120,000! And Counting

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A REEF surveyor records a school of grunts. Photo by Paul Humann.
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REEF volunteer, Dana Haggarty, reviews her data after a survey dive in Monterey Bay.
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REEF data have been used in the stock assessment of Goliath grouper. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF eclipsed a milestone this week when the REEF Volunteer Survey Project Database passed the 120,000 survey mark.  This represents over 150,000 hours of underwater survey time from our volunteers.  The achievement comes almost 15 years to the day when the first REEF fish survey was conducted off Key Largo, Florida, on July 17, 1993.  Today, the program is going strong throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Galapagos Islands and Hawaii. In the tropical western Atlantic region alone, 96,469 surveys have been conducted at 6,085 sites and 795 fish species have been recorded.  Of course, improving your marine life identification skills, building your lifelist of sighted species, and conducting surveys are a lot of fun.  But have you ever wondered what good are all of these data?  

Volunteer data collection, or citizen science, provides a valuable alternative for scientists and resource agencies needing information but lacking sufficient resources to gather it. In addition, involvement in data collection leads to greater awareness about marine resources and creates a stewardship ethic among key user groups.

In addition to providing data summaries on the REEF Website, REEF staff provide raw data to scientists and resource agencies.  REEF data have been used in the development of stock assessments (Kingsley 2004), in the evaluation of trends of fish species (Semmens et al. 2000), to measure the effect of marine protected areas on kelp forest fish communities (Semmens et al. in prep) and coral reefs (REEF 2003), as an indicator of population pressure on natural resources (Burke and Maidens 2004), to evaluate interactions between species and species-habitat relationships (Auster et al. 2005), to asses the effect of restoration efforts in areas of damaged reef (REEF 2008), and to asses the status of a group of reef fish species that is experiencing significant declines (Ward-Paige et al., in prep A and B).  REEF volunteers have been instrumental in the identification and removal of exotic species (Semmens et al. 2004), in the identification of new species (Taylor and Akins 2007; Weaver and Rocha 2007) and morphological variants of known species (Pattengill-Semmens 1999), and in the documentation of previously unrecorded range extensions (M. Taylor and J. Van Tassel, Pers. Comm.). PDFs of most of these articles and a full listing of scientific papers and reports that have used REEF data are included in the Publications section of the REEF Website.

REEF extends a big thank you to the 10,000+ volunteers who have contributed to this database over the years and we are looking forward to the next 120,000 surveys!  Be sure to visit the Top 10 Stats page to see a quick rundown  of REEF survey activity.  You can also explore the data more in-depth by visiting the Database section of the REEF.org Website.

Peter Hughes Belize Lionfish Invasion Trip

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The upcoming Peter Hughes Belize Lionfish awareness/outreach trip turns to lionfish research/removal after the first lionfish was discovered in Central American waters. Join REEF aboard the Sun Dancer II from June 13-20 for this exciting and fun diving adventures. Following eye opening presentations by REEF staff and partners at the recent DEMA dive show in October, long-time supporter Peter Hughes took on a new mission - to support REEF's efforts in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean. With his world-renowned fleet of liveaboard dive vessels and concern for the marine environment, Peter became an instant supporter after hearing details of the invasion. In stepping up to the plate, he offered his Belize-based liveaboard, Sun Dancer II, as a platform to raise funds and increase awareness of the issue during a June 13-20 expedition. Little did he know that within 2 short months, lionfish would actually show up in Belize in advance of our planned project.

Sun Dancer II instructors, leading a group of divers on Turneffe Reef, spotted a juvenile lionfish on December 11, 2008. Subsequent dives provided images verifying the sighting and Sun Dancer Captain Ryan Barnett, who had previously worked with REEF during Bahamas lionfish projects, put the early warning system into action through his report to REEF HQ. While the fish has yet to be recovered, Sun Dancer staff now have divers on the lookout and are stocking the vessel with collecting supplies.

While the fundraising efforts of the June project remain, the focus of the June project has now shifted to include more detailed data gathering and collection of any lionfish specimens found. Additional workshops are being organized with Belizean authorities to assist in development and implementation of their lionfish response plan. For those interested in joining the June 13-20 project aboard the Sun Dancer, please view the project webpage or contact Peter Hughes Diving directly at (800) 9-DANCER.  For more information on the lionfish issue and to support REEF's efforts, go to www.reef.org/lionfish or contact Lad Akins (Lad@REEF.org) (305) 852-0030.

Exciting Schedule of REEF Trips Planned For 2010

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REEF Field Survey Participants at the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman in 2006.
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REEF trip participants enjoy hanging out and diving with like-minded individuals, while learning more about ocean life.

We are excited to announce a great line-up of destinations for REEF's 2010 Field Survey Travel Schedule. These fun and educational eco-dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". The week-long trips are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Trips are led by REEF staff and other REEF instructors and feature daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. We are featuring several new destinations, including the northern Baja Peninsula and Roatan, as well as returning to some of our member's favorites like Dominica and Grand Cayman. Several specialty trips are also being offered in 2010, including invasive lionfish research projects and reef fish behavior tours.

REEF Trip Schedule 2010 -- Prices, package details and more available soon.

  • Dominica with Dive Dominica and Ft. Young Hotel -- April 17-24, 2010. Led by Heather George.
  • Belize with Sun Dancer II Liveaboard -- May 1-8, 2010. Lionfish Research Expedition, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes.
  • Bahamas with Aqua Cat Liveaboard -- June 12-19, 2010. Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Roatan with Turquoise Bay Resort -- July 17-24, 2010. Led by Paul Humann.
  • Cozumel with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn -- August 14-21, 2010. Led by Sheryl Shea.
  • Key Largo with Amoray Dive Center -- August 26 - September 2, 2010. Sea Critter Seminar, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Bonaire with Buddy Dive Resort -- September 26 - October 2, 2010. Field Survey and Coral Spawning Expedition, Led by Jessie Armacost.
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico with Rocio del Mar Liveaboard -- October 9-16, 2010. Led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens.
  • Grand Cayman with Dive Tech and Colbalt Coast -- November 6-13, 2010. Led by Lad Akins.
  • To inquire about a trip and to book your space, please contact our REEF Dedicated Sales Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com or by phone at 1-877-295-REEF(7333). Additional details will be added to the REEF Trips webpage soon, so check back often. Book early, trips often fill up!

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    REEF Welcomes New Board Member

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    Welcome to Marty Snyderman, new REEF Board of Trustee Member.

    We are pleased to welcome Marty Snyderman to our Board of Trustees. Marty is an EMMY Award winning cinematographer, still photographer, author and speaker. He currently serves as the Marine Life Editor for Dive Training Magazine and is the long time author of the magazine’s monthly “What’s That”, “Always Learning”, and “Behind the Lens” columns. He is the 2008 recipient of DEMA’s (Dive Equipment Marketing Association) Reaching Out Award and joined the ranks of DEMA’s Hall of Fame. Many REEF members also know him for his co-produced shark identification DVD, Sharks and Their Kin.

    Board of Trustees member Andy Dehart of the National Aquarium recounts: “I met Marty when he joined our production company on an extended Alaskan expedition to document the elusive salmon shark. Despite record rainfall, backcountry camping, bears, a scarcity of sharks, and an unrelenting stench from decaying salmon, Marty’s passion for the adventure remained boundless. The more I learned about his knowledge of marine wildlife, and commitment to the marine environment, it became obvious that Marty would be a valuable addition to the REEF Board.”

    As a resident of Solana Beach, California, Marty joins Board member Heather George and Pacific Northwest staff as REEF continues to expand its mission on the west coast. Marty, Welcome Aboard!

    REEF Data Featured in New Scientific Publication on Shark Population Status

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    Blacktip sharks are one of the 14 species that were analyzed in the recently published paper. Photo (c) Paul Humann.
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    REEF data are well suited for rarely seen species like sharks because of the wide geographic coverage by REEF volunteers. Photo by Ned DeLaoch.

    REEF Fish Survey Project data were recently featured in a paper in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, Large-Scale Absence of Sharks on Reefs in the Greater-Caribbean: A Footprint of Human Pressures. The study's authors evaluated the status of 14 species of sharks in the Caribbean. In recent decades, large pelagic and coastal shark populations have declined dramatically with increased fishing. However, the status of sharks in other systems such as coral reefs remains largely unassessed despite a long history of exploitation. The paper's authors used REEF data to explore the contemporary distribution and sighting frequency of sharks on reefs in the greater-Caribbean, and assessed the possible role of human pressures on observed patterns.

    The analysis was based on 76,340 underwater surveys carried out by REEF volunteers between 1993 and 2008. REEF data are well suited for rarely seen species like sharks because of the wide geographic coverage by REEF volunteers.The authors compared sighting frequency to the number of people in each area surveyed, and used population viability analyses to assess the effects of exploitation on population trends. Sharks, with the exception of nurse sharks, occurred mainly in areas with very low human population or strong fishing regulations and marine conservation. Population viability analysis suggests that exploitation alone could explain the large-scale absence; however, this pattern is likely to be exacerbated by additional anthropogenic stressors, such as pollution and habitat degradation, that also correlate with human population. Preventing further loss of sharks requires urgent management measures to curb fishing mortality and to mitigate other anthropogenic stressors to protect sites where sharks still exist. The fact that sharks still occur in some densely populated areas where strong fishing regulations are in place indicates the possibility of success and encourages the implementation of conservation measures.

    A PDF of the full paper can be downloaded here. The citation is Ward-Paige CA, Mora C, Lotze HK, Pattengill-Semmens C, McClenachan L, et al. (2010) Large-Scale Absence of Sharks on Reefs in the Greater-Caribbean: A Footprint of Human Pressures. PLoS ONE 5(8): e11968. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011968. To see a complete list of papers and other publications featuring REEF data, visit the REEF Publications page.

    REEF Fish Survey Project in Hawaii Turns 10, and Reaches 10,000 Survey Milestone!

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    Flo Bahr conducted the 10,000 REEF survey in Hawaii on January 29, 2011.

    Almost 10 years to the day of launching the Fish Survey Project in Hawaii, the 10,000th REEF survey was conducted at Palauea Beach on Maui this past weekend! The landmark survey was conducted by long-time REEF member, Flo Bahr, who was diving the site with a group of active Hawaii REEFers. Flo was recently featured in our Member Spotlight (read her profile here). A huge thanks to Flo and all of the surveyors who have been busy in Hawaii. REEF launched our citizen science program in Hawaii on February 3, 2001, during a week-long celebration with partners from Project S.E.A.-Link, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Maui Community College Marine Option Program. Since then, many other partners have joined forces with REEF as Field Stations. We are looking forward to the next ten years! In honor of our anniversary, we have highlighted a local Field Station and one of our many local surveyors in this month's Making It Count. To celebrate our 10 years in Hawaii, we have scheduled a Field Survey Trip to Maui in April, we hope you will join us! Click here for more information.

    Visit REEF's Top 10 Stats webpage to see the number of surveys and other top stats for all of REEF's regions - http://www.reef.org/db/stats

    Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, July 2011

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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:

    - NOAA scientists from the Protected Resources Division are using data on three species of endangered rockfish to evaluate their status in the Salish Sea.

    -University of Washington scientists are using REEF data on invasive tunicates to map distribution of the species throughout the Pacific Northwest.

    Meet the New REEF Marine Conservation Interns

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    We are pleased to introduce our latest Marine Conservation Interns - Lucy Davis and Brandon Lenderink. Lucy was born and raised in Texas and has spent the past few years traveling around the world. In 2009, she lived in New Zealand assisting with various research projects using her underwater skills as a diver and driving boats. She recently went backpacking through Southeast Asia where she was able to dive and see the Lionfish in its native habitat. Although she began her college degree in elementary education, Lucy now is focusing more on environmental education. Brandon is a Colorado native and a recent biology graduate whose passion for wildlife and conservation has led him to pursue a career in marine biology. Brandon has worked as an aquarist for the Denver Downtown Aquarium, promoting conservation and working the animals such as endangered turtles and Sumatran tigers, as well as for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the Aquatic Nuisance Species program. Brandon’s future goals are to become a research diver and scuba instructor.

    The REEF internship program provides college age juniors, seniors, and graduate students the opportunity to experience working at a nonprofit environmental organization. Interns assist REEF staff with education, outreach, lionfish research, and day-to-day office assistance. Many REEF interns move on to successful careers in conservation and the marine environment, including natural resource agencies, academics, and conservation non-profits (including REEF). If you or someone you know is interested in applying to be a future REEF Intern, visit the application page -- http://www.REEF.org/about/internships/application.

    Another GREAT Annual Fish Count

    The 21st annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) took place in July, with many dive shops, dive clubs, and other groups organizing fish ID classes, dive /snorkel days, BBQs and more fun gatherings. The concept behind the GAFC is not only to accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers/snorkelers to fishwatching and get them started doing REEF surveys. Groups from California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and new to the event in 2012 - New Brunswick, all participated! Once again, this year's largest one day event was held in the Northeast, coordinated by the New England Dive Club. Thank you to ALL participants, and we hope you'll continue conducting REEF surveys on your dives year round!

    Putting It To Work: New Publication Showing Validity of REEF Survey Data

    A REEF "Roving Diver" has free swimming range around a dive site. Surveyors are encouraged to search high and low for as many species as they can positively ID. Photo by Paul Humann.
    Transect surveyors follow a path for a pre-determined length (typically around 25m) and record all species within a 1-3 meter swath. Photo courtesy of Ken Marks.

    A new scientific paper published earlier this month in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution reports that REEF surveys conducted by citizen scientists compare well with traditional scientific methods when it comes to monitoring species biodiversity. The findings of the research, conducted by Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Angila in the UK, give weight to the growing phenomenon of citizen science programs such as REEF's Volunteer Survey Project. The field study compared methods used by REEF volunteer divers with those used by professional scientists to measure the variety of fish species in three Caribbean sites in the Turks and Caicos. The divers surveyed the sites using two methods – the 'belt transect', used in peer reviewed fish diversity studies, and the 'roving diver technique', used by REEF volunteers. Two teams of 12 divers made 144 separate underwater surveys across the sites over four weeks. While the traditional scientific survey revealed sightings of 106 different types of fish, the volunteer technique detected greater marine diversity with a total of 137 in the same waters. Dr Holt led the research in partnership with the Centre for Marine Resource Studies in the Caribbean and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He said: "The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs. Very few, if any, scientific groups can collect data on the scale that volunteer groups can, so our proof that both methods return consistent results is very encouraging for citizen science in general. We're living in a world that's changing very significantly. Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists." Click here to read the full paper, entitled "Comparing Diversity Data Collected Using a Protocol Designed for Volunteers with Results from a Professional Alternative".

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub