In January, 2008 the National Aquarium Institute organized and conducted a Bahamian conservation expedition on the Aqua Cat live-aboard dive vessel. Our mission was to conduct REEF surveys and work on the invasive lionfish project. On board this trip were Lad Akins (REEF Special Projects Director), Ned and Anna DeLoach, Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium), National Aquarium staff, and aquarium and REEF volunteers. In addition to meeting the lionfish research goals of the cruise, we were treated to not one but two exciting and rare finds - the Exuma goby and the lemon goby.
At a dive site in Eleuthera called Cave Rock Reef we geared up and readied ourselves for lionfish behavior monitoring. Just as I started getting my gear together Anna came to the surface to tell me she had found a school of Exuma gobies, Gobiosoma atronasum. What I had not realized was that the keen eye of Bruce Purdy, owner of the Aqua Cat and avid REEF surveyor and supporter had noticed them at this site before and he had directed Anna to the exact coral head. I have logged over 400 dives in the Bahamas and until this day the Exuma goby had always eluded me. To the casual observer this fish looks like a cleaning goby or sharknose goby until you notice its behavior. Unlike most other “neon-type” gobies, the Exuma Goby spends most of its time hovering in the water column, not perched on the coral. They act very similar to the masked and glass gobies. Excited to add a new species to my life list I leave the small cluster of these great fish and head down to my assigned duty of monitoring a lionfish.
Two days later, while on a dive at Blacktip Wall in the Exumas, I noticed a few fish mixed in with school bass. These fish looked out of place and very different from anything I had ever seen. I noted as much detail as possible on my REEF slate and swam on hoping that one of my fellow trip members would be able to help me identify it. As it turns out no one had any idea what it was, but luckily Ned had also seen this odd fish and had taken some great photos of it. After some research when we returned from the trip, we discovered this fish was a lemon goby, Vomerogobius flavus. The lemon goby is an exciting new fish to the REEF database. This species was identified and described in 1971 from 11 Bahamian specimens, but this sighting in the Exumas is a range extension for the species.
It was truly a rewarding experience to finally see and survey the Exuma goby that I have searched for on many trips. To document a fish that I did not even know existed was the icing on the cake. For a fish lover like me, getting to find a new species for the REEF database is an honor. REEF surveying truly keeps diving exciting and new. I am concerned about the effects that the invasive lionfish could have on these two species of gobies with such a narrow range in which they live, but the data from all of our great volunteers helps us track these changes. It would be a shame to lose such unique endemic species due to this foreign invader. We hope you enjoy seeing some of the first photos ever published of these two goby gems.
Processing and error checking the 1,000+ REEF surveys submitted each month by our members as part of the Volunteer Survey Project is one of REEF's highest priorities. With limited staff and resources, there are a few things that you can do to help us maintain the integrity of this incredible database. Most importantly - whenever possible, please submit your data through the Online Data Entry interface, http://www.REEF.org/dataentry. Turnaround time is typically 1-3 weeks, compared with 8-12 weeks for paper scansheets. Plus it saves postage and paper! The second most important way you can help -- if you are submitting data on scansheets, please have your REEF member number and complete 8-digit zone code filled in on the form before mailing it to REEF. Read on for more helpful hints.
Online Data Entry Tips
REEF is currently modifying our Online Data Entry program for surveys from the Tropical Eastern Pacific and the Northeast. We hope to have this available soon.
On April 25, 2009 we celebrated history in Key Largo. It was a beautiful tropical day with the REEF parking lot covered in tents, tables and chairs, fish balloons with cold drinks and appetizers island music being offered up. People came from near and far as we all helped celebrate the dedication of the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters. The afternoon celebrated the merging of three paths - that of a dive industry pioneer, a historic building in the Florida Keys and a grass-roots environmental organization. The gift by James E. Lockwood will go a long way in helping REEF protect, educate and enable divers, snorkelers and armchair enthusiasts to make the world a better place.
Casey Wilder, REEF Program Assistant, designed a beautiful program that outlined how we all ended up in the parking lot on this day. Make sure you check out the online version of this little piece of history. The program provides an overview of the history of James E. Lockwood, a true diving pioneer, the 1913 Conch House that houses REEF and the history of REEF and how all three ended up moving forward together as of 4/25/09.
Special guests Mike Dorn and John Campbell provided the history of Mr. Lockwood, which is incredibly fascinating and diverse. Paul Humann and Ned De Loach spoke on behalf of REEF and talked about how REEF is Key Largo’s very own home grown environmental 501(c)(3), making it very relevant that REEF’s office are housed in the oldest building in Key Largo. Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, we unveiled the beautiful new plaque commemorating the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters and the date the house was built. The Conch house even received a spiffy new coat of paint so she was dressed for the occasion. Special thanks to Bill Corbett of Keys Home Improvement for doing such a superb job in record time!
The next time you are in the Keys be sure to stop by the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters, MM 98.3 in the median and enjoy a little history, mingle with REEF staff and shop for the fish.
REEF proudly awards our 2009 Volunteer of the Year award to David Jennings, a dedicated REEF surveyor and ambassador. David has been a member of REEF since 2006. He has conducted 154 REEF surveys and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT).
David is a textbook example of the phrase “Learn it, Love it, Protect it”. After participating on REEF’s annual AAT survey project of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in 2008, David became concerned that the rockfish populations he was documenting had significantly decreased from those that the REEF teams documented in the earlier years of the project. Rockfish are especially vulnerable to over-fishing because they are long-lived species, some living to be over 100 years old! After looking at the REEF data for the region as well as the existing rules for rockfish harvest, David put together a series of proposed rule changes and submitted them to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for consideration.
What makes David special is he then took the extra step of getting involved directly. In June 2009, David was appointed by the Washington Governor to a six-year term as one of Washington’s nine Fish and Wildlife Commissioners—another volunteer conservation position.
David is also just about as active above water, working on forest conservation work. He helped establish a grassroots forest conservation organization, the Gifford Pinchot Task Force (GPTF) and serves as volunteer chair of that organization.
Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 12,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.
The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to David and congratulate him on all of his efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation.
Great Annual Fish Count 2010 - An exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners. Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event. And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.
New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcome five new businesses to our growing list of Field Stations. These now join the other 196 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide:
Cedar Beach Ocean Lodge/49th Parallel Dive Charters - Thetis Island, BC
Divers Cove - Davie, FL
Dive Club of Silicon Valley - Santa Clara, CA
Earth, Sea and Sky - Zakynthos, Greece
Scuba Set Adventure Center - Puyallup, WA
Check Out the REEF Store! It's your one stop shop for all of your REEF Gear, ID Books and REEF Survey Supplies. Recently added items include the "Not On My Reef" Lionfish Invasion Research T-shirts and REEF water bottles.
Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook - We recently surpassed the 1,200-fan mark on the REEF Facebook Page. The REEF Facebook page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind.
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 Flo Bahr (REEF member since 2001). Flo lives in Kihei, Hawaii, has conducted 186 REEF surveys, and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor. Along with Rick Long and Liz Foote, Flo helps organize the Fish Identification Network (FIN) on Maui. FIN provides an opportunity to join friends and fellow fish lovers in exploring the coral reefs of Hawaii. Maui's original FIN founders, Mike and Terri Fausnaugh, have since started FIN on Oahu. There are monthly, sometimes weekly, dives at various beaches. At every event, volunteers set up a REEF station with survey materials and identification reference guides in an attempt to lure in new afishionados! Here’s what Flo had to say about diving with REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
Way back in 2001, Liz Foote introduced me to REEF. She was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the ocean and fish that it encouraged me to learn more. Being relatively new to living on Maui, I had a lot to learn. Fish card in hand, I tried to identify and learn at least two new fish each time I went snorkeling or diving. I had a screensaver on my computer that flashed fish pictures and their names, the latest fish identification books and friends to debrief with after snorkeling and diving.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
The friendships I have developed and “talking fish” with friends has become my favorite part of doing REEF surveys. We even started a club called FIN, for Fish Identification Network, and we meet once a month for REEF surveys, socializing, and FOOD. The club is open to anyone who has an interest in fish, and we have a nice, flexible group. New people swim along with more experienced surveyors, and we all have fun after with eating and talking about what we saw that day.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
The fun and friendships are great, but the REEF surveys are so valuable to scientists, students, and other avid fish folks. There is just not a wealth of information about what fish are where and in what quantities, so our data can be helpful in determining the health of our declining reefs and can also give swimmers an idea of what might be seen in different areas.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? Is there a fish you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
There are so many cool and surprising things to see in the ocean. Just last week, at Maonakala while snorkeling, we saw a Coronetfish taking a ride on a turtle. A couple of months ago while diving at Wailea Point, we saw a turtle with a strange lump on its back that turned out to be a resting Flowery Flounder. As for what I want to see -- a seahorse! Recently we were diving Wailea Point because of reports of seahorses being seen by a few divers. We searched and searched while diving in just 10-15 feet of water. We couldn’t find them but will keep on looking until we do. It will be so cool when I find a seahorse and get to add it to my survey!
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations
This month we feature San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF), an organization that promotes ocean stewardship by leading community-supported projects that enhance the ocean habitat and encourage sustainable use of the oceans resources. SDOF took on REEF as one of its core projects in 2003. SDOF offers REEF training classes and organizes survey dives; they also host a Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event each year. SDOF occasionally hosts other special opportunities for its REEF surveyors, including special tours at Sea World and of the collections department at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and'Aqua-Talk' sessions, where REEFers can learn more about some aspect of the marine environment.
One of SDOF's lead REEF supporters and teachers, Herb Gruenhagen, explains why REEF works so well as an SDOF program - "Our volunteers become ocean stewards and begin personalizing their commitment to the sea. Then the magic happens! We've hooked them (not literally) and that's how we spread our message of ocean stewardship. So many divers see something while underwater and ask each other 'Did you see that?' or 'What do you think that was?' Conducting REEF surveys helps our local divers and snorkelers learn the identification of the fish and invertebrate species that call Southern California ‘home’. The REEF method is easy to do, and Southern California has many diverse fishes and invertebrates that are easy to ID and count." Herb goes on to say, "By teaching the classes, I learn a great deal more than any of my students and that makes my diving that much more enjoyable. I hope to keep on inspiring others to 'count fishes'." When asked about some of his favorite finds as a REEF surveyor, Herb mentioned the Speckled Fin midshipman that he found at a site in La Jolla Canyon called 'Secret Garden', and that he now can distinguish between a Southern Spearnose Poacher and a Pygmy Poacher (now how exciting is that?).
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. We have an exciting lineup planned. Trips are starting to fill up (some are already sold out), so don't delay. 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 REEF@caradonna.com. Details are given below and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips
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 (1 SPACE LEFT) and June 16-23 (book one or both weeks) - 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 - Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Brice and Christy Semmens, REEF Scientific Advisors and researchers.
September 26-30 - 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 Instructor.
December 1-8, Cozumel - Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert Instructor.
We are about to get our 50,000th member! Spread the word and get your friends to sign up. The lucky 50,000 member will receive one of our new Rogest-designed REEF logo T-shirts (and a very notable and easy to remember member number). Forward this e-news to a friend who isn't yet a member and encourage them to sign up today. It's easy to do online, and it's free!
New Fishinars continue to be added, and upcoming sessions include common butterflyfishes of Hawaii, a California Invertebrate series, plus several on Caribbean fish families (including those pesky Damsels)! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) 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:
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
Bodiacious Butterflies of Hawaii - Feb 21
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.