The Call of the Deep Blue on a Landlocked Intern

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Joe Cavanaugh with our wonderful new intern Lauren.

As we continue to showcase our valuable interns, I mentioned in last months newsletter that we would introduce our remaining fall intern. With that thought in mind please join REEF in welcoming Lauren Finan.  Lauren is a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, pursuing her studies in Environmental Policy which is why she was such a good candidate for our program.  She has a strong passion for the quality of our reefs and the ocean and diligently championed for our last remaining fall intern slot.  An avid diver since age 14, she became interested in the quality of our delicate ecosystem, however, due to her locale in Boulder, she was totally landlocked and did not have the ability to get out and dive, and she will be doing plenty of that now, along with working her way through the various levels of our Fish Identification Course.  Lauren role here at REEF will be the coordination of our presence at DEMA this year, as well as maintaining our membership data updates and working on the improvement of our educational/outreach program.  We're fortunate that both our fall interns will be with us until December.

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!

REEF Trains Over 100 Divers in the Florida Keys As Permitted Lionfish Collectors

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Lad Akins demonstrates safe collection technique of the venomous lionfish during a workshop in the Florida Keys. Photo by Karrie Carnes/FKNMS.
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Over 100 on-the-water professionals attended information sessions and training on the lionfish invasion. Photo by Karrie Carnes/FKNMS.

REEF is working in close partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) to diligently track lionfish reports and initiate removal efforts in South Florida. The first confirmed lionfish in the Florida Keys was reported and captured within 24 hours in January 2009 (see previous enews article). Subsequent early reports in March-June were met with successful rapid response. However, beginning in July, reports began to increase beyond the capacity and range of available trained responders. To help combat the growing problem, REEF introduced over 100 on-the-water professionals to the latest lionfish information and collecting and handling techniques during workshops held in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West earlier this Fall. The workshops were funded by the NOAA Aquatic Invasive Species Program.

Because most Florida Keys reefs are managed under the guidance of the FKNMS and some of the most visited sites are no-take Sanctuary Protected Areas, special protocols and permits were developed to allow removal of lionfish in safe, effective and environmentally considerate manners. The goal of the program is to continue to track sightings and remove lionfish as soon as they are sighted to minimize impacts on key reef areas. Successful control of invasive lionfish requires adaptive management to include involving the general public and REEF is proud to be a part of this effort. With a large corps of dive professionals trained and additional workshops planned for early next year, the Keys are working to stay ahead of the invasion through early detection and rapid response. To report a lionfish sighting, visit REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Form -- http://www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report For more information on the program or to join in future workshops, contact Lad Akins at Lad@reef.org or call REEF HQ at (305) 852-0030.

News Tidbits

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REEF Field Surveys - Take a dive vacation that counts! There's still some space left on a few of the Field Surveys in 2010. Destinations include Cozumel with Sheryl Shea, Key Largo with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bonaire with Jessie Armacost, and Grand Cayman with Lad Akins. These trips all offer unique treasures and are sure to please every level of diver as well as beauty above water for your non-diving companions. Join us on one of these exciting weeks full of fish ID, friendship, new discoveries and great memories! Our full field survey schedule, trip details, and sign up information can be found here.

New Field Stations - Welcome to our newest Field Stations who have joined us in the last month. Field Stations are shops, charters, instructors and organizations that support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out the other 170+ REEF Field Stations, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.

  • Pacific Adventure Charters - Hood Canal, WA
  • Rendezvous Dive Adventures - Barkley Sound, BC Canada
  • DiveSafe International - Campbell River, BC Canada
  • Thunder Reef Divers - Vancouver, WA
  • More Than 500 Lionfish Removed in Florida Keys Inaugural Lionfish Tournament

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    he one-day catch of invasive lionfish around Key Largo by a team as part of the lionfish derby.Photo by Carlos Estape.
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    Carlos and Allison Estape (REEF volunteers) proudly display their award plaque for turning in smallest lionfish (1st Place).
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    REEF Field Operations Coordinator, Alecia Adamson, measures the largest lionfish captured during the Key Largo derby.

    Approximately 100 divers collected 534 Indo-Pacific red lionfish during the first tournament dedicated to reducing the population of the invasive species in the Florida Keys waters. The September 11 tournament in Key Largo, organized by REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is the first of three Keys-based lionfish roundups. The event attracted 27 teams that competed for cash and prizes to collect the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The winning team captured 111 lionfish during the single day event. The largest lionfish caught measured in at just under 11 inches, and the smallest at less than two inches. Lionfish can grow to lengths of over 18 inches in western Atlantic waters where they are not native.

    “The sanctuary is thrilled by the response from the dive community,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton. “The volume of fish caught during this single day event demonstrates that dedicated diver removal efforts can be effective at helping keep this invasive at bay.”

    Team “Raaw Talent,” from the Upper Keys and led by Captain Al Wilson, captured 111 lionfish and the grand prize of $1,000 for most lionfish. The “Lion Killers” of Islamorada and Marathon netted the largest lionfish, along with $500. And with the capture of the smallest lionfish, team “Full Circle from Key Dives” also caught themselves $500. Both teams “Raaw Talent” and “Full Circle” had been through REEF’s educational workshops on lionfish safety and handling and have been very active in reporting sightings to REEF and capturing lionfish for research purposes. These lionfish derbies are great events to reward those already involved in REEF’s lionfish control programs and to recruit more people to become active in lionfish control.

    “The community participation in this event surpassed even our most generous expectations”, said REEF Director of Operations, Lad Akins. “Everyone came together for a great event, including sponsors, volunteers, organizers, and of course, the lionfish hunters. Even those who brought in a single fish contributed to the protection of our native marine life and deserve our thanks.”

    Divers and snorkelers interested in participating for the remaining 2010 Keys lionfish tournaments may register online at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies. The second lionfish derby will be held October 16 at Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in Marathon, FL. The third derby will be held November 13 at Hurricane Hole Marina, in Key West, FL. A $100 registration fee provides each team with a pair of puncture resistant gloves — important protection from lionfish spines — and two tickets to the tournament banquet. For more information on REEF's programs to study the lionfish invasion, go to www.REEF.org/lionfish

    Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, February 2011

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    Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

    - A collaborator from the Global Underwater Explorers Project Baseline initiative is using REEF data to document environmental conditions in the Florida Keys.

    - NOAA scientists requested data to help develop biogeographic assessment products for the Florida Reef Tract from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Jim Pendergrass

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    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 Jim Pendergrass (REEF member since 2008). To date, Jim has conducted 113 surveys along the west coast from California to British Columbia, and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Jim had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? Seven years ago my wife Chris and I took a Habitat Diver class from Eugene Skin Divers Supply and began volunteer diving at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. We became interested in fish/invert ID and the DSO, Vallorie Hodges, told us about REEF. It was a perfect fit for us!

    If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? We’ve been on several REEF Advanced Assessment Team projects, and I think the most memorable was the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary out of Neah Bay, WA. The habitat was unique, the critter diversity was astounding, and the folks on the trip were great. We learned a lot!

    What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? We’re always interested to see what we’ll find this dive and compare it to our previous dives and those other divers have logged. Every dive is guaranteed to be a little different than the last one. We enjoy sharing our experiences with others and encouraging them to become involved. That’s why we started teaching the classes and holding REEF dives for our dive club. Oregon hasn’t had that many surveys completed yet, and our goal is to change that!

    Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Where is your favorite place to dive and why? We average about 100 dives/year in Oregon, Washington and BC, and travel to CA and the tropics when we can. We really like cold water diving. Our ‘home’ dive sites are at the mouth of Yaquina Bay in Newport and at the north Jetty of the Siuslaw – but our favorite place to dive is Browning Pass off the north coast of Vancouver Island. The diving there is really spectacular, and the topside scenery can’t be beat.

    Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? Our local shop and mother REEF field station is Eugene Skin Divers Supply. We can’t say enough good things about Mike, Diana, John and the rest of the staff. They’re knowledgeable, friendly and committed to making every dive experience a rewarding one. They treat everyone like part of the family. We couldn’t do this without them!

    Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? I think the biggest thing is to go slow – or you miss the little things. And sometimes they are the coolest of all! Take pictures if you can for future reference and identification, and realize that learning fish and inverts is a constant process. One at a time. After hundreds of dives we’re still learning!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub