Putting It To Work: New Publication Showing Validity of REEF Survey Data

A REEF "Roving Diver" has free swimming range around a dive site. Surveyors are encouraged to search high and low for as many species as they can positively ID. Photo by Paul Humann.
Transect surveyors follow a path for a pre-determined length (typically around 25m) and record all species within a 1-3 meter swath. Photo courtesy of Ken Marks.

A new scientific paper published earlier this month in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution reports that REEF surveys conducted by citizen scientists compare well with traditional scientific methods when it comes to monitoring species biodiversity. The findings of the research, conducted by Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Angila in the UK, give weight to the growing phenomenon of citizen science programs such as REEF's Volunteer Survey Project. The field study compared methods used by REEF volunteer divers with those used by professional scientists to measure the variety of fish species in three Caribbean sites in the Turks and Caicos. The divers surveyed the sites using two methods – the 'belt transect', used in peer reviewed fish diversity studies, and the 'roving diver technique', used by REEF volunteers. Two teams of 12 divers made 144 separate underwater surveys across the sites over four weeks. While the traditional scientific survey revealed sightings of 106 different types of fish, the volunteer technique detected greater marine diversity with a total of 137 in the same waters. Dr Holt led the research in partnership with the Centre for Marine Resource Studies in the Caribbean and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He said: "The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs. Very few, if any, scientific groups can collect data on the scale that volunteer groups can, so our proof that both methods return consistent results is very encouraging for citizen science in general. We're living in a world that's changing very significantly. Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists." Click here to read the full paper, entitled "Comparing Diversity Data Collected Using a Protocol Designed for Volunteers with Results from a Professional Alternative".

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Nick Brown

Nick snapping a quick photo during a REEF Advanced Assessment Team trip in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Pete Naylor.
Nick Brown (center) diving with Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders (l) and Joe Gaydos from SeaDoc Society (r) off Orcas Island, WA.
Nick with his faithful dog, Neri, in St. Kitts.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Nick Brown. A US Pacific Northwest native, Nick is currently living in St. Kitts. Nick has been a REEF member since 2004 and has since conducted 138 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Nick had to say about REEF:

How did you first volunteer with REEF?

I first became involved with REEF in 2004 while working as a research intern for the SeaDoc Society, a marine ecosystem health program based in Washington State. The SeaDoc Society and REEF frequently collaborate to offer free fish and invertebrate identification courses to the public. Although I was still completing my open water certification at the time, the enthusiasm of SeaDoc’s chief scientist Joe Gaydos and REEF’s Janna Nichols was contagious. Within a month of finishing my certification, I completed my first REEF survey and haven’t stopped since.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I take great satisfaction in knowing that every survey I submit contributes to an ever growing database that can be used by the public, researchers and policy makers around the world. Not only am I adding more purpose to my dives by contributing to something useful, I’m able to reference my submitted data later on which functions as my own personal invertebrate (in the PAC region) and fish sighting logbook.

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

I’ve been very fortunate in being able to dive very close to where I live. Until about a year and a half ago, the vast majority of my dives were in the cold but beautiful waters of my home state of Washington and nearby British Columbia, an area known locally as the Salish Sea. My favorite part about diving in the Pacific Northwest is the large diversity of marine invertebrates. Recently though, I’ve hung up my drysuit and slipped into a wetsuit for the warm Caribbean waters of St. Kitts and Nevis where I’m currently attending veterinary school. My favorite part of Caribbean diving is the great visibility and large variety of ornately colored fish.

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

For better surveying and fish watching move slowly; not only will your dive last longer, but you’ll notice more and the marine life tends not to be as shy. For identification, I recommend investing in a few fish and invertebrate ID books; often the subtleties between different species are hard to appreciate without a detailed reference.

A Few Spaces Remain on 2014 REEF Trips

Have you booked your 2014 REEF Trip yet? If not, confirm your space now before it's too late! Many trips are sold out, or close to it. Prices and complete details can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com, or our staff at REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, trips@REEF.org.

June 21 - 28, 2014 -- Bay Islands, Honduras, MV Caribbean Pearl II -- Diving around Utila, Roatan, and the banks in between, from a beautiful liveaboard. This special trip is led by two marine biologists, and we hear that whale sharks could be seen!  *2 Spaces Left (one male share and one female share)*

July 19 - 26, 2014 -- Key Largo, Florida, REEF Discovery Tour -- A special trip aimed at beginner surveyors (but everyone is welcome), and led by Paul Humann, REEF Founder and Renowned Marine Life Author and Photographer. This is your chance to dive with the man who brought us the definitive Caribbean fish ID guide. *3 Spaces Left*

August 16 - 23, 2014 -- Curacao, Lionfish Control Study -- Join Lad Akins and Peter Hughes for the second annual trip to Curacao to study the impacts of the invasive lionfish. Participants will have an oportunity to assist with the research. *2 Spaces Left*

September 14 - 18, 2014 -- Hornby Island, British Columbia -- Dive in the ledgendary Pacific Northwest waters, and learn your fish (and invertebrates) with REEF's own Janna Nichols. *6 Spaces Left*

November 8 - 15, 2014 -- Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands -- A wonderful island full of Caribbean charm, Cayman Brac features spectacular walls and reefs that you expect from the Cayman Islands.  *6 Spaces Left*

December 6 - 13, 2014 -- Nevis, Eastern Caribbean -- This little gem next to St. Kitts is easy to get to, but certainly off the tourist track. With great diving and many fun fish finds to be had, this is sure to be a great trip. *4 Spaces Left*

DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE OF REEF . . .

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Joe Cavanaugh and Leda A. Cunningham with new fall intern Erin Whitaker
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Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, presents our fabulous Summer interns, Marissa Nuttall our Texas Aggie and Paige Switzer our South Carolina girl, with a certificate of appreciation for all the tremendous work they accomplished this summer

We had a number of applicants for the Fall session and narrowing the intern pool to just two applicants was tough because everyone that applied were wonderful candidates.   This month we're introducing you to Catherine Whitaker (aka Erin) who (thankfully) arrived early to cross train with our fabulous summer interns before they departedon August 17th.  Next month we'll highlight our final recipient, Lauren Finan, who will arrive the week of August 20th.

Erin is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.    She's had a variety of jobs during her undergraduate career all of which honed her skills in preparation for a career in Marine Biology.  She is well versed in the REEF methodology having completed juvenile fish, fish, and coral abundance and distribution surveys while working with Centro Ecologico de Akumal.  As a Scuba Divemaster, Erin taught scuba to tourists and locals of all ages instilling a sense of excitement and pride for marine life to her students.  During her time at Duke, she served as research assistant to many professors and non-profit organizations and volunteered as an assistant aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium. 

While in Maine she was sampling algae and young lobsters for a census survey (we could use that here).  At the Linney genetics laboratory Erin was responsible for feeding and cleaning tanks of 3000 zebra fish.  At the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems branch of the Smithsonian, Erin assisted a PhD candidate on her research relating to the effect of parrotfish on corals as well as the coral-symbiont relationship in a stressful environment, the list goes on as does her travels.  She has been to Ankarafantsika, Madagascar as a field assistant; Caye Caulker, Belize as an underwater tour guide; Manila, Philippines as a U.S. Embassy Protocol Office Assistant; Sofia, Bulgaria as a U.S. Embassy Consular Section Aide.  REEF is very fortunate to have someone of Erin's caliber interning with us this fall.  She feels working with REEF is an ideal opportunity for her to test her ability to integrate scientific investigation, conservation efforts and a flair for reaching out to people for the betterment of our environment, while working toward her masters.

Getting the Most Out of the New REEF.org

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Finding a REEF Field Station near you has never been easier with the new Map Finder.

As we announced in the last edition of REEF-in-Brief, the REEF website recently underwent construction. To get the most out of the new REEF.org, REEF members need to become registered users. Registration is easy: with your REEF member number handy, click here to register. If you have misplaced your REEF member number, click here to look it up. If you are not yet a REEF member, joining is free and easy: please click here to join.

Here are a few of the new features on REEF.org.

  • Once you are logged in and you are a REEF surveyor, you will be able to view your own data summaries as well as a brand new REEF Survey Log report, which lists each survey that you have conducted along with all of the details about the dive and the total number of species that you saw. To access these reports, click on ‘My Data’ on the left hand panel.
  • Interactive discussion boards, including “ID Central,” a place where you can post identification questions and images of unknown critters for others to comment on, as well as a “Trip Reports” forum and a General REEF Discussion Board. Content on the forum is available for all to view, but you must be logged in to the Website in order to post a comment to any of the topics.
  • A searchable map of REEF Field Stations is now available, enabling you to locate all of these great locations that “Speak Fish”.
  • A REEF Events Calendar includes information on upcoming REEF classes and organized survey dives posted by our Field Stations, as well as events hosted by REEF HQ and other partners.
  • Learning resources including quizzes and galleries are back. These online guides are a great tool when first learning or reviewing the creatures found in the different REEF Volunteer Survey Project Regions.

We hope that the new REEF.org makes it easier and more enjoyable for you to participate in Diving That Counts! Feel free to contact us if you have comments, suggestions, or if you encounter a problem with any of the new features.

REEF Attends Earth Day

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Old Flagler Railroad and rail car in background at Earth Day
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Joe Cavanaugh and Laura Dias staff REEF Booth
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Laura Dias after survey training dive with Horizon Divers
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Water view from under the old railroad

On April 12, REEF attended a Middle Keys Earth Day celebration at Bahia Honda State Park.  It was a lovely day, albeit unseasonably hot!  Several organizations had booths in attendance as well, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Dolphin Research Center, Reef Relief, the Turtle Hospital, and many others. In addition to the usual face painting and music associated with Earth Day, REEF had many visitors to our booth inquiring about who we are and how they could get involved. REEF recently stepped up our efforts to increase awareness of our organization within the Florida Keys community. 

As many of you know, Key Largo is where REEF got started in the early 90's and many of our Advanced Assessment Team projects focus on local marine resources, such as FKNMS, Biscayne National Park, and the Dry Tortugas National Park.  Most recently, REEF teamed with local stakeholders to create a rapid response team for the possible arrival of invasive lionfish species which many predict could be anytime, given the robust resident population of lionfish in the Bahamas and increasingly elsewhere in the Caribbean.

For those of you who are new to REEF, you can see where REEF surveys by visiting our website http://www.reef.org/about/faq.  Essentially, REEF members survey areas covering the tropical western Atlantic from Brasil to Florida and along the eastern seaboard through the northeastern U.S. and Canada, the Pacific coast of Canada and California southward through the tropical eastern Pacific down to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, and in the not-too-distant future, American Samoa.

REEF has a new volunteer helping us in the office and who helped staff the REEF booth, Laura Aichinger Dias.  Laura came to us a couple of months ago inquiring about opportunities at REEF.  Since then, she has been conducting survey dives and honing her fish identification skills. She is already accomplished in her own right, receiving her Master of Science from Florida Atlantic University.  Her thesis focused on dolphin population dynamics in Sepetiba Bay in Brasil, where she is from originally.  Laura will help REEF with projects this spring and hopes to become part of our Advanced Assessment Team by the end of the summer so she can participate in future projects. For more information on becoming an Advanced Assessment Team member, please review the requirements at http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat  AAT members are utilized in most of our monitoring and assessment contracts with government and non-government agencies.  Essentially, REEF members take fish ID classes and pass qualification quizzes in tandem with gaining a prerequisite number of survey dives, all leading to membership in the AAT.  The ultimate reward is that once you are placed on the AAT list-serve you will be emailed opportunities to participate in projects oftentimes where the diving is paid for by the sponsoring agency.  You also will gain increased fish ID acumen by diving with other AAT members and learning to find and identify the really small and cryptic species.  For more information beyond the website, please email Joe Cavanaugh at joe@reef.org or our Director of Science, Christy Semmens at christy@reef.org.

 

Lionfish Letters from the Field

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A lionfish sighted in the Exuma Cays and reported through REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Program. Photo by Sean Nightingale.
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Volunteer divers assisted with lionfish research in the Bahamas in May 2008.
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Magnificent to look at, but devastating to the local ecosystem, lionfish like this one are seen throughout the Bahamas. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Nassau, Bahamas - July 30, 2008 -- Up early this morning and readying for another big day on the lionfish front.  As part of an Associated Press story on the lionfish, I am joined by Andy Dehart and Lisa Mitchell here in Nassau to shoot footage of our lionfish work and do interviews for an AP television segment.  We'll be live collecting fish, tagging a few and talking about the current research being conducted by REEF, NOAA, Simon Fraser University and Oregon State University - research showing that the lionfish appear to  be having severe impacts on our native fish populations.  To summarize, stomach contents show over 50 species of prey items including fish and invertebrates; lionfish are eating the prey faster than they can naturally recover and they can reduce recruitment of juveniles to reefs by 80%!  It is a scary picture.

While the research efforts are being conducted to better understand lionfish and their impacts, REEF is also leading the way in working on control.  Our recent workshop in Florida paved the way for early detection/rapid response in South Florida and will serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean.  Tagging studies, removal (culling) efforts, activity and movement documentation, trap design and other control measures are being implemented to direct our efforts both in the US and Bahamas where the fish are established as well as in downstream countries in the path of the invasion. REEF's next project will take place September 14-20 at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with a few spaces left. (Call Pam Christman at 800-879-9832 to participate).  

If you see a lionfish, or any other non-native fish, please be sure to report your sightings to the REEF website.

In addition to using your sightings to direct research and rapid response on non-native species in coastal areas, REEF provides data to our partners at the US Geological Survey (USGS). REEF recently contributed a significant number of records to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. These records included information submitted by volunteers through the REEF Exotic Species Sighting Program, and included 311 records of lionfish sightings from approximately 160 sites along the US East Coast, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as information on 29 other fish species from 54 locations (mostly in South Florida). Approximately half of the species were new records for the USGS NAS database. The lionfish data contributed to the generation of an on-line display of current lionfish distribution.

If you have questions about the lionfish or other non-native species, feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail.  We are also looking for funding for these critically important programs and any ideas or contributions are welcome.  Look for the AP coverage early next week!

REEF News Tidbits for January

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Members who give $250 or more during REEF's Winter Fundraising Campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print by Paul Humann.
  • Batik Lionfish Shirts - Just added to the REEF Store. These stylish and comfortable shirts are a must for fish-lovers. These Rum Reggae shirts feature two pockets and are the fashion of choice for Paul Humann. Two design patterns available. $47 each. Visit the REEF Store to get yours today!
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  • It's not too late to donate during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. The financial support of our members is critical to ensuring the long-term success of the marine conservation work that REEF accomplishes every day. All donations are tax-deductible and a gift of any size is greatly appreciated. For donations of $250 or more, you will be thanked with an exclusive signed Paul Humann print of a male jawfish guarding his eggs. There is a limited number of prints left so get yours today. Donate securely online or mail in a donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037.
  • National Geographic's Wild Chronicles will be using footage shot on REEF lionfish expeditions in an upcoming segment about invasive species in Florida. The theme for Episode Two (#402) of the new season is "What's the Culprit?". One of the segments in the episode investigates how non-native species including green iguanas, lionfish and hydrilla first arrived. The episode will begin airing on select PBS stations the week of January 12. Please check your local listings for exact air date and time.
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  • REEF Field Survey trips and other special dive travel opportunities are filling up fast! Be sure to check out this year's schedule of learning expeditions and dive vacations on our REEF Trips Page.
  • Artist Rogest Celebrates Grouper Moon Project With New Artwork

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    REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), has done it again. After talking with REEF scientists about the REEF Grouper Moon Project and the important conservation research being done to study one of the last remaining spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper, Rogest created his latest piece of artwork to celebrate this Caribbean icon. "Grumpy" features the face of a Nassau grouper, with the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". Rogest completed the painting in early summer 2009.

    The artwork is being featured on T-shirts now available for sale in the REEF Gear Store. These high quality, pre-shrunk T-shirts are available in green short sleeve ($25) and red long sleeve ($30). Get yours today, they won't last long.

    REEF members will have an exclusive opportunity to purchase the original painting later this Fall and Rogest will be donating over half of the proceeds to the Grouper Moon Project. We extend a big thank you to Rogest for his dedication and passion for REEF's marine conservation efforts.

    REEF News Tidbits

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    New REEF Survey T-Shirts - Our latest addition to the REEF Online store, these T-shirts provide a comic look at our world of fish surveying. The shirts sport a REEF logo and "REEF Survey Team" on the front and a cartoon on the back. Shirts are available in three colors. Click here to get yours today!

    Visit REEF this weekend at the Beneath the Sea Dive show in Secaucus, New Jersey - REEF volunteers will be there to tell you about our latest activities and sign up new members. Sensational Seas Two will premiere at the show and we’ll be selling the DVD in the booth as a fundraiser. Many of the production contributors will join us during the day to sign DVDs. Anna and Ned DeLoach will be there to talk fish. Stop by Booth 220 and say "hello"! You can check out a sample of the DVD on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bC4T5bMu_s

    Free California Fish and Invertebrate Identification Seminars Scheduled - Thanks to support from a regional foundation, REEF is offering a series of free training classes to be held at The Ocean Institute in Dana Point and The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Classes will be held this June. Pre-registration is required. There will also be a coordinated REEF survey dive aboard the SunDiver at a reduced cost just prior to the SCUBA2010 show in Long Beach. For more information, check out the class page here.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub