Was That a Sea Snake?

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I was conducting a snorkel survey at Kahekili Reef on West Maui when an unknown critter came slithering across the coral. My camera was clipped to a utility belt and it took me a few seconds to swing it up to my face. I've learned I may have only one chance to capture a photo, so I took a quick photo from the surface before free-diving down to get a closer look. I was only halfway down, at about 15 feet, when the critter dove head-first into the sand and quickly disappeared. Two photos -- from the surface, and a tail shot -- are the only evidence I have. My heart was pounding because it looked like a sea snake, but only the Yellow Bellied Sea Snake is rarely seen in the coastal waters of the main Hawaiian Islands. Upon close inspection later, the photos confirmed that it was not a sea snake -- the tail shot confirms a pointy ending, not a paddle-like tail that a sea snake would have. After some searching through FishBase and Keoki & Yuko Stender's Marine Life Photography websites, I was able to confirm that my mystery was the Saddled Snake Eel (Leiuranus semicinctus). It's not surprising that this incredible sighting happened at Kahekili Reef. It is the number one most species rich site in the REEF database for Hawaii (http://www.REEF.org/db/stats). Kahekili Reef (also sometimes known as Airport Beach) is an amazing low-profile reef in front of a West Maui development that we are trying to save by letting the fish and urchins "naturally" graze down the algae, and is now a Marine Protected Area.

REEF Member 50,000

In July 1993, REEF had the first Field Survey trip in Key Largo and welcomed our first members. Yesterday, on June 29, 2012, we were excited to welcome REEF Member #50,000. REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. The REEF staff and Board of Directors extend a big thank you to all of our members for making the last nineteen years a success.

Thank You To Our Winter Fundraiser Donors

Last chance to get your 2012 limited edition print. Donate $250 or more before the end of the month.

On behalf of the REEF Staff and Trustees, I want to thank all the donors from our Winter Fundraising campaign who helped us reach our target goal. With your help, we can continue REEF's core conservation programs, such as fighting the Lionfish invasion in the Caribbean, protecting Grouper spawning aggregations, collecting data through our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, and providing free online "Fishinars" to the general public and fish experts worldwide.

If you haven't given already, there are a few days left in our campaign to receive my limited, signed print of a Grouper Moon aggregation for contributions of $250 and over. In addition to donating online, you can also call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Thank you again for your support!

Offline Data Entry Program - The Next Generation of REEF Survey Technology

Earlier this summer, we proudly released the next generation of REEF survey technology, the REEF Data Entry Program. When surveying began in 1993, divers and snorkelers wrote out each sighted fish species on a slate and submitted the surveys to the database using paper scantron forms. In 1994, we developed pre-printed underwater survey paper to make surveying easier, and in 2005 we said goodbye to bubble-filling and premiered online data entry using the Internet. The time had come to innovate yet again.

With our members in mind, we looked to develop a data entry tool that would meet the varied needs of our surveyors, including those who are traveling or live in areas with limited Internet access. The REEF Survey Data Entry Program allows our volunteers to enter REEF surveys without an Internet connection. When they have access to the web, the entered surveys are uploaded to the REEF online entry portal. Users then logon to the portal, complete error checking, and submit the surveys to REEF. The program operates on both Mac and PC computers, and is available for all of REEF’s survey regions. Our Beta-testers and early users agree it’s a great program, and many of them prefer the offline data entry program over online data entry.

The program is free to download at: www.REEF.org/dataentryprogram. Give it a try next time you survey! We hope you enjoy the program as much as we do. Feel free to send feedback to data@REEF.org. REEF extends a huge thank you to programmer, Chris MacGregor, for his work on this project, as well as REEF members who encouraged us to pursue this option and made contributions to support its development.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Reef Biodiversity Using REEF Data

REEF surveyors are great at recording diversity! There are at least 5 species of fish in this picture. Photo by Nathan Brown.

Data generated by the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project provide an unparalleled opportunity to examine patterns in reef fish diversity (the number and types of species) at the scales of reefs, regions, and even an entire ocean basin. Authors of one recent scientific study took advantage of the over 25,000 Expert REEF surveys conducted at 80 sites from 6 Caribbean ecoregions over 17 years. The authors of the paper, which was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, used the REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity across many spatial scales (from individual sites to ecoregions). They also incorporated factors such as fisheries impacts and how connected different regions are to each other through ocean currents. They compared levels of different types of diversity-- alpha diversity (α-diversity) that explains local diversity (the number of species found in a given place), and beta diversity (β-diversity) that explains the difference in diversity among sites. Their results showed that fish assemblages are more homogenous than expected, particularly at the ecoregion scale. Within each ecoregion, diversity was mainly attributed to alpha diversity, indicating that fishes within each ecoregion are a subsample of the same species pool. Studies like this one that examine regional patterns of diversity in coral reef systems are important because of declining biodiversity in many areas. The paper's citation is: Francisco-Ramos V, Arias-González JE . 2013. Additive Partitioning of Coral Reef Fish Diversity Across Hierarchical Spatial Scales Throughout the Caribbean. PLoS ONE. 8(10): e78761. To read the full paper, or any of the other 50+ scientific papers that have included REEF data and programs, visit the REEF Publications page.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, July 2014

Rainbow Parrotfish - one of the important grazers on Caribbean reefs. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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:

- Scientists from NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources are using REEF data to evaluate populations of seabass and grouper in the Caribbean.

- A scientist from the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs is using REEF data on fishes and invertebrates to evaluate MPAs in the Puget Sound.

- A professor from California State San Luis Obispo is using REEF data to evaluate populations of three large parrotfish species in the Caribbean (Blue, Midnight, Rainbow).

The Faces of REEF: Joyce Schulke

Joyce diving with a turtle.
Purple Reeffish, a species typically found on deep reefs, can sometimes surprise us. Photo by Carol Cox.
Joyce surveying in Cozumel.

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 Joyce Schulke, one of REEF's earliest members. She has been a REEF member since 1996. An active surveyor who lives in Florida, Joyce has conducted almost 900 surveys to date and has been a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropcial Western Atlantic region since it's beginnings. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

In 1989 I snorkeled in Cancun. Diving lessons followed and the underwater world was wide open. Being a professional photographer, it was natural for me to learn underwater photography as well. Identifying those fish led me to the Humann and DeLoach book, Reef Fish Identification. It talked about REEF and so I followed through and became a fish surveyor in 1996. In 1999 I qualified as a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team. Being a surveyor inspired me to look harder and enjoy each dive more.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

Suddenly, even common fish are important to find and record. It is exciting to be part a larger goal and I have gotten a good idea of distribution of species, habitat, behavior, and changes to specific areas over the years. There is always a surprise. After diving to 130 feet to see my first Purple Reeffish in the southern Caribbean, I found one at 13 feet in Marathon Key. Recently, seeing the Longnose Batfish far from its normal habitat in 13 feet of water at Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, Florida, is another great example of the treasures awaiting those who really search.

I have specialized in the TWA and have done all of my diving there. I get enthusiastic when talking fish. I have currently seen and identified 519 species of TWA fish. My husband, Tom, and I used to divide the cost of a dive trip by the number of new species we found. You can imagine how expensive some of those species have become!

Where is your favorite place to dive?

Without hesitation, St. Vincent has added most of my unusual finds, with dozens of new species added on each trip. One trip produced 18 species of eels alone. The diversity of types of diving spots and willingness of Dive St. Vincent to take us to the odd spots makes this a favorite. However, now that I live in Florida, the lure of Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, has added a few more dozen new species in the last two years.

What fish am I looking for now?

If I haven’t seen it yet, I want it! Whether it’s a Spanish Sardine or a Longnose Batfish, I’m elated. Of course, when I see one that’s never been on a REEF survey before, I grin while emailing REEF for a new fish code.

What do you say to others about joining REEF?

I cannot encourage others enough. Being a REEF surveyor is a great contribution to ocean research and preservation. The real bonus, however, is how it adds a whole new purpose and enjoyment to your personal diving adventures.

The Faces of REEF: Tracey Griffin

Trip leader, Tracey, holding the REEF flag during the 2014 REEF Trip to Cozumel.
The dainty Cherubfish, a small angelfish found in the Caribbean. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

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 Tracey Griffin, a REEF member since 2005. An active surveyor who lives in Cozumel, Tracey has conducted 851 surveys to date. She is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the TWA region, has taught several Fishinars, and leads the annual REEF Field Survey to Cozumel each December. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I first heard about REEF on a live-aboard trip in the eastern Caribbean. One of the other divers was doing surveys, and I was fascinated! Soon after, I was lucky to be in Cozumel during the annual REEF week there, where I soon became an aficionado! And lucky me, little did I know that years later, I would become the leader of that annual trip!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I tell divers that doing REEF surveys is like going on a scavenger hunt on every dive. And learning about fish behavior makes diving even more interesting. Knowing what the fish are doing is just as fun as knowing all their names! Even though I have done hundreds of dives in Cozumel, I am still surprised to find new and rarely reported fish.

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

Reaching out to new divers and snorkelers. I have given give short lectures at dive clubs, but also at events where people may be new to the ocean. I love to see people getting excited about seeing something they may have never noticed before. I believe that getting people excited about the fish will make them more likely to help conserve it.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

I now live and dive in Cozumel. I think this is one of the most beautiful places to dive in the Caribbean. The majestic coral pillars are amazing, and the schools of fish are magnificent. I often hear people say ‘I have never seen a ____ so big!’ Just another day in Paradise!

Do you have a favorite local REEF field station or dive shop?

I dive with Chili Charters, who is our REEF field survey dive operation in Cozumel. The DM and owner, Rene, has previously taken our REEF field survey course, and loves to help us find fish! It is always nice to dive with a dependable shop that is also interested in REEF and fish ID and ocean conservation.

What is your favorite fish?

Although picking a favorite is difficult, if I had to, I would take the Cherubfish! These skittish little angelfish are very common, and often abundant in Cozumel. And many regular Cozumel divers don’t even see them!

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, February 2016

Red Snapper and Gray Snapper are two of the species being evaluated in the Gulf of Mexico using REEF data. Photo by Carol Cox.

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 PhD student at University of Washington is using REEF data to evaluate the distribution of Giant Pacific Octopus in the Pacific Northwest, and how their abundance is related to urbanization.

- REEF data were provided to researchers from University of Miami for use as part of the project, "NOAA RESTORE: Ecosystem modeling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico: current status and future needs to address management and restoration activities." Data will be used to produce maps depicting stressors in the Gulf.

- Researchers from the Sea Doc Society are using REEF data to evaluate Salish Sea fish and invertebrate assemblages and population trends over the last 15 years.

- A student from Indiana University is using REEF data to evaluate fish populations at the Florida Keys artificial reef, Hoyt S. Vandenberg. REEF Advanced Assessment Team members have been annually monitoring the Vandenberg since it was deployed in 2009.

Where and When Are REEF Surveys Conducted

REEF Survey Project Regions

Did you know? While the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project was started in South Florida in 1993, today it has been expanded worldwide! REEF surveys are conducted as part of a diver's regular diving activities; anytime they are in the water, in any of these regions. And more regions are coming soon.

REEF's Survey Project areas:

  • Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA; Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico), 
  • South Atlantic States (SAS; Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)
  • Northeast US & Canada (NE; Virginia through Newfoundland)
  • Eastern Atlantic & Mediterranean (EAM; Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, and Mediterranean)
  • West Coast of the United States and Canada (PAC; California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia)
  • Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP; Sea of Cortez to the Galapagos Islands).
  • Hawaiian Islands (HAW; main islands and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands)
  • South Pacific (SOP; Fiji, Samoan Archipelago, Line Islands, Cook Islands)
  • Central Indo-Pacific (CIP; Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Australia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan)

To find out more about the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project, visit www.REEF.org/programs/volunteersurvey.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub