Lionfish Letters from the Field - Early Detection, Rapid Response and Outreach

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Lad Akins holds a captured lionfish. Volunteers can help with removal efforts such as this one during REEF's Lionfish Research Projects. Photo by Sally Burrows.
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Indo-Pacific Lionfish are now omni-present throughout the Bahamas. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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REEF recently held a training workshop for dive staff and government officials in the Turks and Caicos sponsored by Dive Provo.

REEF continues our efforts as a leader in confronting the invasion of Indo-Pacific Lionfish into the eastern US, Caribbean and Bahamas. In November, we participated in a workshop to help craft a national response to the invasion in the Bahamas, conducted training in the Turks and Caicos where lionfish are just starting to show up and shared findings from our field work at an international conference (see GCFI article). Our work, both in the field conducting research with our academic and government partners as well as conducting education and outreach with the public, is making a big difference in this critical environmental problem. To get involved and help with control efforts in the Turks and Caicos, join on REEF's upcoming lionfish project with Dive Provo, January 17-24.

On November 6th and 7th, the Bahamas government hosted their National Lionfish Response Planning Workshop in Nassau, Bahamas with over 40 representatives from government agencies and NGOs. REEF’s Lad Akins was invited as a key presenter during the first day of lectures and lead instructor during the second day of collecting and dissections. Organized by Marine Resources’ Lakeshia Anderson, the workshop was designed to bring officials up to speed on the current state of knowledge and ongoing lionfish research, what potential solutions were available for addressing the invasion, proposed legal changes relating to lionfish collection, collecting and handling techniques, first aid, dissections and even a cooking demonstration. During the field operations with Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, participants were exposed to collecting and handling techniques and were able to collect over 60 lionfish on 2 short dives. Later that day, dissecting demonstrations were held then the remaining fish were battered and fried (to rave reviews) by local lionfish cooking expert Gregory Maillis. Attendees of the workshop were praised by director of Marine Resources, Michael Braynen, and were then charged with continuing education, outreach, and collecting efforts in their local communities and out-islands.

At the end of the month, Lad traveled to the Turks and Caicos Islands to conduct training and education workshops for staff at Dive Provo and for the Turks and Caicos Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR). The effort, funded by Dive Provo, included three days of training for Dive Provo staff and instructors including morning seminars and afternoon field work. In addition, local residents joined in on the third day to learn about the issue and help locate lionfish during afternoon dives. On day four, Lad met with DECR Scientific Officer Marlon Hibbert and Director of DECR Wesley Clerveaux. A two-hour seminar was presented to DECR fisheries officers followed by discussions about REEF’s return visit in January. The January effort will represent the first focused lionfish project in the Turks and Caicos and will also gather fish diversity information that will be compared to historical REEF data to assess changes to the local reef systems over the past 10 years. While lionfish are not as abundant in the Turks and Caicos as they are now in the Bahamas, the situation does provide the perfect opportunity to implement country-wide education and control efforts. REEF’s upcoming project with Dive Provo on January 17-24 will be critically important in getting a good start on these control efforts. To join in REEF’s Turks and Caicos Project, call REEF Reservations at 877-295-7333 or email REEF@caradonna.com.

To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program, visit our lionfish webpage.

Discover Bermuda With Ned and Anna DeLoach

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Grotto Bay Resort will be home base for the week in Bermuda.
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Church Bay is one of the many beautiful snorkeling sites in Bermuda.
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The Blue Angelfish is one of the species divers and snorkelers will see in Bermuda. Photo by John Burville.

Make a dive trip that counts - in Bermuda, October 3- 10, on the Fish Behavior Tour! World-renowned marine naturalists, Ned and Anna DeLoach, authors of Reef Fish Identification and Reef Fish Behavior, will join local expert REEF instructor, Judie Clee, and Chris Flook, Collector of Specimens for the Bermuda Aquarium, as your trip leaders. Ned and Anna will schedule slide and video fish presentations about the wonderful world of marine life behavior and fish identification. This is an excellent destination for your non-diving friends and family as well.

This is going to be an awesome week for everyone. Bermuda is a wonderful destination and the Grotto Bay Hotel offers fine accommodation and dining. Their on site dive operation – Triangle Diving – is exceptional and their dive staff's knowledge and experience means they will be able to chose the very best dive sites each day. Ned and Anna's engaging and informative lectures will cover everything from fish identification to interesting behaviors, including reproduction and predation. In addition to many of the usual suspects, you will be able to see endemics like our Bermuda Bream and some species like the Blue Angelfish that are rarely seen elsewhere but common in Bermuda.

Bermuda is a also a wonderful place to come with your non-diving spouse/partner/friend/children. Anyone who just wants to snorkel will be able to do so comfortably at most of the dive sites or just along the shoreline and still see lots of fish and corals. On land there is so much to see and do, and local REEF volunteers will be on hand to give personal island sightseeing tours to anyone interested. Shopping is great with lots of local and British products. Don’t forget the pristine, beautiful beaches with the fine pink sand – there for anyone who just wants to chill out.

Our island hosts have arranged an exciting agenda for the week to make this not just a typical dive vacation. These opportunities include a presentation by the Bermuda BREAM Project scientists, a visit to Nonsuch Island (a magical place to explore and a birdwatcher's delight), viewing the glowworms at Whalebone Bay, watching the invasive lionfish culling team and the lionfish culinary team in action – as in “catch and eat” – yummy!, all topped off with a cocktail reception and behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.

Don't miss your chance to take a trip of a lifetime. The cost per person is $2,095, plus a $300 REEF Program Fee. The package Includes: 7 nights in Oceanfront Superior room, taxes and resort gratuities, round-trip airport transfers, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives with Triangle Divers, behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium, classroom sessions and survey materials.

This is just one of several REEF Trips that remain in 2009. A few spaces remain on the Field Surveys to Curacao in October and Cozumel in December -- check out the full trip schedule online. And stay tuned for our 2010 Field Survey schedule, which will be announced soon! For more information and to reserve your space please contact our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or you can e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.

Fishy Love

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Spawning butter hamlets. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

The first time we ever saw Hamlets spawn, Ned and I were on a liveaboard REEF trip in Belize. We were just starting serious work on the behavior book at the time and still unaware of just how rewarding dusk dives can be for fish watchers. Trying to squeeze in a fourth dive before dark, our group dropped in just before sunset, agreeing to be back up in time for dinner.

These were the days when I could still add new fish to my life list on almost every dive trip and the charismatic Hamlets with their 11 distinct color morphs and various “hybrid” variations were especially prized sightings (we’ll save the species debate for another day). Hamlets are solitary hunters during the day. So when we saw two chasing each other about, we instinctively knew something out of the ordinary was happening. But, was it love or war?

The traditional color of one of the pair was noticeably blanched. We’d seen that happen with fighting Sailfin blennies - the fish that was out of its hole turns very pale. But the behavior of the Hamlets was more reminiscent of flirtation rather than conflict. The fish being pursued would race ahead then stop, usually with its nose pointed up, twitch, and immediately take off once again as soon as the pursuer caught up. For over twenty minutes they dashed about in all directions before always returning to the same coral head.

Finally, just as the last light was fading, the hamlets paused above the coral head only inches apart, entwined their 3-inch bodies and slowly rose together a foot or two. I know we aren’t supposed to anthropomorphize, but it certainly looked like love to us. Suddenly, they popped apart releasing a white puff of gametes and immediately darted back toward the reef. Instead of going their separate ways, the chasing, nuzzling and twitching began anew and shortly they spawned again, then again and again before they finally disappeared, going their separate ways into the night.

Later we learned to our amazement that Hamlets are simultaneous hermaphrodites, with each partner possessing both male and female reproductive organs. This unusual scenario, known as egg trading, allows each couple to play both the male and female role each evening. The fish assuming the role of the female plays the aggressor, twitching and chasing the blanched, interim male about. After each spawn the roles reverse until the lovers are finally spent.

The best news for fishwatchers is Hamlets appear to spawn each evening year-round. So, on your next dusk dive in the Tropical Western Atlantic make a point of watching for Hamlets; if you do you’re sure to be entertained.

Note: a short video of Spawning Hamlets is available on REEF’s YouTube Channel, WeSpeakFish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEMCqVBB0CM

Roatan Field Survey a Success!

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Twenty-four lucky REEF members joined Paul Humann for a week of diving in Roatan, Honduras.
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A Dog Snapper displaying an interesting barred pattern. Photo by Paul Humann.
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A pattern of dense brown spots covered this Yellowmouth Grouper. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF recently completed a Field Survey trip to Roatan, Honduras, led by REEF co-founder, Paul Humann. Over six days, the group completed 17 survey dives including one night dive. Both novice and highly experienced REEF surveyors enjoyed the near perfect weather and dive conditions. Shortfin pipehorses, wrasse blennies, linesnout gobies, peppermint basslets, orangesided gobies, dash gobies, and blue dartfish are a sample of the cryptic fishes that were observed. Spotted Eagle Rays and Southern Stingrays graced us with their presence on a number of dives.

The group stayed on the east end of the island at Turquoise Bay Resort and dove with Subway Scuba. The highpoint of the trip was the Aguila Wreck and surrounding reef where there were numerous species of large grouper and snapper. There was a dog snapper displaying body bars similar to those sometimes on Cubera Snappers and Schoolmasters. Also, there was a Yellowmouth Grouper with an unusual pattern of dense brown dots covering the body. Paul remarked that he had never seen either species with these unusual markings.

A not so welcome sighting was the invasive red lionfish; one or more were sighted on nearly every dive. Alecia Adamson, REEF’s new Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator, collected 15 lionfish over the course of the week ranging in size from 2 to 14 inches. The local divemasters were also collecting lionfish but were not aware that lionfish filets are delectable. Alecia gave them a demonstration on how to safely filet lionfish. Now the dive staff captures lionfish for both control and culinary purposes!

Congratulations to those who attained a higher surveyor experience level during the week - Bobbi Kerridge and Peter Rae are now Level 3 surveyors and Pat Lommel is a new Level 5 Expert surveyor!

Field Surveys are a great way to take a dive vacation that counts! If you would like to join in one of our future Field Surveys, there are a few spots available for the upcoming trips to Cozumel, Key Largo, Bonaire, and Grand Cayman. Please visit the Field Survey Trip Schedule online to find more information.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Flo Bahr

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FIN hosted a Great Annual Fish Count event this summer.
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One of Flo's fun finds -- a peacock flounder catching a ride on the back of a turtle. Photo by Rick Long.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Flo Bahr (REEF member since 2001). Flo lives in Kihei, Hawaii, has conducted 186 REEF surveys, and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor. Along with Rick Long and Liz Foote, Flo helps organize the Fish Identification Network (FIN) on Maui. FIN provides an opportunity to join friends and fellow fish lovers in exploring the coral reefs of Hawaii. Maui's original FIN founders, Mike and Terri Fausnaugh, have since started FIN on Oahu. There are monthly, sometimes weekly, dives at various beaches. At every event, volunteers set up a REEF station with survey materials and identification reference guides in an attempt to lure in new afishionados! Here’s what Flo had to say about diving with REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?

Way back in 2001, Liz Foote introduced me to REEF. She was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the ocean and fish that it encouraged me to learn more. Being relatively new to living on Maui, I had a lot to learn. Fish card in hand, I tried to identify and learn at least two new fish each time I went snorkeling or diving. I had a screensaver on my computer that flashed fish pictures and their names, the latest fish identification books and friends to debrief with after snorkeling and diving.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

The friendships I have developed and “talking fish” with friends has become my favorite part of doing REEF surveys. We even started a club called FIN, for Fish Identification Network, and we meet once a month for REEF surveys, socializing, and FOOD. The club is open to anyone who has an interest in fish, and we have a nice, flexible group. New people swim along with more experienced surveyors, and we all have fun after with eating and talking about what we saw that day.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

The fun and friendships are great, but the REEF surveys are so valuable to scientists, students, and other avid fish folks. There is just not a wealth of information about what fish are where and in what quantities, so our data can be helpful in determining the health of our declining reefs and can also give swimmers an idea of what might be seen in different areas.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? Is there a fish you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?

There are so many cool and surprising things to see in the ocean. Just last week, at Maonakala while snorkeling, we saw a Coronetfish taking a ride on a turtle. A couple of months ago while diving at Wailea Point, we saw a turtle with a strange lump on its back that turned out to be a resting Flowery Flounder. As for what I want to see -- a seahorse! Recently we were diving Wailea Point because of reports of seahorses being seen by a few divers. We searched and searched while diving in just 10-15 feet of water. We couldn’t find them but will keep on looking until we do. It will be so cool when I find a seahorse and get to add it to my survey!

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, San Diego Oceans Foundation

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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 San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF), an organization that promotes ocean stewardship by leading community-supported projects that enhance the ocean habitat and encourage sustainable use of the oceans resources. SDOF took on REEF as one of its core projects in 2003. SDOF offers REEF training classes and organizes survey dives; they also host a Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event each year. SDOF occasionally hosts other special opportunities for its REEF surveyors, including special tours at Sea World and of the collections department at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and'Aqua-Talk' sessions, where REEFers can learn more about some aspect of the marine environment.

One of SDOF's lead REEF supporters and teachers, Herb Gruenhagen, explains why REEF works so well as an SDOF program - "Our volunteers become ocean stewards and begin personalizing their commitment to the sea. Then the magic happens! We've hooked them (not literally) and that's how we spread our message of ocean stewardship. So many divers see something while underwater and ask each other 'Did you see that?' or 'What do you think that was?' Conducting REEF surveys helps our local divers and snorkelers learn the identification of the fish and invertebrate species that call Southern California ‘home’. The REEF method is easy to do, and Southern California has many diverse fishes and invertebrates that are easy to ID and count." Herb goes on to say, "By teaching the classes, I learn a great deal more than any of my students and that makes my diving that much more enjoyable. I hope to keep on inspiring others to 'count fishes'." When asked about some of his favorite finds as a REEF surveyor, Herb mentioned the Speckled Fin midshipman that he found at a site in La Jolla Canyon called 'Secret Garden', and that he now can distinguish between a Southern Spearnose Poacher and a Pygmy Poacher (now how exciting is that?).

Take a Dive Trip That Counts in 2012

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Are you ready to take a dive trip that counts? If you are looking to spend a week in a wonderful destination, learning and exploring with a group of fun and like-minded divers and snorkelers, then don't miss out on a REEF Trip. Now is the time to book your 2012 Field Survey with one of REEF's expert guides. We have an exciting lineup planned. Trips are starting to fill up (some are already sold out), so don't delay. Get in touch with our travel experts at Caradonna to find out more and to book your space - 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Details are given below and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips

April 21-28 - Nevis - Oualie Beach Resort. Led by Christy Semmens, REEF Director of Science.

May 26-June 2 (SOLD OUT) - Sun Dancer II, Belize - Lionfish Control Study, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and Peter Hughes.

June 9-16 (1 SPACE LEFT) and June 16-23 (book one or both weeks) - San Blas Islands, Panama - Coral Lodge, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author.

July 14-21 - Lionfish workshop in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects.

July 28 - August 4 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author.

September 22-29 - Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Brice and Christy Semmens, REEF Scientific Advisors and researchers.

September 26-30 - Hornby Island, British Columbia - Hornby Island Diving, led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator.

October 6-13 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers.

November 10-17, British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert Instructor.

December 1-8, Cozumel - Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert Instructor.

REEF Member 50,000 Coming Up!

We are about to get our 50,000th member! Spread the word and get your friends to sign up. The lucky 50,000 member will receive one of our new Rogest-designed REEF logo T-shirts (and a very notable and easy to remember member number). Forward this e-news to a friend who isn't yet a member and encourage them to sign up today. It's easy to do online, and it's free!

Upcoming Webinars in 2013

New Fishinars continue to be added, and upcoming sessions include common butterflyfishes of Hawaii, a California Invertebrate series, plus several on Caribbean fish families (including those pesky Damsels)! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online 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:

Those Darn Damsels! Top 12 of the Greater Caribbean - Jan 17

California Invertebrate ID Part One and Two - Feb 6, Feb 7

Hamlets: To Be or Not to Be (Counted, that is) - Feb 12

Bodiacious Butterflies of Hawaii - Feb 21

Triggers and Files: The ID Tools of the Trade - Mar 21

Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.

Upcoming Fishinars - Safety Stop Sightings, Parrotfish, Rare Cozumel Finds, and Scientific Illustration!

Do parrotfish like this Rainbow Parrotfish perplex you? Then attend the upcoming Fishinar on September 10th. Photo by Ned DeLoach

New Fishinars continue to be added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online 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:

Safety Stop Survey: the Top 12 Caribbean Fish You May See at 15 Feet in 3 Minutes - July 11

Perplexing Parrotfish of the Caribbean - September 10

Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel - October 17

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

Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub