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 Carol Cox. Carol joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 159 surveys. Carol is a member of the Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has been an active volunteer and instructor in REEF's Fishinar series. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
After retiring from the Air Force, and returning to our home in Mexico Beach, Florida (20 miles east of Panama City), I became active as a volunteer research diver for the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA). To receive State grants for our program, we are required to monitor the condition of artificial reefs we deploy. MBARA decided to incorporate fish surveys with the monitoring program, and I found REEF when researching ways to do fish surveys. REEF serves as our model, but we tailor our survey forms for the local area because our fish population is very different than the fishes found further south.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
When I saw how REEF data are used by naturalists and scientists, I wanted to add fish count data from where I live, especially because there were only a few surveys for my community. I really saw the need after the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our community was lucky, barely escaping the oil slick when a storm blew the approaching oil slick back in the direction it came from. Although we suffered few effects, I realized we needed to catalogue what we had, otherwise, how would we know how our biodiversity was adapting to environmental changes? Since I started volunteering with REEF, I have had opportunity to interact with scientists and fish enthusiasts from around the world. The education REEF provides is phenomenal. I began my self-education by doing the fish quizzes. Then I attended many of the online Fishinars and they are all very educational and FUN! I also learn a lot from other fish watchers using the online fish identification forum.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
The data that are being captured by REEF fish surveys will be invaluable to scientists of the future. As the environment changes, the REEF database will be looked at more and more. We need to record what we have now if we are to know what is affected by global warming, red tide, or the next big oil spill. Who knows, the REEF database may eventually provide the knowledge on how to control the lionfish invasion.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?
Most of my diving is where I live, in Mexico Beach, Florida. MBARA has deployed over 150 artificial reefs, everything from reef balls to a large shrimp boat, which is my favorite dive. We see everything from giant Goliath Groupers, to small arrow shrimp (a species that had never been photographed until I discovered them during a survey). Because the survey programs for MBARA and REEF are similar, I encouraged MBARA to become a local Field Station. We are always looking for divers interested in doing surveys on our artificial reefs and can now provide training. I use training gained from REEF, along with my local experience, to teach regional fish identification and throw in some local knowledge for enthusiasts that primarily dive in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
We were 20 miles offshore of Mexico Beach, when our boat was surrounded by small Mahi Mahi. I had a few shots left on my camera, so I slipped into the water to use up my film (am I dating myself?). Suddenly, a Mahi sped towards me, followed by a large, dark shadow in pursuit. In a matter of seconds, I could see fins, tails, and bubbles, as a large sailfish did a 360-degree turn right in front of me as it tried to capture the Mahi. In an effort to escape, the Mahi swam over my shoulder smacking me in the side of the head. The bill of the sailfish missed by chest by inches as it veered away. Having lost its prey, it swam around me three times before disappearing into the depths. The entire event lasted less than a minute, but the memory of it will last me a lifetime, especially because I got the photos.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? What is your most memorable fish find? What fish are you still waiting to find?
I love blennies! They are such a great photo subject—colorful and expressive. With a little patience, most will gladly pose for the camera exhibiting as many poses as a Vogue covergirl. Of course I am a big, big fan of Anna DeLoach’s Blennywatcher blog. My favorite find wasn’t a fish, but a sawblade arrow shrimp, Tozeuma serratum. I have REEF to thank for putting me in touch with Les Wilk who requested critter photos for the upcoming Reef Creature DVD to be published by ReefNet. I didn’t know what a rare find I had until I sent a photo of the unidentified shrimp to Les for the DVD. He sent the photo off to a marine biologist, who identified the shrimp after I collected one. It turns out this shrimp had never been photographed in its natural environment and scientists believed it only lived in deeper waters. The marine biologist was so excited she flew from Texas to our home so we could take out and show her some of “our” shrimp. The fish I would love to check off my life list is the whale shark. With all the diving we do in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure it is only a matter of time, but I am still waiting!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Doing surveys for both MBARA and REEF, I’ve learned it can be fun to get away from the big sites and spend time on something small that isn’t frequented by divers. I’ve spent 45 minutes looking at two 3-foot reefballs. If I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really look, I would never have seen the small juvenile jackknife-fish, or a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish.
On Saturday, July 14th, seventy members of the REEF Sustainers Club (annual donors of $1,000 or more), key partners and long-time REEF friends convened in Key Largo, Florida to celebrate fourteen years of REEF accomplishments over some diving and a sunset dinner. Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach and other Board, staff and Advisory Panel members were on hand to lead guests on some spectacular morning REEF survey dives while Amy Slate and her stand-up staff at the Amoray Dive Resort generously hosted the lodging and dinner party. “The event was just beautiful.” Said long-time REEF surveyor Elaine Morden, of Homestead, Florida. “It was great to connect with old REEF friends and see some new faces.”
The bi-annual Sustainers Event is a chance for REEF to bring together important members of the REEF family to thank them for their contributions and share successes of the organization over the years. This year, REEF was proud to recognize Linda Schillinger for achieving one of the highest REEF honors: admission into the Golden Hamlet club for those who have conducted 1,000 or more REEF surveys. We were also proud to recognize Key Largo resident and REEF office volunteer Audrey Smith for nearly ten years of regular service to the organization by quality-checking survey scanforms before they are uploaded to the REEF database. REEF was itself bestowed with an honor by Sanctuary Friends of the Florida Keys Director Glenn Patton: SFFFK generously gave a gift of support for the Great Annual Fish Count this year to help underwrite the costs of public outreach and education events.
By virtue of a Paul presentation and applause vote, the group answered the perennial question “What is the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean?” Out of thirty possibilities ranging from the spotfin hogfish to the fairy basslet, the spotted eagle ray won a narrow victory over close rivals the queen angelfish and queen triggerfish. Ned enthralled the group with fish behavior anecdotes from as far afield as Indonesia and gave updates on valuable REEF programs ranging from the Grouper Moon Project to the Exotics Species Sightings Project.
All agreed that the only thing hotter than the event itself was the Florida sun in July. With the heat index topping 100 degrees, no one needed a better excuse to indulge in a new REEF-inspired cocktail, the Indigo Hamlet, a unique and diversified alcoholic concoction for our wonderful sustainers to imbibe in while enjoying the sunset! Many thanks to all who made this a Sustainers Weekend to remember. See you at the next one . . .
For information about joining the Sustainers Club, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@reef.org or (305) 852-0030.
REEF once again participated in the Perigee Environmental's yearly evaluation of the coral ecosystems along the eastern coast of Andros, Bahamas in cooperation with the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). Using the newest Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveying protocol, scientists gathered coral, benthic and fish data during the first 2 weeks of October. The data gathered will complement the existing 30 year data that demonstrates AUTEC's continuing efforts to preserve coral reefs around their facilities and military training ranges. Judy Lang, coral ecology expert, and Chris Moses, University of Southern Florida graduate student, were in charge of gathering the coral data. Brooke Gintert was conducting her Ph.D. work for the University of Miami and assisting with the benthic data collection. One of the REEF founders, Ken Marks and REEF intern Catherine Whitaker were responsible for the fish counting.
AUTEC has been actively monitoring and protecting the coral reef near shore environment since the establishment of the facilities in the 1960s. For the last six years, AUTEC has used the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment surveying protocol, which is a method that compares the complex relationship among corals, fish and algae and provides a quantitative scale on the health of a reef's ecosystem by comparing the survey results in terms of a regional comparison. In this case, it is also being used to track temporal changes to 35 reef sites around central Andros. Point-count data and general coral data were collected to estimate coral condition and algal cover. Fish variety, abundance, and size was estimated by transects and the rover diver method.
For more information concerning this trip or AGRRA please contact Patricia Kramer of Perigee Environmental (email@example.com).
Top ten things I learned from my AGRRA trip:
10. Exhaustion is a state of mind and is not cured by more work, less sleep and diving. Food (especially Pringles and chocolate) helps though.
9. Golf carts should be used more often in the US.
8. Dinner waits for no man, so floor the pedal on that golf cart and RUN!
7. The floating pier at site 1 is cursed and sets off the rain whenever any member of the AGRRA trip steps on it to load or unload anything from the boat.
6. Snakes do not belong on planes, I mean, in camera cases but seem to like it there.
5. Crashing mountainous waves and cement-like waters are not conducive to good science or a pleasant dive.
4. Post-trip pep talks should always include sweets and beverages.
3. Rick makes the barren rock that is Site 4 look and feel like Club Med. Thanks Rick.
2. Things to do on your only day off (because of 30 knot winds and 6ft waves) include but are not limited to swimming against a raging outgoing tide at a blue hole, resting by snorkeling for 2 hours in an inland blue hole, spearing lionfish, dissecting said lionfish and having a horseshoe tournament.
1. Making new friends, doing science and experiencing a sense of accomplishment for conservation efforts... priceless.
My warmest wishes go out to our AUTEC liaisons, Tom Szlyk and Marc Ciminello for their invaluable assistance. I would also like to thank everyone who put in extra effort so that I could participate in this fantastic trip as well as anyone who taught me anything while I was on it. Thank you very much.
REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, joined a dozen other scientists in presenting the findings of monitoring the marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Channel Islands, California, earlier this month during a special session of the California Islands Symposium. The presentation highlighted the effect of reserves on common nearshore rocky reef fishes based on 10 years of REEF survey data. During this time, REEF volunteer divers have collected 1,595 visual fish surveys from 113 sites throughout the Channel Islands before and after state marine reserves were established in 2002. Using analysis methods developed to analyze volunteer bird watching data, collaborators Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA NMFS) and Dr. Steve Katz (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) developed a model to detect trends in fish densities. The analysis included 25 species of common rocky reef fishes, including targeted and non-targeted species. Rather than focusing on changes in the density of individual species, the analysis evaluated changes in multiple species to characterize responses of marine communities to protection from fishing in reserves. The analysis suggests that reserves are positively influencing fish population trajectories in both targeted and non-targeted species. On average, fish populations had ~20% higher growth rates inside reserves as compared to outside, although there was a high degree of variability across species. Dr. Pattengill-Semmens notes that this study is one of the first applications of Pacific region REEF data for use by marine resource agency officials to evaluate the effects of management actions. The results will ultimately be published and will join the many existing published studies of the utility of Tropical Western Atlantic REEF data. The cumulative impact of the data and results from the entire suite of monitoring programs being conducted around the Channel Islands will "help to inform future management of the region, aid in the implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act in southern California, and contribute to our understanding of MPAs worldwide," said John Ugoretz, manager of the Marine Habitat Conservation Program for the California Department of Fish and Game. To find out more about REEF monitoring activities in the Channel Islands, visit the Channel Islands project webpage.
June will mark a change at the helm for REEF. We would like to wish Leda Cunningham well in her future endeavors, and welcome Lisa Mitchell as our new Executive Director. Lisa is eager to bring her extensive experience in the dive industry to REEF, as well as her natural passion for ocean conservation.
Lisa’s involvement with REEF almost goes back to the organization’s inception when, in 1993, she was owner/manager of Baskin in the Sun in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. After participating in a REEF Field Survey she immediately went to work involving BVI dive operators in the new program. In fact, because of her enthusiasm, Tortola became the first destination where 100% of the island’s dive businesses became REEF Field Stations. The REEF staff and Board were so impressed that she was asked to bring her organizational expertise and energies to the Board of Trustees in 1995 where she served until leaving Tortola in 1998 to pursue an Executive MBA at the University of Central Florida.
Lisa is a diver’s diver whose life has evolved around the underwater world. She earned her first scuba certification at age 12 while attending Sea Camp in Big Pine Key, Florida where she later became Assistant Scuba Director. During the following years, while gaining experience working at dive resorts in the Florida Keys and with Peter Hughes in Bonaire, she became a Master Dive Instructor and ultimately an SSI Instructor Certifier, and holds a USCG 100 Ton Master’s License. In the process Lisa has made well over 8,000 dives. To honor her many accomplishments Lisa was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2001.
Most recently Lisa has worked as a marketing and business analysis consultant within the dive industry with clients such as Scuba Schools International (SSI), Expedition Fleet Liveaboards, and Dive Dominica.
It goes without saying the REEF staff and Board are delighted to have Lisa back in the fold, and look forward to many prosperous years with such a capable and energetic Captain at the helm.
REEF members and Lisa’s many friends are invited to join us for a “Welcome Back to REEF and the Keys” evening to be held in her honor at 7 PM June 21st, 2008 at the Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo.
REEF staff and volunteers are attending several events in the Northwest this winter and spring to spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project. These include scientific conferences and dive shows. REEF volunteer and instructor, Janna Nichols, represented REEF at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin (PSGB) Ecosystem Conference last month in Seattle, Washington. Over 1,000 scientists, decision-makers and others attended the PSGB and the overall conference theme was to share knowledge and commit to action to protect the region's marine environment. Janna presented posters on two of REEF's important programs in the Pacific Northwest, tracking the presence and spread of invasive tunicates and the long-term monitoring of sub-tidal fish and invertebrates in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
If you weren't able to attend the PSGB Conference, REEF is participating in two upcoming events in Washington. The first is a workshop organized by the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) and others, "Exploring the Spectrum of Citizen Science". The workshop is being held April 10-11 at Fort Wordon State Park and will bring together many citizen science practitioners to discuss what make successful programs. Later that month, come visit the REEF booth at the Northwest Dive and Travel Expo in Tacoma, April 25 & 26th. REEF volunteers and Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, will be at the booth to spread the word about REEF. We'll have survey materials and guide books on hand and will be presenting a seminar, "REEF: Diving That Counts" on Saturday afternoon at 2pm. See you there!
The REEF Pacific Region, which includes California through British Columbia, continues to be one of our most active areas. This is thanks to funding support from several West Coast foundations as well as partnerships with some great organizations. REEF survey and identification training opportunities abound, long-term monitoring projects in several National Marine Sanctuaries continue, the number of REEF Expert surveyors is increasing, and REEF data and projects are being presented at conferences and used by scientists and agencies. REEF greatly appreciates the continued support of several West Coast funders, including The Russell Family Foundation and the Sustainable Path Foundation, as well as our dedicated volunteers for making this continued success possible. If you are in the Pacific Northwest, check out the REEF PNW Critter Watchers webpage, which connects area REEF surveyors for training and surveying opportunities.
There's still space in some of the fish and invertebrate identification and REEF survey training classes being held next month in Southern California. Classes will be held June 24, 25 and 26 in Dana Point and Long Beach. To find out more, see this article in last month's REEF-in-Brief. Classes are informative, fun and free, but registration is required. To register go to: http://www.pnwscuba.com/critterwatchers/calclasses.htm.
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 biologist from Fisheries and Oceans Canada is evaluating fish and invertebrate populations in Race Rocks outside of Victoria BC, in preparation for the establishment of an Marine Protected Area.
- A researcher at the University of Texas is conducting a large-scale study of evolutionary ecology in Caribbean reef fishes using REEF data and other publically available sources of morphological and phylogenetic data.
- A scientist from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is conducting an analysis on goliath grouper populations for a NOAA Fisheries stock assessment.
- A researcher from University of East Anglia is using the entire REEF Caribbean dataset to conduct a large-scale analysis of species diversity.