The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Eileen Byrne

Sea Turtles - one of Eileen's favorite non-fish sightings! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.

When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.

What is your favorite non-fish sighting?

Turtles!!!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.

REEF is Hiring

REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.

REEF 2013 Annual Report Released

REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects including Invasive Lionfish Research and the Grouper Moon Project, data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2013 such a success! Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about any of the information presented in our Annual Report.

REEF Sustainers Weekend: A Gathering of Friends in the Florida Keys

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Clara Taylor, Ned DeLoach, Joe Glenn, Anna DeLoach, Paul Humann and Amy Slate share a moment together.
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Lad Akins presents newest Golden Hamlet Club member, Linda Schillinger, with award for completing 1,000 REEF surveys
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Joe Cavanaugh presents 10-year office volunteer Audrey Smith with award and free spot on the 2008 Turks and Caicos REEF Field Survey

On Saturday, July 14th, seventy members of the REEF Sustainers Club (annual donors of $1,000 or more), key partners and long-time REEF friends convened in Key Largo, Florida to celebrate fourteen years of REEF accomplishments over some diving and a sunset dinner. Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach and other Board, staff and Advisory Panel members were on hand to lead guests on some spectacular morning REEF survey dives while Amy Slate and her stand-up staff at the Amoray Dive Resort generously hosted the lodging and dinner party. “The event was just beautiful.” Said long-time REEF surveyor Elaine Morden, of Homestead, Florida. “It was great to connect with old REEF friends and see some new faces.”

The bi-annual Sustainers Event is a chance for REEF to bring together important members of the REEF family to thank them for their contributions and share successes of the organization over the years. This year, REEF was proud to recognize Linda Schillinger for achieving one of the highest REEF honors: admission into the Golden Hamlet club for those who have conducted 1,000 or more REEF surveys. We were also proud to recognize Key Largo resident and REEF office volunteer Audrey Smith for nearly ten years of regular service to the organization by quality-checking survey scanforms before they are uploaded to the REEF database. REEF was itself bestowed with an honor by Sanctuary Friends of the Florida Keys Director Glenn Patton: SFFFK generously gave a gift of support for the Great Annual Fish Count this year to help underwrite the costs of public outreach and education events.

By virtue of a Paul presentation and applause vote, the group answered the perennial question “What is the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean?” Out of thirty possibilities ranging from the spotfin hogfish to the fairy basslet, the spotted eagle ray won a narrow victory over close rivals the queen angelfish and queen triggerfish. Ned enthralled the group with fish behavior anecdotes from as far afield as Indonesia and gave updates on valuable REEF programs ranging from the Grouper Moon Project to the Exotics Species Sightings Project.

All agreed that the only thing hotter than the event itself was the Florida sun in July. With the heat index topping 100 degrees, no one needed a better excuse to indulge in a new REEF-inspired cocktail, the Indigo Hamlet, a unique and diversified alcoholic concoction for our wonderful sustainers to imbibe in while enjoying the sunset! Many thanks to all who made this a Sustainers Weekend to remember. See you at the next one . . .

For information about joining the Sustainers Club, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@reef.org or (305) 852-0030.

Intern Dives into Science and Bahamian Waters

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Ken Marks doing a fish transect
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Chris Moses and Judy Lang gathering coral data
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Brooke Gintert making headway on her benthic transect

REEF once again participated in the Perigee Environmental's yearly evaluation of the coral ecosystems along the eastern coast of Andros, Bahamas in cooperation with the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). Using the newest Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveying protocol, scientists gathered coral, benthic and fish data during the first 2 weeks of October. The data gathered will complement the existing 30 year data that demonstrates AUTEC's continuing efforts to preserve coral reefs around their facilities and military training ranges. Judy Lang, coral ecology expert, and Chris Moses, University of Southern Florida graduate student, were in charge of gathering the coral data. Brooke Gintert was conducting her Ph.D. work for the University of Miami and assisting with the benthic data collection. One of the REEF founders, Ken Marks and REEF intern Catherine Whitaker were responsible for the fish counting.

AUTEC has been actively monitoring and protecting the coral reef near shore environment since the establishment of the facilities in the 1960s. For the last six years, AUTEC has used the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment surveying protocol, which is a method that compares the complex relationship among corals, fish and algae and provides a quantitative scale on the health of a reef's ecosystem by comparing the survey results in terms of a regional comparison. In this case, it is also being used to track temporal changes to 35 reef sites around central Andros. Point-count data and general coral data were collected to estimate coral condition and algal cover. Fish variety, abundance, and size was estimated by transects and the rover diver method.

For more information concerning this trip or AGRRA please contact Patricia Kramer of Perigee Environmental (p_kramer@bellsouth.net).

Top ten things I learned from my AGRRA trip:
10. Exhaustion is a state of mind and is not cured by more work, less sleep and diving. Food (especially Pringles and chocolate) helps though.
9. Golf carts should be used more often in the US.
8. Dinner waits for no man, so floor the pedal on that golf cart and RUN!
7. The floating pier at site 1 is cursed and sets off the rain whenever any member of the AGRRA trip steps on it to load or unload anything from the boat.
6. Snakes do not belong on planes, I mean, in camera cases but seem to like it there.
5. Crashing mountainous waves and cement-like waters are not conducive to good science or a pleasant dive.
4. Post-trip pep talks should always include sweets and beverages.
3. Rick makes the barren rock that is Site 4 look and feel like Club Med. Thanks Rick.
2. Things to do on your only day off (because of 30 knot winds and 6ft waves) include but are not limited to swimming against a raging outgoing tide at a blue hole, resting by snorkeling for 2 hours in an inland blue hole, spearing lionfish, dissecting said lionfish and having a horseshoe tournament.
1. Making new friends, doing science and experiencing a sense of accomplishment for conservation efforts... priceless.

My warmest wishes go out to our AUTEC liaisons, Tom Szlyk and Marc Ciminello for their invaluable assistance. I would also like to thank everyone who put in extra effort so that I could participate in this fantastic trip as well as anyone who taught me anything while I was on it. Thank you very much.

REEF Data Used To Evaluate Effect of Marine Reserves in the Channel Islands

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Kelp bass, one of the 25 species included in the analysis of marine reserves in the Channel Islands. A harvested species, this species showed a positive effect of marine reserves through time.
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A REEF volunteer descending to conduct a survey in one of the Channel Islands marine reserves. Photo by Carl Gwinn.

REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, joined a dozen other scientists in presenting the findings of monitoring the marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Channel Islands, California, earlier this month during a special session of the California Islands Symposium.   The presentation highlighted the effect of reserves on common nearshore rocky reef fishes based on 10 years of REEF survey data.  During this time, REEF volunteer divers have collected 1,595 visual fish surveys from 113 sites throughout the Channel Islands before and after state marine reserves were established in 2002.  Using analysis methods developed to analyze volunteer bird watching data, collaborators Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA NMFS) and Dr. Steve Katz (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) developed a model to detect trends in fish densities. The analysis included 25 species of common rocky reef fishes, including targeted and non-targeted species. Rather than focusing on changes in the density of individual species, the analysis evaluated changes in multiple species to characterize responses of marine communities to protection from fishing in reserves.  The analysis suggests that reserves are positively influencing fish population trajectories in both targeted and non-targeted species.  On average, fish populations had ~20% higher growth rates inside reserves as compared to outside, although there was a high degree of variability across species.  Dr. Pattengill-Semmens notes that this study is one of the first applications of Pacific region REEF data for use by marine resource agency officials to evaluate the effects of management actions.  The results will ultimately be published and will join the many existing published studies of the utility of Tropical Western Atlantic REEF data.  The cumulative impact of the data and results from the entire suite of monitoring programs being conducted around the Channel Islands will "help to inform future management of the region, aid in the implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act in southern California, and contribute to our understanding of MPAs worldwide," said John Ugoretz, manager of the Marine Habitat Conservation Program for the California Department of Fish and Game.   To find out more about REEF monitoring activities in the Channel Islands, visit the Channel Islands project webpage.

Lisa Mitchell Takes the Helm of REEF

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Captain Lisa Mitchell, new REEF Executive Director, returns from a survey dive.

June will mark a change at the helm for REEF. We would like to wish Leda Cunningham well in her future endeavors, and welcome Lisa Mitchell as our new Executive Director. Lisa is eager to bring her extensive experience in the dive industry to REEF, as well as her natural passion for ocean conservation.

Lisa’s involvement with REEF almost goes back to the organization’s inception when, in 1993, she was owner/manager of Baskin in the Sun in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. After participating in a REEF Field Survey she immediately went to work involving BVI dive operators in the new program. In fact, because of her enthusiasm, Tortola became the first destination where 100% of the island’s dive businesses became REEF Field Stations. The REEF staff and Board were so impressed that she was asked to bring her organizational expertise and energies to the Board of Trustees in 1995 where she served until leaving Tortola in 1998 to pursue an Executive MBA at the University of Central Florida.

Lisa is a diver’s diver whose life has evolved around the underwater world. She earned her first scuba certification at age 12 while attending Sea Camp in Big Pine Key, Florida where she later became Assistant Scuba Director. During the following years, while gaining experience working at dive resorts in the Florida Keys and with Peter Hughes in Bonaire, she became a Master Dive Instructor and ultimately an SSI Instructor Certifier, and holds a USCG 100 Ton Master’s License. In the process Lisa has made well over 8,000 dives. To honor her many accomplishments Lisa was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2001.

Most recently Lisa has worked as a marketing and business analysis consultant within the dive industry with clients such as Scuba Schools International (SSI), Expedition Fleet Liveaboards, and Dive Dominica.

It goes without saying the REEF staff and Board are delighted to have Lisa back in the fold, and look forward to many prosperous years with such a capable and energetic Captain at the helm.

REEF members and Lisa’s many friends are invited to join us for a “Welcome Back to REEF and the Keys” evening to be held in her honor at 7 PM June 21st, 2008 at the Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo.

REEF and Lionfish Do the DEMA Show

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Some of the REEF DEMA team pose at the REEF booth - Stephanie Green, Lad Akins, Andy Dehart, Chris Flook, Lisa Mitchell.
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A popular feature at DEMA this year was REEF's display of lionfish in an aquarium.
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This special edition Lionfish print by Rogest is available through the REEF store.

Earlier this month, the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) held its once a year industry-wide, international trade show in Las Vegas. As part of the show, which attracts over 10,000 industry professionals and businesses, DEMA recognized the importance of the recent lionfish invasion into the Atlantic and asked REEF to present four show-sponsored talks for attendees and members.  

DEMA organizers also provided premium space at the show for an aquarium display and informational exhibit on the issue. REEF responded by providing an all-star cast of speakers and experts including Lad Akins (REEF), Andy Dehart (National Aquarium in DC), Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium) and Stephanie Green (Simon Fraser University). The talks were very well attended and the response from industry leaders was extremely positive. Marine Life artist, Ron Steven - better known as Rogest, was also on hand to sign special edition lionfish prints that he donated in support of REEF's efforts. During one seminar, Ron stood up to say that he never thought he would be encouraging divers to remove fish from the environment he works so hard to protect, but based on what we are seeing we should get rid of all lionfish (in the Atlantic). Similar sentiments were expressed by all who attended the talks. In addition to the talks, the 250 gallon aquarium set-up donated by ATM Aquariums in Las Vegas was a big hit. Ten lionfish were on display and provided excellent opportunities for in-depth discussions at the booth.

Next steps for work within the dive industry as outlined at the DEMA show are to work with inland dive operators to organize educational and data gathering lionfish projects and to work with island governments and on-island dive operators to conduct week-long workshops including education/outreach, monitoring, collecting/handling techniques and market development themes.

REEF will be leading its next week long in-country workshop in the Turks and Caicos in November and the next diver oriented project with Dive Provo January 17-24. For more information on how to organize a REEF-led lionfish project or to host a REEF workshop, please contact Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects, Lad@reef.org, (305) 852-0030.  To sign up for the Turks and Caicos project with Dive Provo call our REEF travel specialist at 877-295-REEF.  To find out more about REEF's efforts on lionfish, visit the REEF Lionfish Research page. 

News Tidbits

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  • Check Out the REEF Store! It's your one stop shop for all of your REEF Gear, ID Books and REEF Survey Supplies. Just added - "Not On My Reef" Lionfish Invasion Research T-shirts.
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  • Remember REEF in Your Year-End Giving We need your help to continue REEF's important marine conservation work. Please donate during our Fall campaign using our secure online donation form, by mailing a check to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call the office at 305-852-0030. Every amount helps and donations are 100% tax-deductable. Donations of $250 or more will receive a limited edition signed print of a South Pacific coral reef by Paul Humann.  Our secure online donation form is https://www.reef.org/contribute
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  • Holiday Open House at REEF HQ  If you will be in the South Florida area next week, please join us at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo (MM 98.3) for our Holiday Open House on December 8 from 6 - 8 PM. Ned and Anna DeLoach will be on-hand to sign books and talk fish, and our Gift Shop has lots of unique holiday gifts. Call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030 or email reefhq@reef.org to find out more information
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  • Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook. The REEF Facebook Page gives you the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and see exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind.
  • Free REEF Training in California Next Month

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    REEF classes are a great way to learn more about what you are seeing during your dives!

    There's still space in some of the fish and invertebrate identification and REEF survey training classes being held next month in Southern California. Classes will be held June 24, 25 and 26 in Dana Point and Long Beach. To find out more, see this article in last month's REEF-in-Brief. Classes are informative, fun and free, but registration is required. To register go to: http://www.pnwscuba.com/critterwatchers/calclasses.htm.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub