REEF Fest - Save the Date - August 7-11, 2013

In the summer of 1993, the first REEF fish surveys were conducted by a group of pioneering volunteers. Twenty years later, REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. To celebrate, we will be hosting 4 days of diving, learning, and parties this August in Key Largo, Florida, and we hope you will join us! REEF Fest - Celebrating 20 Years of Marine Conservation Success will take place August 7-11, 2013. The weekend will include diving oportunities each day, as well as seminar offerings such as Intro and Advanced Fish ID, Lionfish Collection, Artificial Reefs in the Keys, Grouper Moon, and special talks given by REEF Co-Founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. We'll also have an open house at REEF HQ and a celebration banquet on Saturday night. More details will be coming soon, including the complete schedule, seminar registration, hotel room blocks with special rates, diving charters, and social gatherings. But in the mean time, please save the date and get ready to celebrate!

Lionfish Workshop Roadshow – Coming to a City Near You!

REEF's Keri Kenning leads a lionfish workshop.
Attendees of the lionfish workshop in Miami, Florida.

As part of our efforts to address the lionfish invasion to the western Atlantic, REEF received a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Aquatic Invasive Species Program to organize and lead lionfish workshops throughout the Southeast United States. Between August and October, REEF staff Keri Kenning and Lad Akins will be traveling to more than a dozen coastal communities to present information on the lionfish invasion and hands-on demonstrations on collecting and handling. Workshop topics include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, current research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development, and ways to get involved.

So far, nearly 400 people have attended workshops at Houston Zoo and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Headquarters (TX), North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (NC), South Carolina Aquarium (SC), and University of North Florida and University of Miami (FL).

The next workshop will be on Monday, October 21 in Cape Canaveral, FL. More workshops will be coming to Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Central and South Florida. The classes are free of charge and open to the public. All divers, fishers, and ocean enthusiasts are encouraged to attend. Check www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops as new workshops are added. Hope to see you there!

Grouper Moon Project Update

Nassau Grouper spawned in Feburary, starting 3 days after full moon. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
Grouper Moon team members spend time on each dive at the aggregation collecting data on behaviors, numbers, and size.
The Grouper Moon team gives a thumbs up before leaving for a dive.
A Nassau Grouper in regular coloration stands out among the rest in the aggregation. Photo by Christy Semmens.
Eggs were collected during spawning and then reared in a lab for a few days.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon. Watch a short video montage of the aggregation and spawning action here - http://youtu.be/GwKVzPLgmbo

Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. This year, we tested out some new techniques for collecting and rearing fertilized eggs (in the montage video you will see a diver swimming through a spawn cloud with a plastic bag). After collecting Nassau grouper eggs during the two nights of peak spawning, Scripps scientists and REEF Grouper Moon Project volunteers cultured the eggs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman. After one night, a subset of eggs were preserved for research on fertilization rates. After two nights, the eggs had hatched, and researchers were surprised to find larval Nassau swimming around the tank the next morning. Check out this video of larval Nassau grouper under the microscope - http://youtu.be/0Vph6LzH9IE

In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.

Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, recently gave a Perspectives in Ocean Science talk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire talk is online. Click here to watch! To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2014, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club (especially Neil van Niekerk and the crew of the Lucky Devil for taking our team out in January), and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible - Adam, Alex, Brenda, Bradley, Croy, Guy, Hal, Ivan, James, Josh, Keith, Leslie, Laura, Lynn, Paul, Steve, and Todd. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

REEF Begins Expansion to Eastern Atlantic

Underwater Azores scenery. Photo courtesy of ImageDOP.

We are excited to announce a new expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the eastern Atlantic, beginning with a new program in the Azores. REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., spent time in the islands earlier this summer developing new survey and training materials. This Portuguese archipelago is the northern extent of a bioregion known as Macaronesia, which also includes Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Cape Verde Islands. The underwater habitat features volcanic rocky reefs and common fish species include colorful wrasses, damselfish, sea breams, and pelagic rays.

The new REEF program will include the standard fish survey protocol as well as an invertebrate and algae monitoring component. The expansion is in collaboration with the local government agency, Direção Regional dos Assuntos do Mar, as well as the University of the Azores, Observatório do Mar dos Açores, and Parques Naturais de Ilha. We expect to offiically launch the new region later this year.

Upcoming Fishinars - Fiji, Snappers, New England, and more!

Checkerboard Wrasse, one of the most frequent fishes seen in Fiji. Learn about it and more during the Fiji Fishinars next week. Photo by Paul Humann.

If you haven't participated in one of our free, educational webinars yet, you don't know what you are missing! Known as Fishinars, these hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. Upcoming sessions include:

  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • New England's Finest - Janna Nichols, July 16th
  • More to come!

Don't Miss The Last Two Fishinars of the Year

The charismatic Garibaldi is a favorite among divers in the California Channel Islands. Photo by Janna Nichols.

As the air turns crisp and the leaves start to turn, we are winding down on our 2015 Fishinar program. You won't want to miss the last two sessions -- Fishes of the Channel Islands of California on October 20th and the Top 25 Fish You Should Know in the Caribbean on November 16th.  From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars (our version of Webinars). Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information. And keep an eye on the webpage for our 2016 schedule coming soon. If you have a topic that you would like to see covered, drop us a note!

REEF Fish Field Methodology Course

Common field methodologies including transects will be covered in the REEF Field Methodology Course this summer.

Calling all college students or recent graduates who are divers! This summer, spend a week learning marine life survey techniques with REEF experts in Key Largo, Florida. Build your skills and resume for marine field research and discover career opportunities in the marine and conservation field. The course covers commonly used tools and techniques utilized in visual assessments of reef fishes. Classroom and field experiences will expose students to tropical western Atlantic reef fish identification, size estimations underwater, surveying reef fishes using transect, roving and stationary visual techniques, benthic assessments using photo quadrats and rugosity, and management of survey data.

The field course will be offered August 7 – 13, 2016, in Key Largo, Florida. The $780 course fee includes accommodations, 5 days of two-tank boat dives including tanks and weights, REEF fish survey materials, and the ReefNet Fish Identification DVD. For more information on the course and details on registering, please visit www.REEF.org/FieldCourse.

Another Fun Summer of Ocean Explorers Camp

REEF Summer Campers.

Over the summer, REEF hosted the second year of Ocean Explorers Summer Camp, a marine science camp designed to get kids outdoors and on the water. 57 campers joined us over 4 weeks of camp, and it was a blast! Led by REEF Education Program Manager, Ellie Splain, and assisted by our wonderful Marine Conservation Interns, each week was filled with fun and interesting activities. Campers snorkeled at the coral reef, kayaked through the mangroves, dissected squid, created lionfish jewelry, and even got up close and personal with some animal visitors! Above all, campers learned about conservation and what each of us can do to protect the environment and make a difference. Keep a look out for the REEF Ocean Explorers 2017 Summer Camp date announcement! For more information, visit www.REEF.org/explorers/camp.

The Faces of REEF: Chuck Curry

Chuck on his home turf in the Pacific Northwest.
Chuck under the water in the Philippines. Photo by Ron Lucas.
Chuck topside on the Philippines REEF Trip in 2016.
A Puget Sound King Crab, the subject of Chuck's close encounter story with a Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo by Janna Nichols.
In addition to volunteering with REEF, Chuck volunteers at the Seattle Aquarium. Here he is as Santa in the big aquarium tank. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Chuck Curry, a REEF member since 2013. Chuck lives in Washington State, and while he hasn't been a member for long, he has already conducted 400 surveys! He has achieved Level 5 Expert Surveyor status in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA), Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), and the Pacific Coast (PAC) regions, and Level 3 Advanced Surveyor status in the South Pacific (SOP) and Hawaii (HAW) regions. Here's what Chuck had to say about REEF:

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

I first became a REEF member and volunteer in the spring of 2013. I learned about REEF while at a talk given by Joe Gaydos at the Seattle Aquarium. Joe’s the Science Director at the SeaDoc Society, which conducts and sponsors scientific research in the Pacific Northwest’s inland waters, also known as the Salish Sea. Joe mentioned a ten-year sub-tidal monitoring project SeaDoc would be starting that would use REEF’s Roving Diver Technique and expert REEF surveyors to do the monitoring. I thought, “I want to do that!” I joined REEF after that talk and started conducting surveys.

Have you been on a REEF Field Survey Trip?

I’ve been lucky enough to be on a number of REEF Field Survey trips. The highlight of my Field Survey diving last year was getting exposure to the awe-inspiring (and sometimes overwhelming!) fish diversity of the Central Indo-Pacific region on the Philippines and Micronesia Field Survey trips.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

My desire to make a contribution to scientific research inspires me to complete REEF surveys. As a kid, I dreamed of being a marine biologist and Jacques Cousteau was one of my heroes. REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project allows me to fulfill, in part, that dream as a citizen scientist. And I get to experience some of the undersea world that my childhood hero introduced me to when I was growing up in Kansas City.

What do you like most about being a REEF member?

Without question, my favorite part about being a REEF member has been meeting, getting to know and learning from/with all the fun and interesting fish geeks who volunteer for REEF! :-)

Do you dive close to where you live?

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a great dive site (it’s “Norrander’s/Rockaway Beach” in the REEF database) 7 minutes from where I live on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. It’s my favorite place to dive because it’s my “home” site, provides great habitat for all sorts of fishes and critters (including Wolf Eels and Giant Pacific Octopuses) and I can fit in a dive between any two meals at home.

What is the most fascinating creature encounter you have had underwater?

The most fascinating fish encounter I’ve experienced wasn’t with a fish but with a marine invertebrate—we survey a selected list of invertebrates and algae in the PacNW. While taking a picture of a juvenile Puget Sound King Crab, a Giant Pacific Octopus loomed up in front of me and held on to me for five minutes with first two, then four of its arms. It seemed to be curious, running its arms over my light, camera, hands and arms as I watched it and it watched me—just an amazing experience.

Do you have any tips for new surveyors?

I’d offer two tips to other REEF members, particularly to those just getting started. One is to seek ID help from expert surveyors you dive with or meet. I’ve gotten lots of help from folks, they’ve all been happy to share their knowledge and no one has ever made fun of me for getting excited about seeing a very common fish that’s new to me. The second tip is to carry a camera and take pictures while you’re surveying. You don’t need to become an expert photographer, just getting ID shots of new fish to review topside can really speed you along the learning curve.

DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE OF REEF . . .

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Joe Cavanaugh and Leda A. Cunningham with new fall intern Erin Whitaker
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Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, presents our fabulous Summer interns, Marissa Nuttall our Texas Aggie and Paige Switzer our South Carolina girl, with a certificate of appreciation for all the tremendous work they accomplished this summer

We had a number of applicants for the Fall session and narrowing the intern pool to just two applicants was tough because everyone that applied were wonderful candidates.   This month we're introducing you to Catherine Whitaker (aka Erin) who (thankfully) arrived early to cross train with our fabulous summer interns before they departedon August 17th.  Next month we'll highlight our final recipient, Lauren Finan, who will arrive the week of August 20th.

Erin is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.    She's had a variety of jobs during her undergraduate career all of which honed her skills in preparation for a career in Marine Biology.  She is well versed in the REEF methodology having completed juvenile fish, fish, and coral abundance and distribution surveys while working with Centro Ecologico de Akumal.  As a Scuba Divemaster, Erin taught scuba to tourists and locals of all ages instilling a sense of excitement and pride for marine life to her students.  During her time at Duke, she served as research assistant to many professors and non-profit organizations and volunteered as an assistant aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium. 

While in Maine she was sampling algae and young lobsters for a census survey (we could use that here).  At the Linney genetics laboratory Erin was responsible for feeding and cleaning tanks of 3000 zebra fish.  At the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems branch of the Smithsonian, Erin assisted a PhD candidate on her research relating to the effect of parrotfish on corals as well as the coral-symbiont relationship in a stressful environment, the list goes on as does her travels.  She has been to Ankarafantsika, Madagascar as a field assistant; Caye Caulker, Belize as an underwater tour guide; Manila, Philippines as a U.S. Embassy Protocol Office Assistant; Sofia, Bulgaria as a U.S. Embassy Consular Section Aide.  REEF is very fortunate to have someone of Erin's caliber interning with us this fall.  She feels working with REEF is an ideal opportunity for her to test her ability to integrate scientific investigation, conservation efforts and a flair for reaching out to people for the betterment of our environment, while working toward her masters.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub