The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Itziar Aretxaga

aretxaga1.jpg
aretxaga2.jpg
goldensmooth_aretxaga2.jpg
aretxaga3.JPG

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 Itziar Aretxaga (REEF member since 2003). Itziar has conducted 263 REEF surveys in three REEF regions, and she is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Itziar had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

Shortly after I got my C-card I started looking for a good reference book on fish. I was fortunate to find Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach´s reef guides, and there I read about the REEF program and how one could volunteer. I joined and started identifying species and reporting them to REEF on my own. A year later I met Lad Akins in a course he gave to volunteers in the Veracruz National Park, and he taught me a few tricks that improved my identification skills. He has been a great mentor in all my fish watching activities ever since.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I often look at the online database to check what I might be missing, and the only way of improving it is for each of us to submit our surveys, even if that means clicking on the box for Yellowtail Snappers over and over again. I keep telling myself that I hope I will never see the day when I miss them because they are no longer there. I also take special pride when our data are used in scientific publications or management reports. It might be a mere dot in a plot, but collectively we contribute to the growth of knowledge on marine life and conservation.

Do you dive close to where you live? What is the best part about diving there?

I have done over 200 surveys in Veracruz and I know it well enough now that I can recognize changes. I enjoy noticing the unusual species, species off-season, and it is really thrilling when I get to report a new species. There is also the challenge of spotting fish that others have reported that I have yet to see, so the fun continues.

What is your most memorable fish find?

The first Smooth Trunkfish in golden variation I saw in Veracruz, and the first time it was reported outside the Northern Gulf of Mexico by REEF members. I was so excited when I saw it that I started dancing underwater, quite literally. The staff in our local diving shop told me afterwards they were not that unusual in the area. It was just that nobody had reported them before.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

I like sharing with others the fun of it. I usually take surveys during commercial diving boat trips, and people are curious about those slates that I take underwater and keep scribbling on. It is great to see some of them then turn to my book, and start calling each other to show what they themselves have seen.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Seattle Scuba

SeattleScuba-HeidiWilken.jpg
Seattlescuba.jpg
fslogoshadow.jpg

REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

Our Outstanding Field Station this month, Seattle Scuba, is based in the always-green but often-rainy Pacific NW. Yes, the water's cold there. Seattle Scuba is a full service facility that provides training, equipment rentals/sales, fun dives and more - all served up with an ample helping of personality and humor to their customers and friends. They are passionate not only about teaching diving, but about instilling awareness of the marine environment in divers. The REEF survey program is an ideal tool in this mission. Their training director/resident mermaid Heidi Wilken got involved in REEF surveying after encountering some fish geeks on a fun dive one day. Wanting to incorporate and support REEF's mission she decided to provide resources at Seattle Scuba. They have been a Field Station for about 4 years now. Now two of their training staff are REEF Advanced Assessment Team members (Heidi and David Todd). They hold periodic Fish Geek Dives, fish & invertebrate ID Classes, testing to move up in REEF Experience Levels, and offer a full range of Fish ID books for sale.

Heidi had this to say about Pacific NW diving: "Sometimes people look at Puget Sound and surrounding areas and think it will just be cold and dark - they have no idea of the colors and amazing critters that lurk beneath the surface! We are blessed to have not only lots of amazing and cool fish like the Red Irish Lord and the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, but also incredible invertebrate life, from the Giant Pacific Octopus to the tiny Opalescent Nudibranch." And what does Heidi like best about REEF? "You don't have to be a scientist to be involved, even if you can only identify ONE fish or invertebrate, you can contribute surveys - and you can do so to whatever level fits into your life, be it a survey a year or 200 a year." Her parting words: "Dive safe and survey often!" Thanks Heidi and the staff at Seattle Scuba - we're glad you're a REEF Field Station!

Grouper Moon Project To Be Featured In PBS Series

Changing Seas, an Emmy award-winning original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of their newest episode, "Grouper Moon", which focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project last winter, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish.

"Grouper Moon" will be screened live on the Changing Seas website on Wednesday, June 6th, at 2:30pm EST. During the screening, viewers will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program, including REEF's Director of Science Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. and Grouper Moon Project Scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. from Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Scott Heppell, Ph.D. from Oregon State University.

Check out a preview of the "Grouper Moon" episode on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEAemdElBlg. If you miss it, the program’s premiere broadcast in south Florida will be at 7:30 pm EST June 20. The program will be posted online in its entirety by the end of June. To find out more about REEF's Grouper Moon Project, visit http://www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carol Cox

Sawblade Arrow Shrimp. Carol was the first to capture this creature on film! Photo by Carol Cox.

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.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Eileen Byrne

Sea Turtles - one of Eileen's favorite non-fish sightings! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.

When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.

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

Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.

What is your favorite non-fish sighting?

Turtles!!!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.

REEF is Hiring

REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.

REEF 2013 Annual Report Released

REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects including Invasive Lionfish Research and the Grouper Moon Project, data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2013 such a success! Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about any of the information presented in our Annual Report.

REEF Sustainers Weekend: A Gathering of Friends in the Florida Keys

REEF_Sustainers_l.jpg
Clara Taylor, Ned DeLoach, Joe Glenn, Anna DeLoach, Paul Humann and Amy Slate share a moment together.
REEF_Linda_l.jpg
Lad Akins presents newest Golden Hamlet Club member, Linda Schillinger, with award for completing 1,000 REEF surveys
REEF_Audrey_l.jpg
Joe Cavanaugh presents 10-year office volunteer Audrey Smith with award and free spot on the 2008 Turks and Caicos REEF Field Survey

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.

Intern Dives into Science and Bahamian Waters

Bahamasken.jpg
Ken Marks doing a fish transect
bahamaschrisandjudy.jpg
Chris Moses and Judy Lang gathering coral data
bahamas brook.jpg
Brooke Gintert making headway on her benthic transect

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 (p_kramer@bellsouth.net).

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 Data Used To Evaluate Effect of Marine Reserves in the Channel Islands

kelp bass.jpg
Kelp bass, one of the 25 species included in the analysis of marine reserves in the Channel Islands. A harvested species, this species showed a positive effect of marine reserves through time.
CMobley_150_crpcln.jpg
A REEF volunteer descending to conduct a survey in one of the Channel Islands marine reserves. Photo by Carl Gwinn.

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.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub