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 Joyce Schulke, one of REEF's earliest members. She has been a REEF member since 1996. An active surveyor who lives in Florida, Joyce has conducted almost 900 surveys to date and has been a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropcial Western Atlantic region since it's beginnings. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
How did you become involved with REEF?
In 1989 I snorkeled in Cancun. Diving lessons followed and the underwater world was wide open. Being a professional photographer, it was natural for me to learn underwater photography as well. Identifying those fish led me to the Humann and DeLoach book, Reef Fish Identification. It talked about REEF and so I followed through and became a fish surveyor in 1996. In 1999 I qualified as a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team. Being a surveyor inspired me to look harder and enjoy each dive more.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
Suddenly, even common fish are important to find and record. It is exciting to be part a larger goal and I have gotten a good idea of distribution of species, habitat, behavior, and changes to specific areas over the years. There is always a surprise. After diving to 130 feet to see my first Purple Reeffish in the southern Caribbean, I found one at 13 feet in Marathon Key. Recently, seeing the Longnose Batfish far from its normal habitat in 13 feet of water at Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, Florida, is another great example of the treasures awaiting those who really search.
I have specialized in the TWA and have done all of my diving there. I get enthusiastic when talking fish. I have currently seen and identified 519 species of TWA fish. My husband, Tom, and I used to divide the cost of a dive trip by the number of new species we found. You can imagine how expensive some of those species have become!
Where is your favorite place to dive?
Without hesitation, St. Vincent has added most of my unusual finds, with dozens of new species added on each trip. One trip produced 18 species of eels alone. The diversity of types of diving spots and willingness of Dive St. Vincent to take us to the odd spots makes this a favorite. However, now that I live in Florida, the lure of Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, has added a few more dozen new species in the last two years.
What fish am I looking for now?
If I haven’t seen it yet, I want it! Whether it’s a Spanish Sardine or a Longnose Batfish, I’m elated. Of course, when I see one that’s never been on a REEF survey before, I grin while emailing REEF for a new fish code.
What do you say to others about joining REEF?
I cannot encourage others enough. Being a REEF surveyor is a great contribution to ocean research and preservation. The real bonus, however, is how it adds a whole new purpose and enjoyment to your personal diving adventures.
Acoustic tagging is one of the most powerful marine conservation technologies currently available. REEF uses this technology in both the Grouper Moon Project and the Invasive Lionfish Program to help determine movement, ranges, behavior, and more. But tags and receivers are expensive! We need your help in furthering REEF's valuable marine conservation initiatives by supporting the purchase and implementation of these valuable tools. You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute. Read on to learn more about these high-tech tools.
What is an acoustic tag, hydrophone, and array? Acoustic tags are small electronic devices that, once secured to a fish, broadcast their identification by ultrasonic sound. Hydrophones that can detect these ultrasonic sounds are placed underwater via a buoy to record the presence or absence of fish. A group of hydrophones strategically placed in an area is called an array. Data from the array are periodically downloaded and analyzed to determine fish movement, residency, behavior, and more.
How do tagging studies make a difference for marine conservation?
REEF's Grouper Moon Project has relied heavily on this technology to help answer questions necessary to hep conserve Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations. Populations of this iconic species have declined dramatically over the past half-century due to overfishing during winter months as they aggregate to reproduce. To find out more about this activity, REEF researchers and our partners at Cayman Islands Department of Environment set up an array of acoustic receivers and started tagging Nassau Grouper in 2005. Using data from this technology, REEF created a video that shows the remarkable migrations Nassau Grouper undertake during the spawning season. This visualization tool played a critical role in the creation of proposed legislation aimed at species conservation in the Cayman Islands. To watch this movie and read more about it, please click here.
Please make a donation at www.REEF.org/contribute so REEF can continue using acoustic tagging in projects and programs. This valuable tool helps ensure that we can protect iconic species like Nassau Grouper in the most effective manner. Thank you for your support.
I want to thank everyone who donated during our winter fundraising campaign. With member support, REEF was able to raise $115,000. Your contributions drive REEF programs, from protecting keystone species to educating the next generation of ocean enthusiasts. If you haven't donated yet, there are still a few limited-edition prints left for donations of $250 and over that are received by April 4th. You can donate online or call us at 305-852-0030.
This year’s campaign focused on our changing seas. Now, more than ever before, it is critical for REEF to monitor the effects from pressures on marine ecosystems. Pressures of great concern include overfishing on endangered species like Nassau Grouper, invasive species that threaten native ecosystems like Lionfish, and temperature changes that shift species habitat range like El Nino. Our dedicated surveyors have seen the changes over decades of underwater exploration. With your donations, REEF can ensure these changes are documented and distributed to researchers for the protection of marine species and habitats.
Thank you again for donating this season!
The holidays will be upon us before you know it and REEF is encouraging you to go on line to the REEF Store and purchase your holiday stocking stuffers like our beautiful note cards, wonderful books and DVD's. We still have plenty of Sensational Seas DVD's available as well. We recently updated the store with a large number of exclusive items that you can only get from REEF, so please check it out and put us on your shopping list as REEF funnels all proceeds to help fund our various programs.
We would also like to give our warm thanks to Eleanor Cavanaugh who is the artist behind our wonderful collection.
Happy holiday week! I hope you are looking forward to Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season.
REEF is pleased to bring you our monthly update on the many projects that continue to actively engage you, our valuable members, in marine conservation. Before we get there, though, I want to ask for your help in meeting an ambitious but critical goal to keep these projects going: please help REEF raise $100,000 by the end of the year. Please click here to make a secure, tax-deductible donation today.
Your support helped EEF Science Director, Dr. Christy Semmens, participate in the annual Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute meeting held earlier this month, where she presented the results of monitoring two artificial reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Your support helped REEF Field Operations Director, Joe Cavanaugh, participate in multi-stakeholder training to protect coral reefs in Akumal, Mexico. Your support helped develop new online data entry for the Pacific and Hawaii REEF survey regions, allowing REEF to improve data management. Your support helped REEF promote the Volunteer Survey Project as a diver acquisition eco-activity to the dive industry at DEMA Show 2007. Your support helped to develop an innovative home study course to train divers and snorkelers in "fishwatching" and conducting marine life surveys. Your support counts for a lot at REEF! Please click here to make a secure, tax-deductible donation today.
Other items of interest this month include tips for using the new REEF.org website, a design contest for the 2008 Field Survey tshirt, important news about the REEF Store and interesting happenings at REEF HQ.
Enjoy your turkey and we'll see you next month!
On Tuesday, March 4, REEF was pleased to host Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at its headquarters in Key Largo, Florida. Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 18th district, including Monroe County and the Florida Keys. REEF Board and staff discussed the importance of training volunteers in marine conservation to preserving the long-term health of coral reefs in the Florida Keys and worldwide.
“I am thrilled to be visiting REEF and getting a look at their wonderful conservation and diving programs as this group is comprised of those who truly enjoy the beauty and serenity of the seas, divers and marine conservationists,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
The group laid out plans to train volunteers to conduct biological monitoring and assessment of key managed areas through the REEF Volunteer Survey Project. Ros-Lehtinen suggested presenting scientific findings in local schools and pledged to learn to do marine life surveys on her next visit to the Florida Keys. The potential threat posed by exotic invasive lionfish to the Florida Keys reef tract and ways to educate residents about the problem were also discussed.
“This is a great opportunity to share some of the important work REEF is doing to preserve the natural, national heritage of the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem,” said REEF Executive Director, Leda Cunningham. “We are honored to have the Congresswoman at REEF HQ and look forward to working collaboratively on projects such as training volunteers to collect marine life data and keeping exotic invasive lionfish out of Florida Keys waters.”
My husband and I recently joined 10 other REEF volunteers on a Field Survey to Akumal, Mexico. Akumal is located on the Mayan Riviera, quite near the Mayan ruins at Tulum, and about 60+ miles from Cancun, Mexico. Our time was filled with diving and conducting REEF surveys, fish identification seminars, exploring cenotes, and learning about sea turtle nesting research.
We stayed at Gran Bahia Principe Resorts, part of an international resort group, which is really 3 resorts in one and covers an enormous acreage on the ocean. The area was so large that one had to catch one of the resort’s trams to travel from one place to another. Sunny weather is the norm that time of year and we had no rain the entire week.
One of the interesting geographic features in this part of Mexico is the cenote, a type of sinkhole which connects to subterranean bodies of water and sometimes cave systems. The rainwater which fills the cenote is crystal-clear because it has been filtered through rock substrata and contains very little particulate matter. The REEF group had the opportunity to dive and snorkel several of these cenotes when ocean conditions turned too rough for dives on the reef, and it proved to be an amazing and unique experience! Since freshwater and salt water are both found in some cenotes, REEF divers surveyed some unusual fish, and experienced the sensation of diving through a halocline, a region below the surface of a body of water where there is a significant change in density due, in the case of cenotes, to increased salinity. Many of the divers described the experience of ascending from salt water into fresh as akin to a dream state. –“The fresh water was so clear, it was hard to believe I was still underwater!" Strange and unusual formations in the caves accentuated the dreamlike atmosphere. Illuminated only by divers’ lights, stalagmites, stalactites and columns stirred the imagination. Fish, bats and birds find a sanctuary in these caves.
Another unique element of Bahia Principe was a local environmental group, Eco-Bahia, whose members work with the resort to help preserve the stands of coral and other sealife found off the beaches. Eco Bahia’s representative, Diana Garcia Urrutia, explained to REEF members all the goals of their program, including the preservation of sea turtle nests. Many sea turtles, mostly Loggerheads and Hawksbills, return to Bahia Principe’s beaches each summer to dig their nests and deposit their eggs. Members of Eco Bahia along with community volunteers protect the turtles as they nest, then collect the eggs and rebury them in a safe, fenced environment just off the beach. When the baby turtles begin to dig out, Eco Bahia volunteers gather them up and bring in local school children who name each baby and send it safely out to sea with a kiss and a blessing. What an excellent way to assure that younger generations will have an emotional connection to the wildlife of their area!
The Akumal Field Survey was certainly a pleasurable and enlightening experience! To find out more about the REEF Field Survey Program and to book your space on a dive vacation that counts, visit the REEF Trips section of our webpage. To view photo albums from the Akumal Field Survey, click on these links: Akumal album 1, Akumal album 2, Akumal album 3, Akumal album 4. The Akumal Field Survey Data Summary is also available online.
Two of REEF's Charter Members, Douglas and Jane Rorex, recently returned from their annual dive vacation to Bonaire. Of course they conducted REEF surveys, documenting the rich fish diversity that is found on Bonaire's reef. But they also each made milestone dives during the trip. Douglas conducted his 3,000th dive and Jane conducted her 700th dive! Both were given medals from the dive resort and Ned and Anna DeLoach, who were in Bonaire for their annual Marine Life Education Program, signed their log books. Douglas and Jane have been with REEF since the beginning -- they are REEF Members 25 and 26. They participated in one of the very first Field Surveys that was held in May 1994. Douglas is a member of the REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has conducted over 350 surveys; Jane has conducted 85 surveys.
Douglas and Jane greatly enjoy their annual trip to Bonaire -- this was their 15th year! Some of their favorite fish finds include the common but always beautiful juvenile yellowtail damselfish as well as the more cryptic frillfin goby and candy basslet. Douglas also conducts surveys on deep reefs in Bonaire (140 feet+), where he finds sargassum triggerfish and striped grunt. Bonaire is also a great place to find frogfish. One of their favorite frogfish stories is about two frogfish that they found on a large coral head at the dive site Windsock. The female had been there for several weeks and was getting larger by the week (obviously ready to mate). One day as Douglas and Jane were hovering nearby, a smaller male frogfish came from underneath the coralhead, waddled over next to her and sort of nuzzled her. She responded by taking her left pectoral fin and giving him a perfect stiff arm. She really smacked him. The rejected male made a hasty somewhat dazzed retreat back to the underside of the coral head. Douglas looked up at Jane to see her practicing the stiff arm manevaure and considering adding it to her repotorie.
Congratulations Douglas and Jane!! Thank you for your enduring support of and involvement with REEF.
REEF's Pacific Northwest Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) gathered in mid-August to survey fish and invertebrate life in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS). Twelve divers conducted over 120 REEF surveys in the week-long project on Washington's northwest coastline, gathering data to add to the previous 7 year's worth that the project has generated. Twelve sites were surveyed by the divers. The Sanctuary is home to many colorful fish and invertebrates and is a popular spot for sport diving. It is also a popular spot for fishing and there is concern that biodiversity has been diminishing in the area, especially in some species of long-lived rockfish such as Tiger and China Rockfish. Data collected by the AAT will be helpful in tracking these population trends.
Members of the OCNMS REEF survey team were treated to a great week of diving and lots of exciting sights in this remote and wild part of Washington State. Whales were seen every day. Basket stars and giant pacific octopus were encountered by many. And about half the team conducted an optional night dive to remember off of Tatoosh Island in the open Pacific surrounded by Stellar Sea Lions. Projects like the annual OCNMS monitoring are a great way for active REEF volunteers to apply their skills and expertise. These projects are also just one more reason for REEF surveyors to improve their identification skills and increase their survey experience level.
A big thank you to the participating AAT members: Claude and Janna Nichols, Ron and April Theod, Jeanne Luce, David Jennings, Greg Jensen, Todd Cliff, Nick Brown, Pete Naylor, Lorne Curran and Stan Kurowski. Thanks to Mike Furguson and his great crew at Porthole Dive Charters and to Winter's Summer Inn for supporting the project. Funding for the project was provided by The Sustainable Path Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation.Share on Facebook
Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. Earlier this month, we had researchers and volunteers in the field for two weeks to conduct field research on spawning aggregations in Grand Cayman and Little Cayman. The site on Little Cayman represents one of the largest known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper; our research will provide valuable guidance to both the Cayman Islands government and others throughout the Caribbean on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.
In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands (both current and historic). 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 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 Grand Cayman; aggregations on this island were fished to exhaustion in the recent past. REEF continued education and outreach efforts through public talks about spawning aggregations and the Grouper Moon research. As the sunset provision on the current legislation nears, REEF is working closely with the Cayman Islands government to translate the findings from our research into effective long-term protections. I spent time with the Honorable Mark Scotland, the Minister of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports & Culture, which oversees the Department of Environment in the Cayman Islands, discussing the project, our ground-breaking results, and recommendations for the future of this iconic species.
2010 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 REEF research team uses lasers mounted on a video camera to record sizes of fish. If you would like to see what the Little Cayman aggregation looks like during the day, check out this video on YouTube. You will see the laser marks on the fish. Note that these are all Nassau grouper, just in different spawning colors. The team estimated that the number of fish showing up at the aggregation is approaching 4,000. We are also seeing a decrease if average size, which indicates that younger fish are starting to show up (good news!). Spawning was observed on four consecutive nights, starting 4 days after the full moon.
The Grand Cayman team’s primary goal was to document the remnant Nassau grouper aggregation on the East End of Grand Cayman and hopefully observe spawning. The status of this aggregation was initially documented by a Grouper Moon team in 2009. This year, with a lot of help from our partners at CIDOE and Wayne Sullivan and his crew aboard the Glen Ellen, REEF volunteer Denise Mizell was able to head up this critical component of our research. While several hundred fish were found at this historical spawning site, spawning was not documented. Unfortunately, we believe that fisherman were illegally fishing on the aggregation when our team was not on site. It is possible that this disturbance prevented the fish from spawning. This is disappointing news, but we are hopeful that the Cayman Islands government will pass revised legislation and provide more enforcement before next spawning season in order to protect the few remaining Nassau grouper on Grand Cayman.
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, 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 2010 was no exception – heartfelt thanks to Heather George, Steve Gittings, Denise Mizell and Sheryl Shea. The support and assistance of Thor Dunmire is also greatly appreciated. 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 student, Stephanie Kraft Archer, 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, Peter Hillenbrand, Dottie Benjamin, and Judie Clee is also much appreciated. To alleviate the constraints of diving deep depths on regular scuba, several other sponsors came on board to assist in the project, including Divetech and PM Gas of Grand Cayman, Silent Diving of Brockville, Ontario and Shearwater Research of Vancouver, British Columbia.
And finally, our work on Grand Cayman 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 several others.
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.