REEF-in Brief April 2008

Introduction

Hello and Happy April!

In this edition of REEF-in-Brief, learn about exciting work happening in the Turks and Caicos islands, new lionfish information and opportunities and the chance to help REEF collect data in the tropical eastern Pacific. REEF members recently helped the Northwest Straits Commission locate and remove a derelict fishing net in Hood Sound, Washington, while staff and volunteers made a splash at a south Florida Earth Day event. Please mark your calendars for the 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC), taking place throughout the month of July. The GAFC is a great opportunity for fish watchers new and old to contribute to the largest marine life data collection event REEF holds all year.

My bittersweet news is that this is my last week at REEF. I will be staying in the marine conservation community here in the Florida Keys and will continue to support the critical work that REEF does. The Board of Trustees has identified a strong candidate for my replacement, details of which you will be provided soon. I sincerely appreciate the support each of you has shown REEF and hope our paths cross in the future. Until then, best wishes and best fishes,

Leda

Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard Aggressor II

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Turks and Caicos Survey Group (sans Marty Levy, off chasing a whale blenny)
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Suzanne Rose with one of two invasive Red Lionfish seen on Turks Survey
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Patricia Broom Surveying Wall on North Caicos Island
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Caribbean Reef Shark, one of many seen during the week
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Jill Ericsson surveying the wall, looking for Cave and Threeline basslets

REEF recently completed our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II on Saturday, April 26.  We had a tremendous effort by a stellar group of 20 REEF surveyors.  Although we have not yet processed the data, I can give a few hints at what we saw during the week-long trip. 

Overall, the group surveyed at least 213 fish species over 12 dive sites and 26 survey dives, 5 dives on most days.  We surveyed many habitat types including hard and soft coral areas, patch reefs and grass beds but most of our efforts were concentrated along the famed walls along the islands.  Some notable fish sightings included:  Black snapper (Apsilus dentatus), Golden hamlet (Hypoplectrus gummigutta), Dwarf blenny (Starksia nanodes), Papillose blenny (Acanthemblemaria chaplini), Cardinal soldierfish (Plectrypops retrospinis), Lofty triplefin (Enneanectes altivelis), Almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana), Fringed filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus), Wall goby (Gobiosoma pallens), Black brotula (Stygnobrotula latebricola), Goldline blenny (Malacoctenus aurolineatus),  and Punk blenny (Acanthemblemaria sp).  We surveyed some large schools of Horse-Eye jacks and saw a number of Caribbean reef sharks.  We also had two confirmed Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) sightings (see picture with article).  Unfortunately, if there are two Lionfish surveyed, there are undoubtedly many more in the Turks and Caicos islands already.

We had a seasoned group of REEF members, many of whom had been on numbers of past survey trips and 60% of the group participants were expert surveyors. Consequently, our efforts were rewarded with lots of cryptic species sightings such as the ones listed above. The hospitality of the Aggressor crew was superb, gracious, and quite professional.  One of the nice things about a live-aboard field survey is the camaraderie that develops between members who share a number of traits such as a love of diving, conservation-minded attitude towards our marine resources, a desire to make positive changes to said resources, and a general fish geekiness for lack of a better term, that rears it's head from time to time in visceral debates about whether someone really saw a Wall goby or not. 

Fortunately for us, many members brought their cameras and we were able to verify most unusual sightings with pictures.   The learning curve is leveled while on live-aboard with everyone sharing diving/surveying tips and helping each other find and verify common and rare sightings alike.

I would like to congratulate several participants on reaching new experience levels during the week:  Barbara Anderson, Marty Levy, Larry Draper, and Kayla Serote all tested into level 5 surveyors.  Suzanne Rose, Marie Robbins, and Kay Tiddmann are all new level 3 surveyors. Jerry Dickman is our newest level 2 surveyor.  Congratulations to all the participants for a great survey effort for the week and all the good spirit shared.  Also, thanks James Brook and Kristi Draper for taking Kay Tidemann under their wings and teaching her during the week, she was our most improved surveyor as a result and her enthusiasm spilled over to the group. I hope to see many of you in the water on surveys later this year.  I am currently planning our 2009 Field Survey schedule and will have more details on that in our next Enews edition in May. There are still spaces available on two Field Survey trips for 2008, Paul Humann's Discovery Tour in Key Largo (June 21-28) and the Sea of Cortez with Don Jose (Oct 5-12).  If interested in either of these trips, please contact Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030 for the Discovery Tour and Jeanne at Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 for the Sea of Cortez trip.

 

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REEF Receives Exotics Funding from Mote’s Protect Our Reefs Fund

Dollars to Help Develop Rapid Response Plan 

In April of this year, REEF received notice our proposal to develop a Marine Exotic Species Action Plan was partially funded through the Mote Marine Protect Our Reefs Fund, which is funded through the Florida coral reef license plate. The project funding will go towards a SE Florida workshop with key federal, state and local agencies to develop a coordinated response plan for dealing with non-native marine fish. To date there have been more than 20 species of non-native fishes documented in a four-county area in Southeast Florida. Of these, the indo-pacific lionfish has become established in the US and Bahamas and is rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean. To help address this issue and prevent other non-native fish invasions, coordinated early detection and notification, and rapid response plans are needed. 

REEF will be working in partnership with the USGS and NOAA to lead the early summer workshop focusing on drafting these coordinated action plans. Funding for outreach and to establish and train response teams later this summer is still being sought as part of this effort.

Stay tuned for an update on the workshop and for future plans for development of local response teams. Be sure to report any sightings of non-native marine organisms to the REEF exotic species website at www.reef.org/programs/exotic

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REEF Divers Net Quite a Find

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A derelict gill net found by REEF surveyors in the Puget Sound. The net had ensnared dozens of animals and was damaging habitat. Photo by Pete Naylor.
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A lingcod entangled in the gill net, a result of "ghost fishing". Photo by Pete Naylor.
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The net was draped over rare cloud sponges. Photo by Pete Naylor.

Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.

AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.

Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.

Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”

Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”

If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.

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REEF Attends Earth Day

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Old Flagler Railroad and rail car in background at Earth Day
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Joe Cavanaugh and Laura Dias staff REEF Booth
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Laura Dias after survey training dive with Horizon Divers
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Water view from under the old railroad

On April 12, REEF attended a Middle Keys Earth Day celebration at Bahia Honda State Park.  It was a lovely day, albeit unseasonably hot!  Several organizations had booths in attendance as well, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Dolphin Research Center, Reef Relief, the Turtle Hospital, and many others. In addition to the usual face painting and music associated with Earth Day, REEF had many visitors to our booth inquiring about who we are and how they could get involved. REEF recently stepped up our efforts to increase awareness of our organization within the Florida Keys community. 

As many of you know, Key Largo is where REEF got started in the early 90's and many of our Advanced Assessment Team projects focus on local marine resources, such as FKNMS, Biscayne National Park, and the Dry Tortugas National Park.  Most recently, REEF teamed with local stakeholders to create a rapid response team for the possible arrival of invasive lionfish species which many predict could be anytime, given the robust resident population of lionfish in the Bahamas and increasingly elsewhere in the Caribbean.

For those of you who are new to REEF, you can see where REEF surveys by visiting our website http://www.reef.org/about/faq.  Essentially, REEF members survey areas covering the tropical western Atlantic from Brasil to Florida and along the eastern seaboard through the northeastern U.S. and Canada, the Pacific coast of Canada and California southward through the tropical eastern Pacific down to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, and in the not-too-distant future, American Samoa.

REEF has a new volunteer helping us in the office and who helped staff the REEF booth, Laura Aichinger Dias.  Laura came to us a couple of months ago inquiring about opportunities at REEF.  Since then, she has been conducting survey dives and honing her fish identification skills. She is already accomplished in her own right, receiving her Master of Science from Florida Atlantic University.  Her thesis focused on dolphin population dynamics in Sepetiba Bay in Brasil, where she is from originally.  Laura will help REEF with projects this spring and hopes to become part of our Advanced Assessment Team by the end of the summer so she can participate in future projects. For more information on becoming an Advanced Assessment Team member, please review the requirements at http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat  AAT members are utilized in most of our monitoring and assessment contracts with government and non-government agencies.  Essentially, REEF members take fish ID classes and pass qualification quizzes in tandem with gaining a prerequisite number of survey dives, all leading to membership in the AAT.  The ultimate reward is that once you are placed on the AAT list-serve you will be emailed opportunities to participate in projects oftentimes where the diving is paid for by the sponsoring agency.  You also will gain increased fish ID acumen by diving with other AAT members and learning to find and identify the really small and cryptic species.  For more information beyond the website, please email Joe Cavanaugh at joe@reef.org or our Director of Science, Christy Semmens at christy@reef.org.

 

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REEF Readies for the 17th Great Annual Fish Count

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Plan your 2008 GAFC event today!

 

The Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is an opportunity for divers and snorkelers to participate in a fun and educational program while contributing to marine conservation. During the month of July, REEF HQ, Field Stations and partners offer a variety of fish-counting activities. This will be the 17th year for the event.

Participation can be as simple as conducting as many survey dives in and around coastal waters as you like. Or, take a dive with your favorite dive operator or local dive club.

Field stations and REEF partners are encouraged to organize and schedule training sessions and survey dives. If you would like to get involved and host an event, please submit your event information to us by clicking here.

For more information, please contact gafc@reef.org or call 305-852-0030.

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Don’t Miss the REEF Trip to Baja Mexico This Fall

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A school of king angelfish, one of the hundreds of reef fishes that can be seen during a dive in Baja. Photo by Paul Humann.
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A REEF volunteer checks over her survey on a previous Baja Field Survey.

The REEF 2008 Field Survey Schedule is in full swing. Many of the trips are already sold out, but we wanted to bring your attention to one that still has some space on it -- the Field Survey to Baja Mexico aboard the Don Jose in the Sea of Cortez this October. This is a great trip, with spectacular diving and lots of tropical fishes, warm and clear water, and beautiful topside scenery. Some of the highlights include giant hawkfish, jawfish the size of your leg, whale sharks and manta rays, and spectacular sunsets over unpopulated desert islands.  This will be the 5th time that REEF has done this amazing trip, and there is a good reason we keep going back.  Come see what it's all about.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz Mexico aboard the Don Jose live-aboard.  Dr. Brice Semmens, reef fish ecologist and expert in Baja fishes, will be leading this trip. 

  This Field Survey is only held every few years so don't miss your chance!  To find out more, check out the trip flyer.  To secure your space, contact Jeanne at Baja Expeditions, 800-843-6967, travel@bajaex.com.

October 5 - 12, 2008 -- $1,550 - $1,750 per person, depending on room type.  Package Includes:  Six nights shipboard accommodations and one night local hotel accommodations in La Paz.  Meals are included, beginning with breakfast on Day 2 and end with lunch on Day 7, and includes beer, soda and wine while shipboard.

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