While we all knew it was just a matter of time, the call still came with a bit of surprise and dread as the first confirmed lionfish sighting in the Florida Keys came in on January 6th, 2009. REEF member Becky Fowler, from Greenville, SC, was diving just offshore of the Benwood Wreck in Key Largo when she spotted the invasive lionfish near the base of a ledge at 66'. With all of the recent focus and outreach efforts that REEF has been forwarding to our members, she knew immediately that she needed to document the sighting and gather a detailed description of its location. Upon her return to shore, she called REEF HQ and delivered the report. This set into motion the Rapid Response plan
developed 7 months earlier in a REEF sponsored multi agency workshop (see REEFNotes article). Becky came by the REEF office, the images were verified, and her detailed site description was conveyed to Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects. The report was forwarded to the US Geological USGS alert system and Lad began response coordination with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) who has jurisdiction of resources at the sighting location.
The following morning, the response team made up of Lad Akins, Lisa Mitchell (REEF Exec. Dir.), John Halas (FKNMS), Frazier Nivens (Ocean Imaging) and Steve Campbell (Quiescence Diving Services) were assembled and on site at 10:30am. Following the excellent location description provided by Becky, the team was able to locate the fish, capture video footage, gather important data on site characteristics and the available nearby prey community, capture and bag the fish in under 14 minutes. The fish was captured live via hand nets, brought back to shore, euthanized and dissected. The 99mm immature male contained one 34mm prey fish in its stomach. Tissue samples, genetic material and other measurements were collected for further analysis by researchers at the NOAA Beaufort lab and Simon Fraser University. No other lionfish were found in the immediate vicinity.
While no one wanted to see lionfish show up in the Florida Keys, most knowledgeable sources believed it was inevitable and simply a matter of time. The one bright side of this story is that advanced planning and preparation initiated by REEF resulted in the awareness, accurate reporting, and successful rapid response effort that removed the fish less than 24 hours after its initial sighting. Hopes are that as lionfish show up in the Keys and other downstream areas, these rapid response efforts will help to control establishments and minimize impacts of this glutinous predator.
REEF continues to encourage divers to report their sightings of lionfish and other non-native fishes with as much detail as possible to www.reef.org/lionfish and to support lionfish research projects such as the January 17-24 project in the Turks and Caicos and the June 13-20 project in Belize. For more information, contact Lad Akins (Lad@REEF.org) (305) 852-0030.
If you are a REEF surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic, you are probably familiar with the Peacock Flounder (Bothus lunatus). And if you spend much time in the sand, you probably even know about the smaller Eyed Founder (Bothus ocellatus)? But how about the Spiny Flounder (Engyophrys senta)? Danielle Calini, an Our World Underwater Scholar who spent this summer as an intern at REEF HQ in Key Largo, was one of several REEF surveyors who recently came across this rarely seen species during a dive on Molasses Reef. And while this was the first record of the Spiny Flounder in the REEF Florida Keys database, it turns out this species might not be as rare as we think.
Spiny Flounder are very similar in appearance to the common Eyed Flounder, and it's likely that surveyors might not be looking closely enough when they see the small flatfish scurrying across the sand. It was previously thought that cirri extending from the eyes were a key feature distinguishing the two species but the cirri are very difficult to see. According to Paul Humann, Spiny Founder can be distinguished from Eyed Flounder by three key features:
REEF is proud to host an Our World Underwater Scholar each summer. In addition to tracking down rare species, OWU interns provide much needed help in the REEF HQ office and conduct outreach with the Florida Keys community. The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extends a big fish thank you to Danielle in appreciation for her service to REEF in the Summer 2009.Share on Facebook
Five years ago, with a group of volunteers, I produced the first DVD volume of Sensational Seas, an anthology of underwater images as seen through the eyes of 25 filmmakers and photographers. Each filmmaker generously donated his or her work, which enabled us to turn those contributions into a great fundraiser for REEF. The DVD was a big success and when REEF staff mentioned in late 2008 that their supply was nearly gone, we knew it was time to produce another volume. Thanks to the Carrow Foundation, who provided the production funding, REEF will be beneficiary of the sales of a new DVD, Sensational Seas Two. The DVD is available for purchase from REEF through the online store -- http://www.reef.org/store/sensationalseastwo.
In Sensational Seas Two, thirty divers from distinguished scientists and seasoned professionals to talented amateurs, take you on a grand tour of watery realms as far-flung as Antarctica, Australia, the Andaman Sea and Georgia Aquarium. Expect the unexpected, come face-to-face with the gentlest of giants, a rolling octopus, spawning frogfish, a snorkeling elephant, and tiny plankton that epitomize the grandeur of nature’s artistic flair. We like to say this collected work is a fitting way to express just why we love to dive.
A lot has changed since our first production in 2004. Online sites like YouTube provide venues for people to share their videos and social networking enables us to share links to myriad underwater images. What sets Sensational Seas Two apart is the cooperative effort between underwater filmmakers, photographers, musicians, graphic designers, writers and programmers - all divers – who donated their skills and art to produce this spectacular collection of underwater images, for the benefit of marine environmental causes.
All of the proceeds from every Sensational Seas Two DVD purchased from the REEF store will go directly to REEF. Your purchase will help REEF continue its important work. Thank you for your support and enjoy the show!
To learn about the DVD and the people who donated their time and images to Sensational Seas Two, visit www.SensationalSeas.com. For a preview of Sensational Seas Two, watch the trailer on YouTube here.
Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) with help from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) will host an inaugural series of lionfish derbies in the Keys starting this weekend. Divers who remove lionfish from Sanctuary waters will be eligible for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes. Awards will go to the top 3 teams in the following categories: most lionfish, biggest lionfish, and smallest lionfish.
REEF and Sanctuary managers have been working with the Florida Keys dive community to remove invasive lionfish since early 2009. Scientists are concerned about the rapid population growth of lionfish in Keys waters and their lack of a natural predator in the Atlantic. Lionfish are known to feed on ecologically and commercially important fish species — including snapper, grouper and shrimp — and can disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystem.
“Current research is beginning to show that, if left unchecked, the impacts of lionfish could be devastating to our native marine life and coral reefs,” said Lad Akins, REEF Director of Operations. “Providing training and incentives for the public to remove lionfish is one way to control populations and minimize those impacts.” Following detailed briefings by REEF staff on lionfish collecting and handling, divers will be allowed to collect fish on the day of the tournament using hand nets or spearfishing gear in areas of the sanctuary where fishing and spearfishing is allowed. A new rule was just passed July 27th, 2010 that enables divers to collect lionfish with hand nets throughout Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.
The $100 derby registration fee for a four-person team of divers or snorkelers provides participants with a pair of puncture resistant gloves and banquet tickets. Event banquets will feature a lionfish tasting for derby participants and guests. These derbies are not only a great way to reduce local lionfish populations, but also serve to educate and engage the public in lionfish control efforts.
“Eating lionfish is a conservation activity,” said Sean Morton, acting FKNMS Superintendent. “We are its only known predator in the Atlantic and through dedicated diver-based removal efforts, and consumption of lionfish as a food source, we can control its establishment.” NOAA has even developed an “Eat Lionfish” campaign that brings together fishing communities, wholesalers, and chefs in an effort to broaden U.S. consumers’ awareness of this delicious invader.
For more information on REEF's lionfish research program, the derbies, and to register online, visit www.reef.org/lionfish. Dates and locations for the derbies are: September 11 – Coconuts Restaurant, Key Largo • October 16 – Keys Fisheries Market and Marina, Marathon • November 13 — Hurricane Hole Marina, Key West. Florida Keys lionfish derbies are sponsored in part by: Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Divers Direct, Spree Expeditions, Inc., Dive Key West, Inc., and Scuba-Do Dive Company. To become an event sponsor, please contact Alecia@reef.org. REEF-coordinated lionfish derbies in the Bahamas have removed almost 2,500 lionfish since 2009. Thousands more fish have been captured in more than 30 REEF-organized lionfish collection trips across the Caribbean. Because of REEF’s vast experience with lionfish control programs, the Florida Keys Lionfish Derbies are destined for success!
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), a marine research facility, is located at the south end of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Much like REEF, CEI realizes the importance of collaboration and encourages students, visitors, and community members alike to partake in ongoing scientific research with the overarching goal of marine conservation.
CEI works closely and shares facilities with the Island School, a semester abroad program for high-school students. All of the research programs that operate out of CEI teach a project-specific research class each semester to the students. REEF surveys have been successfully incorporated into a number of these projects. Most notably, the Patch Reef Ecology project uses REEF surveys for long-term monitoring of fish communities that are resident to the network of patch reefs in Rock Sound, the vast, watery, “backyard” of CEI. REEF surveys have been used to collect reef fish species and abundance data for this project for nearly a decade now! Students assisting with the data collection learn Caribbean reef fish ID skills and become well versed in the REEF Roving Diver Method. All data collected by students are contributed to the REEF database and available for use by others.
Most of the reefs that are surveyed by students are located in shallow waters adjacent to mangrove creek habitat. These reefs are small, isolated coral heads that provide important transitional habitat for many reef species that begin their life in mangroves and eventually head to deep water to reproduce. Due to their location and abundance, these reefs are easy to access and make great project sites for conducting research. In fact, Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, and Stephanie Green of Simon Frasier University, are conducting a long-term research project monitoring lionfish impacts on reef fish communities using a network of these shallow scattered patch reefs. Skylar Miller, employed by both REEF and CEI and based in Eleuthera, is responsible for monthly data collection for this important project.
Want to get the latest news and updates from REEF? Then be sure to check our the REEF Facebook Page. You don't have to be on Facebook to view the page, but if you do have a Facebook profile, be sure to "like" us so that all of the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories will go straight to your feed. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories, and whatever is on their mind. We also maintain the REEF Invasive ionfish Program Facebook Page to keep you up-to-date on our current lionfish programs.
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.
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!
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?