We are excited to share a new scientific paper published last month in the journal PLoS ONE that included REEF data - Global Population Trends and Human Use Patterns of Manta and Mobula Rays, by Christine Ward-Paige, Brendal Davis, and Boris Worm. Despite being the world’s largest rays and providing significant revenue through dive tourism, little is known about the population status, exploitation, and trade volume of mobulids (Manta and Mobula species). There is anecdotal evidence, however, that mobulid populations are declining, largely due to the recent emergence of a widespread trade for their gill rakers. Researchers from Dalhousie University and eShark.org used expert divers’ observations from two citizen science programs, REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and eShark.org, to describe global manta and devil ray abundance trends and human use patterns. The study highlights the relative rarity of aggregation sites on a global scale and reveals that many populations appear to be declining. The authors warn that newly emerging fisheries for the rays gill-‐rakers likely exceed their ability to recover. The study also demonstrates the deficiency of official catch reports, as only four countries have ever reported landing manta or devil rays– Indonesia, Liberia, Spain, and Ecuador. However, numerous diver reports compiled in the paper illustrate that many other countries are regularly landing and selling these rays without reporting.
REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project. Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program. Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff. To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here.
Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments. The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework. In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.
The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002. Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef. Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented. The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites. Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.
I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks. In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight! Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.
Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled). Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year. Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA. It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854 . We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event. You will hear more about this project in the coming months.
Hope to see you in the water soon.
REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented a summary of 5 years of fish monitoring on two modified reef areas off Key Largo, Florida: the Spiegel Grove artificial reef and the Wellwood grounding restoration (see next month’s edition of REEF-in-Brief for more information on these projects). Brice was an invited speaker in the special session on Nassau grouper, presenting an overview of the conservation status of the species. During the Spawning Aggregation session, Brice also presented changes in the average size of Nassau grouper that are visiting the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site since it was protected from fishing in 2003. Scott presented a poster summarizing cleaning station research that the Grouper Moon team has been conducting on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site. Other presentations that included REEF data included a talk by Dr. Todd Kellison from NOAA Fisheries on trends in commercial species abundances in Biscayne National Park and a talk by Nicole Cushion from University of Miami on patterns of abundance in grouper species in the Bahamas.
Happy St. Patrick's Day! We show our "green" spirit here at REEF by continuing important conservation initiatives. In this edition, learn about REEF's participation in the 54th annual Boston Sea Rovers international underwater clinic, a visit with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and a citizen science discussion series recently hosted by REEF in the Florida Keys. Two valuable REEF members learn bi-coastal fish ID and there is one spot left on the Turks and Caicos field survey next month. Last chance to sign up for this amazing conservation diving opportunity!
With best wishes and best fishes,
Dr. Jim Bohnsac is our Science Liaison to the Board of Directors and a Fisheries Biologist with NOAA. Recently, Jim has been interviewed several times about the effectiveness of the Dry Tortugas National Park in protecting fish species inside and outside of the protected areas. The Dry Tortugas lie approximately 70 miles SW of Key West and are an integral part of the greater Keys coral reef ecosystem.
No-fishing zones studied, Protective areas aim to increase size, number of fish
Brian Skolof, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK - Reeling in a 45-pound grouper used to be just an average day on the water in the Florida Keys. The abundance of behemoth fish attracted anglers from around the world in the early 1900s, including adventurers such as Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey, who pulled in monsters from the clear, warm depths off Key West. But as Florida's population boomed, the attraction that drew them began to vanish. Anglers were snapping up the larger fish by the thousands. An average grouper caught in the Keys now is about 8 pounds. "We were starting to look like a Third World nation in regards to having blitzed our resources," said University of Miami marine biologist Jerald Ault.
Mr. Ault and others are studying whether putting large tracts of ocean off-limits to fishing in the Keys can help species rebound - and prove a way to help reverse the effects of overfishing worldwide. Federal and state scientists, along with University of Miami researchers, wrapped up a 20-day study on June 9 after 1,710 dives in the region, surveying fish sizes and abundance, in an effort to determine whether it's working. Critics assert that it isn't. They say limiting size and catch quantities, not fencing off the seas, will help restore ocean life.
The fierce debate has raged between scientists and anglers for years. Some studies suggest the outcome could mean life or death for not only commercial and sport fishing, but for mass seafood consumption as it exists today. Florida has the largest contiguous "no-take" zone in the continental U.S. - about 140 square miles are off limits to fishing in and around Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of seven sandy islands about 70 miles west off Key West amid the sparkling blue-green waters that teem with tropical marine life. Nearby, another 60 square miles are also off limits.The region is home to some 300 fish species and lies within a crucial coral reef habitat at the convergence of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. To see the rest of this story, please visit -
More recent interviews with Jim Bohnsac -
Are artificial reefs good for the environment?
Proponents say they replenish the ecosystem. Some scientists aren't so
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 8:49 PM ET Jun 20, 2008
Off the Hook? Scientists, anglers debate if 'no-take' zones are helping endangered fish to rebound
Jim also did an impromptu interview for the Keynoter newspaper here in the Keys with Kevin Wadslow. Paul Humann and others participated in this interview as wel. The focus was on the post International Coral Reef Symposium Field Trip discussed in this Enews edition. The story link is not yet posted but will be within the next few days from here - http://www.keysnet.com/
REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting last month in Guadeloupe. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented preliminary results from an analysis of data from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries no-take sites (Sanctuary Preservation Areas) as part of the Marine Protected Areas session. Christy also represented
REEF during the special session on Marine Invasive Species. She presented an overview of the role that REEF's outreach programs and large corps of volunteer divers have played to better understand the impact of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish on western Atlantic reefs and to help slow the invasion of this unwanted species. Christy also participated in a panel discussion that followed the session.
Both Brice and Scott presented recent Grouper Moon Project results during the Spawning Aggregation session. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, our grouper work in the Cayman Islands has greatly expanded and includes ground-breaking conservation research. Brice's presentation focused on the expansion of the work to Cayman Brac, an island where the historical aggregation was fished heavily and was assumed to be non-functional. Scott presented exciting findings from a pilot study conducted earlier this year to understand where Nassau grouper larvae go after they are released from the Little Cayman aggregation site.
Active REEF surveyor and Advanced Assessment Team member, Patti Chandler and her husband Scott, recently found a new fish species for Bonaire! Scott and Patti, of ReefNet, were in Bonaire as presenters for the Second Annual Fish ID Challenge. Nearing the end of a lengthy night dive on Bari Reef over sand, in 10 feet of water, something very strange was illuminated by their video lights catching Scott and Patti's eyes. It was a clear fish,1 inch in length, with a rounded tail, and large pectoral fins that practically encircled it, giving it an appearance of wearing a tutu with yellow dots.
The little fish was very active in the water column making photography and videography more of a challenge than usual. This fish was a very young juvenile, more precisely described in the scientific community as post larval in the "settling stage". As they were at a loss for its identification, photos of the strange little fish were sent off for identification to Les Wilk, Head of Scientific Research at ReefNet who in turn sent them to Benjamin Victor, who is the recognized expert for juveniles of any kind, especially larvae. Ben is a frequent poster to the REEF Discussion Forums and has a very useful website, www.coralreeffish.com.
Ben made a positive ID for the wacky little fish. It is a juvenile Reef Bass, Pseudogramma gregoryi! The adult version of the Reef Bass looks totally different. Very few reference guides even mention this obscure but beautiful fish. You can see a photo of the adult at on the bottom of this webpage. The new species was reported on Patti's REEF survey and will be added to the species count for Bonaire. Bonaire's Bari Reef is the ONLY place this fish has ever been reported to REEF in the entire Tropical Western Atlantic! Bari Reef was already the number one reported reef for species diversity in Tropical Western Atlantic and this new species just increases the lead.
The Annual Fish ID Challenge is sponsored by Bonaire Dive & Adventure, Budget Car Rental, ReefNet, and Sand Dollar Condominium Resort for promotion of marine education and conservation.Share on Facebook
Last Summer, REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), created a brand new piece celebrating the Nassau grouper. Rogest was inspired after talking with REEF scientists about the REEF Grouper Moon Project and the important conservation research being done to study one of the last remaining spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Rogest painted "Grumpy", which features the face of a Nassau grouper, with the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". He has since been inspired to create additional pieces with Grumpy. REEF members will have an exclusive opportunity to purchase one of these original paintings later this Spring and Rogest will be donating over half of the proceeds to the Grouper Moon Project. More information coming soon. We extend a big thank you to Rogest for his dedication and passion for REEF's marine conservation efforts. The artwork is also being featured on T-shirts available for sale in the REEF Gear Store.
On July 17th, Maui celebrated its tenth year as part of the the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) with a great event at the Honolua Bay Marine Life Conservation District. As part of the event, several community groups combined to hold a REEF fish count, reef and shoreline clean-up, coral disease survey, and water quality testing. Long-time REEF partners, Donna Brown and Liz Foote, conducted a fish identification class at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary the week before, and the Sanctuary furnished a van and organized a car pool to travel to the remote location. Trilogy Excursions donated a 64 foot sailing catamaran and crew to carry volunteers into the bay, and later invited the shore-based fish counters aboard for a free lunch. REEF surveyors saw and photographed over 70 fish species, including sea horses, oriental helmet gurnard, spotted eagle ray, and a cute baby frogfish. The GAFC is one of the monthly events hosted by the Maui-based Fish Identification Network (FIN). Visitors and new comers are welcome to attend monthly fish counts by contacting: Maui.FIN@gmail.com
Winter full moons mean that it's grouper spawning time! 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. Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. We estimate that between 5,000 and 7,000 Nassau grouper come to the site to spawn. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Program, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. 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 ban expires later this year and new legislation is being developed. We are rapidly compiling the results of our research, which will provide the Cayman Islands government guidance on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.
Earlier this month, we had a small team in the field- Dr. Selina Heppell (OSU researcher), Stephanie Archer (OSU graduate student), and Brenda Hitt (long-time REEF Grouper Moon volunteer). They witnessed spawning on two nights following the January full moon. We expect February to be the "main" spawning month (based on past research, we know it has to do with when the full moon is in relation to the winter solstice). A much larger team of researchers and volunteers will be on the island to conduct a full suite of research projects. We will also be producing several outreach products aimed at promoting the management and conservation of these spawning aggregations. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting and important marine conservation research. In the mean time, to find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. To see video of the aggregation during the day, check out this video on YouTube taken last year. 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.