REEF Field Surveys offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. The recent trip to Key Largo was no exception. REEF surveyors gathered in late August at Amoray Dive Resort for the Key Largo Field Survey and Coral Conservation trip. The trip was scheduled around the annual coral spawning that usually occurs in the Keys after the full moon of August. Amy Slate, owner of Amoray, organized a great week of activities, including presentations by Lauri MacLaughlin, from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) and Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation. A 3-minute highlite video is posted on YouTube here.
Ned DeLoach kicked off the week with presentations about fish behavior and an overview of Key Largo’s more famous fish species. Key Largo is known for its grunts so we started the week with back-to-back dives on the Benwood, where fish watchers can regularly observe eight species of grunts on a dive. The second dive was timed with the daily arrival of the parrotfish that bed down for the night in the nooks and crannies of the wreck. Hundreds of Blue, Midnight and Rainbow parrotfish arrive around sunset and spend about 15 minutes swooping around before they settle in to sleep. For veteran fish counters, this is a bonanza because it is extremely rare to be able to mark Abundant (over 100) for Midnight parrotfish!
Lauri MacLaughlin has amassed an extensive collection of spawning coral video and uses it to educate the public about the plight of coral reefs but also showcases Sanctuary programs that give hope for their future. After her presentation, our group joined Lauri and her team on the projected night for spawning staghorn and elkhorn coral. They placed tents over selected corals to capture gametes for research while we spent several hours watching for signs of gamete bundle formation in the polyps. Unfortunately none of the research groups stationed all over the Keys observed any spawning that evening.
To continue with our coral conservation theme, Ken Nedimyer joined us to tell us his inspiring story about how he made the transition from live rock farmer for the aquarium industry to coral farmer. Ken and his family turned a few small coral recruits that settled on his live rock into over 5,000 growing coral colonies. His organization has now successfully transplanted corals on a number of reefs in the Florida Keys Sanctuary. After Ken’s talk we load up the boat for a visit to his coral nursery and some hands-on work. There is no better way to understand the scope of what he has accomplished than to see it for ourselves and contribute to the cause by helping with some of busy work scrubbing algae and cementing coral fragments to concrete bases. Fish surveys in the coral nursery are usually productive and this time included a tiny jackknife fish and an Emerald parrotfish.
The week included a visit to REEF headquarters where staff and volunteers, Jane Bixby, Karla Hightshoe and Nancy Perez treated us to refreshments and a tour. Field Operations Coordinator Alecia Adamson gave her very informative presentation about REEF’s programs dealing with the invasive lionfish in the Tropical Western Atlantic.
Other highlights of the week included a dive with a very inquisitive Goliath grouper and a rare chance to survey the grass beds and mangroves on the Florida Bay side of Key Largo, where we added Sea Bream, Inshore lizardfish, and Banner and Frillfin gobies to our list. We ended the week with two dives at Snapper Ledge; a site that has received a lot of attention in the past few years by groups who are petitioning to have the area designated a Sanctuary Preservation Area to protect the thousands of fish that gather there. It was a fishwatcher’s dream, a fitting way to end the week.
If all of this sounds fun, we hope you will join us on a future Field Survey. The 2011 trip schedule is now posted online here -- http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Reef Divers of the Little Cayman Beach Resort in the Caribbean, which has been a Field Station since 2004. They offer beginner and advanced fish ID classes, the shop carries REEF Survey Starter Kits and ID books, and they have a very knowledgeable dive staff who love helping with those hard-to-identify species. Reef Divers staff have seen first hand that conducting REEF surveys makes their customer’s dives that much more fun and enjoyable, and they have many repeat customers who are surveyors. The dive shop and resort have also been generous supporters of the Grouper Moon Project field logistics through the years.
Reef Divers is one of four dive operations on Little Cayman. The island is home to what is likely the most famous wall dive in the world, Bloody Bay, where the wall starts as shallow as 18 feet and has everything from sand flats to coral pinnacles to sheer vertical walls. This mixture allows divers to see plentiful fish life. Fishwatchers fill up their survey slate quickly, and it’s a perfect place to try for a “Century Dive” (100 species on one dive). Long-time Reef Divers instructor and active REEF leader, Dottie Benjamin, says she had the pleasure of meeting Ned and Anna DeLoach while working on the WaveDancer in Belize and was on board during a REEF Field Survey trip. Dottie says she “learned lots of great information that week and my interest in fish was born.”
When asked what the most interesting fish that their divers had ever recorded, Dottie provided this story – “Last year on a moonless night dive, a few of our divers came up with a tall fish tale of a very strange fish they spotted while doing their safety stop on the hang chain. Luckily, they got some good photos of it and we were able to identify it with some help from REEF science staff as a Tripod Fish (Bathypterois grallator) juvenile. The adults are only found on the ocean floor at depths of 3,000 to 15,000 feet. A very cool find!
The REEF database topped 150,000 surveys this month! The lucky 150k survey was conducted by Ross Whiteside on June 13, 2011, at Mixing Bowl in Little Cayman. Ross and his wife Terri have been active REEF members since 2002 and are members of the Advanced Assessment Team. Congrats Ross and Terri, and thanks to all of our surveying members for helping us achieve this landmark!
I was conducting a snorkel survey at Kahekili Reef on West Maui when an unknown critter came slithering across the coral. My camera was clipped to a utility belt and it took me a few seconds to swing it up to my face. I've learned I may have only one chance to capture a photo, so I took a quick photo from the surface before free-diving down to get a closer look. I was only halfway down, at about 15 feet, when the critter dove head-first into the sand and quickly disappeared. Two photos -- from the surface, and a tail shot -- are the only evidence I have. My heart was pounding because it looked like a sea snake, but only the Yellow Bellied Sea Snake is rarely seen in the coastal waters of the main Hawaiian Islands. Upon close inspection later, the photos confirmed that it was not a sea snake -- the tail shot confirms a pointy ending, not a paddle-like tail that a sea snake would have. After some searching through FishBase and Keoki & Yuko Stender's Marine Life Photography websites, I was able to confirm that my mystery was the Saddled Snake Eel (Leiuranus semicinctus). It's not surprising that this incredible sighting happened at Kahekili Reef. It is the number one most species rich site in the REEF database for Hawaii (http://www.REEF.org/db/stats). Kahekili Reef (also sometimes known as Airport Beach) is an amazing low-profile reef in front of a West Maui development that we are trying to save by letting the fish and urchins "naturally" graze down the algae, and is now a Marine Protected Area.
In July 1993, REEF had the first Field Survey trip in Key Largo and welcomed our first members. Yesterday, on June 29, 2012, we were excited to welcome REEF Member #50,000. REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. The REEF staff and Board of Directors extend a big thank you to all of our members for making the last nineteen years a success.
On behalf of the REEF Staff and Trustees, I want to thank all the donors from our Winter Fundraising campaign who helped us reach our target goal. With your help, we can continue REEF's core conservation programs, such as fighting the Lionfish invasion in the Caribbean, protecting Grouper spawning aggregations, collecting data through our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, and providing free online "Fishinars" to the general public and fish experts worldwide.
If you haven't given already, there are a few days left in our campaign to receive my limited, signed print of a Grouper Moon aggregation for contributions of $250 and over. In addition to donating online, you can also call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Thank you again for your support!
Earlier this summer, we proudly released the next generation of REEF survey technology, the REEF Data Entry Program. When surveying began in 1993, divers and snorkelers wrote out each sighted fish species on a slate and submitted the surveys to the database using paper scantron forms. In 1994, we developed pre-printed underwater survey paper to make surveying easier, and in 2005 we said goodbye to bubble-filling and premiered online data entry using the Internet. The time had come to innovate yet again.
With our members in mind, we looked to develop a data entry tool that would meet the varied needs of our surveyors, including those who are traveling or live in areas with limited Internet access. The REEF Survey Data Entry Program allows our volunteers to enter REEF surveys without an Internet connection. When they have access to the web, the entered surveys are uploaded to the REEF online entry portal. Users then logon to the portal, complete error checking, and submit the surveys to REEF. The program operates on both Mac and PC computers, and is available for all of REEF’s survey regions. Our Beta-testers and early users agree it’s a great program, and many of them prefer the offline data entry program over online data entry.
The program is free to download at: www.REEF.org/dataentryprogram. Give it a try next time you survey! We hope you enjoy the program as much as we do. Feel free to send feedback to data@REEF.org. REEF extends a huge thank you to programmer, Chris MacGregor, for his work on this project, as well as REEF members who encouraged us to pursue this option and made contributions to support its development.
Data generated by the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project provide an unparalleled opportunity to examine patterns in reef fish diversity (the number and types of species) at the scales of reefs, regions, and even an entire ocean basin. Authors of one recent scientific study took advantage of the over 25,000 Expert REEF surveys conducted at 80 sites from 6 Caribbean ecoregions over 17 years. The authors of the paper, which was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, used the REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity across many spatial scales (from individual sites to ecoregions). They also incorporated factors such as fisheries impacts and how connected different regions are to each other through ocean currents. They compared levels of different types of diversity-- alpha diversity (α-diversity) that explains local diversity (the number of species found in a given place), and beta diversity (β-diversity) that explains the difference in diversity among sites. Their results showed that fish assemblages are more homogenous than expected, particularly at the ecoregion scale. Within each ecoregion, diversity was mainly attributed to alpha diversity, indicating that fishes within each ecoregion are a subsample of the same species pool. Studies like this one that examine regional patterns of diversity in coral reef systems are important because of declining biodiversity in many areas. The paper's citation is: Francisco-Ramos V, Arias-González JE . 2013. Additive Partitioning of Coral Reef Fish Diversity Across Hierarchical Spatial Scales Throughout the Caribbean. PLoS ONE. 8(10): e78761. To read the full paper, or any of the other 50+ scientific papers that have included REEF data and programs, visit the REEF Publications page.
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:
- Scientists from NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources are using REEF data to evaluate populations of seabass and grouper in the Caribbean.
- A scientist from the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs is using REEF data on fishes and invertebrates to evaluate MPAs in the Puget Sound.
- A professor from California State San Luis Obispo is using REEF data to evaluate populations of three large parrotfish species in the Caribbean (Blue, Midnight, Rainbow).
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 Joyce Schulke, one of REEF's earliest members. She has been a REEF member since 1996. An active surveyor who lives in Florida, Joyce has conducted almost 900 surveys to date and has been a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropcial Western Atlantic region since it's beginnings. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
How did you become involved with REEF?
In 1989 I snorkeled in Cancun. Diving lessons followed and the underwater world was wide open. Being a professional photographer, it was natural for me to learn underwater photography as well. Identifying those fish led me to the Humann and DeLoach book, Reef Fish Identification. It talked about REEF and so I followed through and became a fish surveyor in 1996. In 1999 I qualified as a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team. Being a surveyor inspired me to look harder and enjoy each dive more.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
Suddenly, even common fish are important to find and record. It is exciting to be part a larger goal and I have gotten a good idea of distribution of species, habitat, behavior, and changes to specific areas over the years. There is always a surprise. After diving to 130 feet to see my first Purple Reeffish in the southern Caribbean, I found one at 13 feet in Marathon Key. Recently, seeing the Longnose Batfish far from its normal habitat in 13 feet of water at Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, Florida, is another great example of the treasures awaiting those who really search.
I have specialized in the TWA and have done all of my diving there. I get enthusiastic when talking fish. I have currently seen and identified 519 species of TWA fish. My husband, Tom, and I used to divide the cost of a dive trip by the number of new species we found. You can imagine how expensive some of those species have become!
Where is your favorite place to dive?
Without hesitation, St. Vincent has added most of my unusual finds, with dozens of new species added on each trip. One trip produced 18 species of eels alone. The diversity of types of diving spots and willingness of Dive St. Vincent to take us to the odd spots makes this a favorite. However, now that I live in Florida, the lure of Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, has added a few more dozen new species in the last two years.
What fish am I looking for now?
If I haven’t seen it yet, I want it! Whether it’s a Spanish Sardine or a Longnose Batfish, I’m elated. Of course, when I see one that’s never been on a REEF survey before, I grin while emailing REEF for a new fish code.
What do you say to others about joining REEF?
I cannot encourage others enough. Being a REEF surveyor is a great contribution to ocean research and preservation. The real bonus, however, is how it adds a whole new purpose and enjoyment to your personal diving adventures.