REEF to Host Two Citizen Science Panel Discussions in Florida Keys

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REEF volunteers are citizen scientists, collecting underwater data to expand knowledge about marine life populations. Photo by Ron Lucas.

On Tuesday, February 26, REEF will host a community panel discussion to raise awareness about how volunteers contribute to scientific understanding of the Florida Keys environment. Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York will lead the discussion. Florida Keys-based citizen science practitioners will present on local projects and ways for volunteers to get involved. Topics include fish and bird surveying, native plants and coral restoration. A reception with the speakers will begin at 6:30, followed by presentations at 7 PM. This event will be held at the Key Largo Public Library and is free and open to the public.

Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Bryant and Nancy Diersing, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (volunteers)
  • Janice Duquesnel, Florida State Parks
  • Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation

A second panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West and will focus on citizen science projects in the lower Florida Keys. Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Alison Higgins, The Nature Conservancy
  • Cory Walter, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service

Please join REEF staff and community partners for at least one of these educational evenings.

17th Great Annual Fish Count is Here

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REEF Member Judie Clee Surveying. Photo by Ron Lucas.
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REEF Member Brian Hufford Surveying.

The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) has arrived! GAFC is a month long event coordinated by REEF Field Stations that encourages volunteer divers and snorkelers to participate in recreational trips to raise awareness regarding marine habitats and trends in fish populations. REEF partners and Field Stations have organized everything from group dives and snorkels to photo contests, BBQs, and aquarium tours. This is a great opportunity to take a free REEF Fish ID class and connect with other individuals as well as groups, such as local dive operations and non-profit organizations, who are also interested in doing the same objectives. Numerous activities have been scheduled for the Pacific Coast, Hawaii, California, Washington, Florida, Maine, British Columbia, and many other regions- and still more are being added! Details for scheduled events can be found on the GAFC website. Each year GAFC events generate approximately 2,000 surveys in July alone and increase the interest and involvement of hundreds of surveyors worldwide. Participating in a GAFC event is a great way to make an active contribution to marine conservation and get involved with what REEF does year round- engage volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect critical, valid, and cost-effective data. We hope you get involved!

Travel Trips and Tips - October

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Cozumel is one of the very few places that REEF surveyors can find the endemic Splendid Toadfish. A few spaces just opened up on the REEF Trip to Cozumel in December. Photo by Doug Biffard.
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In addition to fish, REEF surveyors report sea turtles, such as this one seen by Bev Biffard last year in Cozumel. Photo by Doug Biffard.

Looking for a special gift for that certain someone. A 2009 REEF Trip makes a perfect gift. REEF Trips are not only fun, have diving and fish watching involved (which makes it perfect by my standards) but these trips are educational, green and are scheduled to some of the most beautiful Caribbean dive destinations. Also as an added bonus - all divers need a buddy so you get a good reason to give yourself a trip too!

REEF Trips are filling up fast. One trip that has been sold out for almost a year, Cozumel in December, just had a few spaces open up. This is your opportunity to join REEF Expert and Cozumel local, Sheryl Shea, on an excellent dive vacation. Sheryl is an a-fishy-a-nado extraordinaire and will be sure to infuse great fish watching, interesting local history and lots of fun on these trips. There are 3 spaces available during Week 1, December 6 – 14, including an opportunity for a double occupancy room – 1 male looking for a roommate and 1 female looking for a roommate. So if you are flying solo and don’t want to pay single occupancy we will put you in touch with a potential roommate. Please give us a call for more information and to reserve your space 305-852-0030. There are also a few spaces still available during the second trip, December 13 – 18. Please call the REEF Travel Desk for booking this trip – 877-295-7333.

So remember give the gift of Fish Watching for the holidays – we can prepare you a beautiful gift certificate and even arrange for it to be presented in an autographed fish ID book (or creature or coral) wrapped in Bottom Crawlers Holiday gift wrap. REEF Trips are a great way to enjoy yourself while making a valuable contribution to REEF on several different levels. Remember make this holiday season one that is All About The Fish!

REEF Data Used To Evaluate the Status of Big Fish and Fisheries in the Caribbean

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Nassau grouper is one of 20 predatory fish species that were evaluated in a recently published study in the scientific journal PLoS One. Photo by Selina Heppell.
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Data collected by REEF volunteer surveyors from 86 sites in 22 Caribbean nations were used in the analysis. Stallings 2009.

Data collected as part of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project were the basis of a recent publication evaluating the effect of human population size on coral reef fish populations. The sweeping study, conducted by researcher Dr. Chris Stallings of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory, revealed that sharks, barracuda and other large predatory fishes disappear on Caribbean coral reefs as human populations rise, endangering the region’s marine food web and ultimately its reefs and fisheries. The study, which used data collected by REEF volunteers at sites in 22 Caribbean nations over 15 years, demonstrates the power of volunteer and community research efforts by non-scientists. Data are often insufficient at region-wide scales to assess the effects of extraction in coral reef ecosystems of developing nations. The REEF citizen science project fills this gap by generating valid and needed data over large geographic areas over long time periods.

While other scientists working in the Caribbean have observed the declines of large predators for decades, the comprehensive work by Dr. Stallings documents the ominous patterns in far more detail at a much greater geographic scale than any other research to date. The study found that nations with more people have reefs with far fewer large fish because as the number of people increases, so does demand for seafood. Stallings said that although several factors -- including loss of coral reef habitats -- contributed to the general patterns, careful examination of the data suggests overfishing as the most likely reason for the disappearance of large predatory fishes across the region. He pointed to the Nassau grouper as a prime example. Once abundant throughout the Caribbean, Nassau grouper have virtually disappeared from many Caribbean nearshore areas and are endangered throughout their range.

Dr. Stalling's article on the study, “Fishery-Independent Data Reveal Negative Effect of Human Population Density on Caribbean Predatory Fish Communities,” was published in the May 6, 2009 issue of the journal PLoS One. The paper is available for download here.

To find out more about how REEF Volunteer Survey Project data have been used by scientists and government agencies, visit the Publications page on the REEF Website.

Reports From the Field - 2009 Bermuda Field Survey

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Thirteen lucky REEF members joined Anna and Ned Deloach, Judie Clee, and Chris Flook for a Field Survey to remember in Bermuda.
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The beautiful Puddingwife, one of the largest wrasse species in the western Atlantic. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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Yellowhead Wrasse in Bermuda show unique coloration patterns. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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A teeny tiny, baby Bermuda Chub found under floating Sargassum. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Over eight years ago, REEF expanded its flagship Fish Survey Project into Bermuda. Since then, local surveyors have contributed over 2500 surveys to the sighting database! In October, thirteen volunteers joined local REEF hosts Judie Clee and Chris Flook for a delightfully full schedule. After two extended survey dives each day, we were treated to a night snorkel and picnic to watch glowworms, a slideshow and dinner at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, a private, guided tour of the nature preserve on Nonsuch Island, and a reception and presentations by the scientists from BREAM (Bermuda Reef Ecosystem Assessment and Mapping Programme). The week was topped off with a grand finale dinner and behind the scenes tour of the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoological Park.

One of the best things about fishwatching is seeing something new. Many areas have endemic fish and experienced fishwatchers know that fish coloration and behaviors can vary a lot from region to region. We arrived prepared to add Bermuda Bream, Bermuda Halfbeaks and Gwelly jacks to our lifelists but found ourselves equally thrilled to see the Bermuda version of the Yellowhead wrasse, called the Redback (for its distinctive red coloration) and the brilliant jewel colors of their Puddingwives. Between dives, Chris Flook, from the Bermuda Aquarium, filled buckets with rafts of Sargassum seaweed and pointed out juvenile chubs, crabs, shrimps, pipefish and frogfish. Judie’s expert eye helped us sort out the damselfish puzzle. We dived several times in an area where the Emerald Parrotfish was once quite common but has not been seen for many years. Our possible sightings have generated some excitement and Judie and Chris are investigating further. Our total species count for the week was 115 and included a rare sighting of a Conchfish.

Thanks go out to Triangle Diving for the welcome BBQ (and Lionfish hors d’oeuvres) and their excellent diving services. And very special thanks to the Bermuda Zoological Society for funding REEF in Bermuda and for underwriting many of our special activities of the week. We’ll be back – and promise that it won’t take eight years!

As this report reminds us -- REEF trips are more than just your average dive vacation. Be sure to check out the REEF trip 2010 schedule, which can be found online at www.REEF.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. We encourage you to join us on our adventures in 2010 and Take a Trip the Counts!

New Species of Goby Discovered, REEF Data Support the Research

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A new species discovered in Utila - the Redcheek Goby. Photo by Keri Wilk/ReefNet.
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Greenbanded Goby, a close relative of the new species. Photo by Jim Burke.
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The Redcheek Goby sports an extra red stripe on it's face, and is currently only known from Utila. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Range of the Greenbanded Goby group in the Western Atlantic. Greenbanded Goby superspecies complex (red), Redcheek Goby (purple), Panamanian Greenbanded Goby (yellow). Shading represents species range based on REEF survey data sightings and other sources.

Long-time REEF supporters, Les and Keri Wilk of ReefNet, recently discovered and photographed a distinctively marked population of the Greenbanded Goby, Elacatinus multifasciatus, on the island of Utila, Honduras. The population was distinguished by a prominent red stripe across the cheek that is not found on other populations of Greenbanded Gobies, as well as more numerous green bars on the body. The Wilks contacted Dr. Benjamin Victor (coralreeffish.com), a reef fish taxonomic expert, who conducted a regional genetic comparison of Greenbanded Gobies to evaluate hidden diversity within this colorful reef fish. As part of the study, the REEF database was used to document the current geographic range of the species. Dr. Victor's results identified the unique looking fish to be a separate species that is now called the Redcheek Goby (E. rubrigenis). He also discovered that, based on genetic results, Greenbanded Goby along coastal Panama, despite looking just like others in the species complex (i.e. a cryptic species, distinguished mainly by differing DNA sequences), are a distinct species that will now be called Panamanian Greenbanded Goby (E. panamensis). The study was published last month in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation.

The new species, the Redcheek Goby, replaces the Greenbanded Goby on the island of Utila and has not been sighted at any other location, potentially one of the smallest ranges reported for a Caribbean reef fish. With few exceptions, coral reef fishes have pelagic larvae that spend weeks to months developing in off-reef waters. As a result of this high dispersal ability, most Western Atlantic reef fish species have geographic ranges throughout the Caribbean Sea and adjacent areas. Endemic marine species (those only found in a given region or location and nowhere else in the world) are generally uncommon in the western Atlantic region. Furthermore, many of these widespread species show little, if any, variation in their genetic patterns between areas, particularly within the bounds of the Caribbean Sea with its many stepping-stone islands. Nevertheless, some groups of fishes, presumably those with more-restricted larval dispersal and strong local selection, show interesting patterns of endemism, genetic structure, and cryptic speciation within the region, for example among the Elacatinus cleaning gobies (e.g. Sharknose, Cleaning, Neon, Yellowline, etc.). Those reef fish taxa that contain cryptic species can provide valuable insights into the processes of speciation and the biogeographic history of the region, but also seriously challenge the traditional species concept. The results of Benjamin Victor's study highlight these challenges.

REEF is proud to be able to contribute to scientific studies such as this one. We are also thrilled that fishwatching by amateur non-scientists like our Fish Survey Project volunteers has been elevated beyond just a hobby, and is increasing the state of knowledge about reef fish diversity. The full citation of the publication is: Victor, B.C. 2010. The Redcheek Paradox: the mismatch between genetic and phenotypic divergence among deeply divided mtDNA lineages in a coral-reef goby, with the description of two new cryptic species from the Caribbean Sea. The Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation, Vol 3. It is freely available online here. To find out more about this and other scientific publications that have featured REEF data, visit our Publications page here.

Reports from the Field: October 2010

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Field Surveys – Eighteen REEF members joined Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens earlier this month on a Field Survey to the Sea of Cortez aboard the Rocio del Mar live-aboard. The team conducted over 300 surveys in 20 locations around the Midriff Islands, many of which were new to the REEF database. It was a great trip, with 130 species of fish found, beautiful topside scenery, and pods of sperm and pilot whales! Find out more about REEF Trips.

Lionfish Derby – The second of three lionfish round-ups in the Florida Keys was held last week off Marathon (FL). During this one-day event, several teams participated to collect this voracious predator off local reefs. The third derby is scheduled for November 13 in Key West. Find out more about REEF’s Lionfish Program.

REEF Volunteers of the Year 2010

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Liz teaching fish ID at Kahekili Beach on Maui.

REEF proudly awards our 2010 Volunteer(s) of the Year award to Donna Brown and Liz Foote. Donna and Liz both live on Maui in Hawaii, where they have been active in REEF since 2001 when we expanded the Fish Survey Project to the Hawaiian Islands. Donna has been a REEF member since 1994 and Liz since 1999. Both are members of the Hawaiian Islands Advanced Assessment Team and collectively have conducted 361 surveys. Donna and Liz were instrumental during the expansion to Hawaii. They provided technical assistance in the development of the survey and training materials and supported a growing network of local REEF surveyors. Through the years, these volunteers served as incredible ambassadors of the program, generating a core group of dedicated REEFers, who have in turn have carried the REEF torch. The Fish Identification Network (FIN), a local REEF group, grew out of their efforts. 10 years and 10,000 Hawaii surveys later (as of January 2011), REEF is going strong on the islands. Donna and her husband George have also been a part of the South Pacific expansion team, and participated in two REEF training trips to American Samoa. Both Donna and Liz continue to be very active in many other regional marine environmental issues in addition to their REEF activities.

REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 14,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program.

The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Liz and Donna and congratulate them on all of their marine conservation efforts and great work on behalf of our organization!

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Kenny Tidwell

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REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we feature Kenny Tidwell (REEF member since 1998). Kenny is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 291 surveys. Here's what Kenny had to say about REEF:

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

I had been scuba diving for many years and after several hundred dives, I was honestly getting a little bored with what seemed to me as basically the same stuff on every dive. Little did I know I had been blindly swimming by some pretty amazing stuff that I didn’t even realize was there! I was lucky enough to take a dive trip to Bonaire in 1993 where I first met Jerry Ligon who is a naturalist in the area and inspired me to become a fish watcher! I immediately bought Paul Humann’s Caribbean fish ID book and made it my mission to learn something new on every dive. Around that same time, I started reading about REEF in dive magazines and liked what I saw about the organization's mission and activities. I had long wanted to go on one of their field survey trips and finally signed up along with my wife, Vickie, to go on my first REEF Discovery field survey trip to Puerto Rico led by Paul Humann. After that first trip, I was hooked and would rather dive with other REEF divers than do any other dive activity. I had finally figured out why I was getting a little bored with scuba. REEF really breathed new life into my diving!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

I have been on about one or two field survey trips each year since I started diving with REEF. In addition to my first Discovery trip to Puerto Rico, I have been to the Sea of Cortez, Lee Stocking Island, Bonaire, Little Cayman, a lionfish research trip to Bahamas, and several times to Cozumel. The highlight of each trip was the opportunity to meet and learn from other REEF divers who share a similar mission.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I strongly believe in the mission of the organization and sincerely want to contribute something from my diving efforts. It has been a real challenge to me to try and learn as much not only about fish ID, but also about fish behavior. I am just like a birder who wants to find that new species to add to their list. It is a real thrill to me to add something new to my list and to find something I have been looking at in the books, but haven’t yet seen in the ocean!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Going on field survey trips and interacting and learning from other divers. I have learned a lot and have met some wonderful REEF members who have really inspired me, including Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach, Sheryl Shea, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, Lad Akins, Brice and Christy Semmens, Judie Clee, and many many others! I actually enjoy the classroom time almost as much as the diving itself! I only wish I had hooked up with REEF sooner! I have also used the opportunity to invite other divers and snorkelers that I meet on trips outside of REEF to tell them about the organization and invite them to participate. Each time I am on a dive boat and have a survey slate in my hand, it always seems to invite an inquiry as to what I am doing? I use that window of opportunity to try and inspire new fish watchers. We have given away many of the waterproof underwater fish ID books to divers and snorkelers that we meet in order to get them more interested in learn the amazing variety of marine life around them that most seem to not even recognize that they are there, much less know what they are looking at.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

All of the REEF field stations that I have visited are great, but if I had to pick one, I would choose Aqua Safari. I first dove with them in 2005 about 5 wks after Hurricane Wilma struck Cozumel. That is when I had the opportunity to meet Sheryl Shea and the rest of the staff at Aqua Safari. I have been back for every field survey there since that time with the exception of last year when I was in a severe accident that curtailed my diving for quite a while. Sheryl is a GREAT teacher and a real inspiration to dive with as is all of the staff at Aqua Safari. Tracy Griffin is also a great teacher and will be leading the trip this year. There are places in the Caribbean that you can count on finding more species to log on your survey, but the field survey trip to Cozumel always is a lot of fun.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

Increasing the awareness of the fragility or our marine environment I think is critical to REEF’s mission. The contribution of an enormous amount of data to document declining fish populations is valuable, which changes how people view the fragile nature of the environment and ultimately affects public policy to protect those resources. The lionfish project is extremely important in addressing an issue that is rapidly decimating fish populations on reefs where they have established themselves and in finding solutions to this problem is critical to protecting the reefs.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

Usually the last place that I have visited, but if I had to pick one it would probably be Bonaire or Little Cayman. You can’t beat the number of species and abundance of fish life in Bonaire, but I really like the island of Little Cayman for its beauty and lack of development and it also has some of the best diving in the Caribbean along Bloody Bay Wall. I have been to each location several times and would go back to either in a heartbeat.

2012 Field Survey Season Kicked Off In Nevis & St. Kitts

Nine REEF members joined REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, for a Field Survey week in Nevis last week, kicking off the 2012 REEF Trip season with a bang. The group stayed at Oualie Beach Resort on Nevis and dove with the on-site dive operator, Scuba Safaris. Over 120 surveys were conducted, which is a great addition to the REEF database for this region (prior to this trip, there were only 7 surveys from Nevis). Each afternoon, the group would gather for a few hours to discuss the day's sightings, review images and video, and enter survey data. Everyone really enjoyed the diving. Fish diversity and abundance was relatively high, and during the week the group documented just under 200 species of fish! Some of the more rare and exciting finds included bluestripe dartfish, mimic blenny, dwarf sand perch, flying gurnard, striped croaker, Atlantic spadefish, and nine line goby. Participants ranged from brand new REEF surveyors to a few of our most experienced, and a great time was had by all. Check out the online album posted here. To find out more about the Field Survey Trips program, visit www.REEF.org/trips.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub