Announcing 2017 REEF Trips Schedule

Join us for our inaugural trip to the Galapagos in 2017.
Also new in 2017 - an Alaska Wilderness Adventure trip.
The underwater world of Dominica awaits. Photo by Ari Perryman.
Learn about the invasive Lionfish in Curacao and The Bahamas.
The schedule includes several liveaboard options, as well as land-based trips.

We are excited to share our 2017 REEF Trips Schedule, with a fantastic lineup of destinations planned. These Field Survey Trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice surveyors, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow marine life enthusiasts. We also offer several Lionfish Research Trips each year. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each trip features daily educational seminars and a full diving schedule. To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Visit www.REEF.org/trips for full package details. Trips fill up fast so don't delay. And be sure to check out the remaining 2016 trips that still have space, including: Lionfish trips to Honduras and Curacao, Bermuda, Palau & Yap, Barkley Sound BC, Saba, Coronado Island CA, Belize, and Cozumel.

2017 REEF Field Survey Schedule

February 18 - 25 -- Dominica -- Dive Dominica & Castle Comfort Lodge, Led by Lad Akins

April 4 - 14 -- Solomon Islands -- M/V Bilikiki, Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens

April 22 - 29 -- Turks and Caicos Islands -- Dive Provo and Port of Call Resort, Led by Jonathan Lavan

May 14 - 21 -- Galapagos Islands -- M/V Galapagos Sky Liveaboard, Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens

June 10 - 16 -- Alaska Wilderness Expedition - Port Fidalgo Inlet, Alaska -- Ravencroft Lodge, Led by Andy Dehart

June 24 - July 1 -- Bahamas -- Lionfish Research Trip Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes

June 24 - July 1 -- Roatan -- CoCo View Resort, Led by Janna Nichols and Scott & Patti Chandler

August 19 - 26 -- Curacao -- Lionfish Research and Fish ID Trip Combo GO WEST Diving and Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins, Peter Hughes, and Ellie Splain

August 19 - 26 -- Sea of Cortez -- Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, Led by Christy and Brice Semmens, SOLD OUT

September 2 - 9 -- Bequia -- Bequia Dive Adventures and Village Apartments, Led by Paul Humann

October 1 - 8 -- Grand Cayman -- Sunset House, Led by Paul Humann

October 14 - 25 -- Indonesia Lembeh Strait -- Eco Divers, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, SOLD OUT

October 15 - 19 -- Hornby Island British Columbia -- Hornby Island Diving, Led by Janna Nichols

November 4 - 11 -- Bonaire -- Captain Don's Habitat, Led by Amy Lee and Janna Nichols

December 2 - 9 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters and Casa Mexicana/Safari Inn, Led by Tracey Griffin

December 3 - 9 -- British Virgin Islands -- Cuan Law Liveaboard, Led by Ellie Splain

The Faces of REEF: Kat Fenner

The Y-prickleback, one of Kat's favorite finds. Photo by Wendy Carey.

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 Kathleen Fenner. Kat has been a REEF member since 1999. She lives in British Columbia, Canada, and she is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (a Level 5 Expert surveyor). She has also conducted surveys in the TWA and is a Level 3 Advanced surveyor there. To date, Kat has completed 178 surveys. Here’s what Kat had to say about REEF:

How did you find out about REEF?

I read about REEF years ago in a dive magazine and signed up. They shared my values of the ocean environment and citizen science. Over 10 years later I began doing surveys. At the Salish Sea Conference in 2011, employed by a NGO, I was able to dive with REEF and met Janna Nichols (REEF Outreach Coordinator). I was walked through my first survey. It helped that I had moved from the interior of British Columbia to Vancouver Island! I have completed many surveys since then. I’m so glad I met Janna who assisted me in getting started.

What inspires you to do REEF surveys?

I’m inspired to complete REEF surveys for personal benefit and for the future. I enjoy recording what I see, knowing I’ll be able to access that data at any time. It’s like having a super detailed log book always available. My awareness and knowledge base is increasing by doing surveys. Without thinking about it, I’m watching fish behavior and checking out fins and noticing many details. It’s exciting being able to see more when you are over 40! The future to me is my four grandchildren. I want them to have a beautiful ocean environment to enjoy and share with their children someday. I believe in what REEF does. The information in their data base can assist in better understanding and protection of our aquatic environment. Accurate information gathered by many is more beneficial than information gathered by a few.

What do you enjoy most about being a REEF member?

My favorite part of being a REEF member is access to free educational material. REEF gives you such great opportunities to learn. I love the fishinars, flash cards, quizzes and the great people that work for REEF that answer fishy questions. I’ve always been a bit of a fish geek but now I have an ongoing opportunity to learn and constantly increase my knowledge base.

Do you have any critter watching tips for others?

My tips for REEF members is to get an underwater camera, doesn’t have to be a great camera and get as many fishy ID books as you can. Having multiple resource books helps a lot with ID. More information assists in making a positive ID. A camera will let you look at the detail of a fish without it swimming away. Often I’ve made positive ID from a poor quality picture, but a picture that captured defining features.

What has been your favorite fish-find or underwater encounter?

Almost every dive is a fascinating fish encounter for me. I’m always seeing something new to me, whether it is a species or the species with eggs, or large schools, or juveniles but I almost always find something new. One fascinating encounter was the Y-Prickleback, positively identified from our low quality picture. It felt good to be able to report something that little information exists on.

Announcing Third Summer of REEF Ocean Explorers Camp

Children having a blast at the 2016 REEF Ocean Explorers Summer Camp.

Explorers will be exposed to the underwater world, all of its amazing creatures, and a week filled with creative activities and adventures. Discover all that the ocean has to offer and experience conservation actions in the sunny, salty, and wonderful Florida Keys. REEF will offer four sessions of summer camp - two weeks at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo and two weeks at Postcard Inn in Islamorada. Please tell the young explorer in your life about this amazing opportunity to snorkel, kayak, and explore this summer. REEF welcomes campers ages 7-13. For more information, please visit www.REEF.org/Explorers/Camp or email Explorers@REEF.org.

REEF Fest 2017 Rescheduled for December

REEF Headquarters in Key Largo and much of the surrounding community are beginning to return to normal following temporary closure due to Hurricane Irma in September. Because of the storm it was necessary for REEF Fest to be postponed from its original September dates. We are excited to announce that we have rescheduled the event for December 7-10, 2017! We appreciate your patience while we coordinated with event partners and sponsors to reschedule the event. We hope that you will be able to join us for the ocean-themed seminars, diving, eco-adventures, and evening social events planned during this annual celebration of marine conservation. Some specific details from the original schedule have been slightly modified.

Please visit www.REEF.org/REEFfest for more information or contact Events@REEF.org with any questions about the event. REEF and the Florida Keys Community are excited to welcome you back to Key Largo for this exciting event. We look forward to seeing you December 7-10, 2017.

Explorers Education Program Hosts Marine Science Trips for Two Colleges

Eckerd College students outside of REEF's Interpretive Center.
Georgia State University students preparing to conduct REEF surveys while snorkeling.

Last month, REEF’s Explorers Education Program had the pleasure of working with two collegiate groups in Key Largo, Florida. Each group of students spent one fun-filled week working alongside REEF staff and interns to learn about TWA (Tropical Western Atlantic) fish identification and the REEF survey method. The first group was nine students from Georgia State University, accompanied by their professor, Dr. Amy Reber. This weeklong education program has become an annual component of Georgia State's marine ecology course. The group conducted all of their field work while snorkeling, and remained dedicated even in rough ocean conditions. 

The other visiting group consisted of 12 divers from Eckerd College, who opted to spend their spring break volunteering with REEF to fulfill a community service graduation requirement. These relatively new divers did a fantastic job becoming engaged in citizen science, and Eckerd College is already planning another educational REEF program for 2019.

REEF organizes custom programs for college groups, with topics including fish identification and surveying, invasive species, and marine ecology lessons. Contact us at explorers@REEF.org for more information.

 

REEF Events for August

Here's what we're up to in the coming month:

September 11-16, 2007: Cape Cod Field Survey led by Joe Cavanaugh. 

Click here for more information.

 

September 22-29, 2007: Bonaire Field Survey led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. 

Click here for more information.

Holidays are a Great Time to Plan Your Next REEF Field Survey Trip

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Our Cold Water Surveyor Award Goes to: Alison Johnson, still surveying in New Brunswick. Way to go, Alison!
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Rare sighting of Tripletail by Candace Grove on Bonaire, shows you do not always have to dive to see something special
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Dwarf Seahorse - Key Largo: Photo by Joyce Schulke, it pays to muck dive occasionally
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REEF Survey Diver on Riley's Hump, Dry Tortugas, Florida
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Cozumel Field Survey Group, December 2007

If you are looking for a Dive Vacation that Counts for the
New Year, there is still room on many of our trips for 2008. For a
condensed view of our upcoming Field Survey season, see below or visit
our Field Survey page at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. A couple of quick notes, only one spot left on Turks and Caicos trip so hurry! If interested, please call Travel For You, Inc. at 1-888-363-3345 for the Turks trip only.

If the cold weather is getting you down? There's no better place to be
at the end of January than the Cayman Islands. Join REEF Grouper Moon
researchers on an exciting expedition to Little Cayman
January 22-29. The all-inclusive package includes 5 days of diving in
Little Cayman, lodging and meals at the exclusive Southern Cross Club,
and daily lectures on a broad range of subjects including reef fish
identification and the Nassau grouper aggregation research that REEF
has been invovled with. This project coincides with the annual mass
aggregation of this endangered fish species on the west end of the
island. To find out more, view the project flyer http://www.reef.org/fieldsurvey or contact the Southern Cross Club office at 1-800-899-2582.

Also REEF's St. Vincent cryptic survey is selling out
quickly. This trip has two optional back-to-back weeks of surveying,
the first week (July 26-Aug2) will be led by world-renowned
photgrapher, Paul Humann and REEF co-founder. The second week (Aug 2-9,
2008) will be led by Ned Deloach, award-winning marine life author and
his wife Anna Deloach. Contact Dive St. Vincent at 784-457-4928 or bill2s@divestvincent.com for information on how to register for either week or both!

For an all-inclusive REEF trip on the beautiful Mexican Riviera, check out our Field Survey to Akumal at Bahia Principe Resort
(below) from May 17-24, 2008. I will be leading this trip and there
will be a lot of conservation education to go along with our fish
surveys for this trip. This is a best-value trip, especially
considering the 5-star resort, at $802pp/double occ. for diving,
accomodations, food, and drinks.  

2008 Field Survey Schedule

REEF Grouper Moon Field Survey Expedition - Little Cayman Island, January 20-27, 2008, led by Dr. Christy Semmens (spaces available)

Turks & Caicos aboard Aggressor II - Turks and Caicos Islands, April 19-26, 2008, led by Joe Cavanaugh (1 space available)

Bahia Principe Resort, Akumal, Mexico - May 17-24, 2008, led by
Joe Cavanaugh (spaces available). REEF is working with ReefAid and
Reefcheck to ensure protection of the reefs along this part of the
MesoAmerican Barrier Reef. This trip provides a great opportunity to
witness how private sector cooperation with non-profits can enable
successful marine conservation and you will have the opportunity to
participate directly by collecting valuable fish community data for
REEF.

Paul Humann's Key Largo Reef Discovery Tour, Key Largo, Florida,
June 21-28, 2008 (spaces available).  Hands down a perennial
favorite for first-time surveyors and experts alike.

St. Vincent Island (Grenadines) Cryptic Species Tour, led by Ned and Anna Deloach and Paul Humann, July 26-Aug 2 (1st week), Aug 2-9 (2nd week) (selling out quickly)

Sea of Cortez aboard the Don Jose', Oct 5-12, 2008, led by Dr. Brice Semmens (spaces available)

Cozumel, Mexico with Aqua Safari Divers, Dec 6-13, 2008, led by long-time REEF Volunteer, Sheryl Shea (space available)

REEF Receives Exotics Funding from Mote’s Protect Our Reefs Fund

Dollars to Help Develop Rapid Response Plan 

In April of this year, REEF received notice our proposal to develop a Marine Exotic Species Action Plan was partially funded through the Mote Marine Protect Our Reefs Fund, which is funded through the Florida coral reef license plate. The project funding will go towards a SE Florida workshop with key federal, state and local agencies to develop a coordinated response plan for dealing with non-native marine fish. To date there have been more than 20 species of non-native fishes documented in a four-county area in Southeast Florida. Of these, the indo-pacific lionfish has become established in the US and Bahamas and is rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean. To help address this issue and prevent other non-native fish invasions, coordinated early detection and notification, and rapid response plans are needed. 

REEF will be working in partnership with the USGS and NOAA to lead the early summer workshop focusing on drafting these coordinated action plans. Funding for outreach and to establish and train response teams later this summer is still being sought as part of this effort.

Stay tuned for an update on the workshop and for future plans for development of local response teams. Be sure to report any sightings of non-native marine organisms to the REEF exotic species website at www.reef.org/programs/exotic

Wellwood Monitoring Project Final Report Released

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A REEF Advanced Assessment Team member surveys the fish assemblage on a restoration module at the Wellwood grounding site.
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Parrotfishes, such as this stoplight parrotfish terminal male, appear to be responding the quickest to restoration efforts. Photo courtesy New World Publications.

The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter, ran aground in 1984 on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. Eighteen years after the grounding, the area resembled nearby hard ground habitat with little structure and the benthic community was dominated by gorgonians. Natural recovery to a state similar to the pre-grounding condition failed to occur within a reasonable time frame and therefore, habitat restoration was initiated in May 2002. In the Fall of 2007, REEF completed a five-year monitoring project on the fish assemblages at the Wellwood grounding site and two nearby reference areas. A Summary Report, which summarizes the results of the monitoring effort, has been completed and is available for download from the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage.

Baseline surveys were conducted just prior to and immediately following restoration, quarterly monitoring took place through Year 1 and semi-annual monitoring in Years 2 through 5. The primary goals of this project were to aid in the assessment of restoration efforts and provide a benchmark for long-term evaluation of the fish communities at the grounding site. Teams of REEF Advanced Assessment Team divers conducted 558 roving fish surveys and 559 belt transect surveys during the five year monitoring project.

Report Conclusions:

After initial colonization, Restoration site fish assemblage diversity, density and biomass have leveled off and remain lower than that at nearby reference areas. A total of 165 fish species were recorded at the Restoration Site during the 5-year project. In comparison, 189 were documented at the North Reference site and 207 were documented at the South Reference Site. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding quickest to the restoration efforts, with densities and biomass values similar to that of the reference sites. Grunt and snapper species are primarily absent from the Restoration Site. The relatively short duration of this study makes it difficult for results to be teased out from natural population variability. Similarly, definitive conclusions cannot be achieved from these data due to the limited amount of time that has passed since restoration and the well-known decadal processes that are required for coral reef development. However, these data will serve as a critical baseline for assessing future changes and the effect of any future restoration efforts at the site.

For more information about the 5-year project and to read the full report, visit the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage. There was also a longer story about the project in the January 2008 REEF-in-Brief.

Notes from the Field – 2009 REEF Grouper Moon Project

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Grouper Moon Project researchers and volunteers documented Nassau grouper spawning on all three Cayman Islands in 2009. This spawning release image was taken on the Little Cayman aggregation. Photo by Brice Semmens.
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Thousands of Nassau grouper aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in February. Photo by Phil Bush.
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The Cayman Brac team aboard the Glen Ellen.
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Grouper Moon researchers take video with lasers of individual Nassau grouper on the aggregation. The images are later analyzed to determine the size distribution of the aggregation.
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The Grand Cayman team happy after finding aggregating grouper.
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Dr. Semmens presents findings from the project to over 75 Little Cayman residents and visitors.
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Over 1,000 Nassau grouper were found on Cayman Brac, an area that was previously thought to only have a small, remnant spawning aggregation. Photo by Phil Bush.
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The path of the current drifter that was released at the Cayman Brac aggregation site on the night of spawning (19 days at sea). The current pattern is similar to that seen with drifters released on Little Cayman. Jamaica is in the southeast corner.

Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. The 2009 spawning season was the most ambitious to date for the project. For the first time, we had teams of researchers and volunteers stationed on each of the three Cayman Islands--Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. The field season was certainly a success; among many interesting results and accomplishments, our most exciting find was that the teams on all three islands witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on the same night (Valentine’s Day, of all days! – which happened to be 5 nights after the full moon).

In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. This followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.

The broad goals for the 2009 spawning season were to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman; aggregations on both of these islands were fished to exhaustion in the recent past. In addition to the island specific objectives, the Grouper Moon research program expanded satellite drifter work this season. These drifters, which track current patterns associated with the body of water the grouper eggs were spawned in, will continue to report positions for 45 days after spawning; this length of time is the approximate larval duration for Nassau grouper. REEF also continued education and outreach efforts through public talks about spawning aggregations and the Grouper Moon research. Talks were held at the Little Cayman National Trust and Dive Tech/Cobalt Coast Resort.

2009 Aggregation Season Results Summary

The Little Cayman team continued the long-term monitoring of this aggregation, which includes counting the number of fish that show up, estimating the size of the fish, and recording the timing and amount of spawning observed. The Cayman Brac team’s goal was to document whether or not aggregating Nassau grouper were spawning-- evidence of spawning would refute the theory that Nassau grouper fail to recover once overfished because fish on small aggregations no longer release gametes. In the 2008 spawning season, the Grouper Moon research team discovered the location of an aggregation of Nassau grouper on Cayman Brac. This year, armed with this information, REEF and CIDOE researchers spent the full 2009 spawning season observing, videoing and documenting the Cayman Brac spawning aggregation. In addition, the team was able to accomplish the primary goal of this season’s work on the island—team members both observed and videoed spawning. Objectives for the Grand Cayman team were similar, except that they first had the task of discovering where Nassau grouper on that island go (if anywhere) during the spawning season. Using the acoutic tag pinger signal of just ONE Nassau grouper (of 6 total individuals tagged on Grand Cayman in 2008), divers confirmed the presence of aggregating grouper near the historic East End aggregation site and a dusk dive on February 14th yielded this season’s biggest accomplishment– team members witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on Grand Cayman!

The findings stemming from this work are unquestionably novel, and are certainly good news —protections on aggregation sites that have been fished to exhaustion will protect those few individuals that remain, and will protect stocks of fishes that are contributing to the next generation of this endangered reef fish. Put simply, our research demonstrates that overfished aggregations are down, but not out.

Why Does This Matter?

Nassau grouper are not just icons of the Caribbean; they are a social and ecological cornerstone of the region’s coral reefs. Historically, Nassau grouper represented one of the region’s most economically important fisheries. Unfortunately, due to intense harvest on spawning aggregations, their populations have dwindled to a fraction of their historic numbers. The species became the first Caribbean reef fish to be listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the species is candidate listed under the US Endangered Species Act. The precipitous decline in mass spawning aggregations of Caribbean grouper species has been well documented. The majority of known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive due to the ease with which aggregating species are caught. And those that are still active contain significantly fewer fish than the 10s of thousands that historically gathered at these special places.

As part of our work on the Grouper Moon Project, REEF will continue to develop a comprehensive assessment of the status of the Cayman Island’s Nassau grouper spawning population as a guide for future Nassau grouper restoration and conservation policy.

Collaborators and Supporters Who Make This Project Possible

REEF would like to thank our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, specifically Phil Bush, Bradley Johnson, Croy McCoy, James Gibb, Tim Austin, Gina Ebanks-Pietre, Chris Dixon, Keith Neale, Delwin McLaughlin and Robert Walton, as well as Drs. Scott and Selina Heppell from Oregon State University. REEF Volunteers have always been at the core of our Grouper Moon field work and 2009 was no exception – heartfelt thanks to Judie Clee, Thor Dunmire, Tracey Griffin, Doug Harder, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell and Sheryl Shea. The Grouper Moon Project has continued through the years empowered by the first year’s success and the passion of early project leader Leslie Whaylen Clift. Assistance from OSU graduate students, Stephanie Kraft and Heather Reiff, is much appreciated. Principal financial support is from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the CIDOE. Additional funding is from Mr. Wayne Panton, Mr. Dan Scott, Clive and Stella Wood, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and hundreds of REEF members. Continued in-kind logistical support from island businesses and residents, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers, the Southern Cross Club and Peter Hillenbrand, is also much appreciated. And finally, our ground-breaking achievements on Cayman Brac would not have been possible without the generous support of Wayne Sullivan, who donated his vessel the Glen Ellen, his time (and patience), his equipment and technical diving expertise, and his crew, Brady Booton and Jules James.

For more information on the project, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub