On Tuesday, February 26 and Wednesday, March 12, REEF hosted two citizen science panel discussions about how volunteers contribute to understanding and preserving the Florida Keys environment. The first discussion, held in Key Largo, featured speakers from the Breeding Bird Survey project, Coral Restoration Foundation, and John Pennekamp State Park native plant nursery. The second event, held in Key West, featured speakers from The Nature Conservancy, Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Weather Service. Both discussions were led by guest speaker Rick Bonney, a pioneer in the citizen science field from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY. Leda Cunningham presented on the REEF Volunteer Survey Project.
Forty-two people participated in the discussions, most of whom were themselves volunteers in a local or national citizen science project. "Most scientists usually only get to attend 'niche' meetings, where everyone in the room is talking about variations of the same subject matter," said Alison Higgins of The Nature Conservancy. "What was amazing about REEF's Citizen Science symposium is that the approach was the same (engaging the public in collecting important observations), but the subjects were varied. I specialize in land conservation issues, but got to brainstorm and engage with fish, bird and weather scientists - It was a really great and necessary experience"
Each discussion group brainstormed next steps for the citizen science movement in the Florida Keys. Ideas included forming an informal coalition of citizen science projects, doing integrated data analysis across project taxa (effect of weather on fish or bird population trends, e.g.), starting a regular citizen science column in a local newspaper and developing a citizen science booklet for residents and visitors to learn about local projects. For more information, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@REEF.org.
In addition to attending the 11th ICRS, REEF also hosted one of the conference Field Trips. REEF and Horizon Divers hosted 14 participants from various locations around the world including Australia, Japan, Kenya, and several U.S. institutions. Dr. Jim Bohnsack, NOAA Research Fisheries Biologist and Science Advisor to the REEF Board of Trustees, gave a workshop presentation on applying REEF fish survey data towards Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary management decisions and Paul Humann, renowned marine life photographer and author, taught fish and invertebrate identification classes. Lad Akins, REEF Special Projects Director, gave an overview of REEF and our programs along with a detailed update on what he and REEF partners are working on with the Lionfish (Pterois volitans) invasion in Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. Participants also had the opportunity to conduct 6 REEF survey SCUBA dives out on our local reefs to get a sense of how Roving Diver survey data are collected.
The survey data our members collect fall into two general categories.The first is the Volunteer Survey Project category that includes all of our Field Surveys and individual members surveying efforts conducted while diving or snorkeling wherever they live or travel to on vacation. The second type of data collected by our surveyors are from our monitoring and research programs in partnership with NOAA sanctuaries, the National Park service, and regional NGO’s and other non-profits as well as various universities. It was this second category of data that our ICRS Field Trip focused on for classroom discussions. REEF data are used by resource managers include artificial reef monitoring, restoration site monitoring, marine protected area assessments, and invasive species collections and fish surveys to name a few. One message that ICRS brought home to all attendees is that now more than ever, there is a critical need for coral reef related research, including studies addressing fish assemblages. There is also a critical need for scientists and policy makers to communicate their research and conservation strategies to the general public, conveying the message about just how vulnerable coral reefs are to anthropogenic disturbances and their importance to our collective well being. REEF will continue our efforts to engage our membership in worthwhile conservation projects that address tropical and temperate fish assemblages.
New educational DVD/Book sets added to the REEF store! - These beautiful materials can help start grooming future generations of REEF surveyors and create good stewards of the environment. Perfect gifts and ideal for use in the classroom. The Dive Into Your Imagination by Annie Crawley entertains and educates children about the amazing natural world in the oceans. The DVDs are all bilingual and you can choose English or Spanish narration or a special track featuring just the music. In the special features section you can view the entire scripts and read to your children or have your children read to you. There are 4 sets to choose from, including "Dive Into Diversity" and "What Makes a Fish a Fish". Check them out on the REEF Store here today.
Check out the latest news in the lionfish invasion. - There's so much going on with REEF's lionfish research and outreach programs, we can't possibly report it all here. Check out the Lionfish in the Media page to see how the media is covering our efforts.
Online data entry available in all regions. - As we reported in last month's REEF-in-Brief, REEF surveyors in ALL regions can now submit their data online. We greatly encourage everyone to enter their surveys online rather than use the paper scanforms, if possible. And remember -- if you conduct a survey at a site that is not yet in REEF's Zone Code database, send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the site name and latitude/longitude of the site and we will create the code for you. The 8-digit zone code must be in the system before you can enter data from the site.
The first Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event was held in 1992 at Anacapa Island, California, with fifty participants. Dr. Gary Davis from the Channel Islands National Park came up with the idea as way to engage park visitors. REEF took over the coordination of the event in 1997 when the REEF Fish Survey Project expanded to the US West Coast. The event was initially called the Great American Fish Count, but the name was changed in 2002 to reflect the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia. During it's 19th year (2010), the GAFC continues strong, including several events held along the west coast.
On July 11, The Dive Club of Silicon Valley's annual GAFC event was held at Lover's Point in Pacific Grove, CA, organized by Kari Larson and Mike Davis. The day started as most summer days in the Pacific Grove - foggy and cool. About 40 divers participated, with a nice mix of new and experienced REEF surveyors. As dive teams came out of the water they commented on the abundance of fish this year at Lover's. Experienced REEF divers, Keith Rootsaert and Alex Matsumoto were on hand to help answer questions about critter ID and the survey method. Exciting finds included crevice kelpfish, a gaggle of reef surfperch, a couple large tubesnout laying/eating eggs on a piece of kelp, and a rare sighting of a Giant Pacific Octopus. Following the dive, the club hosted a BBQ to feed all the hungry divers and their families.
The SeaDoc Society and Naknek Dive Charters teamed up for a great GAFC event in the San Juan Islands in Washington on July 16. The day began with a free REEF fish and invertebrate identification class presented by Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society. Folks learned how to identify common species and how to conduct a REEF survey. In the afternoon, Peggy and Kurt Long of Naknek Charters, hosted a survey dive near Friday Harbor. The surveyors found Tiger Rockfish, schools of Pacific Sandlance, Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers, and many more astounding sea creatures.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Don Judy (REEF member since 2008). Don lives on Maui, Hawaii, and has conducted 365 REEF surveys. Here's what Don had to say about REEF:
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands in the world. Over 2000 miles separate them from the nearest continental land mass. I have been an avid snorkeler here for many years. When I heard about doing surveys for REEF, I knew I would truly enjoy my snorkeling even more doing surveys and reporting my sightings. I am fortunate to live near the ocean and my favorite reef snorkel site is five minutes from my home. When I enter the underwater world, I am always captivated by the dazzling array of tropical fish and their behaviors. Showing off their colors with darting and swirling motions, these beautiful creatures cause the reef to explode with life.
What are some of your favorite places to conduct REEF surveys? Do you have a favorite fish you see there?
The reef I most frequently survey is called Kahekili. I have done more than 300 surveys on this reef and feel like I have an ongoing personal relationship with all these wonderful fish. The water is crystal clear with an average temperature about 76 degrees. This reef always provides me with a chance to see 75 to 100 different species of fish. My favorite local fish on this reef is the Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum). When they raise their colorful dorsal fin, it looks like an elevated boat sail. Upon closer look, the colors in the elevated dorsal fin become an intricately woven spectrum of colors and patterns.
The island of Lanai (about 9 miles west) has another of my favorite reef beaches, Hulopoe. It is a protected marine reef featuring large schools of endemic fish found only in the Hawaiian Islands. Here my favorite fish is the Spectacled Parrotfish (Chlorurus perspicillatus). This spectacular parrotfish is the largest of the endemic parrotfish. Super (or terminal) males are deep blue green with a conspicuous dark band (the "spectacles") across the top of the snout.
What other ways do you help REEF besides being such an active surveyor?
Over the years, I have been able to recruit new REEF members. I do “outreach” stations for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary here on Maui and this puts me in constant contact with snorkelers and divers. Naturally, I talk about REEF and doing REEF surveys when people come to us for information. I like it that the REEF surveys that we do on Maui can help establish populations baselines in determining the direction of fish population.
What are some of your most memorable finds on a REEF survey?
The Commerson’s Frogfish, with their ability to disguise themselves while sitting right in front of your eyes on a piece of coral-mimicking the colors of the coral, and the Oriental Flying Gurnard, with their enormous wing like pectoral fins and wide square heads.
The REEF database topped 150,000 surveys this month! The lucky 150k survey was conducted by Ross Whiteside on June 13, 2011, at Mixing Bowl in Little Cayman. Ross and his wife Terri have been active REEF members since 2002 and are members of the Advanced Assessment Team. Congrats Ross and Terri, and thanks to all of our surveying members for helping us achieve this landmark!
Findings from the Grouper Moon Project have led to an 11th hour ruling that will ensure continued protections for the endangered Nassau grouper. The seasonal fishing ban on Nassau grouper spawning aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands, which was set to expire in just a few days, has been extended for another eight years. The protections, which were initially enacted in 2003 and included an 8-year sunset clause, prohibit fishing for the species at spawning aggregation sites between November and March (the reproductive season). REEF has been working closely with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DoE) since 2001 as part of the Grouper Moon Project to study Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands and to determine how to best protect this iconic Caribbean reef species. Our research has focused on the west end aggregation site on Little Cayman, which supports one of the last great reproductive populations of this endangered species. REEF is extremely proud of our involvement in the Grouper Moon Project and we look forward to similar conservation victories in the years to come. Lessons learned in the Cayman Islands have benefited Nassau grouper conservation efforts throughout the Caribbean. Watch this 3-minute video to see spectacular footage of the aggregation and to learn more about the project.
Normally solitary and territorial, during the winter full moons Nassau grouper travel and group together to spawn. Due to the reliable timing and location of the spawning aggregations, plus the ease with which these relative loners can be caught while congregating by the hundreds and thousands to spawn, most known Caribbean aggregation sites have been fished to exhaustion. The ground-breaking research conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project by scientists and volunteers from REEF, the DoE, and Oregon State University, led the DoE to recommend a set of actions necessary to recover and protect the species throughout the Cayman Islands. Actions include: implementing a closed season for Nassau grouper in all Cayman waters from November through March, permanently closing the aggregation sites to fishing year round (because these special places host aggregations of dozens of species throughout the year), and modifying existing catch limits for the species during other times of the year. The Cayman Islands Cabinet is currently reviewing these recommendations. While all those involved in the Grouper Moon Project are pleased that the Marine Conservation Board was able to take action prior to the expiration of the current ban, we are hopeful that Cabinet will enact permanent protections to ensure that there are Nassau grouper on coral reefs for generations to come.
The Grouper Moon Project has been supported in part by the Lenfest Ocean Program, the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, the NOAA International Coral Reef Conservation Program, Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort, Peter Hillenbrand, and REEF member contributions. We greatly appreciate all our members who have contributed financially to REEF to make this important work possible.
The 21st annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.
The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at email@example.com.