Be On The Lookout - Indo-Pacific Damsel Reported in Gulf of Mexico

Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.

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.

Help REEF Assess Our Changing Seas

Fiji Reef Scene, by Paul Humann. Donors of $250 or more this winter will receive a signed and numbered copy of this amazing image.

Earlier this month, we launched our holiday giving campaign highlighting how REEF data are used to assess our changing seas. We are well on our way to reaching our goal, but still need your help! Please make a donation today by contributing online at www.REEF.org/donate or calling REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

Your donation will support our efforts to further scientific knowledge of marine creatures and habitats. With almost 200,000 marine species surveys submitted by REEF volunteers, I am proud to report that in 2015, researchers and scientists used REEF data to evaluate:

    • Biodiversity, status, and trends of fishes and invertebrates
    • The impact of beach nourishment projects on South Florida reef ecosystems
    • A management plan for Ecological Reserves in Puerto Rico
    • Endangered sawfish species distribution and status
    • Juvenile rockfish habitat in Puget Sound
    • The effect of citizens in detecting and responding to rapid marine invasions
    • Goliath Grouper populations for fishery management decisions

This research is only possible through generous donations from members like you! Please take a moment to donate now. For donations of $250 or more, I will mail a signed print of this gorgeous Fiji reef scene. The profusion of color from these soft corals and huge schools of Anthias species is stunning! This photo is one of my favorites - get yours today!

And for those of you who work for a company that matches charitable donations, please let us know so that we can be sure to make the most of your contribution.

Thank you for your support and happy holidays,

Paul Humann,

President, REEF Board of Trustees

Please Join Us In Key Largo for REEF Fest 2016

September 29 – October 2 in Key Largo, FL

We are excited to announce REEF Fest 2016, a celebration of marine conservation in the Florida Keys! Events include ocean-themed seminars, scuba diving, and social gatherings alongside marine conservation and dive industry leaders.

At REEF Fest 2016, attendees will enjoy opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard in the truly unique habitats of the Florida Keys. Diving and other eco-ventures are offered each morning. Each afternoon, sit back and enjoy our exciting and compelling ocean-themed seminar series. Finally, wrap up your evenings wining and dining, in good company alongside a breathtaking sunset. All REEF Fest events are open to the public.

We hope you will join us for an unforgettable event in the beautiful Florida Keys! Check out full event details at www.REEF.org/REEFFest

On Facebook? Please join the REEF Fest 2016 Facebook event page for updates and event information https://www.facebook.com/events/1736089399939722/

REEF Fest 2016 a Success!

On behalf of all of us at REEF, thank you to those who were able to join us at REEF Fest 2016, our annual celebration of marine conservation. This year's event was our largest yet, with more than 400 guests in attendance! The four-day event, free and open to the public, featured ocean-themed seminars, social gatherings, SCUBA diving, and other eco-ventures alongside some of the most prestigious names in diving and marine conservation.

Our generous SCUBA diving operators made donations based on guest participation while other sponsors supported the event by donating to the silent auction, raising more than $12,000 to support REEF! These contributions will go a long way in supporting our numerous marine conservation programs. And a special thanks to our Platinum event sponsors: Divers Alert Network, Carrow Foundation, Atlantis Philippines Dive Resorts and Liveaboards, Quino El Guardian Liveaboards, and Eco Divers Resort.

In case you missed it, check out some of our event photos in the REEF Fest Facebook album.

We hope that you will join us for REEF Fest 2017, September 28 - October 1, in Key Largo, FL. Visit www.reef.org/REEFFest/savethedate for details.

REEF Fest 2017 - Don't Miss the Banquet, For the Love of the Sea

REEF Fest 2017 is just around the corner - September 28 - October 1. There are so many great activities planned during the four day event. A highlight is always our Saturday night banquet, For the Love of the Sea. Have you purchased your ticket yet? Seating is limited and over half of our available tickets have sold. Visit www.REEF.org/REEFfest/dinnerticket to get your ticket. Tickets for this celebration include a three course meal, plus hors d’ouvres and a full service liquor bar, alongside live music and a silent auction. The silent auction will include beautiful artwork, handcrafted jewelry, and amazing dive vacation packages. Don’t miss your opportunity to bid!

We are excited to offer the following vacation packages in our silent auction (a big thank you to our donors!): - Atlantis Philippines Resort 7 night vacation package, with up to 5 dives a day, a $2,367 value - Sunset House Grand Cayman 5 night vacation package, with 2 boat dives a day and unlimited shore diving, a $2,000 value

Check out www.REEF.org/REEFfest for more event details or contact Events@REEF.org. We hope to see you there!

The Faces of REEF: Mindy Gould

Mindy (left) with Dawn Vigo (right) volunteering in the REEF booth at Our World Underwater.
Mindy having a little fun underwater in Bonaire.
Mindy diving with sharks in Gardens of the Queen, Cuba.
A bucket list fish for Caribbean fish watchers - the Golden Fairy Basslet. Photo by Arie DeJong.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Mindy Gould, member since 1997 (20 years!). Mindy has conducted 121 surveys, in both the western tropical Pacific and the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Mindy had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? I joined in the early 1990’s and went on my first survey trip to Saba in 2011.  I’ve now been on seven more REEF trips (San Salvador, Cozumel (twice), Utila, Nevis, Philippines, and Solomon Islands). I’m still a wage slave, so I save up vacation days and try to do at least 1 trip per year.
 
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? 
My “first” favorite part is meeting incredible REEF members on survey trips and then diving with them again and again. Whatever we do in “real life,” when we’re surveying, there’s a shared energy, fascination and commitment to submitting quality data that furthers the knowledge base. Everyone dives with a purpose and there’s nothing more exhilarating than sharing in someone’s unique sighting.
 
My “second” favorite part of REEF is spreading the word to other divers about becoming citizen scientists and how important collecting data is to understanding and conserving the ocean environment. For several years, I have volunteered at the REEF booth for Our World Underwater in Chicago and there’s nothing like telling someone about REEF and hearing them say: “I’ve been looking for something like this; sign me up.” 
 
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?  I’m especially glad that REEF’s work is grounded in scientific principles and reproducible results.  In this age of skepticism and challenge to even the fundamentals of science, REEF’s survey program stands out as critical to a myriad number of research projects (Grouper Moon, invasive species). It’s gratifying to see when REEF data is used in research around the world.
 
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?  It’s got to be diving in the Galapagos with whale sharks, hundreds of hammerheads and the cranky, little red-lipped batfish. As an environmental scientist with a fascination for evolution, the Galapagos is like traveling to the motherland.
 
What is your most memorable fish find?  While diving in Cuba last summer, I came across a Golden Fairy Basslet (Gramma dejongi).  I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was unlike any basslet I’d seen before.  It wasn’t a REEF trip and my dive buddy, Judy, wasn’t around to corroborate, so I snapped pictures as fast as I could.  The book says they’re rare to uncommon, so I was pretty stoked to have spotted it.  As you can imagine, the divemaster didn’t share my excitement as he herded me back to the group.

How to Make Friends and Save on Taxes

REEF member Pat Richardson.

Dear Fellow REEF Supporters,

I wanted to share with you a great opportunity to support a worthy cause while potentially saving on your taxes. Below is the story of my recent contribution experience.

If you have an individual retirement account (IRA), and are over 70 and a half years of age, you must withdraw a specific amount from your IRA, regardless of whether you need or want the money. This amount, called a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD), is added to your total income and is taxed. Since I turned 70+, there has been an on-again/off-again opportunity to contribute part or all of your RMD to a 501(c)(3) charity of your choice.

Last year I decided to contribute all of my RMD to three of my favorite charities - number one being REEF! Aside from the satisfication of supporting a wonderful cause, this contribution resulted in numerous benefits. First, all of my RMD went to supporting organizations I care about, and none went to taxes. Second, I saved on taxes overall because my income did not include the RMD. Third, and best of all, I received phone calls, letters, and special invitations from my grateful recipients! I followed the advice of my financial adviser: Give now, so people can thank you while you are still alive! It’s a great feeling.

Of course, check with your own financial adviser to see how this plan fits your individual circumstances. You can also contact REEF to discuss giving opportunities.

The Blue Ocean Institute's Sea Stories

The ocean is a muse to many artists. REEF members have also felt that tug of creativity and sent us amazing pictures as well as commentaries from their travels. Being a part of REEF means sharing the underwater world that we all love which is why we'll be sharing with you the interesting pictures and experiences our members send us. We'd like to do this monthly, but need you to participate so email us your fun or interesting Fish Tales so we can publish them in the next REEF-in-Brief! Who knows . . . we may even choose your unique picture/story for placement in our annual news letter soon to be printed for 2008.   Please email them to intern@reef.org  titled ENews. 

We also would like to share with our members a place to publish and read YOUR stories about ocean issues.

"Sea Stories, an online journal of creative writing and art about the world's oceans sponsored by Blue Ocean Institute, features contributions by ocean-lovers from all backgrounds and walks of life - writers, artists, educators, students, scientists, fishers, conservationists, explorers, and just regular people. Educators are invited to use Sea Stories in the classroom or as a publishing opportunity for yourself or your students. Join us in celebrating all things oceanic!"

Visit www.seastories.org!

If you have a fun or interesting Fish Tales you would like to share with REEF and its 30,000 members, please email them to intern@reef.org titled ENews. We'd love to publish your experiences in the next REEF-in-Brief!

REEF.org Web Tip

Can't remember your REEF number?

Use the lost member number lookup feature on the new Website.

REEF Divers Net Quite a Find

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A derelict gill net found by REEF surveyors in the Puget Sound. The net had ensnared dozens of animals and was damaging habitat. Photo by Pete Naylor.
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A lingcod entangled in the gill net, a result of "ghost fishing". Photo by Pete Naylor.
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The net was draped over rare cloud sponges. Photo by Pete Naylor.

Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.

AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.

Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.

Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”

Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”

If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub