Lionfish Arrive in the Florida Keys!

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Lad Akins holds a bag with the unwanted visitor captured off a Florida Keys reef.
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FKNMS staff, John Halas, writes the invader a "ticket" for multiple offenses to the native Florida Keys ecosystem. Photo by Frazier Nivens.
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After being euthanized, the lionfish was measured and preserved for further scientific study. It was 99 mm. Photo by Linda Bleser.

While we all knew it was just a matter of time, the call still came with a bit of surprise and dread as the first confirmed lionfish sighting in the Florida Keys came in on January 6th, 2009. REEF member Becky Fowler, from Greenville, SC, was diving just offshore of the Benwood Wreck in Key Largo when she spotted the invasive lionfish near the base of a ledge at 66'. With all of the recent focus and outreach efforts that REEF has been forwarding to our members, she knew immediately that she needed to document the sighting and gather a detailed description of its location. Upon her return to shore, she called REEF HQ and delivered the report. This set into motion the Rapid Response plan 

developed 7 months earlier in a REEF sponsored multi agency workshop (see REEFNotes article). Becky came by the REEF office, the images were verified, and her detailed site description was conveyed to Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects. The report was forwarded to the US Geological USGS alert system and Lad began response coordination with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) who has jurisdiction of resources at the sighting location.

The following morning, the response team made up of Lad Akins, Lisa Mitchell (REEF Exec. Dir.), John Halas (FKNMS), Frazier Nivens (Ocean Imaging) and Steve Campbell (Quiescence Diving Services) were assembled and on site at 10:30am. Following the excellent location description provided by Becky, the team was able to locate the fish, capture video footage, gather important data on site characteristics and the available nearby prey community, capture and bag the fish in under 14 minutes. The fish was captured live via hand nets, brought back to shore, euthanized and dissected. The 99mm immature male contained one 34mm prey fish in its stomach. Tissue samples, genetic material and other measurements were collected for further analysis by researchers at the NOAA Beaufort lab and Simon Fraser University. No other lionfish were found in the immediate vicinity.

While no one wanted to see lionfish show up in the Florida Keys, most knowledgeable sources believed it was inevitable and simply a matter of time. The one bright side of this story is that advanced planning and preparation initiated by REEF resulted in the awareness, accurate reporting, and successful rapid response effort that removed the fish less than 24 hours after its initial sighting. Hopes are that as lionfish show up in the Keys and other downstream areas, these rapid response efforts will help to control establishments and minimize impacts of this glutinous predator.

REEF continues to encourage divers to report their sightings of lionfish and other non-native fishes with as much detail as possible to www.reef.org/lionfish and to support lionfish research projects such as the January 17-24 project in the Turks and Caicos and the June 13-20 project in Belize. For more information, contact Lad Akins (Lad@REEF.org) (305) 852-0030.

Know Your Flounder?

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Spiny Flounder (Engyophrys senta). Photo by Paul Humann.
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Eyed Flounder (Bothus ocellatus). Photo by Paul Humann.
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Danielle Calini, an Our World Underwater Scholar who spent this summer as an intern at REEF HQ, found a spiny flounder during a dive on Molasses Reef.

If you are a REEF surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic, you are probably familiar with the Peacock Flounder (Bothus lunatus). And if you spend much time in the sand, you probably even know about the smaller Eyed Founder (Bothus ocellatus)? But how about the Spiny Flounder (Engyophrys senta)? Danielle Calini, an Our World Underwater Scholar who spent this summer as an intern at REEF HQ in Key Largo, was one of several REEF surveyors who recently came across this rarely seen species during a dive on Molasses Reef. And while this was the first record of the Spiny Flounder in the REEF Florida Keys database, it turns out this species might not be as rare as we think.

Spiny Flounder are very similar in appearance to the common Eyed Flounder, and it's likely that surveyors might not be looking closely enough when they see the small flatfish scurrying across the sand. It was previously thought that cirri extending from the eyes were a key feature distinguishing the two species but the cirri are very difficult to see. According to Paul Humann, Spiny Founder can be distinguished from Eyed Flounder by three key features:

  • Eyes very close together.
  • Large diffuse midbody blotch on lateral line and often two less distinct blotches on lateral line, one in front and one in back of the midbody blotch.
  • Very small mouth extending back only as far as the front of the lower eye.
  • Body shape is elongated (vs. nearly circular in the Eyed Flounder).
  • REEF is proud to host an Our World Underwater Scholar each summer. In addition to tracking down rare species, OWU interns provide much needed help in the REEF HQ office and conduct outreach with the Florida Keys community. The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extends a big fish thank you to Danielle in appreciation for her service to REEF in the Summer 2009.

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    Announcing the Release of Sensational Seas Two

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    Order your copy today through REEF's online store - http://www.reef.org/store/sensationalseastwo

    Five years ago, with a group of volunteers, I produced the first DVD volume of Sensational Seas, an anthology of underwater images as seen through the eyes of 25 filmmakers and photographers. Each filmmaker generously donated his or her work, which enabled us to turn those contributions into a great fundraiser for REEF. The DVD was a big success and when REEF staff mentioned in late 2008 that their supply was nearly gone, we knew it was time to produce another volume. Thanks to the Carrow Foundation, who provided the production funding, REEF will be beneficiary of the sales of a new DVD, Sensational Seas Two. The DVD is available for purchase from REEF through the online store -- http://www.reef.org/store/sensationalseastwo.

    In Sensational Seas Two, thirty divers from distinguished scientists and seasoned professionals to talented amateurs, take you on a grand tour of watery realms as far-flung as Antarctica, Australia, the Andaman Sea and Georgia Aquarium. Expect the unexpected, come face-to-face with the gentlest of giants, a rolling octopus, spawning frogfish, a snorkeling elephant, and tiny plankton that epitomize the grandeur of nature’s artistic flair. We like to say this collected work is a fitting way to express just why we love to dive.

    A lot has changed since our first production in 2004. Online sites like YouTube provide venues for people to share their videos and social networking enables us to share links to myriad underwater images. What sets Sensational Seas Two apart is the cooperative effort between underwater filmmakers, photographers, musicians, graphic designers, writers and programmers - all divers – who donated their skills and art to produce this spectacular collection of underwater images, for the benefit of marine environmental causes.

    All of the proceeds from every Sensational Seas Two DVD purchased from the REEF store will go directly to REEF. Your purchase will help REEF continue its important work. Thank you for your support and enjoy the show!

    To learn about the DVD and the people who donated their time and images to Sensational Seas Two, visit www.SensationalSeas.com. For a preview of Sensational Seas Two, watch the trailer on YouTube here.

    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!

    Protecting a Caribbean Icon - the Grouper Moon Project

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    Over 5,000 Nassau grouper aggregate to spawn at a site in Little Cayman Island. Photo by Phillippe Bush.
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    Nassau grouper are icons of the Caribbean - social and ecological cornerstones of the region’s coral reefs. Photo by Stephanie Archer.

    Winter full moons mean that it's grouper spawning time! Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. We estimate that between 5,000 and 7,000 Nassau grouper come to the site to spawn. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Program, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. In 2003, the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands (both current and historic). This ban expires later this year and new legislation is being developed. We are rapidly compiling the results of our research, which will provide the Cayman Islands government guidance on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.

    Earlier this month, we had a small team in the field- Dr. Selina Heppell (OSU researcher), Stephanie Archer (OSU graduate student), and Brenda Hitt (long-time REEF Grouper Moon volunteer). They witnessed spawning on two nights following the January full moon. We expect February to be the "main" spawning month (based on past research, we know it has to do with when the full moon is in relation to the winter solstice). A much larger team of researchers and volunteers will be on the island to conduct a full suite of research projects. We will also be producing several outreach products aimed at promoting the management and conservation of these spawning aggregations. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting and important marine conservation research. In the mean time, to find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. To see video of the aggregation during the day, check out this video on YouTube taken last year. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.

     

     

     

     

     

    Support Marine Conservation and Your Donation Will Be Doubled

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    During our Summer Fundraising Campaign, we reach out to you, our valued members, and ask for your financial support. Your contribution will ensure that our important marine conservation work can continue. Donations made during the campaign will be matched dollar for dollar by the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, doubling the impact of your support. You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030. REEF is making a difference in the marine environment. We strive to stay on the cutting edge of science, education, and outreach initiatives, but we cannot do this without your support. Thank you to everyone who has already donated. Please help us meet our goal of raising $60,000 in 60 days.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Patricia Richardson

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    Commerson's Frogfish, one of Pat's great finds at Richardson Marine Park. Photo by Patricia Richardson.
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    Pat helping the next generation of REEF surveyor!
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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 feature Patricia Richardson (REEF member since 2000). Pat lives on the Big Island in Hawaii, and is a member of REEF's Hawaii Advanced Assessment Tea. Pat has conducted 778 surveys, and most of these have been done at one site. She has really enjoyed getting to know every critter that lives in her neighborhood spot. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:

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

    Richardson Ocean Park in Hilo, Hawaii, is near my home – and by chance shares my name. In 2000, I decided I wanted to learn as much as I could about the fish life in this popular beach area with the purpose of keeping a record of species diversity and general ocean health. Not long after I began my project, Liz Foote and Donna Brown came to Hilo to conduct a REEF training session. The REEF survey methods were a perfect match with my personal project! Before I left the training session, I was signed up, tested for Level 2, and hooked! I submitted my first survey dated January, 2001.

    If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

    Since then I have become SCUBA certified and have participated in four REEF survey trips in Hawaii led by Christy and Brice Semmens. My favorite was the trip to Kauai in August of 2006. I saw my first pair of Tinker’s Butterflyfish, also a Hawaiian Morwong and a Whiskered Boarfish. The last two fish are more common in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands than in our main islands. We were also thrilled to see Hawaiian monk seals on several dives. Another REEF adventure was a trip to American Samoa in 2010 to help REEF extend survey methods into the South Pacific. This was my first chance to do surveys out of my home waters. It was very exciting to see many new species along with familiar “faces” from Hawaii.

    What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

    Keeping a close watch on the fish life at Richardson Ocean Park is still my favorite activity. I use mask, snorkel, and fins because the average depth of the area I survey is 4 to 6 feet, with occasional drops to 20 feet if the surf is down. A single survey usually takes about 2.5 hours. After ten years and about 700 surveys in this one small area, I am still amazed each time I enter the water with the constant change and constant beauty I find there. From time to time, something new pops up to keep me alert. Recently it was a Yellowhead (Banded) Moray. And a couple times it was a Hawaiian Monk Seal! Unfortunately, there’s no place on the data sheet for that! I also drive to Kona on the west side of Hawaii Island to dive and snorkel, always with my underwater survey slate in hand.

    What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

    My connection with REEF gives me the satisfaction of being a “citizen scientist” and a good excuse to spend several hours each week following beautiful fish around and watching their fascinating behavior. After a decade as a REEF fish counter, I am looking forward to the next decade. It’s the greatest retirement project I can imagine!

    Want to learn a few of the Hawaiian fishes that Pat loves so well? Join the upcoming Fishinar, March 21st:

    Fish that Say Aloha! Hawaii's Top 15

    Hawaiian REEF Fish ID: Learn tips from REEF Experts and fish geeks, Donna Brown and Liz Foote.
    Essential for dive travelers heading to the Hawaiian Islands, and kama'aina alike.
    Wednesday, March 21st at 4pm HST / 7pm PDT / 10pm EDT - Register

    Top of the Charts: Survey Stats, July 2012

    A big fish thanks to our recent active surveyors. Since the beginning of the year, 458 volunteers have conducted REEF surveys. A total of 4,353 surveys were conducted and submitted during this time (January - July 2012)!

    To date, 162,059 surveys have been conducted by REEF volunteers.

    REEF members who have conducted the most surveys in the last seven months (with survey number shown):

    Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) - Dee Scarr (140), Franklin Neal (126), Michael Phelan (118), Dave Grenda (115), Isobel Flake (76), Douglas Harder (66)

    Pacific Coast US & Canada (PAC) - Randall Tyle (109), Phil Green (59), Keith Rootsaert (54), Georgia Arrow (41), M. Kathleen Fenner (40), Doug Miller (37)

    Hawaiian Islands (HAW) - Judith Tarpley (118), Don Judy (87), Patricia Richardson (65), MJ Farr (63), Rick Long (39), Kathleen Malasky (32)

    Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) - Jonathan Lavan (21), Pam Wade (20), Dave Grenda (15), Mary Korte (4), Daphne Guerrero (2), Kim Amiot (1)

    South Pacific (SOP) - Carole Wiedmeyer (4), MJ Farr (4), Alex Garland (2), Kreg Martin (34), Lillian Kenney (27), Barbara Anderson (25)**the last 3 surveyors in the SOP list are stats from 2011 

    Visit www.REEF.org/db/stats to see the Top 25 surveyors with the most surveys conducted to date, the most species-rich locations, and most frequently sighted fish species.

    REEF Fest - Save the Date - August 7-11, 2013

    In the summer of 1993, the first REEF fish surveys were conducted by a group of pioneering volunteers. Twenty years later, REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. To celebrate, we will be hosting 4 days of diving, learning, and parties this August in Key Largo, Florida, and we hope you will join us! REEF Fest - Celebrating 20 Years of Marine Conservation Success will take place August 7-11, 2013. The weekend will include diving oportunities each day, as well as seminar offerings such as Intro and Advanced Fish ID, Lionfish Collection, Artificial Reefs in the Keys, Grouper Moon, and special talks given by REEF Co-Founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. We'll also have an open house at REEF HQ and a celebration banquet on Saturday night. More details will be coming soon, including the complete schedule, seminar registration, hotel room blocks with special rates, diving charters, and social gatherings. But in the mean time, please save the date and get ready to celebrate!

    Lionfish Workshop Roadshow – Coming to a City Near You!

    REEF's Keri Kenning leads a lionfish workshop.
    Attendees of the lionfish workshop in Miami, Florida.

    As part of our efforts to address the lionfish invasion to the western Atlantic, REEF received a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Aquatic Invasive Species Program to organize and lead lionfish workshops throughout the Southeast United States. Between August and October, REEF staff Keri Kenning and Lad Akins will be traveling to more than a dozen coastal communities to present information on the lionfish invasion and hands-on demonstrations on collecting and handling. Workshop topics include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, current research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development, and ways to get involved.

    So far, nearly 400 people have attended workshops at Houston Zoo and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Headquarters (TX), North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (NC), South Carolina Aquarium (SC), and University of North Florida and University of Miami (FL).

    The next workshop will be on Monday, October 21 in Cape Canaveral, FL. More workshops will be coming to Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Central and South Florida. The classes are free of charge and open to the public. All divers, fishers, and ocean enthusiasts are encouraged to attend. Check www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops as new workshops are added. Hope to see you there!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub