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 Paul and Marta Bonatz. Marta joined REEF in 1998 and she drew Paul in 2005. They have become active surveyors, and each has conducted 240 surveys. Here's what they had to say about REEF:
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Our favorite part of being REEF members is working with a network of other “citizen scientists” to make a difference. Interacting with like-minded divers in an organization that is focused on saving the marine environment is fulfilling. It’s also gratifying to see the change in newly recruited “fish geeks” as they learn more about the underwater world.
If you have been on a REEF field survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
We’ve been on two REEF field survey trips and plan to do more! The first, which hooked us on fish watching, was to Culebra, Puerto Rico. The highlight was the abundant staghorn coral. Unfortunately, it was totally devoid of adult fish. Our second trip was a lionfish control study in Belize. Spending a week focused on spotting and capturing 506 lionfish in the Belize Atolls with Peter Hughes and Lad Akins was exhilarating. We learned about the hazard this invasive species poses to the indigenous Caribbean fish population, and we now work to educate others about this urgent problem.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
Avid divers are frequently asked to name their favorite vacation destination. When we are asked this question our honest response is “Wherever we are currently diving”. REEF surveying teaches you to appreciate interesting finds on every dive. We sometimes spend an entire dive in a few square yards watching small critters in their habitat. Although every location is unique, the place we visit most frequently is Little Cayman. The sheerness of Bloody Bay wall, the healthy marine environment, and the stunning Nassau Grouper make for an incomparable mixture.
What is the most fascinating marine encounter you’ve experienced?
We have to include two favorite underwater encounters – we couldn’t agree on just one! The first was on a Manta Ray research trip to the Maldives. At a break in the action while monitoring Mantas on 5 x 1 hour shifts at North Male Atoll, we discovered an octopus positioned on a rock quietly observing us from the distance of a few feet. He welcomed us back every shift! The second was an encounter with a dolphin named “Spot" on Cayman Brac. Spot arrived on Cayman Brac after Hurricane Mitch, and he swam and played with divers on many of the Brac dive sites. Spot disappeared one day and everyone feared the worst. Two years later while diving in Cayman Brac we noticed a pod of dolphins near the boat. Spot edged up to the boat to show off his new family. He wouldn’t let us interact with him anymore, but he wanted everyone to know he was healthy and happy in his new life. It was an electric moment.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Hornby Island Diving in British Columbia, a REEF Field Station since 2010. Owners Rob and Amanda Zielinski have always been conservation-minded and involved in local projects, so when they heard about REEF several years ago through their repeat customers (who were REEF surveyors) and through discussions with REEF staff, it was an easy choice to become a REEF Field Station. Although divers have been flocking to this area for years, not many surveys had been conducted in the area, so they felt this would be a good way to get the word out about REEF and to encourage divers in that direction. Being a dive charter and lodge, they have the facilities and space for classes. They just hosted twelve enthusiastic surveyors for 5 days for a REEF Field Survey complete with nightly seminars in their meeting area. Amanda is very knowledgeable about marine life and has conducted REEF surveys herself, so she is a good one to ask any questions you might have if you’re just getting started. The area boasts some big attractions for REEF surveyors, including frequent sightings of Tiger Rockfish and Yelloweye Rockfish, both adult and juvenile.
Amanda has some great ideas up her sleeve for getting divers involved in conducting surveys while at Hornby Island Diving, whether for just a weekend or for a week. She says, “If everyone who is a REEF surveyor comes and does one survey, and everyone who’s not, joins REEF and gets started, think of the possibilities.” She’s also been collaborating with another REEF Field Station in the area (The Edge Diving Centre in North Vancouver, BC) to provide more in-depth fish and invertebrate ID training.
Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:
- A scientists from the Nature Conservancy in Washington is using REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity in the Salish Sea and along the Oregon Coast as part of TNC's ecoregional analysis.
- A student at UNC Chapel Hill is using REEF data from the Galapagos Islands for use in a multimedia class project on data visualization.
- The Underwater Council of British Columbia requested REEF survey activity to be used in the BC Marine Conservation Analysis database being developed as part of the Marine Planning Partnership.
- A scientist from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is using data on Goliath Grouper populations in South Florida in the KeysMAP Marine Climate Change Adaptation Planning Project.
- Scientists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife used data on lingcod, giant Pacific octopus, and other species to evaluate distribution and trends.
We are excited to share a new scientific paper published last month in the journal PLoS ONE that included REEF data - Global Population Trends and Human Use Patterns of Manta and Mobula Rays, by Christine Ward-Paige, Brendal Davis, and Boris Worm. Despite being the world’s largest rays and providing significant revenue through dive tourism, little is known about the population status, exploitation, and trade volume of mobulids (Manta and Mobula species). There is anecdotal evidence, however, that mobulid populations are declining, largely due to the recent emergence of a widespread trade for their gill rakers. Researchers from Dalhousie University and eShark.org used expert divers’ observations from two citizen science programs, REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and eShark.org, to describe global manta and devil ray abundance trends and human use patterns. The study highlights the relative rarity of aggregation sites on a global scale and reveals that many populations appear to be declining. The authors warn that newly emerging fisheries for the rays gill-‐rakers likely exceed their ability to recover. The study also demonstrates the deficiency of official catch reports, as only four countries have ever reported landing manta or devil rays– Indonesia, Liberia, Spain, and Ecuador. However, numerous diver reports compiled in the paper illustrate that many other countries are regularly landing and selling these rays without reporting.
Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the GreatNonprofits.org website at: http://gr8np.org/go/yKD
Thanks to everyone who participated in a GAFC event this summer! This July, over twenty-three events were hosted throughout REEF's survey regions. We are still receiving data from these events and have processed a large amount already!
Since REEF's GAFC's inception in California in the early 90's, it has continued to grow and expand. More people are become involved in REEF by making a meaningful contribution to marine conservation by conducting REEF Fish Surveys. Previous events have generated over 2,000 surveys during the month of July. This year, the New England Aquarium Dive Club hosted an event in Gloucester, MA, with 103 surveyors!
GAFC is REEF's biggest annual signature event which mobilizes our wonderful partners, volunteers, and dive shops throughout much of our survey regions. All of whom coordinate their own local events which include offering free REEF Fish ID courses, organizing survey dives/snorkels, and other fun events tied into the theme of counting fish. The GAFC draws local, national (US), and international media attention each year. It reengages veteran REEF volunteers and also serves as a terrific mechanism to expose new ones to what REEF is all about. Though the GAFC takes place each July, it highlights nothing more than what we do year-round - engaging individuals to become active stewards of the marine environment. Volunteers learn by taking REEF Fish ID courses and conducting fish surveys as part of The Fish Survey Project.
Grant Gove, who attended the GAFC event hosted by the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop in Bonaire, Netherlands Atillies, sent REEF wonderful DVD's of their successful event for our public library! If you hosted an event this year, or participated in one, we encourage you to either mail a DVD to REEF HQ, Post Office Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037 or email your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to everyone who made GAFC successful this year and look forward to next years 17th annual GAFC event!
The long wait is finally over! REEF is proud to announce the launch of an expanded online data entry interface that now includes surveys conducted in the Pacific (California – British Columbia) and Hawaii regions. Surveyors in these regions can now enter data online and enjoy quicker processing time to view their data. With more than 2,000 survey forms coming in to REEF HQ each month, this expanded service will both improve efficiency and reduce rising costs of processing data. The program will eliminate many of the common clerical errors and will flag potential species misidentification based on existing REEF sightings data. REEF originally launched online data entry for surveys conducted in the Tropical Western Atlantic region (includes East and Gulf Coasts of US, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda) in February 2005. Here are answers to some of the most common questions
When and how?
Starting today, members can go online to http://www.reef.org/dataentry and enter data for surveys conducted anywhere in these Volunteer Survey Project regions. You will log in using your REEF member number and last name.
Will the data immediately be added to the REEF database?
No, similar to data submitted via paper scanform, REEF staff will run the data through error checking programs first. However, overall processing time will be greatly reduced.
Will I still be able to submit data using the paper scanforms?
Yes, REEF will continue to provide and process paper scanforms. However, beginning in 2008, REEF will charge a nominal fee per paper scanform to cover rising costs in processing these paper forms.
A very big thank you to Dr. Michael Coyne, REEF’s longtime database programmer and overall IT guru, for making this new program a reality, and to stellar REEF volunteers Janna Nichols, Liz Foote, Carl Gwinn, Herb Gruenhagen, and Janet Eyre for their help in beta testing the program.
To find out more, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/information.
The Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is an opportunity for divers and snorkelers to participate in a fun and educational program while contributing to marine conservation. During the month of July, REEF HQ, Field Stations and partners offer a variety of fish-counting activities. This will be the 17th year for the event.
Participation can be as simple as conducting as many survey dives in and around coastal waters as you like. Or, take a dive with your favorite dive operator or local dive club.
Field stations and REEF partners are encouraged to organize and schedule training sessions and survey dives. If you would like to get involved and host an event, please submit your event information to us by clicking here.
For more information, please contact email@example.com or call 305-852-0030.
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!
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.