Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used to Evaluate Species in the Northeast US

A Radiated Shanny, one of two species in the Northeast US whose populations are possibly being impacted by temperature changes. Photo by Jerry Shine.

We are proud to share a story from the East Coast that is a perfect example of how REEF data are put to work to address our changing seas. Dr. Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut and Mystic Aquarium, recently submitted a petition to add the Radiated Shanny and Atlantic Seasnail to the list of Species of Concern under the State of Connecticut's Endangered Species Act. Dr. Auster used REEF data as his primary source of information for the petition.

Both species are considered "cold-adapted," with their distribution largely north of Cape Cod with rare sightings in Long Island Sound. Data show that these species may be the first climate-change casualties in Connecticut waters as Long Island Sound continues to warm. These species occur in rocky habitats, and the best population data come from diver surveys, such as those from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. If you are a REEF surveyor in the northeast region, please keep an eye out and report these species on your surveys! Dr. Auster will continue to track their abundance through the REEF database and assess the effect of changing seas on their populations.

Take a Dive Vacation That Counts in 2016

Snorkel Jellyfish Lake in Palau this Fall. Photo courtesy PicCorrect.
Learn about the Lionfish Invasion in Curacao.
Dive with Sea Lions in the Coronado Islands.
Spend a week at the beautiful Blackbird Caye Resort.

We are looking for passionate ocean enthusiasts to join us later this year on a REEF Trip. There are still a few spaces left on the following trips in 2016:

Curacao Lionfish Research Trip, August 20 - 27 - led by REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF Board of Trustee Member, Peter Hughes. Learn all about the lionfish invasion while diving and helping with research. Visit the trip page for details.

Bermuda, October 1 - 8 - led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Renowned Underwater Photographers and Marine Life Authors. Ned and Anna will entertain participants with their fish id and behavior expertise. Pink sand beaches and fascinating historic sites help to make Bermuda a captivating destination for non-divers as well. Visit the trip page for details.

Palau and Yap, October 4 - 16 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. We will begin our trip at Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, and then board the Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard. We will explore rich coral walls and channels, documenting the biodiversity of the area. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for details.

Barkley Sound, BC, October 9 - 13led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. A must-dive destination for cold-water divers, Barkley Sound will treat participants to excellent diving and encounters with wildlife both above and below the water. Visit the trip page for details.

Saba, October 22 - 29 - led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer, and Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. A chance to dive this beautiful mountainous island in the Caribbean. In addition to the REEF seminars, participants can participate in "Sea and Learn", a month-long education program offered by Sea Saba. Visit the trip page for details.

Coronado Islands, California/Mexico, November 7 - 10 - led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. This West Coast trip offers the chance to encounter a diverse array of habitats and organisms, including kelp forests brimming with fish and invertebrates and playful sea lion pups. Visit the trip page for details.

Belize, December 3 - 10led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Decompress before the holidays with a week on Belize's Turneffe Atoll at the spectacular Blackbird Caye Resort, named one of Sport Diver Magazine's "2015 World's Best Diving Resorts." Divers will delight in the high diversity of fishes and endemic species. Non-diver companions will delight in the sandy beaches, pool side relaxing, and kayaking. Visit the trip page for details.

The complete 2016 and 2017 schedule is posted at: www.REEF.org/trips. Contact Amy Lee at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869 to book your space or to find out more.

The Faces of REEF: Laura Tesler

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 Laura Tesler. Laura lives in Oregon, and has been a REEF member since 2007. She is a member of the Pacific Northwest Advanced Assessment Team (a Level 5 Expert surveyor). She has also conducted surveys in the TWA region and is a Level 3 Advanced surveyor there. To date, Laura has completed 239 surveys. Here’s what Laura had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I have been a PNW REEF volunteer for 8 years and 44 weeks. In 2008 I heard from another diving friend about the surveys they were doing to assess marine health while diving. I was intrigued, and signed up for a REEF training taught by Janna Nichols. The rest is history.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

For me it is like being on a biological treasure hunt underwater. I have a list of species I would love to see and I am always hoping to see something off that list! REEF Trips and gatherings are really fun and educational, as you get to dive with really good divers and get into arguments about how many cirri the Scalyhead Sculpin you saw had for identification purposes. Who else do you know that gets excited about seeing a Red Brotula?

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

For me it is a 3-hour drive to a good diving site, usually in Puget Sound, Washington. Diving in Oregon is not very easy due to lack of protected areas for diving and shoreline access is limited. I’m used to the drive though!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

I will openly admit I have a fascination with nudibranchs. They have perfectly evolved to capitalize on the marine environment in so many fascinating ways (external lungs, habitats, rhinophore shapes, etc). They also come in so many shapes, sizes and colors!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

I have my own personal fish ID book library now and I am a member of a Facebook site called REEF Pacific Northwest Critterwatchers that is active with ID discussion, informational tidbits, upcoming dives, etc. When I dive I really go slow and take the time to look under, behind, and in things and I associate habitat with species when I do survey. I also try and watch REEF fishinars as they are produced. Of course the more surveying you do the better!

West Coast REEF Monitoring Projects

A REEF surveyor checking over their survey after a dive on the San Juan Islands annual project. Photo by Janna Nichols.
REEF Advanced Assessment Team members surveying sites in the San Juan Islands in 2017.

August was an exciting month for members of the Pacific Northwest REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT), led by REEF's Citizen Science Program Manager Janna Nichols. This group of expert level surveyors (Levels 4 and 5) helped cover two ongoing REEF monitoring projects in Washington State - the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) and the San Juan Islands.

This was the 15th consecutive year that REEF formally surveyed the OCNMS. Ten divers accumulated over 80 REEF surveys in the area. Ever since the sea stars died off a few years ago, urchin populations have grown substantially and are taking a toll on the bull kelp forests found in this area. Because REEF divers monitor both fish and invertebrates in the Pacific Northwest, these important changes are being documented.

Eighteen divers helped with another annual project, done in partnership with UC Davis' SeaDoc Society on Orcas Island in Washington's San Juan Islands. Ten REEF divers survey aelect sites throughout the San Juan Islands during the week-long project, accumulating 100+ surveys. This is the 5th year of the project.

Both of these long-term monitoring projects help ensure data are available to document shifts and changes in populations and community structure as well as cataloging biological diversity. REEF data from the Pacific Northwest region been used in nine scientific publications and have been incorporated in several policy decisions on species from rockfish to octopus.

We extend a huge thanks to the following REEF surveyors who made these projects possible: Bob Friel, Carol Cline, Chuck Curry, David Todd, Don Gordon, Don McCoy, Doug Biffard, Doug Miller, Gordon Bell, Greg Sawyer, Gregg Cline, Joe Gaydos, Joe Mangiafico, Karin Fletcher, Kat Fenner, Laura Tesler, Lorne Curran, Rhoda Green, Tabitha Mangiafico, Taylor Frierson, and Todd Cliff. And thanks also to Bandito Charters and Divers Dream Charters, as well as Friday Harbor Labs and Winters Summer Inn for field support.

The Blue Ocean Institute's Sea Stories

The ocean is a muse to many artists. REEF members have also felt that tug of creativity and sent us amazing pictures as well as commentaries from their travels. Being a part of REEF means sharing the underwater world that we all love which is why we'll be sharing with you the interesting pictures and experiences our members send us. We'd like to do this monthly, but need you to participate so email us your fun or interesting Fish Tales so we can publish them in the next REEF-in-Brief! Who knows . . . we may even choose your unique picture/story for placement in our annual news letter soon to be printed for 2008.   Please email them to intern@reef.org  titled ENews. 

We also would like to share with our members a place to publish and read YOUR stories about ocean issues.

"Sea Stories, an online journal of creative writing and art about the world's oceans sponsored by Blue Ocean Institute, features contributions by ocean-lovers from all backgrounds and walks of life - writers, artists, educators, students, scientists, fishers, conservationists, explorers, and just regular people. Educators are invited to use Sea Stories in the classroom or as a publishing opportunity for yourself or your students. Join us in celebrating all things oceanic!"

Visit www.seastories.org!

If you have a fun or interesting Fish Tales you would like to share with REEF and its 30,000 members, please email them to intern@reef.org titled ENews. We'd love to publish your experiences in the next REEF-in-Brief!

REEF.org Web Tip

Can't remember your REEF number?

Use the lost member number lookup feature on the new Website.

REEF Divers Net Quite a Find

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A derelict gill net found by REEF surveyors in the Puget Sound. The net had ensnared dozens of animals and was damaging habitat. Photo by Pete Naylor.
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A lingcod entangled in the gill net, a result of "ghost fishing". Photo by Pete Naylor.
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The net was draped over rare cloud sponges. Photo by Pete Naylor.

Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.

AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.

Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.

Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”

Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”

If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.

REEF News Tidbits for July

  • One female space just opened up on the upcoming Baja Mexico Field Survey aboard the Don Jose Liveaboard. This trip has been sold out for a while and we don't expect the space to last long.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz and runs October 5-12.  Check out the trip flyer to find out more.  Contact Jeanne from Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 or travel@bajaex.com.
  • Get your limited edition "It's All About the Fish" t-shirt today.  Available in 4 tropical colors.  Order yours today from the REEF Store.  Also available from the REEF Store is the brand new 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification field guide by Paul Humann.  This book covers species found from California to Alaska and the new edition includes more than 30 new species and over 70 new photographs.  Click here to order your copy.

REEF Gearing Up For Another Year of Nassau Grouper Aggregation Research

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Approximately 3,500 Nassau grouper, an endangered species, gather off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons to reproduce. Photo by Scott Heppell.
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A light trap deployed underwater in Little Cayman to study the recruitment of larval Nassau grouper.

REEF scientists, volunteers and collaborators will be in the Cayman Islands next month for the 8th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded last year by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF has greatly expanded the critical conservation research conducted as part of this study of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations. We will have teams on all three of the Cayman Islands conducting field research as part of the project, “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”. The Little Cayman team will continue the long-term visual monitoring of the large aggregation located there. Work on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will focus on studying the remnant aggregations that remain on these islands after years of fishing. There is currently a harvest ban in effect for all aggregations in the islands. This ban is set to be lifted in 2011 unless the extension of the protections are warranted.

Despite logistical complications, weather anomalies and difficulties locating fish, the Grouper Moon Project had a successful year of field-work in 2008. The team conducted preliminary work on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, tagging Nassau grouper with pinger acoustic tags and then installing hydrophone arrays to track the movements of those tagged individuals. Studies were also conducted to better understand the patterns of recruitment by larval and juvenile Nassau grouper to the islands. In addition, members of our team attended major scientific conferences both nationally and internationally, and presented aspects of our research and findings to date.

In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched the Grouper Moon Project with a ground breaking expedition to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. This work is a collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and researchers from Oregon State University.

To find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

REEF Regional Lionfish Workshops in Georgia and Mexico

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REEF's Special Project and Lionfish expert, Lad Akins, demonstrates collecting techniques during a Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary workshop.
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Director of the Cozumel Marine Park, Ricardo Lozano, explains the lionfish response plan to media.

As part of REEF's efforts to increase awareness about the invasive lionfish, train removal teams and develop regional response plans, REEF recently conducted a series of workshops, talks and lionfish removals in partnership with the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) in Georgia and the Cozumel Marine Park in Mexico. Combined the two projects held in July 2009 included 15 talks to more than 370 people.

The Gray's Reef project included a meeting of Sanctuary personnel from the Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks and Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuaries, working to develop a regional coordinated response plan. Sanctuary and REEF staff also conducted two days of lionfish collecting and handling dives, including the removal of 54 lionfish averaging almost 30 cm from sites just outside the GRNMS boundaries. Talks to the general public, Sanctuary Advisory Council and Georgia Law Enforcement working groups also helped increase awareness of the lionfish issue and conveyed removal plans for the region.

Immediately following the Gray's Reef project, a week-long series of workshops and talks were held in Mexico to initiate development of the Mexican regional lionfish response plan focusing on the Yucatan. An initial day-long meeting included over 40 representatives, including national environmental regulators, regional marine park directors, conservation and science groups, academia and the Mexican Navy. Presentations and discussions resulted in the development of an early detection/rapid response plan. The plan was then unveiled in numerous public and key user group talks including those to dive operators, fishermen, medical/first responders and university groups. Training dives with Marine Park staff also resulted in the removal of 3 juvenile lionfish from local Cozumel reefs.

To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program and to report a lionfish or other non-native fish sighting, visit the REEF Lionfish Webpage.

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