Active REEF surveyor, Mike Bear, and other San Diego area divers started noticing something unexpected earlier this year -- increasing numbers of encounters with the Bluntnose Sevengill Shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark. Knowing first hand the impact that divers and snorkelers can have as citizen scientists, Mike set up a website - http://sevengillsharksightings.org -- to serve as a central repository for photographic, videographic and written data on these magnificent creatures. Submissions on the site will allow REEF surveyors who are lucky enough to encounter this prehistoric species to provide additional information and images beyond the sighting and abundance information recorded as part of their REEF survey. It will also enable divers who were not doing a REEF survey to report their encounter. One of the most interesting parts of the website will be the development of an informal photographic database of Sevengill sightings that will facilitate the comparison of photographs and the potential identification of individual sharks using the unique pattern of dark "freckles" on the backs of each shark, similar to the patterns seen on whale sharks. To date, six REEF surveys in San Diego have reported a Sevengill (click here to see the sightings report).
The second annual Abaco Lionfish Derby, held at Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, on Saturday June 19th, was a huge success. Teams on twenty-one boats from Florida and the Bahamas enjoyed perfect weather and conditions while collecting a grand total of 941 lionfish. Over $5,000 in cash was awarded to the winning teams for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. This event, held in the Bahamas and sanctioned by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, is one of many REEF efforts to cull invasive lionfish populations and raise awareness about the issue.
The award for most lionfish collected in the one-day event went to team White Roach from Abaco. Repeat winners, the trio of skilled lionfish collectors significantly exceeded their tally from 289 lionfish last year to a whopping 345 this year. This number is both astonishing and alarming when you consider how dense lionfish populations must be for three people to have the ability to collect over 300 lionfish in the span of a single day.
Team Meander from Jacksonville, FL, clenched 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for largest lionfish collected. Zane Carney captured the largest lionfish ever recorded in the Abacos, which measured just 2cm short of the national record. Zane told Derby organizers that he found a hole outside the main barrier reef off of No Name Cay in 45 feet of water that was full of very large lionfish. He used a pole spear to bag the winning fish, which was 43.4 cm in length (roughly 19 inches long) and weighed approximately 4 pounds.
Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Operations, and Stephanie Green, a collaborative research partner from Simon Fraser University, recorded valuable data during the event, including lionfish sizes, stomach contents, and sex for many of the lionfish before they were filleted and cooked by the Green Turtle Club. Observers and participants, many of whom had never tried lionfish, found the fish quite tasty, resembling hogfish or grouper. This year, Tropic Seafood Limited of Nassau also arranged to purchase some of the larger fillets of lionfish for distribution in local markets. According to Derby organizer, Bobbie Lindsay, “Tropic’s offer to purchase lionfish is an exciting development, because creating a market for lionfish is the best way to control the population of this invasive fish.”
Thanks to the Derby co-sponsors, Green Turtle Club, and Brendal’s Dive Center, who offered special discounts for Derby participants. REEF also extends sincere gratitude to all of the participants, and especially Bobbie Lindsay, an active REEF member and volunteer who took the lead in organizing the Derby making it a successful event again this year. Next year’s Derby is set for June 24-25, 2011. For full results and pictures go to www.lionfishderby.com.
Summary of Team Results -
Current Most Active Surveyors
Conducted the most surveys in the last three months:
TWA – Peter Leahy (169), Michael Phelan (67), Dave Grenda (48)
NE – Jason Feick (9), John Feehan (8), Michael MacDonald (7)
PAC – Rhoda Green (36), Jan Kocian (34), Betty Bastai (31)
TEP – Carol Cline (16), Daniel Richards (12), Gerald Winkel (3)
HAW – Don Judy (41), Rick Long (34), Flo Bahr (23)
To date, 140,234 surveys have been conducted by REEF volunteers.
Visit www.REEF.org/db/stats to see the Top 10 surveyors with the most surveys conducted to date, the most species-rich locations, and most frequently sighted fish species.
In addition to maintaining the REEF Survey database and providing data files to scientists, government agencies, and other groups, REEF staff participate in a variety of scientific conferences and workshops each year. Earlier this month, REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, participated in "Engaging and Learning for Conservation". Christy and 49 others were invited to the workshop to discuss ways to enhance biodiversity conservation and environmental stewardship through public participation in scientific research (PPSR). PPSR encompasses citizen science and other programs where the public is involved in one or more phases of scientific research. With support from the National Science Foundation, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, a leader in bird citizen science programs, initiated this effort to bring together conservation scientists and practitioners, resource managers, academics, educators, and community and project leaders. The overarching goal of the workshop was to discuss best practices to build the field of public participation in scientific research, and lay the groundwork for the workshop team to refine ideas into tools and resources. The two-day workshop was held at an epicenter of biodiversity and conservation research, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. With almost 20 years of working with REEF, Christy had valuable perspectives on how a citizen science program can meaningfully contribute to conservation and stewardship.
I am excited to announce the launch of our Winter Fundraising Campaign. During this holiday season, please consider a contribution to protect and conserve our marine eco-systems. Donate today using our secure online form, call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Members who donate $250 or more will receive a limited, signed, and numbered print of a beautiful Peppermint Basslet.
This year, we give thanks to all our supporters and donors who have made REEF's programs in 2011 successful. Your donation supports a database of over 154,000 fish and invertebrate surveys, marine conservation research, Nassau Grouper and Goliath Grouper protections, lionfish invasion control, educational outreach, and a whole lot more.
Please give thanks this month to our oceans! They cover 70 percent of this planet, are home to millions of magnificent species, and contain important resources that we all depend on. We appreciate your ongoing dedication to our marine conservation initiatives and wish you a happy holiday season.
REEF proudly names Heather George as our 2011 Volunteer of the Year. Since becoming a member nearly a decade ago, Heather has conducted 192 REEF surveys throughout the world and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. In 2010, Heather joined the volunteer research team for the Grouper Moon Project. Through the years, she has conducted fish identification trainings for dive shops and aquaria and has led several REEF Field Survey Trips. Heather also served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010 and brought a wealth of knowledge about fundraising and membership development to the organization. In 2011, Heather assisted with the expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the South Pacific as part of the field team to American Samoa. When Heather is not underwater looking at fishes or teaching others about the joys of fish watching, she is helping other ocean-related organizations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Waterkeeper Alliance. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Heather!
REEF is proud to partner with over 270 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. For more information on how to find one near you, or to become a Field Station in your area, visit the Field Station Directory.
This month we feature Scuba Obsession, Al Audet's independent instruction business located in Melbourne Florida. Al was introduced to the wonderful world of fish identification through a class through OceanWatch.org. He attended as many classes as he could, and through the help of outstanding instructors and guides, he was hooked. He decided to incorporate fish ID into his teaching repertoire, and signed up as a REEF Field Station in November 2009.
Instructors have a lot of influence on their new open water students, and Al steers them toward fish ID all along the way. During the last Open Water dive, he normally takes his waterproof Fish-In-A-Pocket guide and points the fish they see on their dive out to the students. As his students move on to their Advanced Open Water courses (of which they can choose some that match their interests), he always encourages them to select Fish ID as one of their Adventure Dives. During the class, they learn about fish ID, do REEF survey dives together, and then are encouraged to join REEF and enter their data.
Al feels that the east coast of Florida is a great place to engage divers in fish ID. "The east coast of Florida has some of the best diving in the world. You never know what you're going to see. We also have the most popular muck dive in the world - the Blue Heron Bridge. You'll find fish under the bridge that you won't see any place else in Florida."
Al employs several different teaching techniques for his students. He offers Fish ID classes regularly and also attends REEF Fishinars, which he touted as one of REEF's best programs. He has also put together a video for his Fish ID students, online and available for viewing here: http://vimeo.com/11153948
One of Al's most exciting moments during a dive was when he was teaching a Fish ID Adventure dive for an Advanced Open Water class off Jupiter, FL. The boat captain gave them a sand drop, so after a few minutes of looking for the reef, the dive guide decided to ascend. On the way up... they looked up, and realized they were ascending into a whale shark! One of Al's students described it best, "I looked up, and I thought I saw the boat. Then I saw the fins." Thanks Al and Scuba Obsession for serving as a REEF Field Station!
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:
- A researcher from University of British Columbia is using REEF data to evaluate the efficacy of marine reserves in Canadian waters.
- A researcher from Florida State University has requested REEF data to study Goliath Grouper populations in Florida.
- A student at Coastal Carolina University is using data to study fish populations at Discovery Bay in Jamaica.
- Scientists from NOAA Fisheries and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are using data from multiple monitoring programs, including REEF, to evaluate new methods of evaluating population trends in fisheries.
Do you shop on Amazon? If so, we encourage you to use Amazon Smile. It's the same Amazon experience, same products, prices, and service. And a portion of your purchases will be donated to REEF.
Go to smile.amazon.com and select Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Inc. as your selected charity (or go directly to http://smile.amazon.com/ch/65-0270064). Thank you!
REEF Grouper Moon scientists co-authored a recent groundbreaking paper in the journal PLoS One that highlights the importance of regional conservation efforts aimed at spawning aggregations in the Caribbean. This study evaluated genetic connectedness between Nassau Grouper populations throughout the Caribbean using DNA markers. The authors obtained genetic tissue samples from 620 Nassau Grouper from 19 sites across 9 countries, including the Cayman Islands. They found evidence for strong genetic differentiation among Nassau Grouper subpopulations throughout the Caribbean. These results suggest that, despite a lack of physical barriers, Nassau Grouper form multiple distinct sub-populations in the Caribbean Sea. Oceanography (regional currents, eddies) likely plays an important role in retaining larvae close to spawning sites at both local and regional spatial scales. These findings highlight the importance of conservation initiatives such at REEF's Grouper Moon program in the Cayman Islands. A PDF of the paper is available online here. You can see a complete list of all scientific papers that have included data from REEF programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.
The full citation of the paper is: Jackson AM, Semmens BX, Sadovy de Mitcheson Y, Nemeth RS, Heppell SA, et al. (2014) Population Structure and Phylogeography in Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a Mass-Aggregating Marine Fish. PLoS ONE 9(5): e97508. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097508