Blue Croaker -- What a Find

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The mystery solved -- a Blue Croaker. Photo by Paul Humann.

One of the best parts about fishwatching is that no matter how many surveys you have under your belt, there's always a chance to see something unexpected. Recently I was diving on Davey Crocker Reef near Tavernier in the Florida Keys with four REEF surveyors. As often happens, we got separated, me with my photography and the others surveying. I spotted a brown fish about 8 inches long “drifting” in the water just under a ledge overhang. It sort of looked like a croaker to me, but not one that I recognized. I photographed it from a distance and continued to photograph while moving closer. The fish remained still, just looking at me. Finally, when I got about 6 feet away it retreated into the gloom under the ledge.

Back on the boat we were talking fish -- as usual. One of the others commented about a strange brown fish she had seen under a ledge. It turns out everyone had seen it and no one knew what it was. The entire group were members of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team (AAT, Expert Surveyors), so no one knowing is surprising. After downloading my photos, I researched the mystery fish. My hunch was correct; it was a Croaker, a rarely seen Blue Croaker, Bairdiella batabana. These were the first sightings of this species to go into the REEF database!

So how do you know if it's a Blue Croaker? The body coloration can be copperish to bluish brown. The only distinctive marking is a white crease on the gill cover.

California and Pacific Northwest ID Courses Available on CD-ROM

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A REEF volunteers conducting a survey in Monterey Bay. Photo by Pete Naylor.

REEF is proud to release the latest version in our series of instructional marine life identification courses – Fishwatching in California. The California curriculum consists of three courses on one CD – divided into Southern California, Channel Islands, and Central/Northern California. Pictures and text are included and are geared for anyone interested in teaching Fish ID – ideal for dive shops and instructors, dive clubs, marine science centers and aquariums, and other groups. This course completes the library of West Coast curricula: California Fish ID, California Invertebrates and Algae, Pacific Northwest Fish, and Pacific Northwest Invertebrates. We would like to thank all of the photographers who generously donated underwater images for these courses!

These instructor-led courses are a great way to introduce divers and snorkelers to the variety of marine life that can be seen during their time in the water. Each module contains a CD-ROM with images with an easy-to-use teaching curriculum to train students in identification and REEF survey methodology. A sample starter kit is also included. Courses can be taught in approximately 2-3 hours and cover 50-70 of the most common species for an area.

The California Fish ID curriculum, along with all of the other curricula modules, are available online in REEF's store here -- http://www.reef.org/node/437

News Tidbits

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Lionfish Derby T-Shirt Available Through REEF Store - The special edition Florida Keys Lionfish Derby T-shirts are available through the store while supplies last. Check out the REEF Store today for REEF gear, survey supplies, books, and more.

New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed the following to our growing list of Field Stations. They join over 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.

  • Diver's Dream Charters - LuJac's Quest, Anacortes WA
  • Maui Fish Identification Network - Kihei HI
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    Fish & Friends Monthly Speaker Series - Every month, on the second Tuesday of the month, REEF hosts an engaging speaker and social hour as part of our Fish and Friends series. The monthly seminars are held at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, FL. October's speaker is Steven Frink, who will be presenting "Reflections From The Road----Images and Observations from 3 Decades as an Underwater Photojournalist." Everyone is welcome. We hope you will join us.

    REEF Field Survey Schedule 2011 Posted Online - Now is the time to plan your next "dive trip that counts". REEF Field Surveys offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. 2011 destinations include many exciting locations that offer great diving and prime fishwatching experiences, including the San Blas Islands in Panama, Saba, Hawaii, and for the first time, a South Pacific destination -- Fiji! REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Check out the schedule on the REEF Trips page.

    Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook -The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!

     

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Franklin Neal

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    Redface Moray, a rare find! Photo by Cassandra Neal.
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    A cute little Snowy Grouper that Franklin found while diving with Ned DeLoach in Bonaire.

    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 highlight Franklin Neal (REEF member since 2000). Franklin and his wife Cassandra (also an active REEF member) spend much of their time in Bonaire these days, but they originally called New York home. Franklin has conducted 1,179 REEF surveys! and he is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Franklin had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? How did you first hear about REEF?

    Cassandra wasn’t diving when I had my first encounter with a REEFer. We were on Bermuda in 2000 with several friends. I was the only diver, so I buddied with strangers on the dive boat. On the second or third day, a woman came aboard who was doing surveys. Between dives I asked her about what she was doing, and she invited me to buddy with her. That woman was Judie Clee, long time REEF member and REEF's Volunteer of the Year in 2005. Judie told me about REEF and the website, so when we returned home, I joined. The following year we signed up to be with Paul Humann on Bonaire for his first “Discovery” trip. We did that because it was advertised for inexperienced fish and critter watchers. After doing those first surveys, I was hooked. I have been on over a dozen Field Survey Trips and/or AAT projects, in locations from the Florida Keys and the Biscayne National Park to Barbados. I really like diving with other REEF members. They are very friendly, and we share a common interest. The excitement level on the boat after a dive can be very high as the previous dive and the sightings are discussed.

    Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? If you don’t dive nearby, where do you most often dive? Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

    We retired in 2006, and moved from Long Island New York to Michigan and Bonaire. We own a condo at Sand Dollar on Bari Reef, the #1 site for species diversity in the Tropical Western Atlantic. That is also the year that Cassandra started diving. With Bari in our front yard, Cassandra now has over 950 dives. Bonaire is wonderful because of the shore diving. You don’t need a boat … just a “dive truck.” Starting and ending a dive in one foot of water allows for many more habitats to explore with a greater variety of species. To prove my point, go to the ReefNet Reef Fish ID DVD and look at the video for the nineline goby.

    What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?

    Everyone loves the queen angelfish because of its beauty. I think the male rainbow wrasse is equally beautiful. I love the combination of colors and patterns on the redspotted hawkfish. Several years ago, Cassandra discovered a redface moray eel (also known as the orange moray) just a ten minute swim from our dock. We have now seen almost 20 of these rare fish (Check them out in the REEF database if you doubt my use of the term “rare.”). Cassandra has a photo of a redface sharing the same hole as a chestnut moray. It is wonderful. I use it as my computer wallpaper.

    Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, September 2011

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    Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

    - Scientists from NOAA Fisheries are using REEF data to conduct stock assessments on parrotfishes in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.

    - REEF Advanced Assessment Team members joined the Living Oceans Foundation's Global Reef Expedition in the Bahamas. Scientists from LOF are now using the REEF data collected to generate species distribution maps of remote areas including Cay Sal Bank.

    - A researcher from the Gilbert Ichthyological Society at the Burke Museum in Washington is evaluating the distribution of the two sub-species of blue rockfish along the west coast.

    Putting It to Work: New Publication From the Grouper Moon Project

    Parallel mounted lasers projected on the side of a Nassau grouper at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation.

    A new paper was just published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation documenting a key monitoring technique established by scientists from REEF and our Grouper Moon collaborators. The paper, "Documenting recovery of a spawning aggregation through size frequency analysis from underwater laser calipers measurements", describes a technique to monitor changes in fish size on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation through time that does not require the capture and handling of fish. Analysis of seven years of data show that length-distribution data can be collected by divers using a video-based system with parallel lasers calibrated to a specific distance apart. This novel technique is one of just several being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. View the paper online here. Find out more about our work on endangered Nassau Grouper by visiting the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

    REEF Celebrates Our Supporters at Sustainers Event

    Over 100 REEF Sustainers, marine conservationists, scientists, and prominent figures in the diving industry gathered in South Florida earlier this month to commemorate REEF's successes at the biennial REEF Sustainers Event. REEF Sustainers are donors who contribute at least $1,000 a year to support REEF's programs. REEF Board of Trustees and Staff welcomed our Sustainers and other invited guests to Mango Manor, the home of esteemed underwater photographer and REEF President, Paul Humann, for a day of presentations and camaraderie. It was an honor to have so many of our donors as well as leaders from the scientific and diving communities show support for REEF’s ocean conservation projects. Their support is critical and provides the resources to continue running REEF’s key programs: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, Invasive Lionfish Program, and the Grouper Moon Project. If you would like to join REEF as a Sustainer, please contact Martha Klitzkie at martha@REEF.org or 305-852-0030. You can also make your donation through our secure online contribution portal. A special thanks to the event's sponsors and auction donors: Rocio del Mar LiveaboardRogestCaradonna Dive Adventures, Carrow Foundation, Herdeg, du Pont & Dalle Pazze, LLP, New World Publications, and Cheeko Douglas. 

    REEF Database Tops 175,000!

    Two of the 14,000+ REEF volunteers conducting a survey! Photo by Tom Collier.

    A few weeks ago, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database topped 175,000 surveys! We are exicted and proud to have reached this milestone. Together with our 14,000+ volunteers, we have created the largest fish sightings database in the world! This vital dataset is used by marine scientists, researchers, and government agencies to better understand and protect marine resources. The number of scientific publications, requests for data, and policy decisions resulting from REEF data continue to increase. Visit our Publications page to see the citations list of scientific papers that feature REEF data. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors.

    The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is the cornerstone program that supports REEF's mission to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting, and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, and the tropical West Pacific, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada and the South Atlantic States. The data are collected using an easy and standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. The first surveys were conducted 20 years ago in Key Largo, in July 1993.

    Explore the REEF database online at www.REEF.org/db/reports.

    Upcoming Fishinars

    Our 2014 Fishinar schedule is off to a great start! We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. Fishinars coming up include:

    • Butterflies and Angels: Kings and Queens of the Reef - Jonathan Lavan, April 1st, tonight!
    • A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - Ray Troll, April 16th
    • What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love, April 22nd
    • Hawaii's Wrascally Wrasses - Heather George, Liz Foote, and Donna Brown, May 13th
    • Coralinar! - Dr. Marilyn Brandt, May 29th
    • Eastside vs Westside: Lookalike Fish from the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, June 19

    REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.

    Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!

    REEF’s Annual Lionfish Derby Series Culminates with a Successful New Event “Corals In & Lionfish Out”

    Lionfish OUT. Volunteers at the 5th annual Key Largo Lionfish Derby removed 573 lionfish. Photo by REEF.
    Corals IN. Volunteers at the first annual Plant-a-Thon planted 765 coral recruits. Photo by Tim Grollimund.

    REEF teamed up with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) during the second week of September to host the first-ever “Corals In & Lionfish Out,” a series of events to engage and educate the public while raising funds for coral restoration and invasive lionfish removal efforts in the Florida Keys. “Corals In & Lionfish Out” coincided with REEF’s Fifth Annual Key Largo Lionfish Derby, which was held at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Sept. 13. During the Derby, 15 teams of divers and snorkelers competed from sunrise until 5PM, and removed a total of 573 lionfish from reefs in the Upper Keys. In addition to the 79 Derby participants, many other Florida Keys residents and visitors came to the Derby to sample lionfish ceviche, witness lionfish dissections, and learn more about the lionfish invasion. The Key Largo Lionfish Derby was the fourth and final in REEF’s 2014 Derby series, which collectively removed 2,677 lionfish from reefs in South Florida and The Bahamas.

    The events leading up to the Key Largo Lionfish Derby included REEF’s monthly “Fish and Friends” social, which featured a presentation on invasive lionfish by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Elizabeth Underwood, REEF Lionfish Program Manager. Ken Nedimyer, the Founder and President of CRF, also shared a lecture about the history and future of coral restoration in the Florida Keys and ways to become involved in the work. Following this seminar, CRF held its Coral Plant-a-Thon on September 11. During the one-day Plant-a-Thon, 765 corals were planted by 11 divers in near-shore patch reefs in the Upper Keys. In conjunction with the week’s outstanding coral planting and lionfish removal efforts, more than $1,000 was raised to support CRF and REEF’s marine conservation programs.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub