The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Valerie Lyttle

Lion's Mane Jelly. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Valerie Lyttle. Valerie joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 437 surveys. She is a member of REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? How did you first hear about REEF?

I started doing REEF surveys in 2004 after taking Janna Nichols' PacNW Fish & Invertebrate ID courses. I was learning on my own and trying to remember at least one new fish/critter each dive, but the course really helped solidify things. The idea of being able to contribute my observations to the greater good really appealed to me.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I like knowing that I’m contributing to a large database and that others may benefit as a result. Seeing how dive sites and critters change from times of day, seasons of the year, etc. keep me going. Even surveys from winter dives where few species are noted have value, as it helps illustrate trends. I love being able to “speak fish” & be a critter geek with like-minded people.

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

I dive locally because otherwise I’d only get to dive once a year or two otherwise! I think it’s important to practice stewardship of your local waters and sites on whatever level you are able; every bit counts. My favorite local site is Redondo (Highline MaST Pier) for several reasons; it’s close, it never disappoints, and it’s diveable just about any time. Many of my “firsts” were there; my first Six Gill shark, my first Big Skate, the only Pacific Electric Ray and Mola Mola sightings I’ve ever had, my first Grunt Sculpin, my first Giant Pacific Octopus (or GPO, as we call it here), my first Stubby Squid. This is a site for all abilities and there are interesting things to see at every depth.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

There are two favorite local REEF fields stations, both of them dive charters. Bandito Charters know the Puget Sound waters and its critters solidly, and always provide a great experience. Pacific Adventures, based in Hood Canal, Washington, are also heavily involved in local REEF and other projects that promote the health of Hood Canal waters. Both organizations promote stewardship and love talking critters!

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

The first time my buddy and I encountered courtship behaviors of Painted Greenlings at a local dive site. The male was sporting full mating colors and clearly had only one thing on his mind. Even though it was winter and the water was very cold, we stopped and watched the dancing and flirting for a good 10 minutes. My favorite critters hands down are jellies, in particular Lion’s Mane, aka Sea Blubber jellies. Their vibrant reds, oranges and yellows make them look like an underwater fireball that I find simply mesmerizing.

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

Go slow, don’t be in a hurry. Get to know your local critters and their behaviors. Carry a magnifying glass. Dive at different times of day and different seasons so you can appreciate the entire spectrum.

The Faces of REEF: 2012 Volunteer of the Year, Jonathan Lavan

We proudly announce our Volunteer of the Year for 2012, Jonathan Lavan. Jonathan joined REEF in 2004 and since then, he has logged 324 REEF fish surveys and become a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast survey regions. He has submitted surveys in five of REEF's six regions. Jonathan's involvement with REEF has been instrumental in spreading the word about REEF and its programs. In 2012, he helped to expand the Volunteer Fish Survey project by instructing for REEF's online webinars, called Fishinars. His background in theatre, sense of humor and teaching style quickly made his Fishinars popular with both new and experienced fishwatchers. He has also assisted by serving as an administrator for REEF's experience level tests. To learn more about Jonathan and his involvment with REEF, check out his Member Profile featured in a previous issue of Making It Count.

As a former diver and staff member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and a current diver at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Lavan actively seeks opportunities to educate others about marine life, conservation and REEF. He is often a guest speaker at dive clubs and shows, and especially enjoys educating youth. An avid underwater photographer, Jonathan uses his images gathered over the past 10 years to educate others about marine life, and many of his photos appear in art shows as well as online resources. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Jonathan!

New REEF Program for South Atlantic States - North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia

SAS Launch attendees dove on the artificial reef, the Indra, with Discovery Diving.
Oyster Toadfish, a fun find on the Indra Wreck off North Carolina. Photo by Janna Nichols.
Two days of workshops were held at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll to kick off the new SAS region.

After several years of planning and collaborating with local marine scientists and divers, REEF has expanded the Volunteer Fish Survey Project into another region: the South Atlantic States (SAS). Recreational and scientific divers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia now have survey materials specific to the local ecosystem, including waterproof color ID cards, waterproof survey paper, teaching curriculum, data entry, and online data summaries. Like all of REEF's regions, all species of fish are reported, but in addition the SAS program also monitors fifty-one species of invertebrates and algae that are important indicator species.

Divers have been able to conduct REEF surveys in coastal waters off these three states since the early 1990s when REEF surveying began, but divers had to use survey materials and data entry tools designed for the entire Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean). Large differences in species between the TWA and SAS meant the survey materials were less than ideal for divers in this region.

To launch the new region, REEF and our partners at NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) led two days of training workshops and survey dives during "Bringing Shipwrecks to Life", a NOAA program for divers to appreciate shipwrecks as historical treasures loaded with divers and plentiful biological treasures. Nearly 70 people attended the workshops and completed 40 survey dives over the weekend in early September. Many workshop attendees passed their REEF Level 2 exam.

REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, reported many people learned to really see underwater. “The divers had the usual buzz and excitement that you often hear on a boat full of REEF divers. One diver said, ‘I have dove on that wreck (the Indra) so many times before but I had never noticed that it was covered in coral.’ It's literally covered in Ivory Coral, Occulina spp, one of the invertebrates that we now monitor in the SAS region.

If you live or dive in the SAS region, please contact us to find out more about how you can get involved in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. And please encourage your local dive clubs, dive shop, or education center to teach the new fish and invertebrate curricula.

The Faces of REEF: Randall Tyle

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 Randall Tyle. Randall has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 539 surveys (many in his home state of Oregon). He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and has participated in several of REEF's west coast special projects. Here's what Randy had to say about REEF:

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

At one of my very First Eugene Dive Club meetings, Janna Nichols (REEF Outreach Coordinator) did an "Introduction to REEF" presentation. From that point forward, I have been doing surveys on almost every dive!

Have you been on any REEF Trips?

I have participated in two of the AAT projects to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, in 2011 and 2012. These trips, in addition to surveys I do in the Channel Islands, have been some of my most rewarding dive adventures.

What's your favorite thing about conducting REEF surveys?

I am inspired by the possibility of spotting something unknown, rare or even just something I personally have not seen before. In addition to keeping track of all the cool marine life you have seen on your dives, the REEF website allows you to go back and look at your dive history.

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

During my most recent trip to the Channel Islands NMS, I witnessed a flying formation of over 20 Bat Rays. From my first encounter with a California Giant Sea Bass to past encounters with the tiny Spiny Lumpsucker, I would have to say, I enjoy all of my fish encounters. I am especially fond of our resident (Pacific Northwest) Giant Pacific Octo’s and Wolf Eels.

Putting It To Work: New Publication from the Grouper Moon Project

Approximately 5,000 Nassau Grouper gather, temporarily, on the west end of Little Cayman each winter. Photo by Paul Humann.

A new scientific paper that features research from REEF's Grouper Moon Project, "Hot Moments in Spawning Aggregations", was recently published in the journal, Coral Reefs. The study looked at the impact of a Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation in creating biogeochemical "hot moments", which occur when a temporary increase in one or more limiting nutrients results in elevated rates of biogeochemical reactions. In this case, the limited nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. And the temporary increase is from the large amount of grouper excrement that results when approximately 5,000 Nassau Grouper gather in a small area for 10 days during the spawning season, as happens around winter full moons on Little Cayman. The authors estimated the rate of nutrients supplied by the Nassau Grouper at the Little Cayman aggregation site, and found that the temporary surge in the nutrient supply rate was larger than nearly all other published sources of nutrients on coral reefs, an ecosystem that is typically a food and nutrient desert. Beyond the loss of this iconic species in the Caribbean, the significant decline in Nassau Grouper and their spawning aggregations over the last few decades has likely had large consequences on the productivity of the reefs that historically hosted spawning aggregations. To read the full paper, click here. And to see all of the scientific papers that have included REEF's data and programs, visit our Publications page.

Review Us On GreatNonprofits.org

Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the GreatNonprofits.org website at: http://gr8np.org/go/yKD

Thanks to such great feedback by our members in 2014, REEF achieved "Top-Rated" status on the GreatNonprofits webpage. We need at least ten new reviews in 2015 to maintain this honored status. Please help us.

Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member: "I have been contributing to REEF's database of dive surveys for over 5 years now and I really like the amount of support they provide to divers and snorkelers at any level. Their web site is a wealth of information, not only their database but also quizzes for all different regions. Their free webinars aka "Fishinars" are always fun and entertaining to be experienced from the comfort of your home. To top if all off, they have friendly staff to answer any kind of questions you may have from your dive experiences. I learned so much regarding the critters I see in the ocean and it keeps it interesting and fresh. REEF offers a lot for FREE but actually they are priceless." Thanks Gerald!

New Items Added to REEF Store

If you haven't checked out REEF's online store recently, now is a perfect time to get a jump on your holiday shopping! We have added several new items, including a newly-designed REEF shirt that features our logo with all your favorite ocean creatures intertwined and a brand new Nudibranchs of the Indo-Pacific book. Visit www.REEF.org/store to check out these items and more.

Putting It To Work: New Study Documents Decline in Sunflower Stars and Resulting Impacts in the Ecosystem

Sunflower Star and Green Sea Urchin abundance, as recorded in REEF surveys from January 2010 to November 2014 in Washington and British Columbia (n = 1568 surveys).

Between 2013 and 2015, the US Pacific Northwest and western Canada experienced a mass mortality of sea stars. The Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), a previously abundant predator, began to show signs of a wasting syndrome in early September 2013, and dense aggregations disappeared from many sites in a matter of weeks. REEF surveyors certainly noticed, and the decline was reflected in the REEF database. The authors of a new publication just out in the journal PeerJ used the REEF database to document the decline at a regional scale. In addition to the dramatic decline in Sunflower Stars, they found a four-fold increase in the number of Green Sea Urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis). The sea urchin increase also resulted in declines in kelp canopy coverage. This type of ecological change, where a change in one species impacts many others, is known as a trophic cascade. Because of the long-term and wide-spread nature of the REEF survey program, our data have proven invaluable in documenting the impacts of the seastar wasting disease. The study was conducted by Jessica Schultz, Ryan Cloutier, and Isabelle M. Côté from Simon Fraser University and the Vancouver Aquarium. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the 60+ scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE OF REEF . . .

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Joe Cavanaugh and Leda A. Cunningham with new fall intern Erin Whitaker
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Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, presents our fabulous Summer interns, Marissa Nuttall our Texas Aggie and Paige Switzer our South Carolina girl, with a certificate of appreciation for all the tremendous work they accomplished this summer

We had a number of applicants for the Fall session and narrowing the intern pool to just two applicants was tough because everyone that applied were wonderful candidates.   This month we're introducing you to Catherine Whitaker (aka Erin) who (thankfully) arrived early to cross train with our fabulous summer interns before they departedon August 17th.  Next month we'll highlight our final recipient, Lauren Finan, who will arrive the week of August 20th.

Erin is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.    She's had a variety of jobs during her undergraduate career all of which honed her skills in preparation for a career in Marine Biology.  She is well versed in the REEF methodology having completed juvenile fish, fish, and coral abundance and distribution surveys while working with Centro Ecologico de Akumal.  As a Scuba Divemaster, Erin taught scuba to tourists and locals of all ages instilling a sense of excitement and pride for marine life to her students.  During her time at Duke, she served as research assistant to many professors and non-profit organizations and volunteered as an assistant aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium. 

While in Maine she was sampling algae and young lobsters for a census survey (we could use that here).  At the Linney genetics laboratory Erin was responsible for feeding and cleaning tanks of 3000 zebra fish.  At the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems branch of the Smithsonian, Erin assisted a PhD candidate on her research relating to the effect of parrotfish on corals as well as the coral-symbiont relationship in a stressful environment, the list goes on as does her travels.  She has been to Ankarafantsika, Madagascar as a field assistant; Caye Caulker, Belize as an underwater tour guide; Manila, Philippines as a U.S. Embassy Protocol Office Assistant; Sofia, Bulgaria as a U.S. Embassy Consular Section Aide.  REEF is very fortunate to have someone of Erin's caliber interning with us this fall.  She feels working with REEF is an ideal opportunity for her to test her ability to integrate scientific investigation, conservation efforts and a flair for reaching out to people for the betterment of our environment, while working toward her masters.

REEF Attends 54th Boston Sea Rovers Clinic

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54th Annual Underwater Clinic of Boston Sea Rovers
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Boston Scene near Fairmont Hotel
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Increasing awareness of REEF in the Northeast
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Joe Cavanaugh and Holly Martel Bourbon
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Foureye Butterflyfish seen with Cunner in Woods Hole. Photo: Alison Johnson

REEF had the opportunity to attend the 54th Annual Underwater Clinic of Boston Sea Rovers, March 8-9th in Boston, MA. The Boston Sea Rovers has sponsored the “Longest Continuously Running Dive Show in the World.” Each annual clinic attracts as speakers, educators, explorers, scientists, divers and underwater photographers. The purpose of the lectures is to help Sea Rovers achieve the club mission “to educate the general public about the underwater world.” Since 1954, Sea Rovers has held an annual clinic in Boston for the purpose of raising the level of knowledge of the underwater world. Early members of the club invented the first underwater film show or clinic as it was known then and is still called such today. In addition to over 40 speakers this year and many booths at the show, there was the Saturday evening film event which is a must-see showcase of underwater photos and videos from renowned leaders in the field.

Past speakers at the annual clinic include myriad famous names such as Jacques Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, Robert Ballard, George Bond, Peter Gimbel, Stan Waterman, Brian Skerry, Bob Talbot, David Doubilet, and many others.  Really, the Sea Rovers history mirrors that of SCUBA diving and the presenters have always been those same individuals who have been pioneers and innovators in diving, underwater science, marine conservation, underwater archaeology and discovery, and photography/videography.  I think if I were to describe the Sea Rovers in one sentence, it would be this: If every dive site in the world had 10' viz, 30 degree water temps, 1 fish and one moonsnail to see, it took the entire dive to find said fish and moonsnail, and you had to wear 40lbs in dive weight, there would still be an avid group of SCUBA enthusiasts in the Boston Sea Rovers! The annual event is really the last major dive show in America run solely by volunteers and proceeds from the event are used for scholarships, internships, in support of other non-profit organizations such as SeaMark and the Cotting School for Handicapped Children, and to continue to promote the goals of Sea Rovers.To learn more about the Sea Rovers, please visit http://www.bostonsearovers.com/BSRpublic/library

I also spoke at the New England Aquarium as part of their Lowell Lecture Series and to the Aquarium Dive Club while visiting Boston.  The general motivation behind sending this native New Englander back home was to foster new and old liaisons in capacity building in the region.  Most people who attended my talks did not know that REEF conducts surveys or has a presence in New England.  Part of our goal in participating in the Clinic was to promote REEF programs such as the Great Annual Fish Count; increase our number of regional Field Stations; develop partnerships for utilizing the data that we hope to begin collecting in earnest in the coming year; create a regional list serve for interested individuals to connect on REEF programs; and develop a strategic plan for the region.  For our part, REEF is committed to creating a separate New England online data entry interface for our website in the coming month, revamping the NE fish ID curriculum, and hopefully adding invertebrates to this curriculum, developing a NE Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) program, then utilizing this AAT team for regional monitoring and ad hoc conservation efforts. Encouraging regional dive clubs to conduct surveys while on their winter trips in the Caribbean offers another way for NE members to get involved.  Stay tuned for more news from our NE partnerships and look to see the New England online data entry up and running very soon. Ultimately, nurturing REEF's survey efforts in New England will benefit many stakeholders just as these survey data currently inform marine management decisions in our other survey regions.

There are a few people I would like to thank here for making this trip possible:  Vickie Cataldo (NEAQ Lowell Lecture Coordinator) for her generous travel support to REEF;  Dan Laughlin and Sarah Taylor at NEAQ; David Caldwell (Exhibitor/Coordinator of Sea Rovers); David Morton (President Sea Rovers); Bob Michelson for ongoing support of REEF; Terri Rioux (WHOI DSO); Al Bozza (NEAQ Dive Club); and especially Holly Bourbon Martel for arranging my Sea Rovers talk, co-presenting with me, and for taking on the role of Volunteer NE Regional Coordinator for REEF.  Also, thanks to The New England Aquarium in Boston and the Coastal Dive Center in Hingham, MA our regional REEF Field Stations. Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester and Divers Market in Plymouth also have recently assisted REEF.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub