World-wide declines in shark and ray populations have prompted the need for a better understanding of their patterns of distribution and abundance. While much of the focus has been on the larger species of sharks, little attention had been paid to the most frequently sighted elasmobranch species in the greater-Caribbean, the yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). Despite being relatively common and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, little was known about the status of this species. Unfortunately, it has been quietly declining. Dr. Christine Ward-Paige and her colleagues at Dalhousie University worked with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to examine the status of yellow stingray. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes. Click here to read the paper.
The study used 83,940 surveys collected by REEF surveyors in the western Atlantic. In total, yellow stingrays were observed on 5,658 surveys (6.7% sighting frequency) with the highest occurrence in the regions surrounding Cuba. Overall, sighting frequency declined from 20.5% in 1994 to 4.7% in 2007. However, these trends were not consistent in all regions. The strongest decline occurred in the Florida Keys, the most sampled region, where trends were similar among all areas, habitats and depths. Possible explanations for these changes include habitat degradation, exploitation (this species is collected for medical research and the aquarium trade), and changes in trophic interactions. The results of the study suggest large-scale changes in yellow stingray abundance that have been unnoticed by the scientific community. This study also highlights the value of non-scientific divers for collecting data that can be used to understand population trends of otherwise poorly studied species.
To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.
Changing Seas, an original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of Alien Invaders, the series’ latest episode focusing on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Alien Invaders will be screened live on the Changing Seas website (www.changingseas.tv/webcast) on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. EST. During the screening, dive enthusiasts will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program. REEF's Lad Akins and researcher Stephanie Green will be be online to answer questions live during the event.
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.
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.
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 Carl Gwinn, a REEF surveyor in California. Carl joined REEF in 2001 and has conducted 328 surveys. He is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what he had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
Not long after we started to dive in California, my wife and I saw an advertisement for a fish ID seminar and survey trip out of Santa Barbara. We couldn’t make the trip, but we attended the seminar, learned quite a bit about fish, and started doing surveys. As we dived more, we became more engaged and more serious about it. We went on some trips and filled out quite a few surveys. Lately, I’ve had to slack off, because of work responsibilities, but I’m hoping to do more in the future.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Being a citizen scientist! I enjoy doing the dive, but it’s also making a contribution to human knowledge. So, the experiences of the dive add a little something to human knowledge, rather than being merely for my own entertainment. I also think REEF does great work in getting people to experience, appreciate, and learn about the ocean.
If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
Dive for science! Identify and count fish while enjoying your dive.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Of course the data are important. But I think that the education aspect is also really important. People appreciate more what they understand. Counting fish can help them to realize how complicated and interconnected the ocean is. It’s also vulnerable, but has tremendous regenerative capacity. That’s something that surveyors can experience directly, after gaining a bit of knowledge.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
My favorite place to dive is probably Refugio State Beach, not far from my house. I’ve done over 200 dives there. I like it because it’s easy to get in and out, and is relatively well sheltered from the swell. Once you get in it has a wide variety of different habitats in a small area. You can really see how the populations of fish and invertebrates change, both with the seasons and in ways that never repeat. The beach there tends to get overcrowded, but usually once you get offshore it is pretty empty.
What is the most fascinating fish (or invertebrate) encounter you’ve experienced?
Certainly my most memorable encounter was being attacked by a Giant Pacific Octopus. He tore off my mask and my regulator, and tried to yank off my hood. I was diving in the Olympic Marine Sanctuary in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on a REEF survey trip. I slammed my regulator back in, and surfaced from 50 feet depth with the octopus on my head. Its suckers left hickeys all over my face, which lasted about 10 days! The photo has become widely circulated on the internet! Although my dive buddy had a camera, he was enjoying a crevice full of sculpins too much to notice the encounter: my only regret is that he didn’t get a series of photos.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?
Probably my favorite kind of fish is the rockfish. There are lots of different species, and sometimes they seem to blend into one another, so ID can be a challenge. They exhibit some interesting types of behavior, sometimes species-specific. I love to see the schools of juvenile and smaller rockfish: they have bright, clear markings and seem curious. They change from year to year, as the different species have more or less success in recruitment. And, they are hope for the future.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Jump in. I remember taking a boat trip to the Naples Seamount and Platform Holly. The visibility started at 5 feet and got worse with each dive, and the surge was over 3 feet at depth. On the way back to the harbor we stopped at the Goleta sewer pipeline, which runs from shore to a few of miles out to sea, and has some good fish in the rocks covering the pipeline. I decided to skip the dive, I’d had enough. My nap was interrupted by a lot of shouting up on deck. A gray whale had swum up to a few of the divers, on the bottom, and inspected them with its enormous eye. I wish I’d seen that! So, jump in.
What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
I remember spotting an unusual rockfish on a dive off Santa Cruz Island: later identified as a xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish (or black-and-yellow rockfish) south of Santa Rosa Island. It was nearly completely yellow. It was probably the most unusual fish I have seen: essentially a mutant. I managed to get a photo. What haven’t I seen yet? I haven’t yet managed to spot many of the local fish, some common: an embarrassing lapse! I’d like to see more and different kinds of sharks, spot some turtles (they show up around here occasionally), watch a few different kinds of whales and dolphins swim by underwater. I would love to see a white abalone underwater: they are extremely rare.
As we celebrate this holiday season, I am happy to report that REEF is also celebrating another successful year of protections for ocean habitats and the critters that live in them!
Please take a moment to make sure REEF continues this critical 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:
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).
From all of us at REEF, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season!
We are excited to announce an exclusive opportunity for REEF members to pre-purchase the 4th edition Reef Fish Identification - Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. This newly released version includes 89 new fish species and over 150 new photos, representing a significant update to the 2002 3rd edition. The new book is currently only available through the REEF online store. Purchase your copy today by clicking here. You can also purchase the three book Reef ID Set here, which includes the new 4th edition fish book, as well as the recently released updated editions of Coral ID and Creature ID books.
Since the release of the first edition of Reef Fish Identification in 1989, this book has revolutionized fishwatching. The 4th edition is packed with amazing marine life photographs of 683 species and enough information to keep marine life enthusiasts busy for years. It includes the latest information on what is known about the taxonomy and distribution of Caribbean reef fishes. The easy-to-use, quick reference format makes it easy to identify the hundreds of fishes sighted on the reefs, sand flats, grass beds, surf zones and walls of Florida, the Caribbean and Bahamas.
To help our members get the most out of the new book, we will be offering two free Fishinars (online webinars) in the coming weeks to review many of the new additions and species updates that were included in the 4th edition. We hope you will join us for “Digging Deeper in to Caribbean Fish ID - Exploring the 4th Edition of Reef Fish ID, Parts 1 and 2”, on June 16 and June 30, at 5pm PST, taught by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, PhD. Fishinars are free to REEF members and are easy to access through a basic web browser. To register for one or both sessions, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars.
Please join me this year by giving a gift to REEF this holiday season! I want to thank all those who have been so generous and have donated already. If you haven’t given yet, we are still a long way from our goal. Your donation this winter is critical so we can continue protecting marine species all year. Click here to donate now.
Examples of REEF’s important work that directly benefit marine species include:
As you can see, REEF works hard all year to ensure our oceans are healthy and the creatures within are protected. As my personal thank you for donations $250 or more, I will send you a limited-edition, signed print of a Goliath Grouper aggregation. Check out this webpage, www.REEF.org/impact, describing this rare photo opportunity!
We have a SIX great Fishinars planned for July. These hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. We hope you will join us - it's free for REEF members. Check out the full schedule and links to register at www.REEF.org/fishinars.