2012 REEF Lionfish Derby Series Remove 2,694 Invasive Fish

Members of Team Frapper with REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins (center), holding a huge lionfish that the team captured during the Key Largo Derby.

This summer REEF, in partnership with Divers Direct and SeaGrant Florida, hosted its third annual Lionfish Derby Series. The series included four derbies in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Key Largo) and one in Green Turtle Key, Bahamas. The event series was a huge success—in total, 219 participants in 60 teams brought in a total of 2,694 lionfish! Lionfish are invasive predators capable of consuming prey in excess of half their body size and have become a hazard to Caribbean reefs by consuming commercially, recreationally and ecologically important fish and crustaceans. Using published estimates of lionfish consumption, the removal of the 1,923 lionfish collected in the Florida derbies corresponds to preventing between approximately 3.5 million to 14.8 million prey fish from being eaten by these lionfish over the next year.

Lionfish derbies serve as a way to engage the public and media, enhance awareness, encourage removals and provide samples for researchers. During each the derby over $3,500 in cash prizes sponsored by Divers Direct were awarded to first, second, and third place winners in three categories: Most, Largest, and Smallest.

Since their introduction in the 1980’s, invasive lionfish have become the first marine predator to successfully establish in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Unfortunately, complete eradication of lionfish is unlikely, but where removal efforts are sustained, population numbers and impacts can be reduced. REEF and Simon Fraser University partnered throughout the 2012 Derby Series to conduct research on the effectiveness of derbies in controlling local populations. Preliminary data analysis from the 2012 Green Turtle Key, Bahamas, Derby shows that lionfish derbies are effective at removing 65% of lionfish off of local reefs. The Derby Series is one of the many ways REEF is promoting lionfish control. A big thank you goes out to the derby sponsors, hosts, teams and everyone who came out to support the events. To find out more about the REEF Invasive Lionfish Program, including the derby series, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. You can also follow all of our lionfish news through our Lionfish Facebook page.

Lionfish Food and Wine Event Held In Key Largo

Lad Akins shows the audience which spines contain venom. Photo by: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
Four course lionfish dinner at Fish House Encore. Photo by: Donna Dietrich.
The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's Website.

More than sixty people gathered earlier this month at the Fish House Encore in Key Largo, Florida, for Lionfish Food and Wine Night. Before dining, event attendees learned about the lionfish invasion and the importance of removing lionfish from marine environments. Peter Tselikis, chef at Fish House Encore, showed the audience how to cook two popular lionfish dishes. Lad Akins, a renowned lionfish expert and REEF Director of Special Projects, taught the audience how to fillet lionfish, avoiding the venomous spines.

The invasive species, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction, was prepared four different ways with a creative medley of ingredients and wine selections. Entrées included bacon-wrapped barbeque lionfish, sea salt-cured lionfish ceviche, and poached lionfish. Many guests said their favorite dish was Lionfish Bermuda, a lionfish fillet encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked and served with a sweet and sour sauce atop baby arugula salad.

“It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Akins. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have now invaded the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. In the invaded range, they have been documented to be gluttonous predators of native fish and invertebrates. One published study co-authored by Akins (Green et al. 2012) shows lionfish reduced the native fish prey community at some sites in the Bahamas by an average of 65% in just two years. Some sites had a 95% decline. Despite the dismal outlook, there is good news. Published studies show local control by divers and fishers can be effective, Akins notes. “Removing lionfish from local reefs is like weeding a garden. Remove weeds and the garden is healthier. Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round.”

For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. Creative lionfish recipes, as well as information on catching, cleaning, and cooking lionfish, can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook available on the REEF Store.

Upcoming Fishinars -- Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Series and more

Photo by Janna Nichols.
Photo by Janna Nichols.

Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - While Pacific Northwest waters are not known for their schools of colorful fish, the amazing invertebrate life will blow you away! In these four sessions we'll cover a select group of invertebrates from 8 phyla, all of which are monitored by REEF volunteer divers.

Sponges and Stingers - January 8th, 2014

Gettin' Crabby - January 9th, 2014

Marvelous Molluscs - January 15th, 2014

Stars and Squirts - January 16th, 2014

 

Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - January 21, 2014

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

The Faces of REEF: Judith Cucco

Cooperative hunting is always a great find for a REEF surveyor. Here, Blueifn Trevally, Blue Goatfish, and a moray eel (not shown) are hunting together. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A badly damaged sea turtle flipper, the result of entangled fishing line. Photo by Judith Cucco.

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 Juddith Cucco. Judith has been a REEF member since 2010, and has conducted 555 surveys (all in her home state of Hawaii, and all as a snorkeler!). She is a member of the Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Judith had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I first heard about REEF through Reef Watch Waikiki while taking a fish identification course with them in February 2010. I immediately started doing surveys as I felt it was a fun way for me to share my enthusiasm for all the fish I see while snorkeling in Hawaii, where I live...and I wanted a record of the many species I've encountered.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite fish find?

Even though I've seen it many times, it still fascinates me to see cooperative hunting, for example jacks following a moray eel or blue goatfish. My favorite fish is the juvenile rockmover wrasse. They look like drifting seaweed in the ocean when they move and I enjoy watching them turn over rocks with their snout. My favorite discovery is a semi-circle angelfish (not native to Hawaii) that Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF Director of Science ) helped my swimming buddies and me identify from some very poor photos.

Where do you do most of your surveying?

I used to do most of my surveys at the outer reef in Hanauma Bay and still go there occasionally, however my favorite place to survey on Oahu is Kaiona Beach Park. You really need to look to find the fish and if one has the patience, there are ample rewards. I've seen so many species that one does not see at Hanauma Bay (knifefish, bigeyes and several types of scorpionfish). Because I snorkel, the fish are also much closer at Kaiona as it's more shallow.

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

The most exciting thing for me when doing surveys is when I encounter a species I haven't seen before. After my snorkel, I go home and look it up in one of my fish books or online and enjoy learning about it. My biggest challenge is staying warm as I like to stay in the ocean until my fingers get numb (not recommended), which is usually around three hours even with a full wet suit.

Do you have a memorable story from a survey?

Just the other day, I had gone out for a snorkel survey (which ended up not happening). A little while into our swim, my buddy and I found an entangled green sea turtle. I saw it on the bottom in about ten feet of water. We first asked its permission, then dove down to bring it to the surface. We saw that it had fishing line wrapped around its neck and two front flippers. We were really far out on the reef and swam it in to shore. We recruited two fishermen to cut off the line and they also built a pen out of rocks for the turtle. I went to my car and called our local NOAA turtle stranding office. When NOAA staff arrived, we loaded the turtle in a carrier and the turtle was taken to a surgeon. It needs to have the front right flipper amputated, but it is going to survive and should eventually be released back in the wild. What an amazing and cooperative experience!!!!

DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE OF REEF . . .

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Joe Cavanaugh and Leda A. Cunningham with new fall intern Erin Whitaker
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Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, presents our fabulous Summer interns, Marissa Nuttall our Texas Aggie and Paige Switzer our South Carolina girl, with a certificate of appreciation for all the tremendous work they accomplished this summer

We had a number of applicants for the Fall session and narrowing the intern pool to just two applicants was tough because everyone that applied were wonderful candidates.   This month we're introducing you to Catherine Whitaker (aka Erin) who (thankfully) arrived early to cross train with our fabulous summer interns before they departedon August 17th.  Next month we'll highlight our final recipient, Lauren Finan, who will arrive the week of August 20th.

Erin is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.    She's had a variety of jobs during her undergraduate career all of which honed her skills in preparation for a career in Marine Biology.  She is well versed in the REEF methodology having completed juvenile fish, fish, and coral abundance and distribution surveys while working with Centro Ecologico de Akumal.  As a Scuba Divemaster, Erin taught scuba to tourists and locals of all ages instilling a sense of excitement and pride for marine life to her students.  During her time at Duke, she served as research assistant to many professors and non-profit organizations and volunteered as an assistant aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium. 

While in Maine she was sampling algae and young lobsters for a census survey (we could use that here).  At the Linney genetics laboratory Erin was responsible for feeding and cleaning tanks of 3000 zebra fish.  At the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems branch of the Smithsonian, Erin assisted a PhD candidate on her research relating to the effect of parrotfish on corals as well as the coral-symbiont relationship in a stressful environment, the list goes on as does her travels.  She has been to Ankarafantsika, Madagascar as a field assistant; Caye Caulker, Belize as an underwater tour guide; Manila, Philippines as a U.S. Embassy Protocol Office Assistant; Sofia, Bulgaria as a U.S. Embassy Consular Section Aide.  REEF is very fortunate to have someone of Erin's caliber interning with us this fall.  She feels working with REEF is an ideal opportunity for her to test her ability to integrate scientific investigation, conservation efforts and a flair for reaching out to people for the betterment of our environment, while working toward her masters.

Getting the Most Out of the New REEF.org

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Finding a REEF Field Station near you has never been easier with the new Map Finder.

As we announced in the last edition of REEF-in-Brief, the REEF website recently underwent construction. To get the most out of the new REEF.org, REEF members need to become registered users. Registration is easy: with your REEF member number handy, click here to register. If you have misplaced your REEF member number, click here to look it up. If you are not yet a REEF member, joining is free and easy: please click here to join.

Here are a few of the new features on REEF.org.

  • Once you are logged in and you are a REEF surveyor, you will be able to view your own data summaries as well as a brand new REEF Survey Log report, which lists each survey that you have conducted along with all of the details about the dive and the total number of species that you saw. To access these reports, click on ‘My Data’ on the left hand panel.
  • Interactive discussion boards, including “ID Central,” a place where you can post identification questions and images of unknown critters for others to comment on, as well as a “Trip Reports” forum and a General REEF Discussion Board. Content on the forum is available for all to view, but you must be logged in to the Website in order to post a comment to any of the topics.
  • A searchable map of REEF Field Stations is now available, enabling you to locate all of these great locations that “Speak Fish”.
  • A REEF Events Calendar includes information on upcoming REEF classes and organized survey dives posted by our Field Stations, as well as events hosted by REEF HQ and other partners.
  • Learning resources including quizzes and galleries are back. These online guides are a great tool when first learning or reviewing the creatures found in the different REEF Volunteer Survey Project Regions.

We hope that the new REEF.org makes it easier and more enjoyable for you to participate in Diving That Counts! Feel free to contact us if you have comments, suggestions, or if you encounter a problem with any of the new features.

REEF Attends Earth Day

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Old Flagler Railroad and rail car in background at Earth Day
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Joe Cavanaugh and Laura Dias staff REEF Booth
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Laura Dias after survey training dive with Horizon Divers
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Water view from under the old railroad

On April 12, REEF attended a Middle Keys Earth Day celebration at Bahia Honda State Park.  It was a lovely day, albeit unseasonably hot!  Several organizations had booths in attendance as well, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Dolphin Research Center, Reef Relief, the Turtle Hospital, and many others. In addition to the usual face painting and music associated with Earth Day, REEF had many visitors to our booth inquiring about who we are and how they could get involved. REEF recently stepped up our efforts to increase awareness of our organization within the Florida Keys community. 

As many of you know, Key Largo is where REEF got started in the early 90's and many of our Advanced Assessment Team projects focus on local marine resources, such as FKNMS, Biscayne National Park, and the Dry Tortugas National Park.  Most recently, REEF teamed with local stakeholders to create a rapid response team for the possible arrival of invasive lionfish species which many predict could be anytime, given the robust resident population of lionfish in the Bahamas and increasingly elsewhere in the Caribbean.

For those of you who are new to REEF, you can see where REEF surveys by visiting our website http://www.reef.org/about/faq.  Essentially, REEF members survey areas covering the tropical western Atlantic from Brasil to Florida and along the eastern seaboard through the northeastern U.S. and Canada, the Pacific coast of Canada and California southward through the tropical eastern Pacific down to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, and in the not-too-distant future, American Samoa.

REEF has a new volunteer helping us in the office and who helped staff the REEF booth, Laura Aichinger Dias.  Laura came to us a couple of months ago inquiring about opportunities at REEF.  Since then, she has been conducting survey dives and honing her fish identification skills. She is already accomplished in her own right, receiving her Master of Science from Florida Atlantic University.  Her thesis focused on dolphin population dynamics in Sepetiba Bay in Brasil, where she is from originally.  Laura will help REEF with projects this spring and hopes to become part of our Advanced Assessment Team by the end of the summer so she can participate in future projects. For more information on becoming an Advanced Assessment Team member, please review the requirements at http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat  AAT members are utilized in most of our monitoring and assessment contracts with government and non-government agencies.  Essentially, REEF members take fish ID classes and pass qualification quizzes in tandem with gaining a prerequisite number of survey dives, all leading to membership in the AAT.  The ultimate reward is that once you are placed on the AAT list-serve you will be emailed opportunities to participate in projects oftentimes where the diving is paid for by the sponsoring agency.  You also will gain increased fish ID acumen by diving with other AAT members and learning to find and identify the really small and cryptic species.  For more information beyond the website, please email Joe Cavanaugh at joe@reef.org or our Director of Science, Christy Semmens at christy@reef.org.

 

Lionfish Letters from the Field

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A lionfish sighted in the Exuma Cays and reported through REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Program. Photo by Sean Nightingale.
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Volunteer divers assisted with lionfish research in the Bahamas in May 2008.
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Magnificent to look at, but devastating to the local ecosystem, lionfish like this one are seen throughout the Bahamas. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Nassau, Bahamas - July 30, 2008 -- Up early this morning and readying for another big day on the lionfish front.  As part of an Associated Press story on the lionfish, I am joined by Andy Dehart and Lisa Mitchell here in Nassau to shoot footage of our lionfish work and do interviews for an AP television segment.  We'll be live collecting fish, tagging a few and talking about the current research being conducted by REEF, NOAA, Simon Fraser University and Oregon State University - research showing that the lionfish appear to  be having severe impacts on our native fish populations.  To summarize, stomach contents show over 50 species of prey items including fish and invertebrates; lionfish are eating the prey faster than they can naturally recover and they can reduce recruitment of juveniles to reefs by 80%!  It is a scary picture.

While the research efforts are being conducted to better understand lionfish and their impacts, REEF is also leading the way in working on control.  Our recent workshop in Florida paved the way for early detection/rapid response in South Florida and will serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean.  Tagging studies, removal (culling) efforts, activity and movement documentation, trap design and other control measures are being implemented to direct our efforts both in the US and Bahamas where the fish are established as well as in downstream countries in the path of the invasion. REEF's next project will take place September 14-20 at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with a few spaces left. (Call Pam Christman at 800-879-9832 to participate).  

If you see a lionfish, or any other non-native fish, please be sure to report your sightings to the REEF website.

In addition to using your sightings to direct research and rapid response on non-native species in coastal areas, REEF provides data to our partners at the US Geological Survey (USGS). REEF recently contributed a significant number of records to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. These records included information submitted by volunteers through the REEF Exotic Species Sighting Program, and included 311 records of lionfish sightings from approximately 160 sites along the US East Coast, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as information on 29 other fish species from 54 locations (mostly in South Florida). Approximately half of the species were new records for the USGS NAS database. The lionfish data contributed to the generation of an on-line display of current lionfish distribution.

If you have questions about the lionfish or other non-native species, feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail.  We are also looking for funding for these critically important programs and any ideas or contributions are welcome.  Look for the AP coverage early next week!

REEF News Tidbits for January

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Members who give $250 or more during REEF's Winter Fundraising Campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print by Paul Humann.
  • Batik Lionfish Shirts - Just added to the REEF Store. These stylish and comfortable shirts are a must for fish-lovers. These Rum Reggae shirts feature two pockets and are the fashion of choice for Paul Humann. Two design patterns available. $47 each. Visit the REEF Store to get yours today!
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  • It's not too late to donate during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. The financial support of our members is critical to ensuring the long-term success of the marine conservation work that REEF accomplishes every day. All donations are tax-deductible and a gift of any size is greatly appreciated. For donations of $250 or more, you will be thanked with an exclusive signed Paul Humann print of a male jawfish guarding his eggs. There is a limited number of prints left so get yours today. Donate securely online or mail in a donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037.
  • National Geographic's Wild Chronicles will be using footage shot on REEF lionfish expeditions in an upcoming segment about invasive species in Florida. The theme for Episode Two (#402) of the new season is "What's the Culprit?". One of the segments in the episode investigates how non-native species including green iguanas, lionfish and hydrilla first arrived. The episode will begin airing on select PBS stations the week of January 12. Please check your local listings for exact air date and time.
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  • REEF Field Survey trips and other special dive travel opportunities are filling up fast! Be sure to check out this year's schedule of learning expeditions and dive vacations on our REEF Trips Page.
  • Artist Rogest Celebrates Grouper Moon Project With New Artwork

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    REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), has done it again. After talking with REEF scientists about the REEF Grouper Moon Project and the important conservation research being done to study one of the last remaining spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper, Rogest created his latest piece of artwork to celebrate this Caribbean icon. "Grumpy" features the face of a Nassau grouper, with the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". Rogest completed the painting in early summer 2009.

    The artwork is being featured on T-shirts now available for sale in the REEF Gear Store. These high quality, pre-shrunk T-shirts are available in green short sleeve ($25) and red long sleeve ($30). Get yours today, they won't last long.

    REEF members will have an exclusive opportunity to purchase the original painting later this Fall and Rogest will be donating over half of the proceeds to the Grouper Moon Project. We extend a big thank you to Rogest for his dedication and passion for REEF's marine conservation efforts.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub