Fishinars in the New Year

Learn how to tell Black Rockfish from Blue Rockfish, and other lookalikes. Photo by Janna Nichols.

We have just the thing for after the holiday rush is over -- free, educational REEF Fishinars. These hour-long sessions let you learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we will be adding new ones for 2015 soon. On the schedule so far....

  • Swimming in the Deep End - Carlos and Allison Estape, January 20th
  • Pacific Northwest Lookalikes - Janna Nichols, January 28th
  • Cayman Fishes - Jonathan Lavan, February 11th
  • Cool Hawaii Finds - 15 Not-So-Common Fishes - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, February 18th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, June 2015

REEF sightings are an important source of information for rare species such as sawfish. Photo courtesy Simon Fraser University.

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:

- A research group at Palm Beach State College is using REEF data on South Florida fish assemblages to evaluate beach renourishment projects.

- Researchers from NOAA's Biogeography office are including REEF data in the development of a management plan for the marine portion of the NE Ecological Corridor Reserves in NE Puerto Rico and Culebra Island.

- Researchers at Bimini Biological Field Station are using REEF sightings of two endangered sawfish species to better understand the species' current distribution and status.

A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Planning For Grouper Moon

A spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman, the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our partners at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are gearing up for the annual Grouper Moon Project next month. Scientists will be on the ground and in the water during the full moon in January. Since 2002, the group has conducted ground-breaking research to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations, to help ensure recovery of the populations of this iconic species. This year, the team will be collaborating on new work using cutting-edge technology including underwater microscopes to evaluate larvae in-situ. We will also be hosting several live-feed videos through Google Hangouts as part of REEF’s Grouper Education Program. In 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched the education program to engage Caymanian students in the project. This exciting initiative brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and the Hangouts that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. We will post Hangout details on our Facebook page and www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject in a few weeks.

The Faces of REEF: Adam Nardelli

Adam and the lionfish research team.
The cryptic frogfish that Adam found in Cozumel.

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 Adam Nardelli. Adam has been a REEF member since 2009, and he served as a REEF Intern in 2014. He has conducted 54 surveys and has participated in several of REEF's programs. Here’s what Adam had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I first learned about REEF as a PADI dive master when I became involved in doing group fish surveys and held a Great Annual Fish Count event at a local dive shop in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I eventually became a PADI instructor and started teaching my own fish identification courses for many of the local dive shops. In 2009, the spread of invasive lionfish started to reach the shores of south Florida, and as a dive professional and passionate steward of the local reefs, I quickly saw this issue as an important threat that needed to be understood and treated for management. I started a research project on the lionfish invasion while I studied a graduate program at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, and partnered with REEF and Lad Akins as a REEF Intern.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

My involvement with REEF has influenced most of my diving career well into shaping my view as a marine conservation steward and professional educator today. As a REEF Intern, I was fortunate to assist with several field surveys, and I would have to say that among all of them the single highlight was the ability to dive and learn from the staff members. Of course, my most memorable surveys were conducting lionfish transects with Lad, Stephanie, and the other REEF volunteers. There were as many long, cold, wet days as there were warm, sunny ones where we spent hours in the water surveying many of the diverse reef habitats around the Florida Keys. There were so many dive stories that we came away with, but I would have to say the most memorable was when we were approached by a huge sailfish chasing bait.

I also had the extraordinary experience of assisting with the Grouper Moon project in Little Cayman with Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Brice Semmens. This was an opportunity to help conduct research and promote continued protection for the endangered Nassau Grouper. It was an honor to learn from the sharp set of fish identification skills that Christy and Brice possess as expert field researchers. Swimming with large schools of these charismatic fish was a memorable dive adventure.

Lastly, just this past summer in 2015, I participated in the Roatan Field Survey group, which was led by Anna and Ned DeLoach. It was wonderful to dive with these two fish “aficionados” as we explored every coral crevice and sand hole in search of rare, cryptic and elusive creatures. It’s hard not to have fun with them around, as diving with these two really makes one appreciate how remarkable life under the ocean can be.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I am inspired to continue to do REEF surveys because it adds value to every dive I make. Not only am I contributing data for scientific endeavor, but it also enables me to appreciate the reef in a very real, detailed way. During each dive, I can account for every creature that I observe and take the time to watch their behavior. Diving becomes more like a visit with a friend than just being a passerby.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

There are so many diverse and fascinating fish in the oceans that it would be hard to choose just one to top the list. However, during my most recent dives in Cozumel this year I encountered a perfectly cryptic Longlure Frogfish. When the dive master pointed to the coral head, I thought critically, “this guy thinks I’ve never seen a sponge before.” But then upon closer visual inspection, the pectoral fins and eyes began to take shape. With greater concealment than any octopus or scorpionfish I have encountered, this creature is truly unique.

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

My best tip for fishwatching and being a good surveyor is to slow down and take your time to dive. Be still in the water and watch the fish school around you. Practice good buoyancy control as well. You will not only appreciate the reef more, but the fish will respond better towards your presence and allow you the close inspection you may need to get that positive key identification feature.

Unusual Fish Sightings from our Members (August)

Scrawled Trunkfish: (Scrawled Cowfish/Smooth Trunkfish Hybrid). Photo by Linda Baker.Scrawled Trunkfish: (Scrawled Cowfish/Smooth Trunkfish Hybrid). Photo by Linda Baker. Orange Moray: Photo by Todd Fulks.Orange Moray: Photo by Todd Fulks. Striped Bass: Photo by James Guertin.Striped Bass: Photo by James Guertin.

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.

Grouper Moon Project Research Planned for February 2010

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Approximately 4,000 Nassau grouper aggregate each winter off the west end of Little Cayman Island. Photo by Phil Bush.

Planning is underway for REEF's annual research on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands for the 2010 spawning season - the Grouper Moon Project. This collaborative conservation program between REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment is entering its 8th year. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the research team is conducting innovative research that is critical to the long-term survival of this iconic Caribbean species. Grouper Moon scientists will be in the field January 30 - February 12, 2010. If you are looking for a winter getaway and are considering the Cayman Islands, this is a great time to visit Little Cayman.

While there are not opportunities for recreational divers to visit the aggregation, researchers will be giving several public talks and divers on Bloody Bay Wall will witness the mass migrations of the normally solitary Nassau grouper from their home reefs out to the aggregation site. Another good reason -- the acclaimed Southern Cross Club has offered to donate a percentage of any package booked by REEF members during that time to support REEF's Grouper Moon Project.  To take a vacation and make a positive impact for the grouper, contact the Southern Cross Club reservation office directly at 1-800-899-2582 or info@SouthernCrossClub.com -- be sure to mention that you are a REEF member!

More information about the 2010 research and program objectives for the Grouper Moon Project will be included in future issues of REEF-in-Brief. you can also find out more about the Project on the Grouper Moon Project Webpage.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub