REEF Welcomes New Trips Program and Communications Manager

Next time you sign up for one of REEF’s Field Survey Trips, you’ll be greeted by a new voice. REEF has added a new member to the team; welcoming Jamie Dietrich as the new Trips Program and Communications Manager! As Jamie’s position title implies, her main responsibilities revolve around managing REEF’s Field Survey Trips Program. Each year, REEF leads 10-15 week long international Field Survey Trips to diving destinations across the world. Led by marine life experts, participants learn about the ocean while contributing to marine conservation as citizen scientists. Anyone can join REEF and likeminded divers for an itinerary of diving, seminars and fun! Jamie will also be managing communications and marketing efforts for all of REEF’s programs.

Jamie is a midwesterner at heart, but comes to the Keys from the Big Apple where she spent eight years after university working in Experiential Marketing; listing several Fortune 500 companies among her clients. These days, her clientele seem a bit fishy, as she’s traded in the boardroom and business suit for the beach and a wetsuit. Jamie recently became a certified Divemaster and Coral Reef Research Diver, and she spent the majority of the last year developing her conservation expertise on a volunteer marine mission in Fiji. After leaving her island home and returning to the States, she decided to make “island-time” a permanent staple in her life by relocating to the dive capital of the world. Jamie is excited to get her feet wet and continue to contribute towards meaningful work that aids in the protection of what she’s come to love most, the ocean.

Hamlet Fishinar Added - More To Come

Learn all about the interesting lives of Hamlets on March 3rd! Photo of spawning Butter Hamlets by Ned DeLoach.

Our 2015 Fishinar series is off to a great start. Be sure to join us for these free, educational webinars. The hour-long sessions let you 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. The first part of the year includes...

  • Lesser Seen Fishes of the Cayman Islands - Jonathan Lavan, February 11th
  • Cool Hawaii Finds - 15 Not-So-Common Fishes - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, February 18th
  • Hamlets! - Carlos and Allison Estape, March 3rd
  • 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
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Long-Spined Sea Urchin To Be Added to TWA Survey Protocol

Diadema antillarum, the Long-Spined Sea Urchin, will soon be part of the TWA REEF survey protocol. Photo by Paul Humann.

In response to requests from the scientific community, we are adding a new species to monitor on REEF surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) - Diadema antillarum, the Long-Spined Sea Urchin. In the early 1980s, a large die-off of Diadema occurred throughout the TWA. This has had a significant and long-lasting impact on coral reefs in the region because Diadema is (was) one of the primary grazers on Caribbean coral reefs (keeping rocks clear for baby corals to establish and keeping algae from overgrowing established corals). The disappearance of Diadema, coupled with overfishing of grazing fish species such as parrotfish and surgeonfish in some parts of the Caribbean along with other complicating factors, has resulted in many algae-dominated reefs. Despite 20+ years since the die-off, the once wide-spread and abundant species has failed to recover in most places in the Caribbean. There is a growing collective of researchers who are hoping to map the current distribution and abundance of Diadema. REEF will be assisting this effort by including Diadema in our TWA protocol. Surveyors will report whether they were actively looking for Diadema or not, and if they were, in what abundance category (S,F,M,A - same as for fish). We are currently working on the necessary training materials and additions to the database, and the new protocol will be in place soon.

Putting It To Work: A New Non-native Fish in the Gulf of Mexico

The Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species in the Gulf of Mexico. This picture was taken in its native range of the Indo-Pacific. The invasive individuals are more drab. Photo by Paul Humann.

Last year we shared an article about a new non-native fish, the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos), showing up in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. REEF surveyors in the Yucatan region of Mexico have since reported the species. And now a new publication co-authored by REEF staff Lad Akins documents that the species could become established and spread in the western Atlantic. The study incorporated a computer model to evaluate the the non-native species’ potential to impact native populations. On the basis of this work, it is foreseeable that the reefs presently harboring Regal Damselfish will likely see increased abundance of this damsel. Immediate attempts to eliminate the fish, therefore, should be focused in nearshore shallow waters spanning Veracruz to Frontera, Mexico. To find out more about this study, published last month in the journal Marine Biology, and to see a complete list of the 50+ scientific publications that have featured REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The species is native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel 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 fins and tail. 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.

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.

Support Discoveries This Summer; Your Donation Will Be Matched

Make a donation today so that REEF staff can continue research and discovery on the impacts and solutions of the lionfish invasion in the western Atlantic. Photo by Rich Carey.

We have one week left in our summer matching campaign, and want to thank everyone who has given so far. This summer, we are highlighting all the amazing discoveries made possible by generous donations from members like you!

To make a contribution, please visit www.REEF.org/donate.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “To date, we have explored less than five percent of our oceans.” What does that mean for REEF and our members? It means that there is so much out there to discover! Every year, REEF members are finding new species, and REEF scientists are investigating the lifecycles and behaviors of critical marine species. We are constantly learning new things about ocean wildlife that contribute to their survival.

It also means that all these new discoveries can help regulatory agencies and policymakers to make more informed decisions on how to manage our fisheries. In cases like the threatened Nassau Grouper, seasonal protections during spawning seasons have been developed. In the case of invasive species, like lionfish, removal events are being encouraged because they have been proven effective at controlling lionfish populations.

Please take this opportunity to make a contribution this summer and help REEF continue to make these important discoveries that ultimately protect marine species around the world! Thank you again to all our members who support us in our mission, and have a great summer!

The Faces of REEF: Jet Long

Jet (second from the left) with fellow surveyors on the Micronesia Field Survey.
In addition to his volunteer work with REEF, Jet also helps with other causes like this 75-story climb for the YMCA.
A face-off between Black-saddled Toby. Photo by Jet Long.
Jet's underwater selfie!

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 Jet Long. Jet lives in California, and has been a REEF member since 2013. He has participated in several REEF Field Survey Trips and has conducted over 50 surveys. Here’s what Jet had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

I first heard about REEF from fellow REEF member Hideko Kawabata during a volunteering trip. Doing fish surveys all over the world sounded like an interesting idea to me. I spent more time learning about REEF when I got home and decided to join. My first REEF trip was in 2013 to Southern Bahamas on Turks and Caicos Explorer II. I learned a lot about lionfishes (e.g. anatomy, how to hunt and cook them). Since then, I try to do at least one REEF fish survey trip every year.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

I have done a few REEF Field Surveys. The one I like the most so far is the Philippines Dumaguete Atlantis Resort trip. It might be because it was the first time I did muck diving. The fishes and creatures that you could find were amazing (e.g. many types of anemone fishes, bobtail squids, slingjaw wrasse, mantis shrimps). The highlight was no doubt swimming with the world’s largest fish – whale sharks!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

There are a lot of good reasons why you want to be a REEF member. You can help to establish a fish database which is used by different research projects. You will visit places that you may not think of visiting. But the best part is the expansion of your knowledge on fishes, sea creatures, and the ocean when you are on a field survey trip. You will see the underwater world differently once you learn more about it. You will learn the importance of protecting our ocean.

What is your favorite place to dive?

I would have to say the Coral Triangle. Its high concentration of fishes, corals, and other species is really amazing.

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

When I was in Dumaguete Philippines, I saw two Black-saddled Tobies facing off with each other. At first, they were in the middle of the water column. They then spiraled down towards the bottom. They eventually glided through each other’s body. I didn’t expect this to happen.

What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?

Ocean’s giant gentle Manta Ray is my favorite fish. It was absolutely beautiful to watch them swimming and hovering the cleaning station.

Do you have any surveying, fish watching or identification tips for the REEF members?

Do more! The more you do, the better you will be in identifying the fishes in a particular region. Before each field trip, one should spend some time watching the Fishinars to get familiar with the fishes. In addition, a fish ID book is a really useful tool to learn about the fishes before and during the trip.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

Seeing a Crocodile Flathead hiding in the sea grass during the Palau trip was really neat. Its camouflage body made it almost impossible to locate. I was just lucky to look at that specific patch of sea grass. The fish that I really want to sea underwater is Ocean Sunfish (aka Mola Mola), which is supposed to be the world’s heaviest bony fish.

Recent Manta Ray Sightings in the Florida Keys

REEF_Mantaray_l.jpg
Manta ray at French Reef. Photo courtesy of Mike Ryan.
REEF_Coralspawn_l.jpg
Coral spawning at French Reef. Photo courtesy of Mike Ryan.

In the first few weeks of July we have started receiving reports of several Manta ray sightings at French Reef, near Key Largo, Florida. Mantas are found in the temperate, tropical, and sub tropical waters world wide. However, sightings in Florida waters are uncommon. Some observers saw the mantas swimming in large vertical loops, leading them to think that these animals were coming into the shallow reefs to feed on coral spawn.

Mantas inhabit near-shore and pelagic waters, and can grow up to ~14ft in width. They are primarily filter feeders, using large cephalic fins located on the head to help 'funnel' plankton into their mouths.

So, if your diving in the Florida Keys keep an eye out for one of these magnificent animals swimming by - and be sure to record it on your survey!

Putting It To Work: New Publication with REEF Data Reveals Link of Caribbean Fish Biodiversity Patterns and Sea Temperature

A diverse Caribbean coral reef. Photo by Daryl Duda.
A marine citizen scientist collecting data for the REEF fish survey project. Photo by Jeffrey Haines.
Map showing variation in numbers of fish species across REEF survey sites. Colors represent survey effort controlled estimates of numbers of species. Figure from Clauson-Kaas et al 2017.

We are excited to share the newest scientific publication that includes data from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The study, published in the Journal of Biogeography, used the power of the people in the form of citizen science to produce a new map of marine fish biodiversity across the Caribbean and tropical western Atlantic.

The work, performed by scientists from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution & Climate in Denmark and the Marine Biological Association, studied REEF’s extensive data base collected by our volunteer surveyors to produce the map and find that fish biodiversity is strongly linked to sea temperatures. However, results also show that while fish biodiversity is higher in warmer waters, the very hottest sites in fact have fewer species than sites with intermediate temperatures, something not shown before in previous studies. These results will be of concern given the rising water temperatures in the region.

This ground-breaking research is based on data collected by thousands of marine citizen scientists working within the REEF program. These volunteers have been recording data on the fish species they see during dives for over 25 years and inputting their records into REEF database. This work has enabled researchers to compare different coral reefs and other coastal sites across this tropical region for the first time. The resulting map shows high diversity areas in the Dutch Antilles and the Florida Keys, whereas relatively few species were found in Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Florida.

In order to examine potential explanations for these patterns, the research team looked at potential environmental factors that might be associated with them, including natural factors, such as temperature, salinity and depth, and human-based factors, such as population density. Analysis proved the number of fish species recorded at a site could be predicted by how warm the water was at that site, and, to a lesser extent, how deep the site was. While a positive relationship between temperature and biodiversity has been demonstrated in previous research of global patterns, the fine-scale detail provided by this huge citizen science dataset facilitated the discovery of important details of this relationship within the wider Caribbean. Senior author Dr Ben Holt said:

"Rather than being a simple relationship, whereby warmer waters equal more fish species, the relationship seen in the REEF data was “hump-shaped”; warmer sites tend to have more species up to an optimal temperature of around 27C and then the hottest sites become less diverse.”

Further analysis suggests that this result may be partly driven by a few species being adapted to the warmest temperatures. The findings of this study will inevitably be of concern given the fast-rising temperatures of Caribbean water, but the research team urge caution extrapolating their results based on future climate predictions. Dr Holt said:

“The efforts of citizen scientists have provided an invaluable opportunity to study spatial patterns of marine biodiversity. Their data suggest that the hottest reefs are not the most biodiverse but it does not necessarily mean that the diversity of any particular site will change as seawater temperatures change. This is an important area for further research given the importance of these habitats within the Caribbean and around the world.”

The full citation of the paper is: Clauson-Kaas, S, K Richardson, C Rahbek, and BG Holt. 2017. Species-specific environmental preferences associated with a hump shaped diversity/temperature relationship across tropical marine fish assemblages. Journal of Biogeography. 2017(00): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.13044.

To see a full list of scientific papers that have included REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Don’t Miss the REEF Trip to Baja Mexico This Fall

kingangel_human_good.jpg
A school of king angelfish, one of the hundreds of reef fishes that can be seen during a dive in Baja. Photo by Paul Humann.
regina_baja.jpg
A REEF volunteer checks over her survey on a previous Baja Field Survey.

The REEF 2008 Field Survey Schedule is in full swing. Many of the trips are already sold out, but we wanted to bring your attention to one that still has some space on it -- the Field Survey to Baja Mexico aboard the Don Jose in the Sea of Cortez this October. This is a great trip, with spectacular diving and lots of tropical fishes, warm and clear water, and beautiful topside scenery. Some of the highlights include giant hawkfish, jawfish the size of your leg, whale sharks and manta rays, and spectacular sunsets over unpopulated desert islands.  This will be the 5th time that REEF has done this amazing trip, and there is a good reason we keep going back.  Come see what it's all about.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz Mexico aboard the Don Jose live-aboard.  Dr. Brice Semmens, reef fish ecologist and expert in Baja fishes, will be leading this trip. 

  This Field Survey is only held every few years so don't miss your chance!  To find out more, check out the trip flyer.  To secure your space, contact Jeanne at Baja Expeditions, 800-843-6967, travel@bajaex.com.

October 5 - 12, 2008 -- $1,550 - $1,750 per person, depending on room type.  Package Includes:  Six nights shipboard accommodations and one night local hotel accommodations in La Paz.  Meals are included, beginning with breakfast on Day 2 and end with lunch on Day 7, and includes beer, soda and wine while shipboard.

Bahamian Tale of Two Gobies

Exuma_goby.jpg
A great find -- the rare Exuma goby! Photo by Ned DeLoach.
lemon_goby.jpg
An even greater find -- the very rare lemon goby! Photo by Ned DeLoach.
exumagoby.jpg
Exuma gobys up in the water column. They behave similar to masked/glass gobies. Photo by Andy Dehart.

In January, 2008 the National Aquarium Institute organized and conducted a Bahamian conservation expedition on the Aqua Cat live-aboard dive vessel. Our mission was to conduct REEF surveys and work on the invasive lionfish project. On board this trip were Lad Akins (REEF Special Projects Director), Ned and Anna DeLoach, Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium), National Aquarium staff, and aquarium and REEF volunteers. In addition to meeting the lionfish research goals of the cruise, we were treated to not one but two exciting and rare finds - the Exuma goby and the lemon goby.

At a dive site in Eleuthera called Cave Rock Reef we geared up and readied ourselves for lionfish behavior monitoring. Just as I started getting my gear together Anna came to the surface to tell me she had found a school of Exuma gobies, Gobiosoma atronasum. What I had not realized was that the keen eye of Bruce Purdy, owner of the Aqua Cat and avid REEF surveyor and supporter had noticed them at this site before and he had directed Anna to the exact coral head. I have logged over 400 dives in the Bahamas and until this day the Exuma goby had always eluded me. To the casual observer this fish looks like a cleaning goby or sharknose goby until you notice its behavior. Unlike most other “neon-type” gobies, the Exuma Goby spends most of its time hovering in the water column, not perched on the coral. They act very similar to the masked and glass gobies. Excited to add a new species to my life list I leave the small cluster of these great fish and head down to my assigned duty of monitoring a lionfish.

Two days later, while on a dive at Blacktip Wall in the Exumas, I noticed a few fish mixed in with school bass. These fish looked out of place and very different from anything I had ever seen. I noted as much detail as possible on my REEF slate and swam on hoping that one of my fellow trip members would be able to help me identify it. As it turns out no one had any idea what it was, but luckily Ned had also seen this odd fish and had taken some great photos of it. After some research when we returned from the trip, we discovered this fish was a lemon goby, Vomerogobius flavus. The lemon goby is an exciting new fish to the REEF database. This species was identified and described in 1971 from 11 Bahamian specimens, but this sighting in the Exumas is a range extension for the species.

It was truly a rewarding experience to finally see and survey the Exuma goby that I have searched for on many trips. To document a fish that I did not even know existed was the icing on the cake. For a fish lover like me, getting to find a new species for the REEF database is an honor. REEF surveying truly keeps diving exciting and new. I am concerned about the effects that the invasive lionfish could have on these two species of gobies with such a narrow range in which they live, but the data from all of our great volunteers helps us track these changes. It would be a shame to lose such unique endemic species due to this foreign invader. We hope you enjoy seeing some of the first photos ever published of these two goby gems.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub