Long-Spined Sea Urchin To Be Added to TWA Survey Protocol

Diadema antillarum, the Long-Spined Sea Urchin, will soon be part of the TWA REEF survey protocol. Photo by Paul Humann.

In response to requests from the scientific community, we are adding a new species to monitor on REEF surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) - Diadema antillarum, the Long-Spined Sea Urchin. In the early 1980s, a large die-off of Diadema occurred throughout the TWA. This has had a significant and long-lasting impact on coral reefs in the region because Diadema is (was) one of the primary grazers on Caribbean coral reefs (keeping rocks clear for baby corals to establish and keeping algae from overgrowing established corals). The disappearance of Diadema, coupled with overfishing of grazing fish species such as parrotfish and surgeonfish in some parts of the Caribbean along with other complicating factors, has resulted in many algae-dominated reefs. Despite 20+ years since the die-off, the once wide-spread and abundant species has failed to recover in most places in the Caribbean. There is a growing collective of researchers who are hoping to map the current distribution and abundance of Diadema. REEF will be assisting this effort by including Diadema in our TWA protocol. Surveyors will report whether they were actively looking for Diadema or not, and if they were, in what abundance category (S,F,M,A - same as for fish). We are currently working on the necessary training materials and additions to the database, and the new protocol will be in place soon.

Explorers Summer Camp

If you know a child with a sense of adventure and a passion for the ocean, check out REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp! The 5-day program in Key Largo, Florida, immerses campers into an ocean of learning and fun! REEF will introduce campers to the underwater world and all the amazing things found beneath the sea. Meet a sea turtle, swim alongside reef fishes, and explore the beautiful Florida Keys. We have 4 sessions planned this summer and registration is now open!

Each camp session includes:

  • Snorkel trips to the coral reef
  • Kayak ventures into winding mangrove trails
  • Cruise on the glass bottom boat
  • Marine science lessons, experiments, and crafts
  • Opportunity to connect with nature and make new friends

Join REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp to make a splash this summer. We welcome campers ages 8 - 14. Sibling discount available. A $275 camp tuition includes park entry fees, activity expenses, equipment rentals, and souvenir REEF gear including a T-shirt and water bottle! Camp hosted at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, FL June 20-24, July 18-22, and August 1-5. Camp hosted at Post Card Inn at Holiday Isle in Islamorada, FL July 11-15. For more information please visit www.REEF.org/Explorers/Camp or call (305) 852-0030.

Putting It To Work: REEF Staff Attends International Coral Science Conference

Christy and Brice posing with a shark at ICRS2016 to raise awareness about the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands

In June, REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, attended the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium meeting held in Hawaii. This conference, held every four years, brings together several thousand scientists, policy makers, and managers to discuss coral reefs and share latest research. During the week, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, presented an analysis of REEF survey data collected by volunteers in Bonaire Marine Park over the last 20 years. This valuable citizen science dataset includes over 22,000 surveys and 26,000 hours of underwater time. The findings reveal precipitous declines in large-bodied fishes such as grouper, but steady increases in mid-sized parrotfish. Hundreds of other talks were given, on a range of topics from the severe bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, to the impacts of harmful fishing practices such as dynamite and cyanide, to discovering bright spots in some coral reef areas. Also at the conference, Dr. Jack Randall was awarded the Darwin Medal for his lifetime of achievements. All us fish watchers owe Dr. Randall a lot! Jack has described 815 reef fish species in his lifetime. He is 91 years old and has published 878 papers and dozens of fish ID guides.

Rapid Response To Non-native Onespot Rabbitfish

Onespot Rabbitfish, native to Asia Pacific. Photo by Florent Charpin.
REEF's rapid response team after removing the non-native rabbitfish from Dania Beach.

In October 2016, REEF's Rapid Response Team removed a non-native Onespot Rabbitfish from Florida waters within 24 hours of its reporting. The rabbitfish is the 36th non-native marine fish documented in Florida waters through REEF’s Exotic Species Sightings Program, and its removal is the 5th successful rapid response effort led by REEF.

The Onespot Rabbitfish was seen by a REEF member while diving offshore of Dania Beach, Florida, who then reported it through REEF’s Non-native Sightings Program. Within 24 hours of receiving the sighting report, REEF and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) coordinated a successful live-capture of the fish. The fish was placed at the new Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami and will be displayed as part of an educational exhibit on the dangers of non-native species.

Like the lionfish, the rabbitfish is a venomous fish with a voracious appetite. Rabbitfish eat marine vegetation like seaweeds, algae, and seagrasses, and could impact native fish habitat. They are native to the Asian Pacific region. It is probable that, like the lionfish, the Onespot Rabbitfish was introduced to the South Florida reef via an aquarium release. Please spread the word about the dangers of introducing exotic fish to local waters. Other options include reaching out to a local fish or pet shop, asking other fish owners to adopt, looking for a local fish club, or donating the fish to school or office. If you are a diver in Florida, please keep your eyes open for this species. If you see one, please fill out an exotic species reporting form at www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report.

Over the last several years, USGS and REEF have coordinated the removal of the rabbitfish and four other non-native marine fish species from Florida waters. All four species were captured alive, and three of the four are currently on display at educational institutions. The rabbitfish will be on display at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida, when it opens its doors in early 2017.

Fishinars Coming Up - Galapagos, Roatan, and more!

The Galapagos Blue-banded Goby, is one of the many endemic species that will be discussed in the upcoming Fishinar. Photo by Paul Humann.

We have some fantastic Fishinars coming up in the next few months, and we’d like for you to join us. Fishinars, REEF's brand of online webinars, are live, fun, interactive, and educational. Never boring! They last one hour, and you can log on from your home computer or mobile device.

Our next Fishinar in May (Wednesday the 3rd) will focus on “Fish in the Land of Finches: Galapagos”, and will be taught by our Science Director Christy Semmens. After that, shift your focus to a favorite destination of divers, Roatan, when Scott and Patti Chandler teach the Fishes of Roatan on Thursday May 11th.

You can register and get more information on these and other great Fishinars scheduled for 2017 by going to: www.REEF.org/fishinars. ‘Sea’ you online!

It's Not Too Late to Get the Hammerhead Print

During our Winter Campaign, donors contributing $250 or more will receive this limited edition, signed print of a schooling Hammerhead Sharks taken by Paul Humann.

Now that we are well into the swing of this new year, it has never been a better time to contribute to a very important cause: conserving the oceans that connect us all. If you haven't already given this winter, please do so today! You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/donate or call REEF at (305) 852-0030. And if you donate at least $250 before the end of February you will receive my limited-edition, signed print of Schooling Hammerheads taken in the Galapagos Islands. By supporting REEF, you are protecting biodiversity and making an investment in the health of our oceans.

Fishinars in June

Barberfish, a common fish of the Eastern Pacific. Photo by Carol Cox.

Tune in this month for two new Fishinars, including:

Thursday, June 7: World Oceans Day: Celebrating 25 years of the VFSP, taught by Ellie Place

Thursday, June 21: Common Fishes of the Tropical Eastern Pacific, taught by Christy Semmens

Fishinars are REEF's brand of online, interactive webinars. You can attend them live or watch the recording in the archives. Most of these fun, information-packed, hour-long sessions target fish identification in REEF's worldwide survey regions. You don't need to be a REEF member to participate in the live sessions. No webcam or microphone is necessary- all you need is an internet connection and your computer or mobile device. For more details, links to registration, and the rest of the 2018 schedule, visit: www.REEF.org/fishinars.

Fish Tales from Our Members

"Did you ever have a fish experience that both excited and sadden you?"

That feeling recently happened to me at the dive site Kalli's Korner in Bonaire. My husband, Chile, and I were having a great day of diving with our friends Bryan and Phyllis McCauley in their boat, Pufferfish. Towards the end of our second dive that day, I noticed a pair of eyes peeping out of some coral rubble. As I watched suddenly a small eel darted out and raced few feet before hiding again. I was immediately intrigued and, using my rattle, got my buddy Phyllis' attention. Pointing out the location, we watched as once again the little conger eel slipped out of his cover and moved away. We slowly began to approach in hope of a better look. The process continued as we sought to identify him and he continued his trek. Each time we were able to get a bit closer and look for characteristics. Finally he seem comfortable enough to look at us, as we looked at him. Suddenly, a barred hamlet appeared above him and scooped him up. Imagine our shock and horror!!! Anger raced through my body and instinctually I reached for my dive knife and took off after that (blank blank) hamlet. The chase continued as the hamlet, with his full tummy, eluded me and viewed me as if to say 'why are you after me?' What was my plan I thought later? Well, I only know if I had caught the sucker, oops fish, he would have been disemboweled in the search for the little conger eel. The sound of laughter underwater reaches me. By this time, my dive buddy is in stitches as I sheepishly return. Later research found a margaintail conger that matched our descriptions. 

Now as I continue my search for what I hope are his companions, I will be keeping a wary eye out for hamlets in the surrounding area. So that’s my fish tale and now for the question: Should you report to REEF a fish, found, identified but not longer living in the underwater world?

You can bet I did.

 

REEF Launches Training and Surveys Initiative in the Pacific Northwest

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Ten active REEF surveyors in the Pacific Northwest recently conducted a day of surveys around the San Juan Islands. Participants included: Kaia Turner, Pete Naylor, Mark Dixon, Mike Racine, Georgia Arrow, Mary Jo Adams, Sarah Hillebrand, Janna Nichols.
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Pete Naylor, one of REEF's newest Pacific AAT members, shortly after taking his test. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Thanks to a grant from The Russell Family Foundation, we are in the middle of a year-long initiative to actively engage new REEF surveyors in the region and to provide incentive to our existing surveyors to stay active and move up through the ranks of the REEF Experience Level system.  We have teamed up with PNW REEF instructor, Janna Nichols, to coordinate a series of free training workshops throughout Washington and Oregon. These seminars will cover the Introductory REEF Fish Identification training, the REEF Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Identification training, and a NEW Advanced Fish Identification training program. Visit the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers Webpage to see a complete list of classes.  The project will also support a series of REEF survey day trips on area dive charters that will be open free of charge to current REEF surveyors who are actively conducting surveys and interested in advancing their REEF experience level. Ten active REEF surveyors recently participated in the first such opportunity - survey dives at two new REEF sites in the San Juan Islands, Washington earlier this month.  In addition to conducting REEF surveys. The great news is that everyone on the trip who was eligible to move up one experience level did so! A big congratulations goes to Pete Naylor and Mary Jo Adamas, REEF's newest Pacific Advanced Assessment Team Level 5 members, and the rest of the gang who successfully passed the Level 2 or Level 3 exam.

We greatly appreciate the funding support of The Russell Family Foundation. This project will enable REEF to actively engage divers in marine conservation through support and enhancement of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project in the Pacific Northwest. Traditionally, divers and snorkelers have not received much more than a cursory introduction to underwater ecology or marine life identification. Even after years of experience in the water, most divers are able to identify only a handful of the marine life they see during their dives. REEF introduces marine enthusiasts to the incredible diversity of fishes and other wildlife found in local waters as well as the identification resources and survey methods needed to document these species. Active REEF surveyors advance through five experience levels (Novice: 1-3 and Expert: 4-5), based on the number of surveys completed and passing scores on comprehensive identification exams. While 536 volunteers have conducted surveys in the Pacific Northwest as part of the REEF Fish Survey Project, there are currently only twenty-eight members rated as Expert surveyors.  However, expert level volunteers have conducted approximately one-third of all surveys submitted to date. It is clear that as volunteers improve their skills, they are more likely to stay actively involved in data collection.

REEF Remembers Chile Ridley

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Just before the holidays, REEF was saddened to learn of the passing of long-time volunteer and friend, Chile Ridley of Bonaire. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, especially his wife, Linda. The following article by Buddy Stockwell was published in the Caribbean Compass.

"On December 16, 2007 , the Cruising Community, the Island of Bonaire, and Mother Earth all lost one of their most wonderful, talented, and trusted friends. Edward Alton Ridley, known to all as " Chile" Ridley, took his own life at the age of 58. Chile was born in Valentine, Texas, and had battled the disease of depression all of his life. He is survived by his wife, Linda Ridley of Marfa, Texas . The Ridley's began their Cruising life aboard their Valiant 42 "Natural Selection" by departing Galveston in 1998 and sailing to St. Petersburg, Florida , where their new Valiant was part of the 1998 boat show. Thereafter, they cruised down the Eastern Caribbean , finally arriving in Bonaire five years later on Valentine's Day of 2003. As avid SCUBA divers, both Chile and Linda instantly fell in love with Bonaire and remained there as residents living aboard "Natural Selection." Chile was Manager of Bonaire's Capture Photo and also worked as a Dive Master. Most important, he was an indispensable volunteer for environmental organizations such as REEF, STINAPA and the Bonaire Seaturtle Conservation Project. Chile completed 300 Level 5 surveys for REEF, collected hundreds of amazing underwater images on film, and completed almost 2,000 dives. Chile's "True Grit" Texas spirit, fine character, and exceptional skills combined to make him an unflagging Champion of the environment like no other. Loved by all, Chile was not just a gentleman but a gentle man, always willing to lend a hand and always the first to volunteer. He will be missed by all who knew him, including all of the beautiful sea creatures of Bonaire that he loved so well and fought so hard to protect. The family asks that in lieu of cards or flowers, donations should be made in his name to support the Sea Turtle Conservation Project by visiting https://www.supportbonaire.org or to www.REEF.org for the fish survey projects."

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub