Making It Count - January 2014

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Efforts to Control Invsive Lionfish

Ground-breaking invasive lionfish findings were featured in a paper published earlier this month in the scientific journal, Ecological Applications. The research was conducted as a collaboration between REEF, Oregon State University, Simon Fraser University, and the Cape Eleuthera Institute. The new study, conducted by Dr. Stephanie Green (OSU/REEF), Lad Akins (REEF), and others, confirms for the first time that controlling lionfish populations in the western Atlantic Ocean can pave the way for a recovery of native fish. Even if it's one speared fish at a time, data are showing that removals can be effective. And not every lionfish need be removed…the research findings document that reducing lionfish numbers by specified amounts will allow a rapid recovery of native fish biomass. Over 18 months, the biomass of native prey fishes increased an average 50-70% on reefs where lionfish numbers were suppressed below target levels predicted to cause prey depletion. On reefs where lionfish numbers remained higher than target levels, the biomass of prey fishes decreased by a further 50%. While complete eradication of lionfish from the Caribbean is not likely, groups are actively removing them from coastal areas (mostly via spear and net). This study is a first step in showing that strategic local efforts that suppress the invasion to low levels can help protect and recover native fish communities affected by lionfish. Click here to view the paper, “Linking removal targets to the ecological effects of invaders: a predictive model and field test.” To view a complete list of publications that have come from REEF programs, visit our Publications page.

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The Faces of REEF: 2013 Volunteers of the Year, Carlos and Allison Estapé

Allison swimming with a Hawksbill Sea Turtle. Photo by Carlos Estapé.
A camera is a great fish watchers tool. Check out this photo that Allison took of a Colon Goby, only to later notice on the computer screen a Saddled Stargazer hiding in the sand. Photo by Allison Estapé.

We are proud to announce our 2013 Volunteers of the Year, Carlos and Allison Estapé. Carlos and Allison joined REEF in 2008, and collectively, they have conducted 108 surveys. They call the Florida Keys home. As Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team members, skilled lionfish hunters, expert underwater photographers, and PADI Open Water Scuba Instructors, this diving duo is instrumental to REEF’s fieldwork conducted in the Upper Florida Keys and they are avid REEF ambassadors. Most recently, they have raised interest in the 100 Fish ID Challenge, or "Century Dive", in the Keys, whereby a REEF surveyor finds at least 100 species of fish on one dive (their quest even ended up in the Miami Herald newspaper). Here's what Carlos and Allison had to say about REEF:

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

In 2008, we moved to the Keys permanently and we were looking for people with similar interests. What a great find! We started attending the monthly REEF Fish and Friends lectures and participated in REEF Lionfish Derbies. From there, our participation continued to grow as we got involved with the interns and the 100 Fish Challenge.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

Carlos- "For me, surveys have evolved into an underwater treasure hunt. There is a great quote that says “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder” R.W. Sockman. And this directly applies to fish surveys. When all you know are 100 species you try to pigeonhole everything you see into that knowledge base, but as I have delved deeper into all the real possibilities I question even what appears to be obvious. A few days ago, Allison pointed out a solitary fish on a deep mooring line. It appeared to me to be an Orange filefish, a species I only see on rare occasions and needed a better photograph of. Only after seeing the image on the computer back at home did I realize I had just photographed the first and only Unicorn Filefish (Aluterus monoceros) I have ever seen!

Allison - "I completely agree with Carlos on the surveys being an underwater treasure hunt. It is always exciting when you identify a new fish and/or see a very rare fish. I’ve greatly enjoyed adding to the REEF database and expanding the number of species sighted on our favorite dive sites. When we realized that there was the possibility of seeing over 100 species of fish on one dive at Alligator Reef, that really motivated us to not only expand our ability to identify with certainty more fish species, but it also motivated us to get out and do 2 ½ hr dives to see just how many species we could identify on a dive. My personal best was 116 fish identified and we have had a great time taking the REEF Interns and other fish ID enthusiasts to Alligator Reef so they can attempt to identify over 100 species. So far, 12 divers have achieved the 100 Fish ID Challenge, and we are hoping that many more take up the challenge. Doing the 100 Fish ID Challenge has really taught me where to look for different species of fish, and has really re-invigorated my diving enthusiasm – I spend time in the grass flats, sand, and rubble areas looking for the small fish I never paid any attention to prior to doing the surveys.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

The camaraderie, hands down! We have especially enjoyed our time with the interns when we take them out on our boat and show them some of our favorite dive sites. The friendships we have made with the REEF team and members, the fun of diving with other fish enthusiasts, and the sense of excitement and accomplishment we achieve together when we do Field Surveys and attempt the 100 Fish ID Challenge, has made our participation in REEF one of our most satisfying experiences.

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

Carlos - "REEF is an organization of people driven by their passion of the sea with the goal to protect and document life in the oceans."

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

Carlos - "Education. You only love what you care about, only care about what you know and only know what you are taught.

Allison - "I also believe the scientific research and data that REEF volunteers collect is making a difference in the management of our marine ecosystems/fisheries. The Lionfish removal/derby data is enabling marine park managers to make scientific choices on how to manage the invasive species, and the REEF survey database allows non-scientists to participate in collecting data that scientists use.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

We have the Florida reefs thirty minutes away by boat by design. I was certified in 1978 and my first dive was on Pickles reef. Recently we have been on a quest to photograph as many species as possible listed on a survey done by Dr. W. Starck back in the 1960’s. Over a period of ten years he found over 500 species in our own backyard! Over 300 of those are within the safe diving limits and so far we have photographed 225 of them including a few he never found!

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

Islamorada Dive Center (IDC) out of Windley Key in Islamorada. Great attitude and service. They always put a dive guide in the water with you for no extra charge. We have become close friends with everyone there.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

Carlos - "The one and only time I was in the water with a Whale shark in the Maldives. We had been motoring for hours looking for one without success and finally the crew gave up and put us in the water anyway. Within minutes a shadow blocked the sun and when I looked up there it was! A juvenile “only” about twenty-five feet long! We swam with it for a few minutes and then it was gone like it had never been there. When I dive I always try to remember to look up now and then."

Allison - "The time we found a 12ft sawfish while diving on the Eagle Wreck in the Florida Keys. The sawfish was laying on the sand in 110 ft of water and looked like a parked submarine. It was flanked by 2 large remora. When we approached it, it pushed up off the bottom in a big swirl of sand and slowly swam away. It was a spectacular sighting of a very rare animal. On that same dive we saw a spotted eagle ray, hawksbill turtle, and many schooling fish. That dive goes down in the memory books as one of our best."

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Carlos - "Take a camera with you and if you can afford it add an external strobe even to the simplest of point-and-shoot cameras. I cannot tell you the “finds” I have made once I have downloaded and reviewed the day’s photos. A great example of this was reviewing some of Allison's photos that she had taken at Alligator ledge of a Colon Goby. Lying next to the goby is a three inch Saddled stargazer! She didn’t realize it was there when she snapped the photo."

Allison - "A camera, or a buddy with a camera is a must. The more I learn, the less I “know”. You have such a short amount of time to ID fish and so many species are similar that having a camera really makes a difference in identifying an Almaco Jack vs a Lesser Amberjack, and when it comes to the tiny triplefins – a photo is the only way I know whether I got the ID right.

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REEF Welcomes New Staff

Elizabeth Underwood, REEF's new Lionfish Program Coordinator.

We are excited to welcome the newest member of the REEF Team - Elizabeth Underwood, who joined our staff this month as Lionfish Program Coordinator. Elizabeth has been an active REEF member, avid fish counter, dedicated lionfish hunter, and all-round marine science enthusiast for quite some time. Elizabeth was first introduced to REEF in the Spring 2011 when she studied abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands and conducted her first of many REEF fish surveys and lionfish studies. After graduating from Davidson College in 2012 with a BS in Biology, Elizabeth joined Lad Akins and Peter Hughes on REEF’s Belize Lionfish Survey. After a week full of lionfish spearing, dissecting, and filleting she was hooked. Becoming a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the Fall of 2012 was a no-brainer for her!

After her internship with REEF, Elizabeth took a 5 month position at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas as their Lionfish Research and Education intern. But as great as the Bahamas were, Elizabeth was ready to move back to Key Largo to continue her work with REEF’s Invasive Lionfish Program. Elizabeth’s work at REEF will focus on coordinating REEF’s various lionfish research projects, organizing derbies, conducting public talks and workshops, and developing teaching tools. She’ll also be managing REEF’s lionfish social media and working with other staff on ongoing organizational duties.

We are very happy to have Elizabeth on board. This month, we also want to extend our thanks and best of luck wishes to Keri Kenning, who will be starting dental school later this year. Keri served as REEF's Communications and Affiliate Program Coordinator for the last year. She was a valued member of our team and a great REEF ambassador.

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Grouper Moon Scientists Talk Live with School Children From Under the Waves

Grouper Moon researchers, Brice Semmens, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Steve Gittings, join educator, Todd Bohannon, for a live-from-the-field chat with Caymanian classrooms. They explained a typical research day and showed much of the research equipment used.
Grouper Moon Educator, Todd Bohannon, goes through a coral reef food web exercise that is part of the Grouper Education Project curriculum with school children at Little Cayman Primary School.
Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, conducting a live-from-the-field chat from the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation site on Little Cayman to Caymanian classrooms. Brice answered questions from the students about grouper biology, spawning aggregations, and diving. Photo by Joshua Stewart.

It was a science lesson with a difference, broadcast live from beneath the waves with thousands of endangered fish in attendance. Earlier this month, Grouper Moon Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens from REEF, hosted three live-from-the-field web chats with students from 18 classrooms at 13 schools in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Washington State (US). The first of the three web chats was broadcast from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, and featured scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project. The other two featured Brice diving and answering questions from the students, first on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation and then on the famous Blood Bay Wall. The webcasts are archived online here.

Now in its third year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species.

Brice Semmens, who presented the underwater webcasts, said students were excited to witness science in action. “As they explore the aggregation with me, the immediacy and reality of the experience really touches them. We are giving students their first diving experience – and it happens to be with thousands of huge, endangered reef fish.”

The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef DiversCayman Airways, and LIME.

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REEF Trips are Filling Up

Have you booked your 2014 REEF Trip yet? If not, confirm your space now before it's too late! Many trips are sold out, or close to it.

Dates, destinations, and trip leader information is below. Prices and complete details can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com, or our staff at REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, trips@REEF.org (see trip description for booking information).

Dates and Destinations for 2014 REEF Trips --

February 22 - March 1, 2014 -- Dominica, Dive Dominica and Castle Comfort -- Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Founders and World Renowned Marine Life Authors, Photographers, and Naturalists *SOLD OUT*

April 26 - May 3, 2014 -- Turneffe Atoll, Belize, Blackbird Caye Resort -- Led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Fishinar Instructor and Fish Expert *2 Spaces Left*

May 31 - June 7, 2014 -- Northern Bahamas, Lionfish Control Study, Aqua Cat Live-aboard -- Led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes, REEF Board of Trustee *3 Spaces Left*

June 21 - 28, 2014 -- Bay Islands, Honduras, MV Caribbean Pearl II -- Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., REEF Director of Science, and Brice Semmens, Ph.D., REEF Fish Expert *3 Spaces Left*

July 19 - 26, 2014 -- Key Largo, Florida, REEF Discovery Tour, Horizon Divers and Marina del Mar Hotel -- Led by Paul Humann, REEF Founder and Renowned Marine Life Author and Photographer *7 Spaces Left*

August 16 - 23, 2014 -- Curacao, Lionfish Control Study, GO WEST Diving and Kura Hulanda Lodge -- Led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes, REEF Board of Trustee *5 Spaces Left*

September 14 - 18, 2014 -- Hornby Island, British Columbia, Hornby Island Diving -- Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator *6 Spaces Left*

November 8 - 15, 2014 -- Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands, Cayman Brac Beach Resort -- Led by Heather George, REEF Fish Expert *6 Spaces Left*

December 6 - 13, 2014 -- Nevis, Eastern Caribbean, Oualie Beach Resort -- Led by Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., REEF Director of Science, and Brice Semmens, Ph.D., REEF Fish Expert  *4 Spaces Left*

December 6 - 13, 2014 -- Cozumel, Aqua Safari and Casa Mexicana -- Led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Fish Expert and Cozumel Naturalist *SOLD OUT*

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Check Out the 2014 Fishinar Schedule

Learn all about how to ID butterflyfish like these Spotfin Butterfly during the upcoming Fishinar. Photo by Carol Cox.

Our 2014 Fishinar schedule is off to a great start! We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike.

Here's a quick glimpse at our upcoming topics:

  • Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - Jonathan Lavan
  • California Lookalikes - Janna Nichols and Keith Rootsaert
  • Top 25 Fish of the South Atlantic States - Dr.Christy Semmens
  • Crabinar! - Dr. Greg Jensen
  • Top 25 Fish of Roatan - Special ScubaBoard Session - Jonathan Lavan
  • What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love
  • Butterflies and Angels: Kings and Queens of the Reef - Jonathan Lavan
  • A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - Ray Troll
  • Coralinar! - Dr. Marilyn Brandt
  • Eastside vs. Westside: Lookalike Fish from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts - Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez

REEF Fishinars are online webinars that you can view from your computer or iPad from the comfort of your own home. You don't even need a microphone or a webcam to participate - it's easy to participate!

REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!

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Please Support REEF and Our Important Marine Conservation Work

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.

We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

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REEF is Hiring

REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.

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