REEF Travel Tips and Tricks Spring 2009

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REEF's next Field Survey destination -- St. Croix, May 9-16 at the Carambola Beach Resort. Join us!
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The sad faced Cardinal Soldierfish is often found in sponges and caves. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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St. Lucia Field Survey participants.
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Now that's service!! Dive master Chad carries REEF member, Martha Barrow, off the dive boat to dry land.

Field Surveys -- these fun and educational dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". I am looking for folks to join me in St. Croix in May, details are below. I recently returned from leading a group of amazing REEF volunteers on the Field Survey week in St. Lucia. The diving was great and everyone managed to see a new species during the week. Most notable for me – on my fish wish list was the Cardinal Soldierfish.

I had looked through the book many times and always paused on this photo – thinking it looked like a cartoon character with those crazy looking eyes. In fact I thought the sad sack face was just the angle Paul had taken the picture, but when James Brook shined his light into a vase sponge there it was – looking just exactly like the photograph, crazy eyes and all. I laughed out loud. Then I proceeded to look in every sponge I found for the rest of the week and I managed to find another dozen. How cool is that?

The REEF Team comprised of James and Ann Brook, Kay Tidemann, Pam McDevitt, Martha Barrow, Norbert and April Hoeller, Michael and Ellen Berson, west coast east, coast sisters Helen and Sally Davies, Marion Sinclair, Julio Esparza, and me the irreverent fish leader. We stayed at Anse Chastanet Resort, which is perched on a hillside (as per Michael and Pam who counted the steps to their rooms it was between 137 and 178 steps from beach to room). The food was great and the REEF package included all the meals (good thing we had all those steps) with a choice of 5 restaurants. The rooms looked out on the World Heritage Site of Gros Piton and Petite Piton, with birds and flowers everywhere.

The diving was close and diverse. The dive staff of Dive St. Lucia, Ponti, Ubald, Garfield and Chad could not have taken better care of us. Chad carried Martha off the boat so she wouldn’t get sand in her shoes – what service! Most gratifying for all of us was having Ponti and Ubald become the world's newest REEF Members one morning before our dives. Kay, Martha, and Pam showed them how to submit their survey data on line. Sally and Kay generously gifted their Reef Fish ID books to the newly minted REEF Members. Both guides said that we had given them a new excitement for their job. Ponti, like me, is an SSI Platinum Pro 5000 diver, and that means he has over 5,000 dives – so imagine how excited we all were to be able to share our philosophy of fish with them and teach an old fish some new tricks!

James shared his unbelievable knowledge about what we were all seeing and gave a guest lecture on Damsels in Distress, Parrot(head) Fish and something about Smart Wrasse. Kay, our other Level 5 Expert, generously dove with some of the newly minted fish watchers and coached them through some of their first surveys. It was a very diverse group in Fish IQ, sense of humor and goals for the week – so we made quite the eclectic team. The dive staff accommodated our unique style of diving and we had 1 hour + bottom times, a variety of environments and even made some 2 and 3 site dives on 1 tank. At James’ suggestion we even did a dusk dive and watched the changing of the guard. As Helen Davies said – “It was magical” I couldn’t agree more.

So what is the travel tip and trick – well I need some people to go with me to St. Croix, May 9-16. I have been there before and the north shore is great diving and absolutely gorgeous. The resort is the Carambola Beach Resort which recently went through a major renovation. You would think you were somewhere in the South Pacific from the architecture, palm trees and beach.

The dive operator is Cane Bay Dive Shop and they are fun to dive with and are all a bunch of fish nerds – really! They also have a brand new 36 foot Newton which is the Cadillac of dive boats. Since I can’t actually go by myself - something about doing lectures alone hints at insanity and doing a survey alone is not nearly the same amount of fun as being with a group (and remember we always need to dive with a buddy). So I am looking for 10 buddies to come with me. St. Croix is a key destination in the lionfish epidemic. They have had several confirmed sightings and we really need to get as much survey data about these reefs as we can. Now is the time.

We will also be doing a lionfish presentation and working with the local dive operators and stakeholders to help educate and raise awareness for this terrible environmental scourge. The REEF members on the trip will be able to see firsthand some of the invasive species work that REEF does. And just in case we see a lionfish we will bag it and eat it.

So here is the travel tip – St. Croix – beautiful, exotic and interesting, needs REEF divers to provide fish population density and diversity stats. Only a short plane ride, great accommodations, great diving and you never know what might swim by. We are shooting for a St. Croix Hat Trick (aren’t you curious now?). Time is of the essence so call our dedicated Travel Desk today and get your space booked. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.

California REEF Workshops a Huge Success

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One of three free REEF classes held in Southern California last month.
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Divers heading out for a REEF survey dive at Malaga Cove.

As part of REEF's ongoing efforts to engage new divers and snorkelers into the Volunteer Survey Project, as well as to provide existing REEF volunteers with continued training and survey opportunities, we coordinated a REEF Workshop in Southern California last month. The free identification classes, which were taught by REEF Instructor Janna Nichols, were very well attended and the workshop series was a success. Almost 100 divers turned out to take the REEF California Fish and Invertebrate Identification classes and about a dozen divers joined in the survey event at Malaga Cove. It was a great opportunity to reinvigorate REEF's programs in Southern California and to mobilize a corps of dedicated surveyors who will begin conducting surveys on their regular recreational dives.

Funding support for the workshop series was provided by a foundation grant. REEF is dedicated to continuing these opportunities and we are planning to return to LA/OC area next Spring, as well as plan similar events in San Diego and Central California. A huge thanks to Deb Karimoto of Orange County diving, Eric Frasco of Dive 'n' Surf dive shop and Heather George for logistical help, and to REI Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach Tennis Club for letting us hold the classes at their facilities.

REEF Data Used To Evaluate Evolution in Marine Species

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The golden hamlet is one of the more rare species, infrequently found in just a few locations. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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The distribution of yellowtail hamlet, as documented by REEF surveyors and analyzed by Ben Holt et al. This work was published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography 2010.

As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography

It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist. 

"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).

To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.

Neon Goby Split Into Two Species

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Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops) is found in South Florida and the Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Caribbean Neon Goby (Elactinus lobeli), is known from Belize and Honduras. Photo by Paul Humann.

Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.

The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.

Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, March 2011

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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:

- An educator and researcher from the University of Connecticut is using data as part of a field science class. His students will use the data to evaluate fish populations in advance of their field coursework.

- A postdoc from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce is using data from Stetson Bank in the Gulf of Mexico (part of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary) to evaluate changes in the bank's fish populations.

Have You Signed Up For a 2012 REEF Trip Yet?

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REEF Field Surveys are 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 fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Don't miss out, spaces are filling up for our 2012 trips. The schedule and more details are posted online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. 2012 destinations and dates:

  • Nevis, April 21-28, led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens
  • Belize, lionfish expedition aboard the SunDancer II, May 26-June 2, led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes
  • San Blas Islands in Panama, June 9-16 and June 16-23, led by Paul Humann
  • Dominica, lionfish research trip, July 14-21, led by Lad Akins
  • San Salvador in the Bahamas, July 29 - August 4, led by Paul Humann
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico, aboard the Rocio del Mar, September 22-29, led by Christy and Brice Semmens
  • Hornby Island in British Columbia*, September 26-30, led by Janna Nichols
  • Bermuda, October 6-13, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach
  • British Virgin Islands, aboard the Cuan Law, November 11-17, led by Heather George
  • Cozumel, December 1-8, led by Tracey Griffin
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    To inquire about a trip and to reserve your spot, contact the REEF Travel Consultant at Caradonna, 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. *Hornby Island trip is being booked directly with the resort; contact owner/operator Amanda at info@hornbyislanddiving.com, or 250-335-2807.

    Top of the Charts: Survey Stats, February 2012

    A big fish thanks to the 222 volunteers who conducted REEF surveys in the last three months (Dec '11-Feb '12). A total of 1,746 surveys were conducted and submitted during this time!

    REEF members who have conducted the most surveys in the last three months:

    TWA – Dee Scarr (78), Franklin Neal (45), Michael Phelan (43)

    NE – Joseph Mangiafico (13), Michael Murphy (5), Eric Heupel (5)

    PAC – Randall Tyle (38), Phil Green (32), Georgia Arrow (15)

    TEP – Pam Wade (20)

    HAW – Judith Tarpley (41), MJ Farr (35), Patricia Richardson (30)

    To date, 157,298 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.

    Remembering Mike Phelan

    One of Mike's passions was studying and protecting the aggregation of Goliath Grouper near his home in Jupiter.

    We are saddened to share news about the passing of one of our most active REEF members, Mike Phelan, earlier this month in Jupiter, FL. Mike's enthusiasm for fishcounting was infectious and he often taught fish ID. He had participated in many REEF projects and was a member of our Advanced Assessment Team. REEF co-founder, Paul Humann, remembers Mike’s unsurpassed passion for marine life and conservation. "REEF's database is much more meaningful thanks to Mike's contribution of nearly 1,500 fish surveys over the last 14 years. Working with State of Florida officials he did a great deal of volunteer research on the Goliath Groupers and wrote several scientific reports. His information was used as part of the government decision-making process to continue the Goliath's protection as an endangered species. On one of his last dives he counted 114 Goliath Groupers in a single aggregation, the largest ever recorded. As a personal friend, I along with everyone that knew Mike will miss him greatly - as will the Goliath Groupers who have lost one of their staunchest advocates."

    REEF Director of Special Projects and original Executive Director, Lad Akins, regarded Mike as a top-notch team member and an all around great person. "Mike Phelan was a friend of REEF and a friend of mine. If I had to pick a team for anything, Mike would be one of the first I’d pick. He was a joy to be around – always quick in wit and a true professional in his approach to almost any situation. I first met Mike on a REEF fish survey trip in 1998. He quickly became a mainstay of REEF fish survey activities and achieved Golden Hamlet status with over 1,000 fish survey dives. His dedication to protecting marine resources, especially Goliath Grouper, was widely known and his efforts were far reaching in helping to better understand this keystone species. Mike was certainly a member of the REEF family and we’ll miss him much."

    Mike will be sorely missed in the REEF community. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to his wife and their children. If you would like to read more about Mike's efforts with REEF, you can read the monthly member spotlight that featured him in June 2011. Mike's obituary and remembrance page is posted here.

    Take a Dive Vacation That Counts

    If you haven't yet booked your space on one of our 2013 REEF Field Surveys, don't delay. They are filling up fast and several are now sold out. Trips with space remaining are: Southern Bahamas Lionfish Trip with Lad Akins and Peter Hughes (May 18-25), Little Cayman with Paul Humann (July 13-20), Curacao Lionfish Trip with Lad Akins and Peter Hughes (Aug 31-Sept 7), Barkley Sound British Columbia with Janna Nichols (Sept 28-Oct 1), Grenada with Dr. Christy Semmens (Oct 5-12), and Socorro Islands with Marty Snyderman and Andy Dehart (Dec 3-12). Visit www.REEF.org/trips for information and details on all of these great trips. To book your space or ask questions, get in touch with our travel agent at Caradonna - 1-877-295-REEF (7333) or REEF@caradonna.com. 

    Upcoming Fishinars - Drums, Rare Cozumel Finds, and Scientific Illustration!

    Juvenile Cubuyu, one of several drum species found in the Caribbean that will be covered in the upcoming Fishinar on Drums. Photo by Carol Cox.

    Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

    Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel - October 17

    Feel the Beat! The Top 12 Drums & Croakers of the Caribbean - October 29

    You do WHAT for a living? Illustrating Fishes - with special guest Val Kells, Scientific Illustrator - November 13

    New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub