Bermuda - a Unique Destination

The Grotto Bay Resort, home to the Bermuda REEF Field Survey this October.

Bermuda is at the northern extent of the Tropical Western Atlantic survey region and represents a unique destination for REEF's fish watchers. There are six spaces left on our Field Survey Trip to Bermuda (October 1-8), and this is your opportunity to dive pristine reefs, expand your knowledge of marine life, and search for elusive and beautiful fish such as the redback wrasse. Trip leaders Ned and Anna DeLoach will entertain participants with their fish identification and behavior expertise, providing engaging lectures and photographs in conjunction with educational seminars each evening. Pink sand beaches, fascinating historic sites and a blend of British Colonial and African culture help to make Bermuda, also known as the "Jewel of the Atlantic," a captivating destination for non-divers as well. Check out the full trip description at www.REEF.org/trips.

Even if you can't make the trip, be sure to join Ned and Anna online for their free Fishinar at the end of this month, August 30. See www.REEF.org/fishinars for all the details.

Playing Virtual Darts With Fish ID

A group of REEF surveyors in Mexico have set up a study group on “WhatsApp” (a mobile device chat app) to prepare themselves for REEF Level 2 tests in the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) region. The group is coordinated by Itziar Aretxaga, who recently passed level 3 in that region and is a Level 5 expert in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA). Members of the group live throughout Mexico, but stay connected and learn together through a game of virtual darts on their mobile phones. Every day they are presented with a problem fish they have to solve, and at the end of the day the recognition card for the fish of day is sent with instructions of names in English and Spanish and features to look for.

Along with the daily mystery fish, the participants are playing a rolling game over the course of two months in which one participant “throws a dart” with a photograph to another participant to recognize. The recipient has a maximum of 24 hours to reply. If the recipient identifies the species, he/she receives 1 point. If the reply is incorrect, the recipient receives -1 point. If the sender misidentifies the species for one that is not in the study cards already seen, he/she receives -2 points. If anybody other than the recipient replies within the 24 hr period, he/she receives -2 points. If the recipient does not reply within 24 hours or replies incorrectly, the dart can be picked up by any participant, and points are assigned to the one that first replies with the correct answer. The score is normalized by the number of darts aimed at each participant and the final prize is a round of beers paid by the participant who scores less points.

The group has been playing fish-darts for three weeks now, and is having quite a blast with 35 cards already studied and almost 40 darts sent in the game. Negative points have been assigned mainly for misidentifications of photographs found with Google on the internet. In two weeks, when they complete the 50 species they have set for themselves to study, they will declare a winner and the person in charge of beers for all. ¡Salud!

The Faces of REEF: Dottie Benjamin

Dottie with one of her underwater fishy friends, Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman. Photo by Mary Solomon.
A possible new species, "Dottie's Jawfish"! Photo by Dottie Benjamin.

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 Dottie Benjamin, a REEF member since 1996! After living on Little Cayman for years, Dottie moved to North Carolina a few years ago. During her time in the Cayman Islands, she was involved in REEF's Grouper Moon Project and she also found a possible new species of fish! Dottie has conducted 75 surveys and is a Level 5 Expert Surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA). Here's what Dottie had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first hear about REEF? I first learned about REEF while working in Belize as a Dive Instructor and a REEF Field Survey was taking place at my place of work. Ned & Anna DeLoach were the presenters and I became fascinated with the names and behavior of all the little critters that I was seeing on a daily basis. I learned all kinds of fun facts and the fishy bug bit. Moving to Little Cayman – I had the pleasure of getting to know Judie Clee (1000+ surveys) and she reinforced my love of fishes and shared in my excitement at finding a tiny Goby or Blenny. She helped me achieve my Level 5 TWA rating and got me interested in teaching others about all the incredible diversity under the waves.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? Living in Little Cayman for 18 years, I was honored to help with REEF's Grouper Moon Project and being able to swim with 3000+ groupers during their annual aggregate spawn is simply breath-taking. And your diving career is not complete until you have had the chance to rub the cheeks of a big old friendly Nassau Grouper. They are amazing creatures.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I now live in North Carolina and dive & work at Olympus Dive Center… the fish are a little different, but once you know your fish families… you can figure out what you are looking at. The diversity here is amazing and there is always something cool to find… whether it be a few dozen Sand Tiger Sharks cruising by or an Ocellated Frogfish or a bevy of juvenile Cubbyu… I am never disappointed.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Possibly discovering a new species of fish is my most memorable fish find. Swimming along the sheer wall of Little Cayman at about 90 feet and looking into a little alcove and seeing a jawfish (blue spotted at that!). I couldn’t find the fish in any ID book, and so I contacted REEF for some help… It's still being worked on, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that it is a new species that I will get to name. Dottie’s Jawfish has a nice ring…don’t you think? I have had the chance to meet some incredible people in my diving career and the fishy ones are the best!

Recent Manta Ray Sightings in the Florida Keys

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Manta ray at French Reef. Photo courtesy of Mike Ryan.
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Coral spawning at French Reef. Photo courtesy of Mike Ryan.

In the first few weeks of July we have started receiving reports of several Manta ray sightings at French Reef, near Key Largo, Florida. Mantas are found in the temperate, tropical, and sub tropical waters world wide. However, sightings in Florida waters are uncommon. Some observers saw the mantas swimming in large vertical loops, leading them to think that these animals were coming into the shallow reefs to feed on coral spawn.

Mantas inhabit near-shore and pelagic waters, and can grow up to ~14ft in width. They are primarily filter feeders, using large cephalic fins located on the head to help 'funnel' plankton into their mouths.

So, if your diving in the Florida Keys keep an eye out for one of these magnificent animals swimming by - and be sure to record it on your survey!

Putting It To Work: New Publication with REEF Data Reveals Link of Caribbean Fish Biodiversity Patterns and Sea Temperature

A diverse Caribbean coral reef. Photo by Daryl Duda.
A marine citizen scientist collecting data for the REEF fish survey project. Photo by Jeffrey Haines.
Map showing variation in numbers of fish species across REEF survey sites. Colors represent survey effort controlled estimates of numbers of species. Figure from Clauson-Kaas et al 2017.

We are excited to share the newest scientific publication that includes data from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The study, published in the Journal of Biogeography, used the power of the people in the form of citizen science to produce a new map of marine fish biodiversity across the Caribbean and tropical western Atlantic.

The work, performed by scientists from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution & Climate in Denmark and the Marine Biological Association, studied REEF’s extensive data base collected by our volunteer surveyors to produce the map and find that fish biodiversity is strongly linked to sea temperatures. However, results also show that while fish biodiversity is higher in warmer waters, the very hottest sites in fact have fewer species than sites with intermediate temperatures, something not shown before in previous studies. These results will be of concern given the rising water temperatures in the region.

This ground-breaking research is based on data collected by thousands of marine citizen scientists working within the REEF program. These volunteers have been recording data on the fish species they see during dives for over 25 years and inputting their records into REEF database. This work has enabled researchers to compare different coral reefs and other coastal sites across this tropical region for the first time. The resulting map shows high diversity areas in the Dutch Antilles and the Florida Keys, whereas relatively few species were found in Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Florida.

In order to examine potential explanations for these patterns, the research team looked at potential environmental factors that might be associated with them, including natural factors, such as temperature, salinity and depth, and human-based factors, such as population density. Analysis proved the number of fish species recorded at a site could be predicted by how warm the water was at that site, and, to a lesser extent, how deep the site was. While a positive relationship between temperature and biodiversity has been demonstrated in previous research of global patterns, the fine-scale detail provided by this huge citizen science dataset facilitated the discovery of important details of this relationship within the wider Caribbean. Senior author Dr Ben Holt said:

"Rather than being a simple relationship, whereby warmer waters equal more fish species, the relationship seen in the REEF data was “hump-shaped”; warmer sites tend to have more species up to an optimal temperature of around 27C and then the hottest sites become less diverse.”

Further analysis suggests that this result may be partly driven by a few species being adapted to the warmest temperatures. The findings of this study will inevitably be of concern given the fast-rising temperatures of Caribbean water, but the research team urge caution extrapolating their results based on future climate predictions. Dr Holt said:

“The efforts of citizen scientists have provided an invaluable opportunity to study spatial patterns of marine biodiversity. Their data suggest that the hottest reefs are not the most biodiverse but it does not necessarily mean that the diversity of any particular site will change as seawater temperatures change. This is an important area for further research given the importance of these habitats within the Caribbean and around the world.”

The full citation of the paper is: Clauson-Kaas, S, K Richardson, C Rahbek, and BG Holt. 2017. Species-specific environmental preferences associated with a hump shaped diversity/temperature relationship across tropical marine fish assemblages. Journal of Biogeography. 2017(00): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.13044.

To see a full list of scientific papers that have included REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Don’t Miss the REEF Trip to Baja Mexico This Fall

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A school of king angelfish, one of the hundreds of reef fishes that can be seen during a dive in Baja. Photo by Paul Humann.
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A REEF volunteer checks over her survey on a previous Baja Field Survey.

The REEF 2008 Field Survey Schedule is in full swing. Many of the trips are already sold out, but we wanted to bring your attention to one that still has some space on it -- the Field Survey to Baja Mexico aboard the Don Jose in the Sea of Cortez this October. This is a great trip, with spectacular diving and lots of tropical fishes, warm and clear water, and beautiful topside scenery. Some of the highlights include giant hawkfish, jawfish the size of your leg, whale sharks and manta rays, and spectacular sunsets over unpopulated desert islands.  This will be the 5th time that REEF has done this amazing trip, and there is a good reason we keep going back.  Come see what it's all about.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz Mexico aboard the Don Jose live-aboard.  Dr. Brice Semmens, reef fish ecologist and expert in Baja fishes, will be leading this trip. 

  This Field Survey is only held every few years so don't miss your chance!  To find out more, check out the trip flyer.  To secure your space, contact Jeanne at Baja Expeditions, 800-843-6967, travel@bajaex.com.

October 5 - 12, 2008 -- $1,550 - $1,750 per person, depending on room type.  Package Includes:  Six nights shipboard accommodations and one night local hotel accommodations in La Paz.  Meals are included, beginning with breakfast on Day 2 and end with lunch on Day 7, and includes beer, soda and wine while shipboard.

Bahamian Tale of Two Gobies

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A great find -- the rare Exuma goby! Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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An even greater find -- the very rare lemon goby! Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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Exuma gobys up in the water column. They behave similar to masked/glass gobies. Photo by Andy Dehart.

In January, 2008 the National Aquarium Institute organized and conducted a Bahamian conservation expedition on the Aqua Cat live-aboard dive vessel. Our mission was to conduct REEF surveys and work on the invasive lionfish project. On board this trip were Lad Akins (REEF Special Projects Director), Ned and Anna DeLoach, Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium), National Aquarium staff, and aquarium and REEF volunteers. In addition to meeting the lionfish research goals of the cruise, we were treated to not one but two exciting and rare finds - the Exuma goby and the lemon goby.

At a dive site in Eleuthera called Cave Rock Reef we geared up and readied ourselves for lionfish behavior monitoring. Just as I started getting my gear together Anna came to the surface to tell me she had found a school of Exuma gobies, Gobiosoma atronasum. What I had not realized was that the keen eye of Bruce Purdy, owner of the Aqua Cat and avid REEF surveyor and supporter had noticed them at this site before and he had directed Anna to the exact coral head. I have logged over 400 dives in the Bahamas and until this day the Exuma goby had always eluded me. To the casual observer this fish looks like a cleaning goby or sharknose goby until you notice its behavior. Unlike most other “neon-type” gobies, the Exuma Goby spends most of its time hovering in the water column, not perched on the coral. They act very similar to the masked and glass gobies. Excited to add a new species to my life list I leave the small cluster of these great fish and head down to my assigned duty of monitoring a lionfish.

Two days later, while on a dive at Blacktip Wall in the Exumas, I noticed a few fish mixed in with school bass. These fish looked out of place and very different from anything I had ever seen. I noted as much detail as possible on my REEF slate and swam on hoping that one of my fellow trip members would be able to help me identify it. As it turns out no one had any idea what it was, but luckily Ned had also seen this odd fish and had taken some great photos of it. After some research when we returned from the trip, we discovered this fish was a lemon goby, Vomerogobius flavus. The lemon goby is an exciting new fish to the REEF database. This species was identified and described in 1971 from 11 Bahamian specimens, but this sighting in the Exumas is a range extension for the species.

It was truly a rewarding experience to finally see and survey the Exuma goby that I have searched for on many trips. To document a fish that I did not even know existed was the icing on the cake. For a fish lover like me, getting to find a new species for the REEF database is an honor. REEF surveying truly keeps diving exciting and new. I am concerned about the effects that the invasive lionfish could have on these two species of gobies with such a narrow range in which they live, but the data from all of our great volunteers helps us track these changes. It would be a shame to lose such unique endemic species due to this foreign invader. We hope you enjoy seeing some of the first photos ever published of these two goby gems.

REEF Data Entry Tips

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Never far from internet access! Sitting on the boat in Makah Marina, Olympic Coast REEF surveyors submit their survey data for the day. Online entry is the preferred way to submit REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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It's always a good idea to review your data soon after your dive.
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REEF surveyors in Hawaii, as well as the West Coast/Pacific region and the Tropical Eastern Pacific, can all enter data online.

Processing and error checking the 1,000+ REEF surveys submitted each month by our members as part of the Volunteer Survey Project is one of REEF's highest priorities. With limited staff and resources, there are a few things that you can do to help us maintain the integrity of this incredible database. Most importantly - whenever possible, please submit your data through the Online Data Entry interface, http://www.REEF.org/dataentry. Turnaround time is typically 1-3 weeks, compared with 8-12 weeks for paper scansheets. Plus it saves postage and paper! The second most important way you can help -- if you are submitting data on scansheets, please have your REEF member number and complete 8-digit zone code filled in on the form before mailing it to REEF. Read on for more helpful hints.

Online Data Entry Tips

  • You need to be a REEF member in order to submit data. If you aren’t already a member, join online. It’s easy and FREE! If you are a member but you do not know your survey number, you can check it here http://www.reef.org/user/numberlookup. If you have trouble retrieving your number, email us at reefhq@reef.org.
  • You must have pop-up windows enabled for the Online Data Entry program to work.
  • As you progress through the screens using the Next and Back buttons, your entries will be saved. If you lose your Internet connection or need to logout before finishing, the information will be there to complete and submit when you log back in.
  • In order to submit a survey from a location, REEF must have an 8-digit zone code for the site in our database first. Existing zone codes are listed at http://www.reef.org/db/zonecodes. To have a zone code assigned for a new site, please contact us at reefhq@reef.org.
  • Listed and Unlisted Species - The listed species screens navigate you through a list of the most common species from the region you surveyed. At any time, you can jump directly to a particular family using the navigation list on the left-hand side. After you have entered all of your listed species, you will then be able to add any additional fish species. You will be able to search by common, scientific, and family names or be entering in the specific species code if already known.
  • Summary and Error Checking - After you are finished entering the data, your entries will be summarized. Please review this summary and confirm that all information is correct. Your sightings data will be compared to REEF’s existing data and any rare or new sightings or species that are commonly misidentified will be flagged. You will be asked to confirm these sightings.
  • Submit - Once you select “Submit” the survey data will be stored in a permanent file and you will no longer be able to review or edit the data. The data will then be loaded into the REEF Database, however, note that data will be not immediately added to the database. Each survey submitted will be assigned a survey number that will be shown on the final confirmation page; this unique number is similar to the form number printed on each paper scanform and should be kept for your records. You can use your browser’s print function to print the final review page.
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    REEF is currently modifying our Online Data Entry program for surveys from the Tropical Eastern Pacific and the Northeast. We hope to have this available soon.

    3 Paths that Merged As One

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    The James E. Lockwood REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida.
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    Members of REEF's Board of Trustees and representatives of Mr. Lockwood's estate cut the ceremonial ribbon.

    On April 25, 2009 we celebrated history in Key Largo. It was a beautiful tropical day with the REEF parking lot covered in tents, tables and chairs, fish balloons with cold drinks and appetizers island music being offered up. People came from near and far as we all helped celebrate the dedication of the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters. The afternoon celebrated the merging of three paths - that of a dive industry pioneer, a historic building in the Florida Keys and a grass-roots environmental organization. The gift by James E. Lockwood will go a long way in helping REEF protect, educate and enable divers, snorkelers and armchair enthusiasts to make the world a better place.

    Casey Wilder, REEF Program Assistant, designed a beautiful program that outlined how we all ended up in the parking lot on this day. Make sure you check out the online version of this little piece of history. The program provides an overview of the history of James E. Lockwood, a true diving pioneer, the 1913 Conch House that houses REEF and the history of REEF and how all three ended up moving forward together as of 4/25/09.

    Special guests Mike Dorn and John Campbell provided the history of Mr. Lockwood, which is incredibly fascinating and diverse. Paul Humann and Ned De Loach spoke on behalf of REEF and talked about how REEF is Key Largo’s very own home grown environmental 501(c)(3), making it very relevant that REEF’s office are housed in the oldest building in Key Largo. Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, we unveiled the beautiful new plaque commemorating the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters and the date the house was built. The Conch house even received a spiffy new coat of paint so she was dressed for the occasion. Special thanks to Bill Corbett of Keys Home Improvement for doing such a superb job in record time!

    The next time you are in the Keys be sure to stop by the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters, MM 98.3 in the median and enjoy a little history, mingle with REEF staff and shop for the fish.

    REEF 2009 Volunteer of the Year

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    David Jennings is REEF's 2009 Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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    David conducting a survey along the Olympic Coast. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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    Never without his slate! Photo by Janna Nichols.

    REEF proudly awards our 2009 Volunteer of the Year award to David Jennings, a dedicated REEF surveyor and ambassador. David has been a member of REEF since 2006. He has conducted 154 REEF surveys and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT).

    David is a textbook example of the phrase “Learn it, Love it, Protect it”. After participating on REEF’s annual AAT survey project of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in 2008, David became concerned that the rockfish populations he was documenting had significantly decreased from those that the REEF teams documented in the earlier years of the project. Rockfish are especially vulnerable to over-fishing because they are long-lived species, some living to be over 100 years old! After looking at the REEF data for the region as well as the existing rules for rockfish harvest, David put together a series of proposed rule changes and submitted them to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for consideration.

    What makes David special is he then took the extra step of getting involved directly. In June 2009, David was appointed by the Washington Governor to a six-year term as one of Washington’s nine Fish and Wildlife Commissioners—another volunteer conservation position.

    David is also just about as active above water, working on forest conservation work. He helped establish a grassroots forest conservation organization, the Gifford Pinchot Task Force (GPTF) and serves as volunteer chair of that organization.

    Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 12,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.

    The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to David and congratulate him on all of his efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub