New Items Added to REEF Store

If you haven't checked out REEF's online store recently, now is a perfect time to get a jump on your holiday shopping! We have added several new items, including a newly-designed REEF shirt that features our logo with all your favorite ocean creatures intertwined and a brand new Nudibranchs of the Indo-Pacific book. Visit www.REEF.org/store to check out these items and more.

Putting It To Work: New Study Documents Decline in Sunflower Stars and Resulting Impacts in the Ecosystem

Sunflower Star and Green Sea Urchin abundance, as recorded in REEF surveys from January 2010 to November 2014 in Washington and British Columbia (n = 1568 surveys).

Between 2013 and 2015, the US Pacific Northwest and western Canada experienced a mass mortality of sea stars. The Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), a previously abundant predator, began to show signs of a wasting syndrome in early September 2013, and dense aggregations disappeared from many sites in a matter of weeks. REEF surveyors certainly noticed, and the decline was reflected in the REEF database. The authors of a new publication just out in the journal PeerJ used the REEF database to document the decline at a regional scale. In addition to the dramatic decline in Sunflower Stars, they found a four-fold increase in the number of Green Sea Urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis). The sea urchin increase also resulted in declines in kelp canopy coverage. This type of ecological change, where a change in one species impacts many others, is known as a trophic cascade. Because of the long-term and wide-spread nature of the REEF survey program, our data have proven invaluable in documenting the impacts of the seastar wasting disease. The study was conducted by Jessica Schultz, Ryan Cloutier, and Isabelle M. Côté from Simon Fraser University and the Vancouver Aquarium. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the 60+ scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

Summer Lionfish Derby Series a Success in 2016

REEF Lionfish staff, Emily Stokes, measuring a lionfish at a derby this summer. Photo by Sarah Schindehette.
A group of college students who created a Lionfish Derby team. Photo by Sarah Schindehette.
Local chefs prepare lionfish to be served at a REEF Derby.

This summer seemed to fly by, and along with it went REEF’s 2016 Summer Lionfish Derby Series! It was an exciting summer full of “firsts” for the derby program. We added a fourth derby to the series, which we hosted in Sarasota in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. We also hosted our first Lionfish Culinary Competition in conjunction with the Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby, held at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, with support from the NUISANCE Group and Chef Chris Sherrill. The Sarasota and Palm Beach County derbies were full weekend events rather than single day removals, which gave competitors more time to get to sites that aren’t fished as often and to maximize the amount of lionfish removed. To top it all off, the Fort Lauderdale Derby teams brought in an astounding 1,250 lionfish in a single day! In all, the teams removed 2,426 lionfish during the REEF Lionfish Derbies in 2016. A whopping 18,560 lionfish have been removed in all REEF Derbies since 2009. Way to go teams. More stats below.

2016 Summer Series Derby Stats

Total Lionfish Removed:

Sarasota (July 9th & 10th) = 429

Fort Lauderdale (July 16th) = 1,250

Palm Beach County (August 13th & 14th) = 337

Upper Keys (September 10th) = 323

Total Lionfish Removed During 2016 Derby Series = 2,426

Total Lionfish Removed from ALL REEF Derbies (since 2009) = 18,560

Largest Lionfish Caught = 427 mm (~16.8 inches)

Smallest Lionfish Caught = 24 mm (~.94 inches)

Thank you to all of our 2016 Derby sponsors who made this series possible, including Diver’s Direct, Evolve Diving, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries, the Florida State Park Service, Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, and ZooKeeper! The 2016 Summer Lionfish Derby Series was funded in part by a grant awarded from Mote Marine Laboratory’s Protect Our Reefs Grants Program, which is funded by proceeds from the sale of the Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate. To learn more, visit www.mote.org/4reef.

The Faces of REEF: Deb Hebblewhite

Deb working hard on the Micronesia REEF Trip in 2016.
Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray. Photo courtesy WikiCommons, by Jens Petersen.

REEF members are at the heart of our marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Deb Hebblewhite, a REEF member since 1999. Deb lives in Denver, Colorado. She has conducted 129 surveys and has participated in several REEF Field Survey Trips. Here's what Deb had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I was in Cozumel in the 90’s when I first discovered a copy of Paul and Ned’s early Caribbean Fish ID book. I was so very excited to be able to start identifying the creatures I was seeing underwater. It definitely made SCUBA so much more enjoyable for me. I don’t remember how I found out about it but my first REEF trip was an intro to surveying trip led by Lad in Key Largo in August of 2002. The main reason I signed up for that trip was the advertised chance to see the Coral Spawn. We ventured out late one night and the corals waited until we were almost out of bottom time before they finally started popping. It was a new and magical experience for my dive buddy and I. I hope to have the chance to see that again one day.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

As cool as the Coral Spawn was, my favorite experience on a REEF trip came in the Sea of Cortez in 2008. In the middle of the afternoon we came upon a huge bait ball. I don’t recall the type of fish but this bait ball was larger than anything I had ever seen. It remained in the same location for quite awhile so we were able to dive it twice. On the second dive I spent a good amount of time just sitting on the bottom looking up in awe at the amazing, swirling tangle of life above me.

Is there a fish you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?

Surprisingly there were no large fish feeding on that bait ball I saw in the Sea of Cortez. The one fish I would really like to see while diving is any type of billfish. There is something about their speed and power that I find fascinating. I’m going back to the Sea of Cortez with REEF in August so maybe there will be another bait ball and I will get my chance to eye that billfish.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

I love all kinds of rays, especially Manta Rays, mainly for their grace moving through the water. When I dove the Red Sea I encountered Bluespotted Ribbontail Rays and they are some of the most memorable animals for me. They are just so pretty and colorful.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

I live in Colorado so don’t do much diving locally. I don’t really have an ultimate favorite place. I enjoy traveling to new destinations but since I’ve been to Dominica three times I would have to say it’s my favorite Caribbean location. Though I get a good amount of vacation time I have several other interests that I travel for so some years I only go on one dive trip. However, 2016 was unusual for me as I went to Dominica in February and then participated in two big firsts for REEF; the first REEF trip to Cuba and the first REEF trip to Micronesia.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Participating in REEF and completing REEF surveys increases my enjoyment of SCUBA exponentially, and gives me satisfaction and a sense of purpose. There are so many detrimental things happening to our oceans today. Adding to the REEF database by submitting surveys makes me feel like I’m doing some small part to help the underwater world I love. In the process I’ve learned so many fascinating things about fish and other sea creatures. It’s fun too to do something that’s a little bit off mainstream. The folks in my office think it’s fun to tell people that “Debbie is out counting fish” when I’m away on a REEF Trip. I feel privileged to be a REEF member and to have the opportunity to dive with so many amazing people who truly care about our seas. I believe it is incumbent upon those of us who experience it first hand to be the ambassadors for the oceans. Sharing what we know with those who never get the chance to experience that magical underwater world is an important way to engage people in the fight to protect our oceans.

Putting it to Work: New Publication from the Grouper Moon Project

Diver-based fish length surveys conducted by REEF volunteers and Grouper Moon scientists were used in the study published earlier this year. Photo by Phil Bush.

We are proud to share the latest publication to result from REEF's programs - the paper, titled "Hydroacoustics for the discovery and quantification of Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus) spawning aggregations" was published in the scientific journal Coral Reefs earlier this year. The Grouper Moon Project is always looking for new and/or better ways of accurately estimating the number of spawning Nassau Grouper at the aggregation sites being monitored. In 2014, we tested the use of a split-beam echosounder as a tool for surveying the abundance and size of fish at the aggregation site; the results of the study are detailed in this peer-reviewed paper. We found that the echosounder performs fairly well at providing an index of abundance, although the absolute accuracy of the method was not sufficient to replace other survey methods (e.g. mark and recapture monitoring). After calibrating the method with diver-based fish length surveys, the tool was able to accurately capture estimates of aggregating fish sizes. Surveys on all 3 islands (Little Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Grand Cayman) showed that the average size of Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman was significantly larger than on both Brac and Grand. Furthermore, the sizes of Nassau Grouper on Brac and Grand were not significantly different. Based on this study, the echosounder is a potentially useful tool for surveying aggregations, but is likely best used to complement more intensive diver-based survey methods.

Grouper Moon researchers, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Scott Heppell, along with our colleague from Cayman Islands Department of Environment, Croy McCoy, were co-authors on the paper. You can find a link to this paper, along with information on all publications that have resulted from REEF's programs can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

REEF Undertakes Novel Study to Understand Invasive Lionfish Movement

REEF's lionfish tagging team in the USVI.
Acoustically tagging linofish in situ, underwater. Photo by Bonnie Barnes.

REEF, in collaboration with the University of Virgin Islands and Buck Island National Monument, took a major step last week in a novel study to better understand lionfish movement and factors that may influence that movement. The study, focusing on a 2km area of patch and continuous reef in St Croix, used innovative underwater tagging techniques pioneered by REEF to surgically implant transmitters into invasive lionfish within an array of receivers, allowing the team to pinpoint movement of the fish over the next year.

Working over a 7-day period, a team of volunteer divers searched 39 reef sites, locating 53 lionfish and using hand nets to live capture 50 of them (a 94% success rate!). Once captured, the surgical team of USVI graduate student, Elizabeth Smith, and REEF’s Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, conducted the surgical procedures underwater to insert the acoustic transmitters into the fish and mark them with additional visual tags. Click here to view an 8-minute long segment of Lad Akins and Elizabeth Smith conducting underwater tagging.

A total of 40 fish, averaging just over 20cm in length, were tagged within an array of receivers, allowing the unique signals from each fish to be recorded and triangulated to continuously determine its position. Prior to the tagging event, research teams conducted detailed surveys of the fish communities and other habitat characteristics to determine factors that may influence lionfish movement.

The goals of the program are to better understand lionfish movement and better inform removal and management efforts to reduce lionfish impacts. A total of 11 divers took part in this leg of the project including: Mike Funk, Mareike Duffing-Romero, Lad Akins, Richard Nemeth, Elizabeth Smith, Norm Gustafson, Kim Gillespie, Jack Downes, Gabby Magalski, Bonnie Barnes, Marcia Taylor, Bernard Castillo, and Kynoch Reale-Munroe. Funding for this work was provided by a grant through the EPSCOR program of the University of the Virgin Islands and housing support was generously provided by REEF members Bill Scurry and Janice Erlbaum.

The Blue Ocean Institute's Sea Stories

The ocean is a muse to many artists. REEF members have also felt that tug of creativity and sent us amazing pictures as well as commentaries from their travels. Being a part of REEF means sharing the underwater world that we all love which is why we'll be sharing with you the interesting pictures and experiences our members send us. We'd like to do this monthly, but need you to participate so email us your fun or interesting Fish Tales so we can publish them in the next REEF-in-Brief! Who knows . . . we may even choose your unique picture/story for placement in our annual news letter soon to be printed for 2008.   Please email them to intern@reef.org  titled ENews. 

We also would like to share with our members a place to publish and read YOUR stories about ocean issues.

"Sea Stories, an online journal of creative writing and art about the world's oceans sponsored by Blue Ocean Institute, features contributions by ocean-lovers from all backgrounds and walks of life - writers, artists, educators, students, scientists, fishers, conservationists, explorers, and just regular people. Educators are invited to use Sea Stories in the classroom or as a publishing opportunity for yourself or your students. Join us in celebrating all things oceanic!"

Visit www.seastories.org!

If you have a fun or interesting Fish Tales you would like to share with REEF and its 30,000 members, please email them to intern@reef.org titled ENews. We'd love to publish your experiences in the next REEF-in-Brief!

REEF.org Web Tip

Can't remember your REEF number?

Use the lost member number lookup feature on the new Website.

REEF Divers Net Quite a Find

gillnet1a_petenaylor.jpg
A derelict gill net found by REEF surveyors in the Puget Sound. The net had ensnared dozens of animals and was damaging habitat. Photo by Pete Naylor.
gillneta_petenaylor.jpg
A lingcod entangled in the gill net, a result of "ghost fishing". Photo by Pete Naylor.
gillnet3_naylor.jpg
The net was draped over rare cloud sponges. Photo by Pete Naylor.

Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.

AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.

Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.

Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”

Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”

If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.

REEF News Tidbits for July

  • One female space just opened up on the upcoming Baja Mexico Field Survey aboard the Don Jose Liveaboard. This trip has been sold out for a while and we don't expect the space to last long.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz and runs October 5-12.  Check out the trip flyer to find out more.  Contact Jeanne from Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 or travel@bajaex.com.
  • Get your limited edition "It's All About the Fish" t-shirt today.  Available in 4 tropical colors.  Order yours today from the REEF Store.  Also available from the REEF Store is the brand new 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification field guide by Paul Humann.  This book covers species found from California to Alaska and the new edition includes more than 30 new species and over 70 new photographs.  Click here to order your copy.
Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub