Putting It To Work: New Publication Showing Validity of REEF Survey Data

A REEF "Roving Diver" has free swimming range around a dive site. Surveyors are encouraged to search high and low for as many species as they can positively ID. Photo by Paul Humann.
Transect surveyors follow a path for a pre-determined length (typically around 25m) and record all species within a 1-3 meter swath. Photo courtesy of Ken Marks.

A new scientific paper published earlier this month in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution reports that REEF surveys conducted by citizen scientists compare well with traditional scientific methods when it comes to monitoring species biodiversity. The findings of the research, conducted by Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Angila in the UK, give weight to the growing phenomenon of citizen science programs such as REEF's Volunteer Survey Project. The field study compared methods used by REEF volunteer divers with those used by professional scientists to measure the variety of fish species in three Caribbean sites in the Turks and Caicos. The divers surveyed the sites using two methods – the 'belt transect', used in peer reviewed fish diversity studies, and the 'roving diver technique', used by REEF volunteers. Two teams of 12 divers made 144 separate underwater surveys across the sites over four weeks. While the traditional scientific survey revealed sightings of 106 different types of fish, the volunteer technique detected greater marine diversity with a total of 137 in the same waters. Dr Holt led the research in partnership with the Centre for Marine Resource Studies in the Caribbean and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He said: "The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs. Very few, if any, scientific groups can collect data on the scale that volunteer groups can, so our proof that both methods return consistent results is very encouraging for citizen science in general. We're living in a world that's changing very significantly. Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists." Click here to read the full paper, entitled "Comparing Diversity Data Collected Using a Protocol Designed for Volunteers with Results from a Professional Alternative".

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Nick Brown

Nick snapping a quick photo during a REEF Advanced Assessment Team trip in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Pete Naylor.
Nick Brown (center) diving with Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders (l) and Joe Gaydos from SeaDoc Society (r) off Orcas Island, WA.
Nick with his faithful dog, Neri, in St. Kitts.

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

This month we highlight Nick Brown. A US Pacific Northwest native, Nick is currently living in St. Kitts. Nick has been a REEF member since 2004 and has since conducted 138 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Nick had to say about REEF:

How did you first volunteer with REEF?

I first became involved with REEF in 2004 while working as a research intern for the SeaDoc Society, a marine ecosystem health program based in Washington State. The SeaDoc Society and REEF frequently collaborate to offer free fish and invertebrate identification courses to the public. Although I was still completing my open water certification at the time, the enthusiasm of SeaDoc’s chief scientist Joe Gaydos and REEF’s Janna Nichols was contagious. Within a month of finishing my certification, I completed my first REEF survey and haven’t stopped since.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I take great satisfaction in knowing that every survey I submit contributes to an ever growing database that can be used by the public, researchers and policy makers around the world. Not only am I adding more purpose to my dives by contributing to something useful, I’m able to reference my submitted data later on which functions as my own personal invertebrate (in the PAC region) and fish sighting logbook.

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

I’ve been very fortunate in being able to dive very close to where I live. Until about a year and a half ago, the vast majority of my dives were in the cold but beautiful waters of my home state of Washington and nearby British Columbia, an area known locally as the Salish Sea. My favorite part about diving in the Pacific Northwest is the large diversity of marine invertebrates. Recently though, I’ve hung up my drysuit and slipped into a wetsuit for the warm Caribbean waters of St. Kitts and Nevis where I’m currently attending veterinary school. My favorite part of Caribbean diving is the great visibility and large variety of ornately colored fish.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

For better surveying and fish watching move slowly; not only will your dive last longer, but you’ll notice more and the marine life tends not to be as shy. For identification, I recommend investing in a few fish and invertebrate ID books; often the subtleties between different species are hard to appreciate without a detailed reference.

A Few Spaces Remain on 2014 REEF Trips

Have you booked your 2014 REEF Trip yet? If not, confirm your space now before it's too late! Many trips are sold out, or close to it. Prices and complete details can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com, or our staff at REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, trips@REEF.org.

June 21 - 28, 2014 -- Bay Islands, Honduras, MV Caribbean Pearl II -- Diving around Utila, Roatan, and the banks in between, from a beautiful liveaboard. This special trip is led by two marine biologists, and we hear that whale sharks could be seen!  *2 Spaces Left (one male share and one female share)*

July 19 - 26, 2014 -- Key Largo, Florida, REEF Discovery Tour -- A special trip aimed at beginner surveyors (but everyone is welcome), and led by Paul Humann, REEF Founder and Renowned Marine Life Author and Photographer. This is your chance to dive with the man who brought us the definitive Caribbean fish ID guide. *3 Spaces Left*

August 16 - 23, 2014 -- Curacao, Lionfish Control Study -- Join Lad Akins and Peter Hughes for the second annual trip to Curacao to study the impacts of the invasive lionfish. Participants will have an oportunity to assist with the research. *2 Spaces Left*

September 14 - 18, 2014 -- Hornby Island, British Columbia -- Dive in the ledgendary Pacific Northwest waters, and learn your fish (and invertebrates) with REEF's own Janna Nichols. *6 Spaces Left*

November 8 - 15, 2014 -- Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands -- A wonderful island full of Caribbean charm, Cayman Brac features spectacular walls and reefs that you expect from the Cayman Islands.  *6 Spaces Left*

December 6 - 13, 2014 -- Nevis, Eastern Caribbean -- This little gem next to St. Kitts is easy to get to, but certainly off the tourist track. With great diving and many fun fish finds to be had, this is sure to be a great trip. *4 Spaces Left*

Book Your Space on a 2015 REEF Trip Before It's Too Late

REEF Trip to Dominica in 2014.
Happy surveyors in Fiji 2013.
Dive the Bahamas aboard the Aqua Cat in 2015!

If you haven't yet had a chance to check out REEF's 2015 Field Survey Trip Schedule, we encourage you to take a look. Visit www.REEF.org/trips to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, trip policies, and more. We hope you will join us!. Spaces are starting to fill up, and we want to make sure you don't miss this chance to take a "Dive Vacation that Counts". These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fish watchers.

2015 REEF Field Survey Schedule

Feb 28 - Mar 7 -- Hawaii -- Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Details

Mar 14 - 21 -- Grand Cayman -- Wall to Wall Diving and Comfort Suites, Led by Jonathan Lavan, Details

May 2 - 12 and May 12 - 19 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Chrisy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Wk 1 Details, Wk 2 Details

May 9 - 16 -- Bahamas Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Jun 13 - 20 -- Roatan -- Anthony's Key Resort, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Details

Jul 11 - 18 -- Grand Turk -- Oasis Divers & Osprey Beach Hotel, Led by Paul Humann, Details

Aug 1 - 8 -- Bonaire -- Buddy Dive, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Details

Aug 22 - 29 -- Curacao Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- GO WEST Diving & Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Sep 19 - 26 -- Bahamas -- Aqua Cat Liveaboard, Led by Heather George, Details

Nov 1 - 5 -- Catalina Island -- Scuba Luv & Pavilion Hotel, Led by Janna Nichols, Details

Dec 5 - 12 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn or Casa Mexicana, Led by Tracey Griffin, Details

A Few Spaces Remain on 2015 REEF Trips - Fiji, Curacao, Catalina, and St. Lucia

Our 2015 REEF Trips are off to a great start, with fun, successful trips to Kona and Grand Cayman so far. Most of the remaining trips are sold out, but a few spaces remain. We would love to have you join us in Fiji (May 2-12, one male space left), Curacao (Aug 22 - 29, one male space left), Catalina Island (Nov 1 - 5, 4 spaces left), or St. Lucia (Dec 5-12, 6 spaces left). For trips that are sold out, we are happy to add your name on a wait list, as sometimes traveler's plans do change. We are working hard to get the 2016 trips organized. Our Philippines trip next April is already half full, so act soon on this one if you are interested. The rest of the 2016 schedule will be ready soon. To find out details on all of these trips, visit www.REEF.org/trips.

Taking a Dive Trip with REEF

REEF Field Survey trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their Life List while interacting with fellow ocean enthusiasts. There are still a few spaces remaining on 2015 trips to St. Lucia and Catalina, and we have an exciting lineup of destinations planned for 2016. We hope you will join us. REEF staff, board members, and other marine life experts lead the trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Visit www.REEF.org/trips to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, and more. To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Book early - REEF trips often sell out! Also, keep an eye on the REEF Trips webpage because we will be adding a few more trips to the 2016 schedule (and beyond) in the coming months.

Putting It To Work: New Study Looks at Spawning Aggregation Population Genetics

The largest known spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, found in the Cayman Islands, is the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

A new publication in the scientific journal, Coral Reefs, evaluates population genetics of spawning aggregations and the role of juvenile recruitment, from both local and external sources, in sustaining and increasing local aggregations. The study included information from REEF's Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands.

Like many places throughout the Caribbean, Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the US Virgin Islands were overfished until their disappearance in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 2000s, however, Nassau Grouper were found gathering at Grammanik Bank, USVI, a mesophotic coral reef adjacent to one of the extinct aggregation sites, and regulatory protective measures were implemented to protect this fledgling aggregation. The authors of this study addressed two objectives: 1) which factors (local vs. external recruitment) are important in shaping recovery of the USVI spawning aggregations, and 2) the impact of severe past overfishing on the genetic structure of the Gremmanik Bank aggregation. For this second objective, REEF Grouper Moon Project scientists provided genetic samples from individual Nassau Grouper taken from the Little Cayman spawning aggregation, a much larger and less impacted aggregation.

No population structure was detected between the USVI and Cayman spawning aggregations. Additionally, the USVI spawning population showed signs of a genetic bottleneck, typical of greatly reduced populations. These collective results suggest that external recruitment is an important driver of the USVI spawning aggregation recovery. These findings also provide a baseline for future genetic monitoring of the spawning aggregations. The paper, titled "The ups and downs of coral reef fishes: the genetic characteristics of a formerly severely overfished but currently recovering Nassau grouper fish spawning aggregation", was published earlier this month in the March 2016 issue of Coral Reefs. Grouper Moon scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, was a co-author on the paper. To find out more about this study and to see a list of all publications that have included REEF projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Great Annual Fish Count 2016 a Success

Happy surveyors in Virginia participate in the 2016 GAFC. Photo by Susan Sarrett.
A surveyor in Virginia. Photo by Susan Sarrett.

REEF’s 2016 Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) brought together experienced and beginner fish watchers to count fish (and invertebrate) populations. Beginning fish ID classes were held, and then students were able to use their new skills out in the water during organized GAFC events. Participating groups and shops this year were based in several of REEF's regions, including the TWA, SAS, NE, CAL and PNW regions. The biggest GAFC events this year were held in our NE and California regions.

One group of note was a newcomer to the scene -- Lynnhaven Dive Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They are located in the southern part of our Northeast region, and the sites in that area have only had a handful of REEF surveys done up until now. Volunteers Kathy O’Hara and Lindsey Hillier Hotchkiss organized the event and eight women motored 14 miles off the coast to Chesapeake Light Tower, where they conducted surveys. They found Oyster Toadfish, Tautog, Great Barracuda, and Invasive Lionfish, among many other species.

Thanks to ALL groups who participated this year – here’s to continued fish counting year ‘round!

Announcing the Next Generation of REEF.org

The all new REEF.org.
One of the many improved features of the new REEF.org - more flexibility in generating data reports, including exciting ways to view your own survey data.

REEF is excited to announce the launch of a completely redesigned REEF.org website! A unique look, enhanced features, and pages of fresh content ... the address is the same but almost everything else about the REEF website is new. Through enhanced technology and innovative tools, the new Website will enable REEF to more effectively recruit, train and engage divers and snorkelers in the Volunteer Survey Project and REEF’s larger conservation science program. The new REEF.org will also facilitate communication among the REEF community through Member Forums.

The new and very much improved REEF.org is the result of a grant from the Norcross Foundation and a huge amount of work and patience by Ben Weintraub. Ben, a University of Washington Computer Sciences student, created the new site, which includes several new interactive features and a member log-in as well as many of the existing content and features in an updated, easy to navigate and user-friendly site.

Just a few of the features that you will find are:

  • More ways to explore your own survey data, including a REEF Survey Log.
  • Interactive discussion boards, including “ID Central”, a place where you can post identification questions and images of unknown critters for others to comment on, and a “Trip Reports” forum.
  • A searchable map of REEF Field Stations.
  • A central REEF Events calendar, including information on upcoming REEF classes and organized survey dives hosted by Field Stations.
  • Learning resources including quizzes and galleries.
  • An improved REEF Store to order all of your identification resources and survey materials.

  • And Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry for ALL of our Survey Regions. This long-awaited feature should be available by the end of this week!


    To get the most out of the new website, you will need to become a registered REEF.org user, so be sure to create a user login profile.

    The new REEF.org website will enable REEF to more effectively achieve it's mission to educate, enlist and enable divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active stewards and citizen scientists. The site will also facilitate collaboration with REEF’s existing and new partners and allow our programs to reach a broader audience.

    In the coming months, REEF will continue to add new content, and areas still under construction will be completed. All of the REEF staff appreciate your patience in advance as the transition to REEF’s new website is completed.

    This is the third major revision to the REEF website. REEF’s online home was originally launched ten years ago in 1997. REEF would like to extend a huge thank you to Ben Weintraub and the Norcross Foundation for making this new site possible, as well as Dr. Michael Coyne (REEF’s primary IT Support Volunteer and developer of the REEF database), and Brice Semmens and Ken Marks (the designers of the previous two versions of REEF.org).

  • New Learning Tool! REEF Launches Reef Fish Identification Home Study Course

    Reef Fish Identification DVD Home Study Course for Sale!

    By popular demand, REEF has adapted its classrrom course into a home study DVD course package for beginning "fishwatchers" in the Caribbean, Florida and Bahamas. Click here to read the press release; click here to purchase the DVD course. This would make an ideal holiday gift for your favorite fishwatcher!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub