Putting It To Work: New Publication Showing Value of REEF Survey Data for Fisheries Management

Mutton Snapper, one of the species included in a recent paper using REEF data. Photo by Carlos and Allison Estape.

We are proud to share news of a new scientific publication using REEF data that was recently published in the top-tier science journal, Ecology. The paper, "Demographic modeling of citizen science data informs habitat preferences and population dynamics of recovering fishes", was co-authored by fisheries scientists from NOAA Fisheries and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, along with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens. The authors combine citizen science data collected at large scales from REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project with recently developed statistical demographic modeling techniques. The model analysis included two managed reef fishes in the Gulf of Mexico, Goliath Grouper and Mutton Snapper, to estimate population trends, habitat associations, and interannual variability in recruitment. The results identify strong preferences for artificial structure for the recovering Goliath Grouper, while revealing little evidence of either habitat associations or trends in abundance for Mutton Snapper. Results also highlight the utility and management benefits of combining demographic population models and citizen science data. Visit REEF's Publications page to read more about this study, access the original paper, and information on the over 50 other scientific publications that have included REEF programs and data.

Join Us in September for REEF Fest in Key Largo

We are excited to announce REEF Fest 2015, a celebration to be held this fall in Key Largo (September 24 - 27, 2015). We hope you will join us for diving, seminars, and parties! Come celebrate the success and impact of REEF's marine conservation programs and education initiatives.

Festivities begin Thursday with afternoon seminars and then a welcome party at the Caribbean Club. Friday and Saturday are full days, with diving in the mornings, seminars in the afternoons, and social events in the evenings (Friday Open House at REEFHQ and Saturday Celebration Dinner Party). The fun wraps up on Sunday with a few more organized dives. Seminar topics include: Introduction and Advanced Florida Keys Fish ID, The Best of Blennies, Fish Behavior, Keys Habitats and Ecosystems, Amazing Sharks, Restoring Coral Reefs, and program updates from REEF Staff.

All REEF Fest events are open to the public. Complete details on the schedule, including the lineup of seminars, diving opportunities, and social gatherings, as well as travel logistics and hotel arrangements, are available online at www.REEF.org/REEFFest2015

Why are we celebrating? In the summer of 1993, a group of pioneering volunteers conducted the first REEF fish surveys. Twenty-two years later, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. REEF Fest is a semi-annual event that celebrates our work and the volunteers that make it possible.

Questions? Check out the REEF Fest website, send us an email at REEFHQ@REEF.org, or call us at 305-852-0030. We look forward to seeing you all in September!

2016 Fishinar Lineup

Don't miss the Manta-nar on January 12th! Photo by Carol Cox.

We are very excited to announce our 2016 Fishinar schedule. We have a great lineup of free and fun webinars, covering a wide array of ocean topics. In addition to many fish and invertebrate ID classes, we also have a Manta-nar on the schedule, as well as sessions with dynamic guest speakers including Ned and Anna DeLoach, Ray Troll, and Val Kells. In total, we have 23 Fishinars planned for next year!

If you haven't yet attended a Fishinar, add it to your list of resolutions to do in the new year. From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information, a complete list of classes, registration information, access to archives, and more. And keep checking back because more sessions are always being added.

2016 Fishinars (all times listed are EST)

Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel, Wednesday Jan 6th at 8pm, with Tracey Griffin & Jonathan Lavan

Manta-nar, Tuesday Jan 12th at 9pm, with Joshua Stewart from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Pacific Northwest Invertebrates and Algae, Tuesday Jan 19th at 10pm, with Janna Nichols

The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm, with Carol Cox

Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm, with Artist Ray Troll

Common Reef Fishes of Tubbataha Reef Philippines, Monday Mar 21st at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

Fishes of the Philippines Muck, Wednesday Mar 23rd at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

The Lionfish Invasion: Current Findings and Control Efforts, Wednesday Apr 6th at 8pm, with Emily Stokes

More Holy Moly Gobies, Wednesday Apr 13th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Fishes and Invertebrates of the Carolinas, Tuesday Apr 19th and Thursday Apr 21st at 8pm, with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec

You Do WHAT For a Living?: The next chapter, Tuesday Apr 26th at 8pm, with Scientific Illustrator and Author Val Kells

Hawaii Life on a Coral Head: Hawkfishes and more, Wednesday May 4th, at 10pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

The Wrasse Class- Back in School, Tuesday May 17th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Northeast's Less Frequently Seen Fish, Thursday May 26th at 8pm, with Janna Nichols and Jason Feick

Life in the Muck: Blue Heron Bridge, Wednesday Jun 1st at 8pm, with Carlos & Allison Estape

Super Duper Groupers, Part Deux, Wednesday Jun 22nd at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Less Frequently Seen Fish of Virgin Gorda BVI, Thursday Jul 14th at 8pm, with Janna Nichols

Fishes of Bermuda, Tuesday Aug 30th at 8pm, with Ned and Anna DeLoach

Underwater Residents of Barkley Sound BC, Thursday, Sep 8th at 10pm, with Janna Nichols

Common Fishes of Micronesia, Wednesday Sep 21st at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

Sea Saba Underwater, Tuesday Oct 4th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Hawaii Life in the Sand, Monday Nov 14th at 10pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

**All times Eastern Time**

Celebrate World Ocean's Day in June with a Unique Fishinar

The amazing Blue Heron Bridge. Photo by Kim Seng.
Learn all about Caribbean grouper later this month. Photo by Jeff Haines.

The Blue Heron Bridge in Florida is known for quirky, uncommon fish sightings found in the mucky habitat. Guest presenters Carlos and Allison Estape will highlight many of these bizarre fish in a two-part online REEF Fishinar to celebrate World Oceans Day. The first session, held last night, is now archived online. Later in June we'll highlight fishes of the Grouper family in the TWA region.

  • Wednesday, June 1st and Tuesday June 7th - Blue Heron Bridge: Life in the Muck, a two part class, with Carlos and Allison Estape
  • Wednesday, June 22nd - Super Duper Groupers, with Jonathan Lavan
  • Thursday, July 14th - Less Frequently Seen Fish of Virgin Gorda with Janna Nichols
  • Tuesday, August 30th - Fishes of Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach

Everyone, including divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers, is welcome to join in these free, online webinars. You don't need any special equipment (other than your computer or mobile device) to log on and join in.

Be sure to visit www.REEF.org/fishinars to look over the entire 2016 schedule, get more details, and register for your favorite ones. We record all sessions for later viewing, and our archives are available for free viewing for REEF members.

Annual REEF Monitoring Projects in the Pacific Northwest

A YOY Canary Rockfish, one of many seen during 2016 summer projects in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Janna Nichols.
One of REEF's AAT members, Greg Jensen, finishes off a survey dive. Photo by Janna Nichols.

We recently conducted the 2016 surveys on two important long-term monitoring projects in Washington State. Data have been processed, and results are available for viewing. One of the most surprising results was the high abundance of many species of Young-of-the-Year (YOY, aka baby) Rockfish seen on both projects. This is a very unusual sighting, and possibly a good sign for things to come for these threatened species.

The first project is the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary monitoring project, started in 2003. REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) divers annually monitor fish and invertebrates in this remote area of rugged Washington State coastline. The team documented 100 species of fish and invertebrates, as well as YOY of 10 different rockfish species. Data for 2016 may be viewed here.

The second project began in 2013, and monitors fish and invertebrates in Washington State's San Juan Islands, which are centrally located within the Salish Sea. This project is done in conjunction with the SeaDoc Society, and also uses the AAT members within the region. Data for this project may now be viewed here. Annual results from this project have been important in tracking the spread of Sea Star Wasting disease.

Thanks to our many divers who lent their expertise in diving and identifying fish and invertebrates underwater, as well as the dive charters and donors who help fund these critical projects.

We Met Our Goal - and you made it happen!

This summer, we set an ambitious goal of raising $150,000. Our members donated generously to support REEF's expansion project and because of you, we were able to reach our goal! Thank you to our members who donated this summer, and a special thank you to Monroe County for matching these gifts.

Your support during this special summer campaign means so much to us. We are in the midst of an exciting expansion at REEF, which includes adding a new Interpretive Center building, installing educational exhibits in our historic headquarters building, creating a Native Plants Trail, and setting the new "Pathway to Conservation" with the inscribed bricks from our donors. Construction has been moving along all summer, and soon the project will be complete. Thanks to our members' support, we will be able to share our ocean conservation mission with even more people!

Thank you again to everyone who donated this summer - we could not accomplish our mission without you.

Shop With a Purpose

When you shop under the Amazon Smile program designating REEF as your chosen non-profit, Amazon donates a portion of your purchase to us. The latest quarterly donation from the Amazon Smile program has put $184.78 into REEF's account - and it just keeps growing (the previous quarter we received $155.02) as more of you participate in joining this easy way to give to REEF. Bookmark this link as your starting point for your Amazon shopping and feel good about your purchases knowing their helping to support REEF's conservation programs: http://smile.amazon.com/ch/65-0270064. Happy Holidays!

5th Annual Nearshore Assessment Conducted in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

The REEF OCNMS '07 Team: Kirby Johnson, Stan Kurowski, Reg Reisenbichler (l. to r. back row); Phil Green, Rhoda Green, Captain Mike Ferguson, Doug Biffard (l. to r. front row)
A REEF surveyor returns from a dive to the Porthole Dive Charter's diving vessel Dash on a very calm day diving in the Olympic Coast NMS.

A team of Pacific REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) divers recently conducted a week-long project conducting surveys of fish and invertebrate communities along the rugged outer coast of Washington.  The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers over 3,300 square miles of ocean off Washington State's rugged and rocky Olympic Peninsula coastline.  Sanctuary waters host abundant marine life.  A small but important stretch of coastline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca features some of the best diving in Washington State, but is rarely visited because of the remote location and limited diving facilities. 

The team included 6 REEF AAT members and conducted 5 days of diving with Porthole Charters.  The weather, which is always a wild card out there, fully cooperated and the team was able to visit all of our priority sites within the Sanctuary, most of which have been surveyed annually since 2002.  A total of 72 surveys were conducted.  To find out more about REEF's work in the OCNMS, visit http://www.reef.org/programs/sanctuaries/OCNMS .

Funding and support for this year's project was generously provided by Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA), an anonymous private foundation, the Winter's Summer Inn in Seiku, and the REEF survey participants.  REEF encourages our Washington members to join WSA - it's free.

Five-Year Wellwood Restoration Assessment Completed

The M/V Wellwood aground on Molasses Reef. Photo courtesy of the FKNMS.
A REEF diver conducts an RDT survey at the Restoration Site in October 2002, with several restoration modules in view.
Location map showing areas of fish monitoring effort.
Transplanted specimens of Sstaghorn coral on one of the restoration modules (colonies were transplanted in 2004, photo taken August 2007). Photo by Ken Nedimyer.
Wellwood AAT Team, Summer 2007

REEF has just completed our final assessment report for our five-year Wellwood Restoration Site monitoring project. Before I share some results from our study, let me give you a little background information and please visit our website to view our full report http://www.reef.org/programs/monitoring/wellwood. The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). The ship impacted the reef’s upper fore reef and subsequently remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living coral reef and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework. Prior to the grounding, the area was a transition zone with high relief coral formations. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. 

The study area of this project included a portion of the grounding area that is being restored and two adjacent reference sites. The Restoration site surveyed included restoration modules and contiguous low profile hardbottom areas adjacent to and in between the restoration modules. Nearby high profile reef, ledges, and undamaged/unrestored reef were not included as part of the Restoration Site. A north and south undamaged reef area were both used as two control sites to compare fish sighting data between the Restoration area and the natural (control) reefs.

REEF’s study focused on fish assemblages and not the coral and invertebrate communities. A team of Advanced Assessment Team REEF Experts conducted Roving Diver Technique (RDT) surveys in addition to belt transect surveys on the Wellwood restoration site and two adjacent natural reef sites seven times during Year 1. The team visited the sites once prior to restoration (May 2002) and 13 times after restoration was completed, monthly for the first three months, quarterly for the following year and semi-annually thereafter. An average of 12 surveys of each survey type was conducted during each survey effort. While REEF surveyors used the RDT surveys to collect sighting frequency and abundance data on fishes over all three reef areas, the belt-transect method was used to collect density and biomass data on fish taxa. These two methods used together give us a snapshot of how the restoration site is recovering in terms of fish assemblages as compared to the two non-impacted, adjacent reef areas.

Obviously, the most notable observation a diver makes when diving on the Restoration site is one of just how long it takes coral reefs to recover after devastating ship impacts. The Restoration site shows little resemblance to the surrounding non-impacted reef sites. The areas surrounding the Restoration site are high relief reef areas dominated by reef building corals with some very old colonies of Star coral (Monastrea annularis) and Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), old to the tune of thousands, not hundreds of years old. Age is important here since it takes a long time for coral colonies to rebuild structure and relief that attract different fishes over time. The smaller overall fish populations and absence of many species of fish on the damaged site are both conspicuous and the lack of coral structure makes it easy to destinguish the Restoration area from the surrounding reefs even 23 years after the initial ship grounding. However, there are signs that fishes are very slowly recruiting onto the Restoration site.

During the monitoring period (2002 - 2007), a total of 165 species were recorded at the Restoration site, 189 species at the North reference site and 207 species at the South reference site. The Restoration site recovery is clearly aided by the addition of restoration modules (2002), increasing the amount of available habitat suitable for reef fish communities, think vertical habitat here, and recessed areas underneath these modules for fish to shelter. At the Wellwood grounding site, the overall fish diversity as well as density and biomass of most key fish families continue to be less than that of the two nearby, non-impacted reefs that were selected as monitoring reference sites. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding the quickest to the restoration efforts, grazing along a recovering hard coral landscape currently dominated by soft corals (Gorgonians). Nearly absent today on the damaged area are sightings of grunts and snappers, both of which are seen in high frequency and abundance on surrounding reef sites with plenty of relief for them to take cover. Residency of fish, movement patterns and habitat usage are all important indicators of reef recovery. So are linking coral, invertebrate, and fish studies to see a more complete picture of how the Restoration site is improving. There are signs outside of the slowly improving trends the data show such as a little Redspotted hawkfish that has taken residence on one of the modules with lots of Ken's Staghorn coral affixed.

Many more studies are necessary to properly evaluate recovery dynamics for reefs and since most reef recoveries worldwide are hampered by other anthropogenic impacts such as overfishing, excessive nutrient loading from human pollutants, and global warming stresses, these case studies are critically important in developing mitigation strategies for damaged reefs. For the full report on our Wellwood findings, please visit our website http://www.reef.org/programs/monitoring/wellwood. REEF would like to thank the many individual REEF members who dived on this project over the past 5 years, as well as Quiesscence Dive Shop in Key Largo for dive support, and Ken Nedimyer for photos and his ongoing coral replenishment work. And finally, our thanks to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for contracting REEF for this project. We hope that this work will continue in order to monitor the long term changes in fish assemblages on the Restoration site.


History of the GAFC

The idea of an annual fish monitoring came over 25 year ago, with the first official Great American Fish Count (GAFC) in 1992. Dr. Gary Davis led the Channel Islands National Park effort as way to encourage sport divers to report fish sightings. The small number of marine scientists, the immensity of the oceans and the scarcity of funding required that volunteers be trained to assist with a nation-wide fish monitoring effort.

The use of volunteers to monitor animal species has proven to be extremely successful. The GAFC was modeled after the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which continues to play a significant role in documenting and raising awareness of the declining populations of migratory birds, and has helped reduce destruction of their habitat.

The first GAFC event was held at Anacapa Island, California with fifty participants. The event was focused during the first two weeks of July to attempt to capture as many divers as possible and attract media attention. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary joined in 1994. By 1995, the GAFC had become a coordinated effort between the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The ultimate goal of the GAFC was to have divers become interested enough in fish monitoring to map and adopt sites that could then be visited year-round.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program expressed interest in the GAFC and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) working together to support and promote volunteer fish monitoring throughout the entire Sanctuary program. By the end of 1997, the GAFC evolved into a national event held during July of each year coordinated by American Oceans Campaign, REEF, and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program. By 1999, REEF became the sole organizer of the GAFC with continued partnership with and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program.

In 2001, a full-time dedicated staff was hired to managed the logistics and planning of the GAFC thanks to the Curtis & Edith Munson Foundation, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and PADI Project Aware. The 2001 event was a huge success. The number of seminars quadrupled and many dives were conducted throughout the nation, Canada, and in the Caribbean. Many GAFC dives were conducted within National Marine Sanctuaries, such as Florida Keys, Gray's Reef, Stellwagen Bank, Flower Garden Banks, Monterey, Channel Islands, and Hawaii. Approximately 900 people participated and over 1,900 surveys were conducted during the July event that year. 

Due to the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia, in 2002, the Great American Fish Count officially changed its name to the Great Annual Fish Count.

Today, REEF is the sole coordinator for the event which continues to grow and brings in approximately 2,000 marine life surveys in the month of July alone. These efforts reach hundreds of volunteers throughout REEF's survey regions in dozens of countries. 17th GAFC this year in 2008 is sure to be a great one - get involved!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub