Making It Count - September 2013

REEF Database Tops 175,000!

Two of the 14,000+ REEF volunteers conducting a survey! Photo by Tom Collier.

A few weeks ago, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database topped 175,000 surveys! We are exicted and proud to have reached this milestone. Together with our 14,000+ volunteers, we have created the largest fish sightings database in the world! This vital dataset is used by marine scientists, researchers, and government agencies to better understand and protect marine resources. The number of scientific publications, requests for data, and policy decisions resulting from REEF data continue to increase. Visit our Publications page to see the citations list of scientific papers that feature REEF data. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors.

The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is the cornerstone program that supports REEF's mission to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting, and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, and the tropical West Pacific, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada and the South Atlantic States. The data are collected using an easy and standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. The first surveys were conducted 20 years ago in Key Largo, in July 1993.

Explore the REEF database online at www.REEF.org/db/reports.

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The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Nick Brown

Nick snapping a quick photo during a REEF Advanced Assessment Team trip in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Pete Naylor.
Nick Brown (center) diving with Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders (l) and Joe Gaydos from SeaDoc Society (r) off Orcas Island, WA.
Nick with his faithful dog, Neri, in St. Kitts.

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 Nick Brown. A US Pacific Northwest native, Nick is currently living in St. Kitts. Nick has been a REEF member since 2004 and has since conducted 138 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Nick had to say about REEF:

How did you first volunteer with REEF?

I first became involved with REEF in 2004 while working as a research intern for the SeaDoc Society, a marine ecosystem health program based in Washington State. The SeaDoc Society and REEF frequently collaborate to offer free fish and invertebrate identification courses to the public. Although I was still completing my open water certification at the time, the enthusiasm of SeaDoc’s chief scientist Joe Gaydos and REEF’s Janna Nichols was contagious. Within a month of finishing my certification, I completed my first REEF survey and haven’t stopped since.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I take great satisfaction in knowing that every survey I submit contributes to an ever growing database that can be used by the public, researchers and policy makers around the world. Not only am I adding more purpose to my dives by contributing to something useful, I’m able to reference my submitted data later on which functions as my own personal invertebrate (in the PAC region) and fish sighting logbook.

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

I’ve been very fortunate in being able to dive very close to where I live. Until about a year and a half ago, the vast majority of my dives were in the cold but beautiful waters of my home state of Washington and nearby British Columbia, an area known locally as the Salish Sea. My favorite part about diving in the Pacific Northwest is the large diversity of marine invertebrates. Recently though, I’ve hung up my drysuit and slipped into a wetsuit for the warm Caribbean waters of St. Kitts and Nevis where I’m currently attending veterinary school. My favorite part of Caribbean diving is the great visibility and large variety of ornately colored fish.

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

For better surveying and fish watching move slowly; not only will your dive last longer, but you’ll notice more and the marine life tends not to be as shy. For identification, I recommend investing in a few fish and invertebrate ID books; often the subtleties between different species are hard to appreciate without a detailed reference.

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Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Bandito Dive Charters

Bandito Charters dive boat, the Sampan.
Jackie DeHaven, owner of Bandito Charters, showing her REEF pride!
Jackie is a REEF level 5 surveyor. Photo by Dave Hicks.

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

This month for our Field Station spotlight, we're heading up to the cold waters of Puget Sound - Tacoma, Washington to be exact. Here we'll find Bandito Dive Charters, whose boat, the Sampan, hosts about a 1,000 divers each year on sites in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. Bandito Dive Charters, owned by Captains Rick Myers and Jackie DeHaven, is lucky enough to have the critter ID talents of Jackie on board. Jackie is a REEF level 5 Expert surveyor for the Pacific coast region. She first got involved with REEF by taking a fish ID class from REEF Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, over 9 years ago, and has done hundreds of surveys in the area. The dive charter has been a REEF Field Station almost 5 years now.

Jackie says, " Developing our flagship boat, Sampan as a REEF Field Station seemed a perfect fit to offer our customers REEF classes, materials, and the opportunity to talk about the diverse creatures found in our Pacific Northwest waters with a fellow diver (me, level 5 surveyor) who could assist with creature identification. We host several underwater photographers and the REEF field station status allows us to provide support for creature ID when the photographers are asking “What will I see?” at various sites."

Jackie continues, " We provide multiple copies of fish ID books focused on Pacific Northwest fish, invertebrates and nudibranchs. We provide slates, waterproof paper, and guided fish ID dives if requested and arranged in advance. We can teach REEF fish ID classes at our marina facilities prior to scheduled dive trips and/or on the boat en-route to dive sites." Bandito Charters would like to offer more intro-level REEF fish ID classes combined with two boat dives for the initial surveys.

Jackie's favorite fish – only because it's so rare for a diver to see – is the sixgill shark. She has been surveying Puget Sound waters since 2003 and has only seen them once or twice. In fact, in recent years, very few have been spotted at all in south Puget Sound. Jackie says, "Sixgill sharks are such large creatures who can move silently through your field of vision, almost elusive, yet they show such tremendous power, grace, and presence." 

When we asked Jackie what things she liked best about REEF, she enthusiastically replied, "It is so EASY!!!! Submitting data online is quick, the Website is incredibly easy to navigate, and I feel that REEF surveys are offering a valuable tool for assessing the health of our waters and local species."

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Lionfish Workshop Roadshow – Coming to a City Near You!

REEF's Keri Kenning leads a lionfish workshop.
Attendees of the lionfish workshop in Miami, Florida.

As part of our efforts to address the lionfish invasion to the western Atlantic, REEF received a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Aquatic Invasive Species Program to organize and lead lionfish workshops throughout the Southeast United States. Between August and October, REEF staff Keri Kenning and Lad Akins will be traveling to more than a dozen coastal communities to present information on the lionfish invasion and hands-on demonstrations on collecting and handling. Workshop topics include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, current research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development, and ways to get involved.

So far, nearly 400 people have attended workshops at Houston Zoo and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Headquarters (TX), North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (NC), South Carolina Aquarium (SC), and University of North Florida and University of Miami (FL).

The next workshop will be on Monday, October 21 in Cape Canaveral, FL. More workshops will be coming to Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Central and South Florida. The classes are free of charge and open to the public. All divers, fishers, and ocean enthusiasts are encouraged to attend. Check www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops as new workshops are added. Hope to see you there!

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New REEF Program for South Atlantic States - North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia

SAS Launch attendees dove on the artificial reef, the Indra, with Discovery Diving.
Oyster Toadfish, a fun find on the Indra Wreck off North Carolina. Photo by Janna Nichols.
Two days of workshops were held at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll to kick off the new SAS region.

After several years of planning and collaborating with local marine scientists and divers, REEF has expanded the Volunteer Fish Survey Project into another region: the South Atlantic States (SAS). Recreational and scientific divers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia now have survey materials specific to the local ecosystem, including waterproof color ID cards, waterproof survey paper, teaching curriculum, data entry, and online data summaries. Like all of REEF's regions, all species of fish are reported, but in addition the SAS program also monitors fifty-one species of invertebrates and algae that are important indicator species.

Divers have been able to conduct REEF surveys in coastal waters off these three states since the early 1990s when REEF surveying began, but divers had to use survey materials and data entry tools designed for the entire Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean). Large differences in species between the TWA and SAS meant the survey materials were less than ideal for divers in this region.

To launch the new region, REEF and our partners at NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) led two days of training workshops and survey dives during "Bringing Shipwrecks to Life", a NOAA program for divers to appreciate shipwrecks as historical treasures loaded with divers and plentiful biological treasures. Nearly 70 people attended the workshops and completed 40 survey dives over the weekend in early September. Many workshop attendees passed their REEF Level 2 exam.

REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, reported many people learned to really see underwater. “The divers had the usual buzz and excitement that you often hear on a boat full of REEF divers. One diver said, ‘I have dove on that wreck (the Indra) so many times before but I had never noticed that it was covered in coral.’ It's literally covered in Ivory Coral, Occulina spp, one of the invertebrates that we now monitor in the SAS region.

If you live or dive in the SAS region, please contact us to find out more about how you can get involved in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. And please encourage your local dive clubs, dive shop, or education center to teach the new fish and invertebrate curricula.

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Upcoming Fishinars - Drums, Rare Cozumel Finds, and Scientific Illustration!

Juvenile Cubuyu, one of several drum species found in the Caribbean that will be covered in the upcoming Fishinar on Drums. Photo by Carol Cox.

Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar 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:

Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel - October 17

Feel the Beat! The Top 12 Drums & Croakers of the Caribbean - October 29

You do WHAT for a living? Illustrating Fishes - with special guest Val Kells, Scientific Illustrator - November 13

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

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Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub