The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Lillian Kenney

Striated Frogfish. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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 Lillian Kenney, one of REEF's earliest members. Lillian lives in Florida and joined REEF in our inaugural year of 1993. Lillian conducted her first survey in 1994, and has since conducted 1,250 surveys, making her a member of the Golden Hamlet Club (see article in this issue for more on this achievement). She has conducted surveys in all of REEF's tropical regions (TWA, TEP, and SOP), and is a member of the TWA Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Lillian had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF? In what ways are you involved?

I joined REEF in 1993, when it was first started. I saw an ad in a diving magazine and it sounded like the very thing I wanted to get involved in. I missed the first classes in Key Largo, but started doing fish surveys right away. Before this, I had concentrated on photography when diving, but I always tried to ID the fish. At first I did surveys on my own, but then I heard about the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) and I took the tests and started doing Expert-level surveys. I really enjoy the camaraderie and discussing fish ID with other avid surveyors. I have done many REEF Field Survey trips over the last 20 years, including the recent ones to Fiji. The soft corals and fish in Fiji are definitely a highlight for me.

Do you dive close to where you live?

In the summer I dive regularly and do surveys in Florida. I live near the Gulf of Mexico and enjoy diving the same sites year after year to see what stays the same and note any changes. I also dive on the East Coast of Florida and in the Keys. One of my favorite sites is Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach, Florida. I always see interesting critters there.

What is your favorite fish find?

I have many favorite fish and invertebrates. If I had to pick one I guess it would be the frogfish. It is so cute and reminds me of children's bathtub toys. It is very interesting to watch as it 'walks' on the bottom. I see Striated Frogfish at Blue Heron Bridge. I have also seen the same species in Indonesia. In the Gulf I sometimes see Ocellated Frogfish.

The Faces of REEF: Susan Hieter

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 Susan Hieter. Susan has been a REEF member since 2001, and has conducted 38 surveys. She recently moved to Aruba and is enjoying getting back in the water as a REEF surveyor. Here's what Susan 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 became a member 12 years ago when I designed a marine biology/oceanography class for my high school in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. We decided to become members of various marine organizations and donate money that we did fund raisers for. I did my first REEF volunteer survey at the Flower Garden National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006 through a teacher program called Down Under, Out Yonder (DUOY).

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

I really enjoy visiting the same reefs to see what new fish have arrived. It also leads me to think about why some fish are there sometimes and other times not due to various stressors. The most interesting thing I have learned from doing REEF fish surveys is seeing the abundance of fish on the island of Aruba, where I am currently working and living.

Do you have a favorite local REEF field station or dive shop?

My favorite REEF field station is JADS Dive Center in Aruba. The dive staff is very friendly and will make sure you enjoy your dives. The shop is well equipped with rental gear that is in good working condition. They will go out of their way to help you.

What is your favorite fish?

I would have to say the Goliath Grouper (somewhat small compared to the ones in Florida) that I meet on the Jane Sea wreck in Aruba was the most fascinating fish encounter because it was not afraid of me and was about to give me a kiss but on second thought, maybe it was going to take a bite out of me.

Announcing the 2015 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule

The Fiji Field Survey in 2013
Happy surveyors!
The giant kelpfish, a great find in Catalina. Photo by Janna Nichols.
The Kona Aggressor -- join us in February 2015!
Learn about REEF's lionfish research on a special Lionfish Expedition.

We are pleased to announce the 2015 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. We are also offering two of the ever-popular Invasive Lionfish Research Expeditions. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Please note the new email and phone number - beginning with these 2015 trips, we are handling all Field Survey inquiries and bookings through REEF Headquarters. Visit www.REEF.org/trips to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, trip policies, and more. We hope you will join us!

2015 REEF Field Survey Schedule

Feb 28 - Mar 7 -- Hawaii -- Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Details

Mar 14 - 21 -- Grand Cayman -- Wall to Wall Diving and Comfort Suites, Led by Jonathan Lavan, Details

May 2 - 12 and May 12 - 19 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Chrisy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Wk 1 Details, Wk 2 Details

May 9 - 16 -- Bahamas Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Jun 13 - 20 -- Roatan -- Anthony's Key Resort, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Details

Jul 11 - 18 -- Grand Turk -- Oasis Divers & Osprey Beach Hotel, Led by Paul Humann, Details

Aug 1 - 8 -- Bonaire -- Buddy Dive, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Details

Aug 22 - 29 -- Curacao Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- GO WEST Diving & Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Sep 19 - 26 -- Bahamas -- Aqua Cat Liveaboard, Led by Heather George, Details

Nov 1 - 5 -- Catalina Island -- Scuba Luv & Pavilion Hotel, Led by Janna Nichols, Details

Dec 5 - 12 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn or Casa Mexicana, Led by Tracey Griffin, Details

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

Identifying YOY rockfish habitat is one recent use of REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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

- Scientists from NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center are using REEF data on juvenile (YOY, young-of-year) rockfishes to evaluate potential YOY habitat for development of a monitoring program in the Puget Sound.

- A scientist from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) is using REEF data to evaluate the spread of invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico.

- Another scientist from Florida FWCC is using REEF data to evaluate populations of Goliath Grouper in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico as part of the species' protected status review.

- Graduate students from Coastal Carolina University are assessing biodiversity, status, and trends of fishes and invertebrates in the South Atlantic States (SAS) region (the Carolinas and Georgia).

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

Support REEF's Conservation Science Programs

An acoustic receiver listens for pings emitted from nearby tagged fish.
REEF Grouper Moon scientists used acoustic tracking data to better understand Nassau Grouper ecology on Little Cayman.
A mobile receiver used to find tagged fish.
Nassau Grouper is the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Brice Semmens.

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?

  • Allows researchers to determine home ranges of fish to better inform management strategies including sizes and locations of protected areas
  • Documents behavioral activities, such as spawning or seasonal movement, to help researchers and managers better understand the biology and ecology of key species
  • Facilitates collaborative marine research through sharing of hydrophone data and array setups
  • Contributes to inspiring visualizations of fish movements for scientists, policymakers, and marine life enthusiasts

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.

Oceans of Thanks to Our Members

There are a few limited-edition 2015 prints left. Donors of $250 or more, received by April 4, will be sent this signed and numbered, limited edition print of a beautiful Fiji reef scene by Paul Humann.

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!

Grouper Moon Project Results in Sweeping Science-Based Protections For Nassau Grouper

Nassau Grouper, an icon of Caribbean reefs, receives broad protections in the Cayman Islands. Photo by Stephanie Archer/Grouper Moon Project.
One of thousands - Nassau Grouper at the spawning aggregation on the west end of Little Cayman, the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn, (c) Grouper Moon Project.
A spawning burst of Nassau Grouper, captured at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation. Photo by Jim Hellemn, (c) Grouper Moon Project.

We are excited and very proud to share amazing news – on August 15, 2016, the Cayman Islands government enacted a comprehensive set of regulations aimed at recovering Nassau Grouper, an endangered Caribbean reef fish. The new rules are based on more than a decade of collaborative fisheries research carried out by the Grouper Moon Project. REEF initiated the Grouper Moon Project in 2001 in collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, and it has become one of our flagship programs. We work in partnership with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Oregon State University. The project is the Caribbean’s oldest continuous grouper spawning aggregation research program, and represents one of the most advanced, multi-faceted tropical fisheries research programs in the world.

The regulations represent the Caribbean’s most progressive set of management actions for Nassau Grouper, and include:

  • All take, possession, or sale of Nassau Grouper is prohibited from December through April (during the spawning months for the species)
  • When take is permitted (May – November), only fish between 16"-24” can be kept and no more than 5 Nassau Grouper per fishing vessel per day can be kept
  • Nassau Grouper may not be taken on spear gun at any time

Many of you have followed the progress of the Grouper Moon Project through the years. Our research has focused on the west-end aggregation site on Little Cayman, which supports one of the last great reproductive populations of this endangered species. Lessons learned in the Cayman Islands have benefited Nassau Grouper conservation efforts throughout the Caribbean.

The sweeping protections enacted for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands last month represent the kind of action-oriented work that REEF is known for. This science-based management action would not have been possible without the dedication of Grouper Moon scientists and the support of REEF donors and volunteers. We greatly appreciate all our members who have contributed financially to REEF to make this important work possible.

We look forward to continuing our important work on spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands and beyond. In addition to support from our members, REEF's work in the Grouper Moon Project has been supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program and Disney Conservation Fund. Significant field logistics support has been provided by Peter Hillenbrand, Southern Cross Club, and Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers.

For more information, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. And be sure to check out the PBS Changing Seas documentary filmed a few years ago about our work in the Cayman Islands.

Protecting Our Oceans Through Citizen Science

Donors giving $250 or more will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered Paul Humann print featuring two Mandarinfish.

In December, we described ways REEF is working to inspire people around the world to cherish and protect our marine resources. We hope you were inspired to make a contribution so we can continue this critical work. If you haven’t already given, please donate online at www.REEF.org/donate, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030.

Now, more than ever, we need your help to foster support for the amazing biodiversity of marine species and ocean ecosystems. Our programs promote citizen science as a way to fill data gaps in our understanding of ocean creatures and habitats. Collecting these data on temperature fluctuations, invasive species, and overall declines in fish populations, is critical to ensure these impacts are documented.

In 2017, your donation will enable REEF staff to:

  • Continue adding to over 211,000 surveys in REEF’s Fish Survey Project database, making it the largest fish sighting database in the world and an invaluable resource for scientists
  • Ensure new ground-breaking protections for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands stay in effect, and provide local students innovative educational experiences about this iconic fish
  • Protect native fishes that are being threatened by the invasive lionfish in the Atlantic
  • Provide high quality hands-on experiences that connect youth to the ocean through our Explorers Program and Marine Conservation Internship Program
  • Coordinate fun and interesting “Fishinars” that teach people about fish identification and other marine conservation issues from the comfort of their own home

Please make a donation to REEF today so we can continue our mission and demonstrate why our oceans are worth protecting. From the tiniest zooplankton to a large fish like the Nassau Grouper, marine species rely on each other and more importantly, they rely on us to ensure our ocean ecosystems are healthy.

And remember, for your donation of $250 or more, we will be happy to send you a limited-edition, signed and numbered print of this Mandarinfish scene. All donors who contribute $500 or more will receive their name on a fish plaque on the “Giving REEF” at Headquarters in Key Largo, FL.

2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Series

REEF Staff taking scientific samples and processing lionfish at a derby.
Invasive lionfish are found to grow much larger in the invaded western Atlantic than they do in their native range of the Indo-Pacific.
Lionfish Culinary Demonstration at a REEF Derby. Photo by Donna Dietrich.

Summer is just around the corner and that means the annual REEF Lionfish Derby Series is almost here! Whether you just want to watch the festivities and taste some delicious lionfish bites, or you want to join the derby and compete with other lionfish hunters for over $3,500 in cash prizes, we have something fun for you. This year, REEF will be hosting four lionfish derbies throughout Florida: Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Key Largo, and Juno Beach. REEF Derbies are hugely popular events that remove hundreds to thousands of invasive lionfish from local reefs over a single weekend. The derbies significantly reduce the numbers of lionfish and help native fishes maintain healthy populations. Find out  all the details on REEF’s 2017 Lionfish Derby Series here: www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.

This year, at the Palm Beach County Derby, in partnership with Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the NUISANCE Group, we are turning the derby into a festival! There will be a kids' craft area, live music, a lionfish culinary competition, and Lagunitas Brewing Company will be providing the adult refreshments. In order to taste the delicious lionfish dishes that our competing chefs will be cooking up, be sure to purchase a VIP Pass on our website!

If you can’t make it to the Palm Beach County Derby, don’t worry, every derby has fun and educational activities for the whole family to enjoy, including cornhole, lionfish dissection demonstrations, and a raffle.

2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Dates:

    • Sarasota Lionfish Derby – July 7th-9th
    • Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby – July 14th-15th
    • Upper Keys Lionfish Derby – July 28th-29th
    • Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby – August 11th-13th

Check out the REEF Derby webpage for more information. The 2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Series is sponsored in part by the Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Whole Foods, ZooKeeper LLC and hosted in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory, 15th Street Fisheries, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

Great Annual Fish Count Summary (GAFC)

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New England Aquarium Dive Club GAFC event in Gloucester, MA
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GAFC 2007 - Dive Friends at Yellow Submarine, Bonaire

Thanks to everyone who participated in a GAFC event this summer! This July, over twenty-three events were hosted throughout REEF's survey regions. We are still receiving data from these events and have processed a large amount already!

Since REEF's GAFC's inception in California in the early 90's, it has continued to grow and expand. More people are become involved in REEF by making a meaningful contribution to marine conservation by conducting REEF Fish Surveys. Previous events have generated over 2,000 surveys during the month of July. This year, the New England Aquarium Dive Club hosted an event in Gloucester, MA, with 103 surveyors! 

GAFC is REEF's biggest annual signature event which mobilizes our wonderful partners, volunteers, and dive shops throughout much of our survey regions.  All of whom coordinate their own local events which include offering free REEF Fish ID courses, organizing survey dives/snorkels, and other fun events tied into the theme of counting fish. The GAFC draws local, national (US), and international media attention each year. It reengages veteran REEF volunteers and also serves as a terrific mechanism to expose new ones to what REEF is all about. Though the GAFC takes place each July, it highlights nothing more than what we do year-round - engaging individuals to become active stewards of the marine environment. Volunteers learn by taking REEF Fish ID courses and conducting fish surveys as part of The Fish Survey Project. 

Grant Gove, who attended the GAFC event hosted by the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop in Bonaire, Netherlands Atillies, sent REEF wonderful DVD's of their successful event for our public library! If you hosted an event this year, or participated in one, we encourage you to either mail a DVD to REEF HQ, Post Office Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037 or email your pictures to intern@reef.org. 

Thank you to everyone who made GAFC successful this year and look forward to next years 17th annual GAFC event!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub