REEF-in-Brief September 2008

Introduction

Hello and Happy Fall! In this issue of REEF-in-Brief, we remind you of the many ways to make dives that count, and share secrets for success in using the Online Data Entry program. While we still process paper survey scansheets, we highly recommend that our surveyors submit their data to the Volunteer Survey Project through the online program. Not only is it faster and more accurate, it requires less REEF staff resources and saves money on postage and paper.

We have great stories in this issue. You will read about our intrepid team of Advanced Assessment Team divers in the Pacific Northwest who recently completed the 6th year of monitoring at the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. And we have a Notes From the Field report from REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, on his recent activities in studying the invasion of Indo-Pacific Lionfish in the Bahamas. Finally, one of our active Florida surveyors reports on a recent mystery fish sighting that turned out to be quite a find!

And be sure to check out the new 2009 Field Survey brochure

We hope that you enjoy catching up on the recent news from REEF.

Best fishes and parrotfish kisses,

Lisa

REEF Team Completes Sixth Year of Monitoring on Washington's Outer Coast

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Pacific Northwest surveyors spent a week in the Olympic Coast NMS.
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Advanced Assessment Team member, Dave Jennings, shows his REEF spirit! Photo by Janna Nichols.
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A scalyhead sculpin is a common find on Pacific surveys. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Members of the REEF Pacific Northwest Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) recently conducted the 6th annual survey of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) near Neah Bay, Washington. Porthole Dive Charters transported the 8 member dive team to ten sites over the course of a week. A total of 89 surveys were completed and the team documented 85 species of fish and invertebrates, including many unusual sightings such as the tubenose poacher, lobefin snailfish, and rosylip sculpin.

The OCNMS covers over 3,300 square miles of ocean off Washington State's rugged and rocky Olympic Peninsula coastline. Sanctuary waters host abundant marine life. A small but important stretch of coastline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca features some of the best diving in Washington State, yet is rarely visited because of the remote location and limited diving facilities. In 2003, REEF started conducting annual assessments at a set of key sites in the northern portion of the OCNMS in order to generate a baseline of data that can be used to evaluate the status and trends of marine communities.

To date, REEF volunteers have conducted 353 surveys in the OCNMS (290 hours of observation time!) and have documented 61 species of fish and 31 invertebrates. The 2008 project summary data is posted here. REEF staff are currently preparing a summary report for the Sanctuary based on the data collected to date.

Funding and support for this year's OCNMS project was generously provided by the National Marine Sanctuary Program, the Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation, the Winter's Summer Inn in Seiku, and the REEF survey participants. A bunch of spectacular photos have been posted (from both above and below the water) by the team participants. Online galleries include: Janna NicholsPete NaylorApril TheodRon Theod, and David Jennings.

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Taking A Dive Trip That Counts

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REEF volunteer, Judie Clee, conducts a survey in Little Cayman during a Field Survey earlier this year. Photo by Ron Lucas.

As Fall is upon us, we look ahead to 2009 and a great lineup of REEF travel opportunities. Our partners at Caradonna Dive Adventure have helped us put together an exciting Field Survey schedule, including St. Croix, Bermuda (with Ned and Anna DeLoach), and Grenada on the Peter Hughes Winddancer (with Paul Humann). These week-long projects are led by experts in fish identification and include great diving, learning, and camaraderie with like-minded divers and snorkelers. Your non-diving companions are welcome on all of the land-based projects. There will also be several Lionfish Research Project expeditions, which allow participants to get first hand experience in this exploding invasive species issue. Be sure to check out all of these trips, posted online at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. And remember that it's not just on REEF Trips that you can Make Dives That Count! You are encouraged to conduct surveys during your personal dive vacations farther afield and on local weekend dives in your own backyard. Be sure to order survey materials through the REEF Online Store before you leave and check out what species you are likely to see with the Geographic Summary Reports. And while you are waiting for your tank to be filled, it's fun to tell the folks at the dive shop what you are doing. Being a REEF ambassador helps spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project and the value that fishwatching adds to your experience in the water. We hope that you will join us in making dives that count in 2009. We are kicking off the year with a Field Survey to St. Lucia led by new REEF Executive Director, Lisa Mitchell. To find out more or to book your space, please contact our dedicated travel specialist at 877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com. And be sure to download our 2009 Trip Flyer!

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Lionfish Letters from the Field - Eleuthera

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Lad Akins (REEF) and Stephanie Green (Simon Fraser University) show Island School students the finer points of lionfish netting.
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Indo-Pacific Lionfish are now omni-present throughout the Bahamas, including this one sighted in Exuma. Photo by Sean Nightingale.

Following the most recent Indo-Pacific Lionfish expedition at Stuart Cove’s in Nassau, Bahamas, we kicked off the next phase of our critical research on this invasive species in Eleuthera. Supporters, Trish and David Ferguson, served as hosts for the week. Earlier this summer, REEF staff set up 11 study sites, tagging 30 fish on six different patch reef and clearing the other 5 sites of lionfish. This past week, I revisited those tagging sites and documented any movement of lionfish. We then following up with early morning, mid-day and evening activity observations to see what the fish were up to and when. The observations involved pre-sun up dives and 2-3 hour bottom times. With some very early and late dive times, the data collected is showing interesting patterns of low light activity.

After five days of intense data collecting at the Ferguson’s we headed down to Cape Eleuthera to meet with staff and students at the Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute(CEI). The facility is completely self contained, producing their own electricity via solar and wind, their own biodiesel, raising cobia and tilapia in an aquaculture facility and even growing their own hydroponic vegetables. A very impressive operation and an incredible group of staff and students. We were able to conduct collecting and dissecting demonstrations for the coral research class and then do a packed house talk to all of the staff and students from TIS as well as a number from the local Deep Creek Middle School. There is strong interest in collaborating on future lionfish studies as well as incorporating fish surveys into the regular research curriculum at the IS and CEI. Look for future REEF projects to be scheduled here in 2009.  Visit our Lionfish Research page for more information.

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REEF Data Entry Tips

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Never far from internet access! Sitting on the boat in Makah Marina, Olympic Coast REEF surveyors submit their survey data for the day. Online entry is the preferred way to submit REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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It's always a good idea to review your data soon after your dive.
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REEF surveyors in Hawaii, as well as the West Coast/Pacific region and the Tropical Eastern Pacific, can all enter data online.

Processing and error checking the 1,000+ REEF surveys submitted each month by our members as part of the Volunteer Survey Project is one of REEF's highest priorities. With limited staff and resources, there are a few things that you can do to help us maintain the integrity of this incredible database. Most importantly - whenever possible, please submit your data through the Online Data Entry interface, http://www.REEF.org/dataentry. Turnaround time is typically 1-3 weeks, compared with 8-12 weeks for paper scansheets. Plus it saves postage and paper! The second most important way you can help -- if you are submitting data on scansheets, please have your REEF member number and complete 8-digit zone code filled in on the form before mailing it to REEF. Read on for more helpful hints.

Online Data Entry Tips

  • You need to be a REEF member in order to submit data. If you aren’t already a member, join online. It’s easy and FREE! If you are a member but you do not know your survey number, you can check it here http://www.reef.org/user/numberlookup. If you have trouble retrieving your number, email us at reefhq@reef.org.
  • You must have pop-up windows enabled for the Online Data Entry program to work.
  • As you progress through the screens using the Next and Back buttons, your entries will be saved. If you lose your Internet connection or need to logout before finishing, the information will be there to complete and submit when you log back in.
  • In order to submit a survey from a location, REEF must have an 8-digit zone code for the site in our database first. Existing zone codes are listed at http://www.reef.org/db/zonecodes. To have a zone code assigned for a new site, please contact us at reefhq@reef.org.
  • Listed and Unlisted Species - The listed species screens navigate you through a list of the most common species from the region you surveyed. At any time, you can jump directly to a particular family using the navigation list on the left-hand side. After you have entered all of your listed species, you will then be able to add any additional fish species. You will be able to search by common, scientific, and family names or be entering in the specific species code if already known.
  • Summary and Error Checking - After you are finished entering the data, your entries will be summarized. Please review this summary and confirm that all information is correct. Your sightings data will be compared to REEF’s existing data and any rare or new sightings or species that are commonly misidentified will be flagged. You will be asked to confirm these sightings.
  • Submit - Once you select “Submit” the survey data will be stored in a permanent file and you will no longer be able to review or edit the data. The data will then be loaded into the REEF Database, however, note that data will be not immediately added to the database. Each survey submitted will be assigned a survey number that will be shown on the final confirmation page; this unique number is similar to the form number printed on each paper scanform and should be kept for your records. You can use your browser’s print function to print the final review page.
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    REEF is currently modifying our Online Data Entry program for surveys from the Tropical Eastern Pacific and the Northeast. We hope to have this available soon.

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    REEF Surveyor Notes a Rare Find

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    A mystery fish, captured on film by REEF surveyor Rob McCall.
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    The mystery fish turned out to be the rarely seen Pugjaw Wormfish.
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    The swimming motion was sinuous, much like an eel.
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    The wormfish shared a burrow with a yellowhead jawfish.

    REEF TWA Advanced Assessment Team member, Rob McCall, has over 625 surveys under his belt and 281 fish species on his lifelist. But earlier this summer, during a dive in the Florida Keys, he found something that surprised him - the extremely rare Pugjaw Wormfish (Cerdale floridana). Here is his story -- Last June, while diving at Rock Key off Key West, I noticed a very slender (about the diameter of thin drinking straw) white fish about 6 cm long. I could see the fish had a rounded head but could not see dorsal or tail fins. The fish swam with a sinuous movement, much like an eel or worm, and dove into a burrow when it saw me. It did not immediately reappear and I soon swam off in search of other fish. That night I attempted to identify the mystery fish in my reference books, but was unable to get even a rough idea of what it might be.

    Subsequent to the first sighting, I saw a similar fish on two other occasions at Rock Key. All sightings were within an area about 8 x 4 meters, with sand bottom bordered by high profile reef. On the second sighting, the fish dove into a burrow and did not reappear. On the third sighting, the fish immediately dove into a Yellowhead Jawfish burrow (the normal occupant was a male Yellowhead Jawfish who happened to be mouth-brooding eggs at the time; the jawfish was hovering above the burrow and did not seem particularly upset that the mystery fish “borrowed” his home.) The mystery fish did not reappear during the ten minutes or so I spent photographing the jawfish.

    I stopped by REEF Headquarters in early August and asked Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, if he had any ideas to help me identify the fish. Based on my hazy description, Lad thought it might be a type of worm-eel. But when I researched online, it did not seem to be a good fit.

    On August 22, while diving at Nine Foot Stake off Key West (and armed with my camera set up for macro) I came across one of the mystery fish – truly a case of me being in the right place at the right time. The fish was out in the open but dove into a nearby burrow – I don’t know if it was his or a “borrowed” one – when he saw me. I decided to wait a couple of minutes to see if it would reappear, and within a minute or two, it stuck its head back out. Over the next ten minutes it made several darting forays from the burrow, getting a little more used to me, or perhaps a little more desperate to get home. This fish seemed longer than the one(s) at Rock Key – perhaps 8 cm or so.

    The four sightings shared some common features. All were at 20-24 ft. depth with sand bottom. Three of the four burrows were within 5-10 cm of small coral heads or rubble clumps. Dorsal and tail fins are visible in the photos; the fish is not actually as slender as it appears to the naked eye.

    I was pretty well stumped over identifying what the fish was, even with photos, until one night I was re-reading Ned DeLoach and Paul Humman’s Reef Fish Behavior and under the article on Yellowhead Jawfish, I noticed a reference to Pugjaw Wormfish sharing a burrow with the jawfish. The next morning I researched it online and found a photo which appeared to be a very good match for my mystery fish.

    We don’t know how rare the Pugjaw Wormfish might be, but according to the REEF database, they have been reported only five other times: one in Florida, one in Cuba and three in Bonaire. Convinced there are more Pugjaw’s waiting to make an appearance here in Key West, I’ve got the other instructors on our dive boat keeping their eyes open in the hopes that one of us will once again be in the right place at the right time.

    Rob McCall is a scuba instructor in Key West and has been a REEF member and surveyor since 2000.

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    REEF News Tidbits for September

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    Limited Edition Lionfish Print by Rogest!  REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), has offered a limited edition version of his lionfish print as a vehicle to focus attention on the huge problem of invading Pacific Lionfish in Caribbean and Atlantic Waters. Limited Edition, 200 prints available. Only $25.  100% of the proceeds to benefit the REEF Lionfish Research Program. Buy yours through the online REEF store today.

    - REEF's Lionfish Research Project continues to be widely covered by the media. Some of the recent coverage includes National Geographic and The Nature Conservancy's Magazine. Check out the Lionfish Media page for a complete list and links.

    - There are still a few spaces left on the second Cozumel trip, December 13-18.

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