Sevengill Shark Sightings on the Rise in Southern California

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The majestic broadnose sevengill shark. Photo by Scott McGee - underpressurephoto.com

Active REEF surveyor, Mike Bear, and other San Diego area divers started noticing something unexpected earlier this year -- increasing numbers of encounters with the Bluntnose Sevengill Shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark. Knowing first hand the impact that divers and snorkelers can have as citizen scientists, Mike set up a website - http://sevengillsharksightings.org -- to serve as a central repository for photographic, videographic and written data on these magnificent creatures. Submissions on the site will allow REEF surveyors who are lucky enough to encounter this prehistoric species to provide additional information and images beyond the sighting and abundance information recorded as part of their REEF survey. It will also enable divers who were not doing a REEF survey to report their encounter. One of the most interesting parts of the website will be the development of an informal photographic database of Sevengill sightings that will facilitate the comparison of photographs and the potential identification of individual sharks using the unique pattern of dark "freckles" on the backs of each shark, similar to the patterns seen on whale sharks. To date, six REEF surveys in San Diego have reported a Sevengill (click here to see the sightings report).

Second Annual Bahamas Lionfish Derby Brings in 941 Lionfish

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Zane Carney, from Team Meander, captured the largest lionfish of the day - a whopping 43.4cm in length (approx. 19 in) and weighing about 4 pounds!
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Preparing the lionfish for the cookout.
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Derby First Place Team, White Roach.

The second annual Abaco Lionfish Derby, held at Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, on Saturday June 19th, was a huge success. Teams on twenty-one boats from Florida and the Bahamas enjoyed perfect weather and conditions while collecting a grand total of 941 lionfish. Over $5,000 in cash was awarded to the winning teams for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. This event, held in the Bahamas and sanctioned by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, is one of many REEF efforts to cull invasive lionfish populations and raise awareness about the issue.

The award for most lionfish collected in the one-day event went to team White Roach from Abaco. Repeat winners, the trio of skilled lionfish collectors significantly exceeded their tally from 289 lionfish last year to a whopping 345 this year. This number is both astonishing and alarming when you consider how dense lionfish populations must be for three people to have the ability to collect over 300 lionfish in the span of a single day.

Team Meander from Jacksonville, FL, clenched 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for largest lionfish collected. Zane Carney captured the largest lionfish ever recorded in the Abacos, which measured just 2cm short of the national record. Zane told Derby organizers that he found a hole outside the main barrier reef off of No Name Cay in 45 feet of water that was full of very large lionfish. He used a pole spear to bag the winning fish, which was 43.4 cm in length (roughly 19 inches long) and weighed approximately 4 pounds.

Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Operations, and Stephanie Green, a collaborative research partner from Simon Fraser University, recorded valuable data during the event, including lionfish sizes, stomach contents, and sex for many of the lionfish before they were filleted and cooked by the Green Turtle Club. Observers and participants, many of whom had never tried lionfish, found the fish quite tasty, resembling hogfish or grouper. This year, Tropic Seafood Limited of Nassau also arranged to purchase some of the larger fillets of lionfish for distribution in local markets. According to Derby organizer, Bobbie Lindsay, “Tropic’s offer to purchase lionfish is an exciting development, because creating a market for lionfish is the best way to control the population of this invasive fish.”

Thanks to the Derby co-sponsors, Green Turtle Club, and Brendal’s Dive Center, who offered special discounts for Derby participants. REEF also extends sincere gratitude to all of the participants, and especially Bobbie Lindsay, an active REEF member and volunteer who took the lead in organizing the Derby making it a successful event again this year. Next year’s Derby is set for June 24-25, 2011. For full results and pictures go to www.lionfishderby.com.

Summary of Team Results -

  • Most Lionfish: 1st Place: White Roach 2nd Place: Goofin’ Off 3rd Place: Cajun Bahamas
  • Largest Lionfish: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place: Meander
  • Smallest Lionfish: 1st and 2nd Place: Goofin’ Off 3rd Place: All Play
  • Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Horizon Divers

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

    This month we feature Horizon Divers in Key Largo, FL. Just down the street from REEF Headquarters, they have been a long-time supporter of REEF’s efforts. One of their hallmark efforts is supporting the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program by allowing REEF Interns to come out on the boat for free and conduct fish surveys. Horizon dive instructor, Mike Ryan, says, “It’s a lot of fun having them out on the boat regularly and getting to know them. When other divers see their slates and see them tallying fish underwater, they become curious and often ask the interns what they are doing and why count fish. The interns are great because they have the ability to inspire divers to learn fish names and start surveying which, in turn, brings us more business!” Mike also gets into REEF surveying himself. When asked about his best lifetime sightings, he quickly said they were a Manta Ray at one of their popular dive sites and a resident Longlure Frogfish that was regularly surveyed on the Speigel Grove for nearly a two-year timespan.

    Horizon Divers regularly teaches fish identification specialty courses and always encourages their students to become REEF surveyors. The shop is also very active in REEF’s Lionfish Control Program in the Keys. Most of their staff have been through REEF’s Lionfish Collection and Handling Workshop and they hold current permits to collect lionfish in the no-take Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs). The dive shop also serves as a Lionfish Collection Bank, collecting, labeling, and storing collected lionfish until they pass them to REEF for research purposes. Mike recently developed a “Lionfish Safari” PADI specialty course. Mike says, “Although lionfish are an ecological nightmare, we are trying to make the best of it by engaging divers in lionfish control efforts and drumming up business at the same time.”

    REEF and Florida Keys Sanctuary to Host Second Annual Lionfish Derby Series

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    Divers will return to Florida Keys waters next month on a mission: net thousands of dollars in cash and prizes while protecting the environment from invasive lionfish. REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are hosting the second annual lionfish derby series starting May 14, in Long Key, Fla. In 2010, the inaugural series of lionfish derbies removed 664 of the Pacific invaders from sanctuary waters. “Anyone who appreciates the diversity of the Keys coral reef should be concerned about these invasive fish,” said Sean Morton, Sanctuary Superintendent. “Divers have been actively engaged in lionfish removal in the Keys since 2009 and these tournaments are a way to reward them for their dedication to the reef.” Researchers will collect samples from lionfish caught at the derbies to learn more about lionfish genetics, growth, and impacts to native marine life. Each tournament also includes a detailed awareness and training briefing and lionfish tasting. In addition to the derby on May 14, two other events will be held later this year -- August 20 at Coconuts Restaurant in Key Largo and November 5 at Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West. To find out more about the Derby Series, visit the Derby Webpage.

    Lionfish Derbies in the Florida Keys Removes Over 1,000 of the Invasive Fish

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    Jen Russell shows off her catch, which netted the largest lionfish award in the Key West derby this year.

    Divers and snorkelers removed 1,518 invasive lionfish from Florida Keys waters during three Lionfish Derby events in 2011. Organized by REEF in partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby series began in 2010 to engage local communities in addressing the invasive lionfish issue. Goals of the lionfish derby series include raising awareness, educating collectors in safe collecting and handling procedures, providing samples for research, conducting lionfish cooking demonstrations and tastings for the general public, and encouraging ongoing removal efforts throughout the region. Teams of registered divers competed for cash and prizes in the categories of most, largest, and smallest lionfish. Dive teams traveled from as far as Chicago, IL.; Austin, TX; and Sunapee, NH to compete in the derbies. Participants and attendees observed filleting demonstrations and enjoyed tastings of lionfish caught during the event. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Salisbury University, University of Florida, Loyola University, international researchers from the UK, the State of Florida, and NOAA all utilized samples and data from the derbies to aid in their lionfish research. Growing populations of lionfish off the southeast U.S., Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico are impacting native marine life commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species. Derbies are just one of several strategies being employed to help control the lionfish invasion. Thanks to derby sponsors, including Ocean Reef Conservation Association, City of Layton, Divers Direct, Dive Key West, Spree Expeditions, Markey Marine Services, and The Weekly Newspapers. Visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies for derby results and updates on future derbies. Visit the REEF Lionfish webpage to find out more about REEF's Lionfish program.

    2013 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule Announced

    We are excited to announce our 2013 Field Survey Schedule. There is an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Destinations include: Fiji, Bahamas, Little Cayman, Utila, British Columbia, Grenada, Soccoro Islands, and Cozumel. Dates and locations of the 2013 trips and information on remaining 2012 trips are below. Complete package details and prices can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Make a Dive Trip That Counts!

    Dates and destinations for 2013 --

    May 11 - 21, 2013 Fiji, aboard the Nai'a, Led by Paul Humann

    May 18-25, 2013 Southern Bahamas, Lionfish Research Cruise aboard Explorer II, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes

    July 13-20, 2013 Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

    July 21-28, 2013 Utila, Deep Blue Utila, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers

    September 25 - 28, 2013 Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

    October 5-12, 2013 Grenada, with True Blue Bay Resort and Aquanauts Diving. Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science

    December 3-12, 2013 Socorro Islands, aboard Rocio del Mar, led by Andy Dehart and Marty Snyderman, Shark Experts, Photographers, and REEF Board Members

    December 7-14, 2013 Cozumel, Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin and Sheryl Shea, REEF Fish Experts and Cozumel Naturalists

    2012 Trips with space available --

    July 14-21, 2012 - Lionfish Research in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects

    July 28 - August 4, 2012 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

    September 22-29, 2012 - Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens, REEF Director of Science, REEF Researcher

    October 6-13, 2012 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers

    November 10-17, 2012 - British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert

    Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used in New Publication on Snappers and Climate Change

    Climate change is expected to cause a poleward shift of many temperate species, however, a better understanding of how temperature and species' life histories interact to produce observed adult range is often lacking. REEF data were featured in a new publication on this topic in the scientific publication, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. The publication's authors evaluated the hypothesis that juvenile thermal tolerance determines northern range in gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus), a species commonly caught as juveniles along the US Atlantic coast well north of their adult distribution, using a combined laboratory, field, and modeling approach. To evaluate the relationship between juvenile thermal tolerance criteria and adult distributions, the authors used the REEF database to quantify adult distribution. There was a strong correspondence between observations of adult gray snapper from the REEF database vs. latitude of the predicted survival of juveniles vs. latitude from their modeling analysis. The agreement between the laboratory-derived thermal tolerance measures, the spatial distribution of winter temperature, and the distribution of adult gray snapper support the hypothesis that the adult range of gray snapper is largely limited by the overwinter survival of juveniles. The authors stated that "understanding the interaction between physiology and range is important for forecasting the impacts of climate change on other species of fish where juvenile tolerances are critical in determining range, particularly in seasonal systems". The abstract of the paper and supporting figures can be viewed online here. Visit the REEF Publications page to see all of the scientific publications that have featured REEF data.

    Thank You For Helping Us Reach Our Goal

    On behalf of our current, past, and future REEF Marine Conservation Interns, we would like to thank all those who donated during our Spring fundraising campaign to support our internship program. Thanks to the generous contributions of many members, we reached (and surpassed) our goal, raising $10,196! These funds will help ensure that we can continue this important program and support these enthusiastic young professionals as they gain critical career skills. Although less known, the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program is one of our most successful endeavors. Our interns are a key part of ensuring smooth operations at REEF Headquarters, as they contribute in so many ways to the daily tasks and activities required to manage REEF’s important programs. Through experiences gained and connections made during their internship, many of our interns have gone on to work at government agencies or other non-profit organizations. Others have gone on to complete graduate programs focused on ocean issues. And several of them have come back to work at REEF!

    REEF Sponsors Grouper Education Workshop

    Educators learned a Food Web Game classroom activity that is part of the Grouper Education Program curriculum. REEF Educator, Todd Bohannon, demonstrates how the food web connections are represented by yarn strung between different members of the coral reef community.
    Mr. Bradley Johnson, from Cayman Islands Department of Environment, presenting information to educators during the Grouper Education Workshop on Cayman Brac.
    Two students participating in the Grouper Education Program.

    On December 3rd and 5th, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) held free educator workshops on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The professional development workshops presented the Grouper Education Program, a marine sciences curriculum for intermediate/elementary and high school students that was developed as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Nineteen teachers from 12 schools participated, including 2 schools from the Bahamas. Participants received the materials and resources necessary for successfully implementing the Grouper Education Program in their classrooms. This exciting project focuses on bringing the Nassau Grouper into classrooms through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect classrooms with Grouper Moon scientists in the field.

    The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important fish. Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations. In addition to classroom lessons, the program includes live-feed video sessions that take place at the Grouper Moon Project research site on Little Cayman, bringing real-world field science into the classroom.

    The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support for the workshops was provided by Cayman Airways, Brac Reef Beach Resort, and LIME. The program curriculum was developed to complement the research and scientific efforts of the Grouper Moon Project. Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, along with Grouper Moon scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. (REEF), and Mr. Bradley Johnson (DOE), have led the educational effort. Activities were developed in consultation with teachers at Cayman Prep on Grand Cayman, Verity Redrup and Brenda Bryce, and Cynthia Shaw, author of the youth fictional book, Grouper Moon. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

    Lobstaah Diving in New England

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    From front left - Holly Martel Bourbon, Alison Johnson, Jeanette Lysne, Blair Bertaccini, Jochen Faas, Peter Lysne, Carl Johnson, and Joe Cavanaugh.
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    Sea Raven, Hemitripterus americanus, seen on Cape Ann dive. Photo by Alison Johnson.
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    From front right - Sarah Taylor, Holly Martel Bourbon, Alison Johnson, Jeanette Lysne, Blair Bertaccini, Joe Cavanaugh, Carl Johnson, Jochen Faas and Peter Lysne.

    REEF just completed our first bona fide New England Field Survey this past week. It was a big success and really ended up being a reconnoitering expedition to determine how REEF can better translate our Fish Survey Project to the Northeast where there are plenty of divers getting out in the water but very few who conduct surveys. There is also a seasonal effect for the northeast in that the fish all hibernate or leave when the water temperature drops to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving a 7 month fish surveying season in most areas (April-October). Shore diving is more the norm for many locations throughout New England and there are few commercial charter boats as you would find in the Caribbean, for instance. And dive clubs really are the main vehicle for divers to connect and coordinate temperate dives as well as arranging tropical dive trips for some winter relief.

    Our REEF team was made up of 9 divers and we were based in historical Woods Hole on Cape Cod.  We dived in Woods Hole, Dennis, and off of Cape Ann (our chilliest venue with bottom temps close to 50 degrees already. I co-lead this group with Holly Martel Bourbon, a marine fishery biologist and diving safety officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  We were also joined by Sarah Taylor who is a New England Aquarium Aquarist II and collector.  Together, Holly and I coordinated with a number of dive shops in the region and Maryhelen Shuman-Groh set up a REEF talk at the New England Aquarium Dive Club that meets every month at the aquarium and is where I got my start about 12 years ago. Incidentally, we surveyed a combined total of 19 fish species, no century dives in New England, let's just say you shoot for deca-dives (10 species) and this is why you won't find New England divers complaining on Caribbean dives, well, that and the fact that visibility beyond 10 feet is a blessing. We found a few wayward foureye and spotfin butterflyfish juveniles settled from the Gulf Stream. Next time we'll have to go to Rhode Island to help collect some of the tropicals.

    New England diving is definitely unique and requires a special type of REEF capacity building to jumpstart the Fish Survey Project in the region. Bringing more dive shops into the fold such as Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester is a good first step in increasing REEF's efforts and the chance to engage the New England Aquarium Dive Club was especially important as this dive club reaches many of the naturalist divers in the region. I also attended a Boston Sea Rovers picnic (one of the oldest and most storied dive clubs in the U.S.) as Holly's guest and had the opportunity to speak with folks about REEF and our mission and hopes for increasing surveys in the region. Look for REEF to give a talk at the next Sea Rovers annual meeting in Boston http://www.bostonsearovers.com/  in March of 2008 and for us to give a REEF Citizens Science talk as part of the New England Aquarium's Lowell Lecture Series. We will also be partnering with the Aquarium as our newest Field Station http://neaq.org/. REEF and NEAQ will begin working on a number of training programs together to increase survey efforts in the northeast as well as having Aquarium divers become Advanced Assessment Team members and conduct surveys on their collection trips. There are many other opportunities for collaboration between NEAQ and REEF.

    I would like to thank the REEF members who were all wonderful  and patient on this trip as Holly and I had to kind of make things up as we went since this type of trip had not been done before, sort of a boat diving and shore diving mix, Bonaire meets New England without the yellow rocks. Thanks to Holly for co-leading the trip with me could not have done it without her) and to her boss, Vin Malkoski, for giving her the time to work with REEF and for the use of one of their vans for the week along with digital projector and many other shore diving supplies. Alison Johnson will be donating some underwater images from our dives for future curriculum/training along with Terrence Rioux, the dive safety officer for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). Holly and I plan on developing a more contemporary and appropriate curriculum that includes juvenile fish images and more inclusion of fish species that divers are likely to see on inshore dives.  Lastly, I want to thank both Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester as well as the Marine Biological Laboratory for the use of their dive locker and their conference center at SWOPE.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub