Welcome New REEF Staff - Bonnie Barnes and Ellie Place

Bonnie Barnes, REEF's Development Manager.
Ellie Place, REEF's Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project

We are very excited to welcome two new staff to the REEF Team - Bonnie Barnes and Ellie Place. Both joined our staff based at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida, in April 2017. Bonnie will serve as REEF's Development Manager, bringing a wealth of experience and passion to our fundraising program. Ellie came to REEF originally as a Marine Conservation Intern in 2016, and we are so happy she has decided to stay. She will be REEF's Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Program. More about both of our new staff is below, and you can read about all of our staff here - Staff Bios Page. We feel so lucky to have such a dedicated team. Our staff, together with our amazing volunteers and supporters, ensure that our mission-oriented, marine conservation work can happen.

Bonnie Barnes joins REEF as our Development Manager. Bonnie’s heart is in conservation, whether scuba diving, traipsing through a forest, or swooshing down a mountain, she loves and cares about our environment. Having started her first business at 17 in her hometown of Las Vegas, she eventually found her way to Florida where she owned a marketing company for another 14 years. After earning her MBA in 2006, she jumped head-first into the nonprofit world, leading a conservation organization in Jacksonville, Florida. As an avid diver, she trained to be a member on the Jacksonville Reef Research Team, and, as their Communications Officer, organized the first Artificial Reef conference in the early 90’s at Jacksonville University, in which REEF also participated. For her work in the offshore marine environment, Bonnie was awarded Florida’s Sea Grant Volunteer of the Year Award in 1991. With over 10 years in nonprofit management and cultivation of donors, Bonnie has found her way to the Florida Keys, where she can combine her love of diving with protection of our ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public to become involved.

Ellie Place joins REEF as the Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. She attended Brown University where she earned two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Geological Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies. She first started at REEF as a Marine Conservation Intern in the fall of 2016, and enthusiastically joined the staff in the spring of 2017 after serving as an Education Leadership Intern. She grew up in Washington State, halfway between the Puget Sound and the North Cascades, where her passion for exploring and conserving the natural world lead her to REEF. Before moving to Key Largo, Ellie worked as a co-leader for kayaking expeditions in the San Juan Islands and as a lab assistant in an oceanography lab that studied sediment samples from the East China Sea to measure centennial scale climate change. Ellie’s passion for sharing conservation efforts support her role with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and in expanding its many components. Ellie is a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropical Western Atlantic, but has also enjoyed diving in the Pacific Northwest.

Welcome Bonnie and Ellie P!

The Faces of REEF: Greg Jensen

Greg in his element underwater. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A fish lover at heart.
Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. Photo by Greg Jensen.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Greg Jensen, member since 2009. Greg has conducted 230 surveys (almost all in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest where he lives with his wife Pam, also an active REEF member). Greg is a faculty member at the University of Washington and the author of "Crabs and Shrimps of the Pacific Coast". He is a Level 5 Expert surveyor in the PAC region and has participated in several of the Advanced Assessment Team projects in Washington. Here's what Greg had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF? I first learned about REEF when I was approached by Janna Nichols to help on some dive surveys for a non-REEF project to count invertebrates in the Pacific Northwest. There wasn’t a species list, and we were trying to identify everything- which turned out to be impossible, given the density of organisms and problems with species identification for groups like sponges and bryozoans.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs? As a scientist who has always been interested in biodiversity I have kind of a built-in affinity for documenting what I see, and REEF gives me yet another excuse to dive. What I like (besides seeing the database grow) is that it gets more non-scientists engaged and interested in underwater life. Divers who once thought a site was only good if it had wolf eels or octopus are now getting excited over obscure little sculpins, and that’s pretty cool.

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? I’m fortunate to live near Puget Sound, in an area where I’m surrounded by water. There are a dozen or more great sites an hour or less from my door, ranging from current-swept rocky channels where one can only dive during small tidal exchanges, to quiet bays that can be done anytime. With such a variety of habitats there is the opportunity to see a great diversity of species.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite? Can’t really decide if my favorite fish is a spiny lumpsucker or a grunt sculpin. Both are small, unbearably cute fish with great personalities.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? Stock up on identification guides. All books have their strengths and weaknesses, and having several different references at hand will give you different views, color variations, and tips for separating similar species. Check out REEF’s online “Fishinars” for handy tips to separate similar-looking species, and these often include characteristics that may not be in any of the guide books. I’ve given Fishinars for west coast crabs and sculpins, and put together an e-book to simplify identification of Pacific Northwest sculpins, a group that many divers find particularly difficult (free pdf download at www.molamarine.com).

Fish sightings

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Thanks for some REEF HQ Assistance

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Dog Snapper Eating Trumpetfish, See REEF Forum for more, Photo by Jessica Morris
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Red-tipped Sea Goddess, by Jessica Morris
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Octopus Eye, by Jessica Morris

As you can imagine, on any given day there is a lot that needs to get done at REEF HQ to keep all of our programs running. I want to take a moment to thank Jessica Morris for helping us out during October with miscellaneous,yet crucial tasks in the office.  Jessica is a local SCUBA instructor and is eager to help REEF and learn what we're all about.  She has already achieved her level 3 experience level and is ready to start surveying when she's not instructing. If any of our REEF members are down in the Key Largo area and in need of a SCUBA instructor or just want to dive with someone who is knowledgable about fish ID, you can reach Jessica at jessm82@hotmail.com.  She is also a budding photographer and took the pics of the Dog snapper eating the trumpetfish that is posted on our online forum page at http://www.reef.org/forum.  In the future, REEF hopes to provide opportunities for our members to assist us on various projects from their homes.  But for now, if you're in the area and want to help out, just let us know and/or stop into REEF HQ for a visit.  Meanwhile, we'll look for more surveys and great pics from Jessica this winter.

REEF Volunteers Honored for Their Service to the Florida Keys Community

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CFFK President Dianna Sutton, Audrey and Ken Smith and Leda Cunningham honor the Smiths' contributions to REEF and the Florida Keys community.

On Friday, February 1, the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys honored REEF HQ volunteers Audrey and Ken Smith at the 2008 Volunteer of the Year/Unsung Heroes Awards Luncheon in Key West, Florida. Ken and Audrey have been the backbone of REEF HQ in Key Largo for ten years. Their quiet, constant and cheerful help with the unglamorous tasks of building maintenance, data management and administrative work has consistently supported REEF in its mission to actively engage divers and snorkelers in marine conservation. The Ken (“Smitty”) and Audrey team focus on outdoor upkeep and office assistance respectively, contributing their sense of humor and selfless giving to the REEF family and making REEF HQ an inspiring place to work. REEF is grateful and honored to have the Smiths working at REEF HQ. If your travels bring you to the Keys, please drop by and say hi to these important members of the REEF team.

Two REEFers Survey the Galapagos Islands

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Whale Shark encounter
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True poetry in motion, squadron of Spotted Eagle Rays

My dive partner and I, both celebrating significant birthdays this year, decided to give ourselves the best gift of all, a dive trip to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, one of the world's largest, covers approximately 138,000 square kilometers (53,282 square miles). On May 8, 2008, supplied with Paul Humann's Galapagos Fish Identification book and REEF fish survey forms, we set off aboard the Aggressor II for an eleven-day adventure. Our itinerary included diving seven islands (among them Wolf and Darwin), as well as four land excursions, one of them a visit to the famed Darwin Research Station.  Fifty-three surveys later, we had identified well over a hundred species, will have to wait for the data report to know just how many species we surveyed. We were lucky enough to see four whale sharks, and an Ocean sunfish.  Appearing almost daily were schools of Hammerhead sharks, as well as Galapagos, White-tip, Silky and Reef sharks. Green turtles, three to four feet in diameter often accompanied us and allowed the divers to swim alongside them. In addition, Manta Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, Mobula, Devil and Golden Cowrays, would suddenly appear from the deep blue below us. We had to be careful when holding onto the rocks in the strong currents not to grab onto one of the well-camouflaged Stone Scorpionfish. A special 110-feet deep dive was made to a cave to find three Red Lipped Batfish, thought to be endemic to the area. Schools of Bottlenose dolphins followed our boat and dove with us often, as did the playful Fur Sealions which would pull on the fins, swim circles around us and come right up to our masks to say “hello!” Flightless cormorants, penguins or marine iguanas would occasionally startle us when least expected under water. We were surprised by the abundances and larger sizes of several fish species. At times, it seemed like we were behind a moving curtain of fish.

Since both of us were fairly new to Pacific diving, we were thrilled even to watch commonly seen fish, such as King Angelfish, Leather Bass, Moorish Idols, Giant Damselfish, Barberfish, Burrito Grunts and the most common of all, the ubiquitous Pacific Creole Fish. The parrotfish and wrasses were also a treat to see; Blue-chins and Bicolor Parrotfish were common and the Harlequin Wrasses, with their distinctive bump on the forehead, seemed to compete for the award in the most original in “pattern and color” combination category. Even though Galapagos diving is best suited for large fish observation, it is also home to many smaller species, among them the endemic Galapagos Triplefin Blennies, Marbled Gobies and Galapagos Pike Blennies, as well as Blue-banded Gobies, Bravo Clinids. Nooks and crannies in the rock walls hid colorful seahorses and even a frogfish. Yellowfin tuna, while not abundant, were seen on many dives and averaged about 3-4 feet long. Unfortunately, their size and market value encourage illegal fishing, since they fetch a high price on some Pacific Rim markets. The land and sea environment of Galapagos is unique, consisting of volcanic islands of varying sizes; consequently, the ocean floor is made up of lava boulders with very little coral. Black coral (golden green in color) was found on some sites. Near shore, most islands had a good amount of green algae, a good source of food for the marine iguanas and green turtles. Galapagos diving is truly unique; its strong, converging currents bring abundant and rich nutrients, providing a perfect environment for the pelagics. We urge you to go see this wonder for yourselves!  The Galapagos Islands are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Located approximately 1,000 kilometres off the Ecuadorian coast, within the confluence of three ocean currents, most of the marine and terrestrial fauna is truly unique. Recent efforts at education and outreach to the Ecuadorian community are in direct response to increased illegal poaching within the Marine Reserve that has included shark finning, increased squatting from migrants from the mainland, and an increase in non-indigenous species. such as goats.   A recent response from the Ecuadorian Government has enacted a Special Law for protection of the Galapagos Islands.  This Special Law provides stricter control over immigration, a quarantine system for combating invasive species, extending the boundary of protection around the islands, limiting property rights and economic activity, and increased national funding for conservation and enforcement - all of which are needed to maintain this unique biosphere for our collective future.  Photo credits for this article -  Dusan Richtarik and Barbara Anderson

REEF Fish Academy

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Participants of the first ever REEF Fish Academy.

Where people get fish smarts! Over the weekend of October 12, six REEF Level 1 & 2 surveyors got a chance to become Level 3 Advanced surveyors and increase our fish smarts with Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach and Lad Akins. I personally became a REEF customer for this event and participated in the classroom, the fun, hanging out with Paul, Ned and Anna at the cookout, diving with Lad as he found new (for us) exciting additions to our life list and took the 100 Fish - Level 3 test (good thing I passed).

As part of the event, the first of its kind, we invited surveyors who had submitted 25 or more surveys but were still rated Introductory/Novice. Linda Crouse, Kelly Drinnen, Lureen Ferretti, Karen Hausheer and Dawn Vigo were the very fist participants in REEF Fish Academy. The weekend included classroom sessions, survey dives, and evening socials. Anna DeLoach shared REEF’s vision for this new training program with our participants, “We are looking to provide our enthusiastic REEF members with a way to share their passion and knowledge for Fish Watching. REEF Fish Academy is designed to tap into this enthusiasm and provide our members a way to become mentors for others, spreading the word about fish watching and surveying. REEF Fish Academy graduates are ready share the fun and excitement of fish ID and show people what fish surveying and contributing to REEF’s database is all about - making dives that count”.

The diving and a cookout were provided by Horizon Divers, one of REEF’s valued partners here in the local community. We had two great days of diving and over 80 species of fish sighted during the intensively fish orientated weekend. We are already planning for our next REEF Fish Academy, so keep an eye out for your invitation – coming soon.

Congratulation to Lureen Ferretti – who even passed her Level 4 Fish Test during the weekend and is now an Expert Surveyor. Special thanks to the participants for their support, coming to Key Largo to dive with us, their enthusiasm and all the great feedback and suggestions. It was a fantastic weekend.  Click here to find out more about REEF's Experience Levels.

First Bahamas Lionfish Derby Huge Success: 1,408 lionfish in 1 day!

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Thomas Roberts (left), with his family, Lad Akins, and Bobbie Lindsay (right, event organizer), won first place in the derby. Mr. Roberts brought in 289 lionfish during the one day event.
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Lionfish have proven to be a dangerous invader to Bahamian and Caribbean reefs. Photo by Lenny Zwik.

The first Bahamas Lionfish Derby, held on June 6 at the Green Turtle Club in Abaco, was a great success on many fronts. This test case for the Bahamas government was the first to allow (by special permit) the use of compressed air and spearing to remove lionfish in a derby type event. Organized by Abaco and Palm Beach resident Bobbie Lindsay and REEF, the one-day event drew 26 registered teams and brought in 1, 408 lionfish. Over $5,000 in prize money was awarded including $2,000 for the most fish by any team – 289 by team White Roach from Abaco. The largest fish award went to Team Panga with a 349mm fish and the smallest fish was brought in by Big T with a 57mm juvenile. Pre-event talks, including a school wide talk to the Amy Roberts elementary school, were well attended and generated significant awareness of the lionfish issue. Over 200 participants, residents and visitors attended the scoring and awards banquet and were treated to a lionfish tasting as well.

This is the first large scale event aimed at controlling lionfish populations in the Caribbean. More events are currently being organized in other areas and dates are being set for next year’s 2nd annual Abaco Derby. Special thanks goes out to the Green Turtle Club, Brendal’s Dive Shop and all of the great teams and volunteers who participated in the event. A great time was had by all and the lionfish population around Abaco was dramatically reduced.

Derby results –

  • Most Lionfish – White Roach (289), Little Big Fish (234), Sweet Thing (173)
  • Largest Lionfish – Team Panga (349mm), White Roach (344mm), Team Pineapple (341)
  • Smallest Lionfish – Big T (57mm), Bolo Boys (81mm), Sweet Thing (82mm)
  • Special Dreamy Timber award for most frozen lionfish – Team Panga
  • Grouper Spawning Aggregation Research Continues in 2010

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    The Grouper Moon Project studies the spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Photo by Selina Heppell.
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    Over 3,000 Nassau grouper aggregate at a site off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons. Photo by Scott Heppell.

    Scientists and project volunteers from REEF and our partner institutions, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and Oregon State University, are getting ready for another year of the Grouper Moon Project. The team will be in the field for two weeks beginning on the full moon, January 30. 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.

    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 2010 spawning season are 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. Watch future issues of REEF-in-Brief for field season results and what's next for the protection of spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands as the current harvest ban is due to expire. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit the webpage http://www.reef.org/programs/grouper_moon

    REEF Annual Report 2009 Released

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    REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2009 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects (e.g. invasive lionfish and Grouper Moon), data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2009 such a success!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub