Earlier this summer, we proudly released the next generation of REEF survey technology, the REEF Data Entry Program. When surveying began in 1993, divers and snorkelers wrote out each sighted fish species on a slate and submitted the surveys to the database using paper scantron forms. In 1994, we developed pre-printed underwater survey paper to make surveying easier, and in 2005 we said goodbye to bubble-filling and premiered online data entry using the Internet. The time had come to innovate yet again.
With our members in mind, we looked to develop a data entry tool that would meet the varied needs of our surveyors, including those who are traveling or live in areas with limited Internet access. The REEF Survey Data Entry Program allows our volunteers to enter REEF surveys without an Internet connection. When they have access to the web, the entered surveys are uploaded to the REEF online entry portal. Users then logon to the portal, complete error checking, and submit the surveys to REEF. The program operates on both Mac and PC computers, and is available for all of REEF’s survey regions. Our Beta-testers and early users agree it’s a great program, and many of them prefer the offline data entry program over online data entry.
The program is free to download at: www.REEF.org/dataentryprogram. Give it a try next time you survey! We hope you enjoy the program as much as we do. Feel free to send feedback to data@REEF.org. REEF extends a huge thank you to programmer, Chris MacGregor, for his work on this project, as well as REEF members who encouraged us to pursue this option and made contributions to support its development.
Data generated by the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project provide an unparalleled opportunity to examine patterns in reef fish diversity (the number and types of species) at the scales of reefs, regions, and even an entire ocean basin. Authors of one recent scientific study took advantage of the over 25,000 Expert REEF surveys conducted at 80 sites from 6 Caribbean ecoregions over 17 years. The authors of the paper, which was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, used the REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity across many spatial scales (from individual sites to ecoregions). They also incorporated factors such as fisheries impacts and how connected different regions are to each other through ocean currents. They compared levels of different types of diversity-- alpha diversity (α-diversity) that explains local diversity (the number of species found in a given place), and beta diversity (β-diversity) that explains the difference in diversity among sites. Their results showed that fish assemblages are more homogenous than expected, particularly at the ecoregion scale. Within each ecoregion, diversity was mainly attributed to alpha diversity, indicating that fishes within each ecoregion are a subsample of the same species pool. Studies like this one that examine regional patterns of diversity in coral reef systems are important because of declining biodiversity in many areas. The paper's citation is: Francisco-Ramos V, Arias-González JE . 2013. Additive Partitioning of Coral Reef Fish Diversity Across Hierarchical Spatial Scales Throughout the Caribbean. PLoS ONE. 8(10): e78761. To read the full paper, or any of the other 50+ scientific papers that have included REEF data and programs, visit the REEF Publications page.
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’s Office of Protected Resources are using REEF data to evaluate populations of seabass and grouper in the Caribbean.
- A scientist from the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs is using REEF data on fishes and invertebrates to evaluate MPAs in the Puget Sound.
- A professor from California State San Luis Obispo is using REEF data to evaluate populations of three large parrotfish species in the Caribbean (Blue, Midnight, Rainbow).
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.
Earlier this month, REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, participated in the first of a series of workshops to be held this Fall to analyze REEF and other data gathered from the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Originally established in 2003 (and then expanded to include Federal waters earlier this year), this network of no-take marine reserves protects 318 square miles around the northern five Channel Islands off the coast of California. In 2008, the California Fish and Game Commission will conduct a 5-year review of the MPAs to evaluate the effectiveness of the reserve network. The results from the evaluation will inform future decisions made by the Commission under California's Marine Life Protection Act. The data group workshops, held at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, will culminate in a series of publications summarizing the cumulative efforts of dozens of monitoring programs within the Channel Islands MPAs, with an emphasis on analyses that can best address key management questions concerning the reserves. These results will be presented during a special symposium associated with the California Islands Symposium.
Coincident with the establishment of the marine reserves in 2003, REEF initiated a coordinated monitoring program at specific sites inside and outside of the reserves to complement the ongoing survey activities in the area by REEF members. Surveyors on REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team participate in annual REEF cruises aboard the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) vessel R/V Shearwater, and this project has generated over 800 surveys to date. These data, along with an additional 750 REEF surveys that had been conducted around the islands prior to 2003, will provide information on the fish assemblages (and more recently key invertebrate and algae species) of the Channel Islands.
To find out more about our work in the CINMS, visit the REEF in Sanctuaries page.
If you plan to be in the Keys at the end of the month, please join us!
What: REEF Holiday Open House
When: Friday, November 30 at 5 PM
Who: Friends, family, members of REEF
Where: REEF HQ: 98300 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL (yellow conch house on the median)
Why: Educate the community about REEF conservation programs
Renowned photographers and authors Ned and Anna DeLoach will be on hand to sign books and CDs-perfect for holiday gift-giving! There will also be food, drink, raffle prizes and survey materials for sale. This holiday season, give a gift that counts!
On Tuesday, February 26 and Wednesday, March 12, REEF hosted two citizen science panel discussions about how volunteers contribute to understanding and preserving the Florida Keys environment. The first discussion, held in Key Largo, featured speakers from the Breeding Bird Survey project, Coral Restoration Foundation, and John Pennekamp State Park native plant nursery. The second event, held in Key West, featured speakers from The Nature Conservancy, Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Weather Service. Both discussions were led by guest speaker Rick Bonney, a pioneer in the citizen science field from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY. Leda Cunningham presented on the REEF Volunteer Survey Project.
Forty-two people participated in the discussions, most of whom were themselves volunteers in a local or national citizen science project. "Most scientists usually only get to attend 'niche' meetings, where everyone in the room is talking about variations of the same subject matter," said Alison Higgins of The Nature Conservancy. "What was amazing about REEF's Citizen Science symposium is that the approach was the same (engaging the public in collecting important observations), but the subjects were varied. I specialize in land conservation issues, but got to brainstorm and engage with fish, bird and weather scientists - It was a really great and necessary experience"
Each discussion group brainstormed next steps for the citizen science movement in the Florida Keys. Ideas included forming an informal coalition of citizen science projects, doing integrated data analysis across project taxa (effect of weather on fish or bird population trends, e.g.), starting a regular citizen science column in a local newspaper and developing a citizen science booklet for residents and visitors to learn about local projects. For more information, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@REEF.org.
In addition to attending the 11th ICRS, REEF also hosted one of the conference Field Trips. REEF and Horizon Divers hosted 14 participants from various locations around the world including Australia, Japan, Kenya, and several U.S. institutions. Dr. Jim Bohnsack, NOAA Research Fisheries Biologist and Science Advisor to the REEF Board of Trustees, gave a workshop presentation on applying REEF fish survey data towards Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary management decisions and Paul Humann, renowned marine life photographer and author, taught fish and invertebrate identification classes. Lad Akins, REEF Special Projects Director, gave an overview of REEF and our programs along with a detailed update on what he and REEF partners are working on with the Lionfish (Pterois volitans) invasion in Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. Participants also had the opportunity to conduct 6 REEF survey SCUBA dives out on our local reefs to get a sense of how Roving Diver survey data are collected.
The survey data our members collect fall into two general categories.The first is the Volunteer Survey Project category that includes all of our Field Surveys and individual members surveying efforts conducted while diving or snorkeling wherever they live or travel to on vacation. The second type of data collected by our surveyors are from our monitoring and research programs in partnership with NOAA sanctuaries, the National Park service, and regional NGO’s and other non-profits as well as various universities. It was this second category of data that our ICRS Field Trip focused on for classroom discussions. REEF data are used by resource managers include artificial reef monitoring, restoration site monitoring, marine protected area assessments, and invasive species collections and fish surveys to name a few. One message that ICRS brought home to all attendees is that now more than ever, there is a critical need for coral reef related research, including studies addressing fish assemblages. There is also a critical need for scientists and policy makers to communicate their research and conservation strategies to the general public, conveying the message about just how vulnerable coral reefs are to anthropogenic disturbances and their importance to our collective well being. REEF will continue our efforts to engage our membership in worthwhile conservation projects that address tropical and temperate fish assemblages.