REEF-in-Brief April 2010

Introduction

With summer just around the corner, things here at REEF are really getting busy. Our first Field Survey of the season just wrapped up (see the field report from Dominica below) and another group heads out next week to Belize. Many of our Field Survey trips are already full but there is still room in a few, including your chance to explore the reefs of Key Largo with Ned and Anna DeLoach. Check out the trip schedule here. We are also excited to bring you information on the latest scientific publication to feature REEF data. Dr. Ben Holt and his colleagues used fish survey data collected by REEF volunteers to better understand patters of hamlet diversity in the Caribbean. Things are busy on the US west coast with REEF booths at two upcoming dive shows, new training curricula available, and a series of FREE marine life ID classes in California. And if you are a surveyor, be sure to check out the Survey Scoop article below for all of your frequently asked questions.

Thanks to our members for your ongoing support and involvement. We hope you enjoy this issue of REEF-in-Brief

REEF Data Used To Evaluate Evolution in Marine Species

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The golden hamlet is one of the more rare species, infrequently found in just a few locations. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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The distribution of yellowtail hamlet, as documented by REEF surveyors and analyzed by Ben Holt et al. This work was published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography 2010.

As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography

It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist. 

"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).

To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.

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Free Fish and Invertebrate ID Classes in California

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REEF classes are a great way to learn more about what you are seeing during your dives!
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Want to know what this is, go to a free REEF fish ID class in California (it's a Cabezon). Photo by Dan Grolemund.
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You can also learn how to ID 63 common invertebrates and algae (this is a Leather Star). Photo by Janna Nichols.

Tired of not knowing who’s who on your underwater adventures? REEF is again offering FREE marine life ID classes this year in California. REEF Instructor and Outreach Coordinator Janna Nichols will be teaching these fun and informative classes at several locations. Learn how to identify many common California fish, invertebrates and algae, and how to do REEF surveys and become part of this worldwide citizen science program. This class will change the way you dive. Find one near you and join the fun!

California Fish ID: 

- Saturday, June 5th, 10am-2pm, Long Marine Lab, Santa Cruz

- Wednesday, June 23rd, 6-9pm, Ocean Institute, Dana Point

- Thursday, June 24th, 6-9pm, Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach

California Invertebrate/Algae ID:

- Friday June 25th, 6-9pm, Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach

Practice Survey Dives, experienced or new surveyors all welcome!

- Friday, May 14th, Sundiver Express. Special for REEF: $95

- Sat, June 26th, Sundiver. Special for REEF: 3 tanks $100

Sign up and pay for dives by calling Sundiver at: 562-594-6968

Register for one, or any combination of events, online

Sponsored by REEF with support from Aquarium of the Pacific, UCSC Long Marine Lab, The Ocean Institute and Sundiver.

Classes are informative, fun and free, but registration is required. To register go to: http://www.pnwscuba.com/critterwatchers/calclasses.htm

The REEF program has been active in California since 1997 and has accumulated over 6,500 California marine life surveys in the Volunteer Survey Project. There are currently over 137,000 surveys in the REEF database worldwide. The database is online and accessible to anyone.

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Great Diving On One of the Friendliest Islands in the Caribbean

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Lucky REEF members who joined Board Member Heather George for a week in Dominica.
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The cryptic Reef Scorpionfish was a good find on the Dominica Field Survey. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

Last week, we kicked off the 2010 REEF Field Survey season with a spectacular trip to Dominica. Eight REEF members (and two non-diving spouses) headed out for 5 days of excellent dives with many wonderful discoveries along the way. Highlights included a glut of Secretary Blennies, Arrow Blennies and Lofty Triplefins along with Cherubfish, Longlure Frogfish, Longsnout Seahorses, Shortnose Batfish, a Reef Scorpionfish (see picture), most of the Hamlets and a Black Brotula found by yours truly and witnessed by James Brooke and trip leader Heather George. Another thrilling highlight was watching a pair of Barred Hamlets spawning during our dusk dive - the final dive of the trip. Congratulations go out to our new level 3 surveyors, Amy Kramer and Chris Ostrom, and a new level 2 surveyor, Kirsten Ostrom. Both topside and below, the crew at Dive Dominica was very enthusiastic. Not only were they very interested in REEF’s mission and pointing out the best fish and creatures, but also helped us coordinate daily travel and restaurant jaunts. Roseau, Dominica’s capital, has that small town feel, very friendly and accommodating to us, and everyone knows each other. On our “off-gas’ day, many of us explored the inner island, climbing up to Trafalgar Falls where three freshwater fish were discovered; a freshwater Grunt, Goby and Suckerfish. We also ventured up the beautiful Titou Gorge. Dominica is a truly beautiful island with fantastic views, great diving and some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean - an island not to be missed.

REEF Field Surveys are week-long dive trips coordinated by REEF and led by experienced staff, Board members, and instructors. These "Trips that Count" are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Check out the 2010 schedule here and reserve your space today!

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The Survey Scoop!

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You've done the survey, now what? Check out these FAQs. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Data entered online at www.REEF.org/dataentry takes a few weeks to be added to the database.
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You can view a lifelist of all species you have seen and where you have conducted surveys on REEF.org.
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Did you see a rare fish that is not listed on the online form? These fish, like this blue croaker, can be added on the Unlisted Species page Photo by Paul Humann..

Each month, we get questions from our surveying members about the ins and outs of conducting REEF surveys, submitting their data online, and accessing those data. Here's a compilation of some of the most frequently asked questions. The survey scoop -- all in one place!

I’ve submitted my survey online – why can’t I see my data? Your data goes into a batch, which gets processed every few weeks. Not only does it go through computer error checks, but a live human checks it as well, and we may send an email to verify your sightings. Data submitted on paper forms take much longer (months, sorry!). So be extra patient on those.

Once my data are processed, how can I see them? You can generate reports of your survey activity ("My Survey Log") and your species lifelist ("My Data") through the REEF website. You need to be logged in to REEF.org and then look on the left hand side of the page under your User Name. If you haven't yet created a REEF.org login, start here.

Some fish I saw don’t appear in the Listed Species section on the online survey form. Now what? Only the most common fish in a region are listed on the online form to save space – but if you click on Unlisted Species link on the left side of the submission page, you can search the complete list that will most probably contain your species, and you can record it there. If you can't find it, email us at data@reef.org.

I don’t see the invertebrate/algae I saw on the online survey form – now what? Remember that the REEF protocol only includes specific set of Invertebrates (PacNW, CAL) and algae (CAL) and they are listed both on the underwater survey paper, as well as the online submission form. If you don’t see it there, it isn’t monitored by REEF.

What if the place I dove/snorkeled doesn’t have a geographic zone code assigned? Just email janna@reef.org with the name of the site, lats/longs (preferably in degrees/decimal minutes form) and most likely 4 digit zone code area it falls in, and it will get created for you. After confirmation, you’ll be able to submit your survey. To see a list of current Geographic Zone Codes, check here.

Do I have to submit the lats/longs on each survey I do? No way! You can leave that section blank. You can also leave water temperature blank, but all other fields are required.

I dove a site that was composed of many different habitat types. Which one do I mark? It’s a judgment call for this one – I usually just mark the habitat where I found the most species on my survey.

I made a mistake on a survey I already submitted. Is it too late? Nope, it’s not too late. While you should try to avoid mistakes (because it’s a lot harder to change once it’s in the system), it is possible to correct and accuracy is always a good thing. Email us details.

I forgot to turn in a few surveys from last year (or longer). Is it still OK to do so? Yes. Old data can still be submitted, but do try to keep current on your surveys so that those accessing the data are getting the most recent and accurate information available.

Where can I take REEF Experience level tests? Find a Field Station near you – or email us at data@reef.org and we’ll find a way to make it possible.

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California and Pacific Northwest ID Courses Available on CD-ROM

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A REEF volunteers conducting a survey in Monterey Bay. Photo by Pete Naylor.

REEF is proud to release the latest version in our series of instructional marine life identification courses – Fishwatching in California. The California curriculum consists of three courses on one CD – divided into Southern California, Channel Islands, and Central/Northern California. Pictures and text are included and are geared for anyone interested in teaching Fish ID – ideal for dive shops and instructors, dive clubs, marine science centers and aquariums, and other groups. This course completes the library of West Coast curricula: California Fish ID, California Invertebrates and Algae, Pacific Northwest Fish, and Pacific Northwest Invertebrates. We would like to thank all of the photographers who generously donated underwater images for these courses!

These instructor-led courses are a great way to introduce divers and snorkelers to the variety of marine life that can be seen during their time in the water. Each module contains a CD-ROM with images with an easy-to-use teaching curriculum to train students in identification and REEF survey methodology. A sample starter kit is also included. Courses can be taught in approximately 2-3 hours and cover 50-70 of the most common species for an area.

The California Fish ID curriculum, along with all of the other curricula modules, are available online in REEF's store here -- http://www.reef.org/node/437

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REEF News Tidbits

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REEF Staff, Sasha Medlen, and volunteer Matt Dowell, at the recent Diver's Day at the Long Beach Aquarium.

West Coast Dive Shows - Visit REEF next month at SCUBA 2010 show in Long Beach (CA) on May 15-16 and the Dive & Travel Expo in Tacoma (WA) on May 22-23. REEF staff and volunteers will be there to tell you about our latest activities, have REEF gear and supplies for sale, and sign up new members.

New Field Stations - Welcome to our newest Field Stations who have joined us in the last month. Field Stations are shops, charters, instructors and organizations that support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out the other 170+ REEF Field Stations, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.

  • Eco SCUBA Dive Center, Key West FL
  • Camp Emerald Bay, Avalon CA
  • Marker Buoy Dive Club, Seattle WA
  • Poulsbo Marine Science Center, Poulsbo WA
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    Check out the REEF Online Store - This is the place to get all of your REEF gear, survey supplies, lionfish collection kits, and field guidebooks. The REEF Store is online here.

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