A Summer With REEF

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Steph Roach, REEF Summer Intern, with George Wozencraft, the Internship Coordinator for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society. OWU annually sponsors a REEF intern.
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Steph joined in on Paul Humann's REEF Discovery Tour shortly after arriving in Key Largo.

It is hard to believe that I am already more than half way through my Marine Conservation Internship. The past two months have been full of exciting events that have really inspired me to continue on in the world of marine conservation and biology. After settling into the REEF office for just a few days, the REEF staff had me out and about, getting involved with the community. For a week in mid-June I assisted with Paul Humann’s “Discovery Tour,” diving along side an energetic and enthusiastic group of divers who were learning fish identification and practicing surveying techniques. I was also able to sit in on the Non-Native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida Technical Workshop, which helped introduce me to the growing problem of Lionfish and the efforts that REEF, along with other organizations, puts forth into researching this growing problem.

July has been just as busy, starting with the International Coral Reef Symposium from July 7-11. This conference happens only once every four years, and fortunately for me, was held in Ft. Lauderdale this year. I had never had the opportunity to attend a scientific conference like this before, but was a great experience due to the many presentations and massive amounts of information I was exposed to each day. It really helped to open my eyes to the different fields of research available. Following the symposium, I was able to participate in the REEF Field Trip associated with ICRS in Key Largo. 

I have also been able to work with the Education and Outreach program during my time with REEF. As part of REEF’s Great Annual Fish Count, I participated in a Fish ID Seminar at Biscayne National Park. I also spoke to volunteers at the Dolphin Research Center about REEF and its programs while visiting the facility and learning about the center in June. After hearing many great stories about the infamous Seacamp from Lisa, I spent my first night on Big Pine Key just last week where Lisa and I were the Science Night speakers for a group of campers. The enthusiasm in the room from the kids was off the charts and great to see. 

One last highlight of my time with REEF thus far was being able to meet with George Wozencraft, the Internship Coordinator for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society that sponsors my Marine Conservation Internship with REEF. I was able to dive with George one afternoon and discuss my internship and many of the opportunities I have had so far. I am looking forward to the upcoming weeks I have left with the REEF staff, and of course, getting out in the water to conduct more fish surveys!

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.

     

     

     

     

     

    Take a Dive Trip That Counts

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    We are pleased to announce the 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule - check it out online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips 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. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. 2012 destinations include: Nevis, San Blas Islands in Panama, Dominica, Belize, San Salvador in the Bahamas, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel.

    Fishinars Coming To Your Living Room

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    Silverspotted sculpin. Photo by Georgia Arrow.

    Some call them webinars. We call them Fishinars! These free online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are open to divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers alike. Anyone wanting to know more about underwater life is welcome to join in. Participation is free but you need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. These short (one hour) webinars will teach you the finer points of identifying fish and invertebrates underwater. Upcoming webinars are given below. Visit the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to register for one or more sessions. Also check back often as more sessions are being added. We have also posted archives of past webinars on the Webinar webpage, so if you can't join in live, you can watch it anytime.

    THE NORTHEAST'S DIRTY DOZEN -- Thirteen of most commonly seen fish swimming around those cold NE waters. Instructor: Jonathan Lavan, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, January 11th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

    LOOKALIKES? LOOK AGAIN! -- We will walk you through some of the most similarly-appearing fish in the Caribbean. Instructor: Alecia Adamson, REEF Staff -- Tuesday, January 17th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

    I WISH THEY ALL COULD BE CALIFORNIA FISH -- Through a series of 5 shorter classes, learn the most commonly seen fish in both Northern and Southern California. Instructor: Keith Rootsaert, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Monday, January 9th at 7pm PST: Rockin' Rockfish; Tuesday, January 10th at 7pm PST: Scalawag Sculpins; Monday January 16th 7pm PST: Wrasse, Bass - Nobody Rides for Free; Wednesday January 18th 7pm PST: Pesky Perch; Thursday January 19th 7pm PST: Odds 'n' Ends 'n' Fish without Feathers

    CARIBBEAN CRYPTICS -- Those elusive cryptics! Some of the less obvious suspects that live on the reef. Instructor: Jonathan Lavan, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, February 15th at 6pm PST / 9pm EST

    PACIFIC NW ADVANCED FISH ID -- Some of the least common suspects that are seen in the Pacific NW. Taught over three sessions. Instructor: Janna Nichols, REEF Staff, Instructor and fish geek -- Tuesday, February 21st at 7pm PST - Part 1; Wednesday, February 22nd at 7pm PST - Part 2; Thursday, February 23rd at 7pm PST - Part 3

    NOT EXACTLY BUMS: FISH THAT LIVE UNDER FLORIDA'S BLUE HERON BRIDGE -- The Blue Heron Bridge in Florida might not seem at first glance like the most exotic dive spot in the world, but the fish that are found here can be quite unusual! Instructor: Lureen Ferretti, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, February 29th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

    PERPLEXING PARROTFISH -- Those perplexing parrotfish! Wouldn't you like to know how to tell them apart? Instructor: Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, March 14th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

    Double Your Donation and Make a Difference For Marine Conservation

    Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

    Earlier this month, for World Oceans Day, the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation celebrated by pledging to match contributions to REEF dollar for dollar, up to $30,000! Our campaign to raise funds for protecting Nassau Grouper, controlling invasive Lionfish, and inspiring citizen science through the Volunteer Fish Survey Project is off to a great start. But we still need your help to reach our goal in the next 30 days. If you haven't yet had a chance, please contribute today. You can double your donation in the upcoming month by contributing online through our secure web form. Or you can print the donation form and mail or fax your donation, or call our staff at REEF headquarters (305-852-0030).

    Contributions from members like you fuel the success of our programs. With your donation, we can expand our new online "Fishinars," which are growing rapidly in popularity. We can continue to fund lionfish education and outreach efforts, such as the Lionfish Cookbook, training and handling workshops, and derbies. Our staff can also keep working with Cayman Islands officials after the recent victory that extended the ban on fishing in Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations. These are just some highlights of REEF accomplishments that are funded by individual contributions. With a chance to double your donation, no gift is too small!

    Putting It To Work: New Publications on Lionfish

    Photo by Carol Cox.

    REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, has co-authored several recent scientific publications on the invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic, including:

    -Diet richness of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish revealed by DNA barcoding. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Significant research by REEF researchers and others has been conducted looking at stomach contents of lionfish to identify prey. However, relatively few prey species have been identified because of the challenge of identifying partly digested prey. The authors of this study addressed this issue by DNA-barcoding unidentifiable fish items from the stomachs of 130 lionfish. They identified 37 prey species, half of which had previously not been recorded as lionfish prey.

    -Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets. Bulletin of Marine Science. This paper uses data from the 20,000+ REEF surveys conducted in Florida since the early 1990s, along with other long-term data sources, to document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys. Between 2009 and 2011, lionfish frequency of occurrence, abundance, and biomass increased rapidly, increasing three- to six-fold between 2010 and 2011 alone.

    - Habitat complexity and fish size affect the detection of Indo-Pacific lionfish on invaded coral reefs. Coral Reefs. This paper explores detectability rates of lionfish using underwater visual census methods such as belt transects and stationary visual census. Knowing the error in these methods specficially for lionfish is necessary to help study this invasive species in the western Atlantic. The authors found that the two census methods detect fewer than 30% of lionfish present in an area and, in more than 50% of the cases, fail to detect any lionfish when one or more indivudals are actually present.

    For a complete list of publications featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub