REEF just completed our first bona fide New England Field Survey this past week. It was a big success and really ended up being a reconnoitering expedition to determine how REEF can better translate our Fish Survey Project to the Northeast where there are plenty of divers getting out in the water but very few who conduct surveys. There is also a seasonal effect for the northeast in that the fish all hibernate or leave when the water temperature drops to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving a 7 month fish surveying season in most areas (April-October). Shore diving is more the norm for many locations throughout New England and there are few commercial charter boats as you would find in the Caribbean, for instance. And dive clubs really are the main vehicle for divers to connect and coordinate temperate dives as well as arranging tropical dive trips for some winter relief.
Our REEF team was made up of 9 divers and we were based in historical Woods Hole on Cape Cod. We dived in Woods Hole, Dennis, and off of Cape Ann (our chilliest venue with bottom temps close to 50 degrees already. I co-lead this group with Holly Martel Bourbon, a marine fishery biologist and diving safety officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We were also joined by Sarah Taylor who is a New England Aquarium Aquarist II and collector. Together, Holly and I coordinated with a number of dive shops in the region and Maryhelen Shuman-Groh set up a REEF talk at the New England Aquarium Dive Club that meets every month at the aquarium and is where I got my start about 12 years ago. Incidentally, we surveyed a combined total of 19 fish species, no century dives in New England, let's just say you shoot for deca-dives (10 species) and this is why you won't find New England divers complaining on Caribbean dives, well, that and the fact that visibility beyond 10 feet is a blessing. We found a few wayward foureye and spotfin butterflyfish juveniles settled from the Gulf Stream. Next time we'll have to go to Rhode Island to help collect some of the tropicals.
New England diving is definitely unique and requires a special type of REEF capacity building to jumpstart the Fish Survey Project in the region. Bringing more dive shops into the fold such as Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester is a good first step in increasing REEF's efforts and the chance to engage the New England Aquarium Dive Club was especially important as this dive club reaches many of the naturalist divers in the region. I also attended a Boston Sea Rovers picnic (one of the oldest and most storied dive clubs in the U.S.) as Holly's guest and had the opportunity to speak with folks about REEF and our mission and hopes for increasing surveys in the region. Look for REEF to give a talk at the next Sea Rovers annual meeting in Boston http://www.bostonsearovers.com/ in March of 2008 and for us to give a REEF Citizens Science talk as part of the New England Aquarium's Lowell Lecture Series. We will also be partnering with the Aquarium as our newest Field Station http://neaq.org/. REEF and NEAQ will begin working on a number of training programs together to increase survey efforts in the northeast as well as having Aquarium divers become Advanced Assessment Team members and conduct surveys on their collection trips. There are many other opportunities for collaboration between NEAQ and REEF.
I would like to thank the REEF members who were all wonderful and patient on this trip as Holly and I had to kind of make things up as we went since this type of trip had not been done before, sort of a boat diving and shore diving mix, Bonaire meets New England without the yellow rocks. Thanks to Holly for co-leading the trip with me could not have done it without her) and to her boss, Vin Malkoski, for giving her the time to work with REEF and for the use of one of their vans for the week along with digital projector and many other shore diving supplies. Alison Johnson will be donating some underwater images from our dives for future curriculum/training along with Terrence Rioux, the dive safety officer for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). Holly and I plan on developing a more contemporary and appropriate curriculum that includes juvenile fish images and more inclusion of fish species that divers are likely to see on inshore dives. Lastly, I want to thank both Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester as well as the Marine Biological Laboratory for the use of their dive locker and their conference center at SWOPE.
Just prior to the holidays, Lad Akins and I had the pleasure of joining the Gray's Reef Research Area Working Group (RAWG) in Savannah, Georgia. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) is one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries, perhaps less well known to many of you than Stellwagon Bank or Monterey Bay Sanctuaries, and is located some 32 kilometers off the coast of Georgia. Remember that there has recently been an addition to our sanctuaries by George W. Bush (2006) in establishing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, including and extending beyond the Hawaiian archipelago. GRNMS is rectangular in its defined borders and is roughly 6.5 km N to S by 9 km E to W (17nm2) and is a popular site for recreational fishing and boating. Previous mapping and assessment studies have shown there to be 4 main benthic habitats within GRNMS that include flat sand, rippled sand, sparsely colonized live bottom, and densely colonized live bottom (ledges).
The workshop I attended was the latest iteration of several previous meetings that had the intention of exploring the concept of placing a research area (RA) inside the boundaries of GRNMS. The focus of the latest workshop was to specifically address what scientific data would be collected inside the proposed RA. The RA would be an area specifically designated for conducting controlled scientific studies in the absence of confounding factors such as recreational or commercial fishing. Previous workshops had convened to decide on biological, ecological, and socioeconomic variables that all would contribute to deciding on where to place the RA inside GRNMS borders. Deciding on the optimal RA configuration (square, hexagon, etc.), location within the sanctuary, and size (area) of the RA for biological questions alone led to some 35,000 options after detailed matrices were created to quantify a best fit design for the RA. "Best fit" in this case is a site that would minimize impact on bottom and recreational fishermen, have a high species richness and biomass, and would have strong research and educational value. And the research and public comment phase of this project has been ongoing for almost 10 years in a collaboration between a number of multidisciplinary groups. The magnitude of the previous work to date on establishing this RA along with the talented group assembled at this past workdshop really impressed me. Furthermore, the dedication and commitment of numerous individuals and agencies in developing management tools that consider multiple stakeholders such as recreational and commercial fishing interests, scuba divers and spear fishermen, and boaters, were equally impressive. If the general public had insight into how complicated decisions such as the one this group convened are to make, they would have more empathy for the folks making these decisions.
REEF's direct interest in establishing an RA within GRNMS is that we will likely be leading the fish monitoring component of the ongoing studies for the newly established RA. Of course, there will be many studies occurring within the RA involving benthic ecology, discarded gear assessments, and numerous studies quantifying the effects of a no-take, exclusionary zone within a sanctuary. The location,boundary, and definition of the RA still need to be decided as do the types and number of research projects that will take place inside the RA. More meetings and public discourse are scheduled before research gets going and REEF becomes involved. But I know that our REEF AAT will be excited at the prospect of doing more work at GRNMS in the future, so stay tuned. For more information on GRNMS, please visit http://graysreef.noaa.gov/. Incidentally, Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) have been found inside the sanctuary and Lad Akins, REEF's exotic species director, will be collaborating with GRNMS on future assessments. If you're wondering what fishes you might see in GRNMS, Belted sandfish, Black sea bass, and Slippery Dicks dominate the landscape, for a full report from previous projects there see our website http://www.reef.org/db/reports/geo/TWA/9302.
Please look for more information in future Enews editions on the progress of selecting the RA in the future and REEF's collaboration on monitoring fish at GRNMS.
This year we would like to get more volunteers into the water conducting fish surveys. The fun part of the GAFC is not just the talks, but afterward getting into the water to do the surveys. You can help by organizing a GAFC dive. It's easy to do:
Pick a date date and location during June or July to conduct a Fish ID Seminar
Pick a date in July for a GAFC Dive
Register your GAFC event with REEF
Start thinking about when you want to schedule a seminar or dive in your area, then let us know what you have planned!
Together, we can make the 17th Great Annual Fish Count a huge success.
The 5 P’s, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance and hindsight give you 20/20 vision, both play into REEF Trips. Keeping these mantras in mind, let’s talk about the 5 P’s first.
Have you checked out the latest 2009 REEF Trip Calendar updates? If not, now is the time, several trips are already ½ filled. Don’t wait - you might be having to take second or third choice because the trip you really wanted to go on is filled up - now that would be poor performance – although in this case 2nd choice might not be so bad but don’t wait, start planning and make that call.
One of the first REEF Field Surveys of the year is to St. Lucia.
On one of those big birthdays I promised myself among other things to visit somewhere I had never been before every year for the rest of my life. Well in 2009 it is going to be St. Lucia for me – St. Lucia has been on my list for quite a awhile and now I am going to make the trip and explore my 2009 new place on the earth from under and over the sea.
I love the excitement of reading and learning and contemplating the things I might do and see once I get there. We will be staying at Anse Chastanet and diving with Scuba St. Lucia. Who knows we might even spot a Snakefsh or a Bluelip Parrotfish – but in order to see them you have to be there – so call our REEF Dedicated Travel Desk and let’s go explore and experience the REEF way -- 1-877-295-7333 (REEF).
Don’t forget while we are on this trip you can earn your Level 3, 4 or 5 Surveyor – making your surveys Expert Surveys that count even more!
This month’s Tip is to seriously consider Travel Protection when you book your trip. It could save your vacation investment if you happen to need it. When you call our REEF Travel Desk at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) ask for the details. Benefits include:
• Trip Cancellation• Trip Interruption• Travel Delay• Baggage/Personal Effects• Baggage Delay• Emergency Medical, Hospital & Dental Expenses• Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation• Assistance Service
In addition REEF gets a commission for every policy purchased by REEF members on REEF Trips. So not only do you protect your valuable vacation investment but you also help REEF out in the process. How cool is that? So remember when our very own REEF Travel Consultant asks if you want to purchase Travel Protection for your trip – the answer is yes, absolutely.
All divers should also consider an annual Diving Accident Insurance Plan, like DAN's program. This covers diving related incidents and accidents, costly chamber fees, lost diving equipment and even non diving accidents that might occur during a dive trip. Insurance is designed to protect the financial well-being of an individual or other entity in the case of unexpected loss but it doesn’t work after the fact, so as the old county adage goes hindsight is 20/20 – don’t be the one saying I wish I would have…………………….
Our trips are filling up so to make sure you get your first choice - check out our 2009 REEF Trip Schedule and call the REEF Dedicated Travel Desk at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail us at REEF@caradonna.com. Let’s go make some Dives that Count!
Field Surveys -- these fun and educational dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". I am looking for folks to join me in St. Croix in May, details are below. I recently returned from leading a group of amazing REEF volunteers on the Field Survey week in St. Lucia. The diving was great and everyone managed to see a new species during the week. Most notable for me – on my fish wish list was the Cardinal Soldierfish.
I had looked through the book many times and always paused on this photo – thinking it looked like a cartoon character with those crazy looking eyes. In fact I thought the sad sack face was just the angle Paul had taken the picture, but when James Brook shined his light into a vase sponge there it was – looking just exactly like the photograph, crazy eyes and all. I laughed out loud. Then I proceeded to look in every sponge I found for the rest of the week and I managed to find another dozen. How cool is that?
The REEF Team comprised of James and Ann Brook, Kay Tidemann, Pam McDevitt, Martha Barrow, Norbert and April Hoeller, Michael and Ellen Berson, west coast east, coast sisters Helen and Sally Davies, Marion Sinclair, Julio Esparza, and me the irreverent fish leader. We stayed at Anse Chastanet Resort, which is perched on a hillside (as per Michael and Pam who counted the steps to their rooms it was between 137 and 178 steps from beach to room). The food was great and the REEF package included all the meals (good thing we had all those steps) with a choice of 5 restaurants. The rooms looked out on the World Heritage Site of Gros Piton and Petite Piton, with birds and flowers everywhere.
The diving was close and diverse. The dive staff of Dive St. Lucia, Ponti, Ubald, Garfield and Chad could not have taken better care of us. Chad carried Martha off the boat so she wouldn’t get sand in her shoes – what service! Most gratifying for all of us was having Ponti and Ubald become the world's newest REEF Members one morning before our dives. Kay, Martha, and Pam showed them how to submit their survey data on line. Sally and Kay generously gifted their Reef Fish ID books to the newly minted REEF Members. Both guides said that we had given them a new excitement for their job. Ponti, like me, is an SSI Platinum Pro 5000 diver, and that means he has over 5,000 dives – so imagine how excited we all were to be able to share our philosophy of fish with them and teach an old fish some new tricks!
James shared his unbelievable knowledge about what we were all seeing and gave a guest lecture on Damsels in Distress, Parrot(head) Fish and something about Smart Wrasse. Kay, our other Level 5 Expert, generously dove with some of the newly minted fish watchers and coached them through some of their first surveys. It was a very diverse group in Fish IQ, sense of humor and goals for the week – so we made quite the eclectic team. The dive staff accommodated our unique style of diving and we had 1 hour + bottom times, a variety of environments and even made some 2 and 3 site dives on 1 tank. At James’ suggestion we even did a dusk dive and watched the changing of the guard. As Helen Davies said – “It was magical” I couldn’t agree more.
So what is the travel tip and trick – well I need some people to go with me to St. Croix, May 9-16. I have been there before and the north shore is great diving and absolutely gorgeous. The resort is the Carambola Beach Resort which recently went through a major renovation. You would think you were somewhere in the South Pacific from the architecture, palm trees and beach.
The dive operator is Cane Bay Dive Shop and they are fun to dive with and are all a bunch of fish nerds – really! They also have a brand new 36 foot Newton which is the Cadillac of dive boats. Since I can’t actually go by myself - something about doing lectures alone hints at insanity and doing a survey alone is not nearly the same amount of fun as being with a group (and remember we always need to dive with a buddy). So I am looking for 10 buddies to come with me. St. Croix is a key destination in the lionfish epidemic. They have had several confirmed sightings and we really need to get as much survey data about these reefs as we can. Now is the time.
We will also be doing a lionfish presentation and working with the local dive operators and stakeholders to help educate and raise awareness for this terrible environmental scourge. The REEF members on the trip will be able to see firsthand some of the invasive species work that REEF does. And just in case we see a lionfish we will bag it and eat it.
So here is the travel tip – St. Croix – beautiful, exotic and interesting, needs REEF divers to provide fish population density and diversity stats. Only a short plane ride, great accommodations, great diving and you never know what might swim by. We are shooting for a St. Croix Hat Trick (aren’t you curious now?). Time is of the essence so call our dedicated Travel Desk today and get your space booked. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.
As part of REEF's ongoing efforts to engage new divers and snorkelers into the Volunteer Survey Project, as well as to provide existing REEF volunteers with continued training and survey opportunities, we coordinated a REEF Workshop in Southern California last month. The free identification classes, which were taught by REEF Instructor Janna Nichols, were very well attended and the workshop series was a success. Almost 100 divers turned out to take the REEF California Fish and Invertebrate Identification classes and about a dozen divers joined in the survey event at Malaga Cove. It was a great opportunity to reinvigorate REEF's programs in Southern California and to mobilize a corps of dedicated surveyors who will begin conducting surveys on their regular recreational dives.
Funding support for the workshop series was provided by a foundation grant. REEF is dedicated to continuing these opportunities and we are planning to return to LA/OC area next Spring, as well as plan similar events in San Diego and Central California. A huge thanks to Deb Karimoto of Orange County diving, Eric Frasco of Dive 'n' Surf dive shop and Heather George for logistical help, and to REI Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach Tennis Club for letting us hold the classes at their facilities.
As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.
It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist.
"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).
To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.
Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.
The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.
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:
- An educator and researcher from the University of Connecticut is using data as part of a field science class. His students will use the data to evaluate fish populations in advance of their field coursework.
- A postdoc from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce is using data from Stetson Bank in the Gulf of Mexico (part of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary) to evaluate changes in the bank's fish populations.
REEF Advanced Assessment Team Member, Dave Grenda, recently co-authored a paper documenting behavioral observations of young Great Barracuda occurring on live bottom sub-tropical reefs primarily at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Georgia. For the past three years Dave assisted University of Connecticut researcher, Dr. Peter Auster, in studying behavioral interactions of piscivores and their prey. During REEF surveys on these cruises, Dave and the other researchers documented young-of-year (YOY) Great Barracuda (those individuals that had very recently settled to the reef, and were between 2-3 inches in length) hunting YOY Tomtate and Silverside that were taking refuge under ledges. Groups of YOY Barracuda would attack, capture, and consume the prey. Prey that escaped the Barracuda retreated to reef edges and were often consumed by bottom-dwelling adult piscivores such as Black Sea Bass, Bank Sea Bass, and Scamp Grouper. These findings indicate that given the strong functional role the young Barracuda have on driving species interactions, greater attention should be given to the roles played by the wider diversity of YOY piscivores recruiting to reef communities. The paper was recently published in the scientific journal Southeastern Naturalist. You can find a link to this and all published papers that have included REEF data on our Publications page.