Counting Fish on the Spike in Jacksonville

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Happy REEF surveyors after conducting GAFC surveys in Jacksonville.
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Polka-dot Batfish are one of the interesting critters found around the Spike. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Thirty miles offshore, in 100 feet of water, the Spike isn’t the most accessible dive site off North Florida’s coast but July 17th marked the first anniversary of the former Coast Guard tender’s deployment as an artificial reef so we were eager to see what had changed over the past year. The Spike had only been down 10 days when we surveyed it during last year’s Great Annual Fish Count. We weren’t expecting much then – the chance to dive a freshly minted reef was the main attraction, but it was interesting that it had already attracted a small crowd of nervous bottom fish, including the usual Black Sea Bass and Vermillion Snappers.

It was a very different site one year later. A large school of nosy barracudas followed the first diver down the line, clearing the way for hundreds of Atlantic Spadefish to move in and escort the rest of our group down. The Spike was surrounded by silversides that fled en masse as we moved through them, then streaked back to the structure for protection when gangs of Great Amberjack attacked. It’s difficult to describe the sound made by thousands of fleeing fish, but they are noisy. The superstructure is now covered with invertebrates – barnacles, tunicates, sponges, and anemones – that provide shelter and food for hundreds of tiny seaweed blennies. Jacksonville’s ubiquitous grunt, the Tomtate, was there in every phase from juvenile to adult. The Black Sea Bass and Vermillion snappers are now settled in under the bow with a group of small Red Snappers and waddling around in the sand was one of my favorites, a Polka-dot batfish! A year ago, I counted 6 species of fish. This year I counted 16 species.

Our group also dived the Gator Bowl Press Boxes, an artificial reef created years ago when the city’s stadium was renovated. Although it had about the same amount of biomass as the Spike, there were more species. One of the joys of offshore Jacksonville for fishwatchers is getting to see species like Dwarf Goatfish, Longspine Porgys, Bank Sea Bass and Oyster Toadfish that we see don’t tend to see in more tropical waters. Congratulations to Richard Salkin and T.C. Howe, who conducted their first REEF surveys.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Georgia Arrow

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Georgia (on the far right) and some of her fellow Pacific NW REEF surveyors.
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REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Georgia Arrow (REEF member since 2002). Georgia lives in Portland, Oregon, has conducted 686 REEF surveys in four different regions, and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor in the Pacific. She has the most surveys of anyone in the west coast Pacific region. Here's what Georgia had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

I was unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to get an ear infection during my Open Water certification weekend. I was not allowed to participate in this new and exciting experience for 2 months! I checked at the dive shop and found that there was to be a Fish ID class and immediately signed up thinking it would be a lot more fun to dive if I actually knew what I was looking at-I found this to be true when birdwatching so it made sense that fishwatching would be the same. At that class, I learned about REEF and surveying and I met Janna Nichols, one of my first scuba/fish ID mentors. I wasn’t able to do the dives with the rest of the class because of my ears but when I was healthy, Janna took me on my first surveying dives. It was very exciting to be putting names to all the fish I saw on those dives. The dives were quite memorable for many reasons but knowing the fish and being able to do a survey was certainly one of them. So I have been surveying since my first dive after certification in 2002.

Have you ever been on a REEF Field Survey, and if so where and what was your trip highlight?

I went on the Sea of Cortez Field Survey in 2003. It was a wonderful trip from beginning to end. It was my first experience in warm water! I was in heaven. The divers were fun, the water was amazing, learning warm water fish was overwhelming and exciting. The highlight was diving in the middle of a school of Big Eye Scads - they were just swirling all around us and I was mesmerized.

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

Although I’ve taken several warm water trips, most of my diving is in Puget Sound, a 3 hour drive from my home. I try to get up there 3-4 times and do 8-10 surveys a month. I love the green water, I love the critters we have here from the cute little Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker to the Giant Pacific Octopus. Usually by the time I’m home from a warm water trip I am ready to get back to surveying “my” critters. It’s harder and colder to dive here but that makes it challenging. It’s hard to find some of the critters but that makes it more rewarding when you actually find that elusive fish or nudibranch.

What are some of your most favorite or memorable finds on a survey?

There are so many to choose from it is hard to pick but I have to say the Spotted Ratfish is my favorite fish. I have a Spotted Ratfish tattoo on my shoulder. It is odd-looking but so graceful underwater - it “flies” rather than swims. And it can be as cute as a little puppy dog. One of my best rare sightings is the silver-spotted sculpin.

Take a Dive Trip That Counts

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We are pleased to announce the 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule - check it out online at www.REEF.org/trips. 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, Belize, San Salvador in the Bahamas, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel.

Fishinars Coming To Your Living Room

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Silverspotted sculpin. Photo by Georgia Arrow.

Some call them webinars. We call them Fishinars! These free online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are open to divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers alike. Anyone wanting to know more about underwater life is welcome to join in. Participation is free but you need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. These short (one hour) webinars will teach you the finer points of identifying fish and invertebrates underwater. Upcoming webinars are given below. Visit the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to register for one or more sessions. Also check back often as more sessions are being added. We have also posted archives of past webinars on the Webinar webpage, so if you can't join in live, you can watch it anytime.

THE NORTHEAST'S DIRTY DOZEN -- Thirteen of most commonly seen fish swimming around those cold NE waters. Instructor: Jonathan Lavan, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, January 11th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

LOOKALIKES? LOOK AGAIN! -- We will walk you through some of the most similarly-appearing fish in the Caribbean. Instructor: Alecia Adamson, REEF Staff -- Tuesday, January 17th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

I WISH THEY ALL COULD BE CALIFORNIA FISH -- Through a series of 5 shorter classes, learn the most commonly seen fish in both Northern and Southern California. Instructor: Keith Rootsaert, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Monday, January 9th at 7pm PST: Rockin' Rockfish; Tuesday, January 10th at 7pm PST: Scalawag Sculpins; Monday January 16th 7pm PST: Wrasse, Bass - Nobody Rides for Free; Wednesday January 18th 7pm PST: Pesky Perch; Thursday January 19th 7pm PST: Odds 'n' Ends 'n' Fish without Feathers

CARIBBEAN CRYPTICS -- Those elusive cryptics! Some of the less obvious suspects that live on the reef. Instructor: Jonathan Lavan, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, February 15th at 6pm PST / 9pm EST

PACIFIC NW ADVANCED FISH ID -- Some of the least common suspects that are seen in the Pacific NW. Taught over three sessions. Instructor: Janna Nichols, REEF Staff, Instructor and fish geek -- Tuesday, February 21st at 7pm PST - Part 1; Wednesday, February 22nd at 7pm PST - Part 2; Thursday, February 23rd at 7pm PST - Part 3

NOT EXACTLY BUMS: FISH THAT LIVE UNDER FLORIDA'S BLUE HERON BRIDGE -- The Blue Heron Bridge in Florida might not seem at first glance like the most exotic dive spot in the world, but the fish that are found here can be quite unusual! Instructor: Lureen Ferretti, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, February 29th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

PERPLEXING PARROTFISH -- Those perplexing parrotfish! Wouldn't you like to know how to tell them apart? Instructor: Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, March 14th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

Double Your Donation and Make a Difference For Marine Conservation

Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

Earlier this month, for World Oceans Day, the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation celebrated by pledging to match contributions to REEF dollar for dollar, up to $30,000! Our campaign to raise funds for protecting Nassau Grouper, controlling invasive Lionfish, and inspiring citizen science through the Volunteer Fish Survey Project is off to a great start. But we still need your help to reach our goal in the next 30 days. If you haven't yet had a chance, please contribute today. You can double your donation in the upcoming month by contributing online 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).

Contributions from members like you fuel the success of our programs. With your donation, we can expand our new online "Fishinars," which are growing rapidly in popularity. We can continue to fund lionfish education and outreach efforts, such as the Lionfish Cookbook, training and handling workshops, and derbies. Our staff can also keep working with Cayman Islands officials after the recent victory that extended the ban on fishing in Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations. These are just some highlights of REEF accomplishments that are funded by individual contributions. With a chance to double your donation, no gift is too small!

Putting It To Work: New Publications on Lionfish

Photo by Carol Cox.

REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, has co-authored several recent scientific publications on the invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic, including:

-Diet richness of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish revealed by DNA barcoding. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Significant research by REEF researchers and others has been conducted looking at stomach contents of lionfish to identify prey. However, relatively few prey species have been identified because of the challenge of identifying partly digested prey. The authors of this study addressed this issue by DNA-barcoding unidentifiable fish items from the stomachs of 130 lionfish. They identified 37 prey species, half of which had previously not been recorded as lionfish prey.

-Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets. Bulletin of Marine Science. This paper uses data from the 20,000+ REEF surveys conducted in Florida since the early 1990s, along with other long-term data sources, to document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys. Between 2009 and 2011, lionfish frequency of occurrence, abundance, and biomass increased rapidly, increasing three- to six-fold between 2010 and 2011 alone.

- Habitat complexity and fish size affect the detection of Indo-Pacific lionfish on invaded coral reefs. Coral Reefs. This paper explores detectability rates of lionfish using underwater visual census methods such as belt transects and stationary visual census. Knowing the error in these methods specficially for lionfish is necessary to help study this invasive species in the western Atlantic. The authors found that the two census methods detect fewer than 30% of lionfish present in an area and, in more than 50% of the cases, fail to detect any lionfish when one or more indivudals are actually present.

For a complete list of publications featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

REEF Joins in Submersible Expedition to Assess the Lionfish Invasion Beyond Diving Depths

REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green inside the Antipodes sub.
Several dozen invasive lionfish call an artificial reef in South florida, the Bill Boyd, home off.

REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.

During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.

The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.

As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.

Please Support REEF and Our Important Marine Conservation Work

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.

We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

Great Annual Fish Count is Coming

The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.

The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at gafc@reef.org.

Unusual Fish Sightings from our Members

Chile Roberts with batfish. Photo courtesy of Todd Fulks.Chile Roberts with batfish. Photo courtesy of Todd Fulks. Batfish sighting in Bonaire. Photo courtesy of Todd Fulks.Batfish sighting in Bonaire. Photo courtesy of Todd Fulks. Pipefish sighting in Bonaire. Photo courtesy of Todd Fulks.Pipefish sighting in Bonaire. Photo courtesy of Todd Fulks.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub