The Faces of REEF: David Thompson and Luanne Betz

David and Luanne in the Philippines
Exploring topside
David surveying in the Caribbean.
David and Luanne with friends on a REEF Trip.

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 one of our many REEF couples - David Thompson and Luanne Betz, members since 2011. David and Luanne have collectively conducted 250 surveys and are active surveyors in several REEF regions. Both have achieved Level 5 Expert status in the TWA and Level 3 status in the CIP. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? We love diving and having been married in Key Largo under the sea it was a natural fit for us. We first heard about REEF from a fellow REEF member, Penny Hall and in 2011 we signed up as members and started our fish education online. In April 2012 we completed our first survey on the Nevis REEF trip led by Dr. Christy Semmens and we were hooked!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? We have been on many! Caribbean destinations include Nevis/St Kitts, St Lucia, Utila/Honduras, Curacao, and we are going on the Bonaire trip this fall. Our favorite trip so far was to the Philippines. The highlight was when a Whale Shark unexpectedly emerged from a massive school of Bigeye Trevally. Tubbataha marine preserve was the most fascinating place we’ve ever experienced; the diversity of life was mind-blowing. We have also attended all of the REEF Fests in Key Largo.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? Learning about the fish and fish ID has added a whole new aspect to our diving. We love watching the fish behavior, the changes at night, and seeing how many different species we can find.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey? While on the field survey in the Philippines we learned the Three-spot and Reticulated Dascyllus make a throated buzz that sounds like a cat purr when defending their territory.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? We love having an expansion to a hobby we already loved. REEF has given us many new friends. We actually have gone on vacations with members we have met on REEF survey field teams. And they have stayed with us to go diving locally or just to visit. We also joined other REEF members in Hawaii last April. We also introduced REEF to our children and that has expanded our participation with them as well. Our son, Landen, went on a lionfish trip to Curacao with us and proved to be a very good shot!

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them? REEF is a citizen science program in which we are active participants. They have many programs to participate in, including invasive lionfish control and study, the Grouper Moon Project, and provide a giant database for scientists to monitor sea life around the world.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? We love to dive near our home in Coral Springs, FL. We are close enough to dive in the Keys, Delray, Boynton, and West Palm. Our favorite local spot is (of course!) Blue Heron Bridge.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to? Black Brotula in St. Lucia, Ghost Pipefish in Dumagete, Philippines, and flouders mating in Tubbataha. Still on our wish list — Manta Rays!

Exciting Opportunity to Sleep Under the Sea

We are excited to share with you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join REEF on a special expedition next spring. In partnershp with Florida International Univeristy (FIU), we have arranged for a small team of REEF members to experience another level of ocean exploration. Our team will venture beneath the waves and spend a night in the FIU Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only undersea research laboratory. Deployed 60 feet beneath the surface in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Aquarius Reef Base is the world’s only undersea research station and is used to study the ocean, test and develop undersea technology, and train astronauts. Less than 1,500 people have ever ventured inside Reef Aquarius Base, and even fewer have spent the night in the underwater habitat.

The project dates are March 5 - 10, 2017, and includes 4 nights of lodging in Marriott Bayside Resort in Key Largo, 3 days of 2-tank dives with Quiescence Diving Services, a night spent in the Aquarius Reef Base, and classroom sessions with REEF and Aquarius staff each day. Note that the time spent in the Aquarius is not a saturation dive. The pressure inside Aquarius will be adjusted during the overnight stay, and participants will not be allowed to venture outside of the Habitat until departure from the Habitat. Cost to participate is $4,500. If you are interested in finding out more, visit the Aquarius Expedition website.

Join REEF’s British Virgin Islands Field Survey, featuring a special itinerary aboard the Cuan Law

It’s not too late to become a citizen scientist in 2017! We still have a couple spaces remaining on our British Virgin Islands Field Survey this winter, December 3rd - 9th, and REEF surveyors of all levels are invited to participate. The British Virgin Islands (BVI) offer world-class diving and our REEF trip promises to be great. We have arranged a special itinerary with the Cuan Law liveaboard and the boat will explore some of the lesser-dived areas on the north side of the islands. Ellie Splain, REEF’s Education Program Manager, is leading the trip and will teach daily fish identification classes for participants to expand their knowledge of fish in the area while contributing to REEF’s marine sightings database.

At 105 feet long and 44 feet wide, the Cuan Law is the world’s largest trimaran. There are 10 spacious and air-conditioned two-person cabins onboard, each with a private bathroom. The boat’s top deck has hammocks to relax in after the day’s dives.

With more than 100 dive sites, diving in the BVI is suitable for all skill levels. The water temperature in December is a comfortable 80 degrees F and the dive sites have clear blue waters with spectacular coral formations and plenty of fish life, plus sea turtles and rays. The islands are also home to some of the most famous wreck dives in the Caribbean, including the RMS Rhone and the Chikuzen. The planned itinerary for this trip is unique and will also feature some diving on less crowded, north side reefs and pinnacles, weather and conditions permitting.

When not diving, you can enjoy snorkeling during surface intervals, and there’s plenty to do on this trip for non-divers as well. The boat has hobie cats, sea kayaks, and paddle boards available for all guests to use. The week ends with a fun beach BBQ ashore.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-reach destination for hassle-free pre-holiday travel, the BVI are a great fit. Located only 60 miles east of Puerto Rico, they are easily accessible. Tortola is the largest island and is easily reached by flight from San Juan, PR, or by ferry from St. Thomas, USVI. The currency in the BVI is the US dollar, so there is no need to worry about exchanging money either.

We welcome divers and non-divers, as well as fish surveyors of all levels. Escape from the busy holiday season, and expand your knowledge of marine life! For more information, visit our British Virgin Islands Field Survey webpage . To register for the trip, e-mail trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869.

New "Grumpy Grouper" T-shirt

Earlier this month we added a new color of the fabulous "Grumpy Grouper" t-shirt to REEF's online store. The "Grumpy Grouper" shirt features artwork from REEF friend and world famous painter, diver, and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest). Painted in support of REEF's Grouper Moon Project, "Grumpy" features the face of a Nassau Grouper, with the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". The new shirt can be ordered here. 

And more about the Grouper Moon Project can be found here.

 

REEF Joins Leading Volunteer Organizations to Develop Citizen Science Toolkit

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Leda Cunningham test drives an online bird ID portal with other conference participants.
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REEF volunteer (and family member) Brice Semmens takes in the REEF display during the poster session.

In late June, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) hosted the first ever Citizen Science Toolkit Conference in Ithaca, New York. Widely known for projects like FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the CLO is a pioneer in bringing people closer to nature through cooperative research, cutting edge technology and innovative science programs across many natural science fields. Leda Cunningham and Dr. Christy Semmens represented REEF at the 3-day meeting, where fifty leaders of citizen science organizations around the world – from worm watchers to bird counters to star gazers – came together to build a toolkit for citizen science practitioners and others seeking to engage volunteers in meaningful science activities.

There is some debate about what citizen science is, not to mention what it does. Many participants noted that “volunteer monitoring” more accurately captures the nature of their programs (much like the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project) while others thought that volunteers fill more of a role than just data collectors and should be involved in all parts of the scientific process, beginning with posing the research question. The group periodically split into five focus groups and reconvened at the end to present a model based on each group’s focus area: Education, Evaluation and Impact, Community Building, Technology and Cyberinfrastructure, and Research and Monitoring. The resulting Toolkit will include resources, recommendations, and case studies from each of these areas, as well as a key to existing citizen science programs. Christy participated in a panel on the impacts of citizen science and presented examples of how REEF data are used by resource agencies and scientists. She presented details of how REEF volunteers helped identify a hotspot of non-native fishes along the south Florida coast and the resulting management actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the important role that REEF data can play as a fisheries-independent source of data for the development of stock assessments and fisheries management plans, the discovery of new species by several REEF members, and the value of using our most experienced divers (the Advanced Assessment Team) to conduct annual monitoring of selected sites inside and around no-take marine reserves.

REEF was proud to contribute its fourteen years of experience building the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the group discussion. Many citizen science organizations deal with the same issues of volunteer recruitment, recognition and retention, engaging the “real” science community, standardizing data collection methods and measuring success. REEF has addressed many of these issues with innovative strategies that may be adopted by other citizen science initiatives: engaging the private retail sector (dive shops) to recruit volunteers within a target audience (scuba divers and snorkelers), developing strong partnerships with science and resource management agencies (such as university-based researchers and the National Marine Sanctuary Program), 5-level expertise testing (in fish identification) to assist with quality control, a published standardized data collection method and the Advanced Assessment Team as an incentive for volunteers to become more proficient surveyors and a measuring stick for training programs.

For more information on the conference or Citizen Science Central, the CLO’s initiative to provide information for practitioners and volunteers, click here. Look for the Citizen Science Toolkit, a robust and practical framework for citizen science program development, implementation, and evaluation, in the fall 2007.

Weeding the Good from the Bad: Deciphering “YOUR” Scanform . . .

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TWA scanform

A few reminders to our surveyors:

  • Always write your member number, your name, AND your email legibly on your survey form. It's not necessary to fill in the other contact information unless your information has changed or if you are a new member and do not yet have a REEF member number.
  • Please fill in the full 8-digit Geographic Zone Code for the site where your survey was conducted. You can find a list of these hierarchical codes online [Click here]. If the site is currently not on our list, contact our Field Operations Coordinator, Joe Cavanaugh, to have a site code assigned (please provide as much information as possible, including as many digits as you can pinpoint for your location. A site code should never end in two zeros.
  • The temperature fields on the survey form (Surface and Bottom) are both water temperature. Please do not report air temperature for the surface value.
  • Remember to use a pencil, but do not to use the pencil that was underwater to fill out your scanform. The residual water can cause the paper to rip and it's almost impossible to erase.
  • We graciously ask, moving forward, that team leaders handling a Field Trip survey, review the forms before your trip is over to make sure the participants have indeed filled all the necessary fields correctly, that also goes for current members that mail them in independently as well. Only send us your original form, not a copy and always use a pencil. NOW, to avoid all this, for non members, you can join REEF online, this way you fill out the information we need, thus eliminating the mind reading on our end.
  • And finally - for surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) or Northeast (NE) regions, please consider using our online data entry interface. This will save you time and postage as well as grant you the eternal gratitude of our small staff. Your surveys will also be processed quicker, and it's better for the environment!

REEF Welcomes New Office Manager

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Bonnie Greenberg recently joined REEF as the office manager. She brings with her more than 20 years of experience in non-profit management and entrepreneurship: including work with Marathon Community Theatre, Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys , director of marketing with a family business in Pennsylvania and a few years working as a journalist for local media. She likes to snorkel, sail, spend time with friends, read great books now and then, and create a good meal. Having said for years she was writing her own version of the Great American Novel - Bonnie spent the past two years as the front desk associate with a small Florida Keys Resort while she toiled at her story. She’s about half-way there. She holds a BFA from Emerson College. Bonnie resides in Key Largo, FL with her long-term boyfriend and 3 cats. Next time you find yourself in Key Largo, please swing by REEF HQ to meet Bonnie and the other REEF staff.

Believe It Or Not -- REEF Volunteers Grow a Coral Reef

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REEF volunteers measure their staghorn coral transplants.
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Ken Nedimyer clip a coral fragment from a "mother" colony for use as a transplant.
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A staghorn coral "garden" created with transplant fragments off Key Largo, FL. REEF volunteers helped create several of the coral modules last month.
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Ken, wife Denise and daughter Julia pose behind one of their remarkable coral creations.

During the last week of April, divers from around the country gathered at Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida for a REEF Fish Behavior Tour hosted by Ned and Anna DeLoach. After making two morning dives each day, the group spent their late afternoons and early evenings attending entertaining talks about the myriad fish they encountered on the reef. Lad Akins, REEF’s Special Projects Director, dropped by to explain the science behind the recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish in the western Atlantic. But the highlight of the week was the rare opportunity for everyone to create their own coral garden.

Yes, you read it right: After being giving instructions by coral scientist Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation, participants headed out the following morning to Ken’s coral nursery located in Hawke Channel where they transplanted cuttings of staghorn coral from a mother colony onto a set of nursery blocks.

After watching 90 percent of the Keys’ staghorn coral die off from a variety of reasons over the past decades, Ken, an aquaculturist by trade, decided to do something about the disheartening problem. In the late 1990’s, he began nurturing small buds of rapidly growing staghorn that by chance settled on his underwater “live rock” farm. Following several years of trial and error, Ken pioneered the first successful method for cultivating and transplanting large quantities of coral. His current success rate hovers at an incredible 90 percent.

After the REEF divers carefully epoxyed their branches on numerically coded pedestals and recorded measurement data, the group headed off to a site on Molasses Reef where, in 1984 the M/V Wellwood, an ocean-going freighter, ran aground destroying 644 square meters of coral reef framework. Federal agencies began extensive restoration of the site in 2002 including emplacement of numerous high-profile limestone modules (click here to read about REEF's post-restoration monitoring of the fish populations on these modules). Unfortunately, to date, the new structures have had limited success recruiting new coral growth. However, the area has one extraordinary success story and the focus of our second dive: Ken’s rapidly growing staghorn coral garden – the two-year result of transplanting nursery grown corals to the grounding site.

Dates for next year’s 2nd Annual Key Largo REEF Fish Behavior Tour at Amoray are scheduled for May 29 to June 5, 2009. The popular fish behavior talks cover Reproductive Strategies, What Fish Eat, Cleaning Stations, Discovering the Night Reef, and Fish Life Cycles. Participants will once again establish their own coral colonies and transplant this year’s nursery crop onto the reef.

REEF Surveyor Notes a Rare Find

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A mystery fish, captured on film by REEF surveyor Rob McCall.
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The mystery fish turned out to be the rarely seen Pugjaw Wormfish.
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The swimming motion was sinuous, much like an eel.
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The wormfish shared a burrow with a yellowhead jawfish.

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.

REEF Hits the Dive Shows!

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REEF Volunteers, April and Ron Theod talk REEF with a fellow diver while Tatum Semmens looks on.

REEF is taking our message on the road this spring and summer to a few of the regional dive shows. Last month, several volunteers and REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, greeted visitors at the Northwest Dive and Travel Show in Tacoma, WA. The REEF booth provides an opportunity to spread the word about the fun of conducting marine life surveys and the valuable role that citizen science data can have in marine conservation and management. Our next stop is SCUBA Show 2009 in Long Beach, May 30 and 31. Come by and visit us at the booth!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub