Putting It To Work: New Publication on the Role of Citizens in Detecting and Responding to a Rapid Marine Invasion

An invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Carol Cox.

A recent publication in the scientific journal, Conservation Letters, examined the invasion of lionfish in to the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters. The authors compared traditional reef fish monitoring efforts to less traditional data including the observations of divers through REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and spearfishers. They found that citizen observations documented lionfish 1-2 years earlier and more frequently than the more traditional monitoring efforts. The authors also explored the willingness of spearfishers to help minimize impacts of the invasion by harvesting lionfish. They found that spearfishers who had encountered more lionfish while diving perceived them as more harmful to the habitat than less experienced divers and were also more likely to participate in harvesting initiatives. The authors also report that encouragement from scientists and managers was a far better motivator than the desire to harvest lionfish for personal consumption. This study demonstrates the value of engaging citizens for assessing and responding to large-scale and time-sensitive conservation problems. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

California Fishinars

Opalescent Nudibranch is one of the species monitored by REEF divers in California, and one that will be covered in the upcoming series. Photo by Elaine Jobin.

Are you a California diver? Or perhaps simply an ocean enthusiast wanting to learn more about critters that call the California kelp forests home? Then be sure to check out the upcoming Fishinar schedule. Whether you've attended one of our famous Fishinars (REEF's version of an online webinar) before or not, you're sure to enjoy one of our upcoming free classes! From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information. 

Upcoming California Fishinars include:

  • Invertebrates and Algae of REEF's California Survey Project - This four class series (September 8, 10, 14, 16) will cover all 63 of the invertebrates and algae included in REEF's California survey program.
  • Islands in the Stream: Fish of the California Channel Islands - October 20

A few other Caribbean Fishinars are scheduled this Fall as well, including:

  • The Nightstalkers! Eels of the Caribbean - September 30
  • The Ones You Should Know: Top 25 Fishes of the Caribbean - November 16

Grouper Moon Project - 15th Year of Conservation Science in the Cayman Islands

Protecting a Caribbean Icon - Over 4000 Nassau Grouper gather at the spawning aggregation on Little Cayman. The site is protected during the winter months. Photo by Paul Humann.
REEF Grouper Moon team member, Dr. Scott Heppell, swimming in the aggregation. Numbers, sizes, behaviors are all documented. Photo by Josh Stewart.
Starting a few nights after full moon, the fish change colors to almost all bicolor and spawn. Spawning happens right at dusk, and occurs over several evenings. Then the fish all leave the site and go back to their home reefs for another year. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). In it's 15th year, this important project focuses on one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon.

Several interesting video clips and stories from the field were posted on REEF's Facebook page. Be sure to check it out and like our page to keep updated on all REEF's programs.

Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands.

In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.

Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Watch this short PBS documentary about our efforts. 

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2016, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, and local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club. Funding from the Disney Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. FLOW Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, REEF volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Double Your Donation and Support REEF Discoveries

Alfian's Flasherwrasse, discovered by REEF's own Anna DeLoach in Indonesia. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

On World Oceans Day, REEF kicked off our annual summer matching campaign. Every donation that comes in through August 8, up to $40,000, will be matched dollar for dollar! We are highlighting all the exciting new discoveries REEF staff and members are making through our core programs. With your help this summer, REEF can continue to study the vast underwater world that remains largely unexplored and encompasses more than 70% of our blue planet.

To make a contribution, please visit www.REEF.org/donate.

If you are a regular reader of Making It Count, you may have already heard of these exciting discoveries. They are significant steps forward in marine conservation efforts, and it is only possible through donor support, citizen science, and the help of our members, that we uncovered:

  • Previously undescribed species, including a Coralblenny from the Philippines, Eyre’s Dwarfgoby, from Fiji, and Alfian’s Flasherwrasse from Indonesia 
  • Nassau Grouper can travel up to 275 km during their reproductive season (with this finding, the Cayman Government recommended seasonal protections rather than fishing closures only at reproductive locations) 
  • Ongoing lionfish removals can suppress the invasion to a low enough level to allow for the protection and recovery of native fish populations on Caribbean reefs

From all of us at REEF, we sincerely thank all our donors who make this work possible! Please have a safe and fun-filled 4th of July!

REEF Sustainers Weekend: A Gathering of Friends in the Florida Keys

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Clara Taylor, Ned DeLoach, Joe Glenn, Anna DeLoach, Paul Humann and Amy Slate share a moment together.
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Lad Akins presents newest Golden Hamlet Club member, Linda Schillinger, with award for completing 1,000 REEF surveys
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Joe Cavanaugh presents 10-year office volunteer Audrey Smith with award and free spot on the 2008 Turks and Caicos REEF Field Survey

On Saturday, July 14th, seventy members of the REEF Sustainers Club (annual donors of $1,000 or more), key partners and long-time REEF friends convened in Key Largo, Florida to celebrate fourteen years of REEF accomplishments over some diving and a sunset dinner. Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach and other Board, staff and Advisory Panel members were on hand to lead guests on some spectacular morning REEF survey dives while Amy Slate and her stand-up staff at the Amoray Dive Resort generously hosted the lodging and dinner party. “The event was just beautiful.” Said long-time REEF surveyor Elaine Morden, of Homestead, Florida. “It was great to connect with old REEF friends and see some new faces.”

The bi-annual Sustainers Event is a chance for REEF to bring together important members of the REEF family to thank them for their contributions and share successes of the organization over the years. This year, REEF was proud to recognize Linda Schillinger for achieving one of the highest REEF honors: admission into the Golden Hamlet club for those who have conducted 1,000 or more REEF surveys. We were also proud to recognize Key Largo resident and REEF office volunteer Audrey Smith for nearly ten years of regular service to the organization by quality-checking survey scanforms before they are uploaded to the REEF database. REEF was itself bestowed with an honor by Sanctuary Friends of the Florida Keys Director Glenn Patton: SFFFK generously gave a gift of support for the Great Annual Fish Count this year to help underwrite the costs of public outreach and education events.

By virtue of a Paul presentation and applause vote, the group answered the perennial question “What is the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean?” Out of thirty possibilities ranging from the spotfin hogfish to the fairy basslet, the spotted eagle ray won a narrow victory over close rivals the queen angelfish and queen triggerfish. Ned enthralled the group with fish behavior anecdotes from as far afield as Indonesia and gave updates on valuable REEF programs ranging from the Grouper Moon Project to the Exotics Species Sightings Project.

All agreed that the only thing hotter than the event itself was the Florida sun in July. With the heat index topping 100 degrees, no one needed a better excuse to indulge in a new REEF-inspired cocktail, the Indigo Hamlet, a unique and diversified alcoholic concoction for our wonderful sustainers to imbibe in while enjoying the sunset! Many thanks to all who made this a Sustainers Weekend to remember. See you at the next one . . .

For information about joining the Sustainers Club, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@reef.org or (305) 852-0030.

REEF Parts - Things to Know (10/07)

Here are a few notes and news bits we'd like you to know about:

  • Field Survey Update (2007-2008): Thanks to all who have made our 2007 Field Survey year a successful year with just a few trips left!
  • Going on a trip? Order Scan forms, underwater survey paper, books, and other items at the REEF online store

4 Spots Now Available on Turks and Caicos Field Survey

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REEF Live-aboards provide a great way to become expert surveyors!
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Orange Moray, one of many cryptic species off T & C, Photo by Todd Fulks

Four spots recently opened on our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II, April 19-26, 2008.  This is a wonderful opportunity for new and experienced REEF surveyors to spend a week diving in one of the jewels of the Caribbean. You can take advantage of our live-aboard accomodations and make up to 5 dives per day at all the best sites these islands have to offer. 

There are quite a few expert surveyors on this trip, so if you're a beginning surveyor, you'll have plenty of mentorship and you could even work toward becoming an expert by the end of the week.  For our experts, there are many cryptic species to challenge us on our surveys. We will have a number of REEF Fish ID classes and time to catch participants up on the many exciting upcoming REEF projects worldwide for 2008.

To reserve your spot - please call Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030, ext. 3 or Tami Gardner at Travel for You, 1-888-363-3345,  For more information about the trip, please visit our Field Survey page atField Survey page   Hope you can join us!

REEF Lionfish Partnership to Lead Interagency Workshop

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The rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish throughout the eastern US and Bahamas is prompting a technical workshop. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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REEF, in partnership with USGS and NOAA, is hosting a technical workshop on Non-native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida in the Florida Keys June 18 and 19.

In response to the growing threat of lionfish in the Atlantic and the need for coordinated planning, REEF, NOAA and the USGS are hosting a technical workshop on Non-native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida in the Florida Keys June 18 and 19. The workshop, jointly funded through a recent Mote Marine Laboratory’s Protect Our Reefs grant, NOAA’s Exotic Species and National Marine Sanctuary Programs and the Gulf and Atlantic States Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species,will bring together personnel from more than 18 different agencies and organizations. Plans for the workshop include presentations by State and Federal agencies, breakout groups and round table discussions that will focus on disseminating the most current information, and drafting a coordinated plan of early detection, notification, and rapid response.

Lionfish have been recorded in large numbers from North Carolina through the Bahamas and are rapidly expanding into the Caribbean. Fortunately, the fish have not yet shown up in the southeast Florida reef tract including Biscayne National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas National Park and Ecological Reserves. This planning workshop will endeavor to put in place mechanisms to help minimize lionfish impact in these treasured marine protected areas. While lionfish are the “poster fish” of invasive species, the protocols developed in this workshop will be widely applicable for sightings of other non-native marine fish as well, with the goal of preventing future invasions by other species.

REEF will continue to host training and planning workshops, as funding allows, to help downstream countries plan for the arrival of lionfish. Efforts to control populations and minimize impactswill be highlighted as research answers key questions and we are able to develop control methods. To find out more about REEF's Exotic Species Program, contact Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects.

REEF News Tidbits for September

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Limited Edition Lionfish Print by Rogest!  REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), has offered a limited edition version of his lionfish print as a vehicle to focus attention on the huge problem of invading Pacific Lionfish in Caribbean and Atlantic Waters. Limited Edition, 200 prints available. Only $25.  100% of the proceeds to benefit the REEF Lionfish Research Program. Buy yours through the online REEF store today.

- REEF's Lionfish Research Project continues to be widely covered by the media. Some of the recent coverage includes National Geographic and The Nature Conservancy's Magazine. Check out the Lionfish Media page for a complete list and links.

- There are still a few spaces left on the second Cozumel trip, December 13-18.

Belize Lionfish Project - Last few remaining spots

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Lionfish are rapidly invading Belize and other Central American countries. Help do something about the problem on a special benefit trip aboard the Sun Dancer. Photo by Rich Carey.

Needed -- a few more volunteers for this critical marine conservation project in Belize! Peter Hughes and REEF’s Lad Akins will lead this great project aboard the livaboard dive vessel Sun Dancer II, June 13-20. I am sure that most of you have been following the news about the lionfish invasion and the recent updates on fish beginning to show up in Belize. We are really concerned about this. The Central American coast is going to be the most likely pathway for introduction of the fish into the Gulf of Mexico and the extremely valuable fish and shrimp industry there.

What can we do? One of the first things that can be done is early detection and rapid response to remove these fish as they show up. To that end Peter Hughes Diving has worked with REEF to organize the first lionfish assessment and removal project in Belize (or anywhere in Central America for that matter!). This is going to be a great first effort on detecting fish, removing what we see and training local staff on how to collect and handle the fish so they can remove them year-round.

What do we need? We need more of you! We need your interest, expertise and involvement to make this project a success. We know that times are tight and there is concern over travel to some areas, but this project is not to be missed. We will be offshore on the Sun Dancer II, one of the most highly regarded liveaboards in the region. First class service, first class diving and a very important mission!

We hope you can make this project! For more information and to sign up, call Peter Hughes Diving at 1-800 9 DANCER (800-932-6237). You can also contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, with any of your lionfish questions and to find out more about this trip (lad@reef.org, 305-852-0030).

We look forward to seeing you there!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub