A Summer With REEF

Steph Roach, REEF Summer Intern, with George Wozencraft, the Internship Coordinator for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society. OWU annually sponsors a REEF intern.
Steph joined in on Paul Humann's REEF Discovery Tour shortly after arriving in Key Largo.

It is hard to believe that I am already more than half way through my Marine Conservation Internship. The past two months have been full of exciting events that have really inspired me to continue on in the world of marine conservation and biology. After settling into the REEF office for just a few days, the REEF staff had me out and about, getting involved with the community. For a week in mid-June I assisted with Paul Humann’s “Discovery Tour,” diving along side an energetic and enthusiastic group of divers who were learning fish identification and practicing surveying techniques. I was also able to sit in on the Non-Native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida Technical Workshop, which helped introduce me to the growing problem of Lionfish and the efforts that REEF, along with other organizations, puts forth into researching this growing problem.

July has been just as busy, starting with the International Coral Reef Symposium from July 7-11. This conference happens only once every four years, and fortunately for me, was held in Ft. Lauderdale this year. I had never had the opportunity to attend a scientific conference like this before, but was a great experience due to the many presentations and massive amounts of information I was exposed to each day. It really helped to open my eyes to the different fields of research available. Following the symposium, I was able to participate in the REEF Field Trip associated with ICRS in Key Largo. 

I have also been able to work with the Education and Outreach program during my time with REEF. As part of REEF’s Great Annual Fish Count, I participated in a Fish ID Seminar at Biscayne National Park. I also spoke to volunteers at the Dolphin Research Center about REEF and its programs while visiting the facility and learning about the center in June. After hearing many great stories about the infamous Seacamp from Lisa, I spent my first night on Big Pine Key just last week where Lisa and I were the Science Night speakers for a group of campers. The enthusiasm in the room from the kids was off the charts and great to see. 

One last highlight of my time with REEF thus far was being able to meet with George Wozencraft, the Internship Coordinator for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society that sponsors my Marine Conservation Internship with REEF. I was able to dive with George one afternoon and discuss my internship and many of the opportunities I have had so far. I am looking forward to the upcoming weeks I have left with the REEF staff, and of course, getting out in the water to conduct more fish surveys!

Lionfish Arrive in the Florida Keys!

Lad Akins holds a bag with the unwanted visitor captured off a Florida Keys reef.
FKNMS staff, John Halas, writes the invader a "ticket" for multiple offenses to the native Florida Keys ecosystem. Photo by Frazier Nivens.
After being euthanized, the lionfish was measured and preserved for further scientific study. It was 99 mm. Photo by Linda Bleser.

While we all knew it was just a matter of time, the call still came with a bit of surprise and dread as the first confirmed lionfish sighting in the Florida Keys came in on January 6th, 2009. REEF member Becky Fowler, from Greenville, SC, was diving just offshore of the Benwood Wreck in Key Largo when she spotted the invasive lionfish near the base of a ledge at 66'. With all of the recent focus and outreach efforts that REEF has been forwarding to our members, she knew immediately that she needed to document the sighting and gather a detailed description of its location. Upon her return to shore, she called REEF HQ and delivered the report. This set into motion the Rapid Response plan 

developed 7 months earlier in a REEF sponsored multi agency workshop (see REEFNotes article). Becky came by the REEF office, the images were verified, and her detailed site description was conveyed to Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects. The report was forwarded to the US Geological USGS alert system and Lad began response coordination with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) who has jurisdiction of resources at the sighting location.

The following morning, the response team made up of Lad Akins, Lisa Mitchell (REEF Exec. Dir.), John Halas (FKNMS), Frazier Nivens (Ocean Imaging) and Steve Campbell (Quiescence Diving Services) were assembled and on site at 10:30am. Following the excellent location description provided by Becky, the team was able to locate the fish, capture video footage, gather important data on site characteristics and the available nearby prey community, capture and bag the fish in under 14 minutes. The fish was captured live via hand nets, brought back to shore, euthanized and dissected. The 99mm immature male contained one 34mm prey fish in its stomach. Tissue samples, genetic material and other measurements were collected for further analysis by researchers at the NOAA Beaufort lab and Simon Fraser University. No other lionfish were found in the immediate vicinity.

While no one wanted to see lionfish show up in the Florida Keys, most knowledgeable sources believed it was inevitable and simply a matter of time. The one bright side of this story is that advanced planning and preparation initiated by REEF resulted in the awareness, accurate reporting, and successful rapid response effort that removed the fish less than 24 hours after its initial sighting. Hopes are that as lionfish show up in the Keys and other downstream areas, these rapid response efforts will help to control establishments and minimize impacts of this glutinous predator.

REEF continues to encourage divers to report their sightings of lionfish and other non-native fishes with as much detail as possible to www.reef.org/lionfish and to support lionfish research projects such as the January 17-24 project in the Turks and Caicos and the June 13-20 project in Belize. For more information, contact Lad Akins (Lad@REEF.org) (305) 852-0030.

Know Your Flounder?

Spiny Flounder (Engyophrys senta). Photo by Paul Humann.
Eyed Flounder (Bothus ocellatus). Photo by Paul Humann.
Danielle Calini, an Our World Underwater Scholar who spent this summer as an intern at REEF HQ, found a spiny flounder during a dive on Molasses Reef.

If you are a REEF surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic, you are probably familiar with the Peacock Flounder (Bothus lunatus). And if you spend much time in the sand, you probably even know about the smaller Eyed Founder (Bothus ocellatus)? But how about the Spiny Flounder (Engyophrys senta)? Danielle Calini, an Our World Underwater Scholar who spent this summer as an intern at REEF HQ in Key Largo, was one of several REEF surveyors who recently came across this rarely seen species during a dive on Molasses Reef. And while this was the first record of the Spiny Flounder in the REEF Florida Keys database, it turns out this species might not be as rare as we think.

Spiny Flounder are very similar in appearance to the common Eyed Flounder, and it's likely that surveyors might not be looking closely enough when they see the small flatfish scurrying across the sand. It was previously thought that cirri extending from the eyes were a key feature distinguishing the two species but the cirri are very difficult to see. According to Paul Humann, Spiny Founder can be distinguished from Eyed Flounder by three key features:

  • Eyes very close together.
  • Large diffuse midbody blotch on lateral line and often two less distinct blotches on lateral line, one in front and one in back of the midbody blotch.
  • Very small mouth extending back only as far as the front of the lower eye.
  • Body shape is elongated (vs. nearly circular in the Eyed Flounder).
  • REEF is proud to host an Our World Underwater Scholar each summer. In addition to tracking down rare species, OWU interns provide much needed help in the REEF HQ office and conduct outreach with the Florida Keys community. The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extends a big fish thank you to Danielle in appreciation for her service to REEF in the Summer 2009.

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    2009 Keys Community Award Presented at REEF Holiday Open House

    John Pelletier, Sr., was on hand to accept the REEF Keys Community Volunteer Award in memory of his son Chip Pelletier.
    Nancy Perez, Ned DeLoach, Jane Bixby, John Pelletier, Sr., and Anna DeLoach.

    REEF relies on the contributions of its volunteers and donors, whether it is taking a survey, helping pay the bills or participating in a conservation project - everything we do makes a difference. John “Chip” Pelletier, a volunteer at REEF Headquarters made a difference. Every week, Chip quietly showed up at the Lockwood REEF Headquarters and worked for hours, mowing, weeding, clearing and keeping the grounds. Chip passed away in October and is truly missed by our community. In December during REEF’s Holiday Open House, on Chip’s behalf, his father John Pelletier, Sr., accepted the 2009 REEF Keys Community Volunteer Award. The award is given to a member of the Keys community in appreciation for extraordinary service to REEF.

    In addition to honoring Chip, the Holiday Open House was a fun evening that brought together REEF volunteers and supporters in the Key Largo community. Anna and Ned DeLoach hosted the event and spent the evening chatting with everyone, signing books, and raffling items. There was plenty of laughter and holiday spirit. A big thanks to Nancy Perez and Diana Philips for making sure that the food was plentiful and Headquarters looked festive.

    REEF Fish and Friends - A Monthly Gathering in Key Largo

    Lad Akins discusses the Great Annual Fish Count during this month's Fish & Friends event in Key Largo.
    Zach Bamman, REEF's Summer Intern, dissected one of the freshly caught lionfish that was brought in to REEF HQ.

    In April 2009, REEF started a monthly seminar series to give back to the community that has housed and supported REEF since our inception. REEF Fish & Friends gathers snorkelers, divers, and armchair naturalists at REEF HQ in Key Largo to learn more about fish and have some fun. The July seminar for REEF, Fish & Friends was all about the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). Lad Akins, REEF Director of Operations, presented a brief overview of the event and its’ 18 year history.His enthusiasm and humor encouraged participants to get involved in the annual event with the hope they will continue to conduct fish surveys and contribute to REEF’s database year-round. The How, When, and Where of conducting a survey was explained and the materials needed were shown.

    Several of the people attending the seminar brought in Lionfish along with the data regarding their capture. Lad briefly updated the audience on the status of the Lionfish in the Florida Keys and thanked the local dive community for their ongoing efforts in controlling this invasive species. Zach Bamman, REEF’s summer intern, offered to dissect one of the freshly caught Lionfish and this generated a lot of interest. He is a Senior at the University of Central Florida, majoring in Environmental Sciences.

    The August REEF Fish & Friends will feature Lauri MacLaughlin from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Her presentation entitled “SPAWN-TANEOUS Corals Catch the Corals in The Act" , will document the annual spawning event over the last 14 years through lecture and video presentation. This is big summer event and Lauri will educate divers prior to their night dive so they will fully appreciate what they are about to see.

    REEF Fish & Friends is held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation, and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Georgia Arrow

    Georgia (on the far right) and some of her fellow Pacific NW REEF surveyors.

    REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

    This month we highlight Georgia Arrow (REEF member since 2002). Georgia lives in Portland, Oregon, has conducted 686 REEF surveys in four different regions, and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor in the Pacific. She has the most surveys of anyone in the west coast Pacific region. Here's what Georgia had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

    I was unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to get an ear infection during my Open Water certification weekend. I was not allowed to participate in this new and exciting experience for 2 months! I checked at the dive shop and found that there was to be a Fish ID class and immediately signed up thinking it would be a lot more fun to dive if I actually knew what I was looking at-I found this to be true when birdwatching so it made sense that fishwatching would be the same. At that class, I learned about REEF and surveying and I met Janna Nichols, one of my first scuba/fish ID mentors. I wasn’t able to do the dives with the rest of the class because of my ears but when I was healthy, Janna took me on my first surveying dives. It was very exciting to be putting names to all the fish I saw on those dives. The dives were quite memorable for many reasons but knowing the fish and being able to do a survey was certainly one of them. So I have been surveying since my first dive after certification in 2002.

    Have you ever been on a REEF Field Survey, and if so where and what was your trip highlight?

    I went on the Sea of Cortez Field Survey in 2003. It was a wonderful trip from beginning to end. It was my first experience in warm water! I was in heaven. The divers were fun, the water was amazing, learning warm water fish was overwhelming and exciting. The highlight was diving in the middle of a school of Big Eye Scads - they were just swirling all around us and I was mesmerized.

    Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

    Although I’ve taken several warm water trips, most of my diving is in Puget Sound, a 3 hour drive from my home. I try to get up there 3-4 times and do 8-10 surveys a month. I love the green water, I love the critters we have here from the cute little Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker to the Giant Pacific Octopus. Usually by the time I’m home from a warm water trip I am ready to get back to surveying “my” critters. It’s harder and colder to dive here but that makes it challenging. It’s hard to find some of the critters but that makes it more rewarding when you actually find that elusive fish or nudibranch.

    What are some of your most favorite or memorable finds on a survey?

    There are so many to choose from it is hard to pick but I have to say the Spotted Ratfish is my favorite fish. I have a Spotted Ratfish tattoo on my shoulder. It is odd-looking but so graceful underwater - it “flies” rather than swims. And it can be as cute as a little puppy dog. One of my best rare sightings is the silver-spotted sculpin.

    Take a Dive Trip That Counts


    We are pleased to announce the 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule - check it out online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. 2012 destinations include: Nevis, San Blas Islands in Panama, Dominica, Belize, San Salvador in the Bahamas, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel.

    Fishinars Coming To Your Living Room

    Silverspotted sculpin. Photo by Georgia Arrow.

    Some call them webinars. We call them Fishinars! These free online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are open to divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers alike. Anyone wanting to know more about underwater life is welcome to join in. Participation is free but you need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. These short (one hour) webinars will teach you the finer points of identifying fish and invertebrates underwater. Upcoming webinars are given below. Visit the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to register for one or more sessions. Also check back often as more sessions are being added. We have also posted archives of past webinars on the Webinar webpage, so if you can't join in live, you can watch it anytime.

    THE NORTHEAST'S DIRTY DOZEN -- Thirteen of most commonly seen fish swimming around those cold NE waters. Instructor: Jonathan Lavan, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, January 11th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

    LOOKALIKES? LOOK AGAIN! -- We will walk you through some of the most similarly-appearing fish in the Caribbean. Instructor: Alecia Adamson, REEF Staff -- Tuesday, January 17th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

    I WISH THEY ALL COULD BE CALIFORNIA FISH -- Through a series of 5 shorter classes, learn the most commonly seen fish in both Northern and Southern California. Instructor: Keith Rootsaert, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Monday, January 9th at 7pm PST: Rockin' Rockfish; Tuesday, January 10th at 7pm PST: Scalawag Sculpins; Monday January 16th 7pm PST: Wrasse, Bass - Nobody Rides for Free; Wednesday January 18th 7pm PST: Pesky Perch; Thursday January 19th 7pm PST: Odds 'n' Ends 'n' Fish without Feathers

    CARIBBEAN CRYPTICS -- Those elusive cryptics! Some of the less obvious suspects that live on the reef. Instructor: Jonathan Lavan, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, February 15th at 6pm PST / 9pm EST

    PACIFIC NW ADVANCED FISH ID -- Some of the least common suspects that are seen in the Pacific NW. Taught over three sessions. Instructor: Janna Nichols, REEF Staff, Instructor and fish geek -- Tuesday, February 21st at 7pm PST - Part 1; Wednesday, February 22nd at 7pm PST - Part 2; Thursday, February 23rd at 7pm PST - Part 3

    NOT EXACTLY BUMS: FISH THAT LIVE UNDER FLORIDA'S BLUE HERON BRIDGE -- The Blue Heron Bridge in Florida might not seem at first glance like the most exotic dive spot in the world, but the fish that are found here can be quite unusual! Instructor: Lureen Ferretti, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, February 29th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

    PERPLEXING PARROTFISH -- Those perplexing parrotfish! Wouldn't you like to know how to tell them apart? Instructor: Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, March 14th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

    Double Your Donation and Make a Difference For Marine Conservation

    Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

    Earlier this month, for World Oceans Day, the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation celebrated by pledging to match contributions to REEF dollar for dollar, up to $30,000! Our campaign to raise funds for protecting Nassau Grouper, controlling invasive Lionfish, and inspiring citizen science through the Volunteer Fish Survey Project is off to a great start. But we still need your help to reach our goal in the next 30 days. If you haven't yet had a chance, please contribute today. You can double your donation in the upcoming month by contributing online through our secure web form. Or you can print the donation form and mail or fax your donation, or call our staff at REEF headquarters (305-852-0030).

    Contributions from members like you fuel the success of our programs. With your donation, we can expand our new online "Fishinars," which are growing rapidly in popularity. We can continue to fund lionfish education and outreach efforts, such as the Lionfish Cookbook, training and handling workshops, and derbies. Our staff can also keep working with Cayman Islands officials after the recent victory that extended the ban on fishing in Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations. These are just some highlights of REEF accomplishments that are funded by individual contributions. With a chance to double your donation, no gift is too small!

    Putting It To Work: New Publications on Lionfish

    Photo by Carol Cox.

    REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, has co-authored several recent scientific publications on the invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic, including:

    -Diet richness of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish revealed by DNA barcoding. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Significant research by REEF researchers and others has been conducted looking at stomach contents of lionfish to identify prey. However, relatively few prey species have been identified because of the challenge of identifying partly digested prey. The authors of this study addressed this issue by DNA-barcoding unidentifiable fish items from the stomachs of 130 lionfish. They identified 37 prey species, half of which had previously not been recorded as lionfish prey.

    -Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets. Bulletin of Marine Science. This paper uses data from the 20,000+ REEF surveys conducted in Florida since the early 1990s, along with other long-term data sources, to document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys. Between 2009 and 2011, lionfish frequency of occurrence, abundance, and biomass increased rapidly, increasing three- to six-fold between 2010 and 2011 alone.

    - Habitat complexity and fish size affect the detection of Indo-Pacific lionfish on invaded coral reefs. Coral Reefs. This paper explores detectability rates of lionfish using underwater visual census methods such as belt transects and stationary visual census. Knowing the error in these methods specficially for lionfish is necessary to help study this invasive species in the western Atlantic. The authors found that the two census methods detect fewer than 30% of lionfish present in an area and, in more than 50% of the cases, fail to detect any lionfish when one or more indivudals are actually present.

    For a complete list of publications featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub