Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our parters at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are gearing up for the annual Grouper Moon Project. Scientists will be on the ground and in the water this coming Tuesday for the full moon. Since 2002, the group has conducted ground-breaking research to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations, to help ensure that populations of this iconic species recover. In 2011, with funding from Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, REEF launched an education program to engage Caymanian students in the Grouper Moon Project. This exciting project brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and live-feed videos that connect classrooms with scientists in the field.
Three live-feed webcasts are planned over the next two weeks. While the students will be communicating directly with the Grouper Moon scientists, anyone can watch the feeds live or archived. The live-feed schedule is:
- Friday February 6th, from underwater at the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation
- Monday February 9th, from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, featuring scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project.
- Wednesday February 11th, from underwater on the famous Blood Bay Wall.
All webcasts are planned to start at 11:45am EST and will last about 45 minutes. The live feeds stream through YouTube on TheGrouperTeacherREEF channel. The first live feed, on February 6th, will be here. We will post URLs for the other feeds on REEF's Facebook page. The webcasts are archived online here.
Now in its fourth year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species. It is expected that fifteen classrooms at ten schools will participate in the program this year.
The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef Divers, Cayman Airways, and LIME.
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 Tracey Griffin, a REEF member since 2005. An active surveyor who lives in Cozumel, Tracey has conducted 851 surveys to date. She is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the TWA region, has taught several Fishinars, and leads the annual REEF Field Survey to Cozumel each December. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
How did you become involved with REEF?
I first heard about REEF on a live-aboard trip in the eastern Caribbean. One of the other divers was doing surveys, and I was fascinated! Soon after, I was lucky to be in Cozumel during the annual REEF week there, where I soon became an aficionado! And lucky me, little did I know that years later, I would become the leader of that annual trip!
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I tell divers that doing REEF surveys is like going on a scavenger hunt on every dive. And learning about fish behavior makes diving even more interesting. Knowing what the fish are doing is just as fun as knowing all their names! Even though I have done hundreds of dives in Cozumel, I am still surprised to find new and rarely reported fish.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Reaching out to new divers and snorkelers. I have given give short lectures at dive clubs, but also at events where people may be new to the ocean. I love to see people getting excited about seeing something they may have never noticed before. I believe that getting people excited about the fish will make them more likely to help conserve it.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I now live and dive in Cozumel. I think this is one of the most beautiful places to dive in the Caribbean. The majestic coral pillars are amazing, and the schools of fish are magnificent. I often hear people say ‘I have never seen a ____ so big!’ Just another day in Paradise!
Do you have a favorite local REEF field station or dive shop?
I dive with Chili Charters, who is our REEF field survey dive operation in Cozumel. The DM and owner, Rene, has previously taken our REEF field survey course, and loves to help us find fish! It is always nice to dive with a dependable shop that is also interested in REEF and fish ID and ocean conservation.
What is your favorite fish?
Although picking a favorite is difficult, if I had to, I would take the Cherubfish! These skittish little angelfish are very common, and often abundant in Cozumel. And many regular Cozumel divers don’t even see them!
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 PhD student at University of Washington is using REEF data to evaluate the distribution of Giant Pacific Octopus in the Pacific Northwest, and how their abundance is related to urbanization.
- REEF data were provided to researchers from University of Miami for use as part of the project, "NOAA RESTORE: Ecosystem modeling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico: current status and future needs to address management and restoration activities." Data will be used to produce maps depicting stressors in the Gulf.
- Researchers from the Sea Doc Society are using REEF data to evaluate Salish Sea fish and invertebrate assemblages and population trends over the last 15 years.
- A student from Indiana University is using REEF data to evaluate fish populations at the Florida Keys artificial reef, Hoyt S. Vandenberg. REEF Advanced Assessment Team members have been annually monitoring the Vandenberg since it was deployed in 2009.
Did you know? While the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project was started in South Florida in 1993, today it has been expanded worldwide! REEF surveys are conducted as part of a diver's regular diving activities; anytime they are in the water, in any of these regions. And more regions are coming soon.
REEF's Survey Project areas:
To find out more about the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project, visit www.REEF.org/programs/volunteersurvey.
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 Laurie Fulton. Laurie lives in Colorado, and has been a REEF member since 2012. She is an Advanced Surveyor (Level 3) in four of REEF's regions. She participated in the REEF Expedition to the Azores last summer as part of REEF's expansion to the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. To date, Laurie has completed 197 surveys. Here’s what Laurie had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
My first REEF trip was in 2012 to the Sea of Cortez on the Rocio del Mar. I had done volunteer trips with other non-profit groups, and was looking to combine my love of diving with volunteer work. REEF provides the perfect combination of both passions.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Since 2012 I have been hooked on REEF trips and try to do a few each year. Every trip is filled with remarkable experiences, and I consider every new fish added to my life list as a highlight. That being said, it’s hard to beat the extraordinary experience of having whale sharks swim by in the Philippines!
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
I really enjoy expanding my knowledge and appreciation of the undersea world combined with the opportunity to dive with like-minded people and contribute to research data. I compare it to birdwatching. In addition to observing, identifying and counting, we get to add our data to a vast online database that is available to researchers around the world. It is citizen science at its best!
Where is your favorite place to dive?
Living in Colorado I don’t get to do much local diving, so I love having the great variety of REEF trips available to me. One of my favorite destinations has been Fiji for the calm warm waters and huge diversity of fish to count!
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
A stand out for me was in Hawaii watching a Peacock Grouper coax a Whitemouth Moray out of its hole for a session of cooperative hunting. The grouper kept rubbing up against the eels head until the moray plunged down into jumbled coral and rocks while 5 groupers raced along above it. Just like using a dog to hunt.
What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?
One of my favorite marine creatures has to be the octopus. I have had many encounters with these intelligent animals over the years and am always thrilled to see them on dives. Just watch Hank on ‘Finding Dory’!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Before each REEF trip I spend time watching the Fishinars for the region. I also take the survey paper and mark the page number from the book for each species next to it. That way I look at each fish and become familiar with the layout of the survey paper.
What is your most memorable fish find and why? What fish do you really want to see underwater?
Last year in the Bahamas I found a Golden Hamlet, which is pictured on the cover of the Humann and DeLoach book. It is my only sighting after years of diving in the Caribbean, so it was very exciting. It was not a REEF trip so no one on the boat quite got it. I would love to swim with a Mola Mola, it’s just such an odd fish.
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.
A few reminders to our surveyors:
A couple of months ago, REEF launched our new website. Along with the new website, REEF launched some new membership Discussion Forums that will become more valuable as the survey season ramps up this spring/summer. There are 3 forums: ID Central for posting mystery fish and invert pics for other members to help identify and to post interesting fish behavioral observations; Trip Reports, where members can post trip reports for Field Surveys, Exotic Species, AAT, and any REEF or other group efforts; and the General Discussion forum where you can post stories and links about marine conservation concerns, ideas for REEF programs, and myriad other things. These forums are for our 35,000+ members to interact and create a synergistic connection around our conservation diving and snorkel efforts worldwide. Below is a post from long-time member, Todd Fulks, who recently witnessed Hairy Blenny (Labrisomus nuchipinnis) courtship/mating and took a really great picture of the mating pair. I have pasted it here so you can get an example of what could be posted in the ID Central Forum. To post to the forums you have to be a registered REEF.org website user which you can do easily from our homepage in the top left corner under the heading, "Register for an account on our new site." Once registered, you can visit our forums by going up to the menu bar at the top of the homepage and moving your cursor over the Resources option, then clicking on Discussion Forums which is the second item down.
Dive Encounter by Todd Fulks -
"There I was at the end of our dive in just a few inches of water near shore, when I noticed a brilliant bright green fish with red hues on its lower jaw and streaking down its belly. It was sitting near a textbook example of a hairy blenny. I’d been told the males can have brilliant colors when mating so I knew I’d stumbled upon something interesting. As I looked around, I found two more drab olive green females. The girls were just blah-looking in comparison to the clownish colorations of the male hairy blenny. I lurched in the surf a bit as I watched a female slip up against a rock next to the brightly colored male. She jittered and shook violently. Then the male convulsed a few times and shook his body as he finned the underside of the rock. The female flitted a few feet away and the male convulsed again and then jolted to a new perch. The surge was such that I wasn’t able to look under the rock without causing damage so I’m not sure exactly what I witnessed. I’ll have to defer to the experts. Perhaps this was a courtship dance, perhaps they were actually breeding, or maybe egg care by proud parents. Or it could have been something else entirely… I mean it is Carnival time here in Bonaire and I’ve seen some guys wearing strange colorful costumes recently. None of the blennies left the two foot area the entire time and I was able to show all of them to two giddy divers that barely had room on their slates for the 100+ species we saw on the dive. I was determined to catch a good photo of the male, but it was tricky. He was more elusive and shy than the females and moved around frequently. Finally he settled between some rocks and one of his partners nuzzled in close and they posed. ‘Click.’"
A Big Win-Win: Have a Great Dive Trip in Key Largo and Support REEFFor REEF Members: Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort will donate 20% of the cost of your Key Largo dive vacation to REEF. This offer of support has no time or package restrictions. Contact the folks at Amoray for more information.
Very Few Spaces Left on 2008 REEF Field Survey TripsStill to come in 2008 are REEF Field Survey trips to Key Largo, St. Vincent, Sea of Cortez, and Cozumel. Very few spaces are left and several trips are sold out, book today. Coming soon -- the 2009 Trip Schedule!
Don't Just Blow Bubbles This Summer! Participate in the 17th Great Annual Fish CountAn exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners. Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event. And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.
Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry For the Northeast and Tropical Eastern PacificFollowing the successful expansion of our Online Data Entry interface for surveys in Hawaii and the Pacific West Coast regions last year, REEF is currently adding the capability for the Northeast (Virginia - Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja - Galapagos Islands). We hope that this will facilitate an increase in surveying in these important regions. To log your data online, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php.
Following the most recent Indo-Pacific Lionfish expedition at Stuart Cove’s in Nassau, Bahamas, we kicked off the next phase of our critical research on this invasive species in Eleuthera. Supporters, Trish and David Ferguson, served as hosts for the week. Earlier this summer, REEF staff set up 11 study sites, tagging 30 fish on six different patch reef and clearing the other 5 sites of lionfish. This past week, I revisited those tagging sites and documented any movement of lionfish. We then following up with early morning, mid-day and evening activity observations to see what the fish were up to and when. The observations involved pre-sun up dives and 2-3 hour bottom times. With some very early and late dive times, the data collected is showing interesting patterns of low light activity.
After five days of intense data collecting at the Ferguson’s we headed down to Cape Eleuthera to meet with staff and students at the Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute(CEI). The facility is completely self contained, producing their own electricity via solar and wind, their own biodiesel, raising cobia and tilapia in an aquaculture facility and even growing their own hydroponic vegetables. A very impressive operation and an incredible group of staff and students. We were able to conduct collecting and dissecting demonstrations for the coral research class and then do a packed house talk to all of the staff and students from TIS as well as a number from the local Deep Creek Middle School. There is strong interest in collaborating on future lionfish studies as well as incorporating fish surveys into the regular research curriculum at the IS and CEI. Look for future REEF projects to be scheduled here in 2009. Visit our Lionfish Research page for more information.