Making It Count - May 2018

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Continues Protection of Endangered Goliath Grouper in Florida State Waters

A Goliath Grouper. Photo by Jeff Haines.

On Thursday, April 26, after considering more than three hours of stakeholder comments, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) ruled to continue the protection of the Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara) in Florida state waters.

The meeting addressed an April 2017 FWC proposal to open a limited harvest of the critically endangered species, in response to several stakeholder claims that Goliath Grouper populations had recovered in Florida after the 28 year moratorium on all harvest. 57 of 59 individuals and groups present at the meeting supported continuing to protect Goliath Grouper from harvest, while two individuals supported the opening of the fishery.

REEF's publicly-accessible Fish Survey Project data were one of several sources of population data considered by the FWC, along with the comments from scientists, local universities, DEMA, Florida dive shops, and the general public. The REEF data demonstrated an overall scarcity of Goliath Grouper throughout the state, with some increases in sighting frequency at localized sites since the start of data collection in 1993. According to the REEF data, outside of Florida, Goliath Grouper are still virtually absent throughout their entire historic range, which extends throughout the Caribbean and south to Brazil.

Meeting attendees spoke about the high economic value of the fish to ecotourism and the diving community in Florida, the high mercury content that makes the flesh inedible, and the biology and ecology that make the species highly susceptible to overfishing. Additional evidence presented showed that Goliath Groupers' diets consist primarily of benthic crustaceans and baitfish, and that the Goliath Grouper’s presence on the reef has a positive correlation with biodiversity.

At the end of the session, FWC released the following statement: “After listening to public comments and discussing the current and future management of Goliath Grouper in Florida at the April meeting in Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) directed staff to continue current Goliath Grouper research and management, and develop a road map to direct future conservation efforts. They did not pursue a limited harvest.”

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The Faces of REEF: Fred and Laura Hartner

REEF members Fred and Laura Hartner.
Laura on a dive in the Philippines.
Fred looking for some small species in Bonaire.
Fred and Laura enjoying a sunset.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. More than 65,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Fred and Laura Hartner, REEF members since 1995. Together they have conducted more than 440 surveys throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic, Hawaiian Islands, Central Indo-Pacific, and South Pacific regions. Originally from New Jersey, the Hartners now reside in Florida, where they are active surveyors and volunteer for many REEF events, such as lionfish derbies. Here's what Fred and Laura 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? We first heard about REEF through our local New Jersey dive shop. Shortly thereafter, we visited the REEF booth at the Beneath The Sea dive show in Secaucus, NJ. After talking to Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, we became members. We did a few surveys on our own before volunteering as surveyors on our first REEF Field Survey Trip to the Big Island in Hawaii.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey Trip, where and what was your trip highlight? We have been on numerous REEF Field Survey Trips to the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region, including Key Largo, Belize, Little Cayman, St. Vincent, Roatan, and San Salvador. We also caught, filleted, and ate (the best part) lionfish on two Curacao trips. We also joined the REEF Trip to the Philippines. What a lot of new fish to learn! It was so much fun that we quickly booked the REEF Trip to the Solomon Islands after that. If you love to dive and enjoy watching fish, each trip is special for the variety of fish and reef profiles. A night dive in Kona, Hawaii, to see the mantas and observe the eels hunting in the light, the tiny octopus who mimicked other creatures in the grassy areas of St. Vincent, the experience of reducing the lionfish population in Curacao, and the enormous whale sharks of the Philippines are some to the memories that come to mind. One of the best benefits of a REEF Trip is networking with and learning from other fish geeks who share the same interest and excitement as you do.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey? Surveys are a valuable source of data for ocean researchers and a way for us to contribute to the ecological well-being of the reef systems we so cherish. Surveying also makes one stop and appreciate the fish, their habitat, and their behavior. It’s a satisfying activity to record your own life list.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Where is your favorite place to dive and why? We realized we enjoy diving and counting fish so much that we moved from New Jersey (too cold) to Key Largo and aim to be underwater at least once a week all year. However, our favorite place to dive is wherever we happen to be diving that day.

What is your favorite fish? Laura’s favorite fish is the Whitespotted Filefish because of its swimming behavior and ability to change its coloration. Fred’s favorite fish is the one he hasn’t seen before.

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Two Exotic Fish Species Removed from South Florida Waters

The Orangespine Unicornfish, native to the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Zach Ransom.
The Lagoon Triggerfish, native to the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Andy Dehart.
The Orangespine Unicornfish, collected from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The team of divers from REEF and Frost Science who removed the Lagoon Triggerfish. Photo by Pat Kelly.

In April 2018, two non-native marine fish species were live-captured from South Florida waters, including an Orangespine Unicornfish (Naso lituratus) in Key Largo and a Lagoon Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus) in Fort Lauderdale. Both fishes, native to a wide range in the tropical west Pacific, were collected separately through a collaborative effort between REEF, Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

These organized non-native species removals are part of an “Early Detection/Rapid Response” plan developed by REEF and the USGS, who have worked together on this initiative since 2008. The goal of the Early Detection/Rapid Response program is to remove non-native fishes as soon as possible after they are seen, before enough fish are introduced to develop a self-sustaining population which could negatively impact local marine ecosystems.

Both fishes were first spotted by citizen scientists who then reported the sightings to REEF. In early April, a group of divers from Eckerd College spotted the Orangespine Unicornfish while diving off of Key Largo during a REEF education program. Shortly after this, a second sighting of the same fish was reported by a local dive instructor, and a formal removal effort was organized to collect the fish. A team of four divers from REEF and Frost Science worked with a local volunteer to locate and live-capture the fish. The removal effort took place in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under a special research permit.

“The Orangespine Unicornfish is a very common home aquarium fish and although the owners likely thought they were doing the right thing for the animal, they were not aware of the potential negative impact. It is extremely important that no pets are released into the wild.” acknowledges Andy Dehart, Vice President of Animal Husbandry for Frost Science.

Just a few weeks after the Orangespine Unicornfish was successfully captured, REEF received a report of another exotic species. This time, the sighting was a Lagoon Triggerfish, reported by a Fort Lauderdale resident who first spotted the fish while snorkeling off the beach near Sunrise Blvd. Recognizing the fish was not native to Florida waters, the citizen scientist reported this sighting to REEF and a plan to remove the fish was put into motion. It took six divers from REEF and Frost Science two trips to live-capture the elusive fish. This was the second record of the Lagoon Triggerfish in the United States mainland.

The Orangespine Unicornfish and Lagoon Triggerfish are the eighth and ninth non-native marine fish species removed through the Early Detection/Rapid Response program. To date there have been 37 non-native marine fish species documented off of Florida, and most of those sightings are thought to be aquarium fish that were released into the ocean by humans - the same occurrence that started the lionfish invasion of the tropical western Atlantic.

“No one saw the lionfish invasion coming, and we definitely don’t want to be surprised like that again,” said USGS Fish Biologist Pam Schofield. “Our research with lionfish shows that it is vitally important to remove non-native marine fishes as soon as we see them – before they have the chance to build up a population and spread like lionfish have done.”

USGS and REEF coordinate removals of exotic species and whenever possible the non-native fish are collected alive in partnership with Frost Science, to be displayed at public aquaria for educational purposes. Frost Science has an exhibit dedicated to exotic and invasive marine species including a Blotched Foxface Rabbitfish (Siganus unimaculatus) captured from Dania Beach in late 2016. After a quarantine period, the Orangespine Unicornfish and Lagoon Triggerfish will be added to the exhibit as well.

Anyone who sees a non-native marine fish species is encouraged to submit a report on REEF’s online Exotic Species Sightings Form, available at Sightings are then directed to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database.

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Join a REEF Trip this August!

The island of South Water Caye, located in the Mesoamerican barrier reef system in Belize.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, is known for its beautiful landscapes.

If you haven't planned your summer vacation yet, it's not too late to join a REEF Field Survey Trip this August. We have spaces remaining on trips to Brazil and Belize this summer and hope you can join us!

Brazil Field Survey: Aug 4-13, 2018: Discovered in 1503, Brazil's Fernando de Noronha archipelago is known as a great destination for ecotourism and diving. The islands are located about 200 miles from the mainland and the entire area makes up a protected marine park. Ocean currents from East Africa flow past the islands, creating excellent dive conditions year round, making this a perfect destination for divers who enjoy warm, clear water. Unique underwater structures including rock formations and reefs attract many diverse species of fish and other marine life. Renowned marine life authors and REEF Board of Trustees members Ned and Anna DeLoach will share engaging presentations and photos. When not diving, attendees can enjoy the beautiful landscape of the island, including lush greenery and deserted beaches. Click here for more information on this trip.

Belize - Special Research Itinerary: Aug 18-25, 2018: South Water Caye Marine Reserve in southern Belize, is a unique mangrove/coral reef habitat and home to several endemic species including the Social Wrasse and the Maya Hamlet. The goal of this trip is to study the effects of stressors such as invasive lionfish and habitat loss on this remote area of the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, with a special focus on how these impacts are affecting species that are not found anywhere else in the Caribbean. Participants will work with local partners to conduct fish surveys as well as lionfish research and removals. In addition, other underwater survey methods will be utilized to gather data on this infrequently-studied area to determine how to best protect this unique marine ecosystem. Click here for more information on this trip.

Contact for more information or to register for a REEF Trip today!

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How to Make Friends and Save on Taxes

REEF member Pat Richardson.

Dear Fellow REEF Supporters,

I wanted to share with you a great opportunity to support a worthy cause while potentially saving on your taxes. Below is the story of my recent contribution experience.

If you have an individual retirement account (IRA), and are over 70 and a half years of age, you must withdraw a specific amount from your IRA, regardless of whether you need or want the money. This amount, called a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD), is added to your total income and is taxed. Since I turned 70+, there has been an on-again/off-again opportunity to contribute part or all of your RMD to a 501(c)(3) charity of your choice.

Last year I decided to contribute all of my RMD to three of my favorite charities - number one being REEF! Aside from the satisfication of supporting a wonderful cause, this contribution resulted in numerous benefits. First, all of my RMD went to supporting organizations I care about, and none went to taxes. Second, I saved on taxes overall because my income did not include the RMD. Third, and best of all, I received phone calls, letters, and special invitations from my grateful recipients! I followed the advice of my financial adviser: Give now, so people can thank you while you are still alive! It’s a great feeling.

Of course, check with your own financial adviser to see how this plan fits your individual circumstances. You can also contact REEF to discuss giving opportunities.

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Whole Foods Market® 5% Community Giving Day Raises More Than $47,000 for Marine Conservation

REEF staff accept a check from Whole Foods Market representatives.

On Thursday, April 19, REEF partnered with Whole Foods Market® for 5% Community Giving Day. The event was a great success, resulting in more than $47,000 raised between nine Whole Foods Market locations throughout Broward and Palm Beach counties. These funds will go to benefit REEF’s many marine conservation projects, including the 2018 Lionfish Derby Series. REEF representatives were present at several of the participating store locations to spread awareness about invasive lionfish and other marine conservation efforts. To encourage the public to eat lionfish, Whole Foods Market also offered free lionfish samples and a special rate for purchasing whole lionfish.

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April Showers bring May...Fishinars!

Yellowtail Snapper, a common sighting in the Florida Keys. Photo by Jeff Haines.

We have a great lineup of Fishinars coming up, including:

Thursday, May 10: Diving in the Florida Keys, presented by Carlos and Allison Estape 

Monday, May 21: Dwarf and Pygmy Gobies of Fiji, presented by Christy Semmens

Thursday, June 7: World Oceans Day, presented by Ellie Place

If you have not yet attended one of our free Fishinars, there's no time like the present. Fishinars are REEF's brand of online, interactive webinars. You can attend them live or watch the recording in the archives. Most of these fun, information-packed, hour-long sessions target fish identification in REEF's worldwide survey regions. You don't need to be a REEF member to participate in the live sessions. No webcam or microphone is necessary- all you need is an internet connection and your computer or mobile device.

For more details, links to registration, and the rest of the 2018 schedule, visit:

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Welcome New Staff - Brittany Parker

Brittany Parker, REEF Education and Office Coordinator.

We are excited to welcome Brittany Parker to the REEF team. Brittany started in April 2018 and will be based at REEF Headquarters as the Education and Office Coordinator. Her primary roles at REEF will involve assisting with our growing Explorers Education Program and overseeing the organization of our store and Headquarters office. Read on to learn more about Brittany, and you can read the bios of all of our staff on our Staff Bio page. Our staff, together with our amazing volunteers and supporters, ensure that our critical marine conservation work can happen.

Brittany grew up in Akron, Ohio, and discovered her passion for the ocean from family vacations. She followed her interests to Florida where she attended the University of Tampa and earned her Bachelors of Science in Marine Science and Biology. Although her academic background is in science, she greatly enjoys teaching others about the ocean, which lead her to her initial jobs after graduating college - first as a Marine Educator at SeaCamp Inc. in Big Pine Key, and then as Lead Environmental Educator at Sanibel Sea School, on Florida's west coast. Following this, Brittany returned to the Florida Keys, this time in Key Largo, to work at MarineLab as a Field Instructor, where she continued to foster her passion for marine science education. During her four years at MarineLab, she earned her Divemaster certification, USCG 50 ton captains license, and even an Aquanaut Certificate. In addition she served as MarineLab's Outreach Coordinator, implementing a variety of environmentally-focused events and intiatives including marine debris cleanups and field-based community education programs for Keys residents. Her interest in marine conservation and education brought her to REEF, where she is excited to continue her career in the marine science world.

Welcome to the REEF team, Brittany!

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