REEF Surveyor Notes a Rare Find

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A mystery fish, captured on film by REEF surveyor Rob McCall.
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The mystery fish turned out to be the rarely seen Pugjaw Wormfish.
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The swimming motion was sinuous, much like an eel.
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The wormfish shared a burrow with a yellowhead jawfish.

REEF TWA Advanced Assessment Team member, Rob McCall, has over 625 surveys under his belt and 281 fish species on his lifelist. But earlier this summer, during a dive in the Florida Keys, he found something that surprised him - the extremely rare Pugjaw Wormfish (Cerdale floridana). Here is his story -- Last June, while diving at Rock Key off Key West, I noticed a very slender (about the diameter of thin drinking straw) white fish about 6 cm long. I could see the fish had a rounded head but could not see dorsal or tail fins. The fish swam with a sinuous movement, much like an eel or worm, and dove into a burrow when it saw me. It did not immediately reappear and I soon swam off in search of other fish. That night I attempted to identify the mystery fish in my reference books, but was unable to get even a rough idea of what it might be.

Subsequent to the first sighting, I saw a similar fish on two other occasions at Rock Key. All sightings were within an area about 8 x 4 meters, with sand bottom bordered by high profile reef. On the second sighting, the fish dove into a burrow and did not reappear. On the third sighting, the fish immediately dove into a Yellowhead Jawfish burrow (the normal occupant was a male Yellowhead Jawfish who happened to be mouth-brooding eggs at the time; the jawfish was hovering above the burrow and did not seem particularly upset that the mystery fish “borrowed” his home.) The mystery fish did not reappear during the ten minutes or so I spent photographing the jawfish.

I stopped by REEF Headquarters in early August and asked Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, if he had any ideas to help me identify the fish. Based on my hazy description, Lad thought it might be a type of worm-eel. But when I researched online, it did not seem to be a good fit.

On August 22, while diving at Nine Foot Stake off Key West (and armed with my camera set up for macro) I came across one of the mystery fish – truly a case of me being in the right place at the right time. The fish was out in the open but dove into a nearby burrow – I don’t know if it was his or a “borrowed” one – when he saw me. I decided to wait a couple of minutes to see if it would reappear, and within a minute or two, it stuck its head back out. Over the next ten minutes it made several darting forays from the burrow, getting a little more used to me, or perhaps a little more desperate to get home. This fish seemed longer than the one(s) at Rock Key – perhaps 8 cm or so.

The four sightings shared some common features. All were at 20-24 ft. depth with sand bottom. Three of the four burrows were within 5-10 cm of small coral heads or rubble clumps. Dorsal and tail fins are visible in the photos; the fish is not actually as slender as it appears to the naked eye.

I was pretty well stumped over identifying what the fish was, even with photos, until one night I was re-reading Ned DeLoach and Paul Humman’s Reef Fish Behavior and under the article on Yellowhead Jawfish, I noticed a reference to Pugjaw Wormfish sharing a burrow with the jawfish. The next morning I researched it online and found a photo which appeared to be a very good match for my mystery fish.

We don’t know how rare the Pugjaw Wormfish might be, but according to the REEF database, they have been reported only five other times: one in Florida, one in Cuba and three in Bonaire. Convinced there are more Pugjaw’s waiting to make an appearance here in Key West, I’ve got the other instructors on our dive boat keeping their eyes open in the hopes that one of us will once again be in the right place at the right time.

Rob McCall is a scuba instructor in Key West and has been a REEF member and surveyor since 2000.

REEF Hits the Dive Shows!

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REEF Volunteers, April and Ron Theod talk REEF with a fellow diver while Tatum Semmens looks on.

REEF is taking our message on the road this spring and summer to a few of the regional dive shows. Last month, several volunteers and REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, greeted visitors at the Northwest Dive and Travel Show in Tacoma, WA. The REEF booth provides an opportunity to spread the word about the fun of conducting marine life surveys and the valuable role that citizen science data can have in marine conservation and management. Our next stop is SCUBA Show 2009 in Long Beach, May 30 and 31. Come by and visit us at the booth!

REEF Trains Over 100 Divers in the Florida Keys As Permitted Lionfish Collectors

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Lad Akins demonstrates safe collection technique of the venomous lionfish during a workshop in the Florida Keys. Photo by Karrie Carnes/FKNMS.
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Over 100 on-the-water professionals attended information sessions and training on the lionfish invasion. Photo by Karrie Carnes/FKNMS.

REEF is working in close partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) to diligently track lionfish reports and initiate removal efforts in South Florida. The first confirmed lionfish in the Florida Keys was reported and captured within 24 hours in January 2009 (see previous enews article). Subsequent early reports in March-June were met with successful rapid response. However, beginning in July, reports began to increase beyond the capacity and range of available trained responders. To help combat the growing problem, REEF introduced over 100 on-the-water professionals to the latest lionfish information and collecting and handling techniques during workshops held in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West earlier this Fall. The workshops were funded by the NOAA Aquatic Invasive Species Program.

Because most Florida Keys reefs are managed under the guidance of the FKNMS and some of the most visited sites are no-take Sanctuary Protected Areas, special protocols and permits were developed to allow removal of lionfish in safe, effective and environmentally considerate manners. The goal of the program is to continue to track sightings and remove lionfish as soon as they are sighted to minimize impacts on key reef areas. Successful control of invasive lionfish requires adaptive management to include involving the general public and REEF is proud to be a part of this effort. With a large corps of dive professionals trained and additional workshops planned for early next year, the Keys are working to stay ahead of the invasion through early detection and rapid response. To report a lionfish sighting, visit REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Form -- http://www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report For more information on the program or to join in future workshops, contact Lad Akins at Lad@reef.org or call REEF HQ at (305) 852-0030.

News Tidbits

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REEF Field Surveys - Take a dive vacation that counts! There's still some space left on a few of the Field Surveys in 2010. Destinations include Cozumel with Sheryl Shea, Key Largo with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bonaire with Jessie Armacost, and Grand Cayman with Lad Akins. These trips all offer unique treasures and are sure to please every level of diver as well as beauty above water for your non-diving companions. Join us on one of these exciting weeks full of fish ID, friendship, new discoveries and great memories! Our full field survey schedule, trip details, and sign up information can be found here.

New Field Stations - Welcome to our newest Field Stations who have joined us in the last month. Field Stations are shops, charters, instructors and organizations that support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out the other 170+ REEF Field Stations, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.

  • Pacific Adventure Charters - Hood Canal, WA
  • Rendezvous Dive Adventures - Barkley Sound, BC Canada
  • DiveSafe International - Campbell River, BC Canada
  • Thunder Reef Divers - Vancouver, WA
  • Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station

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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 Naknek Charters and Diving, based in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington State. They became a REEF Field Station in October of 2008. Owners Kurt and Peggy Long first got involved with REEF about 10 years ago when they were on a liveaboard dive charter in the British Virgin Islands, and took an onboard REEF Fish ID class. Since then, Kurt has gone on to submit many surveys and has advanced up to REEF Level 5, and is now on the Pacific NW Advanced Assessment Team. One of the reasons that they became a Field Station was because they were very interested in educating divers and the public in general about the wonderful critters that live under the water. Peggy writes, “We live in a beautiful area with an abundance of wildlife. We want the public to realize that the beauty extends to the underwater world. This is America’s best year-round cold water diving destination - we have walls, current, fish life. In other words we have it all!”

    So what Field Station activities have they chosen to put into action? “Our goal is to hold a REEF weekend at least twice a year. This involves a Saturday morning class with a two-tank boat dive in the afternoon. We also offer an optional two-tank dive on Sunday. This is a great way for divers to learn about fish ID and helps them put that knowledge into practice. We sell REEF slates in our shop and our boat is identified with REEF decals.” Peggy and Kurt have a 45' charter boat that can hold 14 divers and they run charters year round.

    REEF Notes

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    Thanks to everyone who donated during our Summer Campaign, you helped us reach our goal. REEF members contributed over $34,770, with a generous match of $30,000 from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, for a grand total of $64,770. REEF will use these donations to maintain our current programs and expand our special projects, the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Research Program. Donations from our members make it possible for REEF to carry out our mission of conserving marine ecosystems. Thank you!

    Don't forget to check out the 2012 REEF Field Survey Trips! The schedule and more details are posted online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. Many are starting to fill up so don't delay.

    Have you checked out our new innovative online Fish Identification "Fishinars"(aka webinars)? These fun and short (45 minute) sessions are a great way to learn marine life ID from the comfort of your home. And they are free. The schedule is available at www.reef.org/resources/webinars. We are always adding more sessions, so check back often.

    Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Maui FIN

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    REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our fintastically outstanding field station this month is the Maui FIN (Fish Identification Network) group in Hawaii. This enthusiastic group of divers and snorkelers has been going strong for years. They meet on the 2nd Saturday of each month to conduct surveys at different spots around Maui. After introducing REEF to the Hawaiian Islands 10 years ago, Donna Brown and Liz Foote (who taught our online Hawaiian Fishinar last week), started building a team of enthusiastic fish surveyors. It was out of that enthusiasm that surveyor Mike Fausnaugh started the FIN group. Flo Bahr and Rick Long have been longtime active leaders of the group. When snorkeling, they all put orange duct tape at the tops of their snorkels. This helps the group find each other while in the water, as well as make them easy to spot from the beach. Tourists also ask about what they're doing and this helps show how many are out there doing REEF surveys. In addition to the monthly FIN survey dives, they maintain a Facebook page for the group that serves as a great communication tool. Through the Facebook page, they organize their next survey spots, share zone codes, spread announcements, and post photos and mystery fish questions. Keep up the enthusiastic surveying, FINsters!

    2012 REEF Lionfish Derby Series Remove 2,694 Invasive Fish

    Members of Team Frapper with REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins (center), holding a huge lionfish that the team captured during the Key Largo Derby.

    This summer REEF, in partnership with Divers Direct and SeaGrant Florida, hosted its third annual Lionfish Derby Series. The series included four derbies in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Key Largo) and one in Green Turtle Key, Bahamas. The event series was a huge success—in total, 219 participants in 60 teams brought in a total of 2,694 lionfish! Lionfish are invasive predators capable of consuming prey in excess of half their body size and have become a hazard to Caribbean reefs by consuming commercially, recreationally and ecologically important fish and crustaceans. Using published estimates of lionfish consumption, the removal of the 1,923 lionfish collected in the Florida derbies corresponds to preventing between approximately 3.5 million to 14.8 million prey fish from being eaten by these lionfish over the next year.

    Lionfish derbies serve as a way to engage the public and media, enhance awareness, encourage removals and provide samples for researchers. During each the derby over $3,500 in cash prizes sponsored by Divers Direct were awarded to first, second, and third place winners in three categories: Most, Largest, and Smallest.

    Since their introduction in the 1980’s, invasive lionfish have become the first marine predator to successfully establish in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Unfortunately, complete eradication of lionfish is unlikely, but where removal efforts are sustained, population numbers and impacts can be reduced. REEF and Simon Fraser University partnered throughout the 2012 Derby Series to conduct research on the effectiveness of derbies in controlling local populations. Preliminary data analysis from the 2012 Green Turtle Key, Bahamas, Derby shows that lionfish derbies are effective at removing 65% of lionfish off of local reefs. The Derby Series is one of the many ways REEF is promoting lionfish control. A big thank you goes out to the derby sponsors, hosts, teams and everyone who came out to support the events. To find out more about the REEF Invasive Lionfish Program, including the derby series, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. You can also follow all of our lionfish news through our Lionfish Facebook page.

    Lionfish Food and Wine Event Held In Key Largo

    Lad Akins shows the audience which spines contain venom. Photo by: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
    Four course lionfish dinner at Fish House Encore. Photo by: Donna Dietrich.
    The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's Website.

    More than sixty people gathered earlier this month at the Fish House Encore in Key Largo, Florida, for Lionfish Food and Wine Night. Before dining, event attendees learned about the lionfish invasion and the importance of removing lionfish from marine environments. Peter Tselikis, chef at Fish House Encore, showed the audience how to cook two popular lionfish dishes. Lad Akins, a renowned lionfish expert and REEF Director of Special Projects, taught the audience how to fillet lionfish, avoiding the venomous spines.

    The invasive species, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction, was prepared four different ways with a creative medley of ingredients and wine selections. Entrées included bacon-wrapped barbeque lionfish, sea salt-cured lionfish ceviche, and poached lionfish. Many guests said their favorite dish was Lionfish Bermuda, a lionfish fillet encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked and served with a sweet and sour sauce atop baby arugula salad.

    “It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Akins. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

    Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have now invaded the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. In the invaded range, they have been documented to be gluttonous predators of native fish and invertebrates. One published study co-authored by Akins (Green et al. 2012) shows lionfish reduced the native fish prey community at some sites in the Bahamas by an average of 65% in just two years. Some sites had a 95% decline. Despite the dismal outlook, there is good news. Published studies show local control by divers and fishers can be effective, Akins notes. “Removing lionfish from local reefs is like weeding a garden. Remove weeds and the garden is healthier. Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round.”

    For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. Creative lionfish recipes, as well as information on catching, cleaning, and cooking lionfish, can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook available on the REEF Store.

    Upcoming Fishinars -- Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Series and more

    Photo by Janna Nichols.
    Photo by Janna Nichols.

    Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

    Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - While Pacific Northwest waters are not known for their schools of colorful fish, the amazing invertebrate life will blow you away! In these four sessions we'll cover a select group of invertebrates from 8 phyla, all of which are monitored by REEF volunteer divers.

    Sponges and Stingers - January 8th, 2014

    Gettin' Crabby - January 9th, 2014

    Marvelous Molluscs - January 15th, 2014

    Stars and Squirts - January 16th, 2014

     

    Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - January 21, 2014

    New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub