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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
As we announced in the last edition of REEF-in-Brief, the REEF website recently underwent construction. To get the most out of the new REEF.org, REEF members need to become registered users. Registration is easy: with your REEF member number handy, click here to register. If you have misplaced your REEF member number, click here to look it up. If you are not yet a REEF member, joining is free and easy: please click here to join.
Here are a few of the new features on REEF.org.
We hope that the new REEF.org makes it easier and more enjoyable for you to participate in Diving That Counts! Feel free to contact us if you have comments, suggestions, or if you encounter a problem with any of the new features.
On April 12, REEF attended a Middle Keys Earth Day celebration at Bahia Honda State Park. It was a lovely day, albeit unseasonably hot! Several organizations had booths in attendance as well, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Dolphin Research Center, Reef Relief, the Turtle Hospital, and many others. In addition to the usual face painting and music associated with Earth Day, REEF had many visitors to our booth inquiring about who we are and how they could get involved. REEF recently stepped up our efforts to increase awareness of our organization within the Florida Keys community.
As many of you know, Key Largo is where REEF got started in the early 90's and many of our Advanced Assessment Team projects focus on local marine resources, such as FKNMS, Biscayne National Park, and the Dry Tortugas National Park. Most recently, REEF teamed with local stakeholders to create a rapid response team for the possible arrival of invasive lionfish species which many predict could be anytime, given the robust resident population of lionfish in the Bahamas and increasingly elsewhere in the Caribbean.
For those of you who are new to REEF, you can see where REEF surveys by visiting our website http://www.reef.org/about/faq. Essentially, REEF members survey areas covering the tropical western Atlantic from Brasil to Florida and along the eastern seaboard through the northeastern U.S. and Canada, the Pacific coast of Canada and California southward through the tropical eastern Pacific down to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, and in the not-too-distant future, American Samoa.
REEF has a new volunteer helping us in the office and who helped staff the REEF booth, Laura Aichinger Dias. Laura came to us a couple of months ago inquiring about opportunities at REEF. Since then, she has been conducting survey dives and honing her fish identification skills. She is already accomplished in her own right, receiving her Master of Science from Florida Atlantic University. Her thesis focused on dolphin population dynamics in Sepetiba Bay in Brasil, where she is from originally. Laura will help REEF with projects this spring and hopes to become part of our Advanced Assessment Team by the end of the summer so she can participate in future projects. For more information on becoming an Advanced Assessment Team member, please review the requirements at http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat AAT members are utilized in most of our monitoring and assessment contracts with government and non-government agencies. Essentially, REEF members take fish ID classes and pass qualification quizzes in tandem with gaining a prerequisite number of survey dives, all leading to membership in the AAT. The ultimate reward is that once you are placed on the AAT list-serve you will be emailed opportunities to participate in projects oftentimes where the diving is paid for by the sponsoring agency. You also will gain increased fish ID acumen by diving with other AAT members and learning to find and identify the really small and cryptic species. For more information beyond the website, please email Joe Cavanaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org or our Director of Science, Christy Semmens at email@example.com.
Nassau, Bahamas - July 30, 2008 -- Up early this morning and readying for another big day on the lionfish front. As part of an Associated Press story on the lionfish, I am joined by Andy Dehart and Lisa Mitchell here in Nassau to shoot footage of our lionfish work and do interviews for an AP television segment. We'll be live collecting fish, tagging a few and talking about the current research being conducted by REEF, NOAA, Simon Fraser University and Oregon State University - research showing that the lionfish appear to be having severe impacts on our native fish populations. To summarize, stomach contents show over 50 species of prey items including fish and invertebrates; lionfish are eating the prey faster than they can naturally recover and they can reduce recruitment of juveniles to reefs by 80%! It is a scary picture.
While the research efforts are being conducted to better understand lionfish and their impacts, REEF is also leading the way in working on control. Our recent workshop in Florida paved the way for early detection/rapid response in South Florida and will serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean. Tagging studies, removal (culling) efforts, activity and movement documentation, trap design and other control measures are being implemented to direct our efforts both in the US and Bahamas where the fish are established as well as in downstream countries in the path of the invasion. REEF's next project will take place September 14-20 at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with a few spaces left. (Call Pam Christman at 800-879-9832 to participate).
If you see a lionfish, or any other non-native fish, please be sure to report your sightings to the REEF website.
In addition to using your sightings to direct research and rapid response on non-native species in coastal areas, REEF provides data to our partners at the US Geological Survey (USGS). REEF recently contributed a significant number of records to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. These records included information submitted by volunteers through the REEF Exotic Species Sighting Program, and included 311 records of lionfish sightings from approximately 160 sites along the US East Coast, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as information on 29 other fish species from 54 locations (mostly in South Florida). Approximately half of the species were new records for the USGS NAS database. The lionfish data contributed to the generation of an on-line display of current lionfish distribution.
If you have questions about the lionfish or other non-native species, feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail. We are also looking for funding for these critically important programs and any ideas or contributions are welcome. Look for the AP coverage early next week!