Rare Finds on the Grenada Field Survey

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Lucky participants on the REEF Field Survey to Grenada aboard the Peter Hughes Wind Dancer.
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A Longspine Sailfin Blenny was seen by the group in the Grenadines, a species previously thought to be restricted to Venezuela. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF Field Surveys are not just another dive vacation. These eco-trips offer divers and snorkelers the chance to really get to know the critters that are seen underwater. In mid-July Paul Humann lead a Field Survey trip to the fairly remote group of Caribbean Islands in Grenada and the Grenadines and the participants were rewarded with many exciting finds. The group was a mixture of expert, intermediate and beginning REEF fish surveyors, and it was a great opportunity for everyone to learn and have fun. The evening classes and general discussions led everyone to improve their identifications skills. During the week, Blue McRight took and passed the Expert Level exam - Congratulations Blue!

Beyond having fun and learning, the objectives of this trip were two-fold: build up the fish survey data for this remote area and document possible species range expansions. Because of the islands’ proximity to South America, the group was especially interested in learning if any species thought to exist only along that continental coast would be found on these islands to the north. On the first night, Paul gave a presentation about species of fish to be on the look out for. The results were amazing. First and foremost - the Longspine Sailfin Blenny and Resh Pikeblenny, never recorded outside Venezuelan waters before were found! Sighting confirmations of the Giraffe Garden Eel, Veija, Red Banner Blenny, Bluebar Jawfish, Corocoro and Bluestripe Dartfish, rarely in waters north of Venezuela or Tobago were important as well. Also recorded were the very rarely spotted Spiny Flounder, African Pompano, Unicorn Filefish and Snapper Snake Eel. A total count of 261 species is nearly a REEF Field Survey record! And the group conducted 221 surveys during the week. To see the project summary and fish list, check out the REEF database. Paul, REEF and the fish thank everyone involved for making this such a successful Survey Trip. A special thanks goes to Jill Ericsson for taking charge of the survey forms.

Be sure to check out the exciting line-up of destinations for the 2010 REEF Field Survey Schedule. Come join us and make a dive vacation that Counts!

Great Diving On One of the Friendliest Islands in the Caribbean

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Lucky REEF members who joined Board Member Heather George for a week in Dominica.
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The cryptic Reef Scorpionfish was a good find on the Dominica Field Survey. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

Last week, we kicked off the 2010 REEF Field Survey season with a spectacular trip to Dominica. Eight REEF members (and two non-diving spouses) headed out for 5 days of excellent dives with many wonderful discoveries along the way. Highlights included a glut of Secretary Blennies, Arrow Blennies and Lofty Triplefins along with Cherubfish, Longlure Frogfish, Longsnout Seahorses, Shortnose Batfish, a Reef Scorpionfish (see picture), most of the Hamlets and a Black Brotula found by yours truly and witnessed by James Brooke and trip leader Heather George. Another thrilling highlight was watching a pair of Barred Hamlets spawning during our dusk dive - the final dive of the trip. Congratulations go out to our new level 3 surveyors, Amy Kramer and Chris Ostrom, and a new level 2 surveyor, Kirsten Ostrom. Both topside and below, the crew at Dive Dominica was very enthusiastic. Not only were they very interested in REEF’s mission and pointing out the best fish and creatures, but also helped us coordinate daily travel and restaurant jaunts. Roseau, Dominica’s capital, has that small town feel, very friendly and accommodating to us, and everyone knows each other. On our “off-gas’ day, many of us explored the inner island, climbing up to Trafalgar Falls where three freshwater fish were discovered; a freshwater Grunt, Goby and Suckerfish. We also ventured up the beautiful Titou Gorge. Dominica is a truly beautiful island with fantastic views, great diving and some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean - an island not to be missed.

REEF Field Surveys are week-long dive trips coordinated by REEF and led by experienced staff, Board members, and instructors. These "Trips that Count" are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Check out the 2010 schedule here and reserve your space today!

Marine Conservation Internship Program Is Back

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Fall 2010 REEF Interns, Nicole and Stephanie, after a survey dive.
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Summer 2010 Intern, Zach, demonstrates a lionfish dissection at REEF HQ.

REEF is excited to announce the revival of the Marine Conservation Internship Program at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida. The internship program was an important part of REEF's early history, with many past interns going on to have great careers in the field. Some have even spent time as REEF staff. The program was temporarily suspended a few years ago due to a lack of infrastructure. Thankfully, we have been able to bring the program back, providing significant benefits to both REEF and those who complete the program. Alecia Adamson, REEF Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator (and past REEF intern herself!), is in charge of overseeing the internship program and is pleased that REEF is once again able to offer the opportunity to college students and recent graduates.

Over the summer, Zachary Bamman, from University of Central Florida, assisted REEF with both the Great Annual Fish Count and lionfish reporting, research, and control. He was a great help during a very busy time for REEF. Zachary is now finishing a degree in Environmental Sciences and was able to obtain credit hours for an independent research project he conducted examining invertebrate vs. fish prey items in Florida Keys lionfish. REEF is pleased to welcome new interns Nicole Fabian and Stephanie Dreaver for the Fall semester. Both arrived to REEF Headquarters in September. Nicole graduated with a B.S. in Zoology-Marine Biology from Michigan State University in May. She went diving for the first time in 2000 on a trip to Grand Cayman and has since been hooked. Although she grew up in Michigan most of her diving has been in the Caribbean and has since received her Master Diver certification. She plans to pursue graduate level education in Marine Biology in the next coming year. Stephanie Dreaver graduated this past August from West Virginia University with a degree in Biology and she is very interested in the Marine Biology field. She has had an interest in diving and snorkeling ever since a family vacation to Hawaii 8 years ago. Her family relocated to Key Largo the next year and she has become familiar with Florida marine systems through firsthand experience. She obtained her open water certification 5 years ago and she has now reached Rescue Diver certification. She plans to continue her education next fall and pursue a Masters in Marine Biology.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying to be a future REEF Intern, visit the application page -- http://www.reef.org/about/internships/application.

Another Milestone - 20,000 Survey Mark Surpassed in Pacific Coast Region

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Long-time REEF member, Mike Delaney, conducted the 20,000 survey in the Pacific Coast region.

Following on the heels of our milestone in Hawaii in January of reaching 10,000 surveys, the REEF Survey Project saw its 20,000th survey submitted from the Pacific Coast Region. Divers from California to the Pacific Northwest have been conducting surveys on fish, invertebrates, and algae since 1997. Over 1,300 sites have been surveyed and 1,554 volunteers have participated. Mike Delaney conducted the lucky 20k survey at Whitecliff Park in British Columbia on February 4th, 2011! Congratulations Mike! It was particularly exciting that this landmark survey was conducted at Whitecliff because not only is this the 407th REEF survey conducted in this important little marine park but it is also where the very FIRST surveys were ever conducted in the Pacific Northwest.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Buddy Dive Resort

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

Buddy Dive in Bonaire is this month’s featured Field Station. Buddy has supported REEF in the past by hosting weeklong Field Survey trips and lionfish presentations, but their current program was kick-started in 2009 when Dive Operations manager Augusto Montbrun visited REEF’s Key Largo office. Inspired by his visit with the local REEF staff, Augusto handed the project over to Francesca Virdis, a Buddy Dive instructor from Italy who has a master’s degree in Science of the Marine Environment. Combining her knowledge of fish with her passion for teaching, Francesa has developed a very informative “Sea’lebrity of the Week” program and a half-day Fish ID Adventure course that includes a beginning fishwatching course with REEF surveying dives.

Engaging divers in a new pursuit when they are visiting an area for a one-week vacation can be a challenge and Francesca’s favorite part of teaching the REEF course is the reaction she gets from her students after their first fish identification dive. “They are so excited by the number of species they can find, just in a small area off the dock – that is exciting to me – to see them change.”

In the plans for next summer is a few weeks dedicated to promoting the Field Station and REEF, including some events to raise awareness of all the interesting fish, like the Black Brotula and Medusa blennies, that can be found diving just in front of the resort.

South Florida Lionfish Workshops Train Divers in Collecting and Handling

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Lad Akins and REEF Marine Conservation Intern Lucy Davis demonstrate collecting techniques a the Miami Beach workshop.

As part of the NOAA-funded Coastal Partnership Initiative, REEF has joined forces with Florida SeaGrant to organize and conduct a series of lionfish collecting and handling workshops and hands on training dives in Southeast Florida. REEF Staff trained over 75 divers during recent workshops and dives in the Florida Keys, Miami, and Palm Beach. The project also includes organized removals by local volunteer teams throughout the year. Additional workshops and dives are planned through the summer for the entire southeast Florida coast and it is anticipated that, after training, organized removal efforts will take place year round. For a list, and to register for upcoming workshops and dives, visit http://www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops.

Two Spaces Available on Upcoming BVI REEF Trip

Need to get away before the holidays get started? Two spots are still available on the Cuan Law livaboard November 11-17, one female share and one male share. This luxurious trimaran features a wonderful menu, wide stable platform, and dive sites of various habitats sailing around the British Virgin Islands – the perfect live-aboard combo! Some of the interesting fish we will be searching for include lancer dragonets, spotted eagle rays, and striking indigo hamlets. Join REEF fish ID experts, Sue Thompson, Linda Schillinger, and trip leader Heather George for a fun-filled cruise! Details are posted online here.

If this doesn't work in your schedule, be sure to check out the full REEF Trip schedule here. Many are already full or close to it for 2013. Don't miss your chance to take a "Dive Vacation That Counts!".

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Michael Murphy

Photo by Connie Bishop.
A Wolffish, with a face only a mother (or REEF surveyor!) could love. Photo by Andrew Martinez.
The Spiny Dogfish, always an exciting find for a Northeast REEF surveyor. Photo by Herb Segars.

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 Michael Murphy, a REEF surveyor in the Northeast. Mike joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 79 surveys, mostly around his home in New Brunswick, Canada. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

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

I have always used Andrew Martinez's Marine Life of the North Atlantic as a guide to fish and other under water sightings. It was a pleasure to meet him at Deer Island Point and talk with him about fish that we observed as well as their distinguishing features. He mentioned REEF and encouraged me to join as a way to record fish sightings. I have been a surveyor ever since! (Martinez's book is available through the REEF online store.)

What do you enjoy about being a REEF surveyor?

Being a REEF member has allowed me to participate in the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) each July as well as submit data year-round. I really enjoy learning about the most common fish species found in the Northeast and other dive destinations such as the Caribbean. The REEF educational webinar component, "Fishinars", is always entertaining and informative. In the future, I am hoping to use the data submitted from divers to aid in the establishment of an artificial reef and use ongoing submissions as a method of monitoring fish species. (Be sure not to miss the "Northeast Fishes" Fishinar coming up on June 13.)

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

I regularly dive at an awesome location, Deer Island Point in New Brunswick, Canada. It is about a two hour drive and free ferry trip from my home outside of Saint John. We often encounter divers from the New England States who come for the variety of organisms to be seen. It is great because there are four possible shore dives that you can enjoy, two of these are drift dives. The dives range from easy to advanced, but are subject to ties, and we can dive there year-round.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you have experienced?

I would list as most fascinating fish encounter as being a Tuna that was swimming so fast that my dive partner missed the sighting; although seeing some Spiny Dogfish ranks a close second. My favourite fish to see is a Wolffish, they are on the endangered species list and they are so distinctive that only their mother and a hard core diver would say they are beautiful to see.

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

I always encourage my dive partners to record their fish sighting and to submit their data. A good reference book is essential. Having the REEF Fish Identification Cards as well as a dive slate to record numbers is also important. Searching for fish, invertebrates, and plants connects me to the underwater world, which makes my diving experience that much more interesting and memorable.

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

Grouper Moon Project Update

Nassau Grouper spawned in Feburary, starting 3 days after full moon. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
Grouper Moon team members spend time on each dive at the aggregation collecting data on behaviors, numbers, and size.
The Grouper Moon team gives a thumbs up before leaving for a dive.
A Nassau Grouper in regular coloration stands out among the rest in the aggregation. Photo by Christy Semmens.
Eggs were collected during spawning and then reared in a lab for a few days.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon. Watch a short video montage of the aggregation and spawning action here - http://youtu.be/GwKVzPLgmbo

Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. This year, we tested out some new techniques for collecting and rearing fertilized eggs (in the montage video you will see a diver swimming through a spawn cloud with a plastic bag). After collecting Nassau grouper eggs during the two nights of peak spawning, Scripps scientists and REEF Grouper Moon Project volunteers cultured the eggs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman. After one night, a subset of eggs were preserved for research on fertilization rates. After two nights, the eggs had hatched, and researchers were surprised to find larval Nassau swimming around the tank the next morning. Check out this video of larval Nassau grouper under the microscope - http://youtu.be/0Vph6LzH9IE

In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.

Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, recently gave a Perspectives in Ocean Science talk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire talk is online. Click here to watch! To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2014, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club (especially Neil van Niekerk and the crew of the Lucky Devil for taking our team out in January), and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible - Adam, Alex, Brenda, Bradley, Croy, Guy, Hal, Ivan, James, Josh, Keith, Leslie, Laura, Lynn, Paul, Steve, and Todd. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub