REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon. Watch a short video montage of the aggregation and spawning action here - http://youtu.be/GwKVzPLgmbo
Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. This year, we tested out some new techniques for collecting and rearing fertilized eggs (in the montage video you will see a diver swimming through a spawn cloud with a plastic bag). After collecting Nassau grouper eggs during the two nights of peak spawning, Scripps scientists and REEF Grouper Moon Project volunteers cultured the eggs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman. After one night, a subset of eggs were preserved for research on fertilization rates. After two nights, the eggs had hatched, and researchers were surprised to find larval Nassau swimming around the tank the next morning. Check out this video of larval Nassau grouper under the microscope - http://youtu.be/0Vph6LzH9IE
In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.
Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, recently gave a Perspectives in Ocean Science talk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire talk is online. Click here to watch! To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.
Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2014, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club (especially Neil van Niekerk and the crew of the Lucky Devil for taking our team out in January), and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible - Adam, Alex, Brenda, Bradley, Croy, Guy, Hal, Ivan, James, Josh, Keith, Leslie, Laura, Lynn, Paul, Steve, and Todd. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.
We are excited to announce a new expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the eastern Atlantic, beginning with a new program in the Azores. REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., spent time in the islands earlier this summer developing new survey and training materials. This Portuguese archipelago is the northern extent of a bioregion known as Macaronesia, which also includes Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Cape Verde Islands. The underwater habitat features volcanic rocky reefs and common fish species include colorful wrasses, damselfish, sea breams, and pelagic rays.
The new REEF program will include the standard fish survey protocol as well as an invertebrate and algae monitoring component. The expansion is in collaboration with the local government agency, Direção Regional dos Assuntos do Mar, as well as the University of the Azores, Observatório do Mar dos Açores, and Parques Naturais de Ilha. We expect to offiically launch the new region later this year.
REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project. Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program. Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff. To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here.
Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments. The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework. In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.
The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002. Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef. Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented. The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites. Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.
I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks. In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight! Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.
Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled). Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year. Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA. It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854 . We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event. You will hear more about this project in the coming months.
Hope to see you in the water soon.
REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented a summary of 5 years of fish monitoring on two modified reef areas off Key Largo, Florida: the Spiegel Grove artificial reef and the Wellwood grounding restoration (see next month’s edition of REEF-in-Brief for more information on these projects). Brice was an invited speaker in the special session on Nassau grouper, presenting an overview of the conservation status of the species. During the Spawning Aggregation session, Brice also presented changes in the average size of Nassau grouper that are visiting the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site since it was protected from fishing in 2003. Scott presented a poster summarizing cleaning station research that the Grouper Moon team has been conducting on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site. Other presentations that included REEF data included a talk by Dr. Todd Kellison from NOAA Fisheries on trends in commercial species abundances in Biscayne National Park and a talk by Nicole Cushion from University of Miami on patterns of abundance in grouper species in the Bahamas.
Happy St. Patrick's Day! We show our "green" spirit here at REEF by continuing important conservation initiatives. In this edition, learn about REEF's participation in the 54th annual Boston Sea Rovers international underwater clinic, a visit with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and a citizen science discussion series recently hosted by REEF in the Florida Keys. Two valuable REEF members learn bi-coastal fish ID and there is one spot left on the Turks and Caicos field survey next month. Last chance to sign up for this amazing conservation diving opportunity!
With best wishes and best fishes,
With just a few days left in the REEF Summer Drive, we are almost there. Help REEF meet our goal of raising $25,000 by the Forth of July holiday. Please do your part to make sure that REEF's important marine conservation programs continue to make a difference. In appreciation, donations of $50 or more will get you a copy of the exclusive 2008 Album of the Sea Screensaver with amazing underwater photographs by Ned and Anna DeLoach. Please donate online through our secure website or call the REEF office today (305-852-0030).
It's one of the great things about fishwatching and doing REEF surveys - no matter how many surveys you have conducted, there is always an opportunity to find something new. These "mystery fish" are what keep folks who have done even 1,000+ surveys coming back for more. Finding a "lifer", a species new to your species life list, is always rewarding. A great part of submitting REEF surveys is that REEF keeps track of your lifelist for you.
One of the many data summary reports that are available through the REEF Website is your personal Life List Report, which includes all of the species that you have reported during REEF surveys. REEF Surveyors also have access to "My Survey Log", which lists information about each survey dive, including date, time, location and the number of species seen. In order to access these reports, you need to be logged into REEF.org. If you haven't already done so, create a Website login account today.
Active surveyors, Todd and Lynn Fulks, found one such "lifer" recently during a survey dive in San Blas, Panama -- a hogchoker (Trinectes maculatus). This little flatfish was happy to pose on Todd's slate underwater while they snapped a photo. Great find! Do you have your own great lifelist story? Please post it to the REEF Forum Discussion Board. And if you are looking for a great read this Fall, check out The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. It chronicles obsessed bird watchers participating in a contest known as the North American Big Year, hoping to be the one to spot the most bird species during the course of the year. If you are a fish fanatic, you will definitely see some similarities!
REEF's Grouper Moon Project Featured as "Success Story in Marine Conservation" REEF's research program focused on studying one of the last remaining large spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Cayman Islands, the Grouper Moon Project, was included as one of 26 stories of good news in the typically grim news of marine conservation efforts. Dr. Brice Semmens, Grouper Moon Project lead scientist, presented results from the collaborative research efforts during the Beyond the Obituaries: Success Stories in Ocean Conservation symposium organized by Drs. Jeremy Jackson and Nancy Knowlton at the National Museum of Natural History last month. To watch Brice's talk archived online, click on this link and then navigate to about 52:45 on the time bar. The presentation is 10 minutes.
REEF Featured on NPR's Morning Edition REEF surveyor, Pacific NW diver, and NPR reporter Ann Dornfeld wrote and narrated a story that aired on National Public Radio on May 20th. The story covers a typical REEF survey, as well as discussing how the data is being used in Washington State to help understand the status of rockfish species. The story features interviews with REEF surveyors Janna Nichols and David Jennings, REEF's Director of Science - Christy Semmens, and WDFW's Greg Bargmann. Click here to listen to the story or visit KUOW webpage to read the transcript.
New Hawaii Field Guides Added to the REEF Online Store We have just added three new field guide books for critters and fish found on Hawaii's reefs. The new selection includes an updated and expanded fish guide by John Hoover, which is a must for any diver or snorkeler planning to do surveys in Hawaii. We also added Hoover's Hawaii's Sea Creatures, a guide to over 500 invertebrate species, and a waterproof booklet of 100 of the most common Hawaii fishes. Visit the REEF Store today for all of your field guide needs, as well as your place for REEF survey materials and REEF gear!
REEF To Collaborate On Assessment of Coral Reefs REEF will be providing fish population data to Reefs at Risk Revisited, a global analysis of threats to coral reefs using high-resolution data and biological modeling. The Reefs at Risk project is led by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), and will serve as a landmark evaluation of coral reefs worldwide. Stay tuned for future issues of REEF-in-Brief for updates.
Great Annual Fish Count 2009 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.
Please Remember to Donate During REEF's Summer Fundraising Campaign Your support is needed to ensure the long-term success of REEF and our important marine conservation programs. Donate online today through this link. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and Staff -- Thank You!
The San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF) is one of REEF's valued partner organizations. SDOF has been supporting its volunteers to participate in REEF surveying for the last several years and has sponsored dozens of survey training workshops. SDOF recently honored REEF member, Bob Hillis, who is a long-time SDOF Reef Monitoring Volunteer, as their 2009 top volunteer for his invaluable support of the oceans. Having completed 202 REEF Surveys, Bob has continued to strengthen his connection to the sea while providing indispensable information about the status of marine populations off the coast of California. Bob joined REEF in 2006 and is a member of the REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). In addition to being an active surveyor, he and his wife helped spread the REEF word last year at our SCUBA Show 2009 booth.
Bob says - “I started doing surveys when I saw a notice for an SDOF Fish ID class on the Divebums website. I had started fish watching a few years before when I reached the "been there, done that" point of diving in San Diego. I started diving here in the early '70's and did all the abalone, lobster, blue water spearfishing, divemaster, instructor, dive medtech and public safety diver things. I live in the mountains (about 60 miles from the coast), but the ocean is my favorite playground! I am also an avid surfer, body surfer and ocean swimmer. Doing REEF surveys with SDOF gives me an opportunity to enjoy my passions and give a little back to the ocean as well. These surveys actually force me to focus on and identify all of the species that I used to see (but not REALLY see). Always hoping to locate a new or rare species has added a new and exciting dimension to diving.”
Thanks for your efforts, Bob, and congratulations! And thanks to SDOF for their continued support of the REEF program.
Thirty miles offshore, in 100 feet of water, the Spike isn’t the most accessible dive site off North Florida’s coast but July 17th marked the first anniversary of the former Coast Guard tender’s deployment as an artificial reef so we were eager to see what had changed over the past year. The Spike had only been down 10 days when we surveyed it during last year’s Great Annual Fish Count. We weren’t expecting much then – the chance to dive a freshly minted reef was the main attraction, but it was interesting that it had already attracted a small crowd of nervous bottom fish, including the usual Black Sea Bass and Vermillion Snappers.
It was a very different site one year later. A large school of nosy barracudas followed the first diver down the line, clearing the way for hundreds of Atlantic Spadefish to move in and escort the rest of our group down. The Spike was surrounded by silversides that fled en masse as we moved through them, then streaked back to the structure for protection when gangs of Great Amberjack attacked. It’s difficult to describe the sound made by thousands of fleeing fish, but they are noisy. The superstructure is now covered with invertebrates – barnacles, tunicates, sponges, and anemones – that provide shelter and food for hundreds of tiny seaweed blennies. Jacksonville’s ubiquitous grunt, the Tomtate, was there in every phase from juvenile to adult. The Black Sea Bass and Vermillion snappers are now settled in under the bow with a group of small Red Snappers and waddling around in the sand was one of my favorites, a Polka-dot batfish! A year ago, I counted 6 species of fish. This year I counted 16 species.
Our group also dived the Gator Bowl Press Boxes, an artificial reef created years ago when the city’s stadium was renovated. Although it had about the same amount of biomass as the Spike, there were more species. One of the joys of offshore Jacksonville for fishwatchers is getting to see species like Dwarf Goatfish, Longspine Porgys, Bank Sea Bass and Oyster Toadfish that we see don’t tend to see in more tropical waters. Congratulations to Richard Salkin and T.C. Howe, who conducted their first REEF surveys.