Thirty miles offshore, in 100 feet of water, the Spike isn’t the most accessible dive site off North Florida’s coast but July 17th marked the first anniversary of the former Coast Guard tender’s deployment as an artificial reef so we were eager to see what had changed over the past year. The Spike had only been down 10 days when we surveyed it during last year’s Great Annual Fish Count. We weren’t expecting much then – the chance to dive a freshly minted reef was the main attraction, but it was interesting that it had already attracted a small crowd of nervous bottom fish, including the usual Black Sea Bass and Vermillion Snappers.
It was a very different site one year later. A large school of nosy barracudas followed the first diver down the line, clearing the way for hundreds of Atlantic Spadefish to move in and escort the rest of our group down. The Spike was surrounded by silversides that fled en masse as we moved through them, then streaked back to the structure for protection when gangs of Great Amberjack attacked. It’s difficult to describe the sound made by thousands of fleeing fish, but they are noisy. The superstructure is now covered with invertebrates – barnacles, tunicates, sponges, and anemones – that provide shelter and food for hundreds of tiny seaweed blennies. Jacksonville’s ubiquitous grunt, the Tomtate, was there in every phase from juvenile to adult. The Black Sea Bass and Vermillion snappers are now settled in under the bow with a group of small Red Snappers and waddling around in the sand was one of my favorites, a Polka-dot batfish! A year ago, I counted 6 species of fish. This year I counted 16 species.
Our group also dived the Gator Bowl Press Boxes, an artificial reef created years ago when the city’s stadium was renovated. Although it had about the same amount of biomass as the Spike, there were more species. One of the joys of offshore Jacksonville for fishwatchers is getting to see species like Dwarf Goatfish, Longspine Porgys, Bank Sea Bass and Oyster Toadfish that we see don’t tend to see in more tropical waters. Congratulations to Richard Salkin and T.C. Howe, who conducted their first REEF surveys.
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 highlight Georgia Arrow (REEF member since 2002). Georgia lives in Portland, Oregon, has conducted 686 REEF surveys in four different regions, and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor in the Pacific. She has the most surveys of anyone in the west coast Pacific region. Here's what Georgia had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
I was unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to get an ear infection during my Open Water certification weekend. I was not allowed to participate in this new and exciting experience for 2 months! I checked at the dive shop and found that there was to be a Fish ID class and immediately signed up thinking it would be a lot more fun to dive if I actually knew what I was looking at-I found this to be true when birdwatching so it made sense that fishwatching would be the same. At that class, I learned about REEF and surveying and I met Janna Nichols, one of my first scuba/fish ID mentors. I wasn’t able to do the dives with the rest of the class because of my ears but when I was healthy, Janna took me on my first surveying dives. It was very exciting to be putting names to all the fish I saw on those dives. The dives were quite memorable for many reasons but knowing the fish and being able to do a survey was certainly one of them. So I have been surveying since my first dive after certification in 2002.
Have you ever been on a REEF Field Survey, and if so where and what was your trip highlight?
I went on the Sea of Cortez Field Survey in 2003. It was a wonderful trip from beginning to end. It was my first experience in warm water! I was in heaven. The divers were fun, the water was amazing, learning warm water fish was overwhelming and exciting. The highlight was diving in the middle of a school of Big Eye Scads - they were just swirling all around us and I was mesmerized.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
Although I’ve taken several warm water trips, most of my diving is in Puget Sound, a 3 hour drive from my home. I try to get up there 3-4 times and do 8-10 surveys a month. I love the green water, I love the critters we have here from the cute little Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker to the Giant Pacific Octopus. Usually by the time I’m home from a warm water trip I am ready to get back to surveying “my” critters. It’s harder and colder to dive here but that makes it challenging. It’s hard to find some of the critters but that makes it more rewarding when you actually find that elusive fish or nudibranch.
What are some of your most favorite or memorable finds on a survey?
There are so many to choose from it is hard to pick but I have to say the Spotted Ratfish is my favorite fish. I have a Spotted Ratfish tattoo on my shoulder. It is odd-looking but so graceful underwater - it “flies” rather than swims. And it can be as cute as a little puppy dog. One of my best rare sightings is the silver-spotted sculpin.
I am excited to announce the launch of our Winter Fundraising Campaign. During this holiday season, please consider a contribution to protect and conserve our marine eco-systems. Donate today using our secure online form, call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Members who donate $250 or more will receive a limited, signed, and numbered print of a beautiful Peppermint Basslet.
This year, we give thanks to all our supporters and donors who have made REEF's programs in 2011 successful. Your donation supports a database of over 154,000 fish and invertebrate surveys, marine conservation research, Nassau Grouper and Goliath Grouper protections, lionfish invasion control, educational outreach, and a whole lot more.
Please give thanks this month to our oceans! They cover 70 percent of this planet, are home to millions of magnificent species, and contain important resources that we all depend on. We appreciate your ongoing dedication to our marine conservation initiatives and wish you a happy holiday season.
REEF proudly names Heather George as our 2011 Volunteer of the Year. Since becoming a member nearly a decade ago, Heather has conducted 192 REEF surveys throughout the world and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. In 2010, Heather joined the volunteer research team for the Grouper Moon Project. Through the years, she has conducted fish identification trainings for dive shops and aquaria and has led several REEF Field Survey Trips. Heather also served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010 and brought a wealth of knowledge about fundraising and membership development to the organization. In 2011, Heather assisted with the expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the South Pacific as part of the field team to American Samoa. When Heather is not underwater looking at fishes or teaching others about the joys of fish watching, she is helping other ocean-related organizations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Waterkeeper Alliance. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Heather!
REEF is proud to partner with over 270 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. For more information on how to find one near you, or to become a Field Station in your area, visit the Field Station Directory.
This month we feature Scuba Obsession, Al Audet's independent instruction business located in Melbourne Florida. Al was introduced to the wonderful world of fish identification through a class through OceanWatch.org. He attended as many classes as he could, and through the help of outstanding instructors and guides, he was hooked. He decided to incorporate fish ID into his teaching repertoire, and signed up as a REEF Field Station in November 2009.
Instructors have a lot of influence on their new open water students, and Al steers them toward fish ID all along the way. During the last Open Water dive, he normally takes his waterproof Fish-In-A-Pocket guide and points the fish they see on their dive out to the students. As his students move on to their Advanced Open Water courses (of which they can choose some that match their interests), he always encourages them to select Fish ID as one of their Adventure Dives. During the class, they learn about fish ID, do REEF survey dives together, and then are encouraged to join REEF and enter their data.
Al feels that the east coast of Florida is a great place to engage divers in fish ID. "The east coast of Florida has some of the best diving in the world. You never know what you're going to see. We also have the most popular muck dive in the world - the Blue Heron Bridge. You'll find fish under the bridge that you won't see any place else in Florida."
Al employs several different teaching techniques for his students. He offers Fish ID classes regularly and also attends REEF Fishinars, which he touted as one of REEF's best programs. He has also put together a video for his Fish ID students, online and available for viewing here: http://vimeo.com/11153948
One of Al's most exciting moments during a dive was when he was teaching a Fish ID Adventure dive for an Advanced Open Water class off Jupiter, FL. The boat captain gave them a sand drop, so after a few minutes of looking for the reef, the dive guide decided to ascend. On the way up... they looked up, and realized they were ascending into a whale shark! One of Al's students described it best, "I looked up, and I thought I saw the boat. Then I saw the fins." Thanks Al and Scuba Obsession for serving as a REEF Field Station!
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:
- A researcher from University of British Columbia is using REEF data to evaluate the efficacy of marine reserves in Canadian waters.
- A researcher from Florida State University has requested REEF data to study Goliath Grouper populations in Florida.
- A student at Coastal Carolina University is using data to study fish populations at Discovery Bay in Jamaica.
- Scientists from NOAA Fisheries and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are using data from multiple monitoring programs, including REEF, to evaluate new methods of evaluating population trends in fisheries.
Do you shop on Amazon? If so, we encourage you to use Amazon Smile. It's the same Amazon experience, same products, prices, and service. And a portion of your purchases will be donated to REEF.
Go to smile.amazon.com and select Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Inc. as your selected charity (or go directly to http://smile.amazon.com/ch/65-0270064). Thank you!
REEF Grouper Moon scientists co-authored a recent groundbreaking paper in the journal PLoS One that highlights the importance of regional conservation efforts aimed at spawning aggregations in the Caribbean. This study evaluated genetic connectedness between Nassau Grouper populations throughout the Caribbean using DNA markers. The authors obtained genetic tissue samples from 620 Nassau Grouper from 19 sites across 9 countries, including the Cayman Islands. They found evidence for strong genetic differentiation among Nassau Grouper subpopulations throughout the Caribbean. These results suggest that, despite a lack of physical barriers, Nassau Grouper form multiple distinct sub-populations in the Caribbean Sea. Oceanography (regional currents, eddies) likely plays an important role in retaining larvae close to spawning sites at both local and regional spatial scales. These findings highlight the importance of conservation initiatives such at REEF's Grouper Moon program in the Cayman Islands. A PDF of the paper is available online here. You can see a complete list of all scientific papers that have included data from REEF programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.
The full citation of the paper is: Jackson AM, Semmens BX, Sadovy de Mitcheson Y, Nemeth RS, Heppell SA, et al. (2014) Population Structure and Phylogeography in Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a Mass-Aggregating Marine Fish. PLoS ONE 9(5): e97508. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097508
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 Nick Brilliande. He has been a REEF member since 2011. An active surveyor who lives on Oahu, Hawaii, Nick has conducted 50 surveys to date and is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Hawaii region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:
How did you become involved with REEF?
The first time I heard about REEF was through a group called Reef Watch Waikiki. I attended some talks by REEF members Cassidy Lum and Jennifer Barrett describing what REEF does and how to survey fish. I answered a few questions and made some comments on fish, which impressed both Cassidy and Jen. Then came the time to try it out and I did. I had fun doing it, but it was also an excuse to look at fish, which I always find fascinating. After that, I became a member, went out to survey when I could, and slowly made my way up to an Expert Level 4/5 surveyor.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I am always curious as to how the environment changes over time and how those changes affects the species that live there. The ocean is always different every day in some way or another; you never have the same type of conditions or species.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
When doing a fish survey, having an extra pair of eyes does help, but you want to be patient. The fish initially view you as a threat, but wait a little and eventually they will get used to you enough to come out and be able to see them. Let the animals make the first moves.
When learning fish for the first time, do not jump around families. The only thing that will accomplish is a huge headache. Take one family, learn the different species of fish one at a time, then quiz yourself to see if you actually know one species from another. Rinse and repeat. As long as you are out and about, you will never forget a fish's face. As mentioned, patience is key. Let them come out on their terms and let them make the first moves. One thing that seems to work for me is keeping my hands and arms to my side while snorkeling or diving - fish seem to view this as less threatening than flailing arms back and forth or having arms wide out.
What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish you would really like to see?
There are a few finds I remember. One was in Pokai Bay on O'ahu. Here, I witnessed a female Whitley's Boxfish picking at a turtle with a large tumor beside his mouth. This fish was picking at the tumor, but I still have no idea as to the purpose of this. At this same location on the same day I found my first lobster molt, a Slipper Lobster molt. Another encounter I still remember is in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. There were three notable encounters on the same day: two Longnose Butterflyfish, one of which was in a rare dark coloration alongside the other, which was in it's typical yellow coloration, a partial albino Yellow Tang in very shallow water, and a very sleepy Whitetip Reef Shark, which I was able to get very close to without disturbing him.
As far as animals I would like to see, that list would be almost half a page long. A few notable ones would include a Whale Shark, a Dragon Moray Eel, a Hawaiian Monk Seal underwater (I've seen them numerous times on beaches or them swimming around viewed from a boat or shore), and a Hawksbill Sea Turtle.
REEF’s Summer Donation Matching Campaign is winding down, but we still need your support to reach our goal! Please consider making your donation today - click here to donate online! We are $12,000 from our goal of $60,000, and we know we can count on the support of our members. Thanks to a generous matching pledge from three of our supporting foundations, your donation will be doubled. Your support helps ensure that we can continue the critical work to protect our world oceans through education and research. Please consider donating today to help us reach our fundraising goal. Every donation, no matter how small, makes double the difference!
A highlight of the summer for us has been our new REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp. From studying mangroves to completing mock health surveys on sea turtles and investigating ocean creatures, these young REEF Explorers had a blast! Just like you, we are committed to educating the public so marine conservation continues well into the future. Education is a component that runs through all of REEF's programs and is essential to ensuring the success of our core citizen science projects. Don't forget that every dollar given is matched by our generous supporters this summer. Please make a today donation at www.REEF.org/contribute!
And a big fishy thank you to all of our members who have already donated this summer.