Making It Count - September 2012

Remembering Mike Phelan

One of Mike's passions was studying and protecting the aggregation of Goliath Grouper near his home in Jupiter.

We are saddened to share news about the passing of one of our most active REEF members, Mike Phelan, earlier this month in Jupiter, FL. Mike's enthusiasm for fishcounting was infectious and he often taught fish ID. He had participated in many REEF projects and was a member of our Advanced Assessment Team. REEF co-founder, Paul Humann, remembers Mike’s unsurpassed passion for marine life and conservation. "REEF's database is much more meaningful thanks to Mike's contribution of nearly 1,500 fish surveys over the last 14 years. Working with State of Florida officials he did a great deal of volunteer research on the Goliath Groupers and wrote several scientific reports. His information was used as part of the government decision-making process to continue the Goliath's protection as an endangered species. On one of his last dives he counted 114 Goliath Groupers in a single aggregation, the largest ever recorded. As a personal friend, I along with everyone that knew Mike will miss him greatly - as will the Goliath Groupers who have lost one of their staunchest advocates."

REEF Director of Special Projects and original Executive Director, Lad Akins, regarded Mike as a top-notch team member and an all around great person. "Mike Phelan was a friend of REEF and a friend of mine. If I had to pick a team for anything, Mike would be one of the first I’d pick. He was a joy to be around – always quick in wit and a true professional in his approach to almost any situation. I first met Mike on a REEF fish survey trip in 1998. He quickly became a mainstay of REEF fish survey activities and achieved Golden Hamlet status with over 1,000 fish survey dives. His dedication to protecting marine resources, especially Goliath Grouper, was widely known and his efforts were far reaching in helping to better understand this keystone species. Mike was certainly a member of the REEF family and we’ll miss him much."

Mike will be sorely missed in the REEF community. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to his wife and their children. If you would like to read more about Mike's efforts with REEF, you can read the monthly member spotlight that featured him in June 2011. Mike's obituary and remembrance page is posted here.

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Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used in New Publication on Hamlets

A newly described species, the Florida Barred Hamlet (H. floridae). The species is distinguished by the two spots at the base of the tail. Photo by Kevin Bryant (Creative Commons).
The wide-spread Caribbean Barred Hamlet (H. puella). Photo by Paul Humann.
The Contoy Hamlet (H. ecosur) has so far only been found on the northern Yucatan peninsula. Photo from video by Bruce Carlson
Another look at the Florida Barred Hamlet (H. floridae). Photo by Paul Humann.

New research using powerful genetic techniques and the REEF survey data have revealed two new species of hamlet in the Caribbean. The findings were recently published by scientist Ben Victor in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation. As our Caribbean surveyors know, hamlets are a group of colorful small sea basses that can sometimes cause ID confusion because of their myriad of colors and patterns. The varied color patterns in these small predators are thought to be a result of mimicry of other colorful but more innocuous herbivore species. There has been ongoing debate about which are actual species and which are simply just color variants or morphotypes. Ben's research revealed significant genetic differences among what seemed to simply be variations of the well-known Barred Hamlet. Ben stated that "the REEF database supplied valuable survey data indispensable to understanding ranges and abundances and unmatched in its comprehensive coverage".

The two new species are the Florida Barred Hamlet, Hypoplectrus floridae, and the Contoy Hamlet, H. ecosur. The typical Barred Hamlet (H. puella) that is found throughout the Caribbean will be updated in the REEF database to be called the Caribbean Barred Hamlet. Florida Barred Hamlet have been found in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Florida, and overlaps in range with the Caribbean Barred Hamlet in those areas. To date, the Contoy Hamlet has only been documented on Isla Contoy near the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula and maybe Isla Mujeres. Florida Barred Hamlet are distinguished by a pair of symmetrical dark spots at the base of the caudal fin along with a break in the mid-body narrow bar. The Contoy Hamlet is distinguished by the same paid of dark spots at the base of the tail as well as a series of additional dark spots along the upper caudal peduncle and below the dorsal fin. A PDF of Ben's paper can be found online here, and it includes many pictures of the new species. Video of the Contoy Hamlet has been posted on Youtube.

REEF surveyors in the regions of the new species are encouraged to learn the differences and being reporting them as distinct species using the Unlisted Species section of the online data form. To see a list of a all scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects, visit our Publications Page.

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The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Rick Long

A golden Pacific Gray Chub, or “Queen Nenue”. Photo by Rick Long.

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 Rick Long. Rick joined REEF in 1997 and has conducted 469 surveys, making him one of Hawaii's top surveyors. Mike is a member of the Hawaii REEF Advanced Assessment Team and he lives on Maui. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you first get involved with REEF?

I did my first REEF survey while diving in the Florida Keys and went inactive until I moved to Maui and joined the fish count at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. I learned the Hawaiian reef fish by participating in the monthly activities of a local REEF group called Fish Identification Network (FIN) and by volunteering at the Maui Ocean Center aquarium. I learned even more about fish behavior and corals by volunteering with the Herbivore project at Kahekili Beach, doing Reef Check surveys, and with Eyes of the Reef monitoring for coral bleaching and disease. Volunteering in all of these venues, I have learned not only the common names, but also some of the scientific and Hawaiian names of fish and other marine life. I am an enthusiastic advocate for Citizen Science.

In addition to surveying, what other ways are you involved with REEF?

Through the years, I have participated in monthly REEF survey shore dives organized by FIN and other groups. I have also taught Coral Reef slide shows at the NOAA whale sanctuary in Kihei that includes tips for visitors wanting to get in the ocean to see the beautiful fish and coral reefs in our state.

What is your favorite dive spot and favorite fish?

My friends are just as enthusiastic as I am, and can paddle outrigger canoes, scuba dive, or snorkel almost every day of the week in Maui. My favorite coral reef to survey is Maonakala, located within the marine protected area of the ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve, and is one of the few coral reefs not in decline. One of my all time favorite fish is a special little chub or rudderfish that lives on this reef. The Hawaiians had a name for the Pacific Gray Chub (Kyphosus sandwicensis) in a yellow morph coloration and they called it the “Queen Nenue” (nay-new-ay).

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Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Hornby Island Diving

Tiger Rockfish, a great find for a PacNW surveyor. Photo by Janna Nichols.

REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

This month we feature Hornby Island Diving in British Columbia, a REEF Field Station since 2010. Owners Rob and Amanda Zielinski have always been conservation-minded and involved in local projects, so when they heard about REEF several years ago through their repeat customers (who were REEF surveyors) and through discussions with REEF staff, it was an easy choice to become a REEF Field Station. Although divers have been flocking to this area for years, not many surveys had been conducted in the area, so they felt this would be a good way to get the word out about REEF and to encourage divers in that direction. Being a dive charter and lodge, they have the facilities and space for classes. They just hosted twelve enthusiastic surveyors for 5 days for a REEF Field Survey complete with nightly seminars in their meeting area. Amanda is very knowledgeable about marine life and has conducted REEF surveys herself, so she is a good one to ask any questions you might have if you’re just getting started. The area boasts some big attractions for REEF surveyors, including frequent sightings of Tiger Rockfish and Yelloweye Rockfish, both adult and juvenile.

Amanda has some great ideas up her sleeve for getting divers involved in conducting surveys while at Hornby Island Diving, whether for just a weekend or for a week. She says, “If everyone who is a REEF surveyor comes and does one survey, and everyone who’s not, joins REEF and gets started, think of the possibilities.” She’s also been collaborating with another REEF Field Station in the area (The Edge Diving Centre in North Vancouver, BC) to provide more in-depth fish and invertebrate ID training.

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2012 REEF Lionfish Derby Series Remove 2,694 Invasive Fish

Members of Team Frapper with REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins (center), holding a huge lionfish that the team captured during the Key Largo Derby.

This summer REEF, in partnership with Divers Direct and SeaGrant Florida, hosted its third annual Lionfish Derby Series. The series included four derbies in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Key Largo) and one in Green Turtle Key, Bahamas. The event series was a huge success—in total, 219 participants in 60 teams brought in a total of 2,694 lionfish! Lionfish are invasive predators capable of consuming prey in excess of half their body size and have become a hazard to Caribbean reefs by consuming commercially, recreationally and ecologically important fish and crustaceans. Using published estimates of lionfish consumption, the removal of the 1,923 lionfish collected in the Florida derbies corresponds to preventing between approximately 3.5 million to 14.8 million prey fish from being eaten by these lionfish over the next year.

Lionfish derbies serve as a way to engage the public and media, enhance awareness, encourage removals and provide samples for researchers. During each the derby over $3,500 in cash prizes sponsored by Divers Direct were awarded to first, second, and third place winners in three categories: Most, Largest, and Smallest.

Since their introduction in the 1980’s, invasive lionfish have become the first marine predator to successfully establish in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Unfortunately, complete eradication of lionfish is unlikely, but where removal efforts are sustained, population numbers and impacts can be reduced. REEF and Simon Fraser University partnered throughout the 2012 Derby Series to conduct research on the effectiveness of derbies in controlling local populations. Preliminary data analysis from the 2012 Green Turtle Key, Bahamas, Derby shows that lionfish derbies are effective at removing 65% of lionfish off of local reefs. The Derby Series is one of the many ways REEF is promoting lionfish control. A big thank you goes out to the derby sponsors, hosts, teams and everyone who came out to support the events. To find out more about the REEF Invasive Lionfish Program, including the derby series, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. You can also follow all of our lionfish news through our Lionfish Facebook page.

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Two Spaces Available on Upcoming BVI REEF Trip

Need to get away before the holidays get started? Two spots are still available on the Cuan Law livaboard November 11-17, one female share and one male share. This luxurious trimaran features a wonderful menu, wide stable platform, and dive sites of various habitats sailing around the British Virgin Islands – the perfect live-aboard combo! Some of the interesting fish we will be searching for include lancer dragonets, spotted eagle rays, and striking indigo hamlets. Join REEF fish ID experts, Sue Thompson, Linda Schillinger, and trip leader Heather George for a fun-filled cruise! Details are posted online here.

If this doesn't work in your schedule, be sure to check out the full REEF Trip schedule here. Many are already full or close to it for 2013. Don't miss your chance to take a "Dive Vacation That Counts!".

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New Webinars Coming Up

A Graysby, one of the grouper that will be covered in the Super Duper Grouper webinar next week. Photo by Paul Humann.

New Fishinars have been added! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars). These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

Super Duper Grouper  - Are you groping for groupers? These carnivores of the reef are often hard to tell apart. Let REEF fish geek Jonathan Lavan help guide you through the tricks of the trade, and soon you'll be a Super Duper Grouper Sleuther! Thursday, October 11th at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

The Grunt Club!- Grunts, Grunts, everywhere - but how to tell them apart? Join the Grunt Club! REEF fish expert Jonathan Lavan will teach you simple tricks for keeping all the stripes separate on these buggers. Tuesday, November 6th at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

Caribbean Hit Parade! Top 25 Fish - Caribbean REEF Fish ID: Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan, on how to ID the top 25 fish in the Caribbean. An interactive format makes it ideal for asking questions and learning while having fun. Essential for dive travelers heading to Cozumel, Bonaire, and any other Caribbean destination. [Note: This will be a LONG course. Two hours, not the usual one hour length, so plan accordingly.] Thursday, December 6th at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

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