The first time we ever saw Hamlets spawn, Ned and I were on a liveaboard REEF trip in Belize. We were just starting serious work on the behavior book at the time and still unaware of just how rewarding dusk dives can be for fish watchers. Trying to squeeze in a fourth dive before dark, our group dropped in just before sunset, agreeing to be back up in time for dinner.
These were the days when I could still add new fish to my life list on almost every dive trip and the charismatic Hamlets with their 11 distinct color morphs and various “hybrid” variations were especially prized sightings (we’ll save the species debate for another day). Hamlets are solitary hunters during the day. So when we saw two chasing each other about, we instinctively knew something out of the ordinary was happening. But, was it love or war?
The traditional color of one of the pair was noticeably blanched. We’d seen that happen with fighting Sailfin blennies - the fish that was out of its hole turns very pale. But the behavior of the Hamlets was more reminiscent of flirtation rather than conflict. The fish being pursued would race ahead then stop, usually with its nose pointed up, twitch, and immediately take off once again as soon as the pursuer caught up. For over twenty minutes they dashed about in all directions before always returning to the same coral head.
Finally, just as the last light was fading, the hamlets paused above the coral head only inches apart, entwined their 3-inch bodies and slowly rose together a foot or two. I know we aren’t supposed to anthropomorphize, but it certainly looked like love to us. Suddenly, they popped apart releasing a white puff of gametes and immediately darted back toward the reef. Instead of going their separate ways, the chasing, nuzzling and twitching began anew and shortly they spawned again, then again and again before they finally disappeared, going their separate ways into the night.
Later we learned to our amazement that Hamlets are simultaneous hermaphrodites, with each partner possessing both male and female reproductive organs. This unusual scenario, known as egg trading, allows each couple to play both the male and female role each evening. The fish assuming the role of the female plays the aggressor, twitching and chasing the blanched, interim male about. After each spawn the roles reverse until the lovers are finally spent.
The best news for fishwatchers is Hamlets appear to spawn each evening year-round. So, on your next dusk dive in the Tropical Western Atlantic make a point of watching for Hamlets; if you do you’re sure to be entertained.
Note: a short video of Spawning Hamlets is available on REEF’s YouTube Channel, WeSpeakFish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEMCqVBB0CM
REEF recently completed a Field Survey trip to Roatan, Honduras, led by REEF co-founder, Paul Humann. Over six days, the group completed 17 survey dives including one night dive. Both novice and highly experienced REEF surveyors enjoyed the near perfect weather and dive conditions. Shortfin pipehorses, wrasse blennies, linesnout gobies, peppermint basslets, orangesided gobies, dash gobies, and blue dartfish are a sample of the cryptic fishes that were observed. Spotted Eagle Rays and Southern Stingrays graced us with their presence on a number of dives.
The group stayed on the east end of the island at Turquoise Bay Resort and dove with Subway Scuba. The highpoint of the trip was the Aguila Wreck and surrounding reef where there were numerous species of large grouper and snapper. There was a dog snapper displaying body bars similar to those sometimes on Cubera Snappers and Schoolmasters. Also, there was a Yellowmouth Grouper with an unusual pattern of dense brown dots covering the body. Paul remarked that he had never seen either species with these unusual markings.
A not so welcome sighting was the invasive red lionfish; one or more were sighted on nearly every dive. Alecia Adamson, REEF’s new Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator, collected 15 lionfish over the course of the week ranging in size from 2 to 14 inches. The local divemasters were also collecting lionfish but were not aware that lionfish filets are delectable. Alecia gave them a demonstration on how to safely filet lionfish. Now the dive staff captures lionfish for both control and culinary purposes!
Congratulations to those who attained a higher surveyor experience level during the week - Bobbi Kerridge and Peter Rae are now Level 3 surveyors and Pat Lommel is a new Level 5 Expert surveyor!
Field Surveys are a great way to take a dive vacation that counts! If you would like to join in one of our future Field Surveys, there are a few spots available for the upcoming trips to Cozumel, Key Largo, Bonaire, and Grand Cayman. Please visit the Field Survey Trip Schedule online to find more information.
Would you like to help spread the word about REEF to your dive club, dive shop, local nature center, etc.? We now have a presentation about the REEF Volunteer Survey program in your area, complete with speaker notes. It takes about 30-45 minutes, and goes over how simple it is to conduct a survey, and how to get started. PERFECT for groups wanting to get involved with REEF but weren't quite sure how to go about it! Let us know if you'd be interested in showing it to your group - email email@example.com
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature the Eugene Dive Club, an active club in Oregon with over 100 members. The club serves as the go-to arm of the official REEF Field Station at Eugene Skin Divers Supply. The club's involvement was spearheaded by two active northwest REEF surveyors and Eugene locals, Christine and Jim Pendergrass. Chris and Jim took the PADI Habitat class through Eugene Skin Divers Supply, which fed them into the volunteer dive program at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. That sparked their interest in fish ID and led them to REEF. Since then, Jim and Chris have been teaching REEF fish and invertebrate ID classes, sponsoring monthly REEF dives along the Oregon coast, and helping with REEF’s online training webinars. They have also created a fun ID game called ‘Cash Boat’, a fish/invert ID contest modeled after TV’s ‘Cash Cab’. Their efforts have paid off, and we have seen an increase in Oregon divers involved in the REEF survey program. They are now planning to expand their REEF class schedule, planning more REEF Blitz Weekends, and continuing to introduce folks from other dive clubs to the wonders of Oregon diving and critterwatching. When asked about what they like best about being involved with REEF, Jim and Chris say "It’s a great way to learn more about the marine environment and meet like-minded people. And you get to share exciting underwater finds, like the Monkeyface Prickleback!" Thanks to Jim, Chris, and the folks at the Eugene Skin Divers Supply for helping invigorate the REEF program in Oregon.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our featured Field Station this month, Paradise Watersports, is based at Peter Island Resort and Spa in the British Virgin Islands. Their team is led by Randy Keil, an active REEF surveyor and member of the Advanced Assessment Team. Randy was first introduced to REEF over 10 years ago by Lad Akins. Since then, he has built a great program at Paradise Watersports. All of their instructors dive with slates and pencils, and fish and creature identification is done on every dive. Randy notes that “it has been our experience that our divers and snorkelers enjoy the experience of looking at marine life and immediately having it identified. It also gives them a basis on which we can talk about the dive when we’re back on the boat. Instead of ‘what was that big fish with all the colors?’ we get ‘now you called that fish a grasby, I thought it was a grouper?’ It serves as a springboard for discussion and an understanding of the relationships of the reef community.”
Paradise Watersports is also involved in helping track the invasive lionfish. Randy sees this as just one advantage of having the REEF survey program in place locally. With over 1500 surveys in the BVI and over 100,000 in the Caribbean region, the REEF database is a valuable tool in tracking the lionfish invasion and better understanding the impact the lionfish is having on the various areas. In the BVI, the dive operators, including Paradise Watersports, are making a determined effort to keep lionfish off of the moored reefs. Conservation and Fisheries has issued exemptions to the strict no spearfishing laws that allow each dive operation and several of the crewed charterboats to take lionfish. Thanks to Randy and his crew at Paradise Watersports for all you do to support REEF's programs!
'Changing Seas', an Emmy award-winning original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, premiered their newest episode, "Grouper Moon", earlier this month. The episode is now available to view online here. The episode focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project last winter, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish.
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. 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 the species in the Cayman Islands. 2013 was a very exiting year - we continued to document increases in the number of fish at the site and there were many "teenagers" (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time). The number of spawning bursts and the number of nights spawning occured has increased. Watch this short video to see the action. We continued our education efforts. With support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we were able to expand the program to more classrooms at Cayman Prep and High School on Grand Cayman and initiated the program at Spot Bay Primary School on Cayman Brac. The Grouper Education Project introduces children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau Grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum has been developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. Seattle-based educator, Todd Bohannon, leads up this effort.
To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, watch the Changing Seas episode online here.
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 2013, 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, 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. Pegasus Thrusters supported the project in 2013 through the donation of Diver Propulsion Vehicles. 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.
We are excited to welcome the newest member of the REEF Team - Elizabeth Underwood, who joined our staff this month as Lionfish Program Coordinator. Elizabeth has been an active REEF member, avid fish counter, dedicated lionfish hunter, and all-round marine science enthusiast for quite some time. Elizabeth was first introduced to REEF in the Spring 2011 when she studied abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands and conducted her first of many REEF fish surveys and lionfish studies. After graduating from Davidson College in 2012 with a BS in Biology, Elizabeth joined Lad Akins and Peter Hughes on REEF’s Belize Lionfish Survey. After a week full of lionfish spearing, dissecting, and filleting she was hooked. Becoming a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the Fall of 2012 was a no-brainer for her!
After her internship with REEF, Elizabeth took a 5 month position at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas as their Lionfish Research and Education intern. But as great as the Bahamas were, Elizabeth was ready to move back to Key Largo to continue her work with REEF’s Invasive Lionfish Program. Elizabeth’s work at REEF will focus on coordinating REEF’s various lionfish research projects, organizing derbies, conducting public talks and workshops, and developing teaching tools. She’ll also be managing REEF’s lionfish social media and working with other staff on ongoing organizational duties.
We are very happy to have Elizabeth on board. This month, we also want to extend our thanks and best of luck wishes to Keri Kenning, who will be starting dental school later this year. Keri served as REEF's Communications and Affiliate Program Coordinator for the last year. She was a valued member of our team and a great REEF ambassador.
With Jamie's arrival at REEF Headquarters, we have been busily working on an exciting lineup of Field Survey trip destinations for 2015. REEF 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.
We will be announcing the full 2015 REEF Trip Schedule soon. But today, we are excited to share a few of the trips that we have planned to the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Kona Coast Big Island Hawaii, aboard the Kona Aggressor Liveaboard! Feb 28 - Mar 7, 2015 (12 spaces left)
Fiji's Bligh Waters, aboard the NAI'A Liveaboard! Two trips: May 2-12, 2015 (1 space left) and May 12-19, 2015 (14 spaces left)
We are very excited to welcome two new members of the REEF Staff team - Jonathan Lavan and Heather George. Both have been involved as volunteers in the organization for many years and collectively bring a wealth of experience and passion for REEF's mission.
Jonathan will serve as the Volunteer Fish Survey Project Program Assistant, and will be based in San Diego. Jonathan has been a REEF member since 2004 and has submitted almost 500 REEF surveys in 5 of the Survey Project's 8 survey regions. He is a REEF Trip Leader and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast. He was REEF’s 2012 Volunteer of the Year. Jonathan is also known to many as the voice of REEF’s Fishinars, and he teaches several of these popular webinars each year. Jonathan will be assisting with many aspects of our corner-stone citizen science program.
Heather will serve as the Trips Program Manager. Heather has been an active member of the REEF community since 2002. In addition to serving as a REEF Trip Leader, Heather is an expert-level surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii regions, and has conducted over 200 surveys. She also assisted with REEF's expansion to the South Pacific, participated in the Grouper Moon project, and served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010. In 2011, Heather was awarded the Volunteer of the Year award. Heather is based on the Garden Island of Kauai, where if you visit she welcomes the opportunity to survey with you!
Please help us extend a warm fishy welcome to Heather and Jonathan!