Lionfish Tasting Dinner Held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A delicious lionfish dish. Photo credit: Piccolo Ristorante.
The event raised $1,500 to support REEF programs! Photo credit: DiveBar.
The second edition of The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's website.

On June 22, SCUBA divers, marine conservation enthusiasts, and foodies gathered at Piccolo Ristorante in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to attend the second annual Lionfish Tasting Dinner. During the event, patrons learned about effects of the lionfish invasion while sampling the tasty invader’s light, white meat. At the end of the evening, DiveBar, one of the night’s sponsors, presented REEF with a check for $1,500 to support our Invasive Lionfish Program.

The night’s menu featured invasive lionfish, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction. Each lionfish dish incorporated unique ingredients and creative preparations, beginning with a smoked fish dip appetizer, followed by four tapas-style courses, including a lionfish corn dog, surf and turf lionfish yucca croquette with marinated skirt steak, blackened lionfish taco with tropical salsa, and finally, an IPA beer-battered lionfish over rice. Each course was paired with a wine to complement the individual dish’s distinctive flavors.

Between courses, REEF Trips Program Manager Amy Lee gave a presentation to educate attendees about the lionfish invasion and the importance of lionfish removals. At the end of the night, Andres Avayú, chef at Piccolo Ristorante, demonstrated how to safely handle and fillet a lionfish. REEF’s second edition of “The Lionfish Cookbook”, published in February, features Chef Andres’ own unique recipe, lionfish with zucchini potato pancake and roasted red pepper coulis, as well as more than 60 lionfish recipes from many other chefs throughout the invaded region.

Red Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have invaded the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. Lionfish diets are very broad and include both fish and crustaceans. They have been documented to consume more than 120 species of prey, including commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species. “It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

Sponsors of the Lionfish Tasting Dinner include DiveBar, Miami Wine Buzz Club, Jack Scalisi Wholesale Fruit and Produce, and 8 Shades of Blue. All lionfish fillets used at the event were donated by Sean Meadows of World of Scuba, who recently hosted a REEF Sanctioned Lionfish Derby in Boynton Beach, Florida. Thanks to the joint efforts of these supporters and Piccolo Ristorante, the Lionfish Tasting Dinner raised $1,500 to support REEF’s marine conservation programs!

REEF hopes to organize more Lionfish Dinners to continue spreading awareness of the lionfish invasion and encouraging the public to consume this malicious yet delicious invader. For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. For more information on collecting, handling, and cooking lionfish, check out the second edition of “The Lionfish Cookbook”, available on the REEF Store at www.REEF.org/store/lionfishcookbook.

Support REEF This Winter and Receive Limited-edition Mandarinfish Print

This past Tuesday, REEF launched our Winter Fundraising campaign. Thank you to all who have already donated. If you haven' yet given, we are asking for your help today! By giving a gift, you are ensuring that REEF can continue to inspire people around the world to cherish and protect our marine resources.

You can give securely online at www.REEF.org/donate, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030.

Inspiring individuals to protect our marine resources is critical because our oceans are under constant threat. These threats include coral bleaching, temperature fluctuations, increased risk of invasive species, and overall declines in fish populations worldwide. Your financial support is essential to ensure REEF can provide education and research to assist in managing these impacts.

One fish that is sensitive to these threats is the vibrant and charismatic Mandarinfish. This year's limited-edition print is a scene I photographed while in the Indonesia. The image captures the species' amazing spawning ritual, truly spectacular to witness. By making a donation today of $250 or more, you will receive a beautiful 11” X 14” signed print, showcasing the astounding colors of the Mandarinfish and highlighting the importance of protecting our oceans. Donors giving $500 or more will be included on the Giving REEF, located at our headquarters.

Thanks again for your support and Happy Holidays!

Last Chance For a Brick in Pathway to Ocean Conservation

We are in the last few weeks of our summer fundraising campaign, and we need your help. Donations from our members are critical to REEF’s marine conservation efforts. In addition to supporting programs for marine biodiversity, fisheries management, and invasive species control, we are asking our members to make an extra donation this summer to help us build an Interpretive Center on the REEF Campus in Key Largo. Please help us continue to build our legacy of ocean conservation by being a part of this special campaign. Gifts of $500 or more will be honored with a personalized brick in the “Pathway to Ocean Conservation” that we are installing in front of the new center. Sunday August 13th is the last chance to get your inscribed brick, so please make your donation today. As a special bonus, every donation made before the end of August will be matched dollar-for-dollar. Click here to find out more about the Interpretive Center.

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.

Life List Mania – St. Vincent Style

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Some of the lucky participants during the two weeks of Field Surveys in St. Vincent.
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Striated frogfish - one of the many amazing fish seen during the Field Survey in St. Vincent. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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It wasn't just about the fish. Many spectacular invertebrates, such as this longarm octopus, were seen too. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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A find for any fishwatcher, the St. Vincent folks found six! Black Brotula on one dive.

As any veteran fish surveyor is well aware, dive travel is the spice of fishwatching. No matter how many dives you’ve made, or how many species you’ve recorded a visit to a new destination will send you scurrying for your ID books. That was certainly the case during back-to-back REEF Field Surveys held in St. Vincent during early August. During the two weeks, 40 sets of eyes ferreted out 261 different fish species, many rare, many first-time sightings, and a few that still have the trip leaders Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach scratching their heads.

Tucked away in the distant reaches of the southeastern Caribbean, the towering volcanic island is not only home to a hearty population of Caribbean fishes, but also harbors a scattering of novel species that ride the currents north from Brazil. Add to this, pumice sand and freshwater runoff (a combination that tends to attract exotic creatures), a variety of underwater habitats ranging from bold boulder and coral seascapes, to thick sea grass meadows, and protected bays bottomed with fine sediment and scattered algae patches, fondly known as muck. Oh yeah, add one more dynamic to the amazing mix, the group’s host Bill Tewes, owner of Dive St. Vincent, and his eagle-eyed dive guides. In dive parlance, Bill is a critter hunter extraordinaire. After exploring the island’s undersea riches for 25 years, his infectious enthusiasm for the hunt won’t allow him to miss a dive, and the man certainly loves to show off his animals.

So what were some of the highlights of the week? For starters: a single dive to a clearwater site, known as the Pinnacle, revealed not one, not two, but six cryptic Black Brotula. A plunge to 110 feet on the Wall, uncovered Yellowcheek Basslet, Three-lined Basslet and Cave Bass hiding under a ledge. On their way up the surveyors spotted a Golden Hamlet, Bridled Burrfish, and during their safety stop a flashy red fin of a perky little Red Banner Blenny caught their eyes.

But as good as the reefs and wall are the majority of the team’s treasures were discovered in the muck – the seldom-dived otherworldly realm where Bill’s fishwatching prowess shines. Let’s begin in the shallows where the team found, along with a long list of more common species, clingfishes, Longsnout and Lined Seahorses, a Striated Frogfish, Shortnose Batfish, an assortment of pipefish, seldom-seen pipehorses, and about every species of snake eel you’ve ever heard of, and some you haven’t. As the seemingly barren bottom angled down Jackknifefish, Spotfin Goby, Dwarf Sand Perch and tiny Blackear Bass appeared. If you continued to 90 feet an uncommon sighting of a juvenile Snowy Bass could be made.

One would be remiss without mentioning a few spectacular St. Vincent invertebrates including, the Atlantic Longarm Octopus, the rare Brownstripe Octopus, skeleton shrimp, and a spectacular Red Banded Lobster.

Did we mention Blackfin Cardinalfish, Whitemouth Croaker, Snakefish, Cornetfish, Cardinal Soilderfish, Flying Gurnard, and pikeblennies? Whew, have to stop somewhere, this is REEF-in-Brief you know. You’ll just have to contact one of the lucky participants for more details.  

A gallery of all images linked from this article can be found here.

Lionfish Letters from the Field -- Government, Divers Move Into Action Mode on Lionfish issue

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Following REEF training, DECR Jodi Johnson works with dive operator Smitty Smith in Grand Turk to bag a lionfish.
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The DECR collection team during a lionfish round-up dive in the Turks and Caicos.

With the rapid expansion of lionfish into the Caribbean, downstream and recently invaded countries are starting to gear up for early detection and rapid response efforts. REEF is leading the way with in-country workshops focused on increasing awareness and training both fisheries and dive operators in collecting and handling techniques. The week of January 25th-31st was spent working with the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Starting in Grand Turk, we hit the ground running and less than an hour after landing, DECR officer Jodi Johnson and I had covered collecting and handling techniques and had our first 2 lionfish in the bag. Things did not slow down. Two days in Grand Turk followed by two days in Provo and a day in South Caicos resulted in 7 seminars to well over 150 people, 6 collecting training dives, over 40 lionfish collected and an evening lionfish tasting at Smokey’s on the Beach in Provo. Media coverage of the effort was also prominent with local TCI Channel 4 running a feature segment on the issue. The workshop was a huge success with both dive operators and government officials now moving forward in combined efforts to control and minimize impacts of lionfish.

In separate upcoming events, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Cozumel and Belize are also bringing REEF in to conduct lionfish workshops this spring and early summer. The goals of these programs are to build capacity for local communities and governments to be able to enact early detection and rapid response measures and increase public awareness of the issue.

For more information on in-country workshops, contact Lad Akins. Lad@reef.org (305) 852-0030. Report sightings of invasive lionfish through REEF's online sightings form.

Help REEF Win Big In America’s Giving Challenge

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Let's rise to the Challenge and show how important REEF's marine conservation work is to our community.
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This is YOUR chance to turn a donation of $10 into much more for REEF. America's Giving Challenge is a 30-day competition (ends November 6th) that allows causes such as REEF to compete for cash awards by inspiring the most people to donate to their cause. We are asking all of our members to donate $10 (or more) online here sometime before the Challenge ends -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. If REEF is a challenge winner (meaning we receive the highest number, not amount, of donations) on any given day, we will be awarded $1,000.

The Challenge is administered through Causes on Facebook. However, anyone can donate -- you do not have to be on Facebook to donate. Click here to visit REEF's Cause. If you are on Facebook, we encourage you to invite your friends to support and donate to the cause as well. The objective of the Challenge is to enable passionate individuals and nonprofit organizations to easily leverage their social networks to increase awareness about their causes and attract people to get and stay involved with causes they care about. By encouraging people to give what they can-no matter how big or small, the Challenge seeks to demonstrate the potential of social networks to bring real people together to make a significant impact.

Participants in the Challenge will compete for daily and overall cash awards of up to $50,000 for the nonprofit organizations they care most about. Awards will be distributed based on the number of qualifying donations generated for a cause, not the total dollars raised. A unique daily donation is defined as one single donation per individual per day in the amount of $10 USD or more. Individuals can donate to the same cause once a day everyday during the Challenge and this would count 30 times towards helping the cause receive an Overall Award. This would also count towards the Daily Award for that cause every day.  To find out more about America's Giving Challenge and Causes, visit the Causes website.

If even 10% of REEF's members donated to our Cause before the end of the Challenge, we would most certainly make it in the award category. So please go online and show your support for REEF's marine conservation work. We hope we can count on you!

Please go to REEF's Cause page -- donate $10 (or more) -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. Thank You!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub