Winter full moons mean that it's grouper spawning time! Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. We estimate that between 5,000 and 7,000 Nassau grouper come to the site to spawn. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Program, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. In 2003, the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands (both current and historic). This ban expires later this year and new legislation is being developed. We are rapidly compiling the results of our research, which will provide the Cayman Islands government guidance on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.
Earlier this month, we had a small team in the field- Dr. Selina Heppell (OSU researcher), Stephanie Archer (OSU graduate student), and Brenda Hitt (long-time REEF Grouper Moon volunteer). They witnessed spawning on two nights following the January full moon. We expect February to be the "main" spawning month (based on past research, we know it has to do with when the full moon is in relation to the winter solstice). A much larger team of researchers and volunteers will be on the island to conduct a full suite of research projects. We will also be producing several outreach products aimed at promoting the management and conservation of these spawning aggregations. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting and important marine conservation research. In the mean time, to find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. To see video of the aggregation during the day, check out this video on YouTube taken last year. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.
During our Summer Fundraising Campaign, we reach out to you, our valued members, and ask for your financial support. Your contribution will ensure that our important marine conservation work can continue. Donations made during the campaign will be matched dollar for dollar by the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, doubling the impact of your support. You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030. REEF is making a difference in the marine environment. We strive to stay on the cutting edge of science, education, and outreach initiatives, but we cannot do this without your support. Thank you to everyone who has already donated. Please help us meet our goal of raising $60,000 in 60 days.
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 feature Patricia Richardson (REEF member since 2000). Pat lives on the Big Island in Hawaii, and is a member of REEF's Hawaii Advanced Assessment Tea. Pat has conducted 778 surveys, and most of these have been done at one site. She has really enjoyed getting to know every critter that lives in her neighborhood spot. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
Richardson Ocean Park in Hilo, Hawaii, is near my home – and by chance shares my name. In 2000, I decided I wanted to learn as much as I could about the fish life in this popular beach area with the purpose of keeping a record of species diversity and general ocean health. Not long after I began my project, Liz Foote and Donna Brown came to Hilo to conduct a REEF training session. The REEF survey methods were a perfect match with my personal project! Before I left the training session, I was signed up, tested for Level 2, and hooked! I submitted my first survey dated January, 2001.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Since then I have become SCUBA certified and have participated in four REEF survey trips in Hawaii led by Christy and Brice Semmens. My favorite was the trip to Kauai in August of 2006. I saw my first pair of Tinker’s Butterflyfish, also a Hawaiian Morwong and a Whiskered Boarfish. The last two fish are more common in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands than in our main islands. We were also thrilled to see Hawaiian monk seals on several dives. Another REEF adventure was a trip to American Samoa in 2010 to help REEF extend survey methods into the South Pacific. This was my first chance to do surveys out of my home waters. It was very exciting to see many new species along with familiar “faces” from Hawaii.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
Keeping a close watch on the fish life at Richardson Ocean Park is still my favorite activity. I use mask, snorkel, and fins because the average depth of the area I survey is 4 to 6 feet, with occasional drops to 20 feet if the surf is down. A single survey usually takes about 2.5 hours. After ten years and about 700 surveys in this one small area, I am still amazed each time I enter the water with the constant change and constant beauty I find there. From time to time, something new pops up to keep me alert. Recently it was a Yellowhead (Banded) Moray. And a couple times it was a Hawaiian Monk Seal! Unfortunately, there’s no place on the data sheet for that! I also drive to Kona on the west side of Hawaii Island to dive and snorkel, always with my underwater survey slate in hand.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
My connection with REEF gives me the satisfaction of being a “citizen scientist” and a good excuse to spend several hours each week following beautiful fish around and watching their fascinating behavior. After a decade as a REEF fish counter, I am looking forward to the next decade. It’s the greatest retirement project I can imagine!
Want to learn a few of the Hawaiian fishes that Pat loves so well? Join the upcoming Fishinar, March 21st:
Fish that Say Aloha! Hawaii's Top 15
Hawaiian REEF Fish ID: Learn tips from REEF Experts and fish geeks, Donna Brown and Liz Foote.
Essential for dive travelers heading to the Hawaiian Islands, and kama'aina alike.
Wednesday, March 21st at 4pm HST / 7pm PDT / 10pm EDT - Register
Earlier this month, for World Oceans Day, the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation celebrated by pledging to match contributions to REEF dollar for dollar, up to $30,000! Our campaign to raise funds for protecting Nassau Grouper, controlling invasive Lionfish, and inspiring citizen science through the Volunteer Fish Survey Project is off to a great start. But we still need your help to reach our goal in the next 30 days. If you haven't yet had a chance, please contribute today. You can double your donation in the upcoming month by contributing online through our secure web form. Or you can print the donation form and mail or fax your donation, or call our staff at REEF headquarters (305-852-0030).
Contributions from members like you fuel the success of our programs. With your donation, we can expand our new online "Fishinars," which are growing rapidly in popularity. We can continue to fund lionfish education and outreach efforts, such as the Lionfish Cookbook, training and handling workshops, and derbies. Our staff can also keep working with Cayman Islands officials after the recent victory that extended the ban on fishing in Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations. These are just some highlights of REEF accomplishments that are funded by individual contributions. With a chance to double your donation, no gift is too small!
REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, has co-authored several recent scientific publications on the invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic, including:
-Diet richness of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish revealed by DNA barcoding. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Significant research by REEF researchers and others has been conducted looking at stomach contents of lionfish to identify prey. However, relatively few prey species have been identified because of the challenge of identifying partly digested prey. The authors of this study addressed this issue by DNA-barcoding unidentifiable fish items from the stomachs of 130 lionfish. They identified 37 prey species, half of which had previously not been recorded as lionfish prey.
-Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets. Bulletin of Marine Science. This paper uses data from the 20,000+ REEF surveys conducted in Florida since the early 1990s, along with other long-term data sources, to document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys. Between 2009 and 2011, lionfish frequency of occurrence, abundance, and biomass increased rapidly, increasing three- to six-fold between 2010 and 2011 alone.
- Habitat complexity and fish size affect the detection of Indo-Pacific lionfish on invaded coral reefs. Coral Reefs. This paper explores detectability rates of lionfish using underwater visual census methods such as belt transects and stationary visual census. Knowing the error in these methods specficially for lionfish is necessary to help study this invasive species in the western Atlantic. The authors found that the two census methods detect fewer than 30% of lionfish present in an area and, in more than 50% of the cases, fail to detect any lionfish when one or more indivudals are actually present.
For a complete list of publications featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.
REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.
During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.
The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.
As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.
We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.
With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to:
Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).
The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.
The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at email@example.com.
Okay, well not exactly. But now that I have your attention. We ARE counting something in REEF HQ's backyard, not fish, but birds! I have signed myself /REEF up for Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology Project FeederWatch, an annual survey of birds that visit bakcyard feeders in winter. I have known about this other great citizen science program for a couple of years and like many of you, my love for birds, equals my affinity for fishes. Last week, 4 painted buntings visited REEF's feeder for a little over a week! You can see my fuzzy picture of a couple of them at the feeder from afar in one of the attached photos. This prompted me to go online and investigate Cornell University's FeederWatch Program further. From their homepage you will read, "FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each species they see at their feeders from November through early April. FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance." Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it?
Spend a little time on their website and you will see that FeederWatch parallels REEF programmatically in a few significant ways: 1. Anyone can participate in North America, all different levels from beginners to experts; 2. We both begin participation by purchasing a starter kit, FeederWatch calls theirs a Participant Kit and it costs $15; 3. Both organizations have online Dataentry and tracking of individual participant data; 4. Similar absence/presence data, abundances, and distribution for both groups in addition to viewing individuals' data http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/PFW/ExploreData; 5. Both of our organizations utilize citizen science data to inform and assist scientists in assessing population abundance indices of important avian and fish species, leading to peer-reviewed publications and ultimately influencing species and habitat management decistions; 6. You can check on their database to see what birds are rare in your area and if there are any other FeederWatch stations near you, just as REEF members can check for fish sighting frequencies and dive sites that have been surveyed in our areas of interest.
I'm sure there are many more parallels I could draw for you, but you get the point. One important note and the reason I am submitting this article right now is that FeederWatch season runs from the the second Saturday in November through April and is a winter activity. For all of our temperate REEF members who are looking for something to count when you're not underwater, this is it! To learn more, check out their website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/Overview/over_index.html.