The Faces of REEF: Judith Cucco

Cooperative hunting is always a great find for a REEF surveyor. Here, Blueifn Trevally, Blue Goatfish, and a moray eel (not shown) are hunting together. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A badly damaged sea turtle flipper, the result of entangled fishing line. Photo by Judith Cucco.

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 Juddith Cucco. Judith has been a REEF member since 2010, and has conducted 555 surveys (all in her home state of Hawaii, and all as a snorkeler!). She is a member of the Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Judith had to say about REEF:

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

I first heard about REEF through Reef Watch Waikiki while taking a fish identification course with them in February 2010. I immediately started doing surveys as I felt it was a fun way for me to share my enthusiasm for all the fish I see while snorkeling in Hawaii, where I live...and I wanted a record of the many species I've encountered.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite fish find?

Even though I've seen it many times, it still fascinates me to see cooperative hunting, for example jacks following a moray eel or blue goatfish. My favorite fish is the juvenile rockmover wrasse. They look like drifting seaweed in the ocean when they move and I enjoy watching them turn over rocks with their snout. My favorite discovery is a semi-circle angelfish (not native to Hawaii) that Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF Director of Science ) helped my swimming buddies and me identify from some very poor photos.

Where do you do most of your surveying?

I used to do most of my surveys at the outer reef in Hanauma Bay and still go there occasionally, however my favorite place to survey on Oahu is Kaiona Beach Park. You really need to look to find the fish and if one has the patience, there are ample rewards. I've seen so many species that one does not see at Hanauma Bay (knifefish, bigeyes and several types of scorpionfish). Because I snorkel, the fish are also much closer at Kaiona as it's more shallow.

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

The most exciting thing for me when doing surveys is when I encounter a species I haven't seen before. After my snorkel, I go home and look it up in one of my fish books or online and enjoy learning about it. My biggest challenge is staying warm as I like to stay in the ocean until my fingers get numb (not recommended), which is usually around three hours even with a full wet suit.

Do you have a memorable story from a survey?

Just the other day, I had gone out for a snorkel survey (which ended up not happening). A little while into our swim, my buddy and I found an entangled green sea turtle. I saw it on the bottom in about ten feet of water. We first asked its permission, then dove down to bring it to the surface. We saw that it had fishing line wrapped around its neck and two front flippers. We were really far out on the reef and swam it in to shore. We recruited two fishermen to cut off the line and they also built a pen out of rocks for the turtle. I went to my car and called our local NOAA turtle stranding office. When NOAA staff arrived, we loaded the turtle in a carrier and the turtle was taken to a surgeon. It needs to have the front right flipper amputated, but it is going to survive and should eventually be released back in the wild. What an amazing and cooperative experience!!!!

The Faces of REEF: Roger Skillman

A great find, especially for a first dive - the Striated Frogfish. Photo (c) Ned DeLoach.
Roger with some students at the Blue Heron Bridge.
The majestic Sand Tiger Shark. Photo by Jeff Haines.

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 Roger Skillman. Roger has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 45 surveys. Despite being landlocked in the Smoky Mountains, he is an active surveyor in the Carolinas and Florida. He also teaches SCUBA and incorporates REEF in to his classes! Here's what Roger had to say about REEF:

What’s your favorite part of REEF surveying?

I like completing REEF surveys to document what was seen on any given day at a particular dive site. Completing surveys helps establish baseline data for a site. REEF members are “Citizen Scientists” with their eyes in the water and we provide valuable data for researchers that can’t be everywhere. The most interesting thing I have found about completing surveys is the importance of an underwater camera and a variety of good fish ID books to help with identification after the dive.

Do you have a favorite place to do surveys?

I have two favorite places that I like to dive. Most of my 34 years of diving have been on the shipwrecks offshore of Beaufort, North Carolina. The historical shipwrecks and abundant marine life that can be found rivals diving anywhere around the world! During the last 5 years, I have discovered the great diving around Jupiter, Florida, to include the world famous Blue Heron Bridge. BHB, with its unusual creatures and the ledges offshore, provide as many different species of fish as many tropical locales.

What is your favorite fish find?

My most fascinating fish encounter has to be diving with the Sand Tiger Sharks on the shipwreck “Caribsea” offshore Cape Lookout, NC. Diving while surrounded by 50 of these magnificent creatures was a marvelous experience. A most memorable fish find occurred at Blue Heron Bridge in 2013. I was completing open water evaluations with two of my students when we found not one, but two, Striated Frogfish. I had never seen a frogfish and these “neophyte” divers saw TWO on their first ever open water dives! Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair!

What advice do you have for other REEF members?

The best way to benefit from REEF is to get INVOLVED! I belong to inland-based REEF Field Station (Smoky Mountain Divers-Carolinas) but that doesn’t stop us from conducting surveys. Contact our field station or a field station near you and participate in their fish ID programs. Sign up and participate in the numerous webinars and classes offered by REEF to expand your knowledge. It’s not hard, just FUN!

Introduction

Hello and happy October! This edition will be REEF-in-Super-Brief since our biggest announcement - the launch of the new REEF.org website - will direct you to endless updates on REEF programs, new online tools, an improved REEF Store, and a new member-login that will allow you to get the most out of the new site. Visit www.REEF.org now!

If you're still with me, read on to learn about an exciting new artificial reef project REEF will embark on in 2008 with the sinking of the USAFS Vandenberg in Key West, Florida and REEF's participation in important inter-agency collaborative research on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in California. The third of six monitoring events at Biscayne National Park was recently completed; hats off to REEF staff Joe Cavanaugh and Lad Akins and Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) volunteers who served on this project amid challenging weather and personal circumstances.

Earlier this month, REEF lost a valuable partner and close personal friend. Mike "Smitty" Smith was a boat captain at Quiescence Diving Services in Key Largo, Florida and drove the boat for many local monitoring projects. His positive outlook and team spirit will be missed but we hope to honor his commitment to ocean conservation through REEF's continued work in the Florida Keys community.

"Best fishes" from the REEF family to yours,

 

Leda A. Cunningham, Executive Director

Introduction

Welcome winter! REEF is pleased to bring you the final monthly installment of REEF-in-Brief in 2007. Our biggest announcement is the completion of the biological monitoring of the U.S.S Spiegel Grove, the largest intentional artificial reef when it was sunk in Key Largo, Florida in 2002. Also in this issue, learn about the new online data entry interface for the West Coast survey region and how to get more out of the new REEF website. Finally, we'll close out the year with some pictures from the recent Holiday Open House at REEF HQ and invite you to join us on a REEF Field Survey trip in 2008.

Many thanks to all who have made donations toward an ambitious fall fundraising goal of $100,000. REEF could not continue its critical conservation projects without your support (if we haven't heard from you yet, please click here to make a secure, tax-deductible donation online). Many thanks as well for everyone's e-patience as REEF grows its online fundraising capacity. We recognize that your
inbox and email time are limited resources and sincerely appreciate the opportunity to request your assistance in strengthening REEF citizen science programs.

The REEF family sends you best wishes and best fishes for a happy, healthy start to the new year. We'll look forward to working with you in 2008, officially designated the International Year of the Reef. It's bound to be a good year . . .

 

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Gearing up for GAFC

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The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is just around the corner. While REEF staff updates the event website, www.fishcount.org, we are asking our field stations and partners to begin planning their 2008 GAFC activities.

Events can be as simple as gathering a group of local divers for a one-day dive and a covered-dish party for after. Or, schedule a huge blow out to introduce more people from your town to what a difference can be made when you do more than just blow bubbles while diving. The latter could include Fish ID seminars, counting challenges, a planned picnic and whatever else you can dream up to gather a crowd and show them the fun of fish-watching.

Whatever you choose to do, please don't forget to register your event with REEF by clicking here.  Or give us a call at 305-852-0030. For more information, please contact gafc@reef.org

Lionfish Letters from the Field

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A lionfish sighted in the Exuma Cays and reported through REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Program. Photo by Sean Nightingale.
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Volunteer divers assisted with lionfish research in the Bahamas in May 2008.
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Magnificent to look at, but devastating to the local ecosystem, lionfish like this one are seen throughout the Bahamas. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Nassau, Bahamas - July 30, 2008 -- Up early this morning and readying for another big day on the lionfish front.  As part of an Associated Press story on the lionfish, I am joined by Andy Dehart and Lisa Mitchell here in Nassau to shoot footage of our lionfish work and do interviews for an AP television segment.  We'll be live collecting fish, tagging a few and talking about the current research being conducted by REEF, NOAA, Simon Fraser University and Oregon State University - research showing that the lionfish appear to  be having severe impacts on our native fish populations.  To summarize, stomach contents show over 50 species of prey items including fish and invertebrates; lionfish are eating the prey faster than they can naturally recover and they can reduce recruitment of juveniles to reefs by 80%!  It is a scary picture.

While the research efforts are being conducted to better understand lionfish and their impacts, REEF is also leading the way in working on control.  Our recent workshop in Florida paved the way for early detection/rapid response in South Florida and will serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean.  Tagging studies, removal (culling) efforts, activity and movement documentation, trap design and other control measures are being implemented to direct our efforts both in the US and Bahamas where the fish are established as well as in downstream countries in the path of the invasion. REEF's next project will take place September 14-20 at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with a few spaces left. (Call Pam Christman at 800-879-9832 to participate).  

If you see a lionfish, or any other non-native fish, please be sure to report your sightings to the REEF website.

In addition to using your sightings to direct research and rapid response on non-native species in coastal areas, REEF provides data to our partners at the US Geological Survey (USGS). REEF recently contributed a significant number of records to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. These records included information submitted by volunteers through the REEF Exotic Species Sighting Program, and included 311 records of lionfish sightings from approximately 160 sites along the US East Coast, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as information on 29 other fish species from 54 locations (mostly in South Florida). Approximately half of the species were new records for the USGS NAS database. The lionfish data contributed to the generation of an on-line display of current lionfish distribution.

If you have questions about the lionfish or other non-native species, feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail.  We are also looking for funding for these critically important programs and any ideas or contributions are welcome.  Look for the AP coverage early next week!

REEF News Tidbits for January

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Members who give $250 or more during REEF's Winter Fundraising Campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print by Paul Humann.
  • Batik Lionfish Shirts - Just added to the REEF Store. These stylish and comfortable shirts are a must for fish-lovers. These Rum Reggae shirts feature two pockets and are the fashion of choice for Paul Humann. Two design patterns available. $47 each. Visit the REEF Store to get yours today!
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  • It's not too late to donate during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. The financial support of our members is critical to ensuring the long-term success of the marine conservation work that REEF accomplishes every day. All donations are tax-deductible and a gift of any size is greatly appreciated. For donations of $250 or more, you will be thanked with an exclusive signed Paul Humann print of a male jawfish guarding his eggs. There is a limited number of prints left so get yours today. Donate securely online or mail in a donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037.
  • National Geographic's Wild Chronicles will be using footage shot on REEF lionfish expeditions in an upcoming segment about invasive species in Florida. The theme for Episode Two (#402) of the new season is "What's the Culprit?". One of the segments in the episode investigates how non-native species including green iguanas, lionfish and hydrilla first arrived. The episode will begin airing on select PBS stations the week of January 12. Please check your local listings for exact air date and time.
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  • REEF Field Survey trips and other special dive travel opportunities are filling up fast! Be sure to check out this year's schedule of learning expeditions and dive vacations on our REEF Trips Page.
  • Artist Rogest Celebrates Grouper Moon Project With New Artwork

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    REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), has done it again. 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 created his latest piece of artwork to celebrate this Caribbean icon. "Grumpy" features the face of a Nassau grouper, with the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". Rogest completed the painting in early summer 2009.

    The artwork is being featured on T-shirts now available for sale in the REEF Gear Store. These high quality, pre-shrunk T-shirts are available in green short sleeve ($25) and red long sleeve ($30). Get yours today, they won't last long.

    REEF members will have an exclusive opportunity to purchase the original painting later this Fall and Rogest will be donating over half of the proceeds to the Grouper Moon Project. We extend a big thank you to Rogest for his dedication and passion for REEF's marine conservation efforts.

    REEF News Tidbits

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    New REEF Survey T-Shirts - Our latest addition to the REEF Online store, these T-shirts provide a comic look at our world of fish surveying. The shirts sport a REEF logo and "REEF Survey Team" on the front and a cartoon on the back. Shirts are available in three colors. Click here to get yours today!

    Visit REEF this weekend at the Beneath the Sea Dive show in Secaucus, New Jersey - REEF volunteers will be there to tell you about our latest activities and sign up new members. Sensational Seas Two will premiere at the show and we’ll be selling the DVD in the booth as a fundraiser. Many of the production contributors will join us during the day to sign DVDs. Anna and Ned DeLoach will be there to talk fish. Stop by Booth 220 and say "hello"! You can check out a sample of the DVD on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bC4T5bMu_s

    Free California Fish and Invertebrate Identification Seminars Scheduled - Thanks to support from a regional foundation, REEF is offering a series of free training classes to be held at The Ocean Institute in Dana Point and The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Classes will be held this June. Pre-registration is required. There will also be a coordinated REEF survey dive aboard the SunDiver at a reduced cost just prior to the SCUBA2010 show in Long Beach. For more information, check out the class page here.

    Preview of REEF 2011 Field Survey Schedule

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    Lucky REEF members joined Ned and Anna DeLoach in Bermuda during a memorable Field Survey in 2009.
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    REEF Trips offer fishwatchers of all levels opportunites for learning. Photo by Jessie Armacost.

    We are pleased to present a preview of the 2011 REEF Field Survey Schedule to our valued members. Destinations include many exciting locations that offer great diving and prime fishwatching experiences, including the San Blas Islands in Panama, Saba, Hawaii, and for the first time, a South Pacific destination -- Fiji! 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. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

    Our travel consultants at Caradonna Dive Travel are finalizing many of the trip details, and the full schedule with prices and package information will be posted on the REEF Trips website in the coming weeks. We hope that this early preview will allow you to start planning your REEF dive travel. Some of these trips will sell out quickly, so if you are interested in reserving your spot, or being on a list to find out more, contact Caradonna today at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. They can also handle your airfare.

    Preview -- REEF 2011 Field Survey Schedule*

    *Please note that details are still being finalized. Dates listed below are tentative for some trips.

  • Saba, March 19-26, 2011, at Sea Saba Dive Centre – led by Heather George, REEF Board of Trustees member
  • Hawaii, mid-April 2011 (tentative), details TBA – led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science
  • Belize, May 7-14, 2011, aboard the Sun Dancer II, Lionfish Control Study – led by Lad Akins, REEF Director Operations, and Peter Hughes
  • Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, June 12-19, 2011, at Green Turtle Club and Brandal's Dive Shop, Lionfish Control Study – led by Lad Akins, REEF Director Operations
  • Blue Heron Bridge, West Palm Beach (FL), July 16-23, 2011, details TBA – led by Anna and Ned DeLoach, REEF Board of Trustees members, and Lureen Feretti, REEF Expert Surveyor and Blue Heron local
  • Fiji, July 12-19, 2011, aboard the Nai’a – led by Paul Humann, Renowned Underwater Author/Photographer and REEF Founder – REEF’s first Field Survey to the South Pacific
  • Roatan, August 2011, at Anthony's Key Resort – led by Alecia Adamson, REEF Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator
  • Cozumel, December 3-10, 2011, at Aqua Safari – led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert Surveyor and Cozumel Naturalist
  • San Blas Islands, Panama, January 14-21, 2012, at Coral Lodge – led by Paul Humann, Renowned Underwater Author/Photographer and REEF Founder
  • Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub