REEF Data Document Declines in Yellow Stingray

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The decline in yellow stingray sightings in the Florida Keys beteween 1994 and 2007. Source: Ward-Paige, et al. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 2010.

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.

Watch an Online Screening of Alien Invaders Tomorrow Night - June 2nd

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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.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Patricia Broom

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Pat with surveying dive buddy, Barbara Anderson (r), on the Baja Mexico Field Survey in 2010.
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Pat in Fiji.
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Pat in Turks and Caicos.

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 feature Patricia Broom (REEF member since 2004). Pat is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 277 surveys in three of REEF's regions, including some of the first in our newest region, the South Pacific. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

About ten years ago while reading a favorite dive magazine I noticed an announcement about an introductory fish identification trip sponsored by REEF and led by Paul Humann. The love of REEF was born!! I responded to the advertisement, encouraged my brother to join me and attended that Field Survey trip. We joined a group of equally dedicated divers eager as we to learn about fish and how to identify them. Paul was a great teacher, very patient and concerned that we not only learn about fish but care about them and the ocean we love.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was a trip highlight?

One of my most memorable surveying moments occurred that week on Paul's trip. On a night dive of a very old wreck with exposed wooden beams I saw my first queen parrotfish in their nighttime cocoons. Each parrot fish occupied a space between two beams framed by basket stars in full bloom. It was a magical sight. I try to take two or three REEF trips a year, they are a great way to learn more and dive with great people. In addition to the regular ID trips, I have really enjoyed the REEF Behavior Trips that are led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. It really completes the learning experience! It is a beautiful sight to watch damselfish guard their algae gardens from predation, observe cooperative hunting, or watch a three foot Midnight Parrotfish at a cleaning station with open mouth and flared gills.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

Prior to that introductory course, I had been diving the Caribbean for twenty plus years. I witnessed the decline in fish numbers and species as well as reef degradation and wondered how many more years I could dive before there was nothing to see! REEF offered me a reason to continue diving, now there was opportunity to give back and enjoy diving again.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

I have found great enjoyment in Cozumel at the REEF Field Station at Aqua Safari, led by Sheryl Shea. She is a gifted teacher determined to make advanced assessment divers of all of us! It just so happens a few of my favorite fish are in Cozumel, the Splendid Toadfish, Sargassum Triggerfish, and Cherubfish, to name a few.

News Flash Items

  • A great last minute opportunity to join renowned photographer and REEF co-founder, Paul Humann, for a week of fish watching and learning. Two spaces (one cabana) just opened up on each week of his upcoming trip to the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean Sea off Panama, June 9-16 and June 16-23, 2012. You will stay in one of these beautiful over-water bungalows. Grab a space before it's too late. Email or call our friends at Caradonna today. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com. There are also a few spaces left on the following REEF Trips - Dominica Lionfish trip with Lad Akins (July 14-21), San Salvador Bahamas with Paul Humann (July 28-Aug 4), Sea of Cortez with Christy and Brice Semmens (Sept 22-29), Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach (Oct 6-13), British Virgin Islands with Heather George (Nov 11-17). Visit the REEF Trips page to find out more. 
  • Check out the online REEF Store -- we recently added new underwater guide books for the Pacific coast and new wearable REEF gear. 
  • Don't miss the upcoming Fishinars! Ned DeLoach will discuss all you want to know about the sex life of fish May 9th. Other upcoming sessions include Fish ID for California, the Northeast US, West Coast Sculpins, and Caribbean Wrasse. These free sessions are great fishy-fun from the comfort of your own home. No specialized software needed, just an internet connection. 
  • Want to stay updated with all the latest news, pictures, and updates from REEF and our friends? Then become a fan of our REEF Facebook Page. Even if you are not on Facebook, anyone can view the page.

Upcoming Webinars Include California Fish & Inverts, Caribbean Damsels, and More!

Not sure which Caribbean damselfish this is? Then attend the "Those Darn Damsels" Fishinar next month! Photo by Paul Humann.

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.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carl Gwinn

Carl posing with his pumpkin at the yearly pumpkin carving contest of the Paradise Dive club.
Carl at his day job. day job, standing in front of the RadioAstron spacecraft in Russia, now in orbit, and going out to nearly the distance of the moon every 9 days.
A xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish that Carl found in the Channel Islands!
The resulting "Ocot-tattoo" after his encounter with a Giant Pacific Octopus.

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.

Please Remember REEF In Your Year-End Giving

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.
REEF Supporters who contribute $250 or more during the winter campaign will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered photo of a Sailfin Blenny.

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: 

  • 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).

From all of us at REEF, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season!

4th Edition of Reef Fish ID Guidebook Released

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.

REEF Launches Training and Surveys Initiative in the Pacific Northwest

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Ten active REEF surveyors in the Pacific Northwest recently conducted a day of surveys around the San Juan Islands. Participants included: Kaia Turner, Pete Naylor, Mark Dixon, Mike Racine, Georgia Arrow, Mary Jo Adams, Sarah Hillebrand, Janna Nichols.
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Pete Naylor, one of REEF's newest Pacific AAT members, shortly after taking his test. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Thanks to a grant from The Russell Family Foundation, we are in the middle of a year-long initiative to actively engage new REEF surveyors in the region and to provide incentive to our existing surveyors to stay active and move up through the ranks of the REEF Experience Level system.  We have teamed up with PNW REEF instructor, Janna Nichols, to coordinate a series of free training workshops throughout Washington and Oregon. These seminars will cover the Introductory REEF Fish Identification training, the REEF Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Identification training, and a NEW Advanced Fish Identification training program. Visit the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers Webpage to see a complete list of classes.  The project will also support a series of REEF survey day trips on area dive charters that will be open free of charge to current REEF surveyors who are actively conducting surveys and interested in advancing their REEF experience level. Ten active REEF surveyors recently participated in the first such opportunity - survey dives at two new REEF sites in the San Juan Islands, Washington earlier this month.  In addition to conducting REEF surveys. The great news is that everyone on the trip who was eligible to move up one experience level did so! A big congratulations goes to Pete Naylor and Mary Jo Adamas, REEF's newest Pacific Advanced Assessment Team Level 5 members, and the rest of the gang who successfully passed the Level 2 or Level 3 exam.

We greatly appreciate the funding support of The Russell Family Foundation. This project will enable REEF to actively engage divers in marine conservation through support and enhancement of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project in the Pacific Northwest. Traditionally, divers and snorkelers have not received much more than a cursory introduction to underwater ecology or marine life identification. Even after years of experience in the water, most divers are able to identify only a handful of the marine life they see during their dives. REEF introduces marine enthusiasts to the incredible diversity of fishes and other wildlife found in local waters as well as the identification resources and survey methods needed to document these species. Active REEF surveyors advance through five experience levels (Novice: 1-3 and Expert: 4-5), based on the number of surveys completed and passing scores on comprehensive identification exams. While 536 volunteers have conducted surveys in the Pacific Northwest as part of the REEF Fish Survey Project, there are currently only twenty-eight members rated as Expert surveyors.  However, expert level volunteers have conducted approximately one-third of all surveys submitted to date. It is clear that as volunteers improve their skills, they are more likely to stay actively involved in data collection.

Introduction

Happy 2008! REEF is looking forward to a great year for marine life everywhere as 2008 has been designated the International Year of the Reef by the International Coral Reef Institute. In this first editon of REEF in Brief 2008, learn about recently completed biological monitoring at the M/V Wellwood restoration site in Key Largo, Florida, a proposed research only site at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia and a host of upcoming REEF Field Surveys to tempt your travel bug. Also read about an upcoming dinner and auction to benefit REEF in its hometown Key Largo and meet new office manager, Bonnie Greenberg. Finally, REEF remembers long time member and friend, Chile Ridley, who will be remembered for his generosity to the marine environment.

Best fishes for a healthy, happy start to the new year,

Leda

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub