participants shared stories on successes, challenges, and needs for responding to this highly invasive species. Many of those participating have worked with REEF over the last two years to initiate training and lionfish culling programs. A report from the workshop and initial steps on developing the lionfish best practices manual will be presented at the annual conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute this Fall.
As part of the Grouper Moon Project, REEF launched the Baby Grouper Adrift! webpage in late February. We developed this outreach tool to display in real time the results of state-of-the-art satellite drifter research being conducted by researchers from REEF, the Cayman Island Department of Environment, and Oregon State University. The Adrift project aims to better understand where Nassau grouper larvae end up after being spawned. Webpage visitors can follow the current drifters in real time as they complete a 45-day ocean journey (the amount of time Nassau grouper larvae spend floating in the currents), and even take a guess where the drifters will end up. It's been about 35 days since the drifters were released. Check out where those drifters are now -- visit the webpage at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift. Funding for the Baby Grouper Adrift project was provided by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
Our outstanding Field Station this month is the New England Aquarium, and their affiliated dive club, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Begun in 1975, the New England Aquarium Dive Club (NEADC) is one of the world's oldest, largest, and most active dive clubs. They host an annual event for Northeast divers in conjunction with REEF's Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). This past July, they hosted their 10th annual GAFC event, and over 90 divers submitted 100+ surveys. The event took place simultaneously at 8 dive sites in Massachusetts and Maine. After the morning surveys, divers gathered for a feast and to distribute over $8,000 in prizes at Stage Fort Park. The event not only gathers important data, but it also introduces divers to REEF surveying and encourages them to continue surveying on their dives throughout the year. Local REEF volunteers, Bob Michelson and Holly Martel Bourbon, help ramp up the event by offering fish ID classes in the preceding months.
The Northeast is a cold water dive location, with REEF surveyors commonly finding Cunner, Winter Flounder, Striped Bass and Rock Gunnel. However, they have the added bonus of having some tropical fish find their way into the area as waters warm up in the summer. REEF staff are currently working with Bob and Holly to implement an invertebrate monitoring program into the Northeast REEF program. Thank you New England Aquarium Dive Club for promoting REEF and the volunteer survey project in the NE!
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 Randy Keil. Randy joined REEF in 1996 and has conducted 279 surveys. He is a member of REEF's TWA Advanced Assessment Team and teaches REEF surveying and fish ID through his dive shop, Paradise Watersports in the British Virgin Islands (see REEF Field Station profile here). Here's what he had to say about REEF:
What do you feel is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
I feel as if REEF surveys are the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs for the simple reason that this data would not be available otherwise. To have scientists survey all the areas REEF covers would be an impossible undertaking. The lionfish invasion is a good example. To see what effect the lionfish are having on our reef communities all we need to do is look at past surveys and compare them to present surveys. Without past historical data we would have no way to of knowing which species are most effected by the lionfish or what kind of time scale it takes for the effects to become noticeable. Are the areas where the lionfish appeared first the most effected? Is there any effect noticed on the surveys? These questions can only be answered by comparison of data.
Do you have any surveying tips for REEF members?
One tip I would give other surveyors is to watch the coneys. Coneys seem to have an interesting relationship with goldentail morays. Anytime you see a coney staring intently, stop and see if you can make out what he/she is staring at. Often there will be a tiny goldentail in the vicinity.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I do most of my diving in the British Virgin Islands where I have both a home and a dive shop/REEF Field Station. The best thing about diving in the BVI is the diversity of dive sites. Our sites are all moored and this allows us to build up an intimate knowledge of the underwater terrain. This means that if we find a juvenile queen angel or juvenile spotted drum we can follow it as it grows until it is eaten or moves on. Fish such as frogfish and creatures such as seahorses often will stay in the same area for months at a time.
What is your favorite place to dive outside of where you live?
My favourite place to dive is the Galapagos. If schooling hammerheads, hundreds of Galapagos sharks, dozens of white-tipped reef sharks, whale sharks, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins and abundant creatures and fish life are not enough then there are species of fish that exist nowhere else in the world. The land excursions are almost as exciting as the diving and the guides the most knowledgeable I’ve ever encountered in almost 30 years of traveling the globe seeking out underwater phenomena.
My last trip to the Galapagos was the first one after Paul Humman had published his Galapagos Fish Identification book and I poured over the book to find species seen nowhere else. Being a confirmed “fish nerd”, the Meyer’s butterflyfish really caught my imagination. So here we are in the far reaches of the northern islands and I have my slate with a list of what we might see and a blank slate for messages.. I moved closer to the guide and wrote on my slate” Meyer’s Butterfly” with a question mark. He took my slate and wrote hammerheads and pointed to the hundreds of sharks passing in front of us. I erased the hammerheads message and again wrote” Meyer’s butterfly?” and this time pointed to the sloping reef wall that was packed with fish. The guide once again pointed out the schooling sharks. As a 30 foot whale shark came into sight I realized that not only was this not going to be the dive where I sighted my first Meyers butterfly but also that no one was going to be the least sympathetic to my plight.
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.
As REEF heads into the 20th year of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, we will be looking back at some of the milestones that got us here. In this month's Faces of REEF, we feature one of our earliest members, Ken Marks. Ken was instrumental in helping guide REEF in our early years, building the first data processing and storage tools. Ken first met REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann, on a dive trip in 1992. Paul soon realized Ken's computer background and mentioned the idea that he and Ned DeLoach were working on for a diver-led fish survey program. The unsolved problem was the logistics of collecting data. They had thought of mailing out 3.5" floppies (remember them?!) that would be mailed back by the volunteer diver to REEF HQ (which didn’t even exist at this time). Because this was back in the days before smart phones, tablets, and ubiquitous laptops, Ken suggested a more low-tech approach. After several rounds of prototypes, Ken produced what would become REEF's very first survey scanform. Today, Ken remains an important part of our IT volunteer team, and has conducted 311 REEF surveys. Here's what Ken had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
After meeting Paul on a liveaboard dive boat, we got to talking about ways divers could report fish sightings. I suggested a computer scannable form as a solution and upon my return to Chicago researched the specifications for creating such a form. Over the next couple of months I wasted lots of Paul’s fax paper sending him 17 evolving versions of what came to be the first version of the REEF survey form, which was first printed in 1993. The creation of the REEF underwater survey sheets, guides such as Fish-in-a-Pocket and waterproof ID cards, training DVDs and courses, and the web-based online data entry are all indications that REEF has matured from its humble beginnings.
Do you dive close to where you live? Where is your favorite place to dive?
Though my involvement with REEF I have been fortunate to be able to work with scientists and various organizations surveying and teaching fish identification. This has allowed me to dive in many places throughout the Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean area but one of my favorites is just a 45-minute ride from my home – the Blue Heron Blvd Bridge near West Palm Beach. Experienced fish surveyors sooner or later start diving in “alternative habitats” in order to see species that they haven’t seen before. The shore dive under the BHB is a great way to experiencing muck diving without a passport and a 24-hour flight to Indonesia. There are all sorts of things to see “under the bridge” from octopus and bobbit worms to frogfish, stargazers, seahorses, and sea robins.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
First – slow down; it’s not a race. The mooring buoy at a dive site is usually placed in the middle of the best area. Let the others burn their air swimming around for hundreds of yards searching for turtles, sharks, dolphins (or whatever “big ticket” species will make their dive). Spend your time slowly searching over the reef (and alternative habitats near the reef) for the odd and unusual that will help you expand your list of species seen. Use the REEF forums, database, and field stations to plan your trip so you can extend your lifelist and see something you’ve never seen before on a dive.
It also helps to really know your fishes. Study your ID books or take one of the REEF courses or webinars to increase your knowledge. When you are very proficient at identifying the common species that are encountered on most dives, the unusual species will be much easier to spot when you come across one. You might even spot a species new to science – several REEF surveyors have made such discoveries over the years.
What is your most memorable fish find and why?
My most memorable fish find would have to be the Yellow Garden Eel (Heteroconger luteolus). Back in 1997, a coworker had mentioned diving on a wreck where a Goliath grouper (then known as Jewfish) had taken up residence for several weeks. At the time I had not yet added this species to my lifelist and was eager to get a photo. The following weekend we dived the site and I was ready with my Nikonos and my wide-angle 15mm lens. Of course the fish had cleared out and I never got the picture. This wreck, a tug boat, was part of a cluster of three closely spaced wrecks so we took a compass bearing and headed across the sand at 70 feet heading for the larger wreck for the rest of the dive. Along the way I noticed a colony of unusual garden eels out feeding in the Gulf Stream current.
About two weeks prior to this dive I had been helping Paul on a new printing of the Reef Fish ID book. I had purchased a reference book from the American Fisheries Society and was using it to verify that Paul’s book was using the AFS accepted common and scientific names. In that reference book, I noticed that the species previously just known as Garden Eel had been renamed to Brown Garden Eel due to a recently described second species of garden eel from the Florida area. The new species name “luteolus” implied that the species was yellow. And bright yellow was the color that I saw while crossing that sand plain at 70 feet between wrecks. I knew in an instant that this must be the newer species of garden eel. I had a friend pull the scientific paper containing its description and it matched exactly what I saw (bright yellow dorsally with a white belly). The paper mentioned that the species was described from a few partial specimens that had been dredged from deep water off Tampa as well as a few larvae that appeared different from the “standard” Brown Garden Eel. I contacted the paper's author and he suggested I try to capture one and send it to him. A short time later Ned & Anna DeLoach, Eric Riesch, and John Pitcairn joined me on a dive to photograph this species and collect a specimen. The fish we collected now sits in the Smithsonian’s collection and is, to this date, the only whole adult specimen of this species in any collection. The photo taken on the collection dive can be found in the latest edition of Reef Fish ID.
Though this was not a new species to science we were able to provide an important specimen and REEF data has subsequently found this species on other sites throughout Florida expanding our knowledge of this colorful little species. Citizen science for the win!