REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon. Watch a short video montage of the aggregation and spawning action here - http://youtu.be/GwKVzPLgmbo
Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. This year, we tested out some new techniques for collecting and rearing fertilized eggs (in the montage video you will see a diver swimming through a spawn cloud with a plastic bag). After collecting Nassau grouper eggs during the two nights of peak spawning, Scripps scientists and REEF Grouper Moon Project volunteers cultured the eggs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman. After one night, a subset of eggs were preserved for research on fertilization rates. After two nights, the eggs had hatched, and researchers were surprised to find larval Nassau swimming around the tank the next morning. Check out this video of larval Nassau grouper under the microscope - http://youtu.be/0Vph6LzH9IE!
In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.
Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, recently gave a Perspectives in Ocean Science talk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire talk is online. Click here to watch! To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.
Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2014, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club (especially Neil van Niekerk and the crew of the Lucky Devil for taking our team out in January), and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible - Adam, Alex, Brenda, Bradley, Croy, Guy, Hal, Ivan, James, Josh, Keith, Leslie, Laura, Lynn, Paul, Steve, and Todd. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.
"Did you ever have a fish experience that both excited and sadden you?"
That feeling recently happened to me at the dive site Kalli's Korner in Bonaire. My husband, Chile, and I were having a great day of diving with our friends Bryan and Phyllis McCauley in their boat, Pufferfish. Towards the end of our second dive that day, I noticed a pair of eyes peeping out of some coral rubble. As I watched suddenly a small eel darted out and raced few feet before hiding again. I was immediately intrigued and, using my rattle, got my buddy Phyllis' attention. Pointing out the location, we watched as once again the little conger eel slipped out of his cover and moved away. We slowly began to approach in hope of a better look. The process continued as we sought to identify him and he continued his trek. Each time we were able to get a bit closer and look for characteristics. Finally he seem comfortable enough to look at us, as we looked at him. Suddenly, a barred hamlet appeared above him and scooped him up. Imagine our shock and horror!!! Anger raced through my body and instinctually I reached for my dive knife and took off after that (blank blank) hamlet. The chase continued as the hamlet, with his full tummy, eluded me and viewed me as if to say 'why are you after me?' What was my plan I thought later? Well, I only know if I had caught the sucker, oops fish, he would have been disemboweled in the search for the little conger eel. The sound of laughter underwater reaches me. By this time, my dive buddy is in stitches as I sheepishly return. Later research found a margaintail conger that matched our descriptions.
Now as I continue my search for what I hope are his companions, I will be keeping a wary eye out for hamlets in the surrounding area. So that’s my fish tale and now for the question: Should you report to REEF a fish, found, identified but not longer living in the underwater world?
You can bet I did.
In an Enews article last May, I wrote about a collaborative effort between REEF and the Bahia Principe Resort in Akumal, Mexico. The Resort has been working with ReefAid ever since Hurricane Wilma (2005) did major damage to the reefs just in front of the resort, in an effort to study, protect, and restore these reefs. I was originally invited down to conduct a fish census on a large patch reef area off the beach from the property. The destruction to the inshore reef during Wilma was severe and ever since, Bahia Principe has worked with ReefAid to restore this patch reef area, establishing a protected zone around the most hard-hit areas. Part of Bahia Principe's long-term plan is to create a mitigation plan for future storms and to educate guests about ways they, too, can help protect the reefs. The Hotel Gran Bahia Principe is the Yucatan's largest resort complex, and there are currently 14 such resorts worldwide. After our last visit, ReefAid's Founder, Eric Engler and I co-wrote a protection and monitoring plan for the Resort that included periodic roving diver surey assessments, special signs and enforcement of no-swim areas, a coral nursery, and coral and invertebrate monitoring using another non-profit's methodology (ReefCheck).
On our last trip a few weeks ago, Eric and I received Reefcheck training over two days with Gabriela Georgina Nava Martinez, learning their survey methodology. Gaby also taught a Reefcheck class to the Bahia Principe dive staff , their onsite turtle rescue non-rpfit, Ecologica Bahia, and some of the Resort public relations personnel.. Bahia Principe is now a REEF Field Station and is close to becoming an educational center for REEF, teaching fish ID classes and training Resort guests in how to conduct fish surveys. Resort staff will soon routinely conduct Roving Diver Surveys of both the protected area and the offshore reefs frequented by multiple dive operators. Additionally, Reefcheck will train the dive staff to conduct 3-4 surveys per year at first to form a baseline assessment of the inshore protected reef. And finally, this year REEF is running a Field Survey to Bahia Principe (May 17-24, 2008). Please see our Field Survey page on our website at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule to learn more about our upcoming survey and how to participate.
The collaborative efforts between our three non-profits in Akumal represent a proactive involvement among multiple stakeholders to protect a critical resource, one that is very susceptible to damage from development and excessive tourist pressures. The ultimate goal of this synergistic, cooperative effort is to protect a large inshore reef area (see images) and improve the reef integrity with the addition of well-placed coral recruitment modules. To be candid, much of the Mexican Riviera is slated to be developed by an increasing number of resorts, most with requisite golf courses. And there are other environmental concerns in addition to the coral reefs offshore that form part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef such as all the cenotes (sink-holes) with their endemic terrestrial and aquatic species; the crucial watershed provided by the cenotes; loss of mangroves; the regional rainforest cover that is in jeopardy; excessive nutrient loading from all the resorts and urban development; not to mention the cultural world heritage significance of the Mayan communities and archaeological sites. However, the good news is that if Gran Bahia Principe is voluntarily willing to adopt special protection measures for their resort, these may serve as a "eco-friendly" archetype for other resorts in the region. This partnership building between organizations at the regional and international level bodes well for the adoption of some conservation plans for the area. Whether the proposed regional development can be slowed to a sustainable level is another story that time will tell.
If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent summary article on some of the initiatives between resorts and non-profits working to preserve the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from the NY Times last week. http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/travel/24headsup.html?emc=eta1
On Tuesday, February 26, REEF will host a community panel discussion to raise awareness about how volunteers contribute to scientific understanding of the Florida Keys environment. Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York will lead the discussion. Florida Keys-based citizen science practitioners will present on local projects and ways for volunteers to get involved. Topics include fish and bird surveying, native plants and coral restoration. A reception with the speakers will begin at 6:30, followed by presentations at 7 PM. This event will be held at the Key Largo Public Library and is free and open to the public.
A second panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West and will focus on citizen science projects in the lower Florida Keys. Speakers include:
Please join REEF staff and community partners for at least one of these educational evenings.
The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) has arrived! GAFC is a month long event coordinated by REEF Field Stations that encourages volunteer divers and snorkelers to participate in recreational trips to raise awareness regarding marine habitats and trends in fish populations. REEF partners and Field Stations have organized everything from group dives and snorkels to photo contests, BBQs, and aquarium tours. This is a great opportunity to take a free REEF Fish ID class and connect with other individuals as well as groups, such as local dive operations and non-profit organizations, who are also interested in doing the same objectives. Numerous activities have been scheduled for the Pacific Coast, Hawaii, California, Washington, Florida, Maine, British Columbia, and many other regions- and still more are being added! Details for scheduled events can be found on the GAFC website. Each year GAFC events generate approximately 2,000 surveys in July alone and increase the interest and involvement of hundreds of surveyors worldwide. Participating in a GAFC event is a great way to make an active contribution to marine conservation and get involved with what REEF does year round- engage volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect critical, valid, and cost-effective data. We hope you get involved!
Looking for a special gift for that certain someone. A 2009 REEF Trip makes a perfect gift. REEF Trips are not only fun, have diving and fish watching involved (which makes it perfect by my standards) but these trips are educational, green and are scheduled to some of the most beautiful Caribbean dive destinations. Also as an added bonus - all divers need a buddy so you get a good reason to give yourself a trip too!
REEF Trips are filling up fast. One trip that has been sold out for almost a year, Cozumel in December, just had a few spaces open up. This is your opportunity to join REEF Expert and Cozumel local, Sheryl Shea, on an excellent dive vacation. Sheryl is an a-fishy-a-nado extraordinaire and will be sure to infuse great fish watching, interesting local history and lots of fun on these trips. There are 3 spaces available during Week 1, December 6 – 14, including an opportunity for a double occupancy room – 1 male looking for a roommate and 1 female looking for a roommate. So if you are flying solo and don’t want to pay single occupancy we will put you in touch with a potential roommate. Please give us a call for more information and to reserve your space 305-852-0030. There are also a few spaces still available during the second trip, December 13 – 18. Please call the REEF Travel Desk for booking this trip – 877-295-7333.
So remember give the gift of Fish Watching for the holidays – we can prepare you a beautiful gift certificate and even arrange for it to be presented in an autographed fish ID book (or creature or coral) wrapped in Bottom Crawlers Holiday gift wrap. REEF Trips are a great way to enjoy yourself while making a valuable contribution to REEF on several different levels. Remember make this holiday season one that is All About The Fish!
Data collected as part of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project were the basis of a recent publication evaluating the effect of human population size on coral reef fish populations. The sweeping study, conducted by researcher Dr. Chris Stallings of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory, revealed that sharks, barracuda and other large predatory fishes disappear on Caribbean coral reefs as human populations rise, endangering the region’s marine food web and ultimately its reefs and fisheries. The study, which used data collected by REEF volunteers at sites in 22 Caribbean nations over 15 years, demonstrates the power of volunteer and community research efforts by non-scientists. Data are often insufficient at region-wide scales to assess the effects of extraction in coral reef ecosystems of developing nations. The REEF citizen science project fills this gap by generating valid and needed data over large geographic areas over long time periods.
While other scientists working in the Caribbean have observed the declines of large predators for decades, the comprehensive work by Dr. Stallings documents the ominous patterns in far more detail at a much greater geographic scale than any other research to date. The study found that nations with more people have reefs with far fewer large fish because as the number of people increases, so does demand for seafood. Stallings said that although several factors -- including loss of coral reef habitats -- contributed to the general patterns, careful examination of the data suggests overfishing as the most likely reason for the disappearance of large predatory fishes across the region. He pointed to the Nassau grouper as a prime example. Once abundant throughout the Caribbean, Nassau grouper have virtually disappeared from many Caribbean nearshore areas and are endangered throughout their range.
Dr. Stalling's article on the study, “Fishery-Independent Data Reveal Negative Effect of Human Population Density on Caribbean Predatory Fish Communities,” was published in the May 6, 2009 issue of the journal PLoS One. The paper is available for download here.
To find out more about how REEF Volunteer Survey Project data have been used by scientists and government agencies, visit the Publications page on the REEF Website.
Over eight years ago, REEF expanded its flagship Fish Survey Project into Bermuda. Since then, local surveyors have contributed over 2500 surveys to the sighting database! In October, thirteen volunteers joined local REEF hosts Judie Clee and Chris Flook for a delightfully full schedule. After two extended survey dives each day, we were treated to a night snorkel and picnic to watch glowworms, a slideshow and dinner at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, a private, guided tour of the nature preserve on Nonsuch Island, and a reception and presentations by the scientists from BREAM (Bermuda Reef Ecosystem Assessment and Mapping Programme). The week was topped off with a grand finale dinner and behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoological Park.
One of the best things about fishwatching is seeing something new. Many areas have endemic fish and experienced fishwatchers know that fish coloration and behaviors can vary a lot from region to region. We arrived prepared to add Bermuda Bream, Bermuda Halfbeaks and Gwelly jacks to our lifelists but found ourselves equally thrilled to see the Bermuda version of the Yellowhead wrasse, called the Redback (for its distinctive red coloration) and the brilliant jewel colors of their Puddingwives. Between dives, Chris Flook, from the Bermuda Aquarium, filled buckets with rafts of Sargassum seaweed and pointed out juvenile chubs, crabs, shrimps, pipefish and frogfish. Judie’s expert eye helped us sort out the damselfish puzzle. We dived several times in an area where the Emerald Parrotfish was once quite common but has not been seen for many years. Our possible sightings have generated some excitement and Judie and Chris are investigating further. Our total species count for the week was 115 and included a rare sighting of a Conchfish.
Thanks go out to Triangle Diving for the welcome BBQ (and Lionfish hors d’oeuvres) and their excellent diving services. And very special thanks to the Bermuda Zoological Society for funding REEF in Bermuda and for underwriting many of our special activities of the week. We’ll be back – and promise that it won’t take eight years!
As this report reminds us -- REEF trips are more than just your average dive vacation. Be sure to check out the REEF trip 2010 schedule, which can be found online at www.REEF.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. We encourage you to join us on our adventures in 2010 and Take a Trip the Counts!
Members of REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) and other active surveyors gathered in central California earlier this month to survey fish and invertebrate life in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). Twenty-two divers conducted over 140 REEF surveys at twelve sites during the week-long project. This was the 8th year that the coordinated expedition has been conducted, and the data collected serve as a valuable time-series of information on the status and trends of populations within the Sanctuary. The team was led by REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens. Dr. Steve Lonhart, a lead scientist from the MBNMS, and Chad King from the MBNMS, also joined the group for the week to provide valuable local expertise.
In addition to this annual monitoring project, volunteers conduct REEF surveys year-round during their regular diving activities in the area. REEF surveys have been conducted in the Sanctuary since 1997, and to date, over 2,600 surveys have been submitted from the MBNMS in to the REEF database. Click here to see a current summary of REEF data from the MBNMS. The Sanctuary is home to many colorful fish and invertebrates and is a popular spot for sport diving. REEF data collected in the MBNMS are currently being analyzed to document changes in key rocky reef fish species. Projects like the annual MBNMS monitoring are a great way for active REEF volunteers to apply their skills and expertise. These projects are also just one more reason for REEF surveyors to improve their identification skills and increase their survey experience level.
A big thank you to the participating AAT members and other REEF volunteers, and to Dr. Steve Lonhart and Chad King for their participation and logistical support. We also greatly appreciate George Peterson and Justin Kantor from the Monterey Bay Aquarium for hosting our first evening seminar. Field support was provided by the Monterey Express; thanks to owner Tim Doreck and to Captain Phil Sammet for serving at the helm of our adventures. This project would not be possible without the financial support of an anonymous foundation.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Marker Buoy Dive Club in Washington, which has been a Field Station for about a year. The Marker Buoy Dive Club was founded in 1961 and some of its club members have been diving in Puget Sound since the 1960s and 1970s, so they are very aware of long-term changes in some local fish populations. The Marker Buoy Dive Club currently has about 145 members. They have a dedicated group of members who encourage club participation in the REEF program and in other local activities that raise public awareness of the marine life in Puget Sound. The club is very fortunate to have an active REEF Level 5 surveyor (Rhoda Green) who is willing to teach REEF Introduction to Fish and Invertebrate Identification classes.
In addition to offering ID classes, the club hosts survey dives on a regular basis (sometimes as often as once/week) and encourage club members to report their sightings from their own dives. They have added a REEF News section to our monthly newsletter and are featuring a “Critter of the Month” from the PNW Critter Watchers archive. The club will be recognizing the volunteer efforts of members who have been most active in the REEF program and all club members who turn in at least 10 surveys this year will be entered in a drawing for some fun prizes. Some future plans include encouraging members to become advanced level REEF surveyors and to broaden the range of ID classes including Hawaiian fish identification class for club members who are planning to go on a dive trip to Maui. Club members recently remarked "REEF wouldn’t be the program that it is without the efforts and dedication of our regional Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, and all of the people who volunteer their time to teach the classes, host survey dives, log their surveys and report their sightings – keep up the good work!"
Thanks Marker Buoy Dive Club – you’re a shining beacon to us all!