The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Michael Murphy

Photo by Connie Bishop.
A Wolffish, with a face only a mother (or REEF surveyor!) could love. Photo by Andrew Martinez.
The Spiny Dogfish, always an exciting find for a Northeast REEF surveyor. Photo by Herb Segars.

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 Michael Murphy, a REEF surveyor in the Northeast. Mike joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 79 surveys, mostly around his home in New Brunswick, Canada. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

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

I have always used Andrew Martinez's Marine Life of the North Atlantic as a guide to fish and other under water sightings. It was a pleasure to meet him at Deer Island Point and talk with him about fish that we observed as well as their distinguishing features. He mentioned REEF and encouraged me to join as a way to record fish sightings. I have been a surveyor ever since! (Martinez's book is available through the REEF online store.)

What do you enjoy about being a REEF surveyor?

Being a REEF member has allowed me to participate in the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) each July as well as submit data year-round. I really enjoy learning about the most common fish species found in the Northeast and other dive destinations such as the Caribbean. The REEF educational webinar component, "Fishinars", is always entertaining and informative. In the future, I am hoping to use the data submitted from divers to aid in the establishment of an artificial reef and use ongoing submissions as a method of monitoring fish species. (Be sure not to miss the "Northeast Fishes" Fishinar coming up on June 13.)

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

I regularly dive at an awesome location, Deer Island Point in New Brunswick, Canada. It is about a two hour drive and free ferry trip from my home outside of Saint John. We often encounter divers from the New England States who come for the variety of organisms to be seen. It is great because there are four possible shore dives that you can enjoy, two of these are drift dives. The dives range from easy to advanced, but are subject to ties, and we can dive there year-round.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you have experienced?

I would list as most fascinating fish encounter as being a Tuna that was swimming so fast that my dive partner missed the sighting; although seeing some Spiny Dogfish ranks a close second. My favourite fish to see is a Wolffish, they are on the endangered species list and they are so distinctive that only their mother and a hard core diver would say they are beautiful to see.

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

I always encourage my dive partners to record their fish sighting and to submit their data. A good reference book is essential. Having the REEF Fish Identification Cards as well as a dive slate to record numbers is also important. Searching for fish, invertebrates, and plants connects me to the underwater world, which makes my diving experience that much more interesting and memorable.

New Advanced Assessment Team Monitoring Project in the San Juan Islands

Members of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team who participated in the San Juan Islands monitoring project.
Red Irish Lord, found in the Salish Sea. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Thanks to support from the SeaDoc Society (http://www.seadocsociety.org), REEF has initiated a multi-year monitoring project around the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The goal of the 10-year project is to identify changes in sub-tidal fish and invertebrate communities. The project will use recreational SCUBA divers from REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (Level 4 and 5 Expert surveyors), conducting about 100 REEF surveys each Fall. The project kicked off in September, with a team of 18 enthusiastic surveyors diving in the cold (49-degree!) but beautiful waters around the San Juan Islands. Data from this long-term project will be used by SeaDoc and other researchers over the coming years to see how well efforts to restore the Salish Sea ecosystem are working. A major mortality event among sunflower sea stars in the region was coincident with this year's monitoring effort. The team was able to provide valuable information to collaborating scientists from Cornell University and Wildlife Conservation Society on sightings of healthy and sick sea stars.

The SeaDoc Society is a program of the Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. It was founded in 1990, and strives to find science-based solutions for marine wildlife in the Salish Sea using a multi-species approach. Dr. Joe Gaydos (see REEF Member Spotlight in this enews issue) is SeaDoc's Director and Chief Scientist. We extend a big thanks to Joe and all of the SeaDoc Society supporters for making this important long-term project possible. We also greatly appreciate the Friday Harbor Laboratory and Bandito Charters for their logistical support

REEF 2014 Lionfish Derby Series Released

In the summer of 2014, recreational divers in Florida and the Bahamas will once again assemble teams, scout out hundreds of sites, sharpen their spears, ready their nets, and hone their collecting skills to prepare for another REEF summer lionfish derby series. Six years ago, REEF began hosting lionfish derbies throughout Florida and the Caribbean to address the lionfish invasion. Not only do these events significantly reduce lionfish numbers, they also increase awareness, provide samples for research, train divers in safe removal techniques, and help develop the market for lionfish as a food fish. Teams will compete for cash prizes for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. Hopes are high for this summer derby series, as divers removed 2,790 lionfish in these single day events in 2013. To register or learn more, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies. 2014 derby dates and locations are: June 28 - Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas; July 19 - Fort Lauderdale, FL; August 16 - Palm Beach County, FL; September 13 - Key Largo, FL.

Support Our Work By Writing a Review

Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the GreatNonprofits.org website at: http://gr8np.org/go/yKD

Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member:

"Doing surveys is a lot of fun and knowing what I am looking at has helped hold my interest in my SCUBA diving generally. The educational component is exceptional and I would add that the people that work for REEF are simply amazing and dedicated individuals who really demonstrate they want what is best for the members and the critters we encounter. I'm glad to be associated with such a fine organization!" Thanks Keith!

Membership Madness a Success

REEF’s first Month of Membership Madness was a huge success! In April, lucky Michelle Rogers joined as our 60,000th member, and we far exceeded our goal, with 603 new members signing up. If you are a new member, WELCOME to REEF! The winner of the wetsuit giveaway will be announced April 15 on our Facebook page. If you haven’t yet seen the video that our brilliant intern Jack Fishman produced about joining REEF, we highly recommend it (visit www.REEF.org/membershipmadness)! From being a part of the largest marine citizen science project in the world to making new fishy friends, REEF’s community of members will guarantee you a fishy adventure. Also, included in this month’s activities was an infographic about our incredible REEF members. This graphic illustrates an amazing diversity of support that really highlights how REEF truly depends on our members and volunteers to expand our knowledge of our underwater world. Thank you for everything!

REEF Surveyor Find Rare Jawfish in Veracruz Mexico

The rare Swordtail Jawfish. Photo by Itziar Aretxaga.
The rare Swordtail Jawfish. Photo by Itziar Aretxaga.

Itziar Aretxaga, a long-time REEF surveyor who lives in Veracruz Mexico recently sent in this rare fish sighting report about finding a Swordtail Jawfish. What a great sighting! Here's Itziar's story:

"Earlier this year, I was taking part on an underwater photography competition in Veracruz, Mexico. Every year the diving operators and other supporting organizations launch it as a way to draw awareness upon the diversity and richness of the protected National Park of Veracruz. I had no hope of winning anything as I am a novice photographer with a very basic camera and no illumination, but I wanted to support their efforts. Each of us had a 90-minute time limit to take up to 100 photos.

I saw this jawfish on the sandy area immediately below the buoy in Cabomex, Anegada de Adentro, at about 14m depth. I knew it was not any of the jawfishes I had reported before: face markings, behavior, and burrow type gave it away as a different species. I was set on identifying it more than on making any impression on the competition jury, so I spent my allotted 90 minutes by the jawfish, as motionless as possible, and trying to make it get used to the camera just 15cm away from its burrow. The series of photographs allowed me to identify it as a Swordtail Jawfish (Lonchopisthus micrognathus) based on the body bars and the pointy protruding tail, as described in the sketches of the ReefNet Fish Identification DVD. In looking at the REEF database later, I realized it is extremely uncommon to see this species. So all in all, I felt I had won a big prize in that competition!"

Thanks for sharing, Itziar. If you have a rare sighting or fun find to share, please drop us a note.

Get Ready For the Great Annual Fish Count 2016

During the entire month of July we encourage you to try your hand at conducting your first survey if you're new to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, or to do a few more if it's been a while.

The GAFC began in 1992 when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists conducted a visual fish count in California's Channel Islands National Park. The effort was modeled after the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and has now grown into an international event.

The ideas behind the GAFC are to:

  • introduce divers and snorkelers to fishwatching and citizen science
  • connect local fishwatchers with each other
  • encourage participation in REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project, and
  • help gather data on fish populations around the world

We've revamped the GAFC website, and it's got everything you need to be able to join in the fish counting fun as a participant or to organize your own local event. It can be as simple as hosting a survey dive (throw in a BBQ), or an ID class or presentation about your local fish.

We especially encourage shops, dive clubs, marine science centers and others to organize a GAFC event.

Be sure to visit www.fishcount.org to get the scoop.

See you in the water!

Digging for Data: a Fishinar on how to use the REEF Website reports

And now for something completely different - Ever wonder how you could use REEF's amazing, online, publicly accessible database to answer some common questions you might have?

Join REEF staff Ellie Splain and Janna Nichols for a free Fishinar that will answer those questions (we're mind readers and know what you'll ask) and give you tips and tricks along the way. -- Wednesday November 2nd, 8pm Eastern time. Register online at www.REEF.org/fishinars.

And don't miss our other upcoming Fishinars:

  • November 14th - Hawaii - Life in the Sand with Christy Semmens
  • December 15th - Don't Forget the Chubs and Porgies with Carlos and Allison Estapé
  • REEF’s 2017 Lionfish Derby Summer Series Brings in Over 2,000 Lionfish

    REEF staff member, Marie Diaz, scores a lionfish brought in for this year’s Fort Lauderdale Derby.
    REEF Derby volunteer, Betty Siersma passes out Lionfish Ceviche, made fresh from the derby catch, to hungry patrons.

    This summer, divers and snorkelers from around the country came together to combat the invasive lionfish, vying for over $14,000 in total cash prizes. The series included derby events throughout Florida including Sarasota, the Upper Keys, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach County, as well as Lionfish Culinary Competitions in conjunction with the Sarasota and Palm Beach County derbies. Derby events serve to educate the public about invasive species, gather important scientific information on lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market by providing the public with a chance to taste this delicacy, all of which are important factors in addressing this issue.

    This year’s Summer Lionfish Derby Series brought in 2,112 invasive lionfish. Over the next year, these lionfish would have consumed somewhere between 14,789,260 and 3,662,991 prey fish-fish that are commercially, ecologically, and recreationally important. According to Dr. Stephanie Green, Oregon State University researcher, some sites in the Bahamas have seen 65-95% declines in native fish in a two-year period, when lionfish are present. Impacts to valuable food fish like grouper and snapper could cause damage to the economy and ecology of countries throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic. Overall, the average size of lionfish brought in seems to have decreased this year, indicating the success of derby events and ongoing removals.

    The 2017 REEF Summer Lionfish Derby Series was made possible by Mote Marine Laboratory, 15th Street Fisheries, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, ZooKeeper, and Whole Foods.

    For complete derby results and information on additional lionfish derbies throughout the region, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies

    A Gift That Will Keep on Giving

    We hope you will join us and consider including REEF in your estate plans - Ned and Anna DeLoach.

    As 2017 comes to a close, we are excited to be establishing a formal Planned Giving Program at REEF. Over the years, we have received several legacy gifts, which have been used to fund programs, acquire property, and provide opportunities to conduct important research projects. Estate gifts transform our organization and are an excellent way of creating a lasting memorial.

    We are honored that Board of Trustee members, Ned and Anna DeLoach, have included REEF in their giving plans.

    “As Ned and I set out to plan our estate, we wanted to be sure to not only provide for our children’s future needs, but also to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organization we helped form, Reef Environmental Education Foundation.

    We cannot begin to describe the many personal relationships we have cultivated, the adventures we have experienced, and the accomplishments we’ve witnessed, as we helped REEF grow and prosper. So, when it came down to creating our legacy, it was only natural that we chose to include REEF in our estate plan.”

    -Ned & Anna DeLoach

    Please let us know if you’ve included us in your planning, or call Bonnie Barnes at 305-852-0030 to discuss how you might do this. Charitable bequests can reduce taxes and help you benefit your family and others through your will or living trust. For more information, visit our Planned Giving page.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub