Upcoming Fishinars -- Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Series and more

Photo by Janna Nichols.
Photo by Janna Nichols.

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:

Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - While Pacific Northwest waters are not known for their schools of colorful fish, the amazing invertebrate life will blow you away! In these four sessions we'll cover a select group of invertebrates from 8 phyla, all of which are monitored by REEF volunteer divers.

Sponges and Stingers - January 8th, 2014

Gettin' Crabby - January 9th, 2014

Marvelous Molluscs - January 15th, 2014

Stars and Squirts - January 16th, 2014

 

Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - January 21, 2014

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.

The Faces of REEF: Judith Cucco

Cooperative hunting is always a great find for a REEF surveyor. Here, Blueifn Trevally, Blue Goatfish, and a moray eel (not shown) are hunting together. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A badly damaged sea turtle flipper, the result of entangled fishing line. Photo by Judith Cucco.

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 Juddith Cucco. Judith has been a REEF member since 2010, and has conducted 555 surveys (all in her home state of Hawaii, and all as a snorkeler!). She is a member of the Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Judith had to say about REEF:

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

I first heard about REEF through Reef Watch Waikiki while taking a fish identification course with them in February 2010. I immediately started doing surveys as I felt it was a fun way for me to share my enthusiasm for all the fish I see while snorkeling in Hawaii, where I live...and I wanted a record of the many species I've encountered.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite fish find?

Even though I've seen it many times, it still fascinates me to see cooperative hunting, for example jacks following a moray eel or blue goatfish. My favorite fish is the juvenile rockmover wrasse. They look like drifting seaweed in the ocean when they move and I enjoy watching them turn over rocks with their snout. My favorite discovery is a semi-circle angelfish (not native to Hawaii) that Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF Director of Science ) helped my swimming buddies and me identify from some very poor photos.

Where do you do most of your surveying?

I used to do most of my surveys at the outer reef in Hanauma Bay and still go there occasionally, however my favorite place to survey on Oahu is Kaiona Beach Park. You really need to look to find the fish and if one has the patience, there are ample rewards. I've seen so many species that one does not see at Hanauma Bay (knifefish, bigeyes and several types of scorpionfish). Because I snorkel, the fish are also much closer at Kaiona as it's more shallow.

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

The most exciting thing for me when doing surveys is when I encounter a species I haven't seen before. After my snorkel, I go home and look it up in one of my fish books or online and enjoy learning about it. My biggest challenge is staying warm as I like to stay in the ocean until my fingers get numb (not recommended), which is usually around three hours even with a full wet suit.

Do you have a memorable story from a survey?

Just the other day, I had gone out for a snorkel survey (which ended up not happening). A little while into our swim, my buddy and I found an entangled green sea turtle. I saw it on the bottom in about ten feet of water. We first asked its permission, then dove down to bring it to the surface. We saw that it had fishing line wrapped around its neck and two front flippers. We were really far out on the reef and swam it in to shore. We recruited two fishermen to cut off the line and they also built a pen out of rocks for the turtle. I went to my car and called our local NOAA turtle stranding office. When NOAA staff arrived, we loaded the turtle in a carrier and the turtle was taken to a surgeon. It needs to have the front right flipper amputated, but it is going to survive and should eventually be released back in the wild. What an amazing and cooperative experience!!!!

The Faces of REEF: Roger Skillman

A great find, especially for a first dive - the Striated Frogfish. Photo (c) Ned DeLoach.
Roger with some students at the Blue Heron Bridge.
The majestic Sand Tiger Shark. Photo by Jeff Haines.

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 Roger Skillman. Roger has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 45 surveys. Despite being landlocked in the Smoky Mountains, he is an active surveyor in the Carolinas and Florida. He also teaches SCUBA and incorporates REEF in to his classes! Here's what Roger had to say about REEF:

What’s your favorite part of REEF surveying?

I like completing REEF surveys to document what was seen on any given day at a particular dive site. Completing surveys helps establish baseline data for a site. REEF members are “Citizen Scientists” with their eyes in the water and we provide valuable data for researchers that can’t be everywhere. The most interesting thing I have found about completing surveys is the importance of an underwater camera and a variety of good fish ID books to help with identification after the dive.

Do you have a favorite place to do surveys?

I have two favorite places that I like to dive. Most of my 34 years of diving have been on the shipwrecks offshore of Beaufort, North Carolina. The historical shipwrecks and abundant marine life that can be found rivals diving anywhere around the world! During the last 5 years, I have discovered the great diving around Jupiter, Florida, to include the world famous Blue Heron Bridge. BHB, with its unusual creatures and the ledges offshore, provide as many different species of fish as many tropical locales.

What is your favorite fish find?

My most fascinating fish encounter has to be diving with the Sand Tiger Sharks on the shipwreck “Caribsea” offshore Cape Lookout, NC. Diving while surrounded by 50 of these magnificent creatures was a marvelous experience. A most memorable fish find occurred at Blue Heron Bridge in 2013. I was completing open water evaluations with two of my students when we found not one, but two, Striated Frogfish. I had never seen a frogfish and these “neophyte” divers saw TWO on their first ever open water dives! Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair!

What advice do you have for other REEF members?

The best way to benefit from REEF is to get INVOLVED! I belong to inland-based REEF Field Station (Smoky Mountain Divers-Carolinas) but that doesn’t stop us from conducting surveys. Contact our field station or a field station near you and participate in their fish ID programs. Sign up and participate in the numerous webinars and classes offered by REEF to expand your knowledge. It’s not hard, just FUN!

Be On The Lookout - Indo-Pacific Damsel Reported in Gulf of Mexico

Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.

We are encouraging all REEF surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic region to be on the lookout for a new non-native fish! Researchers from the University of Veracruz have documented a new non-native species in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico with the potential to spread throughout the region. Sightings of the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos) have recently come from the nearshore reef systems south of Veracruz, Mexico. The species is native to a broad region of the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. The damselfish was documented at depths from 2-21 meters, though it was more common on deeper reefs. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel can reach sizes of up to 9 cm (3.5 inches) in length and is distinguished by a yellow or white spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin, a dark spot behind the gill, and yellow rear margins of the tail, dorsal and anal fins. In contrast, the native Brown Chromis is identified by dark margins on the tail and a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin. Observations from Dr. Ross Robertson indicate the Regal Demoiselle can be a bit more cryptic than the native Chromis, tending to hide under ledges and in crevices between corals, rather than swimming in the open. Experts in Mexico believe that this damsel has the potential to disrupt natural systems around Caribbean reefs, as they have witnessed displacement of the native Brown Chromis on heavily-invaded sites.

If you see this fish while doing a REEF survey, be sure to report it on your form in the unlisted fish section. Please also report detailed information on the sighting to REEF through the invasive species reporting page.

Help REEF Assess Our Changing Seas

Fiji Reef Scene, by Paul Humann. Donors of $250 or more this winter will receive a signed and numbered copy of this amazing image.

Earlier this month, we launched our holiday giving campaign highlighting how REEF data are used to assess our changing seas. We are well on our way to reaching our goal, but still need your help! Please make a donation today by contributing online at www.REEF.org/donate or calling REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

Your donation will support our efforts to further scientific knowledge of marine creatures and habitats. With almost 200,000 marine species surveys submitted by REEF volunteers, I am proud to report that in 2015, researchers and scientists used REEF data to evaluate:

    • Biodiversity, status, and trends of fishes and invertebrates
    • The impact of beach nourishment projects on South Florida reef ecosystems
    • A management plan for Ecological Reserves in Puerto Rico
    • Endangered sawfish species distribution and status
    • Juvenile rockfish habitat in Puget Sound
    • The effect of citizens in detecting and responding to rapid marine invasions
    • Goliath Grouper populations for fishery management decisions

This research is only possible through generous donations from members like you! Please take a moment to donate now. For donations of $250 or more, I will mail a signed print of this gorgeous Fiji reef scene. The profusion of color from these soft corals and huge schools of Anthias species is stunning! This photo is one of my favorites - get yours today!

And for those of you who work for a company that matches charitable donations, please let us know so that we can be sure to make the most of your contribution.

Thank you for your support and happy holidays,

Paul Humann,

President, REEF Board of Trustees

Please Join Us In Key Largo for REEF Fest 2016

September 29 – October 2 in Key Largo, FL

We are excited to announce REEF Fest 2016, a celebration of marine conservation in the Florida Keys! Events include ocean-themed seminars, scuba diving, and social gatherings alongside marine conservation and dive industry leaders.

At REEF Fest 2016, attendees will enjoy opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard in the truly unique habitats of the Florida Keys. Diving and other eco-ventures are offered each morning. Each afternoon, sit back and enjoy our exciting and compelling ocean-themed seminar series. Finally, wrap up your evenings wining and dining, in good company alongside a breathtaking sunset. All REEF Fest events are open to the public.

We hope you will join us for an unforgettable event in the beautiful Florida Keys! Check out full event details at www.REEF.org/REEFFest

On Facebook? Please join the REEF Fest 2016 Facebook event page for updates and event information https://www.facebook.com/events/1736089399939722/

REEF Fest 2016 a Success!

On behalf of all of us at REEF, thank you to those who were able to join us at REEF Fest 2016, our annual celebration of marine conservation. This year's event was our largest yet, with more than 400 guests in attendance! The four-day event, free and open to the public, featured ocean-themed seminars, social gatherings, SCUBA diving, and other eco-ventures alongside some of the most prestigious names in diving and marine conservation.

Our generous SCUBA diving operators made donations based on guest participation while other sponsors supported the event by donating to the silent auction, raising more than $12,000 to support REEF! These contributions will go a long way in supporting our numerous marine conservation programs. And a special thanks to our Platinum event sponsors: Divers Alert Network, Carrow Foundation, Atlantis Philippines Dive Resorts and Liveaboards, Quino El Guardian Liveaboards, and Eco Divers Resort.

In case you missed it, check out some of our event photos in the REEF Fest Facebook album.

We hope that you will join us for REEF Fest 2017, September 28 - October 1, in Key Largo, FL. Visit www.reef.org/REEFFest/savethedate for details.

REEF Fest 2017 - Don't Miss the Banquet, For the Love of the Sea

REEF Fest 2017 is just around the corner - September 28 - October 1. There are so many great activities planned during the four day event. A highlight is always our Saturday night banquet, For the Love of the Sea. Have you purchased your ticket yet? Seating is limited and over half of our available tickets have sold. Visit www.REEF.org/REEFfest/dinnerticket to get your ticket. Tickets for this celebration include a three course meal, plus hors d’ouvres and a full service liquor bar, alongside live music and a silent auction. The silent auction will include beautiful artwork, handcrafted jewelry, and amazing dive vacation packages. Don’t miss your opportunity to bid!

We are excited to offer the following vacation packages in our silent auction (a big thank you to our donors!): - Atlantis Philippines Resort 7 night vacation package, with up to 5 dives a day, a $2,367 value - Sunset House Grand Cayman 5 night vacation package, with 2 boat dives a day and unlimited shore diving, a $2,000 value

Check out www.REEF.org/REEFfest for more event details or contact Events@REEF.org. We hope to see you there!

5th Annual Nearshore Assessment Conducted in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

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The REEF OCNMS '07 Team: Kirby Johnson, Stan Kurowski, Reg Reisenbichler (l. to r. back row); Phil Green, Rhoda Green, Captain Mike Ferguson, Doug Biffard (l. to r. front row)
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A REEF surveyor returns from a dive to the Porthole Dive Charter's diving vessel Dash on a very calm day diving in the Olympic Coast NMS.

A team of Pacific REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) divers recently conducted a week-long project conducting surveys of fish and invertebrate communities along the rugged outer coast of Washington.  The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers over 3,300 square miles of ocean off Washington State's rugged and rocky Olympic Peninsula coastline.  Sanctuary waters host abundant marine life.  A small but important stretch of coastline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca features some of the best diving in Washington State, but is rarely visited because of the remote location and limited diving facilities. 

The team included 6 REEF AAT members and conducted 5 days of diving with Porthole Charters.  The weather, which is always a wild card out there, fully cooperated and the team was able to visit all of our priority sites within the Sanctuary, most of which have been surveyed annually since 2002.  A total of 72 surveys were conducted.  To find out more about REEF's work in the OCNMS, visit http://www.reef.org/programs/sanctuaries/OCNMS .

Funding and support for this year's project was generously provided by Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA), an anonymous private foundation, the Winter's Summer Inn in Seiku, and the REEF survey participants.  REEF encourages our Washington members to join WSA - it's free.

Five-Year Wellwood Restoration Assessment Completed

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The M/V Wellwood aground on Molasses Reef. Photo courtesy of the FKNMS.
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A REEF diver conducts an RDT survey at the Restoration Site in October 2002, with several restoration modules in view.
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Location map showing areas of fish monitoring effort.
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Transplanted specimens of Sstaghorn coral on one of the restoration modules (colonies were transplanted in 2004, photo taken August 2007). Photo by Ken Nedimyer.
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Wellwood AAT Team, Summer 2007

REEF has just completed our final assessment report for our five-year Wellwood Restoration Site monitoring project. Before I share some results from our study, let me give you a little background information and please visit our website to view our full report http://www.reef.org/programs/monitoring/wellwood. The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). The ship impacted the reef’s upper fore reef and subsequently remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living coral reef and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework. Prior to the grounding, the area was a transition zone with high relief coral formations. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. 

The study area of this project included a portion of the grounding area that is being restored and two adjacent reference sites. The Restoration site surveyed included restoration modules and contiguous low profile hardbottom areas adjacent to and in between the restoration modules. Nearby high profile reef, ledges, and undamaged/unrestored reef were not included as part of the Restoration Site. A north and south undamaged reef area were both used as two control sites to compare fish sighting data between the Restoration area and the natural (control) reefs.

REEF’s study focused on fish assemblages and not the coral and invertebrate communities. A team of Advanced Assessment Team REEF Experts conducted Roving Diver Technique (RDT) surveys in addition to belt transect surveys on the Wellwood restoration site and two adjacent natural reef sites seven times during Year 1. The team visited the sites once prior to restoration (May 2002) and 13 times after restoration was completed, monthly for the first three months, quarterly for the following year and semi-annually thereafter. An average of 12 surveys of each survey type was conducted during each survey effort. While REEF surveyors used the RDT surveys to collect sighting frequency and abundance data on fishes over all three reef areas, the belt-transect method was used to collect density and biomass data on fish taxa. These two methods used together give us a snapshot of how the restoration site is recovering in terms of fish assemblages as compared to the two non-impacted, adjacent reef areas.

Obviously, the most notable observation a diver makes when diving on the Restoration site is one of just how long it takes coral reefs to recover after devastating ship impacts. The Restoration site shows little resemblance to the surrounding non-impacted reef sites. The areas surrounding the Restoration site are high relief reef areas dominated by reef building corals with some very old colonies of Star coral (Monastrea annularis) and Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), old to the tune of thousands, not hundreds of years old. Age is important here since it takes a long time for coral colonies to rebuild structure and relief that attract different fishes over time. The smaller overall fish populations and absence of many species of fish on the damaged site are both conspicuous and the lack of coral structure makes it easy to destinguish the Restoration area from the surrounding reefs even 23 years after the initial ship grounding. However, there are signs that fishes are very slowly recruiting onto the Restoration site.

During the monitoring period (2002 - 2007), a total of 165 species were recorded at the Restoration site, 189 species at the North reference site and 207 species at the South reference site. The Restoration site recovery is clearly aided by the addition of restoration modules (2002), increasing the amount of available habitat suitable for reef fish communities, think vertical habitat here, and recessed areas underneath these modules for fish to shelter. At the Wellwood grounding site, the overall fish diversity as well as density and biomass of most key fish families continue to be less than that of the two nearby, non-impacted reefs that were selected as monitoring reference sites. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding the quickest to the restoration efforts, grazing along a recovering hard coral landscape currently dominated by soft corals (Gorgonians). Nearly absent today on the damaged area are sightings of grunts and snappers, both of which are seen in high frequency and abundance on surrounding reef sites with plenty of relief for them to take cover. Residency of fish, movement patterns and habitat usage are all important indicators of reef recovery. So are linking coral, invertebrate, and fish studies to see a more complete picture of how the Restoration site is improving. There are signs outside of the slowly improving trends the data show such as a little Redspotted hawkfish that has taken residence on one of the modules with lots of Ken's Staghorn coral affixed.

Many more studies are necessary to properly evaluate recovery dynamics for reefs and since most reef recoveries worldwide are hampered by other anthropogenic impacts such as overfishing, excessive nutrient loading from human pollutants, and global warming stresses, these case studies are critically important in developing mitigation strategies for damaged reefs. For the full report on our Wellwood findings, please visit our website http://www.reef.org/programs/monitoring/wellwood. REEF would like to thank the many individual REEF members who dived on this project over the past 5 years, as well as Quiesscence Dive Shop in Key Largo for dive support, and Ken Nedimyer for photos and his ongoing coral replenishment work. And finally, our thanks to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for contracting REEF for this project. We hope that this work will continue in order to monitor the long term changes in fish assemblages on the Restoration site.

 

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