Putting it to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, November 2010

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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:

- Researchers at the World Resources Institute are using western Atlantic REEF data in an analysis of threats to the world’s coral reefs called Reefs at Risk Revisited.

- A scientist from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is evaluating population trends of rock scallop in preparation for harvest rule updates.

- Researchers from the Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands GAP Analysis Project are creating species range maps that will be used with habitat information to model species distributions. The goal of this project is to keep common species common by identifying those species that are not adequately represented in existing conservation places.

- A researcher from Cascadia Consulting Group is using data on three invasive tunicate species collected by REEF surveyors in the Pacific Northwest to prepare for a baseline assessment for the Washington Invasive Species Council.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Itziar Aretxaga

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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 Itziar Aretxaga (REEF member since 2003). Itziar has conducted 263 REEF surveys in three REEF regions, and she is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Itziar had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

Shortly after I got my C-card I started looking for a good reference book on fish. I was fortunate to find Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach´s reef guides, and there I read about the REEF program and how one could volunteer. I joined and started identifying species and reporting them to REEF on my own. A year later I met Lad Akins in a course he gave to volunteers in the Veracruz National Park, and he taught me a few tricks that improved my identification skills. He has been a great mentor in all my fish watching activities ever since.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I often look at the online database to check what I might be missing, and the only way of improving it is for each of us to submit our surveys, even if that means clicking on the box for Yellowtail Snappers over and over again. I keep telling myself that I hope I will never see the day when I miss them because they are no longer there. I also take special pride when our data are used in scientific publications or management reports. It might be a mere dot in a plot, but collectively we contribute to the growth of knowledge on marine life and conservation.

Do you dive close to where you live? What is the best part about diving there?

I have done over 200 surveys in Veracruz and I know it well enough now that I can recognize changes. I enjoy noticing the unusual species, species off-season, and it is really thrilling when I get to report a new species. There is also the challenge of spotting fish that others have reported that I have yet to see, so the fun continues.

What is your most memorable fish find?

The first Smooth Trunkfish in golden variation I saw in Veracruz, and the first time it was reported outside the Northern Gulf of Mexico by REEF members. I was so excited when I saw it that I started dancing underwater, quite literally. The staff in our local diving shop told me afterwards they were not that unusual in the area. It was just that nobody had reported them before.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

I like sharing with others the fun of it. I usually take surveys during commercial diving boat trips, and people are curious about those slates that I take underwater and keep scribbling on. It is great to see some of them then turn to my book, and start calling each other to show what they themselves have seen.

Grouper Moon Project Works With Dr. Guy Harvey To Produce Documentary

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Acclaimed marine artist and conservationist, Dr. Guy Harvey, joined the Grouper Moon Project team in 2011 to document the research being conducted on the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation on Little Cayman. Dr. Harvey and videographer, George Schellenger, spent 7 days in the field with scientists from REEF, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, and Oregon State University. The culmination of their work came together in a documentary called "The Mystery of the Grouper Moon", which was premiered to a packed house at the Harquail Theatre on Grand Cayman in September. Since that time, Dr. Harvey has been busy showing the documentary to local schools and promoting grouper conservation to generations of future Caymanians. The film will soon be available online for REEF members to watch, stay tuned. Inpsired by his time underwater with the grouper, Dr. Harvey created a painting of the aggregation that is featured on the documentary promotional poster. The original artwork will soon be available for purchase, with all proceeds going to REEF to support the Grouper Moon Project. To read more about the documentary, check out this article in the Cayman Compass. We are excited to have Dr. Harvey as a collaborator on this important REEF program.

REEF.org Website Redesigned

REEF is proud to announce the next generation of our website - www.REEF.org. The redesigned page was launched earlier this month. The website still features the wealth of information, tools, and resources you expect from REEF.org, but now they are highlighted with a new design and user friendly navigation. Aside from the new look, you may notice that the site is much faster  due to an upgrade in our server equipment. Whether you're quizzing yourself on fish ID, looking to book a REEF Trip, or learning the latest research on the lionfish invasion, REEF.org keeps you up to date with all of our latest activities and programs. The Discussion Forum is a perfect place to post your ID questions, dive trip highlights, and more. Our website is also the central hub for the almost 160,000 fish surveys that have been submitted by our volunteer members over the last 19 years. Exploring the REEF Database is now even easier with significantly faster reporting. If you are a REEF surveyor, be sure to create a REEF.org login account (if you don't have one already) so that you can generate your personal survey log and species lifelist. The Top Stats page now shows the 25 surveyors in each region with the most surveys, so that even more of our members can track their progress.

This is the fourth major revision to the REEF website. REEF's online home was originally launched fifteen years ago in 1997. REEF would like to extend a huge thank you to longtime IT volunteer extraordinaire, Ben Weintraub, for making this new site possible. Please take a moment to explore the new website. Let us know what you think - send an email to webmaster@REEF.org. Your feedback is important to us as we continue to improve the site. We hope you enjoy it!

Putting it to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, October 2012

Red Sea Urchin populations in Washington State are being examined using REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 National Research Council post-doctoral fellow is using REEF sightings data on manta and mobula to evaluate global populations of these at-risk species.

- A researcher is evaluating fish distribution and abundance data from south Florida to be included in a NOAA document used to respond to oil spills.

- A University of Washington researcher is using data on Red Sea Urchin to evaluate population trends in this important echinoderm that is increasingly harvested.

- A graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is using population data on Nassau Grouper to document populations trends of this endangered Caribbean reef fish.

Application Deadline For Fall Internships Approaching

Do you know a young adult who is interested in ocean conservation, research, education, and diving? Applications are currently being accepted for the Fall REEF Marine Conservation Internship positions. Every four months, REEF invites hundreds of applicants to compete for four internship positions. The chosen interns implement community outreach and education programs focused on reef fish identification and lionfish handling and collection. Interns also dive and volunteer with partner organizations in the Florida Keys. Examples of some average daily intern activities include computer data entry, helping to write and layout newsletters and flyers, packaging orders, answering phone calls and e-mails, greeting visitors at REEF Headquarters, biological assessment fieldwork and data analysis, and community education and outreach.

For more information on this program or if you know someone who would like to apply, please visit the Internship Webpage or email General Manager, Martha Klitzkie, at Martha@reef.org. Applications for the Fall internship are due June 30th.

Upcoming Fishinars -- Featuring a Great Line Up of Guest Speakers

Artwork by Ray Troll.

We have lined up a great Fishinar schedule for 2014, including marine fish icons Milton Love and Ray Troll! We also will see an east versus west fish face off between Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, a "Coralinar" and a "Crabinar", and more. Not sure what Fishinar is? 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:

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Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - Taught by Janna Nichols -- January 8, 9, 15, and 16th, including Sponges and Stingers, Gettin' Crabby, Marvelous Molluscs, and Stars and Squirts

Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - Taught by Jonathan Lavan -- January 21

California Lookalikes! - Taught by Janna Nichols -- February 5th

Top 25 Fish in the South Atlantic States - Taught by Christy Pattengill-Semmens -- February 25th

Crabinar! - Taught by Greg Jensen -- February 26th

What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - With Milton Love -- March 25th

A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - With Ray Troll -- April 16th

Coralinar! - Taught by Marilyn Brandt -- May 29th

East Coast vs. West Coast - With Andy Martinez and Andy Lamb -- June 19th

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 "Springs" into Action for Education

A few weeks ago, in honor of Earth Day, REEF asked for your help in supporting our educational programs. Through classroom and field activities, these programs have inspired thousands of school children, young adults, divers, and researchers. If you haven't already made a donation, please consider making a difference in the life of a future ocean conservationist!

Contribute securely online today at www.REEF.org/contribute

Your donation will ensure that we can provide:

  • Educational materials, including slates and underwater paper
  • Craft supplies for elementary school students
  • Tools for lionfish dissections
  • Staff resources for educational programs

Because of generous donations from members like you, REEF is able to continue educating future generations about healthy ocean ecosystems, exciting new marine discoveries, fish identification, and invasive species.

We just have one week left in this campaign. Every dollar spent on ocean conservation education makes a huge impact in our ability to preserve our underwater world for the future. Please join us as we light up faces around the world in the joy of discovery and respect for marine life. Thank you for your support! Please donate today.

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.

REEF Lionfish Expeditions Lead to New Information

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Pterois volitans AKA lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo
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August Blackbeard's Lionfish Project.
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Hesperis dissection by Everton Joseph (College of the Bahamas), Tim Schwab (Nassau Guardian) and Marcian Tucker (College of the Bahamas)
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Juvenile lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo

Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.

To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers.  REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.

Interesting data to date include:

  • Average size:188mm
  • Most species: Pterois volitans (though there are some Pterois miles present also)
  • Stomach content: about 70 % fish and 30 % crustacean with the most prevalent prey families including basslets, gobies and shrimp. Also found in stomachs: whole crab, whole sand diver, jawfish with eggs still in its mouth, and juvenile grouper (including Nassau)
  • Genetics: It appears that there were at least 11 females involved in the original founding population. This number is up from previous indications of four fish.
  • Reproduction: Fish are reproducing year-round with age at reproduction as young as 1-2 years.
  • Habitat preference: Lionfish have been found in almost all habitat types including artificial sites, canals, deep reefs, shallow reefs, small ledges and sand bottom.
  • Parasites: Compared to native fish, lionfish have almost no parasites, leaving more energy and time for growth and reproduction.
  • Growth: Lionfish appear to grow faster than similar sized native fish species like the graysby and the red hind.
Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub