Field Surveys -- these fun and educational dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". I am looking for folks to join me in St. Croix in May, details are below. I recently returned from leading a group of amazing REEF volunteers on the Field Survey week in St. Lucia. The diving was great and everyone managed to see a new species during the week. Most notable for me – on my fish wish list was the Cardinal Soldierfish.
I had looked through the book many times and always paused on this photo – thinking it looked like a cartoon character with those crazy looking eyes. In fact I thought the sad sack face was just the angle Paul had taken the picture, but when James Brook shined his light into a vase sponge there it was – looking just exactly like the photograph, crazy eyes and all. I laughed out loud. Then I proceeded to look in every sponge I found for the rest of the week and I managed to find another dozen. How cool is that?
The REEF Team comprised of James and Ann Brook, Kay Tidemann, Pam McDevitt, Martha Barrow, Norbert and April Hoeller, Michael and Ellen Berson, west coast east, coast sisters Helen and Sally Davies, Marion Sinclair, Julio Esparza, and me the irreverent fish leader. We stayed at Anse Chastanet Resort, which is perched on a hillside (as per Michael and Pam who counted the steps to their rooms it was between 137 and 178 steps from beach to room). The food was great and the REEF package included all the meals (good thing we had all those steps) with a choice of 5 restaurants. The rooms looked out on the World Heritage Site of Gros Piton and Petite Piton, with birds and flowers everywhere.
The diving was close and diverse. The dive staff of Dive St. Lucia, Ponti, Ubald, Garfield and Chad could not have taken better care of us. Chad carried Martha off the boat so she wouldn’t get sand in her shoes – what service! Most gratifying for all of us was having Ponti and Ubald become the world's newest REEF Members one morning before our dives. Kay, Martha, and Pam showed them how to submit their survey data on line. Sally and Kay generously gifted their Reef Fish ID books to the newly minted REEF Members. Both guides said that we had given them a new excitement for their job. Ponti, like me, is an SSI Platinum Pro 5000 diver, and that means he has over 5,000 dives – so imagine how excited we all were to be able to share our philosophy of fish with them and teach an old fish some new tricks!
James shared his unbelievable knowledge about what we were all seeing and gave a guest lecture on Damsels in Distress, Parrot(head) Fish and something about Smart Wrasse. Kay, our other Level 5 Expert, generously dove with some of the newly minted fish watchers and coached them through some of their first surveys. It was a very diverse group in Fish IQ, sense of humor and goals for the week – so we made quite the eclectic team. The dive staff accommodated our unique style of diving and we had 1 hour + bottom times, a variety of environments and even made some 2 and 3 site dives on 1 tank. At James’ suggestion we even did a dusk dive and watched the changing of the guard. As Helen Davies said – “It was magical” I couldn’t agree more.
So what is the travel tip and trick – well I need some people to go with me to St. Croix, May 9-16. I have been there before and the north shore is great diving and absolutely gorgeous. The resort is the Carambola Beach Resort which recently went through a major renovation. You would think you were somewhere in the South Pacific from the architecture, palm trees and beach.
The dive operator is Cane Bay Dive Shop and they are fun to dive with and are all a bunch of fish nerds – really! They also have a brand new 36 foot Newton which is the Cadillac of dive boats. Since I can’t actually go by myself - something about doing lectures alone hints at insanity and doing a survey alone is not nearly the same amount of fun as being with a group (and remember we always need to dive with a buddy). So I am looking for 10 buddies to come with me. St. Croix is a key destination in the lionfish epidemic. They have had several confirmed sightings and we really need to get as much survey data about these reefs as we can. Now is the time.
We will also be doing a lionfish presentation and working with the local dive operators and stakeholders to help educate and raise awareness for this terrible environmental scourge. The REEF members on the trip will be able to see firsthand some of the invasive species work that REEF does. And just in case we see a lionfish we will bag it and eat it.
So here is the travel tip – St. Croix – beautiful, exotic and interesting, needs REEF divers to provide fish population density and diversity stats. Only a short plane ride, great accommodations, great diving and you never know what might swim by. We are shooting for a St. Croix Hat Trick (aren’t you curious now?). Time is of the essence so call our dedicated Travel Desk today and get your space booked. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.
As part of REEF's ongoing efforts to engage new divers and snorkelers into the Volunteer Survey Project, as well as to provide existing REEF volunteers with continued training and survey opportunities, we coordinated a REEF Workshop in Southern California last month. The free identification classes, which were taught by REEF Instructor Janna Nichols, were very well attended and the workshop series was a success. Almost 100 divers turned out to take the REEF California Fish and Invertebrate Identification classes and about a dozen divers joined in the survey event at Malaga Cove. It was a great opportunity to reinvigorate REEF's programs in Southern California and to mobilize a corps of dedicated surveyors who will begin conducting surveys on their regular recreational dives.
Funding support for the workshop series was provided by a foundation grant. REEF is dedicated to continuing these opportunities and we are planning to return to LA/OC area next Spring, as well as plan similar events in San Diego and Central California. A huge thanks to Deb Karimoto of Orange County diving, Eric Frasco of Dive 'n' Surf dive shop and Heather George for logistical help, and to REI Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach Tennis Club for letting us hold the classes at their facilities.
As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.
It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist.
"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).
To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.
Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.
The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.
Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:
- An educator and researcher from the University of Connecticut is using data as part of a field science class. His students will use the data to evaluate fish populations in advance of their field coursework.
- A postdoc from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce is using data from Stetson Bank in the Gulf of Mexico (part of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary) to evaluate changes in the bank's fish populations.
REEF Advanced Assessment Team Member, Dave Grenda, recently co-authored a paper documenting behavioral observations of young Great Barracuda occurring on live bottom sub-tropical reefs primarily at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Georgia. For the past three years Dave assisted University of Connecticut researcher, Dr. Peter Auster, in studying behavioral interactions of piscivores and their prey. During REEF surveys on these cruises, Dave and the other researchers documented young-of-year (YOY) Great Barracuda (those individuals that had very recently settled to the reef, and were between 2-3 inches in length) hunting YOY Tomtate and Silverside that were taking refuge under ledges. Groups of YOY Barracuda would attack, capture, and consume the prey. Prey that escaped the Barracuda retreated to reef edges and were often consumed by bottom-dwelling adult piscivores such as Black Sea Bass, Bank Sea Bass, and Scamp Grouper. These findings indicate that given the strong functional role the young Barracuda have on driving species interactions, greater attention should be given to the roles played by the wider diversity of YOY piscivores recruiting to reef communities. The paper was recently published in the scientific journal Southeastern Naturalist. You can find a link to this and all published papers that have included REEF data on our Publications page.
A great way to wear REEF! Famoust marine life artist, Rogest, took his famous dotty style to the REEF logo. The dotty REEF Flag is on the front and "Diving that Counts" is proudly displayed on the back. Available in two colors - Charcoal Gray and Indigo Blue. Head over to the REEF Store today and get yours. We have also added several new Pacific marine life ID books and new waterproof ID cards. Go check them out! www.REEF.org/store
For more than 20 years, REEF has been conserving marine ecosystems through education, service, and research. It’s an exciting time for REEF as we work hard to extend the reach of our innovative marine conservation programs. One way REEF is doing this is by inviting diverse leaders to the Board of Trustees to help guide the foundation, including these three new members:
Peter A. Hughes is the Founder of the DivEncounters Alliance, a group of independent live-aboard dive operators. Peter is one of the diving world’s foremost live-aboard operators, having spent more than forty years in the dive industry and over the past 25 years, building his former live-aboard company, Peter Hughes Diving, Inc.
Alexander Alexiou, is a successful Broker for Island Real Estate based in Harbour Island, Bahamas. He has traveled extensively and brings unique insight into the culture and ecology of islands throughout the tropical western Atlantic.
Robert Ramin, formerly the Executive Director of the National Aquarium in Washington, DC, is now the Chief Executive Officer of the Washington Animal Rescue League. He has extensive fundraising and membership development experience and has been a leader at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Management Schools for the past 16 years.
Peter, Alex and Bob join REEF co-founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, Jim Dalle Pazze, Andy Dehart, Anna DeLoach, and Marty Snyderman on the REEF Board of Trustees. Welcome!
Five days remain in our fundraising campaign to raise $10,000 for our REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program, and we are only halfway there! Help us reach our goal by donating today. Please consider supporting these enthusiastic young professionals as they gain critical career skills and provide REEF with invaluable program support. Although less known, the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program is one of our most successful endeavors. Our interns are involved in many aspects in the day-to-day running of REEF, and many have gone on to work in academia, at government agencies, or for other ocean conservation non-profits. Your donation will help sponsor an intern, covering living expenses, mentoring and training, and diving opportunities during their four-month experience. To those who have donated already, thank you for making such a tremendous impact on the future of REEF’s interns and aspiring marine conservationists.
REEF Staff Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens (Director of Science) and Lad Akins (Director of Special Projects), joined over 300 scientists, resource managers, and fishers at the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting last week in Corpus Christi, Texas. All three of REEF's major programs were represented.
Christy presented a research poster on an analysis of patterns of rarity in fishes in the Caribbean basin using the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database. Over 90,000 surveys from our citizen science program were used to explore where the rare things are, and why some places seem to have so many more of them than others.
Lad co-chaired a session on Invasive Lionfish, featuring 21 talks on the current state of lionfish research and control efforts in the Atlantic. During this session, REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green, presented her findings on the efficacy of lionfish derbies. Her research shows that one-day derby events like the ones REEF coordinates in Florida and the Bahamas can result in a significant reduction of lionfish densities, up to 70%, over 180 square km, all the result of volunteer teams. Lad and Nova Southeastern University graduate student and upcoming REEF Intern, Adam Nardelli, also presented a research poster on the demographics of participants in the 2013 Key Largo Lionfish Derby.
And finally, REEF Grouper Moon Project collaborators, Dr. Brice Semmens (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University) both presented talks during the fish spawning aggregation session, and we were also joined by collegues from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (CIDOE). Brice presented findings from our research using Passive Acoustic Monitoring on a multi-species spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and Scott presented a theory for why spawning aggregations have collapsed around the world and how our Grouper Moon research can be used to help inform future protection efforts.