REEF Travel Tips and Tricks Spring 2009

REEF's next Field Survey destination -- St. Croix, May 9-16 at the Carambola Beach Resort. Join us!
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The sad faced Cardinal Soldierfish is often found in sponges and caves. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
St. Lucia Field Survey participants.
Now that's service!! Dive master Chad carries REEF member, Martha Barrow, off the dive boat to dry land.

Field Surveys -- these fun and educational dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". I am looking for folks to join me in St. Croix in May, details are below. I recently returned from leading a group of amazing REEF volunteers on the Field Survey week in St. Lucia. The diving was great and everyone managed to see a new species during the week. Most notable for me – on my fish wish list was the Cardinal Soldierfish.

I had looked through the book many times and always paused on this photo – thinking it looked like a cartoon character with those crazy looking eyes. In fact I thought the sad sack face was just the angle Paul had taken the picture, but when James Brook shined his light into a vase sponge there it was – looking just exactly like the photograph, crazy eyes and all. I laughed out loud. Then I proceeded to look in every sponge I found for the rest of the week and I managed to find another dozen. How cool is that?

The REEF Team comprised of James and Ann Brook, Kay Tidemann, Pam McDevitt, Martha Barrow, Norbert and April Hoeller, Michael and Ellen Berson, west coast east, coast sisters Helen and Sally Davies, Marion Sinclair, Julio Esparza, and me the irreverent fish leader. We stayed at Anse Chastanet Resort, which is perched on a hillside (as per Michael and Pam who counted the steps to their rooms it was between 137 and 178 steps from beach to room). The food was great and the REEF package included all the meals (good thing we had all those steps) with a choice of 5 restaurants. The rooms looked out on the World Heritage Site of Gros Piton and Petite Piton, with birds and flowers everywhere.

The diving was close and diverse. The dive staff of Dive St. Lucia, Ponti, Ubald, Garfield and Chad could not have taken better care of us. Chad carried Martha off the boat so she wouldn’t get sand in her shoes – what service! Most gratifying for all of us was having Ponti and Ubald become the world's newest REEF Members one morning before our dives. Kay, Martha, and Pam showed them how to submit their survey data on line. Sally and Kay generously gifted their Reef Fish ID books to the newly minted REEF Members. Both guides said that we had given them a new excitement for their job. Ponti, like me, is an SSI Platinum Pro 5000 diver, and that means he has over 5,000 dives – so imagine how excited we all were to be able to share our philosophy of fish with them and teach an old fish some new tricks!

James shared his unbelievable knowledge about what we were all seeing and gave a guest lecture on Damsels in Distress, Parrot(head) Fish and something about Smart Wrasse. Kay, our other Level 5 Expert, generously dove with some of the newly minted fish watchers and coached them through some of their first surveys. It was a very diverse group in Fish IQ, sense of humor and goals for the week – so we made quite the eclectic team. The dive staff accommodated our unique style of diving and we had 1 hour + bottom times, a variety of environments and even made some 2 and 3 site dives on 1 tank. At James’ suggestion we even did a dusk dive and watched the changing of the guard. As Helen Davies said – “It was magical” I couldn’t agree more.

So what is the travel tip and trick – well I need some people to go with me to St. Croix, May 9-16. I have been there before and the north shore is great diving and absolutely gorgeous. The resort is the Carambola Beach Resort which recently went through a major renovation. You would think you were somewhere in the South Pacific from the architecture, palm trees and beach.

The dive operator is Cane Bay Dive Shop and they are fun to dive with and are all a bunch of fish nerds – really! They also have a brand new 36 foot Newton which is the Cadillac of dive boats. Since I can’t actually go by myself - something about doing lectures alone hints at insanity and doing a survey alone is not nearly the same amount of fun as being with a group (and remember we always need to dive with a buddy). So I am looking for 10 buddies to come with me. St. Croix is a key destination in the lionfish epidemic. They have had several confirmed sightings and we really need to get as much survey data about these reefs as we can. Now is the time.

We will also be doing a lionfish presentation and working with the local dive operators and stakeholders to help educate and raise awareness for this terrible environmental scourge. The REEF members on the trip will be able to see firsthand some of the invasive species work that REEF does. And just in case we see a lionfish we will bag it and eat it.

So here is the travel tip – St. Croix – beautiful, exotic and interesting, needs REEF divers to provide fish population density and diversity stats. Only a short plane ride, great accommodations, great diving and you never know what might swim by. We are shooting for a St. Croix Hat Trick (aren’t you curious now?). Time is of the essence so call our dedicated Travel Desk today and get your space booked. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail

California REEF Workshops a Huge Success

One of three free REEF classes held in Southern California last month.
Divers heading out for a REEF survey dive at Malaga Cove.

As part of REEF's ongoing efforts to engage new divers and snorkelers into the Volunteer Survey Project, as well as to provide existing REEF volunteers with continued training and survey opportunities, we coordinated a REEF Workshop in Southern California last month. The free identification classes, which were taught by REEF Instructor Janna Nichols, were very well attended and the workshop series was a success. Almost 100 divers turned out to take the REEF California Fish and Invertebrate Identification classes and about a dozen divers joined in the survey event at Malaga Cove. It was a great opportunity to reinvigorate REEF's programs in Southern California and to mobilize a corps of dedicated surveyors who will begin conducting surveys on their regular recreational dives.

Funding support for the workshop series was provided by a foundation grant. REEF is dedicated to continuing these opportunities and we are planning to return to LA/OC area next Spring, as well as plan similar events in San Diego and Central California. A huge thanks to Deb Karimoto of Orange County diving, Eric Frasco of Dive 'n' Surf dive shop and Heather George for logistical help, and to REI Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach Tennis Club for letting us hold the classes at their facilities.

REEF Data Used To Evaluate Evolution in Marine Species

The golden hamlet is one of the more rare species, infrequently found in just a few locations. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
The distribution of yellowtail hamlet, as documented by REEF surveyors and analyzed by Ben Holt et al. This work was published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography 2010.

As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography

It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist. 

"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).

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

Neon Goby Split Into Two Species

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Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops) is found in South Florida and the Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Caribbean Neon Goby (Elactinus lobeli), is known from Belize and Honduras. Photo by Paul Humann.

Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.

The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.

Key Largo Community Volunteer Award

Paul Humann presents Nancy Perez with the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award.

REEF recently awarded Nancy Perez the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award. Nancy joined during REEF's inaugural year in 1993! She lives in the Florida Keys and has become an instrumental volunteer at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo. Nancy helps connect REEF with the local community through planning special events, including holiday parties, the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters dedication, and participation at local festivals. Nancy has also encouraged other locals to volunteer at REEF HQ and is always available to assist REEF staff on projects. Nancy's biggest impact has been through her role coordinating the Fish and Friends gatherings at REEF HQ. During these popular monthly meetings, which started in 2009, REEF supporters come together to socialize with fellow fish followers and listen to presentations about various marine species and habitats. The success of this event would not be possible without the hard work and time that Nancy puts in to finding speakers, getting volunteer hosts, coordinating the snacks and beverages, and always wearing a smile. Her tireless dedication to the REEF Fish and Friends event is admired by all. In her spare time, Nancy is out diving and completing REEF surveys! On behalf of the REEF Staff and Board of Trustees, we extend Nancy our deepest appreciation.

Scientific Paper Documents Feeding Behavior in Lionfish


Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, recently co-authored a paper summarizing work documenting feeding patterns of lionfish in the Bahamas. Understanding the predation behavior of this invasive species is important to be able to predict and mitigate the effects of Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) on Caribbean fish communities. Lad and his colleagues at Simon Frasier University studied the activity levels and prey consumption rates of lionfish on 12 shallow coral reefs in the Bahamas in relation to time of day and prey availability. Lionfish predation rates and activity levels were significantly higher during crepuscular (dawn and dusk) periods than at mid-day. Available prey fish biomass was highest at dawn but lower at mid-day and dusk, suggesting that lionfish predation activity is not limited by prey availability alone. The calculated average daily prey consumption rates was ~3 times the estimates obtained from studies of captive lionfish in their native range and of invasive lionfish observed only during the day. These results will help to predict more accurately the effect of predation by invasive lionfish on native reef fish communities. The study was published in the scientific journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, Vol. 433. A summary of this and all other scientific publications that have included REEF data and programs are given on the Publications Resources page, at


Book Your Space on a REEF Trip Today


Are you ready to take a dive trip that counts? If you are looking to spend a week in a wonderful destination, learning and exploring with a group of fun and like-minded divers and snorkelers, then don't miss out on a REEF Trip. Now is the time to book your 2012 Field Survey with one of REEF's expert guides. Get in touch with our travel experts at Caradonna to find out more and to book your space - 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail Details are given below and more information can be found online at

April 21-28 - Nevis - Oualie Beach Resort. Led by Christy Semmens, REEF Director of Science.

May 26-June 2 (SOLD OUT) - Sun Dancer II, Belize - Lionfish Control Study, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and Peter Hughes.

June 9-16 (SOLD OUT) and June 16-23 (2 SPACES LEFT) - San Blas Islands, Panama - Coral Lodge, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author.

July 14-21 - Lionfish workshop in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects.

July 28 - August 4 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author.

September 22-29 (6 SPACES LEFT)- Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens, REEF Director of Science, REEF Researcher.

September 26-30 (SOLD OUT) - Hornby Island, British Columbia - Hornby Island Diving, led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator.

October 6-13 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers.

November 10-17, British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert.

December 1-8 (SOLD OUT), Cozumel - Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Rick Long

A golden Pacific Gray Chub, or “Queen Nenue”. Photo by Rick Long.

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 highlight Rick Long. Rick joined REEF in 1997 and has conducted 469 surveys, making him one of Hawaii's top surveyors. Mike is a member of the Hawaii REEF Advanced Assessment Team and he lives on Maui. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you first get involved with REEF?

I did my first REEF survey while diving in the Florida Keys and went inactive until I moved to Maui and joined the fish count at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. I learned the Hawaiian reef fish by participating in the monthly activities of a local REEF group called Fish Identification Network (FIN) and by volunteering at the Maui Ocean Center aquarium. I learned even more about fish behavior and corals by volunteering with the Herbivore project at Kahekili Beach, doing Reef Check surveys, and with Eyes of the Reef monitoring for coral bleaching and disease. Volunteering in all of these venues, I have learned not only the common names, but also some of the scientific and Hawaiian names of fish and other marine life. I am an enthusiastic advocate for Citizen Science.

In addition to surveying, what other ways are you involved with REEF?

Through the years, I have participated in monthly REEF survey shore dives organized by FIN and other groups. I have also taught Coral Reef slide shows at the NOAA whale sanctuary in Kihei that includes tips for visitors wanting to get in the ocean to see the beautiful fish and coral reefs in our state.

What is your favorite dive spot and favorite fish?

My friends are just as enthusiastic as I am, and can paddle outrigger canoes, scuba dive, or snorkel almost every day of the week in Maui. My favorite coral reef to survey is Maonakala, located within the marine protected area of the ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve, and is one of the few coral reefs not in decline. One of my all time favorite fish is a special little chub or rudderfish that lives on this reef. The Hawaiians had a name for the Pacific Gray Chub (Kyphosus sandwicensis) in a yellow morph coloration and they called it the “Queen Nenue” (nay-new-ay).

Upcoming Fishinars - Cleaning Stations with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Sharkinar with Marty Snyderman and Andy Dehart, NE Fishes, and More!

A grouper getting cleaned! Photo by Ned DeLoach.

New Fishinars continue to be added, and upcoming sessions include special sessions all about cleaning stations with Ned and Anna DeLoach, a Sharkinar with Andy Dehart and Marty Snyderman, and Northeast Fishes, plus several new Caribbean fish topics including fish you will see on your safety stop and those you will find in the biodiversity hotspot of Bonaire! 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:

Cleanliness is Next to Fishiness: All About Cleaning Stations with Ned and Anna DeLoach - May 15

Special Session: Scubaboard's Bonaire's Top 25 with Jonathan Lavan  - May 21

Sharkinar! with Marty Snyderman and Andy Dehart - May 28

Diving the Northeast: Fish You Should Know - June 13

Safety Stop Survey: the Top 12 Caribbean Fish You May See at 15 Feet in 3 Minutes - July 11

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

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Bandito Dive Charters

Bandito Charters dive boat, the Sampan.
Jackie DeHaven, owner of Bandito Charters, showing her REEF pride!
Jackie is a REEF level 5 surveyor. Photo by Dave Hicks.

REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

This month for our Field Station spotlight, we're heading up to the cold waters of Puget Sound - Tacoma, Washington to be exact. Here we'll find Bandito Dive Charters, whose boat, the Sampan, hosts about a 1,000 divers each year on sites in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. Bandito Dive Charters, owned by Captains Rick Myers and Jackie DeHaven, is lucky enough to have the critter ID talents of Jackie on board. Jackie is a REEF level 5 Expert surveyor for the Pacific coast region. She first got involved with REEF by taking a fish ID class from REEF Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, over 9 years ago, and has done hundreds of surveys in the area. The dive charter has been a REEF Field Station almost 5 years now.

Jackie says, " Developing our flagship boat, Sampan as a REEF Field Station seemed a perfect fit to offer our customers REEF classes, materials, and the opportunity to talk about the diverse creatures found in our Pacific Northwest waters with a fellow diver (me, level 5 surveyor) who could assist with creature identification. We host several underwater photographers and the REEF field station status allows us to provide support for creature ID when the photographers are asking “What will I see?” at various sites."

Jackie continues, " We provide multiple copies of fish ID books focused on Pacific Northwest fish, invertebrates and nudibranchs. We provide slates, waterproof paper, and guided fish ID dives if requested and arranged in advance. We can teach REEF fish ID classes at our marina facilities prior to scheduled dive trips and/or on the boat en-route to dive sites." Bandito Charters would like to offer more intro-level REEF fish ID classes combined with two boat dives for the initial surveys.

Jackie's favorite fish – only because it's so rare for a diver to see – is the sixgill shark. She has been surveying Puget Sound waters since 2003 and has only seen them once or twice. In fact, in recent years, very few have been spotted at all in south Puget Sound. Jackie says, "Sixgill sharks are such large creatures who can move silently through your field of vision, almost elusive, yet they show such tremendous power, grace, and presence." 

When we asked Jackie what things she liked best about REEF, she enthusiastically replied, "It is so EASY!!!! Submitting data online is quick, the Website is incredibly easy to navigate, and I feel that REEF surveys are offering a valuable tool for assessing the health of our waters and local species."

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub