REEF Joins in Submersible Expedition to Assess the Lionfish Invasion Beyond Diving Depths

REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green inside the Antipodes sub.
Several dozen invasive lionfish call an artificial reef in South florida, the Bill Boyd, home off.

REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.

During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.

The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.

As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.

Please Support REEF and Our Important Marine Conservation Work

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.

We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

Great Annual Fish Count is Coming

The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.

The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at gafc@reef.org.

Lionfish - What We Know and What We're Learning

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Lionfish photo by Tom DeMayo
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Juvenile Lionfish photo by Tom DeMayo

If you’ve read recent REEF releases, you’ve heard the news that Indo-pacific lionfish are now well established along the eastern US coast and throughout the Bahamas. REEF has been and continues to work with researchers to learn as much as we can in order to most effectively address the invasion. Since January of this year, REEF has organized and led 5 week-long projects in the Bahamas to document the extent of the invasion and gather samples and information needed by NOAA and Bahamian researchers.

 
Here is what we’ve found:

  • Lionfish are being found as deep as 350’ and as shallow as 2’.
  • Lionfish have been documented in almost all habitat types including patch reefs, artificial reefs, walls, and even mangroves
  • Lionfish have been captured as small as 25mm and as large as 389mm
  • Most lionfish have been in the 200mm size range
  • Lionfish prey has included fish, shrimp and crabs
  • Lionfish appear to have high site fidelity (they don’t move much)
  • Lionfish appear to be reproducing year-round in Bahamian waters
  • The lionfish invasion appears to have come from a small founding population (not a large release of many fish)
  • Stomach content analysis has documented lionfish predation of cleaner fish
  • Every site visited in the Berries in April contained lionfish – most contained multiple fish

 
Here is what we are working on with NOAA and Bahamian researchers:

  • Continuing documentation of lionfish distribution and impacts on local fish populations
  • Documentation of lionfish at cleaning stations and subsequent predation on cleaning fish
  • Predation by other species on lionfish
  • Genetic relationships of lionfish in one area (NC, northern Bahamas) to those in other areas (S Bahamas) to determine dispersion pathways.
  • Parasitology of lionfish (they appear to have few parasite compared to native fish)
  • Larval occurrence at different locations using larval light traps
  • Juvenile recruitment preference using small shallow water nets and trawls
  • Trap preference of adult lionfish
  • Lionfish recruitment rates to sites denuded of lionfish (i.e., recruitment pressure)
  • Recruitment of lionfish to artificial structures
  • And more!

As part of this effort, REEF has planned more research efforts through the end of 2007. Each project will include participation of scientists, researchers, and/or REEF staff. For a list of upcoming projects visit http://www.reef.org/exotic/lionfish/ or e-mail lad@reef.org

REEF Events 10/07

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DEMA Raffle Prize. Print courtesy of Tom Isgar.
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DEMA Raffle Prize. Print courtesy of Tom Isgar.

Here's what we're up to in the coming months:

October 31- November 3: DEMA Show in Orlando, FL. Come visit us at both 1133 and you could win a signed print by Tom Isgar by partaking in our DEMA raffle to help raise funds for REEF.

November 11-17: Conservation Week with Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bruce Purdy and Andy Dehart

Recent additions to the previously planned Eco-week at Stuart Coves Dive Bahamas in Nassau will be highlighted by Ned and Anna DeLoach, who will be presenting their famous behavior talks as part of the week's activities.  In addition, Andy Dehart, general Manager of the National Aquarium in Washington DC and Bruce Purdy, Bahamas dive operator and conservationist will talk about Bahamian conservation issues and marine protected areas. As previously planned, Lad Akins will lead the project and discuss lionfish issues as they relate to other environmental factors such as artificial reefs. Stuart Cove will host the project and discuss shark and local conservation issues.

December 8-14: Blackbeard's Cruises is announcing a new lionfish project focusing on Grand Bahama.

For more information, on these projects, view the pdf here...

Lloyd Bridges Scholarship Available for Akumal Field Survey

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Beachfront at Bahia Principe in Akumal
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Maya Glyph at Ruins of Tulum nearby to the Resort
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Coral Reef Training for hotel staff at Bahia Principe
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Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson, ex-Navy Frogman

Once again, CEDAM International is offering two scholarships for educators to participate on a REEF Field Survey. For the 2008 survey season, the scholarships will apply to the Gran Bahia Principe Field Survey in Akumal, Mexico. Dates for this trip are May 17-24, 2008. You can visit REEF's Field Survey page to view trip details and also check out the trip flyer. To apply for this scholarship, please visit the CEDAM website at then click on the Lloyd Bridges Scholarship tab at the top of the page to see details.

The two scholarships enable qualified educators to participate - at no cost - in a CEDAM-sponsored or -sanctioned expedition. This REEF Field Survey will be led by Joe Cavanaugh, REEF Field Operations Director. Participants will have the opportunity to collect data, participate in daily talks, and interact with REEF members, staff, and local organizations. This will be a hands-on experience during which participants have the opportunity for fish identification and marine conservation training in and out of the water. REEF has partnered with ReefAid and Reefcheck and Ecologica Bahia in 2007 to assist Gran Bahia Principe Resort with developing a monitoring and assessment protection plan for their nearshore reefs. Our cooperative efforts in conservation at Bahia Principe are making a difference in protecting their reefs and some of our class time will focus on these successes.

To be eligible, applicants must be a certified scuba diver, a teacher (elementary or secondary level), or actively engaged in an education program at an institution or environmental organization, such as an aquarium, science center, or relevant non-profit organization.The scholarship will be awarded on the basis of both merit and financial need. CEDAM International will cover the recipient’s airfare and REEF Field Survey expenses (excluding incidentals and personal expenses), on this educational adventure. Bahia Principe is an all-inclusive resort so acoomodation, diving, and meals are included. The application deadline will be earlier than last year's deadline since the Field Survey pariticipation dates are in late May this year. Please have your completed applications submitted by April 1, 2008.

Many of our members may be too young to have seen the television program, Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges that ran from 1958-1961. One important aspect of the series was that Bridges made a plea at the end of each episode to protect the oceans, an early ocean conservation pioneer. He was also involved in several organizations including the American Oceans Campaign and Heal the Bay, a Los Angeles-based conservation group. He inspired a generation of SCUBA divers and you may want to check out Wikipedia to read more about many of the people Bridges worked with on Sea Hunt. Incidentally, I discovered that Bridges learned to SCUBA dive once contracted for the show and that he was offered the role of Captain Kirk before William Shatner!

There are still spaces (4) available for the Akumal Field Survey, email joe@reef.org to inquire.

All applicants must complete an application form and return it along with the required essay and two letters of recommendation, to CEDAM (by mail or electronically) by April 1, 2008. Good Luck!

Bigger Than Ever - Lionfish Research Continues

As many of you are aware, the recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into Atlantic waters has been causing great concern among researchers, marine park and fisheries managers, and divers. REEF, in partnership with Bahamian dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy, NOAA, the USGS, the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem. 

 

Our most recent field project at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in May 2008, involving over 20 volunteers and researchers, found that the problem continues to get worse. The team gathered data on nearly 200 specimens of lionfish to determine relative abundance, size increases, reproductive status, growth rates, predator prey relationships and movement.  To wit:

 

  • Lionfish continue to grow in size: Tagging data are showing growth rates exceeding 190mm/year.  This is far larger than necessary to reach sexual maturity.
  • Site Fidelity: All 12 tagged specimens that have been recaptured indicated strong site fidelity even after 6 months.
  • Prey: Lionfish continue to amaze us during our stomach content studies. This May effort turned up new records including two entire spotted goatfish, a large brown chromis, a small reef octopus, and even a small mollusk in its shell. The lionfish are eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.
  • Reproduction: Lionfish reproduction continues to occur throughout the year – we found many gravid females and a small recently settled juvenile.

 

To date, dive operators and the contributions of participating volunteers have funded the bulk of this work.  REEF’s future field-work will concentrate on lionfish movement, trap design, habitat preference, and local control measures. Our next project is scheduled to take place at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau from September 14-20. If you would like to help with our ongoing work please consider joining us as a field volunteer and/or making a contribution to REEF’s Exotic Species Program. For additional information, please contact Lad Akins at (305) 852-0030 x-2# or e-mail Lad@reef.org

Taking A Dive Trip That Counts

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REEF volunteer, Judie Clee, conducts a survey in Little Cayman during a Field Survey earlier this year. Photo by Ron Lucas.

As Fall is upon us, we look ahead to 2009 and a great lineup of REEF travel opportunities. Our partners at Caradonna Dive Adventure have helped us put together an exciting Field Survey schedule, including St. Croix, Bermuda (with Ned and Anna DeLoach), and Grenada on the Peter Hughes Winddancer (with Paul Humann). These week-long projects are led by experts in fish identification and include great diving, learning, and camaraderie with like-minded divers and snorkelers. Your non-diving companions are welcome on all of the land-based projects. There will also be several Lionfish Research Project expeditions, which allow participants to get first hand experience in this exploding invasive species issue. Be sure to check out all of these trips, posted online at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. And remember that it's not just on REEF Trips that you can Make Dives That Count! You are encouraged to conduct surveys during your personal dive vacations farther afield and on local weekend dives in your own backyard. Be sure to order survey materials through the REEF Online Store before you leave and check out what species you are likely to see with the Geographic Summary Reports. And while you are waiting for your tank to be filled, it's fun to tell the folks at the dive shop what you are doing. Being a REEF ambassador helps spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project and the value that fishwatching adds to your experience in the water. We hope that you will join us in making dives that count in 2009. We are kicking off the year with a Field Survey to St. Lucia led by new REEF Executive Director, Lisa Mitchell. To find out more or to book your space, please contact our dedicated travel specialist at 877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com. And be sure to download our 2009 Trip Flyer!

REEF News Tidbits

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The Great Annual Fish Count is coming soon!

Don't Just Blow Bubbles This Summer! Participate in the 18th Great Annual Fish Count. An exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners. Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event. And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.

Summer Fundraising. Be sure to watch your inbox in a few weeks for an important message from REEF co-founder Paul Humann about our semi-annual fundraising drive.

A Big Win-Win: Have a Great Dive Trip and Support REEF. There are still some spaces left on 2009 REEF Field Survey Trips. Still to come in 2009 are REEF Field Survey trips to Key Largo with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bermuda (again with Ned and Anna), Curacao and Cozumel.

Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry 2.0. An updated version of our Online Data Entry interface will be debuted in a few weeks. This version incorporates many of the suggestions that have been submitted over the years by our members, as well as the capability to submit surveys from the Northeast (Virginia - Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja - Galapagos Islands). We hope that this will facilitate an increase in surveying in these important regions. To log your data online, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php.

REEF Attends DEMA 2009

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REEF staff, volunteers and friends at the REEF booth -- Jane Bixby, Tom Wells, Maurine Shimlock, Kay Wells and Burt Jones

Once again, REEF participated in the dive industry show, DEMA. We showed off all of the cool REEF gear, including our new lionfish t-shirts, which were a hit, as well as all of the REEF survey essentials. We also spoke with many dive instructors who were looking for new types of classes to teach. The REEF Fish ID curricula certainly fit the bill. A lot of networking was done and new friends made. And lots of people signed up for a free REEF membership. Thanks to generous sponsorship by Sherwood Scuba, we were able to host visitors and spread the word about REEF in a large double booth. As always, we couldn’t have done it without the help of several REEF volunteers. A big thank you goes to Jim and Mary Jo Davis, Robyn Churchill, Tom and Kay Wells, Lureen Ferretti, Deb Deavers, Beth Olsen, Andy Dehart and Park Chapman for all of their help at the REEF booth. Paul Humann and Anna DeLoach also spent a considerable time in the booth, to the delight of the dive community that happened to pass by! All in all, a truly enjoyable experience!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub