The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Valerie Lyttle

Lion's Mane Jelly. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Valerie Lyttle. Valerie joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 437 surveys. She is a member of REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? How did you first hear about REEF?

I started doing REEF surveys in 2004 after taking Janna Nichols' PacNW Fish & Invertebrate ID courses. I was learning on my own and trying to remember at least one new fish/critter each dive, but the course really helped solidify things. The idea of being able to contribute my observations to the greater good really appealed to me.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I like knowing that I’m contributing to a large database and that others may benefit as a result. Seeing how dive sites and critters change from times of day, seasons of the year, etc. keep me going. Even surveys from winter dives where few species are noted have value, as it helps illustrate trends. I love being able to “speak fish” & be a critter geek with like-minded people.

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

I dive locally because otherwise I’d only get to dive once a year or two otherwise! I think it’s important to practice stewardship of your local waters and sites on whatever level you are able; every bit counts. My favorite local site is Redondo (Highline MaST Pier) for several reasons; it’s close, it never disappoints, and it’s diveable just about any time. Many of my “firsts” were there; my first Six Gill shark, my first Big Skate, the only Pacific Electric Ray and Mola Mola sightings I’ve ever had, my first Grunt Sculpin, my first Giant Pacific Octopus (or GPO, as we call it here), my first Stubby Squid. This is a site for all abilities and there are interesting things to see at every depth.

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

There are two favorite local REEF fields stations, both of them dive charters. Bandito Charters know the Puget Sound waters and its critters solidly, and always provide a great experience. Pacific Adventures, based in Hood Canal, Washington, are also heavily involved in local REEF and other projects that promote the health of Hood Canal waters. Both organizations promote stewardship and love talking critters!

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?

The first time my buddy and I encountered courtship behaviors of Painted Greenlings at a local dive site. The male was sporting full mating colors and clearly had only one thing on his mind. Even though it was winter and the water was very cold, we stopped and watched the dancing and flirting for a good 10 minutes. My favorite critters hands down are jellies, in particular Lion’s Mane, aka Sea Blubber jellies. Their vibrant reds, oranges and yellows make them look like an underwater fireball that I find simply mesmerizing.

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

Go slow, don’t be in a hurry. Get to know your local critters and their behaviors. Carry a magnifying glass. Dive at different times of day and different seasons so you can appreciate the entire spectrum.

The Faces of REEF: 2012 Volunteer of the Year, Jonathan Lavan

We proudly announce our Volunteer of the Year for 2012, Jonathan Lavan. Jonathan joined REEF in 2004 and since then, he has logged 324 REEF fish surveys and become a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast survey regions. He has submitted surveys in five of REEF's six regions. Jonathan's involvement with REEF has been instrumental in spreading the word about REEF and its programs. In 2012, he helped to expand the Volunteer Fish Survey project by instructing for REEF's online webinars, called Fishinars. His background in theatre, sense of humor and teaching style quickly made his Fishinars popular with both new and experienced fishwatchers. He has also assisted by serving as an administrator for REEF's experience level tests. To learn more about Jonathan and his involvment with REEF, check out his Member Profile featured in a previous issue of Making It Count.

As a former diver and staff member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and a current diver at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Lavan actively seeks opportunities to educate others about marine life, conservation and REEF. He is often a guest speaker at dive clubs and shows, and especially enjoys educating youth. An avid underwater photographer, Jonathan uses his images gathered over the past 10 years to educate others about marine life, and many of his photos appear in art shows as well as online resources. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Jonathan!

Honoring Our Golden Hamlet Club Members

No, it's not a club of Shakespearean enthusiasts! Rather it's a club of citizen scientist superstars - those REEF members who have conducted 1,000+ surveys in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The very first Golden Hamlet member was Linda Baker, achieving the status in 2005. Today, there are are sixteen members of the Golden Hamlet Club. We recently created a plaque, now hanging at REEF HQ in Key Largo, with the names of our honored volunteer surveyors -- Lad Akins, Linda Baker, Judie Clee, Janet Eyre, Dave Grenda, Doug Harder, Lillian Kenney, Peter Leahy, Rob McCall, Franklin Neal, Mike Phelan, Bruce Purdy, Linda Ridley, Dee Scarr, Linda Schillinger, and Sheryl Shea. Congratulations to you all. Thanks to their dedication, and those of the 14,000 other volunteers who have participated in the Survey Project since its inception in 1993, we have generated the largest marine fish sightings database in the world. Who's going to be the next Golden Hamlet surveyor?

Grouper Moon Scientists Talk Live with School Children From Under the Waves

Grouper Moon researchers, Brice Semmens, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Steve Gittings, join educator, Todd Bohannon, for a live-from-the-field chat with Caymanian classrooms. They explained a typical research day and showed much of the research equipment used.
Grouper Moon Educator, Todd Bohannon, goes through a coral reef food web exercise that is part of the Grouper Education Project curriculum with school children at Little Cayman Primary School.
Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, conducting a live-from-the-field chat from the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation site on Little Cayman to Caymanian classrooms. Brice answered questions from the students about grouper biology, spawning aggregations, and diving. Photo by Joshua Stewart.

It was a science lesson with a difference, broadcast live from beneath the waves with thousands of endangered fish in attendance. Earlier this month, Grouper Moon Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens from REEF, hosted three live-from-the-field web chats with students from 18 classrooms at 13 schools in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Washington State (US). The first of the three web chats was broadcast from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, and featured scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project. The other two featured Brice diving and answering questions from the students, first on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation and then on the famous Blood Bay Wall. The webcasts are archived online here.

Now in its third year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species.

Brice Semmens, who presented the underwater webcasts, said students were excited to witness science in action. “As they explore the aggregation with me, the immediacy and reality of the experience really touches them. We are giving students their first diving experience – and it happens to be with thousands of huge, endangered reef fish.”

The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef DiversCayman Airways, and LIME.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Effectiveness of Lionfish Culling

A bag of culled lionfish in the Bahamas. Photo by Leah Neal.

REEF staff co-authored a new publication in the scientific journal PeerJ that features research findings from our Invasive Lionfish Research Program. The paper, titled "Setting the record straight on invasive lionfish control: Culling works", evaluates the effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts. Frequent culling of the invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish throughout the Caribbean has been shown to cause a shift towards more wary and reclusive behavior by lionfish, which has prompted calls for halting culls. The paper addresses those concerns and reviews research conducted by REEF and other efforts. Culling successfully lowers lionfish numbers and has been shown to stabilize or even reverse declines in native prey fish. Partial culling is often as effective as complete local eradication, yet requires significantly less time and effort. Abandoning culling altogether would therefore be seriously misguided and a hindrance to conservation. The authors also offer suggestions for how to design removal programs that minimize behavioural changes and maximize culling success. The paper is available for online viewing here. You can find a complete listing of all publications that feature REEF's programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

New La Jolla Canyon Fishinar Added to Schedule

Horn Shark, one of the many finds waiting REEF surveyors in La Jolla Canyon. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

If you haven't participated in one of our free, educational webinars yet, you don't know what you are missing! Known as Fishinars, these hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. We recently added a new Fishinar scheduled for March 26th that will cover common fishes and invertebrates found in San Diego's La Jolla Canyon. The remaining schedule includes...

  • Hamlets! - Carlos and Allison Estape, March 3rd
  • In a Cavern, In a Canyon - Jonathan Lavan, March 26th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! You can also request viewings of archived Fishinars, a special perk for REEF members. No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, August 2015

Canary Rockfish, one of several species of concern in the evaluation of impact on jetty construction in Puget Sound, Washington. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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:

- A scientist from Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) requested REEF data to evaluate fish assemblages in Bermuda with regard to no-take reserves, comparing shallow vs. deep water habitats, and to evaluate the impact of invasive lionfish.

- A scientist from Washington State Department of Transportation requested REEF data to help evaluate the impacts of a proposed ferry terminal at Keystone Jetty on three species of protected rockfish.

- A graduate student from University of Miami requested REEF data from New Providence, Bahamas, to compare the measures of rugosity used in various research research methods and their ability to predict fish diversity and abundance.

A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The Faces of REEF: Anne Benolkin

Anne collecting an octopus for study in the lab.
Anne in the cephalopod behavior lab.

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 Anne Benolkin. Anne was a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the spring of 2013. She grew up in Alaska, and after going to college and interning in Florida, she returned to her frosty home state. Following her time as a REEF intern, Anne went on to become a Pro SCUBA Instructor and was awarded the prestigious Zale Perry scholarship, an award named after one of diving’s most celebrated women and the memorable lady-star of “Sea Hunt” (read more about Anne's award here). She is currently working on her Masters degree at Alaska Pacific University, studying the behavior of Day Octopus. Here’s what Anne had to say about her time at REEF and beyond:

What did you enjoy most about your experience as a REEF intern?

When I was a REEF intern my favorite thing was all of the connections I got to make with people all over the world. It was so inspiring to see this community of people brought together by a desire to make the world a better place. I loved leading seminars and teaching enthusiastic people all about reef fish and conservation. I especially loved watching people come together for a cause, like the work REEF does with the lionfish invasion. We took something negative and looked for positive solutions that bring people together.

What inspires you to do REEF surveys?

Diving is such a unique sport. There are a huge variety of people who come from all different backgrounds and they all got into diving for different reasons. Learning about fish and doing REEF surveys adds a whole other element to diving, making every dive uniquely exciting with new things to discover. I feel like I’m making a contribution when I do a REEF survey.

What are you doing these days, post-REEF internship?

My internship at REEF opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve since gone on to become a SCUBA instructor and enroll in a masters degree program. I moved back to Alaska and I was so thrilled when they expanded the REEF sites to include Alaska. I think sometimes people forget about the beauty and diversity that exists in cold water diving.

Intern Spotlight: Meet Our Fall 2016 Interns

Our Fall 2016 Marine Conservation Interns!

This month, we are excited to introduce you to our Fall 2016 interns, who are a part of our Marine Conservation Internship Program. Since 1994, REEF has hosted over 110 interns. Our internship program has expanded over the years and our interns serve an important role in the day-to-day management at REEF. The internship provides an array of diverse experiences including scientific diving, outreach and education, data collection and management, non-profit operations, and public speaking.

A big welcome to our new Fall 2016 interns:

Emily Volkmann (from Grafton, Wisconsin), recent graduate from Smith College, BA in Biology and Environmental Science and Policy

Ellie Place (from Bellevue, Washington), recent graduate from Brown University, BA in Geological Sciences and Hispanic Studies

Katherine Ilcken (from Tampa, Florida), recent graduate from University of Florida, BS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

Thomas Hyduk (from Central New Jersey), recent graduate from University of Miami, BS in Marine and Atmospheric Science

For more information about our interns, please visit www.REEF.org/internship/interns.

Putting It To Work: New Publication Out of the Grouper Moon Project

Results from the study authored by J Egerton et al shows the visualization provided by the hydroacoustic technology used to evaluate size and location of the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation off Little Cayman. Figure (c) Coral Reefs, 2017.
A team of REEF scientists and volunteers have visually monitored the Little Cayman spawning aggregation annually since 2002. Photo by Phil Bush.

A new publication in the scientific journal Coral Reefs was recently issued based on science conducted as part of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. The paper, titled "Hydroacoustics for the discovery and quantification of Nassau grouper (Epinephelus stratus) spawning aggregations", summarizes results from work conducted during the 2014 Grouper Moon Project field season in the Cayman Islands. Led by Jack Egerton from Bangor University in the UK, the research focused on the use of hydroacoustic technology as a means to monitor the status and ecology of fish spawning aggregations. Egerton was assisted by Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Scott Heppell, as well as Grouper Moon collaborators from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment. Using a split-beam echo sounder, data were used to visualize and estimate fish abundance and biomass at three Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. The estimates were compared with diver-collected data. Additionally, the technology was used to examine fish aggregation locations in relation to protected zones.

Patterns in the acoustic abundance matched that observed by the visual estimates reported by our Grouper Moon diver teams - total numbers found at the Little Cayman aggregation were significanly higher than the depeleted aggregations found on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. 

Spawning aggregation location examined with reference to seasonal marine protected areas (Designated Grouper Spawning Areas) showed that the aggregations were partially outside these areas at Grand Cayman and very close to the boundary at Cayman Brac. The aggregation on Little Cayman appears to be contained within the protected zone (at least in 2014). However, we know from other Grouper Moon Project data that the fish spend a lot of time traveling in and out of the zone during the day. Additionally, in 2015, the aggregation on Little Cayman shifted a significant distance to the north of the historical location and partially out of the protected zone. The results of this study show the importance of making use of many different approaches for monitoring and aggregations in order to most effectively inform future management of aggregating fish species.

To read more about this study and others that have been published based on REEF's programs, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications. To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub