New Advanced Assessment Team Monitoring Project in the San Juan Islands

Members of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team who participated in the San Juan Islands monitoring project.
Red Irish Lord, found in the Salish Sea. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Thanks to support from the SeaDoc Society (, REEF has initiated a multi-year monitoring project around the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The goal of the 10-year project is to identify changes in sub-tidal fish and invertebrate communities. The project will use recreational SCUBA divers from REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (Level 4 and 5 Expert surveyors), conducting about 100 REEF surveys each Fall. The project kicked off in September, with a team of 18 enthusiastic surveyors diving in the cold (49-degree!) but beautiful waters around the San Juan Islands. Data from this long-term project will be used by SeaDoc and other researchers over the coming years to see how well efforts to restore the Salish Sea ecosystem are working. A major mortality event among sunflower sea stars in the region was coincident with this year's monitoring effort. The team was able to provide valuable information to collaborating scientists from Cornell University and Wildlife Conservation Society on sightings of healthy and sick sea stars.

The SeaDoc Society is a program of the Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. It was founded in 1990, and strives to find science-based solutions for marine wildlife in the Salish Sea using a multi-species approach. Dr. Joe Gaydos (see REEF Member Spotlight in this enews issue) is SeaDoc's Director and Chief Scientist. We extend a big thanks to Joe and all of the SeaDoc Society supporters for making this important long-term project possible. We also greatly appreciate the Friday Harbor Laboratory and Bandito Charters for their logistical support

REEF 2014 Lionfish Derby Series Released

In the summer of 2014, recreational divers in Florida and the Bahamas will once again assemble teams, scout out hundreds of sites, sharpen their spears, ready their nets, and hone their collecting skills to prepare for another REEF summer lionfish derby series. Six years ago, REEF began hosting lionfish derbies throughout Florida and the Caribbean to address the lionfish invasion. Not only do these events significantly reduce lionfish numbers, they also increase awareness, provide samples for research, train divers in safe removal techniques, and help develop the market for lionfish as a food fish. Teams will compete for cash prizes for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. Hopes are high for this summer derby series, as divers removed 2,790 lionfish in these single day events in 2013. To register or learn more, visit 2014 derby dates and locations are: June 28 - Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas; July 19 - Fort Lauderdale, FL; August 16 - Palm Beach County, FL; September 13 - Key Largo, FL.

Upcoming Fishinars - Life on Oil Platforms, Lionfish Research, and more!

REEF Lionfish Coordinator, Liz Underwood, will review all of our latest work on combating this invader during a special Fishinar on December 3.

As the year winds down, we still have a few educational REEF Fishinars remaining. Check out the full schedule at And keep an eye on that space because we will be adding new ones for 2015 soon. Fishinars coming up include:

  • That Face, That Face, That Wonderful Face! Top 12 Blennies of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, November 4th
  • What I Did on My Fall Vacation - Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil and Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love, UC Santa Barbara, November 10th
  • Lionfish Myth Busters, Liz Underwood, December 3rd

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Membership Madness a Success

REEF’s first Month of Membership Madness was a huge success! In April, lucky Michelle Rogers joined as our 60,000th member, and we far exceeded our goal, with 603 new members signing up. If you are a new member, WELCOME to REEF! The winner of the wetsuit giveaway will be announced April 15 on our Facebook page. If you haven’t yet seen the video that our brilliant intern Jack Fishman produced about joining REEF, we highly recommend it (visit! From being a part of the largest marine citizen science project in the world to making new fishy friends, REEF’s community of members will guarantee you a fishy adventure. Also, included in this month’s activities was an infographic about our incredible REEF members. This graphic illustrates an amazing diversity of support that really highlights how REEF truly depends on our members and volunteers to expand our knowledge of our underwater world. Thank you for everything!

2016 Fishinar Lineup

Don't miss the Manta-nar on January 12th! Photo by Carol Cox.

We are very excited to announce our 2016 Fishinar schedule. We have a great lineup of free and fun webinars, covering a wide array of ocean topics. In addition to many fish and invertebrate ID classes, we also have a Manta-nar on the schedule, as well as sessions with dynamic guest speakers including Ned and Anna DeLoach, Ray Troll, and Val Kells. In total, we have 23 Fishinars planned for next year!

If you haven't yet attended a Fishinar, add it to your list of resolutions to do in the new year. From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out for more information, a complete list of classes, registration information, access to archives, and more. And keep checking back because more sessions are always being added.

2016 Fishinars (all times listed are EST)

Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel, Wednesday Jan 6th at 8pm, with Tracey Griffin & Jonathan Lavan

Manta-nar, Tuesday Jan 12th at 9pm, with Joshua Stewart from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Pacific Northwest Invertebrates and Algae, Tuesday Jan 19th at 10pm, with Janna Nichols

The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm, with Carol Cox

Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm, with Artist Ray Troll

Common Reef Fishes of Tubbataha Reef Philippines, Monday Mar 21st at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

Fishes of the Philippines Muck, Wednesday Mar 23rd at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

The Lionfish Invasion: Current Findings and Control Efforts, Wednesday Apr 6th at 8pm, with Emily Stokes

More Holy Moly Gobies, Wednesday Apr 13th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Fishes and Invertebrates of the Carolinas, Tuesday Apr 19th and Thursday Apr 21st at 8pm, with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec

You Do WHAT For a Living?: The next chapter, Tuesday Apr 26th at 8pm, with Scientific Illustrator and Author Val Kells

Hawaii Life on a Coral Head: Hawkfishes and more, Wednesday May 4th, at 10pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

The Wrasse Class- Back in School, Tuesday May 17th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Northeast's Less Frequently Seen Fish, Thursday May 26th at 8pm, with Janna Nichols and Jason Feick

Life in the Muck: Blue Heron Bridge, Wednesday Jun 1st at 8pm, with Carlos & Allison Estape

Super Duper Groupers, Part Deux, Wednesday Jun 22nd at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Less Frequently Seen Fish of Virgin Gorda BVI, Thursday Jul 14th at 8pm, with Janna Nichols

Fishes of Bermuda, Tuesday Aug 30th at 8pm, with Ned and Anna DeLoach

Underwater Residents of Barkley Sound BC, Thursday, Sep 8th at 10pm, with Janna Nichols

Common Fishes of Micronesia, Wednesday Sep 21st at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

Sea Saba Underwater, Tuesday Oct 4th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Hawaii Life in the Sand, Monday Nov 14th at 10pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

**All times Eastern Time**

Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) Wrap-Up for July

Upper Keys AAT: Mike Smith, Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Brenda Hitt
Middle Keys AAT: Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Paige Switzer, Wayne Manning, Brenda Hitt, and Ann Outlaw
Joe Cavanaugh, Brian Hufford, Dave Grenda, Erin Whitaker, Mike Phelan, and Brenda Hitt

REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project.  Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program.  Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff.  To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here.

Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments.  The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework.  In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.

The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002.  Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef.  Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented.  The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites.  Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.

I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks.  In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight!  Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.

Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled).  Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year.  Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA.  It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West .  We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event.  You will hear more about this project in the coming months.

Hope to see you in the water soon.

Best "fishes,"


REEF Participates in Annual Caribbean Fisheries Conference

Grouper Moon researcher and OSU Professor, Dr. Scott Heppell, reviews findings from cleaning station research conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation site at the recent GCFI conference.

REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented a summary of 5 years of fish monitoring on two modified reef areas off Key Largo, Florida: the Spiegel Grove artificial reef and the Wellwood grounding restoration (see next month’s edition of REEF-in-Brief for more information on these projects). Brice was an invited speaker in the special session on Nassau grouper, presenting an overview of the conservation status of the species. During the Spawning Aggregation session, Brice also presented changes in the average size of Nassau grouper that are visiting the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site since it was protected from fishing in 2003. Scott presented a poster summarizing cleaning station research that the Grouper Moon team has been conducting on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site. Other presentations that included REEF data included a talk by Dr. Todd Kellison from NOAA Fisheries on trends in commercial species abundances in Biscayne National Park and a talk by Nicole Cushion from University of Miami on patterns of abundance in grouper species in the Bahamas.


Happy St. Patrick's Day! We show our "green" spirit here at REEF by continuing important conservation initiatives. In this edition, learn about REEF's participation in the 54th annual Boston Sea Rovers international underwater clinic, a visit with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and a citizen science discussion series recently hosted by REEF in the Florida Keys. Two valuable REEF members learn bi-coastal fish ID and there is one spot left on the Turks and Caicos field survey next month. Last chance to sign up for this amazing conservation diving opportunity!

With best wishes and best fishes,


Dr. Jim Bohnsac Discusses No-Take Zones for the Dry Tortugas National Park

REEF Diver, Marah Hardt, on Riley's Hump, Dry Tortugas National Park
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Coral Reef at Dry Tortugas, Photo by Tim Taylor
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Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park
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View from inside Fort Jefferson of the mote surrounding the Fort

Dr. Jim Bohnsac is our Science Liaison to the Board of Directors and a Fisheries Biologist with NOAA.  Recently, Jim has been  interviewed several times about the effectiveness of the Dry Tortugas National Park in protecting fish species inside and outside of the protected areas.  The Dry Tortugas lie approximately 70 miles SW of Key West and are an integral part of the greater Keys coral reef ecosystem.
 No-fishing zones studied, Protective areas aim to increase size, number of fish
Wednesday, July 2, 2008

DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK - Reeling in a 45-pound grouper used to be just an average day on the water in the Florida Keys. The abundance of behemoth fish attracted anglers from around the world in the early 1900s, including adventurers such as Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey, who pulled in monsters from the clear, warm depths off Key West. But as Florida's population boomed, the attraction that drew them began to vanish. Anglers were snapping up the larger fish by the thousands. An average grouper caught in the Keys now is about 8 pounds. "We were starting to look like a Third World nation in regards to having blitzed our resources," said University of Miami marine biologist Jerald Ault.

Mr. Ault and others are studying whether putting large tracts of ocean off-limits to fishing in the Keys can help species rebound - and prove a way to help reverse the effects of overfishing worldwide. Federal and state scientists, along with University of Miami researchers, wrapped up a 20-day study on June 9 after 1,710 dives in the region, surveying fish sizes and abundance, in an effort to determine whether it's working. Critics assert that it isn't. They say limiting size and catch quantities, not fencing off the seas, will help restore ocean life.

 The fierce debate has raged between scientists and anglers for years. Some studies suggest the outcome could mean life or death for not only commercial and sport fishing, but for mass seafood consumption as it exists today. Florida has the largest contiguous "no-take" zone in the continental U.S. - about 140 square miles are off limits to fishing in and around Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of seven sandy islands about 70 miles west off Key West amid the sparkling blue-green waters that teem with tropical marine life. Nearby, another 60 square miles are also off limits.The region is home to some 300 fish species and lies within a crucial coral reef habitat at the convergence of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  To see the rest of this story, please visit -

More recent interviews with Jim Bohnsac - 

Are artificial reefs good for the environment?

Proponents say they replenish the ecosystem. Some scientists aren't so
Jeneen Interlandi
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 8:49 PM ET Jun 20, 2008


Off the Hook? Scientists, anglers debate if 'no-take' zones are helping endangered fish to rebound

Jim also did an impromptu interview for the Keynoter newspaper here in the Keys with Kevin Wadslow.  Paul Humann and others participated in this interview as wel. The focus was on the post International Coral Reef Symposium Field Trip discussed in this Enews edition.  The story link is not yet posted but will be within the next few days from here -

REEF Programs Presented During International Conference

Recent results from REEF's Grouper Moon research was presented at the GCFI conference in November. Photo by Phil Bush.

REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting last month in Guadeloupe. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented preliminary results from an analysis of data from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries no-take sites (Sanctuary Preservation Areas) as part of the Marine Protected Areas session. Christy also represented 

REEF during the special session on Marine Invasive Species. She presented an overview of the role that REEF's outreach programs and large corps of volunteer divers have played to better understand the impact of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish on western Atlantic reefs and to help slow the invasion of this unwanted species. Christy also participated in a panel discussion that followed the session.

Both Brice and Scott presented recent Grouper Moon Project results during the Spawning Aggregation session. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, our grouper work in the Cayman Islands has greatly expanded and includes ground-breaking conservation research. Brice's presentation focused on the expansion of the work to Cayman Brac, an island where the historical aggregation was fished heavily and was assumed to be non-functional. Scott presented exciting findings from a pilot study conducted earlier this year to understand where Nassau grouper larvae go after they are released from the Little Cayman aggregation site.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub