Fishinars in the New Year

Learn how to tell Black Rockfish from Blue Rockfish, and other lookalikes. Photo by Janna Nichols.

We have just the thing for after the holiday rush is over -- free, educational REEF Fishinars. These hour-long sessions let you learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we will be adding new ones for 2015 soon. On the schedule so far....

  • Swimming in the Deep End - Carlos and Allison Estape, January 20th
  • Pacific Northwest Lookalikes - Janna Nichols, January 28th
  • Cayman Fishes - Jonathan Lavan, February 11th
  • Cool Hawaii Finds - 15 Not-So-Common Fishes - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, February 18th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, June 2015

REEF sightings are an important source of information for rare species such as sawfish. Photo courtesy Simon Fraser University.

Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

- A research group at Palm Beach State College is using REEF data on South Florida fish assemblages to evaluate beach renourishment projects.

- Researchers from NOAA's Biogeography office are including REEF data in the development of a management plan for the marine portion of the NE Ecological Corridor Reserves in NE Puerto Rico and Culebra Island.

- Researchers at Bimini Biological Field Station are using REEF sightings of two endangered sawfish species to better understand the species' current distribution and status.

A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Planning For Grouper Moon

A spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman, the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our partners at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are gearing up for the annual Grouper Moon Project next month. Scientists will be on the ground and in the water during the full moon in January. Since 2002, the group has conducted ground-breaking research to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations, to help ensure recovery of the populations of this iconic species. This year, the team will be collaborating on new work using cutting-edge technology including underwater microscopes to evaluate larvae in-situ. We will also be hosting several live-feed videos through Google Hangouts as part of REEF’s Grouper Education Program. In 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched the education program to engage Caymanian students in the project. This exciting initiative brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and the Hangouts that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. We will post Hangout details on our Facebook page and www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject in a few weeks.

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

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REEF Team Aquarius 2007: The Life Support Buoy, which provides power and communications to Aquarius, tethered 60 feet below, appears in the background. Courtesy of Lillian Kenney.
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Volunteer Dave Grenda surveys the northeast site off Aquarius. Courtesy of NMSP.

 Six volunteer divers from the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyed two sites off the Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, to assist the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) with the science component of the Aquarius 2007 Mission: If Reefs Could Talk. Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory, is part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and sits seven miles off shore at Conch Reef. A valuable resource and good neighbor to REEF HQ, Aquarius hosts scientists from around the world, from sponge chemists to astronauts, in innovative research and education.

The team included REEF Special Projects Manager Lad Akins and AAT members Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Mike Phelan. Twelve fish surveys were conducted at each of two research sites near Aquarius using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT). This year's data will be compared to surveys collected during a 2001 mission to assess change in resident fish populations. The team also assisted NMSP in documenting the occurrence of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) at each site. Once abundant on Florida Keys coral reefs, herbivorous Diadema play an important role in keeping coral-stifling algae from overtaking the reef structure. 

Click here to read more about the 2007 mission and the Aquarius habitat, including daily broadcasts and interviews with the REEF survey team. 

REEF to Host "For the Love of the Sea" Benefit Dinner and Auction

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On Saturday, February 9, REEF will host an ocean-themed dinner and auction at Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort to raise awareness about REEF in the Florida Keys community and help conserve local coral reef ecosystems. Underwater photographers Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach will present new images of sea life taken on their worldwide dive travels. A silent and live auction will offer prizes from local businesses and travel to destinations including Bonaire and Papua New Guinea. Tickets are $75 each and include buffet dinner, open bar and dancing.

For more information, including how to purchase tickets, become an event sponsor or donate auction items, please visit www.REEF.org/loveofthesea. If you are in the area, please join REEF for this unique opportunity to celebrate the Valentines season and kick off 2008 as the International Year of the Reef.

 

REEF Survey Tips

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Joe Cavanaugh searching wall for Cave Basslets
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Check for the Witness Protection Program Fish, here - the Yellowtail amongst Horse-Eyes
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Look closely at sharksuckers, 3 species seen on this one Nurse Shark
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Look for Exotics amongst the native species, here a Red Lionfish
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Report your Sea Turtle sightings on survey - linked to seaturtle.org
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Surveyors conferring on a sighting ID
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Large sponge "smoking," releasing gametes

Once again, it is that time of year when many of you are getting out on the water and conducting REEF Fish Surveys.  I have put together a few bullet points based on my experiences surveying with members and answering questions on techniques and things to watch out for when filling out your data sheets. Here are a few tips:

 

  • Roving Diver Surveys mean you are not restricted to a transect line while surveying and you can roam about within 100m of dive boat, mooring buoy, or shore during your survey, drift dives count, of course, and often cover a larger area. The area surveyed does not correlate to your fish sightings, in terms of sighting frequency and abundances, but rather,  your time surveying is directly correlated to your sightings data.  This is why it is important to fill in the time box on your scanform or on the dataentry page to reflect the time you actually spend surveying, not your total dive time.  If you spend 5 minutes prepping to survey and you stop surveying on your safety stop, for instance, than your survey time will not equal your total dive time.  Also, as you get better at identifying your fish, try and spend more time looking and searching for fish, and less time looking at your survey slate.
  • Set up your slate so that it is easy to get to but not necessarily in your hand throughout your dive.  I clip mine with a retractable clip to my BCD and use surgical tubing to hold a graphite pencil, the kind artists use.  You can get these at any art supply store and you'll get hundreds of surveys from one pencil providing someone doesn't smoosh it with their dive cylynder!  I typically census every couple of minutes or when I see something unique that I don't want to forget.  I periodically update my survey so that I really don't have much to add at the end of the dive and I can go through and make revisions while the dive is fresh in my mind.  I write in code such as LU (look up) for any fish I need to consult a book about later in the day.  I also carry a magnifying glass and a small flashlight to search under ledges and inside sponges for peppermint basslets and sponge cardinalfishes, for instance.

 

  • Use your time wisely when diving deeper profiles on wall dives.  As your dive profile changes depending on the site, you can adjust your survey strategy accordingly, to maximize your survey time and the scope of what you see.  For wall dives, I personally keep navigation simple, pick an unusual coral head or sponge and mark it in your mind and take a compass heading back to the boat.  Make your descent but while you do, search for the type of habitat you are likely to find the fish you are looking for.  On a recent trip to Turks I found that at around 100' depth, the Fairy basslets transitioned into Blackcap basslets, at this imaginary line I was likely to find some Cave basslets, or three-line basslets.   Then, knowing the dimensions of the cave openings they prefer, you can be choosy about which hiding spots you want to check out.  Checking the deeper tube sponges had rewards too in not just finding Sponge cardinals, but also Black brotulas (two for the trip).

 

  • Decide how much time you want to search for different species or families ahead of time.  Mike Phelan found with statistical analysis of his personal surveys that he would find 90% of his species in the first 10 minutes of his survey effort on coral reef dives.  If you have the luxury of diving a site twice, you can more easily survey the big picture and concentrate on finding cryptic species such as triplefins and other blennies and gobies on the second dive. Or you can focus on abundances for some of those cryptics, seeing how many of one species you can find, increasing Secretary blennies from Few on your first dive to Many on your second dive at the same site.

 

  • Can I count a fish I did not see in the water? The answer is no but here are a couple of examples where I or others have surveyed fish in an atypical manner.  Recently, on our Turks Field Survey, I was climbing onto the boat after a night dive when a flyingfish leapt from the water, bouncing off my knee onto the boat deck.  I picked him up, identified him as a Mirrorwing flyingfish and threw him back in the water.  Did I add him to my survey?  Yes, since he was in the water with me during the time of my dive and he was a new survey species for me.  I also added a Tripletail to a survey I did last year as I was gearing up on the boat, I saw this Tripletail and snorkeled over to it just before starting my dive.  One other quick example came two years ago with our Biscayne Bay AAT project where the group saw a Whale Shark but not on the survey site itself.  Some people filled out a species-only survey for this sighting as it was a first for many and a fortuitous sighting as the first time Biscayne Park recorded the species.  We created a dive site based on the coordinates.  But in general, you can only survey what you are seeing at the time you are actively engaged in your survey.  Feel free to email me at joe@reef.org with questions about this or any other questions you might have about surveying techniques.

 

  • Share what you're seeing with other divers, especially your buddy.  Surveying is not a competition and its good practice to corroborate your unusual and cryptic sightings with other divers, share your findings with them in the water when you can. This really becomes important when you are with a REEF group and you are trying to get the "lay of the land," sort of speak.  Are those Dusky Damselfish I'm seeing everywhere?  And are those Secretary or Roughhead blennies I'm seeing.  How do I find a Candy basslet, people keep seeing them, can you show me?"  Ask questions of your fellow surveyors and take advantage of the unique fish identification and fish finding akumen others have; I sure do on AAT projects.  And lastly, feel free to take notes on interesting events such as coral and sponge spawning, rarely seen or odd behaviors of fish, etc.  You can post these on one of our REEF forums accessible from our homepage. Photos for this article, courtesy Aggressor II, Turks and Caicos.

Wellwood Monitoring Project Final Report Released

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A REEF Advanced Assessment Team member surveys the fish assemblage on a restoration module at the Wellwood grounding site.
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Parrotfishes, such as this stoplight parrotfish terminal male, appear to be responding the quickest to restoration efforts. Photo courtesy New World Publications.

The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter, ran aground in 1984 on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. Eighteen years after the grounding, the area resembled nearby hard ground habitat with little structure and the benthic community was dominated by gorgonians. Natural recovery to a state similar to the pre-grounding condition failed to occur within a reasonable time frame and therefore, habitat restoration was initiated in May 2002. In the Fall of 2007, REEF completed a five-year monitoring project on the fish assemblages at the Wellwood grounding site and two nearby reference areas. A Summary Report, which summarizes the results of the monitoring effort, has been completed and is available for download from the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage.

Baseline surveys were conducted just prior to and immediately following restoration, quarterly monitoring took place through Year 1 and semi-annual monitoring in Years 2 through 5. The primary goals of this project were to aid in the assessment of restoration efforts and provide a benchmark for long-term evaluation of the fish communities at the grounding site. Teams of REEF Advanced Assessment Team divers conducted 558 roving fish surveys and 559 belt transect surveys during the five year monitoring project.

Report Conclusions:

After initial colonization, Restoration site fish assemblage diversity, density and biomass have leveled off and remain lower than that at nearby reference areas. A total of 165 fish species were recorded at the Restoration Site during the 5-year project. In comparison, 189 were documented at the North Reference site and 207 were documented at the South Reference Site. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding quickest to the restoration efforts, with densities and biomass values similar to that of the reference sites. Grunt and snapper species are primarily absent from the Restoration Site. The relatively short duration of this study makes it difficult for results to be teased out from natural population variability. Similarly, definitive conclusions cannot be achieved from these data due to the limited amount of time that has passed since restoration and the well-known decadal processes that are required for coral reef development. However, these data will serve as a critical baseline for assessing future changes and the effect of any future restoration efforts at the site.

For more information about the 5-year project and to read the full report, visit the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage. There was also a longer story about the project in the January 2008 REEF-in-Brief.

Notes from the Field – 2009 REEF Grouper Moon Project

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Grouper Moon Project researchers and volunteers documented Nassau grouper spawning on all three Cayman Islands in 2009. This spawning release image was taken on the Little Cayman aggregation. Photo by Brice Semmens.
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Thousands of Nassau grouper aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in February. Photo by Phil Bush.
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The Cayman Brac team aboard the Glen Ellen.
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Grouper Moon researchers take video with lasers of individual Nassau grouper on the aggregation. The images are later analyzed to determine the size distribution of the aggregation.
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The Grand Cayman team happy after finding aggregating grouper.
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Dr. Semmens presents findings from the project to over 75 Little Cayman residents and visitors.
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Over 1,000 Nassau grouper were found on Cayman Brac, an area that was previously thought to only have a small, remnant spawning aggregation. Photo by Phil Bush.
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The path of the current drifter that was released at the Cayman Brac aggregation site on the night of spawning (19 days at sea). The current pattern is similar to that seen with drifters released on Little Cayman. Jamaica is in the southeast corner.

Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. The 2009 spawning season was the most ambitious to date for the project. For the first time, we had teams of researchers and volunteers stationed on each of the three Cayman Islands--Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. The field season was certainly a success; among many interesting results and accomplishments, our most exciting find was that the teams on all three islands witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on the same night (Valentine’s Day, of all days! – which happened to be 5 nights after the full moon).

In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. This followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.

The broad goals for the 2009 spawning season were to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman; aggregations on both of these islands were fished to exhaustion in the recent past. In addition to the island specific objectives, the Grouper Moon research program expanded satellite drifter work this season. These drifters, which track current patterns associated with the body of water the grouper eggs were spawned in, will continue to report positions for 45 days after spawning; this length of time is the approximate larval duration for Nassau grouper. REEF also continued education and outreach efforts through public talks about spawning aggregations and the Grouper Moon research. Talks were held at the Little Cayman National Trust and Dive Tech/Cobalt Coast Resort.

2009 Aggregation Season Results Summary

The Little Cayman team continued the long-term monitoring of this aggregation, which includes counting the number of fish that show up, estimating the size of the fish, and recording the timing and amount of spawning observed. The Cayman Brac team’s goal was to document whether or not aggregating Nassau grouper were spawning-- evidence of spawning would refute the theory that Nassau grouper fail to recover once overfished because fish on small aggregations no longer release gametes. In the 2008 spawning season, the Grouper Moon research team discovered the location of an aggregation of Nassau grouper on Cayman Brac. This year, armed with this information, REEF and CIDOE researchers spent the full 2009 spawning season observing, videoing and documenting the Cayman Brac spawning aggregation. In addition, the team was able to accomplish the primary goal of this season’s work on the island—team members both observed and videoed spawning. Objectives for the Grand Cayman team were similar, except that they first had the task of discovering where Nassau grouper on that island go (if anywhere) during the spawning season. Using the acoutic tag pinger signal of just ONE Nassau grouper (of 6 total individuals tagged on Grand Cayman in 2008), divers confirmed the presence of aggregating grouper near the historic East End aggregation site and a dusk dive on February 14th yielded this season’s biggest accomplishment– team members witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on Grand Cayman!

The findings stemming from this work are unquestionably novel, and are certainly good news —protections on aggregation sites that have been fished to exhaustion will protect those few individuals that remain, and will protect stocks of fishes that are contributing to the next generation of this endangered reef fish. Put simply, our research demonstrates that overfished aggregations are down, but not out.

Why Does This Matter?

Nassau grouper are not just icons of the Caribbean; they are a social and ecological cornerstone of the region’s coral reefs. Historically, Nassau grouper represented one of the region’s most economically important fisheries. Unfortunately, due to intense harvest on spawning aggregations, their populations have dwindled to a fraction of their historic numbers. The species became the first Caribbean reef fish to be listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the species is candidate listed under the US Endangered Species Act. The precipitous decline in mass spawning aggregations of Caribbean grouper species has been well documented. The majority of known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive due to the ease with which aggregating species are caught. And those that are still active contain significantly fewer fish than the 10s of thousands that historically gathered at these special places.

As part of our work on the Grouper Moon Project, REEF will continue to develop a comprehensive assessment of the status of the Cayman Island’s Nassau grouper spawning population as a guide for future Nassau grouper restoration and conservation policy.

Collaborators and Supporters Who Make This Project Possible

REEF would like to thank our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, specifically Phil Bush, Bradley Johnson, Croy McCoy, James Gibb, Tim Austin, Gina Ebanks-Pietre, Chris Dixon, Keith Neale, Delwin McLaughlin and Robert Walton, as well as Drs. Scott and Selina Heppell from Oregon State University. REEF Volunteers have always been at the core of our Grouper Moon field work and 2009 was no exception – heartfelt thanks to Judie Clee, Thor Dunmire, Tracey Griffin, Doug Harder, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell and Sheryl Shea. The Grouper Moon Project has continued through the years empowered by the first year’s success and the passion of early project leader Leslie Whaylen Clift. Assistance from OSU graduate students, Stephanie Kraft and Heather Reiff, is much appreciated. Principal financial support is from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the CIDOE. Additional funding is from Mr. Wayne Panton, Mr. Dan Scott, Clive and Stella Wood, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and hundreds of REEF members. Continued in-kind logistical support from island businesses and residents, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers, the Southern Cross Club and Peter Hillenbrand, is also much appreciated. And finally, our ground-breaking achievements on Cayman Brac would not have been possible without the generous support of Wayne Sullivan, who donated his vessel the Glen Ellen, his time (and patience), his equipment and technical diving expertise, and his crew, Brady Booton and Jules James.

For more information on the project, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.

Grouper Moon Project Research Planned for February 2010

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Approximately 4,000 Nassau grouper aggregate each winter off the west end of Little Cayman Island. Photo by Phil Bush.

Planning is underway for REEF's annual research on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands for the 2010 spawning season - the Grouper Moon Project. This collaborative conservation program between REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment is entering its 8th year. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the research team is conducting innovative research that is critical to the long-term survival of this iconic Caribbean species. Grouper Moon scientists will be in the field January 30 - February 12, 2010. If you are looking for a winter getaway and are considering the Cayman Islands, this is a great time to visit Little Cayman.

While there are not opportunities for recreational divers to visit the aggregation, researchers will be giving several public talks and divers on Bloody Bay Wall will witness the mass migrations of the normally solitary Nassau grouper from their home reefs out to the aggregation site. Another good reason -- the acclaimed Southern Cross Club has offered to donate a percentage of any package booked by REEF members during that time to support REEF's Grouper Moon Project.  To take a vacation and make a positive impact for the grouper, contact the Southern Cross Club reservation office directly at 1-800-899-2582 or info@SouthernCrossClub.com -- be sure to mention that you are a REEF member!

More information about the 2010 research and program objectives for the Grouper Moon Project will be included in future issues of REEF-in-Brief. you can also find out more about the Project on the Grouper Moon Project Webpage.

Welcome New Field Stations

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Congratulations to our newest Field Stations who have joined us since the start of 2010! These shops, charters, instructors and organizations can support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out who the other 173 REEF Field Stations are, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.

 

  • A-2-Z Scuba - Puyallup WA 
  • Adam Nardelli - Fort Lauderdale FL 
  • Adventure Sports - Gresham WA 
  • Aquatic Obsessions - St. Petersburg FL 
  • Blue Marble Divers - Hagerstown MD 
  • Coastal Carolina University, Marine Science - Conway SC 
  • FIN O'ahu - Honolulu HI 
  • HydroSports Dive and Travel - Keizer OR 
  • Living Art Marine Center - Honolulu HI 
  • Reef Watch Waikiki - Honolulu HI
  • Rob McCall - Key West FL 
  • Salem Scuba - Salem OR 
  • Scuba School and Dive Center - Fort Lauderdale FL 
  • Scuba Works - Jupiter FL 
  • Silent World Dive Center - Key Largo FL 
  • Terry Sumpter - Rohrersville MD 
  • The Downtown Aquarium - Denver CO 
  • Whidbey Island Dive Center - Oak Harbor WA

 

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