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. 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 the species in the Cayman Islands. 2013 was a very exiting year - we continued to document increases in the number of fish at the site and there were many "teenagers" (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time). The number of spawning bursts and the number of nights spawning occured has increased. Watch this short video to see the action. We continued our education efforts. With support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we were able to expand the program to more classrooms at Cayman Prep and High School on Grand Cayman and initiated the program at Spot Bay Primary School on Cayman Brac. The Grouper Education Project introduces children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau Grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum has been developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. Seattle-based educator, Todd Bohannon, leads up this effort.
To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, watch the Changing Seas episode online here.
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 2013, 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, 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. Pegasus Thrusters supported the project in 2013 through the donation of Diver Propulsion Vehicles. 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.
New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:
Perplexing Parrotfish of the Caribbean - September 10
Keep Pointing! The Top 12 Caribbean Fish You Might Mistake For a Rock - September 26
Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel - October 17
Feel the Beat! The Top 12 Drums & Croakers of the Caribbean - October 29
You do WHAT for a living? Illustrating Fishes - with special guest Val Kells, Scientific Illustrator - November 13
Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.
To all our members who donated to the Winter Fundraising Campaign, thank you! REEF depends heavily on individual donors to support our critical marine conservation programs. Together we raised over $97,000 to ensure REEF can continue:
• Expanding and building upon our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, including the recent addition of invertebrate and algae monitoring in our Northeast region. With this new program, all temperate REEF regions now have an invertebrate/algae component. For more information, click here.
• Protecting and monitoring Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands as well as educating the public about the importance of this iconic species. Our team just came back from another successful trip documenting their annual spawning aggregation. For more information, click here.
• Organizing research, training, and removal tactics to battle the lionfish invasion on the East Coast and in the Caribbean. REEF’s recent research shows that strategic local efforts can control lionfish populations and help native fish communities recover. For more information, click here.
In addition to supporting these programs, donations raised by the Winter Fundraising campaign help REEF with the minimal costs required to manage operations. We ensure that every dollar spent is maximized so our projects make a difference for marine conservation around the world.
With Jamie's arrival at REEF Headquarters, we have been busily working on an exciting lineup of Field Survey trip destinations for 2015. REEF Trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.
We will be announcing the full 2015 REEF Trip Schedule soon. But today, we are excited to share a few of the trips that we have planned to the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Kona Coast Big Island Hawaii, aboard the Kona Aggressor Liveaboard! Feb 28 - Mar 7, 2015 (12 spaces left)
Fiji's Bligh Waters, aboard the NAI'A Liveaboard! Two trips: May 2-12, 2015 (1 space left) and May 12-19, 2015 (14 spaces left)
We are very excited to welcome two new members of the REEF Staff team - Jonathan Lavan and Heather George. Both have been involved as volunteers in the organization for many years and collectively bring a wealth of experience and passion for REEF's mission.
Jonathan will serve as the Volunteer Fish Survey Project Program Assistant, and will be based in San Diego. Jonathan has been a REEF member since 2004 and has submitted almost 500 REEF surveys in 5 of the Survey Project's 8 survey regions. He is a REEF Trip Leader and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast. He was REEF’s 2012 Volunteer of the Year. Jonathan is also known to many as the voice of REEF’s Fishinars, and he teaches several of these popular webinars each year. Jonathan will be assisting with many aspects of our corner-stone citizen science program.
Heather will serve as the Trips Program Manager. Heather has been an active member of the REEF community since 2002. In addition to serving as a REEF Trip Leader, Heather is an expert-level surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii regions, and has conducted over 200 surveys. She also assisted with REEF's expansion to the South Pacific, participated in the Grouper Moon project, and served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010. In 2011, Heather was awarded the Volunteer of the Year award. Heather is based on the Garden Island of Kauai, where if you visit she welcomes the opportunity to survey with you!
Please help us extend a warm fishy welcome to Heather and Jonathan!
Whether you've attended one of our famous Fishinars (REEF's version of an online webinar) before or not, you're sure to enjoy one of our upcoming free classes! From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device (using the Citrix GoToWebinar app), you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information.
Don't miss REEF's Fishinars scheduled for this month. We'll talk about Grunts in the Caribbean, and a two-part session to compare common fishes of northern and southern Gulf of Mexico. And then next month, we welcome back the fabulous Ray Troll, who will talk about cool sharks, both modern day and extinct. These free, online webinars offer the opportunity to learn from our experts on a multitude of topics. For the complete 2016 schedule and to register, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars. Upcoming Fishinars include:
The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm EST, with Jonathan Lavan
Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm EST, with Carol Cox
Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm EST, with Artist Ray Troll
In the first few weeks of July we have started receiving reports of several Manta ray sightings at French Reef, near Key Largo, Florida. Mantas are found in the temperate, tropical, and sub tropical waters world wide. However, sightings in Florida waters are uncommon. Some observers saw the mantas swimming in large vertical loops, leading them to think that these animals were coming into the shallow reefs to feed on coral spawn.
Mantas inhabit near-shore and pelagic waters, and can grow up to ~14ft in width. They are primarily filter feeders, using large cephalic fins located on the head to help 'funnel' plankton into their mouths.
So, if your diving in the Florida Keys keep an eye out for one of these magnificent animals swimming by - and be sure to record it on your survey!
REEF once again participated in the Perigee Environmental's yearly evaluation of the coral ecosystems along the eastern coast of Andros, Bahamas in cooperation with the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). Using the newest Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveying protocol, scientists gathered coral, benthic and fish data during the first 2 weeks of October. The data gathered will complement the existing 30 year data that demonstrates AUTEC's continuing efforts to preserve coral reefs around their facilities and military training ranges. Judy Lang, coral ecology expert, and Chris Moses, University of Southern Florida graduate student, were in charge of gathering the coral data. Brooke Gintert was conducting her Ph.D. work for the University of Miami and assisting with the benthic data collection. One of the REEF founders, Ken Marks and REEF intern Catherine Whitaker were responsible for the fish counting.
AUTEC has been actively monitoring and protecting the coral reef near shore environment since the establishment of the facilities in the 1960s. For the last six years, AUTEC has used the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment surveying protocol, which is a method that compares the complex relationship among corals, fish and algae and provides a quantitative scale on the health of a reef's ecosystem by comparing the survey results in terms of a regional comparison. In this case, it is also being used to track temporal changes to 35 reef sites around central Andros. Point-count data and general coral data were collected to estimate coral condition and algal cover. Fish variety, abundance, and size was estimated by transects and the rover diver method.
For more information concerning this trip or AGRRA please contact Patricia Kramer of Perigee Environmental (email@example.com).
Top ten things I learned from my AGRRA trip:
10. Exhaustion is a state of mind and is not cured by more work, less sleep and diving. Food (especially Pringles and chocolate) helps though.
9. Golf carts should be used more often in the US.
8. Dinner waits for no man, so floor the pedal on that golf cart and RUN!
7. The floating pier at site 1 is cursed and sets off the rain whenever any member of the AGRRA trip steps on it to load or unload anything from the boat.
6. Snakes do not belong on planes, I mean, in camera cases but seem to like it there.
5. Crashing mountainous waves and cement-like waters are not conducive to good science or a pleasant dive.
4. Post-trip pep talks should always include sweets and beverages.
3. Rick makes the barren rock that is Site 4 look and feel like Club Med. Thanks Rick.
2. Things to do on your only day off (because of 30 knot winds and 6ft waves) include but are not limited to swimming against a raging outgoing tide at a blue hole, resting by snorkeling for 2 hours in an inland blue hole, spearing lionfish, dissecting said lionfish and having a horseshoe tournament.
1. Making new friends, doing science and experiencing a sense of accomplishment for conservation efforts... priceless.
My warmest wishes go out to our AUTEC liaisons, Tom Szlyk and Marc Ciminello for their invaluable assistance. I would also like to thank everyone who put in extra effort so that I could participate in this fantastic trip as well as anyone who taught me anything while I was on it. Thank you very much.
REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, joined a dozen other scientists in presenting the findings of monitoring the marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Channel Islands, California, earlier this month during a special session of the California Islands Symposium. The presentation highlighted the effect of reserves on common nearshore rocky reef fishes based on 10 years of REEF survey data. During this time, REEF volunteer divers have collected 1,595 visual fish surveys from 113 sites throughout the Channel Islands before and after state marine reserves were established in 2002. Using analysis methods developed to analyze volunteer bird watching data, collaborators Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA NMFS) and Dr. Steve Katz (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) developed a model to detect trends in fish densities. The analysis included 25 species of common rocky reef fishes, including targeted and non-targeted species. Rather than focusing on changes in the density of individual species, the analysis evaluated changes in multiple species to characterize responses of marine communities to protection from fishing in reserves. The analysis suggests that reserves are positively influencing fish population trajectories in both targeted and non-targeted species. On average, fish populations had ~20% higher growth rates inside reserves as compared to outside, although there was a high degree of variability across species. Dr. Pattengill-Semmens notes that this study is one of the first applications of Pacific region REEF data for use by marine resource agency officials to evaluate the effects of management actions. The results will ultimately be published and will join the many existing published studies of the utility of Tropical Western Atlantic REEF data. The cumulative impact of the data and results from the entire suite of monitoring programs being conducted around the Channel Islands will "help to inform future management of the region, aid in the implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act in southern California, and contribute to our understanding of MPAs worldwide," said John Ugoretz, manager of the Marine Habitat Conservation Program for the California Department of Fish and Game. To find out more about REEF monitoring activities in the Channel Islands, visit the Channel Islands project webpage.