First Bahamas Lionfish Derby Huge Success: 1,408 lionfish in 1 day!

Thomas Roberts (left), with his family, Lad Akins, and Bobbie Lindsay (right, event organizer), won first place in the derby. Mr. Roberts brought in 289 lionfish during the one day event.
Lionfish have proven to be a dangerous invader to Bahamian and Caribbean reefs. Photo by Lenny Zwik.

The first Bahamas Lionfish Derby, held on June 6 at the Green Turtle Club in Abaco, was a great success on many fronts. This test case for the Bahamas government was the first to allow (by special permit) the use of compressed air and spearing to remove lionfish in a derby type event. Organized by Abaco and Palm Beach resident Bobbie Lindsay and REEF, the one-day event drew 26 registered teams and brought in 1, 408 lionfish. Over $5,000 in prize money was awarded including $2,000 for the most fish by any team – 289 by team White Roach from Abaco. The largest fish award went to Team Panga with a 349mm fish and the smallest fish was brought in by Big T with a 57mm juvenile. Pre-event talks, including a school wide talk to the Amy Roberts elementary school, were well attended and generated significant awareness of the lionfish issue. Over 200 participants, residents and visitors attended the scoring and awards banquet and were treated to a lionfish tasting as well.

This is the first large scale event aimed at controlling lionfish populations in the Caribbean. More events are currently being organized in other areas and dates are being set for next year’s 2nd annual Abaco Derby. Special thanks goes out to the Green Turtle Club, Brendal’s Dive Shop and all of the great teams and volunteers who participated in the event. A great time was had by all and the lionfish population around Abaco was dramatically reduced.

Derby results –

  • Most Lionfish – White Roach (289), Little Big Fish (234), Sweet Thing (173)
  • Largest Lionfish – Team Panga (349mm), White Roach (344mm), Team Pineapple (341)
  • Smallest Lionfish – Big T (57mm), Bolo Boys (81mm), Sweet Thing (82mm)
  • Special Dreamy Timber award for most frozen lionfish – Team Panga
  • Grouper Spawning Aggregation Research Continues in 2010

    The Grouper Moon Project studies the spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Photo by Selina Heppell.
    Over 3,000 Nassau grouper aggregate at a site off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons. Photo by Scott Heppell.

    Scientists and project volunteers from REEF and our partner institutions, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and Oregon State University, are getting ready for another year of the Grouper Moon Project. The team will be in the field for two weeks beginning on the full moon, January 30. Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species.

    In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. 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 are to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman. Watch future issues of REEF-in-Brief for field season results and what's next for the protection of spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands as the current harvest ban is due to expire. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit the webpage

    REEF Annual Report 2009 Released


    REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2009 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects (e.g. invasive lionfish and Grouper Moon), data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2009 such a success!

    REEF Data Document Declines in Yellow Stingray

    The decline in yellow stingray sightings in the Florida Keys beteween 1994 and 2007. Source: Ward-Paige, et al. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 2010.

    World-wide declines in shark and ray populations have prompted the need for a better understanding of their patterns of distribution and abundance. While much of the focus has been on the larger species of sharks, little attention had been paid to the most frequently sighted elasmobranch species in the greater-Caribbean, the yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). Despite being relatively common and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, little was known about the status of this species. Unfortunately, it has been quietly declining. Dr. Christine Ward-Paige and her colleagues at Dalhousie University worked with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to examine the status of yellow stingray. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes. Click here to read the paper.

    The study used 83,940 surveys collected by REEF surveyors in the western Atlantic. In total, yellow stingrays were observed on 5,658 surveys (6.7% sighting frequency) with the highest occurrence in the regions surrounding Cuba. Overall, sighting frequency declined from 20.5% in 1994 to 4.7% in 2007. However, these trends were not consistent in all regions. The strongest decline occurred in the Florida Keys, the most sampled region, where trends were similar among all areas, habitats and depths. Possible explanations for these changes include habitat degradation, exploitation (this species is collected for medical research and the aquarium trade), and changes in trophic interactions. The results of the study suggest large-scale changes in yellow stingray abundance that have been unnoticed by the scientific community. This study also highlights the value of non-scientific divers for collecting data that can be used to understand population trends of otherwise poorly studied species.

    To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the website here.

    Watch an Online Screening of Alien Invaders Tomorrow Night - June 2nd


    Changing Seas, an original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of Alien Invaders, the series’ latest episode focusing on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Alien Invaders will be screened live on the Changing Seas website ( on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. EST. During the screening, dive enthusiasts will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program. REEF's Lad Akins and researcher Stephanie Green will be be online to answer questions live during the event.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Patricia Broom

    Pat with surveying dive buddy, Barbara Anderson (r), on the Baja Mexico Field Survey in 2010.
    Pat in Fiji.
    Pat in Turks and Caicos.

    REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

    This month we feature Patricia Broom (REEF member since 2004). Pat is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 277 surveys in three of REEF's regions, including some of the first in our newest region, the South Pacific. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

    About ten years ago while reading a favorite dive magazine I noticed an announcement about an introductory fish identification trip sponsored by REEF and led by Paul Humann. The love of REEF was born!! I responded to the advertisement, encouraged my brother to join me and attended that Field Survey trip. We joined a group of equally dedicated divers eager as we to learn about fish and how to identify them. Paul was a great teacher, very patient and concerned that we not only learn about fish but care about them and the ocean we love.

    If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was a trip highlight?

    One of my most memorable surveying moments occurred that week on Paul's trip. On a night dive of a very old wreck with exposed wooden beams I saw my first queen parrotfish in their nighttime cocoons. Each parrot fish occupied a space between two beams framed by basket stars in full bloom. It was a magical sight. I try to take two or three REEF trips a year, they are a great way to learn more and dive with great people. In addition to the regular ID trips, I have really enjoyed the REEF Behavior Trips that are led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. It really completes the learning experience! It is a beautiful sight to watch damselfish guard their algae gardens from predation, observe cooperative hunting, or watch a three foot Midnight Parrotfish at a cleaning station with open mouth and flared gills.

    What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

    Prior to that introductory course, I had been diving the Caribbean for twenty plus years. I witnessed the decline in fish numbers and species as well as reef degradation and wondered how many more years I could dive before there was nothing to see! REEF offered me a reason to continue diving, now there was opportunity to give back and enjoy diving again.

    Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

    I have found great enjoyment in Cozumel at the REEF Field Station at Aqua Safari, led by Sheryl Shea. She is a gifted teacher determined to make advanced assessment divers of all of us! It just so happens a few of my favorite fish are in Cozumel, the Splendid Toadfish, Sargassum Triggerfish, and Cherubfish, to name a few.

    News Flash Items

    • A great last minute opportunity to join renowned photographer and REEF co-founder, Paul Humann, for a week of fish watching and learning. Two spaces (one cabana) just opened up on each week of his upcoming trip to the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean Sea off Panama, June 9-16 and June 16-23, 2012. You will stay in one of these beautiful over-water bungalows. Grab a space before it's too late. Email or call our friends at Caradonna today. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), There are also a few spaces left on the following REEF Trips - Dominica Lionfish trip with Lad Akins (July 14-21), San Salvador Bahamas with Paul Humann (July 28-Aug 4), Sea of Cortez with Christy and Brice Semmens (Sept 22-29), Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach (Oct 6-13), British Virgin Islands with Heather George (Nov 11-17). Visit the REEF Trips page to find out more. 
    • Check out the online REEF Store -- we recently added new underwater guide books for the Pacific coast and new wearable REEF gear. 
    • Don't miss the upcoming Fishinars! Ned DeLoach will discuss all you want to know about the sex life of fish May 9th. Other upcoming sessions include Fish ID for California, the Northeast US, West Coast Sculpins, and Caribbean Wrasse. These free sessions are great fishy-fun from the comfort of your own home. No specialized software needed, just an internet connection. 
    • Want to stay updated with all the latest news, pictures, and updates from REEF and our friends? Then become a fan of our REEF Facebook Page. Even if you are not on Facebook, anyone can view the page.

    Upcoming Webinars Include California Fish & Inverts, Caribbean Damsels, and More!

    Not sure which Caribbean damselfish this is? Then attend the "Those Darn Damsels" Fishinar next month! Photo by Paul Humann.

    Our Webinar team is at it again! New Fishinars continue to be added, and upcoming sessions include a California Critters series, plus several on Caribbean fish families (including those pesky Damsels)! Check out the Webinar Training page ( for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

    California Fish ID Part One and Two - Nov 27, Nov 29

    Caribbean Hit Parade! Top 25 Fish - Dec 6

    Those Darn Damsels! Top 12 of the Greater Caribbean - Jan 17

    California Invertebrate ID Part One and Two - Feb 6, Feb 7

    Hamlets: To Be or Not to Be (Counted, that is) - Feb 12

    Triggers and Files: The ID Tools of the Trade - Mar 21

    Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carl Gwinn

    Carl posing with his pumpkin at the yearly pumpkin carving contest of the Paradise Dive club.
    Carl at his day job. day job, standing in front of the RadioAstron spacecraft in Russia, now in orbit, and going out to nearly the distance of the moon every 9 days.
    A xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish that Carl found in the Channel Islands!
    The resulting "Ocot-tattoo" after his encounter with a Giant Pacific Octopus.

    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 Carl Gwinn, a REEF surveyor in California. Carl joined REEF in 2001 and has conducted 328 surveys. He is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

    Not long after we started to dive in California, my wife and I saw an advertisement for a fish ID seminar and survey trip out of Santa Barbara. We couldn’t make the trip, but we attended the seminar, learned quite a bit about fish, and started doing surveys. As we dived more, we became more engaged and more serious about it. We went on some trips and filled out quite a few surveys. Lately, I’ve had to slack off, because of work responsibilities, but I’m hoping to do more in the future.

    What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

    Being a citizen scientist! I enjoy doing the dive, but it’s also making a contribution to human knowledge. So, the experiences of the dive add a little something to human knowledge, rather than being merely for my own entertainment. I also think REEF does great work in getting people to experience, appreciate, and learn about the ocean.

    If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

    Dive for science! Identify and count fish while enjoying your dive.

    In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

    Of course the data are important. But I think that the education aspect is also really important. People appreciate more what they understand. Counting fish can help them to realize how complicated and interconnected the ocean is. It’s also vulnerable, but has tremendous regenerative capacity. That’s something that surveyors can experience directly, after gaining a bit of knowledge.

    Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

    My favorite place to dive is probably Refugio State Beach, not far from my house. I’ve done over 200 dives there. I like it because it’s easy to get in and out, and is relatively well sheltered from the swell. Once you get in it has a wide variety of different habitats in a small area. You can really see how the populations of fish and invertebrates change, both with the seasons and in ways that never repeat. The beach there tends to get overcrowded, but usually once you get offshore it is pretty empty.

    What is the most fascinating fish (or invertebrate) encounter you’ve experienced?

    Certainly my most memorable encounter was being attacked by a Giant Pacific Octopus. He tore off my mask and my regulator, and tried to yank off my hood. I was diving in the Olympic Marine Sanctuary in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on a REEF survey trip. I slammed my regulator back in, and surfaced from 50 feet depth with the octopus on my head. Its suckers left hickeys all over my face, which lasted about 10 days! The photo has become widely circulated on the internet! Although my dive buddy had a camera, he was enjoying a crevice full of sculpins too much to notice the encounter: my only regret is that he didn’t get a series of photos.

    What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

    Probably my favorite kind of fish is the rockfish. There are lots of different species, and sometimes they seem to blend into one another, so ID can be a challenge. They exhibit some interesting types of behavior, sometimes species-specific. I love to see the schools of juvenile and smaller rockfish: they have bright, clear markings and seem curious. They change from year to year, as the different species have more or less success in recruitment. And, they are hope for the future.

    Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

    Jump in. I remember taking a boat trip to the Naples Seamount and Platform Holly. The visibility started at 5 feet and got worse with each dive, and the surge was over 3 feet at depth. On the way back to the harbor we stopped at the Goleta sewer pipeline, which runs from shore to a few of miles out to sea, and has some good fish in the rocks covering the pipeline. I decided to skip the dive, I’d had enough. My nap was interrupted by a lot of shouting up on deck. A gray whale had swum up to a few of the divers, on the bottom, and inspected them with its enormous eye. I wish I’d seen that! So, jump in.

    What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?

    I remember spotting an unusual rockfish on a dive off Santa Cruz Island: later identified as a xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish (or black-and-yellow rockfish) south of Santa Rosa Island. It was nearly completely yellow. It was probably the most unusual fish I have seen: essentially a mutant. I managed to get a photo. What haven’t I seen yet? I haven’t yet managed to spot many of the local fish, some common: an embarrassing lapse! I’d like to see more and different kinds of sharks, spot some turtles (they show up around here occasionally), watch a few different kinds of whales and dolphins swim by underwater. I would love to see a white abalone underwater: they are extremely rare.

    Please Remember REEF In Your Year-End Giving

    Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.
    REEF Supporters who contribute $250 or more during the winter campaign will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered photo of a Sailfin Blenny.

    As we celebrate this holiday season, I am happy to report that REEF is also celebrating another successful year of protections for ocean habitats and the critters that live in them!

    Please take a moment to make sure REEF continues this critical work. You can contribute securely online at 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).

    From all of us at REEF, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub