Lionfish - What We Know and What We're Learning

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Lionfish photo by Tom DeMayo
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Juvenile Lionfish photo by Tom DeMayo

If you’ve read recent REEF releases, you’ve heard the news that Indo-pacific lionfish are now well established along the eastern US coast and throughout the Bahamas. REEF has been and continues to work with researchers to learn as much as we can in order to most effectively address the invasion. Since January of this year, REEF has organized and led 5 week-long projects in the Bahamas to document the extent of the invasion and gather samples and information needed by NOAA and Bahamian researchers.

 
Here is what we’ve found:

  • Lionfish are being found as deep as 350’ and as shallow as 2’.
  • Lionfish have been documented in almost all habitat types including patch reefs, artificial reefs, walls, and even mangroves
  • Lionfish have been captured as small as 25mm and as large as 389mm
  • Most lionfish have been in the 200mm size range
  • Lionfish prey has included fish, shrimp and crabs
  • Lionfish appear to have high site fidelity (they don’t move much)
  • Lionfish appear to be reproducing year-round in Bahamian waters
  • The lionfish invasion appears to have come from a small founding population (not a large release of many fish)
  • Stomach content analysis has documented lionfish predation of cleaner fish
  • Every site visited in the Berries in April contained lionfish – most contained multiple fish

 
Here is what we are working on with NOAA and Bahamian researchers:

  • Continuing documentation of lionfish distribution and impacts on local fish populations
  • Documentation of lionfish at cleaning stations and subsequent predation on cleaning fish
  • Predation by other species on lionfish
  • Genetic relationships of lionfish in one area (NC, northern Bahamas) to those in other areas (S Bahamas) to determine dispersion pathways.
  • Parasitology of lionfish (they appear to have few parasite compared to native fish)
  • Larval occurrence at different locations using larval light traps
  • Juvenile recruitment preference using small shallow water nets and trawls
  • Trap preference of adult lionfish
  • Lionfish recruitment rates to sites denuded of lionfish (i.e., recruitment pressure)
  • Recruitment of lionfish to artificial structures
  • And more!

As part of this effort, REEF has planned more research efforts through the end of 2007. Each project will include participation of scientists, researchers, and/or REEF staff. For a list of upcoming projects visit http://www.reef.org/exotic/lionfish/ or e-mail lad@reef.org

REEF Events 10/07

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DEMA Raffle Prize. Print courtesy of Tom Isgar.
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DEMA Raffle Prize. Print courtesy of Tom Isgar.

Here's what we're up to in the coming months:

October 31- November 3: DEMA Show in Orlando, FL. Come visit us at both 1133 and you could win a signed print by Tom Isgar by partaking in our DEMA raffle to help raise funds for REEF.

November 11-17: Conservation Week with Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bruce Purdy and Andy Dehart

Recent additions to the previously planned Eco-week at Stuart Coves Dive Bahamas in Nassau will be highlighted by Ned and Anna DeLoach, who will be presenting their famous behavior talks as part of the week's activities.  In addition, Andy Dehart, general Manager of the National Aquarium in Washington DC and Bruce Purdy, Bahamas dive operator and conservationist will talk about Bahamian conservation issues and marine protected areas. As previously planned, Lad Akins will lead the project and discuss lionfish issues as they relate to other environmental factors such as artificial reefs. Stuart Cove will host the project and discuss shark and local conservation issues.

December 8-14: Blackbeard's Cruises is announcing a new lionfish project focusing on Grand Bahama.

For more information, on these projects, view the pdf here...

Lloyd Bridges Scholarship Available for Akumal Field Survey

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Beachfront at Bahia Principe in Akumal
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Maya Glyph at Ruins of Tulum nearby to the Resort
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Coral Reef Training for hotel staff at Bahia Principe
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Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson, ex-Navy Frogman

Once again, CEDAM International is offering two scholarships for educators to participate on a REEF Field Survey. For the 2008 survey season, the scholarships will apply to the Gran Bahia Principe Field Survey in Akumal, Mexico. Dates for this trip are May 17-24, 2008. You can visit REEF's Field Survey page to view trip details and also check out the trip flyer. To apply for this scholarship, please visit the CEDAM website at then click on the Lloyd Bridges Scholarship tab at the top of the page to see details.

The two scholarships enable qualified educators to participate - at no cost - in a CEDAM-sponsored or -sanctioned expedition. This REEF Field Survey will be led by Joe Cavanaugh, REEF Field Operations Director. Participants will have the opportunity to collect data, participate in daily talks, and interact with REEF members, staff, and local organizations. This will be a hands-on experience during which participants have the opportunity for fish identification and marine conservation training in and out of the water. REEF has partnered with ReefAid and Reefcheck and Ecologica Bahia in 2007 to assist Gran Bahia Principe Resort with developing a monitoring and assessment protection plan for their nearshore reefs. Our cooperative efforts in conservation at Bahia Principe are making a difference in protecting their reefs and some of our class time will focus on these successes.

To be eligible, applicants must be a certified scuba diver, a teacher (elementary or secondary level), or actively engaged in an education program at an institution or environmental organization, such as an aquarium, science center, or relevant non-profit organization.The scholarship will be awarded on the basis of both merit and financial need. CEDAM International will cover the recipient’s airfare and REEF Field Survey expenses (excluding incidentals and personal expenses), on this educational adventure. Bahia Principe is an all-inclusive resort so acoomodation, diving, and meals are included. The application deadline will be earlier than last year's deadline since the Field Survey pariticipation dates are in late May this year. Please have your completed applications submitted by April 1, 2008.

Many of our members may be too young to have seen the television program, Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges that ran from 1958-1961. One important aspect of the series was that Bridges made a plea at the end of each episode to protect the oceans, an early ocean conservation pioneer. He was also involved in several organizations including the American Oceans Campaign and Heal the Bay, a Los Angeles-based conservation group. He inspired a generation of SCUBA divers and you may want to check out Wikipedia to read more about many of the people Bridges worked with on Sea Hunt. Incidentally, I discovered that Bridges learned to SCUBA dive once contracted for the show and that he was offered the role of Captain Kirk before William Shatner!

There are still spaces (4) available for the Akumal Field Survey, email joe@reef.org to inquire.

All applicants must complete an application form and return it along with the required essay and two letters of recommendation, to CEDAM (by mail or electronically) by April 1, 2008. Good Luck!

Bigger Than Ever - Lionfish Research Continues

As many of you are aware, the recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into Atlantic waters has been causing great concern among researchers, marine park and fisheries managers, and divers. REEF, in partnership with Bahamian dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy, NOAA, the USGS, the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem. 

 

Our most recent field project at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in May 2008, involving over 20 volunteers and researchers, found that the problem continues to get worse. The team gathered data on nearly 200 specimens of lionfish to determine relative abundance, size increases, reproductive status, growth rates, predator prey relationships and movement.  To wit:

 

  • Lionfish continue to grow in size: Tagging data are showing growth rates exceeding 190mm/year.  This is far larger than necessary to reach sexual maturity.
  • Site Fidelity: All 12 tagged specimens that have been recaptured indicated strong site fidelity even after 6 months.
  • Prey: Lionfish continue to amaze us during our stomach content studies. This May effort turned up new records including two entire spotted goatfish, a large brown chromis, a small reef octopus, and even a small mollusk in its shell. The lionfish are eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.
  • Reproduction: Lionfish reproduction continues to occur throughout the year – we found many gravid females and a small recently settled juvenile.

 

To date, dive operators and the contributions of participating volunteers have funded the bulk of this work.  REEF’s future field-work will concentrate on lionfish movement, trap design, habitat preference, and local control measures. Our next project is scheduled to take place at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau from September 14-20. If you would like to help with our ongoing work please consider joining us as a field volunteer and/or making a contribution to REEF’s Exotic Species Program. For additional information, please contact Lad Akins at (305) 852-0030 x-2# or e-mail Lad@reef.org

Taking A Dive Trip That Counts

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REEF volunteer, Judie Clee, conducts a survey in Little Cayman during a Field Survey earlier this year. Photo by Ron Lucas.

As Fall is upon us, we look ahead to 2009 and a great lineup of REEF travel opportunities. Our partners at Caradonna Dive Adventure have helped us put together an exciting Field Survey schedule, including St. Croix, Bermuda (with Ned and Anna DeLoach), and Grenada on the Peter Hughes Winddancer (with Paul Humann). These week-long projects are led by experts in fish identification and include great diving, learning, and camaraderie with like-minded divers and snorkelers. Your non-diving companions are welcome on all of the land-based projects. There will also be several Lionfish Research Project expeditions, which allow participants to get first hand experience in this exploding invasive species issue. Be sure to check out all of these trips, posted online at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. And remember that it's not just on REEF Trips that you can Make Dives That Count! You are encouraged to conduct surveys during your personal dive vacations farther afield and on local weekend dives in your own backyard. Be sure to order survey materials through the REEF Online Store before you leave and check out what species you are likely to see with the Geographic Summary Reports. And while you are waiting for your tank to be filled, it's fun to tell the folks at the dive shop what you are doing. Being a REEF ambassador helps spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project and the value that fishwatching adds to your experience in the water. We hope that you will join us in making dives that count in 2009. We are kicking off the year with a Field Survey to St. Lucia led by new REEF Executive Director, Lisa Mitchell. To find out more or to book your space, please contact our dedicated travel specialist at 877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com. And be sure to download our 2009 Trip Flyer!

REEF News Tidbits

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The Great Annual Fish Count is coming soon!

Don't Just Blow Bubbles This Summer! Participate in the 18th Great Annual Fish Count. 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.

Summer Fundraising. Be sure to watch your inbox in a few weeks for an important message from REEF co-founder Paul Humann about our semi-annual fundraising drive.

A Big Win-Win: Have a Great Dive Trip and Support REEF. There are still some spaces left on 2009 REEF Field Survey Trips. Still to come in 2009 are REEF Field Survey trips to Key Largo with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bermuda (again with Ned and Anna), Curacao and Cozumel.

Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry 2.0. An updated version of our Online Data Entry interface will be debuted in a few weeks. This version incorporates many of the suggestions that have been submitted over the years by our members, as well as the capability to submit surveys from the Northeast (Virginia - Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja - Galapagos Islands). We hope that this will facilitate an increase in surveying in these important regions. To log your data online, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php.

REEF Attends DEMA 2009

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REEF staff, volunteers and friends at the REEF booth -- Jane Bixby, Tom Wells, Maurine Shimlock, Kay Wells and Burt Jones

Once again, REEF participated in the dive industry show, DEMA. We showed off all of the cool REEF gear, including our new lionfish t-shirts, which were a hit, as well as all of the REEF survey essentials. We also spoke with many dive instructors who were looking for new types of classes to teach. The REEF Fish ID curricula certainly fit the bill. A lot of networking was done and new friends made. And lots of people signed up for a free REEF membership. Thanks to generous sponsorship by Sherwood Scuba, we were able to host visitors and spread the word about REEF in a large double booth. As always, we couldn’t have done it without the help of several REEF volunteers. A big thank you goes to Jim and Mary Jo Davis, Robyn Churchill, Tom and Kay Wells, Lureen Ferretti, Deb Deavers, Beth Olsen, Andy Dehart and Park Chapman for all of their help at the REEF booth. Paul Humann and Anna DeLoach also spent a considerable time in the booth, to the delight of the dive community that happened to pass by! All in all, a truly enjoyable experience!

Welcome New REEF Staff

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Alecia Adamson joined the REEF staff this month in Key Largo and will be working on the invasive lionfish project and building outreach programs.
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Sasha Medlen is working with REEF from Southern California and is helping with membership services and donor relations.
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Janna Nichols officially joined REEF staff earlier this year after years of active volunteer service training new surveyors. She is based in Washington.

REEF is excited to introduce three new members of our staff team – Alecia Adamson, Sasha Medlen, and Janna Nichols. Their expertise and passion will help REEF continue our long-standing marine conservation programs and community outreach. They join REEF's other program staff, Lad Akins (Director of Operations) and Christy Pattengill-Semmens (Director of Science), our administrative staff, Jane Bixby (Office Manager) and Janet Bartnicki (Accounts Manager), and our volunteer Fish & Friends coordinator Nancy Perez.

Alecia Adamson joined the REEF staff earlier this month as Field Operations Coordinator, after completing her Masters Degree in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida. Her research focused on hogfish populations in Florida Keys reserves, and Alecia also assisted with lionfish field work, gag grouper research, and water quality monitoring. Alecia is returning to REEF; she served as a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the Fall of 2006 and we are thrilled to have her back. Alecia’s duties will include supporting work on the Invasive Lionfish Program, overseeing our artificial reef monitoring program on the Vandenberg, coordinating the Great Annual Fish Count, and working with dive industry partners to more fully develop fishwatching programs. Alecia is based in the Key Largo Headquarters office.

Sasha Medlen joined the REEF staff this winter as Membership Development Coordinator. Sasha graduated from UC Berkley and has worked for a variety of ocean agencies and organizations, including California Coastkeeper, Santa Monica Baykeeper, and NOAA. Most recently, Sasha worked on the outer Washington coast, overseeing rural economic development plans, invasive weed response, and outreach on the impacts of derelict fishing gear. Sasha’s duties include membership services and donor relations, fundraising appeals, and special events. Sasha is based in Huntington Beach, California.

Janna Nichols joined the REEF staff earlier this year as Outreach Coordinator. Janna has been involved with REEF as an instructor and Advanced Assessment Team member since 2000. Janna co-founded the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers and has taught over 1000 divers in the Pacific Northwest and California the fun of critter watching and REEF surveying. She developed the invasive tunicate training materials that REEF and other organizations use and she serves on a tunicate response advisory panel in Washington State. Janna’s duties include survey training material development, outreach in the west coast region through training seminars and dive shows, and building capacity in REEF’s Field Station Program. Janna is based in Vancouver, Washington.

Top of the Charts: Survey Stats

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An arrow blenny is a great find during a Caribbean survey. Photo by Doug Champion.

Current Most Active Surveyors

Conducted the most surveys in the last three months:

TWA – Peter Leahy (169), Michael Phelan (67), Dave Grenda (48)

NE – Jason Feick (9), John Feehan (8), Michael MacDonald (7)

PAC – Rhoda Green (36), Jan Kocian (34), Betty Bastai (31)

TEP – Carol Cline (16), Daniel Richards (12), Gerald Winkel (3)

HAW – Don Judy (41), Rick Long (34), Flo Bahr (23)

To date, 140,234 surveys have been conducted by REEF volunteers.

Visit www.REEF.org/db/stats to see the Top 10 surveyors with the most surveys conducted to date, the most species-rich locations, and most frequently sighted fish species.

Putting It to Work: REEF Scientist Participates in Key Workshop

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In addition to maintaining the REEF Survey database and providing data files to scientists, government agencies, and other groups, REEF staff participate in a variety of scientific conferences and workshops each year. Earlier this month, REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, participated in "Engaging and Learning for Conservation". Christy and 49 others were invited to the workshop to discuss ways to enhance biodiversity conservation and environmental stewardship through public participation in scientific research (PPSR). PPSR encompasses citizen science and other programs where the public is involved in one or more phases of scientific research. With support from the National Science Foundation, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, a leader in bird citizen science programs, initiated this effort to bring together conservation scientists and practitioners, resource managers, academics, educators, and community and project leaders. The overarching goal of the workshop was to discuss best practices to build the field of public participation in scientific research, and lay the groundwork for the workshop team to refine ideas into tools and resources. The two-day workshop was held at an epicenter of biodiversity and conservation research, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. With almost 20 years of working with REEF, Christy had valuable perspectives on how a citizen science program can meaningfully contribute to conservation and stewardship.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub