In the summer of 2014, recreational divers in Florida and the Bahamas will once again assemble teams, scout out hundreds of sites, sharpen their spears, ready their nets, and hone their collecting skills to prepare for another REEF summer lionfish derby series. Six years ago, REEF began hosting lionfish derbies throughout Florida and the Caribbean to address the lionfish invasion. Not only do these events significantly reduce lionfish numbers, they also increase awareness, provide samples for research, train divers in safe removal techniques, and help develop the market for lionfish as a food fish. Teams will compete for cash prizes for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. Hopes are high for this summer derby series, as divers removed 2,790 lionfish in these single day events in 2013. To register or learn more, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies. 2014 derby dates and locations are: June 28 - Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas; July 19 - Fort Lauderdale, FL; August 16 - Palm Beach County, FL; September 13 - Key Largo, FL.
This past summer, REEF completed its 5-year monitoring and assessment of the ex-Navy Landing Ship Dock, U.S.S. Spiegel Grove, intentionally deployed in 130' deep water as an artificial reef off Key Largo in June of 2002. At the time of its sinking, the Spiegel, at 510' in length, was the largest vessel intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. More recently, REEF completed its final report on the data collected, largely through members' efforts in the water these last few years, so a multus gratia (big thank you) from all of us at REEF to those of you who participated on the Advanced Assessment Team monitoring of the Spiegel. This was every bit your project as much as ours. I am asked quite often in the field how REEF surveyor efforts contribute to science, conservation, and education so I want to share with you some of our findings as the Spiegel assessment serves as a great example of the power of concerned and active citizen scientists to effect positive changes in our communities. For a full viewing of our final report, please visit our website at 5 Year Spiegel Grove Monitoring .
Before I highlight a few of our findings, let's go over what our methods were for conducting our Spiegel assessment. Surveys were conducted using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT), a non-point visual survey method that serves as the mainstay for most REEF efforts in the water. The purpose of this method is to gather a comprehensive species list with sighting frequency and relative abundance estimates, for fish species only in the case of this study. Staff and REEF volunteers all had to be members of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) for REEF (learn more about how to become an AAT member http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat). Each monitoring event consisted of 4 days of two-tank monitoring dives at the Spiegel Grove and 7 surrounding reference sites.
The overall objective of the study was to assess any changes in fish community structure over time with the addition of the newly deployed artificial reef, changes not just to the Spiegel site, but changes to the surrounding natural reef sites as well. A central biological question as to the merits of vessel type artificial reef deployments is whether or not they add fish species in terms of both numbers of fish (biomass) and numbers of fish species (biodiversity) to the artificial reef and the surrounding natural reef sites. In other words, in the Field of Dreams metaphor, if you build it will they come and where will they come from? Ultimately, resource managers and other stakeholders hope that the addition of the artificial reef adds fish not only to the targeted site, but seeds surrounding reefs with the reproductive output from the resident fish population. The scale of these questions cannot be adequately addressed in a 5-year pilot study such as the one REEF just completed and that was not our charge but it is important to understand the concept behind sinking ships as artificial reefs. And we should commend Monroe County, the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF), and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) for funding this initial pilot study. A second socioeconomic question not addressed in REEF's work asks the important question of how much SCUBA diving pressure is decreased on natural reefs by the addition of a top recreational dive site such as the Spiegel and how much additional tourist revenue is gained? Finding answers to both the biological and economic questions above are critical in providing guidance for future marine resource management decisions on whether or not to deploy artificial reefs of this type and when and where the sinking of these large retired vessels is appropriate.
Okay, some quick highlights but again for the full report, please visit our website. Over the 5-year study, REEF conducted 76 RDT surveys on the Spiegel itself and another 445 survey dives on the surrounding 7 reference sites. 191 fish species were documented on the Spiegel Grove for all surveys combined. 46 species of fish were observed on the Spiegel just one month after deployment with the average number of species climbing to 76 per monitoring event thereafter. Approximately 3 years after deployment (Aug 2005), persistence in species composition at the Spiegel Grove site through time had increased to levels closer to those of the surrounding reefs. Striped grunts and Tomtates were immediate arrivals on the newly deployed site. Currently, 5 years post deployment, fish species composition on the Spiegel site is more akin to what you would expect on a deeper reef site including schools of Blackfin Snapper, Creole Wrasses, Bluehead Wrasses, Purple Reeffish, Sunshinefish, Bluerunners, Yellowtail Reeffish, Greenblotch Parrotfish, Tomtates, Spotfin Hogfish, Yellowmouth Grouper, Black Grouper, and the Federally protected Golilath Grouper (for a complete list of species sighted and statistical comparisons between study sites take a peak at the report). Blackcap and Fairy Basslets rarely occur in the Keys but interestingly, on several occasions, both have been surveyed on the Spiegel, most notably after hurricane storm surges from offshore. Of course, the Spiegel originally sunk on its starboard side was righted during Hurricane Dennis in July of 2005, confounding results of our survey shortly thereafter. And large, deeply sunk vessels such as this one certainly offer numerous hiding places to groupers in particular, making full visual assessments difficult. We have included in our report suggestions for future studies as well.
REEF would like to thank Mike Ryan of Horizon Divers for supplying important anectodal information about the Spiegel. He was one of the first divers on the newly deployed vessel and has logged more than 240 dives on site since then, meticulously recording fish and invertebrate sightings in the true naturalist vein. Also, REEF thanks Quiesscence Divers and Horizon Divers and Scott Fowler for providing boat and logistical support for all of our diving efforts over the past 5 years. This spring (2008), the Hoyt Vandenberg is scheduled for deployment a few miles off the coast of Key West. REEF will be leading the monitoring efforts over a similar 5-year time period and we'll keep you posted on our efforts. Two suggested readings are referenced in our report, one by Arena et al (2007) and the other by Leeworthy et al (2006) assessing biological and economic impacts of artificial reefs, respectively.
Happy Holidays everyone and if you are visiting Key Largo next year, visit the wreck and see for yourself how things are coming along.
REEF recently completed our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II on Saturday, April 26. We had a tremendous effort by a stellar group of 20 REEF surveyors. Although we have not yet processed the data, I can give a few hints at what we saw during the week-long trip.
Overall, the group surveyed at least 213 fish species over 12 dive sites and 26 survey dives, 5 dives on most days. We surveyed many habitat types including hard and soft coral areas, patch reefs and grass beds but most of our efforts were concentrated along the famed walls along the islands. Some notable fish sightings included: Black snapper (Apsilus dentatus), Golden hamlet (Hypoplectrus gummigutta), Dwarf blenny (Starksia nanodes), Papillose blenny (Acanthemblemaria chaplini), Cardinal soldierfish (Plectrypops retrospinis), Lofty triplefin (Enneanectes altivelis), Almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana), Fringed filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus), Wall goby (Gobiosoma pallens), Black brotula (Stygnobrotula latebricola), Goldline blenny (Malacoctenus aurolineatus), and Punk blenny (Acanthemblemaria sp). We surveyed some large schools of Horse-Eye jacks and saw a number of Caribbean reef sharks. We also had two confirmed Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) sightings (see picture with article). Unfortunately, if there are two Lionfish surveyed, there are undoubtedly many more in the Turks and Caicos islands already.
We had a seasoned group of REEF members, many of whom had been on numbers of past survey trips and 60% of the group participants were expert surveyors. Consequently, our efforts were rewarded with lots of cryptic species sightings such as the ones listed above. The hospitality of the Aggressor crew was superb, gracious, and quite professional. One of the nice things about a live-aboard field survey is the camaraderie that develops between members who share a number of traits such as a love of diving, conservation-minded attitude towards our marine resources, a desire to make positive changes to said resources, and a general fish geekiness for lack of a better term, that rears it's head from time to time in visceral debates about whether someone really saw a Wall goby or not.
Fortunately for us, many members brought their cameras and we were able to verify most unusual sightings with pictures. The learning curve is leveled while on live-aboard with everyone sharing diving/surveying tips and helping each other find and verify common and rare sightings alike.
I would like to congratulate several participants on reaching new experience levels during the week: Barbara Anderson, Marty Levy, Larry Draper, and Kayla Serote all tested into level 5 surveyors. Suzanne Rose, Marie Robbins, and Kay Tiddmann are all new level 3 surveyors. Jerry Dickman is our newest level 2 surveyor. Congratulations to all the participants for a great survey effort for the week and all the good spirit shared. Also, thanks James Brook and Kristi Draper for taking Kay Tidemann under their wings and teaching her during the week, she was our most improved surveyor as a result and her enthusiasm spilled over to the group. I hope to see many of you in the water on surveys later this year. I am currently planning our 2009 Field Survey schedule and will have more details on that in our next Enews edition in May. There are still spaces available on two Field Survey trips for 2008, Paul Humann's Discovery Tour in Key Largo (June 21-28) and the Sea of Cortez with Don Jose (Oct 5-12). If interested in either of these trips, please contact Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030 for the Discovery Tour and Jeanne at Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 for the Sea of Cortez trip.
REEF staff recently returned from the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where nearly 3,000 scientists, conservationists, and government officials met to compare notes, network and identify problems and solutions for the ocean's most delicate ecosystem. This is the keystone scientific meeting on coral reef science. REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, gave a talk on the science and management applications of the REEF database and presented a research poster on the same topic. REEF Director of Field Operations, Joe Cavanaugh, presented a research poster on the 5-year monitoring project of the Wellwood Restoration Project in the Florida Keys. Additionally, REEF data were included in several talks and research posters by other scientists, including an analyses of Conch Reef status and trends by Dr. Steve Gittings, an evaluation of fish resources in Biscayne Bay by Dr. Todd Kellison, and the effect artisanal fisheries in developing nations have on predatory fishes by Dr. Chris Stallings. The Lionfish invasion was also a hot topic and REEF collaborators from Simon Fraser University presented a research poster on the effect of lionfish on cleanerfish in the Bahamas. Dr. Brice Semmens presented results from the Grouper Moon Project and how results from this cutting edge research being conducted by REEF and our collaborators can be used to inform marine reserve planning and evaluation.
REEF also participated in the ICRS Education Center. REEF staff and interns hosted an exhibit booth, which was a great success in spreading the word about REEF and our important conservation programs. The Grouper Moon Project was featured in the Solutions portion of the "Our Reefs: Caribbean Connections" traveling exhibit and the Grouper Moon documentary film was shown in the Coral Theater. Participating in scientific conferences such as ICRS is an important part of REEF's overall strategy of linking the diving community with scientists and resource managers.
REEF proudly awards our 2008 Volunteer of the Year award to Sheryl Shea, a dedicated REEF surveyor, teacher and ambassador. Sheryl became a REEF member in the very early days of the organization and has consistently been one of our most active surveyors. Her first survey was conducted in 1994 and to date Sheryl has conducted 954 REEF surveys. Sheryl became a member of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) in 1999 and her lifelist contains 351 fish species. After moving to Cozumel from Buffalo, NY, Sheryl facilitated REEF training programs for the Cozumel Marine Park and started leading an annual REEF Field Survey on the island in 2005. This popular REEF trip sells out every year. Sheryl has participated in several AAT projects including monitoring in the Florida Keys, the Grouper Moon Project and helped initiate REEF’s survey program in the Veracruz Marine Park.
Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 12,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.
The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Sheryl and congratulate her on all of her efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation. Cheers to our Volunteer of the Year!
REEF Field Surveys are not just another dive vacation. These eco-trips offer divers and snorkelers the chance to really get to know the critters that are seen underwater. In mid-July Paul Humann lead a Field Survey trip to the fairly remote group of Caribbean Islands in Grenada and the Grenadines and the participants were rewarded with many exciting finds. The group was a mixture of expert, intermediate and beginning REEF fish surveyors, and it was a great opportunity for everyone to learn and have fun. The evening classes and general discussions led everyone to improve their identifications skills. During the week, Blue McRight took and passed the Expert Level exam - Congratulations Blue!
Beyond having fun and learning, the objectives of this trip were two-fold: build up the fish survey data for this remote area and document possible species range expansions. Because of the islands’ proximity to South America, the group was especially interested in learning if any species thought to exist only along that continental coast would be found on these islands to the north. On the first night, Paul gave a presentation about species of fish to be on the look out for. The results were amazing. First and foremost - the Longspine Sailfin Blenny and Resh Pikeblenny, never recorded outside Venezuelan waters before were found! Sighting confirmations of the Giraffe Garden Eel, Veija, Red Banner Blenny, Bluebar Jawfish, Corocoro and Bluestripe Dartfish, rarely in waters north of Venezuela or Tobago were important as well. Also recorded were the very rarely spotted Spiny Flounder, African Pompano, Unicorn Filefish and Snapper Snake Eel. A total count of 261 species is nearly a REEF Field Survey record! And the group conducted 221 surveys during the week. To see the project summary and fish list, check out the REEF database. Paul, REEF and the fish thank everyone involved for making this such a successful Survey Trip. A special thanks goes to Jill Ericsson for taking charge of the survey forms.
Be sure to check out the exciting line-up of destinations for the 2010 REEF Field Survey Schedule. Come join us and make a dive vacation that Counts!
Last week, we kicked off the 2010 REEF Field Survey season with a spectacular trip to Dominica. Eight REEF members (and two non-diving spouses) headed out for 5 days of excellent dives with many wonderful discoveries along the way. Highlights included a glut of Secretary Blennies, Arrow Blennies and Lofty Triplefins along with Cherubfish, Longlure Frogfish, Longsnout Seahorses, Shortnose Batfish, a Reef Scorpionfish (see picture), most of the Hamlets and a Black Brotula found by yours truly and witnessed by James Brooke and trip leader Heather George. Another thrilling highlight was watching a pair of Barred Hamlets spawning during our dusk dive - the final dive of the trip. Congratulations go out to our new level 3 surveyors, Amy Kramer and Chris Ostrom, and a new level 2 surveyor, Kirsten Ostrom. Both topside and below, the crew at Dive Dominica was very enthusiastic. Not only were they very interested in REEF’s mission and pointing out the best fish and creatures, but also helped us coordinate daily travel and restaurant jaunts. Roseau, Dominica’s capital, has that small town feel, very friendly and accommodating to us, and everyone knows each other. On our “off-gas’ day, many of us explored the inner island, climbing up to Trafalgar Falls where three freshwater fish were discovered; a freshwater Grunt, Goby and Suckerfish. We also ventured up the beautiful Titou Gorge. Dominica is a truly beautiful island with fantastic views, great diving and some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean - an island not to be missed.
REEF Field Surveys are week-long dive trips coordinated by REEF and led by experienced staff, Board members, and instructors. These "Trips that Count" are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Check out the 2010 schedule here and reserve your space today!
REEF is excited to announce the revival of the Marine Conservation Internship Program at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida. The internship program was an important part of REEF's early history, with many past interns going on to have great careers in the field. Some have even spent time as REEF staff. The program was temporarily suspended a few years ago due to a lack of infrastructure. Thankfully, we have been able to bring the program back, providing significant benefits to both REEF and those who complete the program. Alecia Adamson, REEF Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator (and past REEF intern herself!), is in charge of overseeing the internship program and is pleased that REEF is once again able to offer the opportunity to college students and recent graduates.
Over the summer, Zachary Bamman, from University of Central Florida, assisted REEF with both the Great Annual Fish Count and lionfish reporting, research, and control. He was a great help during a very busy time for REEF. Zachary is now finishing a degree in Environmental Sciences and was able to obtain credit hours for an independent research project he conducted examining invertebrate vs. fish prey items in Florida Keys lionfish. REEF is pleased to welcome new interns Nicole Fabian and Stephanie Dreaver for the Fall semester. Both arrived to REEF Headquarters in September. Nicole graduated with a B.S. in Zoology-Marine Biology from Michigan State University in May. She went diving for the first time in 2000 on a trip to Grand Cayman and has since been hooked. Although she grew up in Michigan most of her diving has been in the Caribbean and has since received her Master Diver certification. She plans to pursue graduate level education in Marine Biology in the next coming year. Stephanie Dreaver graduated this past August from West Virginia University with a degree in Biology and she is very interested in the Marine Biology field. She has had an interest in diving and snorkeling ever since a family vacation to Hawaii 8 years ago. Her family relocated to Key Largo the next year and she has become familiar with Florida marine systems through firsthand experience. She obtained her open water certification 5 years ago and she has now reached Rescue Diver certification. She plans to continue her education next fall and pursue a Masters in Marine Biology.
If you or someone you know is interested in applying to be a future REEF Intern, visit the application page -- http://www.reef.org/about/internships/application.
Winter full moons mean that it's grouper spawning time! Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. We estimate that between 5,000 and 7,000 Nassau grouper come to the site to spawn. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Program, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. In 2003, the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands (both current and historic). This ban expires later this year and new legislation is being developed. We are rapidly compiling the results of our research, which will provide the Cayman Islands government guidance on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.
Earlier this month, we had a small team in the field- Dr. Selina Heppell (OSU researcher), Stephanie Archer (OSU graduate student), and Brenda Hitt (long-time REEF Grouper Moon volunteer). They witnessed spawning on two nights following the January full moon. We expect February to be the "main" spawning month (based on past research, we know it has to do with when the full moon is in relation to the winter solstice). A much larger team of researchers and volunteers will be on the island to conduct a full suite of research projects. We will also be producing several outreach products aimed at promoting the management and conservation of these spawning aggregations. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting and important marine conservation research. In the mean time, to find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. To see video of the aggregation during the day, check out this video on YouTube taken last year. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.