Lobstaah Diving in New England

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From front left - Holly Martel Bourbon, Alison Johnson, Jeanette Lysne, Blair Bertaccini, Jochen Faas, Peter Lysne, Carl Johnson, and Joe Cavanaugh.
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Sea Raven, Hemitripterus americanus, seen on Cape Ann dive. Photo by Alison Johnson.
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From front right - Sarah Taylor, Holly Martel Bourbon, Alison Johnson, Jeanette Lysne, Blair Bertaccini, Joe Cavanaugh, Carl Johnson, Jochen Faas and Peter Lysne.

REEF just completed our first bona fide New England Field Survey this past week. It was a big success and really ended up being a reconnoitering expedition to determine how REEF can better translate our Fish Survey Project to the Northeast where there are plenty of divers getting out in the water but very few who conduct surveys. There is also a seasonal effect for the northeast in that the fish all hibernate or leave when the water temperature drops to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving a 7 month fish surveying season in most areas (April-October). Shore diving is more the norm for many locations throughout New England and there are few commercial charter boats as you would find in the Caribbean, for instance. And dive clubs really are the main vehicle for divers to connect and coordinate temperate dives as well as arranging tropical dive trips for some winter relief.

Our REEF team was made up of 9 divers and we were based in historical Woods Hole on Cape Cod.  We dived in Woods Hole, Dennis, and off of Cape Ann (our chilliest venue with bottom temps close to 50 degrees already. I co-lead this group with Holly Martel Bourbon, a marine fishery biologist and diving safety officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  We were also joined by Sarah Taylor who is a New England Aquarium Aquarist II and collector.  Together, Holly and I coordinated with a number of dive shops in the region and Maryhelen Shuman-Groh set up a REEF talk at the New England Aquarium Dive Club that meets every month at the aquarium and is where I got my start about 12 years ago. Incidentally, we surveyed a combined total of 19 fish species, no century dives in New England, let's just say you shoot for deca-dives (10 species) and this is why you won't find New England divers complaining on Caribbean dives, well, that and the fact that visibility beyond 10 feet is a blessing. We found a few wayward foureye and spotfin butterflyfish juveniles settled from the Gulf Stream. Next time we'll have to go to Rhode Island to help collect some of the tropicals.

New England diving is definitely unique and requires a special type of REEF capacity building to jumpstart the Fish Survey Project in the region. Bringing more dive shops into the fold such as Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester is a good first step in increasing REEF's efforts and the chance to engage the New England Aquarium Dive Club was especially important as this dive club reaches many of the naturalist divers in the region. I also attended a Boston Sea Rovers picnic (one of the oldest and most storied dive clubs in the U.S.) as Holly's guest and had the opportunity to speak with folks about REEF and our mission and hopes for increasing surveys in the region. Look for REEF to give a talk at the next Sea Rovers annual meeting in Boston http://www.bostonsearovers.com/  in March of 2008 and for us to give a REEF Citizens Science talk as part of the New England Aquarium's Lowell Lecture Series. We will also be partnering with the Aquarium as our newest Field Station http://neaq.org/. REEF and NEAQ will begin working on a number of training programs together to increase survey efforts in the northeast as well as having Aquarium divers become Advanced Assessment Team members and conduct surveys on their collection trips. There are many other opportunities for collaboration between NEAQ and REEF.

I would like to thank the REEF members who were all wonderful  and patient on this trip as Holly and I had to kind of make things up as we went since this type of trip had not been done before, sort of a boat diving and shore diving mix, Bonaire meets New England without the yellow rocks. Thanks to Holly for co-leading the trip with me could not have done it without her) and to her boss, Vin Malkoski, for giving her the time to work with REEF and for the use of one of their vans for the week along with digital projector and many other shore diving supplies. Alison Johnson will be donating some underwater images from our dives for future curriculum/training along with Terrence Rioux, the dive safety officer for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). Holly and I plan on developing a more contemporary and appropriate curriculum that includes juvenile fish images and more inclusion of fish species that divers are likely to see on inshore dives.  Lastly, I want to thank both Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester as well as the Marine Biological Laboratory for the use of their dive locker and their conference center at SWOPE.

Gray's Reef Proposed Research Area

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Black Seabasses on Grays Reef, photo by Greg McFall, Resarch Coord. GRNMS
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Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, photo by Greg McFall
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Tomtate, Scad, Porgy on Gray's Reef, photo by Greg McFall
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Marine Managed Areas, Georgia State Waters, courtesy NOAA

Just prior to the holidays, Lad Akins and I had the pleasure of joining the Gray's Reef Research Area Working Group (RAWG) in Savannah, Georgia. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) is one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries, perhaps less well known to many of you than Stellwagon Bank or Monterey Bay Sanctuaries, and is located some 32 kilometers off the coast of Georgia. Remember that there has recently been an addition to our sanctuaries by George W. Bush (2006) in establishing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, including and extending beyond the Hawaiian archipelago. GRNMS is rectangular in its defined borders and is roughly 6.5 km N to S by 9 km E to W (17nm2) and is a popular site for recreational fishing and boating. Previous mapping and assessment studies have shown there to be 4 main benthic habitats within GRNMS that include flat sand, rippled sand, sparsely colonized live bottom, and densely colonized live bottom (ledges). 

The workshop I attended was the latest iteration of several previous meetings that had the intention of exploring the concept of placing a research area (RA) inside the boundaries of GRNMS. The focus of the latest workshop was to specifically address what scientific data would be collected inside the proposed RA. The RA would be an area specifically designated for conducting controlled scientific studies in the absence of confounding factors such as recreational or commercial fishing. Previous workshops had convened to decide on biological, ecological, and socioeconomic variables that all would contribute to deciding on where to place the RA inside GRNMS borders. Deciding on the optimal RA configuration (square, hexagon, etc.), location within the sanctuary, and size (area) of the RA for biological questions alone led to some 35,000 options after detailed matrices were created to quantify a best fit design for the RA. "Best fit" in this case is a site that would minimize impact on bottom and recreational fishermen, have a high species richness and biomass, and would have strong research and educational value. And the research and public comment phase of this project has been ongoing for almost 10 years in a collaboration between a number of multidisciplinary groups. The magnitude of the previous work to date on establishing this RA along with the talented group assembled at this past workdshop really impressed me. Furthermore, the dedication and commitment of numerous individuals and agencies in developing management tools that consider multiple stakeholders such as recreational and commercial fishing interests, scuba divers and spear fishermen, and boaters, were equally impressive. If the general public had insight into how complicated decisions such as the one this group convened are to make, they would have more empathy for the folks making these decisions.

REEF's direct interest in establishing an RA within GRNMS is that we will likely be leading the fish monitoring component of the ongoing studies for the newly established RA. Of course, there will be many studies occurring within the RA involving benthic ecology, discarded gear assessments, and numerous studies quantifying the effects of a no-take, exclusionary zone within a sanctuary. The location,boundary, and definition of the RA still need to be decided as do the types and number of research projects that will take place inside the RA. More meetings and public discourse are scheduled before research gets going and REEF becomes involved. But I know that our REEF AAT will be excited at the prospect of doing more work at GRNMS in the future, so stay tuned. For more information on GRNMS, please visit http://graysreef.noaa.gov/. Incidentally, Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) have been found inside the sanctuary and Lad Akins, REEF's exotic species director, will be collaborating with GRNMS on future assessments. If you're wondering what fishes you might see in GRNMS, Belted sandfish, Black sea bass, and Slippery Dicks dominate the landscape, for a full report from previous projects there see our website http://www.reef.org/db/reports/geo/TWA/9302.

Please look for more information in future Enews editions on the progress of selecting the RA in the future and REEF's collaboration on monitoring fish at GRNMS.

 

How to Organize a Dive

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Photo by Kirby Johnson

This year we would like to get more volunteers into the water conducting fish surveys. The fun part of the GAFC is not just the talks, but afterward getting into the water to do the surveys. You can help by organizing a GAFC dive. It's easy to do:

  • Pick a date date and location during June or July to conduct a Fish ID Seminar

  • Pick a date in July for a GAFC Dive

  • Register your GAFC event with REEF 

Start thinking about when you want to schedule a seminar or dive in your area, then let us know what you have planned!  

Please let us know how REEF can support you with your GAFC activities. Teaching modules for your Fish ID seminars are available online at the REEF store.

Together, we can make the 17th Great Annual Fish Count a huge success.

REEF Travel Trips and Tips

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Participants on a Field Survey at the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman.
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Taking a break in between dives on the Kona Hawaii Field Survey.
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Having fun during a Field Survey in Belize.

As Audrey reported in the previous article, REEF Field Surveys are more than just your average dive vacation. Not only are you joined by like-minded divers and led by dynamic experts in marine life, but the trips often include opportunities to learn more about a local culture and even participate in conservation activities or research. We already have several great destinations lined up for 2009 and are finalizing several more trips for the calendar. These trips run the gambit from traditional Field Surveys with fish ID seminars straight through to scientific research projects and they are all located at some of the best dive destinations with some of the best resorts and dive operators. Visit the REEF Trips Schedule page for details. In addition, here is a sneak peak at two special projects that REEF staff and Board members will be offering in 2009.

First is a Lionfish Trip to the Turks and Caicos next Spring with REEF Director of Special Projects Lad Akins. A lot has been happening with this pivotal environmental situation, and REEF has been at the forefront, gathering data, coordinating research and educating the public on the issues. We hope all of you saw the NBC Nightly News segment featuring the important work that is being done by REEF on the invasion of Indo-Pacific Lionfish in Atlantic waters. The REEF Lionfish Trip will have participants working as part of a team, to search for, collect and tag lionfish specimens, document abundance of native reef fish at lionfish sites, help collect samples of lionfish for dissection to determine prey and reproduction, and learn about invasive species issues. This is cutting edge research and your help is needed to aid in gathering information to learn more about the problem and to work towards finding a solution.

Next, how about a Shark Diving Week with our very own REEF Board of Trustees Member, Director of Biological Programs for the National Aquarium and now the Discovery Channel Shark Week Consultant, Andy Dehart? Andy is becoming quite well known for his expertise and passion for sharks and our REEF Shark Week will certainly be a trip that fills quickly. Destination and program details coming soon so stay tuned.

So, the REEF Travel Tip for this month is - start planing now! The 2009 REEF Trips will fill up quickly and once they are filled that ship has sailed. By booking early and planning ahead you will be able to participate in exactly which REEF Trip you want for 2009 and take a Dive Vacation that Counts! REEF’s partnership with Caradonna allows you the ability to book your airfare at the same time you book your trip for (as we like to call it) one-stoplight-parrotfish shopping.

Please check out the REEF Trips section of our website for details. And keep checking back as we will have the rest of the trips up in the next couple of weeks with more details on all of our 2009 REEF Trips being posted.

Call 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com for trip availability and information – some trips are already starting to fill up. Don’t let the 2009 REEF Trip Ship sail without you!!!

REEF Travel Trips and Tips - DiveAssure Announces New Program to Support REEF

<<This article was originally published in January 2009. This promotion has ended. Please contact REEF HQ at trips@REEF.org to find out about current promotions with DiveAssure.>>

DiveAssure, a leader in the field of diving and dive-travel insurance, has committed to support REEF to advance our projects and activities that benefit marine environments. DiveAssure is offering REEF members a significant discount on two levels of coverage - 50% off the regular price for the Platinum program and 35% off the Diamond program. DiveAssure offers membership benefits including the best insurance programs that are tailored to meet the needs and demands of divers. Only DiveAssure offers primary coverage with the lowest deductibles and the highest limits. In addition, DiveAssure offers the only comprehensive dive and travel program available on the market. The Diamond program provides divers with multi-trip or single-trip annual coverage and is available in varying levels of trip cancellation/interruption limits, to ensure that your trip will always be covered, according to your needs.

DiveAssure cares about its members and the future of diving. That is why DiveAssure donates a percentage of its profits to the maintenance and improvement of local diving environments, dive medicine and dive research organizations as well as projects aimed at improving the safety and well-being of the diving environment.

To take advantage of the significant savings that DiveAssure is offering to REEF members, visit the DiveAssure webpage to determine which preferred level of coverage best suits your needs (discounts eligible on Platinum and Diamond programs only). Then contact DiveAssure toll free at 866-898-0921 Ext 1, 9 - 5 PM EST. Be sure to mention that you are a REEF member; you will be asked to provide your REEF member number for verification in order to receive the discounted pricing. If you can't remember your REEF member number, you can look it up here.

REEF greatly appreciates DiveAssure's support of our programs and their recognition of the importance of protecting our oceans!

Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook!

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Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook.

We are excited to announce the launch of the *official* REEF Facebook page -- Become a Fan of REEF today. The REEF Facebook Page gives you the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and see exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. We're building a strong community to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. And we want you to join us!

To Become a Fan: Go to REEF's Facebook page, log in to your Facebook account, and click Become a fan at the top of the page. Or just click on the "Become a Fan" link in the box below. If you don't have a Facebook account, sign up for one.

Please help us spread the word about REEF. Click the Share button on the REEF Facebook page or the Cause to post them to your wall. To find the Share button, look on the bottom left side of the REEF Facebook page. Thank you for helping us build our online community and for supporting our mission to conserve marine ecosystems!

REEF staff and Board of Trustees would like to extend a big thank you to REEF member Park Chapman for all of his help in getting REEF's Facebook Page up and running. And thanks to our first 200+ fans who have already become a part of our online community.

Damselfish Revised

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A mystery damselfish posted to the REEF ID Central Discussion Board. What do you think it is? Photo by Carol Cox.
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Juvenile damselfish are a bit easier to ID. Do you know which one this is? Photo by Carol Cox.

Those pesky Caribbean damselfish! They have been confusing even the most experienced REEF surveyors for years! After consulting with the leading damselfish taxonomist experts, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach revised the descriptions and updated pictures for four species - Cocoa Damselfish (Stegastes variabilis), Beaugregory (Stegastes leucostictus), Longfin Damselfish (Stegastes diencaeus), and Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus). One of the most noticeable changes from what many of us learned - Cocoa Damselfish don't always have a spot at the base of the tale and Beaugregory often have a spot!

A recent discussion thread on the REEF ID Central Discussion Board highlights the confusion around damselfish. Take a look at the thread (http://www.reef.org/node/3853) and see what you think!

The revised pages, meant to replace pages 124-129 in the 3rd edition of Reef Fish Identification, are available for download as PDFs below, courtesy of New World Publications. The text and pictures were reviewed by Dr. Ross Robertson with the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute in Panama, who is considered the world's authority on Western Tropical Atlantic damselfishes, and Dr. Mark Steele at University of California, Santa Barbara, another damselfish taxonomist.

Long-time REEF Advanced Assessment Team member, Neil Ericsson, has also compiled the key features into a handy matrix. The matrix is available as a PDF here. All of these resources are also linked from the Damselfish Revised page on the REEF website -- www.REEF.org/damselfish.

 

Revised Damselfish Descriptions and Pictures (PDFs)

Cocoa Damselfish (Stegastes variabilis)

Beaugregory (Stegastes leucostictus)

Longfin Damselfish (Stegastes diencaeus)

Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus)

 

Tropical Pacific Critter ID Book, Pre-Release Special Edition 10 Day Auction on eBay

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After years of work, the Tropical Pacific edition of Reef Creature Identification by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach is being released later this fall. A limited number of pre-release, signed and numbered copies will be available beginning Monday September 13. The authors have donated to REEF the first five pre-release copies of this spectacular book. REEF will be auctioning copies #1-#5 through eBay. The copies will be numbered, signed, and personalized to the winner's specifications. All proceeds from this auction will go directly to REEF, and will support our critical marine conservation programs. The auction goes live Sunday September 12 at 9pm EST. Once live, you can find the auction pages for all five copies here. The auction will last 10 days.

The long-awaited, 500-page reference detailing 1,600 animals with 2,000 photographs and descriptive text is not only the most comprehensive visual field guide to marine invertebrate life inhabiting the waters from Thailand to Tahiti, but also a pictorial tour de force skillfully bridging science and the aesthetic. For the past five years the two authors/photographers have delved deep into uncharted waters, not only visually documenting numerous species for the first time, but also incorporating the most recent taxonomic research of more than 40 scientific specialists. The text focuses on mobile species, highlighting crustaceans, mollusks, worms and echinoderms, however the pages include an overview of attached marine animals, and also explore facets of marine invertebrate behavior. The guide provides a boon of information for diving photographers and underwater naturalists, known as critter hunters, who enjoy one of the most challenging games in the sea – searching for charismatic mini-fauna of the reef. And for the armchair adventurers, the brilliant gallery of images brings an unseen, unimagined world to the surface like never before.

Visit the book webpage to find out more about Reef Creature Identification - Tropical Pacific and to see sample spreads from the book.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Reef Divers at Little Cayman Beach Resort

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A Juvenile Tripod Fish, spotted on a night dive by Reef Diver visitors. Photo by Dan Dickinson.
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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

This month we feature Reef Divers of the Little Cayman Beach Resort in the Caribbean, which has been a Field Station since 2004. They offer beginner and advanced fish ID classes, the shop carries REEF Survey Starter Kits and ID books, and they have a very knowledgeable dive staff who love helping with those hard-to-identify species. Reef Divers staff have seen first hand that conducting REEF surveys makes their customer’s dives that much more fun and enjoyable, and they have many repeat customers who are surveyors. The dive shop and resort have also been generous supporters of the Grouper Moon Project field logistics through the years.

Reef Divers is one of four dive operations on Little Cayman. The island is home to what is likely the most famous wall dive in the world, Bloody Bay, where the wall starts as shallow as 18 feet and has everything from sand flats to coral pinnacles to sheer vertical walls. This mixture allows divers to see plentiful fish life. Fishwatchers fill up their survey slate quickly, and it’s a perfect place to try for a “Century Dive” (100 species on one dive). Long-time Reef Divers instructor and active REEF leader, Dottie Benjamin, says she had the pleasure of meeting Ned and Anna DeLoach while working on the WaveDancer in Belize and was on board during a REEF Field Survey trip. Dottie says she “learned lots of great information that week and my interest in fish was born.”

When asked what the most interesting fish that their divers had ever recorded, Dottie provided this story – “Last year on a moonless night dive, a few of our divers came up with a tall fish tale of a very strange fish they spotted while doing their safety stop on the hang chain. Luckily, they got some good photos of it and we were able to identify it with some help from REEF science staff as a Tripod Fish (Bathypterois grallator) juvenile. The adults are only found on the ocean floor at depths of 3,000 to 15,000 feet. A very cool find!

Scientific Paper Documents Feeding Behavior in Lionfish

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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 http://www.reef.org/db/publications.

 

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub