Making It Count - February 2011

Exciting Results from the 2011 Grouper Moon Project

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Follow baby Nassau grouper on their 45-day journey at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift
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Guy Harvey joined the Grouper Moon team this year, filming a documentary on the spawning aggregation. Here's Guy interviewing long-time Little Cayman resident and fisherman, Mr. Bruce Eldemire.
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A great group of REEF volunteers and scientists, Oregon State University researchers, and staff from the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, made up this year's Grouper Moon team!
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Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from REEF and Dr. Scott Heppell from Oregon Sate University get ready to release a current drifter.

Researchers and volunteers from REEF, along with staff from the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, have just wrapped up another year of study on Nassau grouper spawning as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Our work this year focused on the spawning aggregation in Little Cayman, which is the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. Highlights from this year’s work include:

- REEF launched the Baby Grouper Adrift! webpage, which shows the results of state-of-the-art satellite drifter research being conducted. Working with scientists from Oregon State University, the Adrift project aims to better understand where Nassau grouper larvae end up after being spawned. Webpage visitors can follow the current drifters in real time as they complete a 45-day ocean journey (the amount of time Nassau grouper larvae spend floating in the currents), and even take a guess where the drifters will end up. Visit the webpage at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift

- In addition to copious amounts of Nassau grouper spawning documented in both January and February, several hundred tiger grouper were seen spawning over multiple evenings in February. Watch this video to see the tigers spawning! http://www.REEF.org/reef_files/REEF2011TigerGrouperSpawning.mov

Here's video of the Nassau grouper -- http://www.reef.org/reef_files/REEF2011NassauGrouperSpawning.mov

- World-famous marine life artist and conservationist, Guy Harvey, accompanied the Grouper Moon team this year to film a documentary on the project.

- The current Our World Underwater scholar, Josh Stewart, joined the project to help document our research. Josh will be working with REEF over the next several months to develop outreach materials that educate the public on the importance of spawning aggregations. To read more about Josh’s year as an OWU scholar, check out his blog – http://owussnorthamerica.org/

- Wayne Sullivan once again donated his time and his vessel, the Glen Ellen, along with her crew, to support tech diving operations. This year, they helped answer many unknowns at the Little Cayman site, including how deep the Nassau grouper are found during the day and during spawning (at least 150 feet), and whether the fish spawn after dark (yes!).

 

2011 is a critical year for the Nassau grouper of the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban on fishing at spawning aggregations is due to expire this year. Sometime in early spring, members of the Cayman Islands Marine Conservation Board and the CI Government will be deciding what, if any, protections will be enacted to replace the expiring ban. Based on research findings generated over the last 9 years, we know that Nassau grouper only reproduce during their spawning season (winter months around the full moons). The research has also shown that prohibiting fishing during the spawning season has resulted in higher numbers of this endangered species in Cayman waters, benefiting everyone, including future generations of Caymanians, divers and snorkelers, and fishermen. A healthy population of Nassau Grouper is also critical for healthy and productive coral reefs. The government is seeking input on extending protections. To provide feedback, send a letter to: Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Director, Department of the Environment, Cayman Islands Government, PO Box 486, Grand Cayman KY1-1106, Cayman Islands, Gina.Ebanks-Petrie@gov.ky

 

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. Visit our supporters page to see the full list.

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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.

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The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Doug Harder

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One of Doug's favorite finds -- a sailfin blenny. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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 Doug Harder (REEF member since 1996). Doug lives in Monument, Colorado, and has conducted 759 REEF surveys. Doug is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. Here's what Doug had to say about REEF:

What inspires you to do REEF Surveys?

For me, jumping in the ocean with a slate is the ultimate, there is just nothing better. The ocean is always a mystery as to what I will find. Even if I have been on a site before, I have learned that the sea and its habitants are always changing and moving. I have become quite aware of the overall reef ecosystem and have learned about fish, such as where on the reef they live, how they behave, and what they eat. Are they vegetarians or are they carnivores, are they the hunters or the hunted, dine in or dine out?

What is your favorite fish find?

When I survey in the Caribbean I am always be on the lookout for the sailfin blenny, which is only 1 ½” long. It will flap its pectoral fins and wave its dorsal fin at me. How could you miss that fish? Then there is the 14’ manta ray off the island of Molokini, Hawaii, how do you compare?

In addition to doing surveys, what else do you appreciate about REEF?

Of course giving back to Mother Earth is a part of the good thing that REEF is. Looking after our mostly unknown and least observed animals on earth and trying to help scientist understand what is going on with the fish. That to me is what REEF really is and how it is helping. The fact that I get to be a part of it makes me feel lucky.

Any tips for surveyors out there?

Do you want to see more fish, the unusual fish, the hard to find fish? Well here is a tip for the REEFers -- be the first off the boat and the last one up. Unless of course I am on the boat, then second will work!

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Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Reef Divers at Little Cayman Beach Resort

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A Juvenile Tripod Fish, spotted on a night dive by Reef Diver visitors. Photo by Dan Dickinson.
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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!

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Another Milestone - 20,000 Survey Mark Surpassed in Pacific Coast Region

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Long-time REEF member, Mike Delaney, conducted the 20,000 survey in the Pacific Coast region.

Following on the heels of our milestone in Hawaii in January of reaching 10,000 surveys, the REEF Survey Project saw its 20,000th survey submitted from the Pacific Coast Region. Divers from California to the Pacific Northwest have been conducting surveys on fish, invertebrates, and algae since 1997. Over 1,300 sites have been surveyed and 1,554 volunteers have participated. Mike Delaney conducted the lucky 20k survey at Whitecliff Park in British Columbia on February 4th, 2011! Congratulations Mike! It was particularly exciting that this landmark survey was conducted at Whitecliff because not only is this the 407th REEF survey conducted in this important little marine park but it is also where the very FIRST surveys were ever conducted in the Pacific Northwest.

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Divers and Snorkelers Needed for Upcoming REEF Trips

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There are a few Field Survey trips in 2011 with spaces available. Please consider joining us in one of these great destinations – Maui, Roatan, and the Bahamas. 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 lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

Maui, Hawaii – April 16-22 - The package includes 4 days of diving on the dramatic reefs off Lanai and west Maui with Extended Horizons, who operates one of the friendliest and most experienced scuba charter boat in Lahaina. They offer up to 33% more bottom time than other Lanai dive boats and their interpretive naturalist staff make this operation a perfect fit for a REEF group. We will also do several shore dives around the island. And with all of the beautiful beaches and land-based activities, this is a great destination for non-diving friends and family. Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science.

Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas – June 12-18 – The package includes 7 nights at Green Turtle Club and 6 days of 2 tank boat dives at Brandal’s Dive Shop. In addition to conducting fish surveys, this trip will help document the establishment and consequences of invasive lionfish in REEF’s ongoing effort to minimize the Indo-Pacific predator’s impact on native fish populations, including dissections of specimens to document prey. Led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects.

Roatan, Honduras – July 30-August 6 – The package includes 7 nights accommodations at Anthony’s Key Resort, all meals, 3 single tank boat dives per day (6 days), 2 single tank boat night dives, a day excursion to Maya Key, and airport transfers. REEF is conducting this project at the invitation of the Roatan Marine Park to survey in the protected areas of the park to evaluate how the reserves are working. Led by Alecia Adamson, REEF Field Operations Coordinator.

View the entire REEF Trip schedule here -- http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. To inquire about a trip and to reserve your spot, contact the REEF Travel Consultant at Caradonna, 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.

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