Live From the Field Web Chats With the Grouper Moon Project

Live-feed webcast of Dr. Brice Semmens on the Little Cayman Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation. This year's broadcast is set for February 6th at 11:45am EST. Photo by Josh Stewart.
Grouper Education Program activities include scientific drawing, food web explorations, and more.
Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, teaching students at Little Cayman Primary School about components of the coral reef food web.

Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our parters at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are gearing up for the annual Grouper Moon Project. Scientists will be on the ground and in the water this coming Tuesday for the full moon. Since 2002, the group has conducted ground-breaking research to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations, to help ensure that populations of this iconic species recover. In 2011, with funding from Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, REEF launched an education program to engage Caymanian students in the Grouper Moon Project. This exciting project brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and live-feed videos that connect classrooms with scientists in the field.

Three live-feed webcasts are planned over the next two weeks. While the students will be communicating directly with the Grouper Moon scientists, anyone can watch the feeds live or archived. The live-feed schedule is:

- Friday February 6th, from underwater at the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation

- Monday February 9th, from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, featuring scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project.

- Wednesday February 11th, from underwater on the famous Blood Bay Wall.

All webcasts are planned to start at 11:45am EST and will last about 45 minutes. The live feeds stream through YouTube on TheGrouperTeacherREEF channel. The first live feed, on February 6th, will be here. We will post URLs for the other feeds on REEF's Facebook page. The webcasts are archived online here.

Now in its fourth year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species. It is expected that fifteen classrooms at ten schools will participate in the program this year.

The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef DiversCayman Airways, and LIME.

The Faces of REEF: Tracey Griffin

Trip leader, Tracey, holding the REEF flag during the 2014 REEF Trip to Cozumel.
The dainty Cherubfish, a small angelfish found in the Caribbean. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

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 Tracey Griffin, a REEF member since 2005. An active surveyor who lives in Cozumel, Tracey has conducted 851 surveys to date. She is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the TWA region, has taught several Fishinars, and leads the annual REEF Field Survey to Cozumel each December. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I first heard about REEF on a live-aboard trip in the eastern Caribbean. One of the other divers was doing surveys, and I was fascinated! Soon after, I was lucky to be in Cozumel during the annual REEF week there, where I soon became an aficionado! And lucky me, little did I know that years later, I would become the leader of that annual trip!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I tell divers that doing REEF surveys is like going on a scavenger hunt on every dive. And learning about fish behavior makes diving even more interesting. Knowing what the fish are doing is just as fun as knowing all their names! Even though I have done hundreds of dives in Cozumel, I am still surprised to find new and rarely reported fish.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

Reaching out to new divers and snorkelers. I have given give short lectures at dive clubs, but also at events where people may be new to the ocean. I love to see people getting excited about seeing something they may have never noticed before. I believe that getting people excited about the fish will make them more likely to help conserve it.

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

I now live and dive in Cozumel. I think this is one of the most beautiful places to dive in the Caribbean. The majestic coral pillars are amazing, and the schools of fish are magnificent. I often hear people say ‘I have never seen a ____ so big!’ Just another day in Paradise!

Do you have a favorite local REEF field station or dive shop?

I dive with Chili Charters, who is our REEF field survey dive operation in Cozumel. The DM and owner, Rene, has previously taken our REEF field survey course, and loves to help us find fish! It is always nice to dive with a dependable shop that is also interested in REEF and fish ID and ocean conservation.

What is your favorite fish?

Although picking a favorite is difficult, if I had to, I would take the Cherubfish! These skittish little angelfish are very common, and often abundant in Cozumel. And many regular Cozumel divers don’t even see them!

Join REEF in Palau and Yap this Fall

Join REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, aboard the Palau Aggressor II in October.
Hundreds of islands await us in Micronesia.

We kicked off our 2016 REEF Trip schedule this month with two great trips - a Lionfish Research Expedition in Dominica and a Field Survey Trip to Barbados. And those are just the beginning. We have a great lineup of destinations for 2016 and we recently announced several exciting destinations for 2017, including the Galapagos and the Solomon Islands. The complete 2017 schedule will be released next month. For complete details and schedule of REEF Trips, visit www.REEF.org/trips.

One of the new exciting destinations for 2016 is Micronesia in October, exploring land and sea in Palau and Yap at Manta Ray Bay Resort and the Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard. Four spaces are left so don't delay in making your plans. This exciting 12-day adventure, October 4-16, begins land-based at the world-renowned Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, featuring three days of diving Yap's rich coral walls, channels, and lagoon sites, all while observing creatures including manta rays, reef sharks, and maybe even mating mandarinfish. After diving Yap, recharge with a night at the Palau Royal Resort. Then the excursion continues with a 7-night charter aboard the Palau Aggressor II, with the opportunity for up to 5 dives exploring the rich tropical waters. Surveyors can look forward to discovering Napoleon wrasses, titan triggerfish, crocodile fish, and many different species of gobies tucked among an abundance of hard and soft corals. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for all the details.

REEF Fest 2016: An Annual Celebration of Marine Conservation, September 29 - October 2

We hope you can join us this Fall for REEF Fest 2016 in Key Largo, Florida. The four-day celebration of marine conservation is planned for September 29 through October 2, 2016. Events include diving, eco-ventures, ocean-themed seminars, and evening socials. Make sure to visit www.REEF.org/REEFFest to register for seminars, find participating dive and eco-venture operators, and for more information on REEF Fest parties and social events. And be sure to join us on Saturday, October 1, for the Celebration Dinner Party sponsored by Divers Alert Network! The event will include hors d’oeuvres, a three-course meal, and an open liquor bar, alongside live music and a silent auction benefiting the marine conservation work of REEF. Reservations are required and tickets are available at www.REEF.org/REEFFest/dinnerticket.

REEF is excited to announce this year’s seminar line-up:

Fun Fish Facts: Little Known Facts about Life in the Sea -- Carlos and Allison Estape, REEF TWA Expert Surveyors

Sustainability Risk Assessment of Florida’s Coral Reef Fisheries -- Jerald S. Ault, Ph.D., University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

The Emerald Sea: REEF Surveying in the Pacific Northwest -- Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

The War on Lionfish: How Efforts to Combat the Invasion are Affecting Marine Conservation -- Stephanie Green, Ph.D., Stanford University Banting Fellow

The Great White Sharks of Guadalupe Island -- Dan Orr, International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame

Shifting Paradigm in the Sea -- Jack Grove, Ph.D., Marine Biologist

Sister Sanctuaries: Linking the Science and Management of Coral Reefs in Cuba and the U.S. -- Billy D. Causey, SE Regional Director, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

REEF Program Update -- Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects

Wacky Creature Stories and Other Tales from the Sea -- Ellen Prager, Ph.D., President of Earth2Ocean Inc.

Please visit www.REEF.org/REEFfest/seminars for more details. See you in September!

Putting It To Work: Special Issue on the Lionfish Invasion

Invasive Lionfish are now found throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic region. Photo by Carol Cox.

Earlier this year, a special issue of the scientific journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series, was published titled "Invasion of Atlantic Coastal Ecosystems by Pacific Lionfish". The issue is a compilation of papers presented at the 2015 special session of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute meeting, which was co-organized by REEF and partner organizations. New findings include mechanisms that enhance the success of the invader, the extremely broad and variable diet of invasive lionfish, the ecological effects of the invader on native fish populations in various environmental contexts, and non-consumptive interactions between invasive lionfish and native predators. REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is a co-author on the introductory paper. The entire issue is available open access online at http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v558/#theme.

Great Annual Fish Count 2017 -25 Years of Fun!

Celebrating it's 25th year - the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) kicked off this weekend! During the entire month of July we encourage you to try your hand at conducting your first survey if you're new to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, or to do a few more if it's been a while.

The GAFC began in 1992 when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists conducted a visual fish count in California's Channel Islands National Park. The effort was modeled after the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and has now grown into an international event coordinated by REEF.

Check out the GAFC website (www.fishcount.org) to find everything you need to join in the fish counting fun as a participant or to organize your own local event. It can be as simple as hosting a survey dive (throw in a BBQ), or an ID class or presentation about your local fish. We especially encourage shops, dive clubs, marine science centers and others to organize a GAFC event.

The Faces of REEF: 2015 Volunteer of the Year, Ed Martin

REEF is proud to announce Ed Martin, of Islamorada, Florida, as our 2015 Volunteer of the Year. Ed became a REEF member in 2012, and has since conducted 60 REEF surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region. He is also a skilled underwater photographer and a member of the Century Club, having recorded at least 100 fish species on a one tank dive. In 2015, Ed became a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team by achieving 'Expert' surveyor status in the TWA. Shortly afterwards, he participated in a weeklong AAT Monitoring Project to survey the Vandenberg artificial reef and surrounding reefs in Key West, Florida.

Ed has also dedicated his survey skills, ingenuity, and countless hours of time to REEF's Invasive Lionfish fieldwork in South Florida and the Florida Keys. He continually goes above and beyond by supplying ideas and tools to support this important research. A skilled lionfish hunter, Ed has also participated in several REEF lionfish derbies. He is known for his wonderful sense of humor and positive attitude, making him a fun and upbeat team member who is instrumental to REEF's field research. In addition to his involvement in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and Invasive Lionfish Program, Ed has even helped with 'behind the scenes' REEF projects, including photography for REEF's webpages. Ed's all-encompassing support and participation in REEF programs make him an invaluable member of the REEF family. We are lucky and thankful to have a super volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you and congratulations, Ed!

Three "REEF" Non-Profits Team Up to Protect Akumal Reefs

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Eric Engler, Gabriela Nava Martinez, Joe Cavanaugh - ReefAid, Reefcheck, and REEF
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Aerial View of Protected Area
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Mayan Ruins Near Resort at Tulum
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Shore View from Bahia Principe
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Large Elkhorn Coral Stand Near Protected Area

In an Enews article last May, I wrote about a collaborative effort between REEF and the Bahia Principe Resort in Akumal, Mexico.  The Resort has been working with ReefAid ever since Hurricane Wilma (2005) did major damage to the reefs just in front of the resort, in an effort to study, protect, and restore these reefs. I was originally invited down to conduct a fish census on a large patch reef area off the beach from the property.   The destruction to the inshore reef during Wilma was severe and ever since, Bahia Principe has worked with ReefAid to restore this patch reef area, establishing a protected zone around the most hard-hit areas.  Part of Bahia Principe's long-term plan is to create a mitigation plan for future storms and to educate guests about ways they, too, can help protect the reefs.  The Hotel Gran Bahia Principe is the Yucatan's largest resort complex, and there are currently 14 such resorts worldwide.  After our last visit, ReefAid's Founder, Eric Engler and I co-wrote a protection and monitoring plan for the Resort that included periodic roving diver surey assessments, special signs and enforcement of no-swim areas, a coral nursery, and coral and invertebrate monitoring using another non-profit's methodology (ReefCheck). 

On our last trip a few weeks ago, Eric and I received Reefcheck training over two days with Gabriela Georgina Nava Martinez, learning their survey methodology.  Gaby also taught a Reefcheck class to the Bahia Principe dive staff , their onsite turtle rescue non-rpfit, Ecologica Bahia, and some of the Resort public relations personnel..   Bahia Principe is now a REEF Field Station and is close to becoming an educational center for REEF, teaching fish ID classes and training Resort guests in how to conduct fish surveys.   Resort staff will soon routinely conduct Roving Diver Surveys of both the protected area and the offshore reefs frequented by multiple dive operators. Additionally, Reefcheck will train the dive staff to conduct 3-4 surveys per year at first to form a baseline assessment of the inshore protected reef.   And finally, this year REEF is running a Field Survey to Bahia Principe (May 17-24, 2008).  Please see our Field Survey page on our website at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule  to learn more about our upcoming survey and how to participate.

The collaborative efforts between our three non-profits in Akumal represent a proactive involvement among multiple stakeholders to protect a critical resource, one that is very susceptible to damage from development and excessive tourist pressures.   The ultimate goal of this synergistic, cooperative effort is to protect a large inshore reef area (see images) and improve the reef integrity with the addition of well-placed coral recruitment modules.  To be candid, much of the Mexican Riviera is slated to be developed by an increasing number of resorts, most with requisite golf courses.  And there are other environmental concerns in addition to the coral reefs offshore that form part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef such as all the cenotes (sink-holes) with their endemic terrestrial and aquatic species; the crucial watershed provided by the cenotes; loss of mangroves; the regional rainforest cover that is in jeopardy; excessive nutrient loading from all the resorts and urban development; not to mention the cultural world heritage significance of the Mayan communities and archaeological sites.  However, the good news is that if Gran Bahia Principe is voluntarily willing to adopt special protection measures for their resort, these may serve as a "eco-friendly" archetype for other resorts in the region.   This partnership building between organizations at the regional and international level bodes well for the adoption of some conservation plans for the area.  Whether the proposed regional development can be slowed to a sustainable level is another story that time will tell. 

If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent summary article on some of the initiatives between resorts and non-profits working to preserve the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from the NY Times last week. http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/travel/24headsup.html?emc=eta1

REEF to Host Two Citizen Science Panel Discussions in Florida Keys

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REEF volunteers are citizen scientists, collecting underwater data to expand knowledge about marine life populations. Photo by Ron Lucas.

On Tuesday, February 26, REEF will host a community panel discussion to raise awareness about how volunteers contribute to scientific understanding of the Florida Keys environment. Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York will lead the discussion. Florida Keys-based citizen science practitioners will present on local projects and ways for volunteers to get involved. Topics include fish and bird surveying, native plants and coral restoration. A reception with the speakers will begin at 6:30, followed by presentations at 7 PM. This event will be held at the Key Largo Public Library and is free and open to the public.

Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Bryant and Nancy Diersing, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (volunteers)
  • Janice Duquesnel, Florida State Parks
  • Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation

A second panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West and will focus on citizen science projects in the lower Florida Keys. Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Alison Higgins, The Nature Conservancy
  • Cory Walter, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service

Please join REEF staff and community partners for at least one of these educational evenings.

17th Great Annual Fish Count is Here

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REEF Member Judie Clee Surveying. Photo by Ron Lucas.
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REEF Member Brian Hufford Surveying.

The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) has arrived! GAFC is a month long event coordinated by REEF Field Stations that encourages volunteer divers and snorkelers to participate in recreational trips to raise awareness regarding marine habitats and trends in fish populations. REEF partners and Field Stations have organized everything from group dives and snorkels to photo contests, BBQs, and aquarium tours. This is a great opportunity to take a free REEF Fish ID class and connect with other individuals as well as groups, such as local dive operations and non-profit organizations, who are also interested in doing the same objectives. Numerous activities have been scheduled for the Pacific Coast, Hawaii, California, Washington, Florida, Maine, British Columbia, and many other regions- and still more are being added! Details for scheduled events can be found on the GAFC website. Each year GAFC events generate approximately 2,000 surveys in July alone and increase the interest and involvement of hundreds of surveyors worldwide. Participating in a GAFC event is a great way to make an active contribution to marine conservation and get involved with what REEF does year round- engage volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect critical, valid, and cost-effective data. We hope you get involved!

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