REEF Attends Earth Day

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Old Flagler Railroad and rail car in background at Earth Day
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Joe Cavanaugh and Laura Dias staff REEF Booth
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Laura Dias after survey training dive with Horizon Divers
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Water view from under the old railroad

On April 12, REEF attended a Middle Keys Earth Day celebration at Bahia Honda State Park.  It was a lovely day, albeit unseasonably hot!  Several organizations had booths in attendance as well, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Dolphin Research Center, Reef Relief, the Turtle Hospital, and many others. In addition to the usual face painting and music associated with Earth Day, REEF had many visitors to our booth inquiring about who we are and how they could get involved. REEF recently stepped up our efforts to increase awareness of our organization within the Florida Keys community. 

As many of you know, Key Largo is where REEF got started in the early 90's and many of our Advanced Assessment Team projects focus on local marine resources, such as FKNMS, Biscayne National Park, and the Dry Tortugas National Park.  Most recently, REEF teamed with local stakeholders to create a rapid response team for the possible arrival of invasive lionfish species which many predict could be anytime, given the robust resident population of lionfish in the Bahamas and increasingly elsewhere in the Caribbean.

For those of you who are new to REEF, you can see where REEF surveys by visiting our website http://www.reef.org/about/faq.  Essentially, REEF members survey areas covering the tropical western Atlantic from Brasil to Florida and along the eastern seaboard through the northeastern U.S. and Canada, the Pacific coast of Canada and California southward through the tropical eastern Pacific down to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, and in the not-too-distant future, American Samoa.

REEF has a new volunteer helping us in the office and who helped staff the REEF booth, Laura Aichinger Dias.  Laura came to us a couple of months ago inquiring about opportunities at REEF.  Since then, she has been conducting survey dives and honing her fish identification skills. She is already accomplished in her own right, receiving her Master of Science from Florida Atlantic University.  Her thesis focused on dolphin population dynamics in Sepetiba Bay in Brasil, where she is from originally.  Laura will help REEF with projects this spring and hopes to become part of our Advanced Assessment Team by the end of the summer so she can participate in future projects. For more information on becoming an Advanced Assessment Team member, please review the requirements at http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat  AAT members are utilized in most of our monitoring and assessment contracts with government and non-government agencies.  Essentially, REEF members take fish ID classes and pass qualification quizzes in tandem with gaining a prerequisite number of survey dives, all leading to membership in the AAT.  The ultimate reward is that once you are placed on the AAT list-serve you will be emailed opportunities to participate in projects oftentimes where the diving is paid for by the sponsoring agency.  You also will gain increased fish ID acumen by diving with other AAT members and learning to find and identify the really small and cryptic species.  For more information beyond the website, please email Joe Cavanaugh at joe@reef.org or our Director of Science, Christy Semmens at christy@reef.org.

 

REEF Leads Non-Native Fish Workshop

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Over 20 management agencies and organizations attended the non-native fish workshop hosted by REEF last month.
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Indo-Pacific Lionfish are now omni-present throughout the Bahamas but have yet to be found south of Miami. A coordinated response plan to deal with any south Florida sightings was developed during the workshop.

As part of REEF's continuing work on non-native species, particulary the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish, a multi-agency technical workshop was hosted by REEF, NOAA and the USGS to develop early detection and rapid response plans for Southeast Florida.  Over 20 different state, federal and organizational offices were represented at the 2-day workshop, which was held June 18th and 19th in Marathon, Florida.  Breakout seesions addressing early warning and notification, jursidictions and permitting, and rapid response led to a coordinated response plan outlining detection and response efforts from intitial sighting through removal and final reporting.  

The workshop featured presentations by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Scott Hardin, REEF's Lad Akins, the USGS's Pam Fuller and NOAA's James Morris.  In addition, REEF partners from Bermuda (Chris Flook), the Bahamas (Nicola Smith), Canada (Stephanie Green) and the National Aquarium in Washington DC (Andrew Pulver) provided critical examples of their work addressing the lionfish invasion.

While lionfish are yet to be confirmed in the Southeast Florida region south of Miami, it is believed their arrival is eminent.  Plans developed as part of this workshop will be critical in helping minimize impacts of this invasive species as well as helping to prevent the establishment of other non-ative fish and invertebrates in Southeast waters.  The program, once groundtruthed, will provide an Early Detection/Rapid Response model for other areas of the US and Caribbean.  Funding for the workshop was provided by REEF, the Mote Protect Our Reefs fund, NOAA's Aquatic Invasive Species Program, the USGS, NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System, and the Gulf and Atlantic States Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species.

Special thanks is due to USGS's Pam Schofield and NOAA's Tom Culliton for their work in organizing and conducting the workshop.

To report sightings of any non-native species, go to www.reef.org/programs/exotic or call (305) 852-0030.

REEF is a Platinum Organization

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As Lad reported in an earlier article, DEMA was eventful and exciting. Beyond the networking and outreach about the lionfish invasion, REEF was proud to attend the SSI Platinum Pro Award ceremony. On Thursday October 23, Lad Akins and Anna DeLoach joined Paul Humann (1993) REEF Board of Trustees, Ned Deloach (1993) REEF Board of Trustees and Lisa Mitchell (1993) REEF Executive Director as proud recipients of the SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver award. The SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver card is the calling card of the world’s most elite water explorers. The list of cardholders is a “who’s who” of diving, containing the world’s most prominent dive leaders, scientists, photographers, manufacturers, retailers, and resort operators.

What makes the SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver award so special is that it’s all about diving. The unsung dive master on any island and Jacques Cousteau earned their cards the same way—by diving 5,000 times. Let’s put 5,000 dives into perspective. It takes 500 dives a year for 10 years, or 100 dives a year for 50 years! That’s a lifetime of dedication and commitment to the sport.

Any other REEF Members out there that are SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver, please e-mail us with your REEF number and the year you were inducted into this elite group.

Great Annual Fish Count in the Northeast

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There was a record turnout at the 7th annual Northeast GAFC event. 103 divers conducted fish surveys at 8 dive sites in 2 states. Photo courtesy Bob Michelson.
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Olympus camera representative Andrew Bausk demonstrates new product to divers. Olympus sponsored the event by donating a digital camera and waterproof housing to the volunteer fish counters raffle. Photo courtesy Bob Michelson.

The 18th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is now in full swing. There are GAFC events being held around the country. One of the largest and longest running is held in the Northeast US. Over 100 divers are expected to converge at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, MA, on July 25, for the 8th annual Northeast GAFC event. The celebration, hosted by The New England Aquarium Dive Club and REEF, will include survey dives, a picnic, free raffles and door prizes. GAFC dives are planned at seven shore locations around Cape Ann, along with dives at Nubble Light, York, ME. Every survey form submitted after each dive will count as an entry into the raffles for each diver.

Begun in 1975, the New England Aquarium Dive Club, Inc. is one of the world's oldest, largest and most active aquarium affiliated dive clubs. We share the fun of diving, a love of the sea, a concern for diving safety, and a desire to learn more about the aquatic realm and to share that knowledge with others. The REEF Fish Survey Project allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers. In 2001, the acclaimed REEF Fish Survey Project and the Great Annual Fish Count was introduced to New England's SCUBA-diving community.

During our 7th Annual GAFC event held on July 18, 2008, 98 divers conducted 123 fish surveys at 7 locations around Cape Ann and southern Maine, making this the largest single day GAFC event held in the United States for an unprecedented seventh year in a row! Join us as our celebration continues with the New England Aquarium Dive Club, REEF and the Great Annual Fish Count.

For more information, please contact: Bob Michelson, event coordinator for the New England Aquarium Dive Club at (781) 848-8870, or by e-mail, pbm.inc@verizon.net.

Support REEF During Our Fundraising Campaign

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Members who donate $250 or more during our 2009 Winter campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print.

Our 2009 Fall/Winter fundraising campaign has been a huge success! Despite these challenging economic times, loyal REEF members have donated over $59,000, just $3,000 less than the Winter 2008 campaign total. If you haven’t already donated, please consider donating today to help us exceed last year’s total. It’s not too late to get this limited edition, signed print of a beautiful South Pacific reef. There are only a few left! Click here to securely donate online (https://www.reef.org/contribute) or mail your donation to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037!

We are excited to kick off 2010 by continuing and expanding our core programs:

  • REEF will continue a Lionfish project in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands aimed at increasing awareness, conducting hands-on training and determining effectiveness of removal strategies;
  • Scientists will be in the field in Little Cayman next month for the Grouper Moon Project research, studying one of the last large spawning aggregations of endangered Nassau grouper; and,
  • REEF will expand our central citizen science program, the Fish Survey Project, to the South Pacific, with a launch event planned in American Samoa at the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
  • Thank you again for your dedication and support of REEF conservation programs.

    REEF Provides Lionfish Collecting Gear to Florida Keys Dive Operators

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    Lionfish collecting kits were donated to Florida Keys operators who are actively reporting and collecting the invader.
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    Lad Akins demonstrates safe collection techniques at a training workshop.

    As the lionfish invasion progresses throughout the Western Atlantic region, marine resource managers are struggling with lionfish control in protected areas. In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Sanctuary managers have come up with a special permit process to allow removal of lionfish within the Sanctuary Preservation Areas (no-take zones). A critical part of the permit process is participation in a training and handling workshop conducted by REEF. To date, over 15 workshops have been held in the Keys and over 230 on the water professionals have been trained and permitted. Of course the permit is only half the issue, the second half is getting the fish! In an effort to encourage and facilitate removals of lionfish, REEF recently provided dive operators who have been through the permitting workshops and are actively reporting or removing lionfish with a complete set of lionfish collecting gear at no cost. The kits, normally retailing for $138.00 and available through REEF's online store, each contain a pair of puncture resistant gloves, two vinyl collecting nets, and a clear dry bag used as a collection bag. The donation of the collecting kits to 27 dive operators throughout the Keys was facilitated through REEF, NOAA’s Aquatic Invasive Species program, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and a generous contribution by an upper Florida Keys resident.

    REEF has also worked with local dive operators and conservation groups to establish 13 lionfish collection banks in the Keys. These locations have been equipped with storage supplies, including bags, labels, markers, etc., and promoted as drop-off locations for lionfish collected by the public. The lionfish at each location will be picked up on a regular basis and shipped from REEF to researchers at the NOAA lab in North Carolina and researchers at the USGS. Key research questions including predation, genetics, age and growth rates, among others will be addressed through acquisition of these samples. For a listing of lionfish collection banks in the Keys, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish and follow the links.

    Spread the Word...

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    Would you like to help spread the word about REEF to your dive club, dive shop, local nature center, etc.? We now have a presentation about the REEF Volunteer Survey program in your area, complete with speaker notes. It takes about 30-45 minutes, and goes over how simple it is to conduct a survey, and how to get started. PERFECT for groups wanting to get involved with REEF but weren't quite sure how to go about it! Let us know if you'd be interested in showing it to your group - email janna@reef.org

    Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Eugene Dive Club and Eugene Skin Divers Supply

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    REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

    This month we feature the Eugene Dive Club, an active club in Oregon with over 100 members. The club serves as the go-to arm of the official REEF Field Station at Eugene Skin Divers Supply. The club's involvement was spearheaded by two active northwest REEF surveyors and Eugene locals, Christine and Jim Pendergrass. Chris and Jim took the PADI Habitat class through Eugene Skin Divers Supply, which fed them into the volunteer dive program at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. That sparked their interest in fish ID and led them to REEF. Since then, Jim and Chris have been teaching REEF fish and invertebrate ID classes, sponsoring monthly REEF dives along the Oregon coast, and helping with REEF’s online training webinars. They have also created a fun ID game called ‘Cash Boat’, a fish/invert ID contest modeled after TV’s ‘Cash Cab’. Their efforts have paid off, and we have seen an increase in Oregon divers involved in the REEF survey program. They are now planning to expand their REEF class schedule, planning more REEF Blitz Weekends, and continuing to introduce folks from other dive clubs to the wonders of Oregon diving and critterwatching. When asked about what they like best about being involved with REEF, Jim and Chris say "It’s a great way to learn more about the marine environment and meet like-minded people. And you get to share exciting underwater finds, like the Monkeyface Prickleback!" Thanks to Jim, Chris, and the folks at the Eugene Skin Divers Supply for helping invigorate the REEF program in Oregon.

    Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Paradise Watersports

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    REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our featured Field Station this month, Paradise Watersports, is based at Peter Island Resort and Spa in the British Virgin Islands. Their team is led by Randy Keil, an active REEF surveyor and member of the Advanced Assessment Team. Randy was first introduced to REEF over 10 years ago by Lad Akins. Since then, he has built a great program at Paradise Watersports. All of their instructors dive with slates and pencils, and fish and creature identification is done on every dive. Randy notes that “it has been our experience that our divers and snorkelers enjoy the experience of looking at marine life and immediately having it identified. It also gives them a basis on which we can talk about the dive when we’re back on the boat. Instead of ‘what was that big fish with all the colors?’ we get ‘now you called that fish a grasby, I thought it was a grouper?’ It serves as a springboard for discussion and an understanding of the relationships of the reef community.”

    Paradise Watersports is also involved in helping track the invasive lionfish. Randy sees this as just one advantage of having the REEF survey program in place locally. With over 1500 surveys in the BVI and over 100,000 in the Caribbean region, the REEF database is a valuable tool in tracking the lionfish invasion and better understanding the impact the lionfish is having on the various areas. In the BVI, the dive operators, including Paradise Watersports, are making a determined effort to keep lionfish off of the moored reefs. Conservation and Fisheries has issued exemptions to the strict no spearfishing laws that allow each dive operation and several of the crewed charterboats to take lionfish. Thanks to Randy and his crew at Paradise Watersports for all you do to support REEF's programs!

    Grouper Moon Episode of Changing Seas Now Online

    Photo by Jim Hellemn.

    'Changing Seas', an Emmy award-winning original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, premiered their newest episode, "Grouper Moon", earlier this month. The episode is now available to view online here. The episode focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project last winter, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub