Putting It To Work: New Publications on Lionfish

Photo by Carol Cox.

REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, has co-authored several recent scientific publications on the invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic, including:

-Diet richness of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish revealed by DNA barcoding. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Significant research by REEF researchers and others has been conducted looking at stomach contents of lionfish to identify prey. However, relatively few prey species have been identified because of the challenge of identifying partly digested prey. The authors of this study addressed this issue by DNA-barcoding unidentifiable fish items from the stomachs of 130 lionfish. They identified 37 prey species, half of which had previously not been recorded as lionfish prey.

-Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets. Bulletin of Marine Science. This paper uses data from the 20,000+ REEF surveys conducted in Florida since the early 1990s, along with other long-term data sources, to document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys. Between 2009 and 2011, lionfish frequency of occurrence, abundance, and biomass increased rapidly, increasing three- to six-fold between 2010 and 2011 alone.

- Habitat complexity and fish size affect the detection of Indo-Pacific lionfish on invaded coral reefs. Coral Reefs. This paper explores detectability rates of lionfish using underwater visual census methods such as belt transects and stationary visual census. Knowing the error in these methods specficially for lionfish is necessary to help study this invasive species in the western Atlantic. The authors found that the two census methods detect fewer than 30% of lionfish present in an area and, in more than 50% of the cases, fail to detect any lionfish when one or more indivudals are actually present.

For a complete list of publications featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

REEF Joins in Submersible Expedition to Assess the Lionfish Invasion Beyond Diving Depths

REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green inside the Antipodes sub.
Several dozen invasive lionfish call an artificial reef in South florida, the Bill Boyd, home off.

REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.

During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.

The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.

As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.

Please Support REEF and Our Important Marine Conservation Work

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.

We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

Great Annual Fish Count is Coming

The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.

The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at gafc@reef.org.

Live From the Field Web Chats With the Grouper Moon Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding to Your Life List - Horned Blenny!

Horned Blenny. Photo by (C) Patricia Chandler.

One of the most rewarding and fun aspects of being a REEF surveyor is finding a new species to add to your "Life List" (a lifetime compilation of all fish species seen). Even the most experienced surveyors, after hundreds of surveys, occasionally add new species to this list. Expert Caribbean surveyor, Patti Chandler, recently emailed us about one such find. Despite having over 900 REEF surveys under her (weight) belt, she and her husband Scott recently came across a little mystery while diving in front of CocoView Resort on Roatan - a brilliant blenny with BIG cirri on its head. After emailing the photo to a few experts, they discovered that they had captured what is likely the first in situ photos of the species, and also documented the first record of the species in the Western Caribbean. Not only does their sighting of a Horned Blenny (Paraclinus grandicomis) represent a "lifer" for their lists, it was also a new record for the TWA REEF database. Great find, Patti and Scott!

If you have a First Sighting story to share, email us at data@REEF.org. And did you know? - If you are a REEF surveyor, your Life List can be accessed under the 'My REEF' menu when you are logged in to the REEF website.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, February 2016

Red Snapper and Gray Snapper are two of the species being evaluated in the Gulf of Mexico using REEF data. Photo by Carol Cox.

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 PhD student at University of Washington is using REEF data to evaluate the distribution of Giant Pacific Octopus in the Pacific Northwest, and how their abundance is related to urbanization.

- REEF data were provided to researchers from University of Miami for use as part of the project, "NOAA RESTORE: Ecosystem modeling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico: current status and future needs to address management and restoration activities." Data will be used to produce maps depicting stressors in the Gulf.

- Researchers from the Sea Doc Society are using REEF data to evaluate Salish Sea fish and invertebrate assemblages and population trends over the last 15 years.

- A student from Indiana University is using REEF data to evaluate fish populations at the Florida Keys artificial reef, Hoyt S. Vandenberg. REEF Advanced Assessment Team members have been annually monitoring the Vandenberg since it was deployed in 2009.

Introducing REEF Conservation Creatures

REEF Conservation Creatures are iconic marine species found throughout REEF’s nine Volunteer Fish Survey Project regions. From the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) to the Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), these marine creatures highlight the diversity of ocean ecosystems and encourage understanding and respect for marine life. Each plush comes with a collectable, laminated Conservation Card that provides information about the animal’s habitat, characteristics, potential threats, and global distribution in REEF's Survey Project regions.

These cuddly marine animals make the perfect educational gift for the ocean enthusiast in your life. Plushes are sold on the REEF website for $10 each, and if you buy three or more, you will receive a 15% discount. If you’d like to own all 11 Conservation Creatures, you may purchase the entire set for $88 (a savings of 20%!) You can view the entire collection online at www.REEF.org/creatures.

The REEF Conservation Creatures series includes:

Blue-spotted Ribbontail Ray

Clown Anemonefish

Common Lionfish/Invasive Red Lionfish

Giant Pacific Octopus

Green Sea Turtle

Leopard Shark

Oceanic Manta Ray

Palette Surgeonfish

Spotted Eagle Ray

Summer Flounder

Whale Shark

Take a Trip in 2017!

Join us in May for trip of a lifetime aboard the Galapagos Sky.
For the cold-water divers, do not miss the trip to Hornby Island in BC.
A group of REEF volunteers enjoying their trip to Palau!

As the holidays wind down, now is the perfect time to plan a dive vacation that counts. We still have openings on several REEF Field Survey Trips in 2017, to both tropical and temperate dive destinations all over the world. Join us for an itinerary of diving, educational classroom seminars, and fun with friends!

Spaces are available on the following REEF Trips in 2017:

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

May 6 - 13 -- Turks and Caicos Islands -- Dive Provo and Ports of Call Resort, Led by Amy Lee, find out more

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

June 24 - July 1 -- Bahamas (only one space left) -- Lionfish Research Trip Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, find out more

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

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, find out more

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

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

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

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

Trips fill up quickly, so book your space today! For more information on REEF Field Survey Trips, visit www.REEF.org/trips. Contact REEF at Trips@REEF.org to sign up, and keep an eye out for the 2018 schedule - coming this spring!

150,000 REEF Surveys Have Been Submitted in the Tropical Western Atlantic

A REEF Volunteer conducting a survey in Key Largo, Florida, one of 150,000 conducted in the western Atlantic. Photo by Nathan Brown.

We are proud to announce that on July 1st 2017, the number of REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project surveys conducted by volunteers in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region topped 150,000! The 150k surveys have been conducted by 11,123 volunteers at 8,837 sites in the TWA region (which includes the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico). The first surveys in the TWA were conducted 24 years ago in Key Largo. Since then, REEF's citizen science program has grown to ocean waters world-wide and has generated the largest database on marine life population status and trends, recently surpassing 217,000 surveys! Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors. We would like to say a huge thank you to all of our volunteers, supporters, and those who make use of these data! We couldn't have done it without you.

REEF's mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnerships with the scientific community. The REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project is a key component of our success. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations in marine waters world-wide (and invertebrates and algae in temperate waters). Visit the About REEF page to find out more and to see where our volunteers are conducting surveys.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub