Making It Count - January 2016

Putting It To Work: A New Non-native Fish in the Gulf of Mexico

The Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species in the Gulf of Mexico. This picture was taken in its native range of the Indo-Pacific. The invasive individuals are more drab. Photo by Paul Humann.

Last year we shared an article about a new non-native fish, the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos), showing up in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. REEF surveyors in the Yucatan region of Mexico have since reported the species. And now a new publication co-authored by REEF staff Lad Akins documents that the species could become established and spread in the western Atlantic. The study incorporated a computer model to evaluate the the non-native species’ potential to impact native populations. On the basis of this work, it is foreseeable that the reefs presently harboring Regal Damselfish will likely see increased abundance of this damsel. Immediate attempts to eliminate the fish, therefore, should be focused in nearshore shallow waters spanning Veracruz to Frontera, Mexico. To find out more about this study, published last month in the journal Marine Biology, and to see a complete list of the 50+ scientific publications that have featured REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The species is native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel is distinguished by a yellow or white spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin, a dark spot behind the gill, and yellow rear margins of the fins and tail. In contrast, the native Brown Chromis is identified by dark margins on the tail and a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin.

If you see this fish while doing a REEF survey, be sure to report it on your form in the unlisted fish section. Please also report detailed information on the sighting to REEF through the invasive species reporting page.

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The Faces of REEF: Jason Feick

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 Jason Feick, a REEF member since 2003. Jason has been an active surveying member in his home state of Massachusetts, and he's a proud member of the Advanced Assessment Team of Expert surveyors for the Northeast (NE) region. He has also done almost 200 surveys in the warmer waters of the Caribbean and Hawaii. To date, he's conducted 403 surveys. Here's what Jason had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I came up from a dive in Curacao and everyone was talking about the fish they saw and when they asked me what I saw my response was “a bunch of blue fish (blue tangs) and a potato looking thing with fins (Porcupinefish.)” After that I was determined to know what I was looking at. Around the same time, I saw an advertisement for REEF in a dive magazine and went to the website, bought the Reef Fish Identification book, and have been during surveys ever since.

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

Yes, I live in Massachusetts and dive the chilly waters off Cape Ann, MA often. The best part about diving here is the variety of marine life in different geographic areas. South of Cape Cod the waters are slightly warmer and the marine life is very different. A short drive to Rhode Island and one can see juvenile tropical fish, while a little longer drive to Maine and one can see abundant invertebrate life, such as northern red anemones and stalked tunicates.

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

On a recent trip to Eastport, Maine, I videoed two Ocean Pout either having a territorial dispute or engaged in mating behavior. They started off lying side-by-side, then one bit the other in the back and shook vigorously. The second Pout then returned the favor to the first. They ultimately locked jaws as one of them pushed the other into my camera. This was quite an exciting interaction to witness. You can watch the video here.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

A couple months ago I came across a goosefish while diving Halibut Shores, MA. This is an “ugly” (beautiful to me) fish that I thought I would never find. It is an ambush predator that uses a lure, similar to a frogfish, to draw in prey that it gulps up with its huge mouth. I saw its outline from a distance and couldn’t believe my eyes. As I got closer this crab came bumbling down a rock towards the goosefish. I was afraid the crab was going to chase the goosefish off and I wouldn’t be able to get a good picture. Well the crab did spook the goosefish, but he only moved a little and actually the movement shook off the silt that was covering the goosefish and I was able to get some good pictures and video of him. Top on my list of critters to see is an Atlantic Wolffish. My friends recently saw three of these on a dive I chose not to go one, D’oh!

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Connecting With Classrooms in the Grouper Moon Project

Elementary students in the Cayman Islands working on one of the REEF Grouper Education Program lessons.
Live video feed from 2013, connecting researchers diving at the aggregation site with classrooms. Photo by Joshua Stewart.
In collaboration with a team of engineers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography we are using a cutting-edge underwater microscope with plankton net attached to study the habitat around the spawn cloud. As water flows through, two high speed cameras within an underwater microscope capture images of zooplankton and eggs.

Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our partners at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are wrapping up two weeks of field work on Little Cayman for the Grouper Moon Project. Since 2002, the collaboration has conducted ground-breaking research on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands, to help ensure that populations of this iconic species recover. Around winter full moons, Nassau Grouper leave their home reefs and aggregate in mass to spawn. January didn't turn out to be the big month for spawning, and therefore our team will return for the February full moon. Nevertheless, many of the fish (at least 1,000) showed up at the aggregation site and our team kept busy collecting ongoing monitoring data (counts, size of fish, and documenting behaviors), field testing cutting-edge tools such as an underwater microscope, and running the Grouper Education Program.

In 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched the Grouper Education Program to engage Caymanian students in the Grouper Moon Project. This exciting effort brings the Nassau Grouper in to elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and live-feed videos that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper in which students create their own understanding of this important fish. Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations. 

In January, we conducted four live-feed webcasts - three topside chats with scientists and one from underwater at a coral reef site along Bloody Bay Wall. All webcasts are archived on YouTube on TheGrouperTeacherREEF channel online here. Over 200 students from 17 schools participated.

Several interesting video clips and stories from the field were posted on REEF's Facebook page.

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 Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Peter Hillenbrand, Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef DiversCayman Airways, and FLOW Cayman.

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Explorers Summer Camp

If you know a child with a sense of adventure and a passion for the ocean, check out REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp! The 5-day program in Key Largo, Florida, immerses campers into an ocean of learning and fun! REEF will introduce campers to the underwater world and all the amazing things found beneath the sea. Meet a sea turtle, swim alongside reef fishes, and explore the beautiful Florida Keys. We have 4 sessions planned this summer and registration is now open!

Each camp session includes:

  • Snorkel trips to the coral reef
  • Kayak ventures into winding mangrove trails
  • Cruise on the glass bottom boat
  • Marine science lessons, experiments, and crafts
  • Opportunity to connect with nature and make new friends

Join REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp to make a splash this summer. We welcome campers ages 8 - 14. Sibling discount available. A $275 camp tuition includes park entry fees, activity expenses, equipment rentals, and souvenir REEF gear including a T-shirt and water bottle! Camp hosted at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, FL June 20-24, July 18-22, and August 1-5. Camp hosted at Post Card Inn at Holiday Isle in Islamorada, FL July 11-15. For more information please visit www.REEF.org/Explorers/Camp or call (305) 852-0030.

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REEF Fest 2016 - Save the Date

Have you heard about REEF Fest? Mark your calendar for September 29 – October 2, 2016, and then plan to join us in Key Largo, Florida, for our annual celebration of marine conservation. Activities include diving, educational seminars, and social gatherings! Check out www.REEF.org/REEFFest for more information.

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Come See REEF at a Dive Show

Heading to any dive shows this spring? Check out the list of dive shows that REEF will be attending:

  • Our World Underwater in Chicago, IL, February 26-28
  • Boston Sea Rovers in Boston, MA, March 5-6
  • Beneath the Sea in Secaucus, NJ, April 1-3
  • SCUBA Show in Long Beach, CA, June 4-5

We hope to see you at the shows this year. Make sure to visit the REEF booth to say hello and check the seminar list for REEF presentations!

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Fishinars This Month: Grunts, the Gulf of Mexico, and more

Bluestriped Grunt, one of the many we will talk about in next week's Fishinar. Photo by Carol Cox.

Don't miss REEF's Fishinars scheduled for this month. We'll talk about Grunts in the Caribbean, and a two-part session to compare common fishes of northern and southern Gulf of Mexico. And then next month, we welcome back the fabulous Ray Troll, who will talk about cool sharks, both modern day and extinct. These free, online webinars offer the opportunity to learn from our experts on a multitude of topics. For the complete 2016 schedule and to register, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars. Upcoming Fishinars include:

The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm EST, with Jonathan Lavan

Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm EST, with Carol Cox

Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm EST, with Artist Ray Troll

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