Making It Count - March 2016

Putting It To Work: New Study Looks at Spawning Aggregation Population Genetics

The largest known spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, found in the Cayman Islands, is the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

A new publication in the scientific journal, Coral Reefs, evaluates population genetics of spawning aggregations and the role of juvenile recruitment, from both local and external sources, in sustaining and increasing local aggregations. The study included information from REEF's Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands.

Like many places throughout the Caribbean, Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the US Virgin Islands were overfished until their disappearance in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 2000s, however, Nassau Grouper were found gathering at Grammanik Bank, USVI, a mesophotic coral reef adjacent to one of the extinct aggregation sites, and regulatory protective measures were implemented to protect this fledgling aggregation. The authors of this study addressed two objectives: 1) which factors (local vs. external recruitment) are important in shaping recovery of the USVI spawning aggregations, and 2) the impact of severe past overfishing on the genetic structure of the Gremmanik Bank aggregation. For this second objective, REEF Grouper Moon Project scientists provided genetic samples from individual Nassau Grouper taken from the Little Cayman spawning aggregation, a much larger and less impacted aggregation.

No population structure was detected between the USVI and Cayman spawning aggregations. Additionally, the USVI spawning population showed signs of a genetic bottleneck, typical of greatly reduced populations. These collective results suggest that external recruitment is an important driver of the USVI spawning aggregation recovery. These findings also provide a baseline for future genetic monitoring of the spawning aggregations. The paper, titled "The ups and downs of coral reef fishes: the genetic characteristics of a formerly severely overfished but currently recovering Nassau grouper fish spawning aggregation", was published earlier this month in the March 2016 issue of Coral Reefs. Grouper Moon scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, was a co-author on the paper. To find out more about this study and to see a list of all publications that have included REEF projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

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The Faces of REEF: Anne Benolkin

Anne collecting an octopus for study in the lab.
Anne in the cephalopod behavior lab.

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 Anne Benolkin. Anne was a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the spring of 2013. She grew up in Alaska, and after going to college and interning in Florida, she returned to her frosty home state. Following her time as a REEF intern, Anne went on to become a Pro SCUBA Instructor and was awarded the prestigious Zale Perry scholarship, an award named after one of diving’s most celebrated women and the memorable lady-star of “Sea Hunt” (read more about Anne's award here). She is currently working on her Masters degree at Alaska Pacific University, studying the behavior of Day Octopus. Here’s what Anne had to say about her time at REEF and beyond:

What did you enjoy most about your experience as a REEF intern?

When I was a REEF intern my favorite thing was all of the connections I got to make with people all over the world. It was so inspiring to see this community of people brought together by a desire to make the world a better place. I loved leading seminars and teaching enthusiastic people all about reef fish and conservation. I especially loved watching people come together for a cause, like the work REEF does with the lionfish invasion. We took something negative and looked for positive solutions that bring people together.

What inspires you to do REEF surveys?

Diving is such a unique sport. There are a huge variety of people who come from all different backgrounds and they all got into diving for different reasons. Learning about fish and doing REEF surveys adds a whole other element to diving, making every dive uniquely exciting with new things to discover. I feel like I’m making a contribution when I do a REEF survey.

What are you doing these days, post-REEF internship?

My internship at REEF opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve since gone on to become a SCUBA instructor and enroll in a masters degree program. I moved back to Alaska and I was so thrilled when they expanded the REEF sites to include Alaska. I think sometimes people forget about the beauty and diversity that exists in cold water diving.

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REEF Lionfish Study Trips

Lionfish Trip co-leaders, Peter Hughes and Lad Akins.
Lionfish Field Survey Team in Curacao

REEF’s 2016 REEF Trips schedule is well underway! Two trips have already happened (Dominica and Barbados), and a group of eager fishwatchers is heading to the Philippines in a few days for our inaugural Field Survey to the Indo-Pacific. Be sure to check out the Trips schedule at www.REEF.org/trips, if you haven’t already. In addition to the traditional fish identification and surveying trips, we also host several Lionfish Study Trips each year. There are still a few spaces left on lionfish trips to Honduras in May and Curacao in August, and we are looking for team members. These important projects provide valuable data, and result in the removal of hundreds of the invading fish during the week.

During the week-long projects, either liveaboard or land based, team members are presented with training and opportunities to remove lionfish through spearing or hand netting. All collected lionfish are measured and some dissected on site to get valuable biological and impact information and some fish are prepared for team and public tastings to help promote the market for lionfish as a food fish. Team members can get fully immersed in as much of the collecting and research activities as they would like. Divers not wanting to take part in removals, still provide valuable sighting information and conduct REEF fish surveys to augment the long-term data used to look at ecological changes.

One example of Lionfish Study Trip data includes a series of annual projects we held in Belize between 2009 and 2012 that documented the progression of the invasion. From zero fish seen or collected during the first year of the project, to over 500 fish removed in a single week during year three, divers were able to document the incredible explosion in numbers but also dramatic increases in sizes. Average size of lionfish collected in 2010 was 194mm, exploding to 270mm in 2012. Another example was from our lionfish recent trip to Dominica in February. This was our second lionfish trip there. In 2012, our team collected 45 lionfish. This year, in the same locations, the team collected 566. Click here to see other examples of findings from Lionfish Study Trips.

And keep an eye on your inbox because we will be sending out the full 2017 REEF Trips schedule next week!

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Oceans of Thanks to Our Members

There are a few limited-edition 2015 prints left. Donors of $250 or more, received by April 4, will be sent this signed and numbered, limited edition print of a beautiful Fiji reef scene by Paul Humann.

I want to thank everyone who donated during our winter fundraising campaign. With member support, REEF was able to raise $115,000. Your contributions drive REEF programs, from protecting keystone species to educating the next generation of ocean enthusiasts. If you haven't donated yet, there are still a few limited-edition prints left for donations of $250 and over that are received by April 4th. You can donate online or call us at 305-852-0030.

This year’s campaign focused on our changing seas. Now, more than ever before, it is critical for REEF to monitor the effects from pressures on marine ecosystems. Pressures of great concern include overfishing on endangered species like Nassau Grouper, invasive species that threaten native ecosystems like Lionfish, and temperature changes that shift species habitat range like El Nino. Our dedicated surveyors have seen the changes over decades of underwater exploration. With your donations, REEF can ensure these changes are documented and distributed to researchers for the protection of marine species and habitats.

Thank you again for donating this season!

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Upcoming Fishinars: Lionfish, South Atlantic States, Scientific Illustration, and More

The beautiful hard bottom reefs of the South Atlantic States will be the topic of a two-part Fishinar in April. Photo by Greg McFall/NOAA.

Check out the great Fishinars we have planned for April! We invite everyone to join in the fun of learning in the convenience of your home, with these energetic and informative online webinars. Our Fishinars are free to REEF members, interactive (so you don't fall asleep), and chock full of tips and tricks to help you learn fish ID in many areas of the world.

In April, we have five Fishinars on the calendar:

  • Wednesday, April 6th - The Lionfish Invasion: Current Findings and Control Efforts, with Emily Stokes
  • Wednesday, April 13th - More Holy Moly Gobies, with Jonathan Lavan
  • Tuesday, April 19th - Fishes of the South Atlantic States (GA, SC, and NC), with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec
  • Thursday, April 21st - Invertebrates of the South Atlantic States, with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec
  • Tuesday, April 26th - You Do WHAT for a Living?, with marine science illustrator Val Kells. Val will be talking about what went into the drawings seen in her new book, A Field Guild to Coastal Fishes: from Alaska to California.

And coming up in May, we have even more exciting sessions in store:

  • Wednesday, May 4th - Hawaii Fishes: Life on a Coral Head, with Christy Semmens
  • Thursday, May 5th - REEF 2017 Trips Preview, with REEF trip leaders!
  • Tuesday, May 17th - The Wrasse Class: Back in School, with Jonathan Lavan
  • Thursday, May 26th - The Northeast's Less Frequently Seen Fish, with Janna Nichols and Jason Feick

Register and get more details here: www.REEF.org/fishinars. We hope to 'see' you online!

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March Membership Madness - Help Us Reach Our Goal

Thank you to everyone who spread the word about marine conservation this month… 554 new members signed up. Let’s try to make it 600 by March 31st, which is the last day to enter to win a free wetsuit.

Have a friend join REEF, and you will both be entered to win. If you are already a member, have your friend enter your name when they join by choosing "Other" under “How did you hear about REEF?” Good luck to everyone!

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REEF Fish Field Methodology Course

Common field methodologies including transects will be covered in the REEF Field Methodology Course this summer.

Calling all college students or recent graduates who are divers! This summer, spend a week learning marine life survey techniques with REEF experts in Key Largo, Florida. Build your skills and resume for marine field research and discover career opportunities in the marine and conservation field. The course covers commonly used tools and techniques utilized in visual assessments of reef fishes. Classroom and field experiences will expose students to tropical western Atlantic reef fish identification, size estimations underwater, surveying reef fishes using transect, roving and stationary visual techniques, benthic assessments using photo quadrats and rugosity, and management of survey data.

The field course will be offered August 7 – 13, 2016, in Key Largo, Florida. The $780 course fee includes accommodations, 5 days of two-tank boat dives including tanks and weights, REEF fish survey materials, and the ReefNet Fish Identification DVD. For more information on the course and details on registering, please visit www.REEF.org/FieldCourse.

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