REEF TWA Advanced Assessment Team member, Rob McCall, has over 625 surveys under his belt and 281 fish species on his lifelist. But earlier this summer, during a dive in the Florida Keys, he found something that surprised him - the extremely rare Pugjaw Wormfish (Cerdale floridana). Here is his story -- Last June, while diving at Rock Key off Key West, I noticed a very slender (about the diameter of thin drinking straw) white fish about 6 cm long. I could see the fish had a rounded head but could not see dorsal or tail fins. The fish swam with a sinuous movement, much like an eel or worm, and dove into a burrow when it saw me. It did not immediately reappear and I soon swam off in search of other fish. That night I attempted to identify the mystery fish in my reference books, but was unable to get even a rough idea of what it might be.
Subsequent to the first sighting, I saw a similar fish on two other occasions at Rock Key. All sightings were within an area about 8 x 4 meters, with sand bottom bordered by high profile reef. On the second sighting, the fish dove into a burrow and did not reappear. On the third sighting, the fish immediately dove into a Yellowhead Jawfish burrow (the normal occupant was a male Yellowhead Jawfish who happened to be mouth-brooding eggs at the time; the jawfish was hovering above the burrow and did not seem particularly upset that the mystery fish “borrowed” his home.) The mystery fish did not reappear during the ten minutes or so I spent photographing the jawfish.
I stopped by REEF Headquarters in early August and asked Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, if he had any ideas to help me identify the fish. Based on my hazy description, Lad thought it might be a type of worm-eel. But when I researched online, it did not seem to be a good fit.
On August 22, while diving at Nine Foot Stake off Key West (and armed with my camera set up for macro) I came across one of the mystery fish – truly a case of me being in the right place at the right time. The fish was out in the open but dove into a nearby burrow – I don’t know if it was his or a “borrowed” one – when he saw me. I decided to wait a couple of minutes to see if it would reappear, and within a minute or two, it stuck its head back out. Over the next ten minutes it made several darting forays from the burrow, getting a little more used to me, or perhaps a little more desperate to get home. This fish seemed longer than the one(s) at Rock Key – perhaps 8 cm or so.
The four sightings shared some common features. All were at 20-24 ft. depth with sand bottom. Three of the four burrows were within 5-10 cm of small coral heads or rubble clumps. Dorsal and tail fins are visible in the photos; the fish is not actually as slender as it appears to the naked eye.
I was pretty well stumped over identifying what the fish was, even with photos, until one night I was re-reading Ned DeLoach and Paul Humman’s Reef Fish Behavior and under the article on Yellowhead Jawfish, I noticed a reference to Pugjaw Wormfish sharing a burrow with the jawfish. The next morning I researched it online and found a photo which appeared to be a very good match for my mystery fish.
We don’t know how rare the Pugjaw Wormfish might be, but according to the REEF database, they have been reported only five other times: one in Florida, one in Cuba and three in Bonaire. Convinced there are more Pugjaw’s waiting to make an appearance here in Key West, I’ve got the other instructors on our dive boat keeping their eyes open in the hopes that one of us will once again be in the right place at the right time.
Rob McCall is a scuba instructor in Key West and has been a REEF member and surveyor since 2000.
This is YOUR chance to turn a donation of $10 into much more for REEF. America's Giving Challenge is a 30-day competition (ends November 6th) that allows causes such as REEF to compete for cash awards by inspiring the most people to donate to their cause. We are asking all of our members to donate $10 (or more) online here sometime before the Challenge ends -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. If REEF is a challenge winner (meaning we receive the highest number, not amount, of donations) on any given day, we will be awarded $1,000.
The Challenge is administered through Causes on Facebook. However, anyone can donate -- you do not have to be on Facebook to donate. Click here to visit REEF's Cause. If you are on Facebook, we encourage you to invite your friends to support and donate to the cause as well. The objective of the Challenge is to enable passionate individuals and nonprofit organizations to easily leverage their social networks to increase awareness about their causes and attract people to get and stay involved with causes they care about. By encouraging people to give what they can-no matter how big or small, the Challenge seeks to demonstrate the potential of social networks to bring real people together to make a significant impact.
Participants in the Challenge will compete for daily and overall cash awards of up to $50,000 for the nonprofit organizations they care most about. Awards will be distributed based on the number of qualifying donations generated for a cause, not the total dollars raised. A unique daily donation is defined as one single donation per individual per day in the amount of $10 USD or more. Individuals can donate to the same cause once a day everyday during the Challenge and this would count 30 times towards helping the cause receive an Overall Award. This would also count towards the Daily Award for that cause every day. To find out more about America's Giving Challenge and Causes, visit the Causes website.
If even 10% of REEF's members donated to our Cause before the end of the Challenge, we would most certainly make it in the award category. So please go online and show your support for REEF's marine conservation work. We hope we can count on you!
Please go to REEF's Cause page -- donate $10 (or more) -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. Thank You!
West Coast Dive Shows - Visit REEF next month at SCUBA 2010 show in Long Beach (CA) on May 15-16 and the Dive & Travel Expo in Tacoma (WA) on May 22-23. REEF staff and volunteers will be there to tell you about our latest activities, have REEF gear and supplies for sale, and sign up new members.
New Field Stations - Welcome to our newest Field Stations who have joined us in the last month. Field Stations are shops, charters, instructors and organizations that support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out the other 170+ REEF Field Stations, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.
Check out the REEF Online Store - This is the place to get all of your REEF gear, survey supplies, lionfish collection kits, and field guidebooks. The REEF Store is online here.
Approximately 100 divers collected 534 Indo-Pacific red lionfish during the first tournament dedicated to reducing the population of the invasive species in the Florida Keys waters. The September 11 tournament in Key Largo, organized by REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is the first of three Keys-based lionfish roundups. The event attracted 27 teams that competed for cash and prizes to collect the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The winning team captured 111 lionfish during the single day event. The largest lionfish caught measured in at just under 11 inches, and the smallest at less than two inches. Lionfish can grow to lengths of over 18 inches in western Atlantic waters where they are not native.
“The sanctuary is thrilled by the response from the dive community,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton. “The volume of fish caught during this single day event demonstrates that dedicated diver removal efforts can be effective at helping keep this invasive at bay.”
Team “Raaw Talent,” from the Upper Keys and led by Captain Al Wilson, captured 111 lionfish and the grand prize of $1,000 for most lionfish. The “Lion Killers” of Islamorada and Marathon netted the largest lionfish, along with $500. And with the capture of the smallest lionfish, team “Full Circle from Key Dives” also caught themselves $500. Both teams “Raaw Talent” and “Full Circle” had been through REEF’s educational workshops on lionfish safety and handling and have been very active in reporting sightings to REEF and capturing lionfish for research purposes. These lionfish derbies are great events to reward those already involved in REEF’s lionfish control programs and to recruit more people to become active in lionfish control.
“The community participation in this event surpassed even our most generous expectations”, said REEF Director of Operations, Lad Akins. “Everyone came together for a great event, including sponsors, volunteers, organizers, and of course, the lionfish hunters. Even those who brought in a single fish contributed to the protection of our native marine life and deserve our thanks.”
Divers and snorkelers interested in participating for the remaining 2010 Keys lionfish tournaments may register online at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies. The second lionfish derby will be held October 16 at Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in Marathon, FL. The third derby will be held November 13 at Hurricane Hole Marina, in Key West, FL. A $100 registration fee provides each team with a pair of puncture resistant gloves — important protection from lionfish spines — and two tickets to the tournament banquet. For more information on REEF's programs to study the lionfish invasion, go to www.REEF.org/lionfish
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Eco-Dives in Key West, Florida, which has been a Field Station since 2010. Eco-Dives owner, Rob McCall, is fascinated by learning and finding new species and enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Rob has been a REEF surveyor since 2001 so it was a natural to incorporate REEF into his business. Eco-Dives primarily teaches advanced open-water scuba certifications because it enables them to focus on fun courses such as underwater photography and the REEF Fish ID specialty. Eco-dives was also one of the first dive operators to offer a Lionfish Diver specialty that teaches divers the basics of the lionfish invasion, why it is so detrimental to our reefs, and how to report sightings.
“Out of 775 REEF survey dives and countless other dives with students, the most unusual fish we have found on our dives has been a pugjaw wormfish.” says Rob. Fortunately Rob was able to snap a couple pictures of it to confirm the identification of such a unique fish. Rob's sighting was only the sixth time that species had ever been reported on a REEF survey.
Although Key West is not known for its pristine reefs, Rob says the dive sites are convenient, the reefs are well-populated with small-to-medium size fish, and they have mature wrecks with plenty of big fish. The newest addition to the armada of artificial reefs in the Keys, the Vandenberg, is a great dive and a fish magnet. REEF has been monitoring the Vandenberg since it was sunk and Rob has been a great help on a number of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveys documenting reef fish recruitment over time.
Rob says that he "really enjoys working with REEF surveyors; they are always so enthusiastic. Doing surveys has made me look much harder at fish, looking for distinguishing features so I can identify them. This results in you seeing so much more during a dive."
Thanks to everyone who donated during our Summer Campaign, you helped us reach our goal. REEF members contributed over $34,770, with a generous match of $30,000 from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, for a grand total of $64,770. REEF will use these donations to maintain our current programs and expand our special projects, the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Research Program. Donations from our members make it possible for REEF to carry out our mission of conserving marine ecosystems. Thank you!
Don't forget to check out the 2012 REEF Field Survey Trips! The schedule and more details are posted online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. Many are starting to fill up so don't delay.
Have you checked out our new innovative online Fish Identification "Fishinars"(aka webinars)? These fun and short (45 minute) sessions are a great way to learn marine life ID from the comfort of your home. And they are free. The schedule is available at www.reef.org/resources/webinars. We are always adding more sessions, so check back often.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our fintastically outstanding field station this month is the Maui FIN (Fish Identification Network) group in Hawaii. This enthusiastic group of divers and snorkelers has been going strong for years. They meet on the 2nd Saturday of each month to conduct surveys at different spots around Maui. After introducing REEF to the Hawaiian Islands 10 years ago, Donna Brown and Liz Foote (who taught our online Hawaiian Fishinar last week), started building a team of enthusiastic fish surveyors. It was out of that enthusiasm that surveyor Mike Fausnaugh started the FIN group. Flo Bahr and Rick Long have been longtime active leaders of the group. When snorkeling, they all put orange duct tape at the tops of their snorkels. This helps the group find each other while in the water, as well as make them easy to spot from the beach. Tourists also ask about what they're doing and this helps show how many are out there doing REEF surveys. In addition to the monthly FIN survey dives, they maintain a Facebook page for the group that serves as a great communication tool. Through the Facebook page, they organize their next survey spots, share zone codes, spread announcements, and post photos and mystery fish questions. Keep up the enthusiastic surveying, FINsters!
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.
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.
REEF Field Surveys are a great way to take a dive vacation that counts! We offer trips throughout our project regions. The 2014 trip schedule includes many sites in the Caribbean and Pacific Northwest, as well as several Lionfish Research Expeditions.
One of our featured destinations in 2014 -- Honduras aboard the MV Caribbean Pearl II Liveaboard, June 21-28, 2014. REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and her husband and reef fish scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, will lead a great week of diving, learning, and fun! We'll spend the week cruising around the Bay Islands of Honduras aboard the luxurious MV Caribbean Pearl II. We will begin our diving journey in Utila, then explore hidden sea mounts and search for whale sharks enroute to Roatan. After diving in Roatan we will head back to the home port on Utila. The week ends with a walk around the charming town of Utila. The trip costs $2,610 per diver double occupancy, and includes lodging for 7 nights in a Deluxe Cabin with private bathroom, unlimited diving, and all meals and drinks while on board. An additional REEF Program Fee of $300 is added to cover the program costs, seminars, and survey materials. Click here to find out more about this trip. Or visit the REEF Trips page at www.REEF.org/trips to see the complete schedule.
We hope to see you on our Honduras liveaboard trip, or one of our other Field Surveys in 2014! These trips are 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 fish watchers.