REEF and Florida Keys Sanctuary Kick Off Lionfish Derbies This Weekend

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The largest lionfish captured during a day-long derby in the Bahamas.
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Lionfish are being found more frequently in the Florida Keys. This one was reported in August from Conch Reef. Photo by Neal Rakov.

Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) with help from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) will host an inaugural series of lionfish derbies in the Keys starting this weekend. Divers who remove lionfish from Sanctuary waters will be eligible for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes. Awards will go to the top 3 teams in the following categories: most lionfish, biggest lionfish, and smallest lionfish.

REEF and Sanctuary managers have been working with the Florida Keys dive community to remove invasive lionfish since early 2009. Scientists are concerned about the rapid population growth of lionfish in Keys waters and their lack of a natural predator in the Atlantic. Lionfish are known to feed on ecologically and commercially important fish species — including snapper, grouper and shrimp — and can disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystem.

“Current research is beginning to show that, if left unchecked, the impacts of lionfish could be devastating to our native marine life and coral reefs,” said Lad Akins, REEF Director of Operations. “Providing training and incentives for the public to remove lionfish is one way to control populations and minimize those impacts.” Following detailed briefings by REEF staff on lionfish collecting and handling, divers will be allowed to collect fish on the day of the tournament using hand nets or spearfishing gear in areas of the sanctuary where fishing and spearfishing is allowed. A new rule was just passed July 27th, 2010 that enables divers to collect lionfish with hand nets throughout Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.

The $100 derby registration fee for a four-person team of divers or snorkelers provides participants with a pair of puncture resistant gloves and banquet tickets. Event banquets will feature a lionfish tasting for derby participants and guests. These derbies are not only a great way to reduce local lionfish populations, but also serve to educate and engage the public in lionfish control efforts.

“Eating lionfish is a conservation activity,” said Sean Morton, acting FKNMS Superintendent. “We are its only known predator in the Atlantic and through dedicated diver-based removal efforts, and consumption of lionfish as a food source, we can control its establishment.” NOAA has even developed an “Eat Lionfish” campaign that brings together fishing communities, wholesalers, and chefs in an effort to broaden U.S. consumers’ awareness of this delicious invader.

For more information on REEF's lionfish research program, the derbies, and to register online, visit www.reef.org/lionfish. Dates and locations for the derbies are: September 11 – Coconuts Restaurant, Key Largo • October 16 – Keys Fisheries Market and Marina, Marathon • November 13 — Hurricane Hole Marina, Key West. Florida Keys lionfish derbies are sponsored in part by: Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Divers Direct, Spree Expeditions, Inc., Dive Key West, Inc., and Scuba-Do Dive Company. To become an event sponsor, please contact Alecia@reef.org. REEF-coordinated lionfish derbies in the Bahamas have removed almost 2,500 lionfish since 2009. Thousands more fish have been captured in more than 30 REEF-organized lionfish collection trips across the Caribbean. Because of REEF’s vast experience with lionfish control programs, the Florida Keys Lionfish Derbies are destined for success!

Join REEF Online Communities

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Remember to join REEF in our online communities on Facebook. Anyone can visit our Facebook page, even if you don't have a Facebook account. We also maintain a Facebook page specifically about the Lionfish program. If you do have a Facebook account, click the icon below to "like" us!

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Cape Eleuthera Institute

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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), a marine research facility, is located at the south end of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Much like REEF, CEI realizes the importance of collaboration and encourages students, visitors, and community members alike to partake in ongoing scientific research with the overarching goal of marine conservation.

CEI works closely and shares facilities with the Island School, a semester abroad program for high-school students. All of the research programs that operate out of CEI teach a project-specific research class each semester to the students. REEF surveys have been successfully incorporated into a number of these projects. Most notably, the Patch Reef Ecology project uses REEF surveys for long-term monitoring of fish communities that are resident to the network of patch reefs in Rock Sound, the vast, watery, “backyard” of CEI. REEF surveys have been used to collect reef fish species and abundance data for this project for nearly a decade now! Students assisting with the data collection learn Caribbean reef fish ID skills and become well versed in the REEF Roving Diver Method. All data collected by students are contributed to the REEF database and available for use by others.

Most of the reefs that are surveyed by students are located in shallow waters adjacent to mangrove creek habitat. These reefs are small, isolated coral heads that provide important transitional habitat for many reef species that begin their life in mangroves and eventually head to deep water to reproduce. Due to their location and abundance, these reefs are easy to access and make great project sites for conducting research. In fact, Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, and Stephanie Green of Simon Frasier University, are conducting a long-term research project monitoring lionfish impacts on reef fish communities using a network of these shallow scattered patch reefs. Skylar Miller, employed by both REEF and CEI and based in Eleuthera, is responsible for monthly data collection for this important project.

Visit REEF at a Dive Show Near You!

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We have a full line-up of dive show appearances planned this year. If you are in the area of one of these shows, please stop by the REEF booth to find out what new and exciting things are happening. In 2012, we will be at: Our World Underwater (Chicago, February 17-19), Beneath the Sea (NJ/NY, March 23-25), Northwest Dive & Travel Expo (WA, April 21-22), SCUBA Show 2012 (Long Beach CA, May 5-6), and Northern California Dive & Travel Expo (Bay Area CA, May 12-13). We are always looking for volunteers to help at the booth. If you are interested in being a REEF ambassador, contact Martha at martha@REEF.org.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Douglas and Jane Rorex

Yellowtail Damselfish. Photo by Alex Griffin.

As we celebrate REEF Member #50,000, it is exciting to also look back to the beginning. This month we feature two of our charter members, Douglas and Jane Rorex (REEF Members #25 and #26). Nineteen years ago this month they were diving in the Florida Keys and happened upon information about what was to be the first REEF Survey Project class in July 1993. They couldn't attend that one, but they did attend a class a few months later. Since then, Douglas and Jane have conducted over 400 surveys combined. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?

We still have the letter from Laddie Akins confirming our being a part of this second class, that took place starting 17 October 1993. The week-long project included 12 dives and surveys along with the daily lessons. It was a blast. It was the best course we had ever had in Scuba in that it enabled us to enjoy our diving ever so much more as we came to recognize what we were actually seeing. Ned DeLoach, Paul Humann, Gloria Teague, and Laddie Akins were all wonderful. Laddie was our primary teacher and has been a mentor, friend, and teacher ever since. Over the years, REEF has continued to provide educational materials, and those combined with books by Ned and Paul have expanded our enjoyment from not only identifying fish, but also watching their behavior. We really enjoyed diving with Ned and Anna DeLoach this past year, where we kept an eye on a pair of courting Frogfish.

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

Most of our Midwest diving involves quarries, lakes, cowponds, caves (springs), and/or rivers. I (Doug) have done all of the former, but presently do most of my local diving in Missouri caves. There is a sense of adventure and exploration and accomplishment in cave diving that is somewhat missing from most cowponds, plus you don't have to run the cattle out of the cave before you dive. The fish life is not as abundant, but there is plenty to see. Cannonball Cave in Missouri is the cave I have explored most thoroughly. I have explored back more than a 1/4 mile and to a depth of 365 feet. The cave is stunning and has beautiful clay formations that are breath-taking.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

The juvenile Yellowtail Damsel. We called it by the name "Jewel" fish when we first started diving. Our signal to each other identifying the fish is to hold out one hand and peck on it with the forefinger of the other hand indicating the bright, jewel like dots that adorn the juvenile. We usually spend time at the end of each dive in the shallows among the fire coral on Bonaire looking at interesting fish and creatures, but the tiny Yellowtail Damsels is our favorite. I suppose its our favorite because of its stunning beauty and its also nice getting to see your favorite fish every dive.

What is your most memorable fish find? Is there a fish (or Marine invertebrate) you haven't seen yet diving, but would like to?

Diving Bonaire in the middle 1990's we kept seeing this tiny goby. I drew it and sent the drawing along with a description to Laddie Akins. Laddie had previously identified dozens of fish for us in this manner, (for example, the Cave Bass and the Black Brotula), and, that he could do it was amazing. This fish he eventually identified as an "Island Goby." It was eventually recognized as the same fish by a previous name: "the Semi-scale Goby." I have drawings of it in log pages from those early days and still think of it as an Island Goby, though, on survey sheets I list it otherwise.

We have not seen either a Whale Shark or a Shortnose Batfish. But we're keeping the dream alive...and they are out there awaiting us.

Spaces Available on REEF Trips in 2013, Including Last Minute Opening on Fiji Trip

Snag the last spot on the Fiji REEF Trip and you'll spend a lovely 10 days aboard the Nai'a.

If you haven't yet booked your space on one of our 2013 REEF Field Surveys, don't delay. They are filling up fast. A last minute opening is available on the Fiji trip aboard the Nai'a liveaboard, May 11-21 - we just had a cancellation, so if you want to join REEF Founder Paul Humann, REEF Director of Science Christy Semmens, and a boat full of enthusiastic South Pacific fishwatchers, get in touch with our travel agent at Caradonna right away - 1-877-295-REEF (7333) or REEF@caradonna.com. Final payment and paperwork are due by the end of next week so don't delay, this space won't last long. Space is for male or female, single room accommodations. All the Fiji details are here, we hope you can join us!

Other trips that still have a few spaces include: Southern Bahamas Lionfish Trip (May 18-25), Little Cayman with Paul Humann (July 13-20), Curacao Lionfish Trip (Aug 31-Sept 7), Grenada (Oct 5-12), Socorro Islands (Dec 3-12), and Cozumel (Dec 7-14). We have also added two new trips in British Columbia, one along the Sunshine Coast and a second trip to Barkley Sound. Visit www.REEF.org/trips for information and details on all of these great trips.

Honoring Our Golden Hamlet Club Members

No, it's not a club of Shakespearean enthusiasts! Rather it's a club of citizen scientist superstars - those REEF members who have conducted 1,000+ surveys in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The very first Golden Hamlet member was Linda Baker, achieving the status in 2005. Today, there are are sixteen members of the Golden Hamlet Club. We recently created a plaque, now hanging at REEF HQ in Key Largo, with the names of our honored volunteer surveyors -- Lad Akins, Linda Baker, Judie Clee, Janet Eyre, Dave Grenda, Doug Harder, Lillian Kenney, Peter Leahy, Rob McCall, Franklin Neal, Mike Phelan, Bruce Purdy, Linda Ridley, Dee Scarr, Linda Schillinger, and Sheryl Shea. Congratulations to you all. Thanks to their dedication, and those of the 14,000 other volunteers who have participated in the Survey Project since its inception in 1993, we have generated the largest marine fish sightings database in the world. Who's going to be the next Golden Hamlet surveyor?

Grouper Moon Scientists Talk Live with School Children From Under the Waves

Grouper Moon researchers, Brice Semmens, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Steve Gittings, join educator, Todd Bohannon, for a live-from-the-field chat with Caymanian classrooms. They explained a typical research day and showed much of the research equipment used.
Grouper Moon Educator, Todd Bohannon, goes through a coral reef food web exercise that is part of the Grouper Education Project curriculum with school children at Little Cayman Primary School.
Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, conducting a live-from-the-field chat from the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation site on Little Cayman to Caymanian classrooms. Brice answered questions from the students about grouper biology, spawning aggregations, and diving. Photo by Joshua Stewart.

It was a science lesson with a difference, broadcast live from beneath the waves with thousands of endangered fish in attendance. Earlier this month, Grouper Moon Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens from REEF, hosted three live-from-the-field web chats with students from 18 classrooms at 13 schools in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Washington State (US). The first of the three web chats was broadcast from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, and featured scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project. The other two featured Brice diving and answering questions from the students, first on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation and then on the famous Blood Bay Wall. The webcasts are archived online here.

Now in its third year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species.

Brice Semmens, who presented the underwater webcasts, said students were excited to witness science in action. “As they explore the aggregation with me, the immediacy and reality of the experience really touches them. We are giving students their first diving experience – and it happens to be with thousands of huge, endangered reef fish.”

The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef DiversCayman Airways, and LIME.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Effectiveness of Lionfish Culling

A bag of culled lionfish in the Bahamas. Photo by Leah Neal.

REEF staff co-authored a new publication in the scientific journal PeerJ that features research findings from our Invasive Lionfish Research Program. The paper, titled "Setting the record straight on invasive lionfish control: Culling works", evaluates the effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts. Frequent culling of the invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish throughout the Caribbean has been shown to cause a shift towards more wary and reclusive behavior by lionfish, which has prompted calls for halting culls. The paper addresses those concerns and reviews research conducted by REEF and other efforts. Culling successfully lowers lionfish numbers and has been shown to stabilize or even reverse declines in native prey fish. Partial culling is often as effective as complete local eradication, yet requires significantly less time and effort. Abandoning culling altogether would therefore be seriously misguided and a hindrance to conservation. The authors also offer suggestions for how to design removal programs that minimize behavioural changes and maximize culling success. The paper is available for online viewing here. You can find a complete listing of all publications that feature REEF's programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

New La Jolla Canyon Fishinar Added to Schedule

Horn Shark, one of the many finds waiting REEF surveyors in La Jolla Canyon. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

If you haven't participated in one of our free, educational webinars yet, you don't know what you are missing! Known as Fishinars, these hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. We recently added a new Fishinar scheduled for March 26th that will cover common fishes and invertebrates found in San Diego's La Jolla Canyon. The remaining schedule includes...

  • Hamlets! - Carlos and Allison Estape, March 3rd
  • In a Cavern, In a Canyon - Jonathan Lavan, March 26th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! You can also request viewings of archived Fishinars, a special perk for REEF members. No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub