Support REEF's Conservation Science Programs

An acoustic receiver listens for pings emitted from nearby tagged fish.
REEF Grouper Moon scientists used acoustic tracking data to better understand Nassau Grouper ecology on Little Cayman.
A mobile receiver used to find tagged fish.
Nassau Grouper is the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Brice Semmens.

Acoustic tagging is one of the most powerful marine conservation technologies currently available. REEF uses this technology in both the Grouper Moon Project and the Invasive Lionfish Program to help determine movement, ranges, behavior, and more. But tags and receivers are expensive! We need your help in furthering REEF's valuable marine conservation initiatives by supporting the purchase and implementation of these valuable tools. You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute. Read on to learn more about these high-tech tools.

What is an acoustic tag, hydrophone, and array? Acoustic tags are small electronic devices that, once secured to a fish, broadcast their identification by ultrasonic sound. Hydrophones that can detect these ultrasonic sounds are placed underwater via a buoy to record the presence or absence of fish. A group of hydrophones strategically placed in an area is called an array. Data from the array are periodically downloaded and analyzed to determine fish movement, residency, behavior, and more.

How do tagging studies make a difference for marine conservation?

  • Allows researchers to determine home ranges of fish to better inform management strategies including sizes and locations of protected areas
  • Documents behavioral activities, such as spawning or seasonal movement, to help researchers and managers better understand the biology and ecology of key species
  • Facilitates collaborative marine research through sharing of hydrophone data and array setups
  • Contributes to inspiring visualizations of fish movements for scientists, policymakers, and marine life enthusiasts

REEF's Grouper Moon Project has relied heavily on this technology to help answer questions necessary to hep conserve Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations. Populations of this iconic species have declined dramatically over the past half-century due to overfishing during winter months as they aggregate to reproduce. To find out more about this activity, REEF researchers and our partners at Cayman Islands Department of Environment set up an array of acoustic receivers and started tagging Nassau Grouper in 2005. Using data from this technology, REEF created a video that shows the remarkable migrations Nassau Grouper undertake during the spawning season. This visualization tool played a critical role in the creation of proposed legislation aimed at species conservation in the Cayman Islands. To watch this movie and read more about it, please click here.

Please make a donation at www.REEF.org/contribute so REEF can continue using acoustic tagging in projects and programs. This valuable tool helps ensure that we can protect iconic species like Nassau Grouper in the most effective manner. Thank you for your support.

Oceans of Thanks to Our Members

There are a few limited-edition 2015 prints left. Donors of $250 or more, received by April 4, will be sent this signed and numbered, limited edition print of a beautiful Fiji reef scene by Paul Humann.

I want to thank everyone who donated during our winter fundraising campaign. With member support, REEF was able to raise $115,000. Your contributions drive REEF programs, from protecting keystone species to educating the next generation of ocean enthusiasts. If you haven't donated yet, there are still a few limited-edition prints left for donations of $250 and over that are received by April 4th. You can donate online or call us at 305-852-0030.

This year’s campaign focused on our changing seas. Now, more than ever before, it is critical for REEF to monitor the effects from pressures on marine ecosystems. Pressures of great concern include overfishing on endangered species like Nassau Grouper, invasive species that threaten native ecosystems like Lionfish, and temperature changes that shift species habitat range like El Nino. Our dedicated surveyors have seen the changes over decades of underwater exploration. With your donations, REEF can ensure these changes are documented and distributed to researchers for the protection of marine species and habitats.

Thank you again for donating this season!

Review REEF on GreatNonprofits

Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the GreatNonprofits.org website at: http://gr8np.org/go/yKD

Thanks to such great feedback by our members in 2015, REEF once again achieved "Top-Rated" status on the GreatNonprofits webpage. We need at least ten new reviews in 2016 to maintain this honored status. Please help us.

Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member: "My daughter and I have been volunteer members of REEF for almost twenty years. She was seven when we joined, and became a certified junior diver at ten- In great part due to the fun we had together as REEF members & volunteers. Avid snorkelers, and divers, we love diving with a purpose. Our favorite "self-challenge" is to see how many species we can identify on outing; always trying to better ourselves!" Thank you!

The Grouper Moon Project - Protecting An Endangered Icon

Over 4,000 Nassau Grouper amass at a spawning aggregation during winter full moons off Little Cayman Island. Photo by Paul Humann.
A lone Nassau Grouper at the Little Cayman aggregation. Photo by Joshua Stuart.
REEF's Grouper Education Program works with Caymanian students to educate and inspire.

REEF scientists and volunteers are heading down to the Cayman Islands next week for another season of the Grouper Moon Project (www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject), a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). In its 16th year, this important project focuses on one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper, an endangered Caribbean reef fish. Over 4,000 grouper will amass in one location for 7-10 days following the full moon.

Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. On August 15, 2016, the Cayman Islands government enacted a comprehensive set of regulations aimed at recovering Nassau Grouper. The new rules are based on the more than a decade of collaborative fisheries research carried out by the Grouper Moon Project (click here for more information about the legislation).

In addition to the research, in 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched an education program to engage students in the Grouper Moon Project. This exciting project brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and live-feed videos that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. Three live-feed webcasts are planned for our 2017 work. Anyone can watch the feeds live or archived. The live-feed schedule is:

  • Wednesday February 15th and Friday February 17 (11:45am - 12:30pm EST), from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, featuring scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project.
  • Thursday February 16 (1:00pm - 1:45pm EST), from underwater on Cayman’s famous Bloody Bay Wall.

The live feeds stream through the REEF Grouper Moon Project YouTube channel.

Do you want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Watch this short PBS documentary about our efforts. And if you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

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Three "REEF" Non-Profits Team Up to Protect Akumal Reefs

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Eric Engler, Gabriela Nava Martinez, Joe Cavanaugh - ReefAid, Reefcheck, and REEF
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Aerial View of Protected Area
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Mayan Ruins Near Resort at Tulum
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Shore View from Bahia Principe
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Large Elkhorn Coral Stand Near Protected Area

In an Enews article last May, I wrote about a collaborative effort between REEF and the Bahia Principe Resort in Akumal, Mexico.  The Resort has been working with ReefAid ever since Hurricane Wilma (2005) did major damage to the reefs just in front of the resort, in an effort to study, protect, and restore these reefs. I was originally invited down to conduct a fish census on a large patch reef area off the beach from the property.   The destruction to the inshore reef during Wilma was severe and ever since, Bahia Principe has worked with ReefAid to restore this patch reef area, establishing a protected zone around the most hard-hit areas.  Part of Bahia Principe's long-term plan is to create a mitigation plan for future storms and to educate guests about ways they, too, can help protect the reefs.  The Hotel Gran Bahia Principe is the Yucatan's largest resort complex, and there are currently 14 such resorts worldwide.  After our last visit, ReefAid's Founder, Eric Engler and I co-wrote a protection and monitoring plan for the Resort that included periodic roving diver surey assessments, special signs and enforcement of no-swim areas, a coral nursery, and coral and invertebrate monitoring using another non-profit's methodology (ReefCheck). 

On our last trip a few weeks ago, Eric and I received Reefcheck training over two days with Gabriela Georgina Nava Martinez, learning their survey methodology.  Gaby also taught a Reefcheck class to the Bahia Principe dive staff , their onsite turtle rescue non-rpfit, Ecologica Bahia, and some of the Resort public relations personnel..   Bahia Principe is now a REEF Field Station and is close to becoming an educational center for REEF, teaching fish ID classes and training Resort guests in how to conduct fish surveys.   Resort staff will soon routinely conduct Roving Diver Surveys of both the protected area and the offshore reefs frequented by multiple dive operators. Additionally, Reefcheck will train the dive staff to conduct 3-4 surveys per year at first to form a baseline assessment of the inshore protected reef.   And finally, this year REEF is running a Field Survey to Bahia Principe (May 17-24, 2008).  Please see our Field Survey page on our website at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule  to learn more about our upcoming survey and how to participate.

The collaborative efforts between our three non-profits in Akumal represent a proactive involvement among multiple stakeholders to protect a critical resource, one that is very susceptible to damage from development and excessive tourist pressures.   The ultimate goal of this synergistic, cooperative effort is to protect a large inshore reef area (see images) and improve the reef integrity with the addition of well-placed coral recruitment modules.  To be candid, much of the Mexican Riviera is slated to be developed by an increasing number of resorts, most with requisite golf courses.  And there are other environmental concerns in addition to the coral reefs offshore that form part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef such as all the cenotes (sink-holes) with their endemic terrestrial and aquatic species; the crucial watershed provided by the cenotes; loss of mangroves; the regional rainforest cover that is in jeopardy; excessive nutrient loading from all the resorts and urban development; not to mention the cultural world heritage significance of the Mayan communities and archaeological sites.  However, the good news is that if Gran Bahia Principe is voluntarily willing to adopt special protection measures for their resort, these may serve as a "eco-friendly" archetype for other resorts in the region.   This partnership building between organizations at the regional and international level bodes well for the adoption of some conservation plans for the area.  Whether the proposed regional development can be slowed to a sustainable level is another story that time will tell. 

If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent summary article on some of the initiatives between resorts and non-profits working to preserve the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from the NY Times last week. http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/travel/24headsup.html?emc=eta1

REEF to Host Two Citizen Science Panel Discussions in Florida Keys

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REEF volunteers are citizen scientists, collecting underwater data to expand knowledge about marine life populations. Photo by Ron Lucas.

On Tuesday, February 26, REEF will host a community panel discussion to raise awareness about how volunteers contribute to scientific understanding of the Florida Keys environment. Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York will lead the discussion. Florida Keys-based citizen science practitioners will present on local projects and ways for volunteers to get involved. Topics include fish and bird surveying, native plants and coral restoration. A reception with the speakers will begin at 6:30, followed by presentations at 7 PM. This event will be held at the Key Largo Public Library and is free and open to the public.

Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Bryant and Nancy Diersing, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (volunteers)
  • Janice Duquesnel, Florida State Parks
  • Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation

A second panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West and will focus on citizen science projects in the lower Florida Keys. Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Alison Higgins, The Nature Conservancy
  • Cory Walter, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service

Please join REEF staff and community partners for at least one of these educational evenings.

17th Great Annual Fish Count is Here

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REEF Member Judie Clee Surveying. Photo by Ron Lucas.
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REEF Member Brian Hufford Surveying.

The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) has arrived! GAFC is a month long event coordinated by REEF Field Stations that encourages volunteer divers and snorkelers to participate in recreational trips to raise awareness regarding marine habitats and trends in fish populations. REEF partners and Field Stations have organized everything from group dives and snorkels to photo contests, BBQs, and aquarium tours. This is a great opportunity to take a free REEF Fish ID class and connect with other individuals as well as groups, such as local dive operations and non-profit organizations, who are also interested in doing the same objectives. Numerous activities have been scheduled for the Pacific Coast, Hawaii, California, Washington, Florida, Maine, British Columbia, and many other regions- and still more are being added! Details for scheduled events can be found on the GAFC website. Each year GAFC events generate approximately 2,000 surveys in July alone and increase the interest and involvement of hundreds of surveyors worldwide. Participating in a GAFC event is a great way to make an active contribution to marine conservation and get involved with what REEF does year round- engage volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect critical, valid, and cost-effective data. We hope you get involved!

Travel Trips and Tips - October

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Cozumel is one of the very few places that REEF surveyors can find the endemic Splendid Toadfish. A few spaces just opened up on the REEF Trip to Cozumel in December. Photo by Doug Biffard.
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In addition to fish, REEF surveyors report sea turtles, such as this one seen by Bev Biffard last year in Cozumel. Photo by Doug Biffard.

Looking for a special gift for that certain someone. A 2009 REEF Trip makes a perfect gift. REEF Trips are not only fun, have diving and fish watching involved (which makes it perfect by my standards) but these trips are educational, green and are scheduled to some of the most beautiful Caribbean dive destinations. Also as an added bonus - all divers need a buddy so you get a good reason to give yourself a trip too!

REEF Trips are filling up fast. One trip that has been sold out for almost a year, Cozumel in December, just had a few spaces open up. This is your opportunity to join REEF Expert and Cozumel local, Sheryl Shea, on an excellent dive vacation. Sheryl is an a-fishy-a-nado extraordinaire and will be sure to infuse great fish watching, interesting local history and lots of fun on these trips. There are 3 spaces available during Week 1, December 6 – 14, including an opportunity for a double occupancy room – 1 male looking for a roommate and 1 female looking for a roommate. So if you are flying solo and don’t want to pay single occupancy we will put you in touch with a potential roommate. Please give us a call for more information and to reserve your space 305-852-0030. There are also a few spaces still available during the second trip, December 13 – 18. Please call the REEF Travel Desk for booking this trip – 877-295-7333.

So remember give the gift of Fish Watching for the holidays – we can prepare you a beautiful gift certificate and even arrange for it to be presented in an autographed fish ID book (or creature or coral) wrapped in Bottom Crawlers Holiday gift wrap. REEF Trips are a great way to enjoy yourself while making a valuable contribution to REEF on several different levels. Remember make this holiday season one that is All About The Fish!

REEF Data Used To Evaluate the Status of Big Fish and Fisheries in the Caribbean

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Nassau grouper is one of 20 predatory fish species that were evaluated in a recently published study in the scientific journal PLoS One. Photo by Selina Heppell.
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Data collected by REEF volunteer surveyors from 86 sites in 22 Caribbean nations were used in the analysis. Stallings 2009.

Data collected as part of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project were the basis of a recent publication evaluating the effect of human population size on coral reef fish populations. The sweeping study, conducted by researcher Dr. Chris Stallings of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory, revealed that sharks, barracuda and other large predatory fishes disappear on Caribbean coral reefs as human populations rise, endangering the region’s marine food web and ultimately its reefs and fisheries. The study, which used data collected by REEF volunteers at sites in 22 Caribbean nations over 15 years, demonstrates the power of volunteer and community research efforts by non-scientists. Data are often insufficient at region-wide scales to assess the effects of extraction in coral reef ecosystems of developing nations. The REEF citizen science project fills this gap by generating valid and needed data over large geographic areas over long time periods.

While other scientists working in the Caribbean have observed the declines of large predators for decades, the comprehensive work by Dr. Stallings documents the ominous patterns in far more detail at a much greater geographic scale than any other research to date. The study found that nations with more people have reefs with far fewer large fish because as the number of people increases, so does demand for seafood. Stallings said that although several factors -- including loss of coral reef habitats -- contributed to the general patterns, careful examination of the data suggests overfishing as the most likely reason for the disappearance of large predatory fishes across the region. He pointed to the Nassau grouper as a prime example. Once abundant throughout the Caribbean, Nassau grouper have virtually disappeared from many Caribbean nearshore areas and are endangered throughout their range.

Dr. Stalling's article on the study, “Fishery-Independent Data Reveal Negative Effect of Human Population Density on Caribbean Predatory Fish Communities,” was published in the May 6, 2009 issue of the journal PLoS One. The paper is available for download here.

To find out more about how REEF Volunteer Survey Project data have been used by scientists and government agencies, visit the Publications page on the REEF Website.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub