More than sixty people gathered earlier this month at the Fish House Encore in Key Largo, Florida, for Lionfish Food and Wine Night. Before dining, event attendees learned about the lionfish invasion and the importance of removing lionfish from marine environments. Peter Tselikis, chef at Fish House Encore, showed the audience how to cook two popular lionfish dishes. Lad Akins, a renowned lionfish expert and REEF Director of Special Projects, taught the audience how to fillet lionfish, avoiding the venomous spines.
The invasive species, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction, was prepared four different ways with a creative medley of ingredients and wine selections. Entrées included bacon-wrapped barbeque lionfish, sea salt-cured lionfish ceviche, and poached lionfish. Many guests said their favorite dish was Lionfish Bermuda, a lionfish fillet encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked and served with a sweet and sour sauce atop baby arugula salad.
“It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Akins. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”
Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have now invaded the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. In the invaded range, they have been documented to be gluttonous predators of native fish and invertebrates. One published study co-authored by Akins (Green et al. 2012) shows lionfish reduced the native fish prey community at some sites in the Bahamas by an average of 65% in just two years. Some sites had a 95% decline. Despite the dismal outlook, there is good news. Published studies show local control by divers and fishers can be effective, Akins notes. “Removing lionfish from local reefs is like weeding a garden. Remove weeds and the garden is healthier. Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round.”
For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. Creative lionfish recipes, as well as information on catching, cleaning, and cooking lionfish, can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook available on the REEF Store.
Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:
Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - While Pacific Northwest waters are not known for their schools of colorful fish, the amazing invertebrate life will blow you away! In these four sessions we'll cover a select group of invertebrates from 8 phyla, all of which are monitored by REEF volunteer divers.
Sponges and Stingers - January 8th, 2014
Gettin' Crabby - January 9th, 2014
Marvelous Molluscs - January 15th, 2014
Stars and Squirts - January 16th, 2014
Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - January 21, 2014
New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.
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 Juddith Cucco. Judith has been a REEF member since 2010, and has conducted 555 surveys (all in her home state of Hawaii, and all as a snorkeler!). She is a member of the Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Judith had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
I first heard about REEF through Reef Watch Waikiki while taking a fish identification course with them in February 2010. I immediately started doing surveys as I felt it was a fun way for me to share my enthusiasm for all the fish I see while snorkeling in Hawaii, where I live...and I wanted a record of the many species I've encountered.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite fish find?
Even though I've seen it many times, it still fascinates me to see cooperative hunting, for example jacks following a moray eel or blue goatfish. My favorite fish is the juvenile rockmover wrasse. They look like drifting seaweed in the ocean when they move and I enjoy watching them turn over rocks with their snout. My favorite discovery is a semi-circle angelfish (not native to Hawaii) that Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF Director of Science ) helped my swimming buddies and me identify from some very poor photos.
Where do you do most of your surveying?
I used to do most of my surveys at the outer reef in Hanauma Bay and still go there occasionally, however my favorite place to survey on Oahu is Kaiona Beach Park. You really need to look to find the fish and if one has the patience, there are ample rewards. I've seen so many species that one does not see at Hanauma Bay (knifefish, bigeyes and several types of scorpionfish). Because I snorkel, the fish are also much closer at Kaiona as it's more shallow.
What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?
The most exciting thing for me when doing surveys is when I encounter a species I haven't seen before. After my snorkel, I go home and look it up in one of my fish books or online and enjoy learning about it. My biggest challenge is staying warm as I like to stay in the ocean until my fingers get numb (not recommended), which is usually around three hours even with a full wet suit.
Do you have a memorable story from a survey?
Just the other day, I had gone out for a snorkel survey (which ended up not happening). A little while into our swim, my buddy and I found an entangled green sea turtle. I saw it on the bottom in about ten feet of water. We first asked its permission, then dove down to bring it to the surface. We saw that it had fishing line wrapped around its neck and two front flippers. We were really far out on the reef and swam it in to shore. We recruited two fishermen to cut off the line and they also built a pen out of rocks for the turtle. I went to my car and called our local NOAA turtle stranding office. When NOAA staff arrived, we loaded the turtle in a carrier and the turtle was taken to a surgeon. It needs to have the front right flipper amputated, but it is going to survive and should eventually be released back in the wild. What an amazing and cooperative experience!!!!
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 Roger Skillman. Roger has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 45 surveys. Despite being landlocked in the Smoky Mountains, he is an active surveyor in the Carolinas and Florida. He also teaches SCUBA and incorporates REEF in to his classes! Here's what Roger had to say about REEF:
What’s your favorite part of REEF surveying?
I like completing REEF surveys to document what was seen on any given day at a particular dive site. Completing surveys helps establish baseline data for a site. REEF members are “Citizen Scientists” with their eyes in the water and we provide valuable data for researchers that can’t be everywhere. The most interesting thing I have found about completing surveys is the importance of an underwater camera and a variety of good fish ID books to help with identification after the dive.
Do you have a favorite place to do surveys?
I have two favorite places that I like to dive. Most of my 34 years of diving have been on the shipwrecks offshore of Beaufort, North Carolina. The historical shipwrecks and abundant marine life that can be found rivals diving anywhere around the world! During the last 5 years, I have discovered the great diving around Jupiter, Florida, to include the world famous Blue Heron Bridge. BHB, with its unusual creatures and the ledges offshore, provide as many different species of fish as many tropical locales.
What is your favorite fish find?
My most fascinating fish encounter has to be diving with the Sand Tiger Sharks on the shipwreck “Caribsea” offshore Cape Lookout, NC. Diving while surrounded by 50 of these magnificent creatures was a marvelous experience. A most memorable fish find occurred at Blue Heron Bridge in 2013. I was completing open water evaluations with two of my students when we found not one, but two, Striated Frogfish. I had never seen a frogfish and these “neophyte” divers saw TWO on their first ever open water dives! Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair!
What advice do you have for other REEF members?
The best way to benefit from REEF is to get INVOLVED! I belong to inland-based REEF Field Station (Smoky Mountain Divers-Carolinas) but that doesn’t stop us from conducting surveys. Contact our field station or a field station near you and participate in their fish ID programs. Sign up and participate in the numerous webinars and classes offered by REEF to expand your knowledge. It’s not hard, just FUN!
We are encouraging all REEF surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic region to be on the lookout for a new non-native fish! Researchers from the University of Veracruz have documented a new non-native species in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico with the potential to spread throughout the region. Sightings of the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos) have recently come from the nearshore reef systems south of Veracruz, Mexico. The species is native to a broad region of the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. The damselfish was documented at depths from 2-21 meters, though it was more common on deeper reefs. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel can reach sizes of up to 9 cm (3.5 inches) in length and is distinguished by a yellow or white spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin, a dark spot behind the gill, and yellow rear margins of the tail, dorsal and anal fins. In contrast, the native Brown Chromis is identified by dark margins on the tail and a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin. Observations from Dr. Ross Robertson indicate the Regal Demoiselle can be a bit more cryptic than the native Chromis, tending to hide under ledges and in crevices between corals, rather than swimming in the open. Experts in Mexico believe that this damsel has the potential to disrupt natural systems around Caribbean reefs, as they have witnessed displacement of the native Brown Chromis on heavily-invaded sites.
If you see this fish while doing a REEF survey, be sure to report it on your form in the unlisted fish section. Please also report detailed information on the sighting to REEF through the invasive species reporting page.
We are proud to share a story from the East Coast that is a perfect example of how REEF data are put to work to address our changing seas. Dr. Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut and Mystic Aquarium, recently submitted a petition to add the Radiated Shanny and Atlantic Seasnail to the list of Species of Concern under the State of Connecticut's Endangered Species Act. Dr. Auster used REEF data as his primary source of information for the petition.
Both species are considered "cold-adapted," with their distribution largely north of Cape Cod with rare sightings in Long Island Sound. Data show that these species may be the first climate-change casualties in Connecticut waters as Long Island Sound continues to warm. These species occur in rocky habitats, and the best population data come from diver surveys, such as those from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. If you are a REEF surveyor in the northeast region, please keep an eye out and report these species on your surveys! Dr. Auster will continue to track their abundance through the REEF database and assess the effect of changing seas on their populations.
We are looking for passionate ocean enthusiasts to join us later this year on a REEF Trip. There are still a few spaces left on the following trips in 2016:
Curacao Lionfish Research Trip, August 20 - 27 - led by REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF Board of Trustee Member, Peter Hughes. Learn all about the lionfish invasion while diving and helping with research. Visit the trip page for details.
Bermuda, October 1 - 8 - led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Renowned Underwater Photographers and Marine Life Authors. Ned and Anna will entertain participants with their fish id and behavior expertise. Pink sand beaches and fascinating historic sites help to make Bermuda a captivating destination for non-divers as well. Visit the trip page for details.
Palau and Yap, October 4 - 16 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. We will begin our trip at Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, and then board the Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard. We will explore rich coral walls and channels, documenting the biodiversity of the area. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for details.
Barkley Sound, BC, October 9 - 13 - led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. A must-dive destination for cold-water divers, Barkley Sound will treat participants to excellent diving and encounters with wildlife both above and below the water. Visit the trip page for details.
Saba, October 22 - 29 - led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer, and Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. A chance to dive this beautiful mountainous island in the Caribbean. In addition to the REEF seminars, participants can participate in "Sea and Learn", a month-long education program offered by Sea Saba. Visit the trip page for details.
Coronado Islands, California/Mexico, November 7 - 10 - led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. This West Coast trip offers the chance to encounter a diverse array of habitats and organisms, including kelp forests brimming with fish and invertebrates and playful sea lion pups. Visit the trip page for details.
Belize, December 3 - 10 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Decompress before the holidays with a week on Belize's Turneffe Atoll at the spectacular Blackbird Caye Resort, named one of Sport Diver Magazine's "2015 World's Best Diving Resorts." Divers will delight in the high diversity of fishes and endemic species. Non-diver companions will delight in the sandy beaches, pool side relaxing, and kayaking. Visit the trip page for details.
Sea star wasting disease has devastated sea star populations on the West coast from Mexico to Alaska. The disease broke out in 2013, causing massive death of several species of sea stars. Infected animals develop lesions that eat away tissue, with limbs dropping off as the animals die. The disease has been linked to a virus, although environmental factors may also be involved.
A new study, published last week in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE, presents an analysis of REEF survey data on several asteroid species collected by divers in the Salish Sea over the last 10 years. The Salish Sea is a Canadian / United States transboundary marine ecosystem, and world-wide hotspot for temperate asteroid species diversity with a high degree of endemism.
The results showed that some species were hit hard, while others increased in number. Populations of Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), an important keystone predator in the region, dropped dramatically after the beginning of the epidemic. Several other sea star species, including the Spiny Pink Star (Pisaster brevispinus) also declined. Numbers of the less-common Leather Star (Dermasterias imbricata) and two species of sea urchin, which are prey for sea stars, increased after 2013.
The virus outbreak continues, and will have lasting effects on the ecosystem. Sunflower Sea Stars have effectively disappeared from the Salish Sea, the study concludes. Likely as a result, numbers of urchins have increased, which in turn will lead to more browsing on kelp. As a result, study co-author, Dr. Joe Gaydos, and his colleagues are currently in discussions with the National Marine Fisheries Service to get the Sunflower Sea Star listed as a “species of concern.”
The paper, titled "Devastating Transboundary Impacts of Sea Star Wasting Disease on Subtidal Asteroids", is available online here. Another study published earlier this year in the journal, PeerJ, used the REEF data to evaluate the potential trophic impacts of the seastar decline, as seen in the increase in sea urchins. That paper is availble here. View the entire list of all scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects at www.REEF.org/db/publications.
REEF announces the release of the 2008 Field Survey schedule. Click here to see the flyer and read more information on these unique eco-expeditions, including contact information for each trip.
We kick off the season with a special expedition to Little Cayman Island January 20-27. Participants will join REEF Science Director Dr. Christy Semmens on the seventh consecutive year of studying reproductive behavior of the endangered Nassau grouper. Contact Southern Cross Club directly to sign up at (800) 899 CLUB (2582). This is a high-demand trip so please reserve your spot soon.
Field Surveys offer participants a fun and educational way to contribute to marine conservation. Led by expert underwater naturalists, scuba divers and snorkelers will learn to identify marine life and conduct fish population surveys that assist scientists in making informed resource management decisions. A unique combination of classroom presentations, group discussion and survey dives make Field Surveys the ideal choice for people just getting started with diving or "fish watching." We invite you to join a REEF Field Survey team of like-minded divers and snorkelers who want to make a difference for the future of our oceans. 2008 destinations include the Akumal, Mexico, St. Vincent, the Sea of Cortez, and many others-sign up today!
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.