It was a science lesson with a difference, broadcast live from beneath the waves with thousands of endangered fish in attendance. Earlier this month, Grouper Moon Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens from REEF, hosted three live-from-the-field web chats with students from 18 classrooms at 13 schools in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Washington State (US). The first of the three web chats was broadcast from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, and featured scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project. The other two featured Brice diving and answering questions from the students, first on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation and then on the famous Blood Bay Wall. The webcasts are archived online here.
Now in its third year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species.
Brice Semmens, who presented the underwater webcasts, said students were excited to witness science in action. “As they explore the aggregation with me, the immediacy and reality of the experience really touches them. We are giving students their first diving experience – and it happens to be with thousands of huge, endangered reef fish.”
The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef Divers, Cayman Airways, and LIME.
REEF staff co-authored a new publication in the scientific journal PeerJ that features research findings from our Invasive Lionfish Research Program. The paper, titled "Setting the record straight on invasive lionfish control: Culling works", evaluates the effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts. Frequent culling of the invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish throughout the Caribbean has been shown to cause a shift towards more wary and reclusive behavior by lionfish, which has prompted calls for halting culls. The paper addresses those concerns and reviews research conducted by REEF and other efforts. Culling successfully lowers lionfish numbers and has been shown to stabilize or even reverse declines in native prey fish. Partial culling is often as effective as complete local eradication, yet requires significantly less time and effort. Abandoning culling altogether would therefore be seriously misguided and a hindrance to conservation. The authors also offer suggestions for how to design removal programs that minimize behavioural changes and maximize culling success. The paper is available for online viewing here. You can find a complete listing of all publications that feature REEF's programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.
If you haven't participated in one of our free, educational webinars yet, you don't know what you are missing! Known as Fishinars, these hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. We recently added a new Fishinar scheduled for March 26th that will cover common fishes and invertebrates found in San Diego's La Jolla Canyon. The remaining schedule includes...
Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! You can also request viewings of archived Fishinars, a special perk for REEF members. No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!
In late June, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) hosted the first ever Citizen Science Toolkit Conference in Ithaca, New York. Widely known for projects like FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the CLO is a pioneer in bringing people closer to nature through cooperative research, cutting edge technology and innovative science programs across many natural science fields. Leda Cunningham and Dr. Christy Semmens represented REEF at the 3-day meeting, where fifty leaders of citizen science organizations around the world – from worm watchers to bird counters to star gazers – came together to build a toolkit for citizen science practitioners and others seeking to engage volunteers in meaningful science activities.
There is some debate about what citizen science is, not to mention what it does. Many participants noted that “volunteer monitoring” more accurately captures the nature of their programs (much like the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project) while others thought that volunteers fill more of a role than just data collectors and should be involved in all parts of the scientific process, beginning with posing the research question. The group periodically split into five focus groups and reconvened at the end to present a model based on each group’s focus area: Education, Evaluation and Impact, Community Building, Technology and Cyberinfrastructure, and Research and Monitoring. The resulting Toolkit will include resources, recommendations, and case studies from each of these areas, as well as a key to existing citizen science programs. Christy participated in a panel on the impacts of citizen science and presented examples of how REEF data are used by resource agencies and scientists. She presented details of how REEF volunteers helped identify a hotspot of non-native fishes along the south Florida coast and the resulting management actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the important role that REEF data can play as a fisheries-independent source of data for the development of stock assessments and fisheries management plans, the discovery of new species by several REEF members, and the value of using our most experienced divers (the Advanced Assessment Team) to conduct annual monitoring of selected sites inside and around no-take marine reserves.
REEF was proud to contribute its fourteen years of experience building the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the group discussion. Many citizen science organizations deal with the same issues of volunteer recruitment, recognition and retention, engaging the “real” science community, standardizing data collection methods and measuring success. REEF has addressed many of these issues with innovative strategies that may be adopted by other citizen science initiatives: engaging the private retail sector (dive shops) to recruit volunteers within a target audience (scuba divers and snorkelers), developing strong partnerships with science and resource management agencies (such as university-based researchers and the National Marine Sanctuary Program), 5-level expertise testing (in fish identification) to assist with quality control, a published standardized data collection method and the Advanced Assessment Team as an incentive for volunteers to become more proficient surveyors and a measuring stick for training programs.
For more information on the conference or Citizen Science Central, the CLO’s initiative to provide information for practitioners and volunteers, click here. Look for the Citizen Science Toolkit, a robust and practical framework for citizen science program development, implementation, and evaluation, in the fall 2007.
Here are a few notes and news bits we'd like you to know about:
Four spots recently opened on our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II, April 19-26, 2008. This is a wonderful opportunity for new and experienced REEF surveyors to spend a week diving in one of the jewels of the Caribbean. You can take advantage of our live-aboard accomodations and make up to 5 dives per day at all the best sites these islands have to offer.
There are quite a few expert surveyors on this trip, so if you're a beginning surveyor, you'll have plenty of mentorship and you could even work toward becoming an expert by the end of the week. For our experts, there are many cryptic species to challenge us on our surveys. We will have a number of REEF Fish ID classes and time to catch participants up on the many exciting upcoming REEF projects worldwide for 2008.
To reserve your spot - please call Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030, ext. 3 or Tami Gardner at Travel for You, 1-888-363-3345, For more information about the trip, please visit our Field Survey page atField Survey page Hope you can join us!
In response to the growing threat of lionfish in the Atlantic and the need for coordinated planning, REEF, NOAA and the USGS are hosting a technical workshop on Non-native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida in the Florida Keys June 18 and 19. The workshop, jointly funded through a recent Mote Marine Laboratory’s Protect Our Reefs grant, NOAA’s Exotic Species and National Marine Sanctuary Programs and the Gulf and Atlantic States Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species,will bring together personnel from more than 18 different agencies and organizations. Plans for the workshop include presentations by State and Federal agencies, breakout groups and round table discussions that will focus on disseminating the most current information, and drafting a coordinated plan of early detection, notification, and rapid response.
Lionfish have been recorded in large numbers from North Carolina through the Bahamas and are rapidly expanding into the Caribbean. Fortunately, the fish have not yet shown up in the southeast Florida reef tract including Biscayne National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas National Park and Ecological Reserves. This planning workshop will endeavor to put in place mechanisms to help minimize lionfish impact in these treasured marine protected areas. While lionfish are the “poster fish” of invasive species, the protocols developed in this workshop will be widely applicable for sightings of other non-native marine fish as well, with the goal of preventing future invasions by other species.
REEF will continue to host training and planning workshops, as funding allows, to help downstream countries plan for the arrival of lionfish. Efforts to control populations and minimize impactswill be highlighted as research answers key questions and we are able to develop control methods. To find out more about REEF's Exotic Species Program, contact Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects.
- Limited Edition Lionfish Print by Rogest! REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), has offered a limited edition version of his lionfish print as a vehicle to focus attention on the huge problem of invading Pacific Lionfish in Caribbean and Atlantic Waters. Limited Edition, 200 prints available. Only $25. 100% of the proceeds to benefit the REEF Lionfish Research Program. Buy yours through the online REEF store today.
- REEF's Lionfish Research Project continues to be widely covered by the media. Some of the recent coverage includes National Geographic and The Nature Conservancy's Magazine. Check out the Lionfish Media page for a complete list and links.
- There are still a few spaces left on the second Cozumel trip, December 13-18.
Needed -- a few more volunteers for this critical marine conservation project in Belize! Peter Hughes and REEF’s Lad Akins will lead this great project aboard the livaboard dive vessel Sun Dancer II, June 13-20. I am sure that most of you have been following the news about the lionfish invasion and the recent updates on fish beginning to show up in Belize. We are really concerned about this. The Central American coast is going to be the most likely pathway for introduction of the fish into the Gulf of Mexico and the extremely valuable fish and shrimp industry there.
What can we do? One of the first things that can be done is early detection and rapid response to remove these fish as they show up. To that end Peter Hughes Diving has worked with REEF to organize the first lionfish assessment and removal project in Belize (or anywhere in Central America for that matter!). This is going to be a great first effort on detecting fish, removing what we see and training local staff on how to collect and handle the fish so they can remove them year-round.
What do we need? We need more of you! We need your interest, expertise and involvement to make this project a success. We know that times are tight and there is concern over travel to some areas, but this project is not to be missed. We will be offshore on the Sun Dancer II, one of the most highly regarded liveaboards in the region. First class service, first class diving and a very important mission!
We hope you can make this project! For more information and to sign up, call Peter Hughes Diving at 1-800 9 DANCER (800-932-6237). You can also contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, with any of your lionfish questions and to find out more about this trip (firstname.lastname@example.org, 305-852-0030).
We look forward to seeing you there!
Active REEF surveyor, Mike Bear, and other San Diego area divers started noticing something unexpected earlier this year -- increasing numbers of encounters with the Bluntnose Sevengill Shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark. Knowing first hand the impact that divers and snorkelers can have as citizen scientists, Mike set up a website - http://sevengillsharksightings.org -- to serve as a central repository for photographic, videographic and written data on these magnificent creatures. Submissions on the site will allow REEF surveyors who are lucky enough to encounter this prehistoric species to provide additional information and images beyond the sighting and abundance information recorded as part of their REEF survey. It will also enable divers who were not doing a REEF survey to report their encounter. One of the most interesting parts of the website will be the development of an informal photographic database of Sevengill sightings that will facilitate the comparison of photographs and the potential identification of individual sharks using the unique pattern of dark "freckles" on the backs of each shark, similar to the patterns seen on whale sharks. To date, six REEF surveys in San Diego have reported a Sevengill (click here to see the sightings report).