South Florida Lionfish Workshops Train Divers in Collecting and Handling

Lad Akins and REEF Marine Conservation Intern Lucy Davis demonstrate collecting techniques a the Miami Beach workshop.

As part of the NOAA-funded Coastal Partnership Initiative, REEF has joined forces with Florida SeaGrant to organize and conduct a series of lionfish collecting and handling workshops and hands on training dives in Southeast Florida. REEF Staff trained over 75 divers during recent workshops and dives in the Florida Keys, Miami, and Palm Beach. The project also includes organized removals by local volunteer teams throughout the year. Additional workshops and dives are planned through the summer for the entire southeast Florida coast and it is anticipated that, after training, organized removal efforts will take place year round. For a list, and to register for upcoming workshops and dives, visit

Two Spaces Available on Upcoming BVI REEF Trip

Need to get away before the holidays get started? Two spots are still available on the Cuan Law livaboard November 11-17, one female share and one male share. This luxurious trimaran features a wonderful menu, wide stable platform, and dive sites of various habitats sailing around the British Virgin Islands – the perfect live-aboard combo! Some of the interesting fish we will be searching for include lancer dragonets, spotted eagle rays, and striking indigo hamlets. Join REEF fish ID experts, Sue Thompson, Linda Schillinger, and trip leader Heather George for a fun-filled cruise! Details are posted online here.

If this doesn't work in your schedule, be sure to check out the full REEF Trip schedule here. Many are already full or close to it for 2013. Don't miss your chance to take a "Dive Vacation That Counts!".

REEF Fest - Save the Date - August 7-11, 2013

In the summer of 1993, the first REEF fish surveys were conducted by a group of pioneering volunteers. Twenty years later, REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. To celebrate, we will be hosting 4 days of diving, learning, and parties this August in Key Largo, Florida, and we hope you will join us! REEF Fest - Celebrating 20 Years of Marine Conservation Success will take place August 7-11, 2013. The weekend will include diving oportunities each day, as well as seminar offerings such as Intro and Advanced Fish ID, Lionfish Collection, Artificial Reefs in the Keys, Grouper Moon, and special talks given by REEF Co-Founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. We'll also have an open house at REEF HQ and a celebration banquet on Saturday night. More details will be coming soon, including the complete schedule, seminar registration, hotel room blocks with special rates, diving charters, and social gatherings. But in the mean time, please save the date and get ready to celebrate!

Lionfish Workshop Roadshow – Coming to a City Near You!

REEF's Keri Kenning leads a lionfish workshop.
Attendees of the lionfish workshop in Miami, Florida.

As part of our efforts to address the lionfish invasion to the western Atlantic, REEF received a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Aquatic Invasive Species Program to organize and lead lionfish workshops throughout the Southeast United States. Between August and October, REEF staff Keri Kenning and Lad Akins will be traveling to more than a dozen coastal communities to present information on the lionfish invasion and hands-on demonstrations on collecting and handling. Workshop topics include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, current research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development, and ways to get involved.

So far, nearly 400 people have attended workshops at Houston Zoo and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Headquarters (TX), North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (NC), South Carolina Aquarium (SC), and University of North Florida and University of Miami (FL).

The next workshop will be on Monday, October 21 in Cape Canaveral, FL. More workshops will be coming to Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Central and South Florida. The classes are free of charge and open to the public. All divers, fishers, and ocean enthusiasts are encouraged to attend. Check as new workshops are added. Hope to see you there!

Grouper Moon Project Update

Nassau Grouper spawned in Feburary, starting 3 days after full moon. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
Grouper Moon team members spend time on each dive at the aggregation collecting data on behaviors, numbers, and size.
The Grouper Moon team gives a thumbs up before leaving for a dive.
A Nassau Grouper in regular coloration stands out among the rest in the aggregation. Photo by Christy Semmens.
Eggs were collected during spawning and then reared in a lab for a few days.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon. Watch a short video montage of the aggregation and spawning action here -

Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. This year, we tested out some new techniques for collecting and rearing fertilized eggs (in the montage video you will see a diver swimming through a spawn cloud with a plastic bag). After collecting Nassau grouper eggs during the two nights of peak spawning, Scripps scientists and REEF Grouper Moon Project volunteers cultured the eggs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman. After one night, a subset of eggs were preserved for research on fertilization rates. After two nights, the eggs had hatched, and researchers were surprised to find larval Nassau swimming around the tank the next morning. Check out this video of larval Nassau grouper under the microscope -

In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.

Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, recently gave a Perspectives in Ocean Science talk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire talk is online. Click here to watch! To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2014, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club (especially Neil van Niekerk and the crew of the Lucky Devil for taking our team out in January), and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible - Adam, Alex, Brenda, Bradley, Croy, Guy, Hal, Ivan, James, Josh, Keith, Leslie, Laura, Lynn, Paul, Steve, and Todd. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF -

REEF Begins Expansion to Eastern Atlantic

Underwater Azores scenery. Photo courtesy of ImageDOP.

We are excited to announce a new expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the eastern Atlantic, beginning with a new program in the Azores. REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., spent time in the islands earlier this summer developing new survey and training materials. This Portuguese archipelago is the northern extent of a bioregion known as Macaronesia, which also includes Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Cape Verde Islands. The underwater habitat features volcanic rocky reefs and common fish species include colorful wrasses, damselfish, sea breams, and pelagic rays.

The new REEF program will include the standard fish survey protocol as well as an invertebrate and algae monitoring component. The expansion is in collaboration with the local government agency, Direção Regional dos Assuntos do Mar, as well as the University of the Azores, Observatório do Mar dos Açores, and Parques Naturais de Ilha. We expect to offiically launch the new region later this year.

Upcoming Fishinars - Fiji, Snappers, New England, and more!

Checkerboard Wrasse, one of the most frequent fishes seen in Fiji. Learn about it and more during the Fiji Fishinars next week. Photo by Paul Humann.

If you haven't participated in one of our free, educational webinars yet, you don't know what you are missing! Known as Fishinars, these hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. Upcoming sessions include:

  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • New England's Finest - Janna Nichols, July 16th
  • More to come!

Don't Miss The Last Two Fishinars of the Year

The charismatic Garibaldi is a favorite among divers in the California Channel Islands. Photo by Janna Nichols.

As the air turns crisp and the leaves start to turn, we are winding down on our 2015 Fishinar program. You won't want to miss the last two sessions -- Fishes of the Channel Islands of California on October 20th and the Top 25 Fish You Should Know in the Caribbean on November 16th.  From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars (our version of Webinars). Check out for more information. And keep an eye on the webpage for our 2016 schedule coming soon. If you have a topic that you would like to see covered, drop us a note!

Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) Wrap-Up for July

Upper Keys AAT: Mike Smith, Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Brenda Hitt
Middle Keys AAT: Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Paige Switzer, Wayne Manning, Brenda Hitt, and Ann Outlaw
Joe Cavanaugh, Brian Hufford, Dave Grenda, Erin Whitaker, Mike Phelan, and Brenda Hitt

REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project.  Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program.  Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff.  To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here.

Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments.  The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework.  In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.

The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002.  Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef.  Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented.  The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites.  Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.

I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks.  In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight!  Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.

Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled).  Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year.  Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA.  It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West .  We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event.  You will hear more about this project in the coming months.

Hope to see you in the water soon.

Best "fishes,"


REEF Participates in Annual Caribbean Fisheries Conference

Grouper Moon researcher and OSU Professor, Dr. Scott Heppell, reviews findings from cleaning station research conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation site at the recent GCFI conference.

REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented a summary of 5 years of fish monitoring on two modified reef areas off Key Largo, Florida: the Spiegel Grove artificial reef and the Wellwood grounding restoration (see next month’s edition of REEF-in-Brief for more information on these projects). Brice was an invited speaker in the special session on Nassau grouper, presenting an overview of the conservation status of the species. During the Spawning Aggregation session, Brice also presented changes in the average size of Nassau grouper that are visiting the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site since it was protected from fishing in 2003. Scott presented a poster summarizing cleaning station research that the Grouper Moon team has been conducting on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site. Other presentations that included REEF data included a talk by Dr. Todd Kellison from NOAA Fisheries on trends in commercial species abundances in Biscayne National Park and a talk by Nicole Cushion from University of Miami on patterns of abundance in grouper species in the Bahamas.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub