The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carol Cox

Sawblade Arrow Shrimp. Carol was the first to capture this creature on film! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Carol Cox. Carol joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 159 surveys. Carol is a member of the Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has been an active volunteer and instructor in REEF's Fishinar series. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

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

After retiring from the Air Force, and returning to our home in Mexico Beach, Florida (20 miles east of Panama City), I became active as a volunteer research diver for the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA). To receive State grants for our program, we are required to monitor the condition of artificial reefs we deploy. MBARA decided to incorporate fish surveys with the monitoring program, and I found REEF when researching ways to do fish surveys. REEF serves as our model, but we tailor our survey forms for the local area because our fish population is very different than the fishes found further south.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

When I saw how REEF data are used by naturalists and scientists, I wanted to add fish count data from where I live, especially because there were only a few surveys for my community. I really saw the need after the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our community was lucky, barely escaping the oil slick when a storm blew the approaching oil slick back in the direction it came from. Although we suffered few effects, I realized we needed to catalogue what we had, otherwise, how would we know how our biodiversity was adapting to environmental changes? Since I started volunteering with REEF, I have had opportunity to interact with scientists and fish enthusiasts from around the world. The education REEF provides is phenomenal. I began my self-education by doing the fish quizzes. Then I attended many of the online Fishinars and they are all very educational and FUN! I also learn a lot from other fish watchers using the online fish identification forum.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

The data that are being captured by REEF fish surveys will be invaluable to scientists of the future. As the environment changes, the REEF database will be looked at more and more. We need to record what we have now if we are to know what is affected by global warming, red tide, or the next big oil spill. Who knows, the REEF database may eventually provide the knowledge on how to control the lionfish invasion.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

Most of my diving is where I live, in Mexico Beach, Florida. MBARA has deployed over 150 artificial reefs, everything from reef balls to a large shrimp boat, which is my favorite dive. We see everything from giant Goliath Groupers, to small arrow shrimp (a species that had never been photographed until I discovered them during a survey). Because the survey programs for MBARA and REEF are similar, I encouraged MBARA to become a local Field Station. We are always looking for divers interested in doing surveys on our artificial reefs and can now provide training. I use training gained from REEF, along with my local experience, to teach regional fish identification and throw in some local knowledge for enthusiasts that primarily dive in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

We were 20 miles offshore of Mexico Beach, when our boat was surrounded by small Mahi Mahi. I had a few shots left on my camera, so I slipped into the water to use up my film (am I dating myself?). Suddenly, a Mahi sped towards me, followed by a large, dark shadow in pursuit. In a matter of seconds, I could see fins, tails, and bubbles, as a large sailfish did a 360-degree turn right in front of me as it tried to capture the Mahi. In an effort to escape, the Mahi swam over my shoulder smacking me in the side of the head. The bill of the sailfish missed by chest by inches as it veered away. Having lost its prey, it swam around me three times before disappearing into the depths. The entire event lasted less than a minute, but the memory of it will last me a lifetime, especially because I got the photos.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? What is your most memorable fish find? What fish are you still waiting to find?

I love blennies! They are such a great photo subject—colorful and expressive. With a little patience, most will gladly pose for the camera exhibiting as many poses as a Vogue covergirl. Of course I am a big, big fan of Anna DeLoach’s Blennywatcher blog. My favorite find wasn’t a fish, but a sawblade arrow shrimp, Tozeuma serratum. I have REEF to thank for putting me in touch with Les Wilk who requested critter photos for the upcoming Reef Creature DVD to be published by ReefNet. I didn’t know what a rare find I had until I sent a photo of the unidentified shrimp to Les for the DVD. He sent the photo off to a marine biologist, who identified the shrimp after I collected one. It turns out this shrimp had never been photographed in its natural environment and scientists believed it only lived in deeper waters. The marine biologist was so excited she flew from Texas to our home so we could take out and show her some of “our” shrimp. The fish I would love to check off my life list is the whale shark. With all the diving we do in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure it is only a matter of time, but I am still waiting!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Doing surveys for both MBARA and REEF, I’ve learned it can be fun to get away from the big sites and spend time on something small that isn’t frequented by divers. I’ve spent 45 minutes looking at two 3-foot reefballs. If I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really look, I would never have seen the small juvenile jackknife-fish, or a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Eileen Byrne

Sea Turtles - one of Eileen's favorite non-fish sightings! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.

When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.

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

Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.

What is your favorite non-fish sighting?

Turtles!!!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.

REEF is Hiring

REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.

REEF 2013 Annual Report Released

REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects including Invasive Lionfish Research and the Grouper Moon Project, data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2013 such a success! Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about any of the information presented in our Annual Report.

Putting It To Work: New Publication Evaluating Goliath Grouper

Goliath Grouper, a protected species. Photo by Carlos and Allison Estape.

Despite uncertainties surrounding the population status of the protected Atlantic Goliath Grouper’s, fishery managers in Florida are under pressure to end the harvest moratorium in place since 1990. A new study published this month in the scientific journal, Fisheries Research, sought to measure the proportion of anglers interested in reopening the Goliath Grouper fishery and to identify key reasons for this interest. The authors also estimated the amount that anglers would be willing to pay for a Goliath Grouper harvest tag (the right sold to an angler to harvest one Goliath Grouper). REEF data on Goliath Grouper were used to compare with the fishermen-perceived grouper population trends. REEF data have been cited as the best available index of abundance for Goliath Grouper in Florida (see Koenig et al., 2011, www.REEF.org/db/publications/9754). The study found that about half of Florida’s recreational anglers believe that the ban on fishing for Goliath Grouper should be lifted, with many anglers reporting that they feel "there are too many goliath grouper and that their populations need to be controlled." These anglers are willing to pay between $34 and $79 for the right to harvest one Goliath Grouper in Florida.

As fishery managers work to determine the future of Goliath Grouper in Florida and the rest of the southeast United States, this study's findings can help them better understand stakeholder intentions and better communicate to the public. Additionally, fishery managers can compare the amount of money recreational anglers are willing to pay to open the fishery to the amount of money other stakeholders, such as recreational divers who visit goliath grouper, are willing to pay to keep the fishery closed. The new paper is titled "Lifting the goliath grouper harvest ban: Angler perspectives and willingness to pay", and was published by Geoffrey Shideler, a scientist at Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science University of Miami, and colleagues from NOAA Fisheries. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

REEF Fest 2015 Coming Up This Month

Have you registered for REEF Fest 2015 yet? It’s not too late! Join REEF, September 24th-27th, for a celebration of marine conservation success in the Florida Keys!

  • Don’t miss out on our free series of educational seminars, beginning at 1:30 PM each day, Thursday - Saturday. Topics include Fish ID, Sharks, Invasive Lionfish, Coral Restoration, Grouper Moon, and more!
  • Dive spaces are still available, Friday - Sunday mornings, with our generous partnering dive shops. Please call the shop directly to book your spot on fish surveying, lionfish collection, and artificial reef dives! Check out the list of shops and dives available on the REEF Fest website.
  • Join us for our evening socials, Thursday at the Caribbean Club and Friday for the Open House at REEF Headquarters.
  • Tickets are still available for the Saturday Evening Celebration Dinner Party, a night that you won’t forget! Tickets include a 3-course meal, live music, and silent and live auctions.

Get full event details and register for REEF Fest at www.reef.org/REEFFest2015

Fishinars This Month: Grunts, the Gulf of Mexico, and more

Bluestriped Grunt, one of the many we will talk about in next week's Fishinar. Photo by Carol Cox.

Don't miss REEF's Fishinars scheduled for this month. We'll talk about Grunts in the Caribbean, and a two-part session to compare common fishes of northern and southern Gulf of Mexico. And then next month, we welcome back the fabulous Ray Troll, who will talk about cool sharks, both modern day and extinct. These free, online webinars offer the opportunity to learn from our experts on a multitude of topics. For the complete 2016 schedule and to register, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars. Upcoming Fishinars include:

The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm EST, with Jonathan Lavan

Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm EST, with Carol Cox

Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm EST, with Artist Ray Troll

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.

Lionfish - What We Know and What We're Learning

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Lionfish photo by Tom DeMayo
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Juvenile Lionfish photo by Tom DeMayo

If you’ve read recent REEF releases, you’ve heard the news that Indo-pacific lionfish are now well established along the eastern US coast and throughout the Bahamas. REEF has been and continues to work with researchers to learn as much as we can in order to most effectively address the invasion. Since January of this year, REEF has organized and led 5 week-long projects in the Bahamas to document the extent of the invasion and gather samples and information needed by NOAA and Bahamian researchers.

 
Here is what we’ve found:

  • Lionfish are being found as deep as 350’ and as shallow as 2’.
  • Lionfish have been documented in almost all habitat types including patch reefs, artificial reefs, walls, and even mangroves
  • Lionfish have been captured as small as 25mm and as large as 389mm
  • Most lionfish have been in the 200mm size range
  • Lionfish prey has included fish, shrimp and crabs
  • Lionfish appear to have high site fidelity (they don’t move much)
  • Lionfish appear to be reproducing year-round in Bahamian waters
  • The lionfish invasion appears to have come from a small founding population (not a large release of many fish)
  • Stomach content analysis has documented lionfish predation of cleaner fish
  • Every site visited in the Berries in April contained lionfish – most contained multiple fish

 
Here is what we are working on with NOAA and Bahamian researchers:

  • Continuing documentation of lionfish distribution and impacts on local fish populations
  • Documentation of lionfish at cleaning stations and subsequent predation on cleaning fish
  • Predation by other species on lionfish
  • Genetic relationships of lionfish in one area (NC, northern Bahamas) to those in other areas (S Bahamas) to determine dispersion pathways.
  • Parasitology of lionfish (they appear to have few parasite compared to native fish)
  • Larval occurrence at different locations using larval light traps
  • Juvenile recruitment preference using small shallow water nets and trawls
  • Trap preference of adult lionfish
  • Lionfish recruitment rates to sites denuded of lionfish (i.e., recruitment pressure)
  • Recruitment of lionfish to artificial structures
  • And more!

As part of this effort, REEF has planned more research efforts through the end of 2007. Each project will include participation of scientists, researchers, and/or REEF staff. For a list of upcoming projects visit http://www.reef.org/exotic/lionfish/ or e-mail lad@reef.org

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub