Earlier this month, the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) held its once a year industry-wide, international trade show in Las Vegas. As part of the show, which attracts over 10,000 industry professionals and businesses, DEMA recognized the importance of the recent lionfish invasion into the Atlantic and asked REEF to present four show-sponsored talks for attendees and members.
DEMA organizers also provided premium space at the show for an aquarium display and informational exhibit on the issue. REEF responded by providing an all-star cast of speakers and experts including Lad Akins (REEF), Andy Dehart (National Aquarium in DC), Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium) and Stephanie Green (Simon Fraser University). The talks were very well attended and the response from industry leaders was extremely positive. Marine Life artist, Ron Steven - better known as Rogest, was also on hand to sign special edition lionfish prints that he donated in support of REEF's efforts. During one seminar, Ron stood up to say that he never thought he would be encouraging divers to remove fish from the environment he works so hard to protect, but based on what we are seeing we should get rid of all lionfish (in the Atlantic). Similar sentiments were expressed by all who attended the talks. In addition to the talks, the 250 gallon aquarium set-up donated by ATM Aquariums in Las Vegas was a big hit. Ten lionfish were on display and provided excellent opportunities for in-depth discussions at the booth.
Next steps for work within the dive industry as outlined at the DEMA show are to work with inland dive operators to organize educational and data gathering lionfish projects and to work with island governments and on-island dive operators to conduct week-long workshops including education/outreach, monitoring, collecting/handling techniques and market development themes.
REEF will be leading its next week long in-country workshop in the Turks and Caicos in November and the next diver oriented project with Dive Provo January 17-24. For more information on how to organize a REEF-led lionfish project or to host a REEF workshop, please contact Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects, Lad@reef.org, (305) 852-0030. To sign up for the Turks and Caicos project with Dive Provo call our REEF travel specialist at 877-295-REEF. To find out more about REEF's efforts on lionfish, visit the REEF Lionfish Research page.
REEF kicked off our summer fundraising campaign last week with a goal of raising $30,000 over the next 30 days. Help us meet this goal by contributing today! Although membership is free, REEF counts on financial support from individuals like you who believe in our work. Your donation will enable REEF to continue to support the Volunteer Survey Project and provide much needed data that will help to protect and preserve the underwater ecosystem. To find out more about the fundraising campaign and our plans for the next six months, read this special message from REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann. Please take a moment to make a donation now using our secure online donation form at https://www.reef.org/contribute. Our capacity to successfully implement and grow ongoing programs is directly tied to your support. REEF can’t do it alone, and we thank you generously for your contribution!
Working in close partnership, REEF, NOAA, and the USGS, have just completed the first field guide to non-native fishes in Florida. The 120 page publication documents the occurrences, identification and ecology of more than 35 non-native fish species found in Florida waters. Detailed sightings maps, notes on similar appearing species and information on native ranges are included. The goal of the publication is to provide a single source, field ready guide for enforcement as well as a reference for researchers and educators to aid in early detection and removal of non-native marine fish. The red lionfish, which was first documented off Florida in 1985, provides an example of what can happen once an invasive fish species becomes established. Lionfish are now widespread along the southeast US and parts of the Caribbean, preying upon ecologically-important native species such as fishes and crustaceans. REEF continues to conduct training, outreach, and field studies to limit the spread and impact of lionfish on native western Atlantic reefs.
The illustrated guide was published as a NOAA Technical Memorandum that is available online (http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/Marine_Fish_ID/index.html). 1,300 copies were printed and are being distributed to key local, state and federal agencies. The on-line edition guide will be continuously updated with new records and reports.
Divers and snorkelers can report non-native species that are seen underwater at REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Page.
One of nature’s most spectacular underwater wonders is the annual coral spawning, when many of the reef’s corals and other animals, cued by late summer’s full moon, synchronize their spawning. Our summer REEF Trips, to Key Largo August 26 - September 2 and Bonaire September 25 – October 2, are scheduled around the projected coral spawning for those areas. Join like-minded underwater naturalists and combine fishwatching with a chance to see this exciting event.
Ned and Anna DeLoach will host a one-of-a-kind, late August trip at Amoray Dive Resort, centering on Key Largo’s annual Coral Spawning. In addition to slide and video presentations about marine life spawning behavior, the couple will lead a week of diving with emphasis on the nights that corals are most likely to spawn. Laurie MacLaughlin, Resource Manager from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, will update us about her ongoing coral spawning research and describe coral spawn collecting methods. Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation, will speak about growing coral for restoring reefs and will escort the group to his famous coral nursery, where participants will have the opportunity for hands-on work. Day dives will provide the opportunity to hone fishwatching and survey skills and a special dusk dive is scheduled to observe fish spawning behavior and the evening gathering of hundreds of Midnight and Rainbow Parrotfishes. A rare opportunity for anyone who loves nature!
Jessie Armacost, author of the original Bonaire Diving Made Easy, and long-time REEF instructor will lead the late September trip at Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire. Few dive sites in the world can provide 100 fish species on a single dive - Bonaire is one of these special places where you can make that “Century Dive”. Jessie’s seven years of teaching fish ID in Bonaire makes her uniquely qualified to help you add fish species to your lifelist or gain the skills to move you up to your next surveyor level. Bonaire’s exceptional shore diving and easy boat diving give you access to a wide range of habitats with a chance to see everything from clingfish to Bonefish. We’ve scheduled this year’s trip to coincide with the Southern Caribbean’s annual coral spawning, so you’ll have the chance to watch fish by day and view this great natural history event at night.
For more information on either of these projects, visit the REEF Trips webpage - http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. To reserve your space please contact our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or you can e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.
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:
- Researchers at the World Resources Institute are using western Atlantic REEF data in an analysis of threats to the world’s coral reefs called Reefs at Risk Revisited.
- A scientist from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is evaluating population trends of rock scallop in preparation for harvest rule updates.
- Researchers from the Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands GAP Analysis Project are creating species range maps that will be used with habitat information to model species distributions. The goal of this project is to keep common species common by identifying those species that are not adequately represented in existing conservation places.
- A researcher from Cascadia Consulting Group is using data on three invasive tunicate species collected by REEF surveyors in the Pacific Northwest to prepare for a baseline assessment for the Washington Invasive Species Council.
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 highlight Itziar Aretxaga (REEF member since 2003). Itziar has conducted 263 REEF surveys in three REEF regions, and she is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Itziar had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
Shortly after I got my C-card I started looking for a good reference book on fish. I was fortunate to find Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach´s reef guides, and there I read about the REEF program and how one could volunteer. I joined and started identifying species and reporting them to REEF on my own. A year later I met Lad Akins in a course he gave to volunteers in the Veracruz National Park, and he taught me a few tricks that improved my identification skills. He has been a great mentor in all my fish watching activities ever since.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I often look at the online database to check what I might be missing, and the only way of improving it is for each of us to submit our surveys, even if that means clicking on the box for Yellowtail Snappers over and over again. I keep telling myself that I hope I will never see the day when I miss them because they are no longer there. I also take special pride when our data are used in scientific publications or management reports. It might be a mere dot in a plot, but collectively we contribute to the growth of knowledge on marine life and conservation.
Do you dive close to where you live? What is the best part about diving there?
I have done over 200 surveys in Veracruz and I know it well enough now that I can recognize changes. I enjoy noticing the unusual species, species off-season, and it is really thrilling when I get to report a new species. There is also the challenge of spotting fish that others have reported that I have yet to see, so the fun continues.
What is your most memorable fish find?
The first Smooth Trunkfish in golden variation I saw in Veracruz, and the first time it was reported outside the Northern Gulf of Mexico by REEF members. I was so excited when I saw it that I started dancing underwater, quite literally. The staff in our local diving shop told me afterwards they were not that unusual in the area. It was just that nobody had reported them before.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
I like sharing with others the fun of it. I usually take surveys during commercial diving boat trips, and people are curious about those slates that I take underwater and keep scribbling on. It is great to see some of them then turn to my book, and start calling each other to show what they themselves have seen.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
Our Outstanding Field Station this month, Seattle Scuba, is based in the always-green but often-rainy Pacific NW. Yes, the water's cold there. Seattle Scuba is a full service facility that provides training, equipment rentals/sales, fun dives and more - all served up with an ample helping of personality and humor to their customers and friends. They are passionate not only about teaching diving, but about instilling awareness of the marine environment in divers. The REEF survey program is an ideal tool in this mission. Their training director/resident mermaid Heidi Wilken got involved in REEF surveying after encountering some fish geeks on a fun dive one day. Wanting to incorporate and support REEF's mission she decided to provide resources at Seattle Scuba. They have been a Field Station for about 4 years now. Now two of their training staff are REEF Advanced Assessment Team members (Heidi and David Todd). They hold periodic Fish Geek Dives, fish & invertebrate ID Classes, testing to move up in REEF Experience Levels, and offer a full range of Fish ID books for sale.
Heidi had this to say about Pacific NW diving: "Sometimes people look at Puget Sound and surrounding areas and think it will just be cold and dark - they have no idea of the colors and amazing critters that lurk beneath the surface! We are blessed to have not only lots of amazing and cool fish like the Red Irish Lord and the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, but also incredible invertebrate life, from the Giant Pacific Octopus to the tiny Opalescent Nudibranch." And what does Heidi like best about REEF? "You don't have to be a scientist to be involved, even if you can only identify ONE fish or invertebrate, you can contribute surveys - and you can do so to whatever level fits into your life, be it a survey a year or 200 a year." Her parting words: "Dive safe and survey often!" Thanks Heidi and the staff at Seattle Scuba - we're glad you're a REEF Field Station!
Changing Seas, an Emmy award-winning original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of their newest episode, "Grouper Moon", which focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project last winter, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish.
"Grouper Moon" will be screened live on the Changing Seas website on Wednesday, June 6th, at 2:30pm EST. During the screening, viewers will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program, including REEF's Director of Science Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. and Grouper Moon Project Scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. from Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Scott Heppell, Ph.D. from Oregon State University.
Check out a preview of the "Grouper Moon" episode on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEAemdElBlg. If you miss it, the program’s premiere broadcast in south Florida will be at 7:30 pm EST June 20. The program will be posted online in its entirety by the end of June. To find out more about REEF's Grouper Moon Project, visit http://www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.
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 highlight Carol Cox. Carol joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 159 surveys. Carol is a member of the Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has been an active volunteer and instructor in REEF's Fishinar series. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
After retiring from the Air Force, and returning to our home in Mexico Beach, Florida (20 miles east of Panama City), I became active as a volunteer research diver for the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA). To receive State grants for our program, we are required to monitor the condition of artificial reefs we deploy. MBARA decided to incorporate fish surveys with the monitoring program, and I found REEF when researching ways to do fish surveys. REEF serves as our model, but we tailor our survey forms for the local area because our fish population is very different than the fishes found further south.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
When I saw how REEF data are used by naturalists and scientists, I wanted to add fish count data from where I live, especially because there were only a few surveys for my community. I really saw the need after the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our community was lucky, barely escaping the oil slick when a storm blew the approaching oil slick back in the direction it came from. Although we suffered few effects, I realized we needed to catalogue what we had, otherwise, how would we know how our biodiversity was adapting to environmental changes? Since I started volunteering with REEF, I have had opportunity to interact with scientists and fish enthusiasts from around the world. The education REEF provides is phenomenal. I began my self-education by doing the fish quizzes. Then I attended many of the online Fishinars and they are all very educational and FUN! I also learn a lot from other fish watchers using the online fish identification forum.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
The data that are being captured by REEF fish surveys will be invaluable to scientists of the future. As the environment changes, the REEF database will be looked at more and more. We need to record what we have now if we are to know what is affected by global warming, red tide, or the next big oil spill. Who knows, the REEF database may eventually provide the knowledge on how to control the lionfish invasion.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?
Most of my diving is where I live, in Mexico Beach, Florida. MBARA has deployed over 150 artificial reefs, everything from reef balls to a large shrimp boat, which is my favorite dive. We see everything from giant Goliath Groupers, to small arrow shrimp (a species that had never been photographed until I discovered them during a survey). Because the survey programs for MBARA and REEF are similar, I encouraged MBARA to become a local Field Station. We are always looking for divers interested in doing surveys on our artificial reefs and can now provide training. I use training gained from REEF, along with my local experience, to teach regional fish identification and throw in some local knowledge for enthusiasts that primarily dive in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
We were 20 miles offshore of Mexico Beach, when our boat was surrounded by small Mahi Mahi. I had a few shots left on my camera, so I slipped into the water to use up my film (am I dating myself?). Suddenly, a Mahi sped towards me, followed by a large, dark shadow in pursuit. In a matter of seconds, I could see fins, tails, and bubbles, as a large sailfish did a 360-degree turn right in front of me as it tried to capture the Mahi. In an effort to escape, the Mahi swam over my shoulder smacking me in the side of the head. The bill of the sailfish missed by chest by inches as it veered away. Having lost its prey, it swam around me three times before disappearing into the depths. The entire event lasted less than a minute, but the memory of it will last me a lifetime, especially because I got the photos.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? What is your most memorable fish find? What fish are you still waiting to find?
I love blennies! They are such a great photo subject—colorful and expressive. With a little patience, most will gladly pose for the camera exhibiting as many poses as a Vogue covergirl. Of course I am a big, big fan of Anna DeLoach’s Blennywatcher blog. My favorite find wasn’t a fish, but a sawblade arrow shrimp, Tozeuma serratum. I have REEF to thank for putting me in touch with Les Wilk who requested critter photos for the upcoming Reef Creature DVD to be published by ReefNet. I didn’t know what a rare find I had until I sent a photo of the unidentified shrimp to Les for the DVD. He sent the photo off to a marine biologist, who identified the shrimp after I collected one. It turns out this shrimp had never been photographed in its natural environment and scientists believed it only lived in deeper waters. The marine biologist was so excited she flew from Texas to our home so we could take out and show her some of “our” shrimp. The fish I would love to check off my life list is the whale shark. With all the diving we do in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure it is only a matter of time, but I am still waiting!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Doing surveys for both MBARA and REEF, I’ve learned it can be fun to get away from the big sites and spend time on something small that isn’t frequented by divers. I’ve spent 45 minutes looking at two 3-foot reefballs. If I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really look, I would never have seen the small juvenile jackknife-fish, or a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish.
Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.
To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers. REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.
Interesting data to date include: