Bigger Than Ever – Lionfish Research Continues

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Lad Akins and Andy Dehart capture a lionfish during a recent REEF Lionfish Research Project. The lionfish was measured, tagged, and released. A team subsequently recaptured the lionfish to learn more about site fidelity and growth in this species.
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A juvenile lionfish recently found in Little Cayman by Dottie Benjamin, a local divemaster and avid REEF surveyor. REEF's program serves as an early warning program for the arrival of exotic species. Photo by Matt Lewis.
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REEF volunteers give the lionfish sign at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in May

The recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into Atlantic waters has been causing great concern among researchers, marine park and fisheries managers, and divers. REEF, in partnership with Bahamian dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy, NOAA, the United States Geological Service (USGS), the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem. As part of REEF’s Lionfish Research Program, over the last two years REEF has coordinated 12 research projects that have involved over 175 REEF volunteers. This research has generated a wealth of in-situ observations and over 1,000 lionfish specimens, which have led to great advances in the understanding of the biology and potential impacts of this most unwanted invader.

REEF’s most recent field project at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in May 2008, involving over 20 volunteers and researchers, found that the problem continues to get worse. The team gathered data on nearly 200 specimens of lionfish to determine relative abundance, size increases, reproductive status, growth rates, predator prey relationships and movement.  Findings included:

Lionfish continue to grow in size: Tagging data show growth rates exceeding 190mm/year, far larger than necessary to reach sexual maturity.

Site Fidelity: All 12 previously-tagged specimens that have been recaptured indicate strong site fidelity even after 6 months.

Prey: Lionfish continue to amaze us during stomach content studies. The recent effort turned up new records including two entire spotted goatfish, a large brown chromis, a small reef octopus, and even a small mollusk in its shell. Lionfishare eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.

Reproduction: Lionfish reproduction occurs throughout the year – many gravid females and a small recently settled juveniles have been found.

REEF’s future fieldwork will concentrate on lionfish movement, trap design, habitat preference, and local control measures. Our next project is scheduled to take place at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau from September 14-20. If you would like to help with our ongoing work please consider joining us as a field volunteer and/or making a contribution to REEF’s Exotic Species Program.

For more information on REEF’s Exotic Species Program, to volunteer on a future research project or to discuss funding opportunities, contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, Lad@reef.org.

REEF News Tidbits for October

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  • Just added to the REEF Online Store -- Columbia Sportswear Bonehead Long Sleeve REEF Shirts. These Performance Fishing Gear (PFG) long sleeve shirts provide protection from the sun and chilly waterfront breezes, with the flexibility to roll up your sleeves making it the perfect REEF Fish Survey attire. They are generously cut, 100% cotton, and discretely but proudly let the world know that you support REEF and Diving that Counts! Also recently added to the online REEF store -- Limited Edition Lionfish Print by Rogest and stylish REEF caps.
  • The Cozumel REEF Trip in December, which has been sold out for almost a year, just had 3 spaces open up. These trips are led by REEF Expert and Cozumel Naturalist, Sheryl Shea, and are extremely popular. Please give us a call for more information and to reserve your space 305-852-0030.
  • A special thanks to all the REEF members who volunteered at our DEMA booth -- Park Chapman, Andy Dehart, Chris Flook, Heather George, Stephanie Green and Sue Thompson, and to Evelyn McGlone and Janet Bartnicki for holding down the fort at REEF HQ. We couldn't have done it without you!
  • Please remember to support REEF during our Fall Fundraising campaign.
  • REEF Team Surveys Vandenberg Sinking Site

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    REEF Advanced Assessment Team members who were part of the team that conducted the pre-deployment monitoring for the Vandenberg.
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    The Vandenberg, just prior to being sunk off Key West as the second largest artificial reef in the world, in May 2009. Photo courtesy of © Stephen Frink.

    The USS Hoyt Vandenberg is the most recent ship to be placed as an artificial reef in the waters off Key West, Florida. The ship was sunk on May 27, 2009, but three weeks prior to the sinking the REEF team was in action conducting surveys of the sinking site and 7 other adjacent sites for comparison. The data will be used by the State of Florida to document fish recruitment onto the wreck and response of nearby reef sites to the new structure. In addition to regular REEF fish surveys, the team is also gathering important fish biomass data at two sites and recording any observations of non-native titan acorn barnacles, orange cup corals or non-native fish including lionfish.

    The pre-deployment surveys at the sinking site did not document any fish present at the sandy bottom site though one barracuda was seen swimming through the area shortly after. Combined data from the 7 reference sites documented 159 species including rare sightings of pugjaw wormfish and cherubfish (rare for the Keys). The summary of data can be found here.

    REEF will continue regular monitoring of the Vandenberg and reference sites through next summer, with a final report due by the end of 2010. A huge thank you to all of the REEF experts joining in on the effort including Rob McCall, Tracy Harris, Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Jamie Giganti, Lisa Canty and Pat Zuloaga.

    News Tidbits

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  • Check Out the REEF Store! It's your one stop shop for all of your REEF Gear, ID Books and REEF Survey Supplies. Just added in the REEF Gear section -- new colors of the REEF Hat.
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  • Do you eBay? If you buy or sell on eBay, here's an easy way to support REEF as part of Giving Works. Sellers chose to donate 10-100% of the proceeds. Go to the REEF Profile page for Giving Works. From there you can check out current auction items from sellers who have chosen REEF to receive part or all of their proceeds and you can list your own auctions. Thanks to Carlton A. for recently supporting REEF this way!
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  • New Lionfish Documentary. Miami filmmaker Alicia Zaitsu has recently put together a short documentary on the lionfish in South Florida including the first capture of a lionfish in Biscayne National Park. The film is undergoing additional editing into both a shorter and longer version for distribution, but for now, the current version is available for public viewing on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYPcnQW_YZs
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  • Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook. The REEF Facebook Page gives you the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and see exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind.
  • Doubling Our Impact, and Doubling Your Donations

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    Your donation will help support REEF's important marine conservation programs, including the Grouper Moon Project.

    Earlier this month, on World Oceans Day, we kicked off REEF's Summer Fundraising Campaign with a goal of raising $60,000 by July 31. Thanks to the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, who has generously offered to match your donations, we are over one-third of the way to our goal with $10,345 donated and matched so far. To all of our members who have already donated, we extend our sincere gratitude. If you haven't yet had a chance, please contribute today. You can double your donation in the upcoming month by contributing online, https://www.REEF.org/contribute, through our secure web form. Or you can print the donation form and mail or fax your donation, or call our staff at REEF headquarters (305-852-0030).

    Your donation will help support REEF services, which are increasingly in high demand. As the lionfish invasion continues to grow, so does our research and response. Legislation to ensure long-term protections of Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations are set to expire in 2011. And after the devastation in the Gulf, REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Program data can be invaluable in evaluating the impact of the oil spill to fish populations. Twenty years of support from members like you has made it possible for REEF to build and maintain this valuable history of fish populations throughout our program regions. We could not do this vitally important work without you. We are doubling our efforts now, and we hope you will double your contribution this summer.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight

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    REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 40,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

    This month we highlight Pam Wade (member since 1998). Pam lives in California and has 381 REEF surveys under her belt as a level 4 surveyor. Through REEF, Pam’s interest in fishwatching has encouraged her not only to dive more, but to explore the world’s oceans in other regions. Earlier this month, Pam was on a REEF Field Survey in the Sea of Cortez with REEF scientists, Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens. Here’s what Pam had to say about diving with REEF:

    What is your favorite thing about being a REEF member?

    When you join REEF you have the opportunity to do more than just send in a donation and get a beautiful calendar. You actually get to be an active participant in fulfilling the mission of conserving marine ecosystems. I love feeling that my dives have a purpose. You don't have to change the way you dive, the only difference is that you know what you are looking at, you see a lot more and the enthusiasm transfers to everyone you dive with. Pretty soon, everyone wants to know the names of the fish and everyone is learning and appreciating and protecting the treasure we have under the sea!

    What was your experience with REEF trips?

    The very first trip I signed up for was a REEF Discovery trip to Bonaire with Paul Humann in July 2001. Those classes gave me a good foundation in fish identification: what to look for, where to look, fish anatomy and the identification clues that really matter. Paul pointing out a Yellow Tube Sponge, said you can always add one more fish to your survey; those sponges are home to the Short Striped Goby! I met Ann B. from Arkansas on that trip, and I’ve been following Ann across the oceans identifying fish and invertebrates ever since. In August 2008, I participated in the REEF Critter trip to Saint Vincent with Paul and Ned. That’s where I passed the level 3 test. Bill Twees was invaluable in his help pointing out the Black Brotula, Sunshine Fish, Flag Fin Blenny…..I’m looking forward to diving Saba with REEF in 2011!

    Do you have any surveying tips to pass along to other REEF surveyors?

    Lately I have been working on ways to more efficiently record my survey information on my slate to ensure that it’s complete and ready to enter on the computer when I get home. As part of this, I’ve been using the various tools and reports available on the REEF website, including the Geographic Zone Reports for the specific area that I am going to dive and the Geographic Zone Code lists with site names. This gives me more time between dives to enjoy getting to know the other divers and identifying fish for everyone else onboard. The enthusiasm is catching! Why else would a dedicated photographer on the Sea Hunter at the Cocos Islands be excited enough about capturing a Cocos Barnacle Blenny feeding that they missed the whale shark passing overhead?

    2012 REEF Field Survey Schedule - Take a Dive Trip That Counts

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    We are pleased to announce the 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. 2012 destinations include: Nevis, San Blas Islands in Panama, Dominica, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel. Dates and details are given below.

    To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Prices listed below are double occupancy; single occupancy are available on some trips. An additional REEF Fee ($200-$300) is added to each package to cover survey materials, seminars, and the trip leader. Airfare is not included in any of the REEF packages. However, Caradonna is happy to price airfare from your preferred departure airport. Please call for quotes.

    The schedule and additional information will be posted on the Field Survey Trips page - http://www.reef.org/trips


    REEF 2012 Field Survey Trip Schedule
    April 21-28, 2012 - Nevis - Oualie Beach Resort. Led by Christy Semmens, REEF Director of Science. Flying in/out of St. Kitts. $1,558 per person, double occupancy, includes all meals, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives, and r/t boat transfer from St. Kitts to Nevis. This will be our first Field Survey to Nevis, an area with very little REEF data. It is also an ideal destination for non-diving companions.

    June 9-16, 2012 - San Blas Islands, Panama - Coral Lodge (rescheduled from January), led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author. Flying in/out of Panama City. $2,417 per person, double occupancy, includes 7 nights accommodation in an over-the-water bungalow, all meals, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives, and r/t airport transfers. Limited to 12 divers.

    June 16-23, 201 - San Blas Islands, Panama - Coral Lodge (second week added), led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author. Flying in/out of Panama City. $2,417 per person, double occupancy, includes 7 nights accommodation in an over-the-water bungalow, all meals, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives, and r/t airport transfers. Limited to 12 divers. Join Paul on one or both weeks of this unique trip for a week in remote islands that are home to the Kuna Indians, beautiful coral reefs, and a great diversity of fishes.

    July 14-21, 2012 - Lionfish workshop in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects. Team members will conduct surveys and dissect lionfish for research being conducted by REEF and local and international partners. **trip information and cost are still being finalized, details will be posted to the REEF website shortly. Lionfish are just starting to arrive in Dominica and data are needed to establish baselines and determine impacts.

    July 29 - August 4, 2012 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author. $1,462 per person, double occupancy, includes lodging, all meals, 5 days of 3-tank boat dives plus one night dive, and an island tour of this historic location. This beautiful destination is perfect for beginner fishwatchers as well as REEF experts.

    September 22-29, 2012 -  Northern Sea of Cortez - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Brice and Christy Semmens, REEF Scientific Advisors and researchers. Flying in/out of Phoenix, AZ. $2,295 per person, double occupancy, includes on-board accommodations, all meals, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, and up to 5 dives per day for 5 days. R/T airport transfers by group van is arranged separately. Brice and Christy are returning to Baja Mexico after a wonderful trip aboard the Rocio del Mar in 2010. In addition to great diving, we will be treated to amazing topside scenery, whales and dolphins breaching around us while in transit, and a topnotch crew.

    September 26-30, 2012 - Hornby Island, British Columbia - Hornby Island Diving, led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator.**trip information and cost are still being finalized, details will be posted to the REEF website shortly. Janna will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about Pacific Northwest fishes and invertebrates at this premier cold-water diving destination.

    October 20-27, 2012 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers. **trip information and cost are still being finalized, details will be posted to the REEF website shortly. Ned and Anna will cover fish identification and behavior, and the group will learn more about the local black grouper spawning aggregation and the Sargasso Sea.

    November 10-17, 2012 - British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert Instructor. Flying in/out of Tortola. $2,200 per person, double occupancy, includes six nights of accommodations, all meals and non-alcoholic drinks, unlimited use of kayaks and other water toys, and five days of diving. The Cuan Law is a unique 105ft long, 50ft wide tri-maran that offers a wonderful itinerary of diving through the BVI.

    December 1-8, 2012 - Cozumel - Aqua Safari.**trip information and cost are still being finalized, details will be posted to the REEF website shortly. This annual REEF Trip is always a favorite.

    REEF Trips Planned For Many "Boo"tiful Destinations

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    Happy Halloween! Lionfish jack-o-lantern carved by Lad Akins.

    As part of our 2012 Field Survey trip lineup, REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is leading Lionfish Research trips to Belize and Dominica. If you haven't checked out our 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule - check it out online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting list of destinations planned. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Additional 2012 destinations include: Nevis, San Blas Islands in Panama, San Salvador in the Bahamas, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel. We hope you will join us.

    News Flash Items

    • A great last minute opportunity to join renowned photographer and REEF co-founder, Paul Humann, for a week of fish watching and learning. Two spaces (one cabana) just opened up on each week of his upcoming trip to the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean Sea off Panama, June 9-16 and June 16-23, 2012. You will stay in one of these beautiful over-water bungalows. Grab a space before it's too late. Email or call our friends at Caradonna today. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com. There are also a few spaces left on the following REEF Trips - Dominica Lionfish trip with Lad Akins (July 14-21), San Salvador Bahamas with Paul Humann (July 28-Aug 4), Sea of Cortez with Christy and Brice Semmens (Sept 22-29), Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach (Oct 6-13), British Virgin Islands with Heather George (Nov 11-17). Visit the REEF Trips page to find out more. 
    • Check out the online REEF Store -- we recently added new underwater guide books for the Pacific coast and new wearable REEF gear. 
    • Don't miss the upcoming Fishinars! Ned DeLoach will discuss all you want to know about the sex life of fish May 9th. Other upcoming sessions include Fish ID for California, the Northeast US, West Coast Sculpins, and Caribbean Wrasse. These free sessions are great fishy-fun from the comfort of your own home. No specialized software needed, just an internet connection. 
    • Want to stay updated with all the latest news, pictures, and updates from REEF and our friends? Then become a fan of our REEF Facebook Page. Even if you are not on Facebook, anyone can view the page.

    Upcoming Webinars Include California Fish & Inverts, Caribbean Damsels, and More!

    Not sure which Caribbean damselfish this is? Then attend the "Those Darn Damsels" Fishinar next month! Photo by Paul Humann.

    Our Webinar team is at it again! New Fishinars continue to be added, and upcoming sessions include a California Critters series, plus several on Caribbean fish families (including those pesky Damsels)! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

    California Fish ID Part One and Two - Nov 27, Nov 29

    Caribbean Hit Parade! Top 25 Fish - Dec 6

    Those Darn Damsels! Top 12 of the Greater Caribbean - Jan 17

    California Invertebrate ID Part One and Two - Feb 6, Feb 7

    Hamlets: To Be or Not to Be (Counted, that is) - Feb 12

    Triggers and Files: The ID Tools of the Trade - Mar 21

    Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub