As any veteran fish surveyor is well aware, dive travel is the spice of fishwatching. No matter how many dives you’ve made, or how many species you’ve recorded a visit to a new destination will send you scurrying for your ID books. That was certainly the case during back-to-back REEF Field Surveys held in St. Vincent during early August. During the two weeks, 40 sets of eyes ferreted out 261 different fish species, many rare, many first-time sightings, and a few that still have the trip leaders Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach scratching their heads.
Tucked away in the distant reaches of the southeastern Caribbean, the towering volcanic island is not only home to a hearty population of Caribbean fishes, but also harbors a scattering of novel species that ride the currents north from Brazil. Add to this, pumice sand and freshwater runoff (a combination that tends to attract exotic creatures), a variety of underwater habitats ranging from bold boulder and coral seascapes, to thick sea grass meadows, and protected bays bottomed with fine sediment and scattered algae patches, fondly known as muck. Oh yeah, add one more dynamic to the amazing mix, the group’s host Bill Tewes, owner of Dive St. Vincent, and his eagle-eyed dive guides. In dive parlance, Bill is a critter hunter extraordinaire. After exploring the island’s undersea riches for 25 years, his infectious enthusiasm for the hunt won’t allow him to miss a dive, and the man certainly loves to show off his animals.
So what were some of the highlights of the week? For starters: a single dive to a clearwater site, known as the Pinnacle, revealed not one, not two, but six cryptic Black Brotula. A plunge to 110 feet on the Wall, uncovered Yellowcheek Basslet, Three-lined Basslet and Cave Bass hiding under a ledge. On their way up the surveyors spotted a Golden Hamlet, Bridled Burrfish, and during their safety stop a flashy red fin of a perky little Red Banner Blenny caught their eyes.
But as good as the reefs and wall are the majority of the team’s treasures were discovered in the muck – the seldom-dived otherworldly realm where Bill’s fishwatching prowess shines. Let’s begin in the shallows where the team found, along with a long list of more common species, clingfishes, Longsnout and Lined Seahorses, a Striated Frogfish, Shortnose Batfish, an assortment of pipefish, seldom-seen pipehorses, and about every species of snake eel you’ve ever heard of, and some you haven’t. As the seemingly barren bottom angled down Jackknifefish, Spotfin Goby, Dwarf Sand Perch and tiny Blackear Bass appeared. If you continued to 90 feet an uncommon sighting of a juvenile Snowy Bass could be made.
One would be remiss without mentioning a few spectacular St. Vincent invertebrates including, the Atlantic Longarm Octopus, the rare Brownstripe Octopus, skeleton shrimp, and a spectacular Red Banded Lobster.
Did we mention Blackfin Cardinalfish, Whitemouth Croaker, Snakefish, Cornetfish, Cardinal Soilderfish, Flying Gurnard, and pikeblennies? Whew, have to stop somewhere, this is REEF-in-Brief you know. You’ll just have to contact one of the lucky participants for more details.
A gallery of all images linked from this article can be found here.
With the rapid expansion of lionfish into the Caribbean, downstream and recently invaded countries are starting to gear up for early detection and rapid response efforts. REEF is leading the way with in-country workshops focused on increasing awareness and training both fisheries and dive operators in collecting and handling techniques. The week of January 25th-31st was spent working with the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Starting in Grand Turk, we hit the ground running and less than an hour after landing, DECR officer Jodi Johnson and I had covered collecting and handling techniques and had our first 2 lionfish in the bag. Things did not slow down. Two days in Grand Turk followed by two days in Provo and a day in South Caicos resulted in 7 seminars to well over 150 people, 6 collecting training dives, over 40 lionfish collected and an evening lionfish tasting at Smokey’s on the Beach in Provo. Media coverage of the effort was also prominent with local TCI Channel 4 running a feature segment on the issue. The workshop was a huge success with both dive operators and government officials now moving forward in combined efforts to control and minimize impacts of lionfish.
In separate upcoming events, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Cozumel and Belize are also bringing REEF in to conduct lionfish workshops this spring and early summer. The goals of these programs are to build capacity for local communities and governments to be able to enact early detection and rapid response measures and increase public awareness of the issue.
This is YOUR chance to turn a donation of $10 into much more for REEF. America's Giving Challenge is a 30-day competition (ends November 6th) that allows causes such as REEF to compete for cash awards by inspiring the most people to donate to their cause. We are asking all of our members to donate $10 (or more) online here sometime before the Challenge ends -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. If REEF is a challenge winner (meaning we receive the highest number, not amount, of donations) on any given day, we will be awarded $1,000.
The Challenge is administered through Causes on Facebook. However, anyone can donate -- you do not have to be on Facebook to donate. Click here to visit REEF's Cause. If you are on Facebook, we encourage you to invite your friends to support and donate to the cause as well. The objective of the Challenge is to enable passionate individuals and nonprofit organizations to easily leverage their social networks to increase awareness about their causes and attract people to get and stay involved with causes they care about. By encouraging people to give what they can-no matter how big or small, the Challenge seeks to demonstrate the potential of social networks to bring real people together to make a significant impact.
Participants in the Challenge will compete for daily and overall cash awards of up to $50,000 for the nonprofit organizations they care most about. Awards will be distributed based on the number of qualifying donations generated for a cause, not the total dollars raised. A unique daily donation is defined as one single donation per individual per day in the amount of $10 USD or more. Individuals can donate to the same cause once a day everyday during the Challenge and this would count 30 times towards helping the cause receive an Overall Award. This would also count towards the Daily Award for that cause every day. To find out more about America's Giving Challenge and Causes, visit the Causes website.
If even 10% of REEF's members donated to our Cause before the end of the Challenge, we would most certainly make it in the award category. So please go online and show your support for REEF's marine conservation work. We hope we can count on you!
Please go to REEF's Cause page -- donate $10 (or more) -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. Thank You!
West Coast Dive Shows - Visit REEF next month at SCUBA 2010 show in Long Beach (CA) on May 15-16 and the Dive & Travel Expo in Tacoma (WA) on May 22-23. REEF staff and volunteers will be there to tell you about our latest activities, have REEF gear and supplies for sale, and sign up new members.
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.
Check out the REEF Online Store - This is the place to get all of your REEF gear, survey supplies, lionfish collection kits, and field guidebooks. The REEF Store is online here.
Approximately 100 divers collected 534 Indo-Pacific red lionfish during the first tournament dedicated to reducing the population of the invasive species in the Florida Keys waters. The September 11 tournament in Key Largo, organized by REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is the first of three Keys-based lionfish roundups. The event attracted 27 teams that competed for cash and prizes to collect the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The winning team captured 111 lionfish during the single day event. The largest lionfish caught measured in at just under 11 inches, and the smallest at less than two inches. Lionfish can grow to lengths of over 18 inches in western Atlantic waters where they are not native.
“The sanctuary is thrilled by the response from the dive community,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton. “The volume of fish caught during this single day event demonstrates that dedicated diver removal efforts can be effective at helping keep this invasive at bay.”
Team “Raaw Talent,” from the Upper Keys and led by Captain Al Wilson, captured 111 lionfish and the grand prize of $1,000 for most lionfish. The “Lion Killers” of Islamorada and Marathon netted the largest lionfish, along with $500. And with the capture of the smallest lionfish, team “Full Circle from Key Dives” also caught themselves $500. Both teams “Raaw Talent” and “Full Circle” had been through REEF’s educational workshops on lionfish safety and handling and have been very active in reporting sightings to REEF and capturing lionfish for research purposes. These lionfish derbies are great events to reward those already involved in REEF’s lionfish control programs and to recruit more people to become active in lionfish control.
“The community participation in this event surpassed even our most generous expectations”, said REEF Director of Operations, Lad Akins. “Everyone came together for a great event, including sponsors, volunteers, organizers, and of course, the lionfish hunters. Even those who brought in a single fish contributed to the protection of our native marine life and deserve our thanks.”
Divers and snorkelers interested in participating for the remaining 2010 Keys lionfish tournaments may register online at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies. The second lionfish derby will be held October 16 at Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in Marathon, FL. The third derby will be held November 13 at Hurricane Hole Marina, in Key West, FL. A $100 registration fee provides each team with a pair of puncture resistant gloves — important protection from lionfish spines — and two tickets to the tournament banquet. For more information on REEF's programs to study the lionfish invasion, go to www.REEF.org/lionfish
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Eco-Dives in Key West, Florida, which has been a Field Station since 2010. Eco-Dives owner, Rob McCall, is fascinated by learning and finding new species and enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Rob has been a REEF surveyor since 2001 so it was a natural to incorporate REEF into his business. Eco-Dives primarily teaches advanced open-water scuba certifications because it enables them to focus on fun courses such as underwater photography and the REEF Fish ID specialty. Eco-dives was also one of the first dive operators to offer a Lionfish Diver specialty that teaches divers the basics of the lionfish invasion, why it is so detrimental to our reefs, and how to report sightings.
“Out of 775 REEF survey dives and countless other dives with students, the most unusual fish we have found on our dives has been a pugjaw wormfish.” says Rob. Fortunately Rob was able to snap a couple pictures of it to confirm the identification of such a unique fish. Rob's sighting was only the sixth time that species had ever been reported on a REEF survey.
Although Key West is not known for its pristine reefs, Rob says the dive sites are convenient, the reefs are well-populated with small-to-medium size fish, and they have mature wrecks with plenty of big fish. The newest addition to the armada of artificial reefs in the Keys, the Vandenberg, is a great dive and a fish magnet. REEF has been monitoring the Vandenberg since it was sunk and Rob has been a great help on a number of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveys documenting reef fish recruitment over time.
Rob says that he "really enjoys working with REEF surveyors; they are always so enthusiastic. Doing surveys has made me look much harder at fish, looking for distinguishing features so I can identify them. This results in you seeing so much more during a dive."
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.
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!
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.
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.