Earlier this week, on March 3rd, 2009, the number of REEF surveys conducted by volunteers in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (incl. the US East Coast, Caribbean, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico) topped 100,000! The REEF Volunteer Survey Project database as a whole (including all regions) reached this benchmark in October 2006. The 100k surveys have been conducted by 8,582 volunteers at 6,203 sites in the TWA region. Other remarkable project milestones reached this week -- there are now two TWA surveyors who have conducted over 2,000 surveys each(!), many of our surveyors in the Pacific and Hawaii regions are about to surpass the 500 survey mark, and the number of surveys conducted in the Pacific region will soon exceed 15,000. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations and our most active surveyors.
REEF's mission, to educate and enlist divers in the conservation of marine habitats, is accomplished primarily through the Volunteer Survey Project. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers. To find out more about who is using the data, visit the Publications page on the REEF website. The first surveys were conducted in 1993. As of February 2009, 125,717 surveys have been submitted to the REEF Survey Project database. Visit the About REEF page to find out more and to see where our volunteers are conducting surveys.
Just when you thought you had it all figured out, you realize there is more to learn. A few years ago, scientists working on Blue Rockfish genetics discovered that there were actually two species of Blues. After fishermen bagged both types off Eureka, California, and were able to correctly separate them by appearance, Drs. Tom Laidig and Milton Love wondered if they could be correctly identified by divers underwater, and in what range and depth they are found. What a perfect project for our west coast REEF surveyors.
Using photos taken by Pacific NW AAT members (Pete Naylor, Janna Nichols) in both Monterey and the Neah Bay area (on our annual REEF survey projects of these areas), they were able to determine that yes indeed, the two species of Blue Rockfish could be correctly ID’d underwater. Both species are being found along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts by fishermen. REEF surveyor Taylor Frierson has seen both species (in the same school!) while diving near Newport, Oregon. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has both species of Blue Rockfish on display in Halibut Flats – a good way to compare them.
Although the species has yet to be officially described, REEF is asking Pacific surveyors, whenever possible, to start separating the two into what for now will be called, “Blue Blotched” and “Blue Sided”. These new species are listed in the Unlisted Species section on the online data entry form. A general “Blue Rockfish” category will still exist if you’re unsure (the one listed on the Listed Species list). We are also asking surveyors who have photos from previous survey dives, to go through and if they can positively ID the species seen based on the photos, to submit the change to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the survey number (if know), date, and location.
To help you ID the two species, here are some tips:
Comparison photos may be seen here.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com and we’ll find a way to make it possible.
Last month, the launch of our 6th REEF survey region was a big success due to the combined efforts of our newest partners in American Samoa, and numerous volunteers and partners in the scientific community. Thanks to support from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and other donors, we were able to bring fish ID training workshops and surveying opportunities to over two dozen local participants on the main island of Tutuila. The launch included distributing locally oriented underwater fish ID cards, underwater paper, and a number of Tropical Pacific Fish ID books to an enthusiastic group of local residents. Through meetings and trainings with staff at the Fagatelle Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, the National Park Service, the Coral Reef Advisory Group, local residents and business owners, we established a network of snorkelers and divers who will continue surveying at sites such as Alofau, Faga`alu, and Tisa’s Barefoot Bar at Alega Beach.
At over 1,500 known reef fish species, the fish diversity of South Pacific coral reefs is higher than in the Caribbean. Our survey team definitely had our work cut out for us, but with the help of cameras, video, and the REEF training materials, we managed to positively identify over 200 species in a total of 60 surveys throughout the week. A few of the highlights included charismatic emperor angelfish (including a juvenile), saddled butterflyfish, mimic surgeonfish, longnose filefish, and Leslie’s cardinalfish - named after former REEF employee Leslie Whaylen Clift, who first discovered it in 2004 while living in American Samoa.
Originally scheduled for last fall, this launch was delayed by the devastating tsunami that hit American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga in September 2009, and evidence of the disaster was apparent with numerous toppled plate and branching corals at some of the sites. REEF surveys will provide important information about fish populations as the local reefs rebuild over the coming years.
In the coming months, REEF will continue to grow the Samoa program with the help of local coordinators as our pilot region in the South Pacific, and has developed a curriculum that will be available soon on our website. Our next step in expanding into this vast region will be our first survey trip to the South Pacific in May 2011 to Fiji, where surveyors and will use a new set of survey materials designed for broad use throughout the South Pacific region. Click here for more information about this exciting field survey into our newest region, which will be led by Paul Humann.
REEF’s Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, along with REEF Board of Trustee member Heather George, and longtime REEF science advisor, Dr. Brice Semmens, led the expedition. A big thank you to frequent Hawaii surveyors Donna and George Brown, and Pat Richardson, who also participated in this expedition. Thank you also to New World Publications, Leslie Whaylen Clift, Neil Ericcson, Dr. Jack Randall, and Doug Fenner, whose contributions to the development of these new materials has been invaluable. And we greatly appreciate the support of the many photographers who generously donated the use of their underwater images for use in our training materials: Donna Brown, Paul Brown, Joyce Burek, Bob Fenner, John Hoover, Paul Humann, Josh Jensen, Ed Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Keoki Stedner, and Marty Snyderman.
If you would like to make a contribution specifically to support the South Pacific regional expansion, you can donate online here, or mail your donation to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Include “South Pacific Expansion” with your donation information.
Following on the heels of our milestone in Hawaii in January of reaching 10,000 surveys, the REEF Survey Project saw its 20,000th survey submitted from the Pacific Coast Region. Divers from California to the Pacific Northwest have been conducting surveys on fish, invertebrates, and algae since 1997. Over 1,300 sites have been surveyed and 1,554 volunteers have participated. Mike Delaney conducted the lucky 20k survey at Whitecliff Park in British Columbia on February 4th, 2011! Congratulations Mike! It was particularly exciting that this landmark survey was conducted at Whitecliff because not only is this the 407th REEF survey conducted in this important little marine park but it is also where the very FIRST surveys were ever conducted in the Pacific Northwest.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
Buddy Dive in Bonaire is this month’s featured Field Station. Buddy has supported REEF in the past by hosting weeklong Field Survey trips and lionfish presentations, but their current program was kick-started in 2009 when Dive Operations manager Augusto Montbrun visited REEF’s Key Largo office. Inspired by his visit with the local REEF staff, Augusto handed the project over to Francesca Virdis, a Buddy Dive instructor from Italy who has a master’s degree in Science of the Marine Environment. Combining her knowledge of fish with her passion for teaching, Francesa has developed a very informative “Sea’lebrity of the Week” program and a half-day Fish ID Adventure course that includes a beginning fishwatching course with REEF surveying dives.
Engaging divers in a new pursuit when they are visiting an area for a one-week vacation can be a challenge and Francesca’s favorite part of teaching the REEF course is the reaction she gets from her students after their first fish identification dive. “They are so excited by the number of species they can find, just in a small area off the dock – that is exciting to me – to see them change.”
In the plans for next summer is a few weeks dedicated to promoting the Field Station and REEF, including some events to raise awareness of all the interesting fish, like the Black Brotula and Medusa blennies, that can be found diving just in front of the resort.
As part of the NOAA-funded Coastal Partnership Initiative, REEF has joined forces with Florida SeaGrant to organize and conduct a series of lionfish collecting and handling workshops and hands on training dives in Southeast Florida. REEF Staff trained over 75 divers during recent workshops and dives in the Florida Keys, Miami, and Palm Beach. The project also includes organized removals by local volunteer teams throughout the year. Additional workshops and dives are planned through the summer for the entire southeast Florida coast and it is anticipated that, after training, organized removal efforts will take place year round. For a list, and to register for upcoming workshops and dives, visit http://www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops.
Need to get away before the holidays get started? Two spots are still available on the Cuan Law livaboard November 11-17, one female share and one male share. This luxurious trimaran features a wonderful menu, wide stable platform, and dive sites of various habitats sailing around the British Virgin Islands – the perfect live-aboard combo! Some of the interesting fish we will be searching for include lancer dragonets, spotted eagle rays, and striking indigo hamlets. Join REEF fish ID experts, Sue Thompson, Linda Schillinger, and trip leader Heather George for a fun-filled cruise! Details are posted online here.
If this doesn't work in your schedule, be sure to check out the full REEF Trip schedule here. Many are already full or close to it for 2013. Don't miss your chance to take a "Dive Vacation That Counts!".
As part of our efforts to address the lionfish invasion to the western Atlantic, REEF received a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Aquatic Invasive Species Program to organize and lead lionfish workshops throughout the Southeast United States. Between August and October, REEF staff Keri Kenning and Lad Akins will be traveling to more than a dozen coastal communities to present information on the lionfish invasion and hands-on demonstrations on collecting and handling. Workshop topics include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, current research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development, and ways to get involved.
So far, nearly 400 people have attended workshops at Houston Zoo and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Headquarters (TX), North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (NC), South Carolina Aquarium (SC), and University of North Florida and University of Miami (FL).
The next workshop will be on Monday, October 21 in Cape Canaveral, FL. More workshops will be coming to Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Central and South Florida. The classes are free of charge and open to the public. All divers, fishers, and ocean enthusiasts are encouraged to attend. Check www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops as new workshops are added. Hope to see you there!
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.