REEF Begins Expansion to Eastern Atlantic

Underwater Azores scenery. Photo courtesy of ImageDOP.

We are excited to announce a new expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the eastern Atlantic, beginning with a new program in the Azores. REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., spent time in the islands earlier this summer developing new survey and training materials. This Portuguese archipelago is the northern extent of a bioregion known as Macaronesia, which also includes Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Cape Verde Islands. The underwater habitat features volcanic rocky reefs and common fish species include colorful wrasses, damselfish, sea breams, and pelagic rays.

The new REEF program will include the standard fish survey protocol as well as an invertebrate and algae monitoring component. The expansion is in collaboration with the local government agency, Direção Regional dos Assuntos do Mar, as well as the University of the Azores, Observatório do Mar dos Açores, and Parques Naturais de Ilha. We expect to offiically launch the new region later this year.

Upcoming Fishinars - Fiji, Snappers, New England, and more!

Checkerboard Wrasse, one of the most frequent fishes seen in Fiji. Learn about it and more during the Fiji Fishinars next week. Photo by Paul Humann.

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. Upcoming sessions include:

  • 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
  • New England's Finest - Janna Nichols, July 16th
  • More to come!

Palau/Yap and Sea of Cortez Added to the REEF Trip Schedule

The islands of Palau await 18 lucky divers.
Squarespot Anthias are one of the hundreds of species that we'll see while diving in Micronesia. Photo courtesy Palau Aggressor.
REEF members will be on the lookout for whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. Photo by Christy Semmens.
The Rocio del Mar liveaboard, against a backdrop of beautiful topside scenery in the Sea of Cortez.

We are excited to announce two new trips that have been added to the REEF Field Survey schedule -- Micronesia by Land and Sea in October 2016 and the Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez in August 2017! Details on these trips are below, and the full schedule of REEF Trips can be found at www.REEF.org/trips. REEF Field Survey trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their lifelist while interacting with fellow ocean enthusiasts. Book early - REEF trips often sell out! Also, keep an eye on the REEF Trips webpage and your inbox- we'll be announcing the full 2017 schedule soon.

Micronesia by Land and by Sea - Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap and Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard, October 4 - 16, 2016. REEF members and enthusiastic fish surveyors will not want to miss our first-ever Field Survey Trip to Micronesia, alongside REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens! This exciting 12-day adventure begins land-based at the world-renowned Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, featuring three days of diving Yap's rich coral walls, channels, and lagoon sites, all while observing creatures including manta rays, reef sharks, and maybe even mating mandarinfish. After diving Yap, recharge with a night at the Palau Royal Resort, within walking distance of the yacht marina. Then the excursion continues with a 7-night charter aboard the Palau Aggressor II, with the opportunity for up to 5 dives per day in warm, tropical water. Surveyors can look forward to discovering Napoleon wrasses, titan triggerfish, crocodile fish, and many different species of gobies tucked among an abundance of hard and soft corals. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for all the details.

Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez, August aboard the Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, August 19 - 26, 2017. Join Christy and Brice for an unforgettable week of diving and citizen science in the diverse and dynamic Sea of Cortez, home to a wide range of creatures including nudibranchs, blennies, jawfish, rays, guitarfish, sharks, eels, octopuses, seahorses, and much more! In addition to numerous fish and invertebrate families, participants may also get to observe pilot and sperm whales while in transit. The plankton-rich currents of the Pacific along the coast of California and Mexico, along with the sheltered waters of the Sea of Cortez, also create a great opportunity to encounter whale sharks and manta rays. In fact, Jacques Cousteau once called this region, "the aquarium of the world." And top-side scenery is as spectacular as below the water. Participants will spend 7 nights aboard the magnificent Rocio Del Mar liveaboard, a spacious 110-foot vessel complete with a fantastic crew. Visit the trip page for all the details.

March Membership Madness - Help Us Reach Our Goal

Thank you to everyone who spread the word about marine conservation this month… 554 new members signed up. Let’s try to make it 600 by March 31st, which is the last day to enter to win a free wetsuit.

Have a friend join REEF, and you will both be entered to win. If you are already a member, have your friend enter your name when they join by choosing "Other" under “How did you hear about REEF?” Good luck to everyone!

Review REEF on GreatNonprofits

Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the GreatNonprofits.org website at: http://gr8np.org/go/yKD

Thanks to such great feedback by our members in 2015, REEF once again achieved "Top-Rated" status on the GreatNonprofits webpage. We need at least ten new reviews in 2016 to maintain this honored status. Please help us.

Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member: "My daughter and I have been volunteer members of REEF for almost twenty years. She was seven when we joined, and became a certified junior diver at ten- In great part due to the fun we had together as REEF members & volunteers. Avid snorkelers, and divers, we love diving with a purpose. Our favorite "self-challenge" is to see how many species we can identify on outing; always trying to better ourselves!" Thank you!

The Grouper Moon Project - Protecting An Endangered Icon

Over 4,000 Nassau Grouper amass at a spawning aggregation during winter full moons off Little Cayman Island. Photo by Paul Humann.
A lone Nassau Grouper at the Little Cayman aggregation. Photo by Joshua Stuart.
REEF's Grouper Education Program works with Caymanian students to educate and inspire.

REEF scientists and volunteers are heading down to the Cayman Islands next week for another season of the Grouper Moon Project (www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject), a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). In its 16th year, this important project focuses on one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper, an endangered Caribbean reef fish. Over 4,000 grouper will amass in one location for 7-10 days following the full moon.

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 Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. On August 15, 2016, the Cayman Islands government enacted a comprehensive set of regulations aimed at recovering Nassau Grouper. The new rules are based on the more than a decade of collaborative fisheries research carried out by the Grouper Moon Project (click here for more information about the legislation).

In addition to the research, in 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched an education program to engage students in the Grouper Moon Project. This exciting project brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and live-feed videos that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. Three live-feed webcasts are planned for our 2017 work. Anyone can watch the feeds live or archived. The live-feed schedule is:

  • Wednesday February 15th and Friday February 17 (11:45am - 12:30pm EST), from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, featuring scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project.
  • Thursday February 16 (1:00pm - 1:45pm EST), from underwater on Cayman’s famous Bloody Bay Wall.

The live feeds stream through the REEF Grouper Moon Project YouTube channel.

Do you want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Watch this short PBS documentary about our efforts. And if you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Make a Difference for the Ocean: Join a REEF Field Survey!

The idyllic island of South Water Caye in Belize.
There are great birdwatching opportunities in Costa Rica.
Join a REEF Field Survey today to meet fellow ocean enthusiasts!

As climate change and tropical storms have increasingly drastic impacts on our blue planet, the marine conservation work we do at REEF is more important now than ever. The future of our ocean depends on each of us.

Are you a diver or snorkeler looking to make a difference in the health of our oceans? Join us on a REEF Trip and participate in our citizen science programs, which provide meaningful information about marine life. Scientists and resource managers use REEF survey data to better understand the changes happening in the marine environment. We have a great line-up of REEF Trips in 2018. Here are two unique opportunities planned for next summer to "Take a Trip That Counts": ecosystem studies in a remote and vulnerable reef system in Belize and a land and sea ecoventure in the cloud forests and reefs of Costa Rica.

REEF Expedition to South Water Caye, Belize - Aug. 18-25, 2018. Now taking signups! Click here for details

South Water Caye, Belize, is home to several endemic species, including the Social Wrasse and the Maya Hamlet. The goal of this exploratory trip is to study the effects of stressors such as invasive species and habitat loss on this remote area of the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, with a special focus on how these impacts are affecting species that are not found anywhere else in the Caribbean. Participants will conduct fish surveys as well as lionfish research and removals. In addition, other underwater survey methods will be utilized to gather data on this infrequently-studied area to determine how to best protect this unique marine ecosystem.

REEF Expedition to Costa Rica - July 14-21, 2018. Click here for details

This eco-adventure will give REEF members a chance to experience many alluring facets of Costa Rica, including abundant marine life, vibrant tropical rainforests and active volancoes. The trip includes a unique itinerary featuring diving or snorkeling to conduct REEF surveys, as well as land tours in two diverse regions of the country - Guanacaste and Arenal. This weeklong family-friendly excursion also includes a wildlife boat tour, volcano hike, Hanging Bridges guided walk, and even a chocolate tour and tortilla making lesson! Divers and non-divers of all ages are welcome on this trip.

Join REEF on one of these trips today! To view full our full Field Survey Trips schedule, visit www.REEF.org/trips. For more information, e-mail Trips@REEF.org or call (305) 588-5869.

Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) Wrap-Up for July

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Upper Keys AAT - Mike Smith, Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Brenda Hitt
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Middle Keys AAT - Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Paige Switzer, Wayne Manning, Brenda Hitt, and Ann Outlaw
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Joe Cavanaugh, Brian Hufford, Dave Grenda, Erin Whitaker, Mike Phelan, and Brenda Hitt

REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project.  Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program - http://www.reef.org/member/aat.htm.  Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff.  To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here - http://www.reef.org/member/experience.htm.

Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments.  The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework.  In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.

The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002.  Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef.  Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented.  The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites.  Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.

I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks.  In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight!  Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.

Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled).  Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year.  Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA.  It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854.  We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event.  You will hear more about this project in the coming months.

Hope to see you in the water soon.

Best "fishes,"

Joe

REEF 2008 Field Survey T-Shirt Contest

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Help REEF Create The 2008 Field Survey Shirt
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2007 Bonaire Field Survey Team Led by Ned and Anna Deloach
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Paul Humann led Utila Field Survey, Oct.2007

REEF is asking any interested REEF members to submit to us a Field Survey T-shirt design for our upcoming 2008 season. Those of you who have participated in the past on a REEF Field Survey know that you receive a t-shirt as part of your participation in the program and every year we have a different design. There are only a couple of guidelines for you. Our new REEF Shirt must incorporate our REEF flag with our slogan, Diving That Counts! (I will send interested parties the jpeg file upon request). You do not need to incorporate the dive flag directly into the design, it may simply be on the front breast pocket of the t-shirt, for instance, with your design on the back and in this case, no need to ask
for our logo, we'll take care of that.

You should keep in mind our mission as stated on the top of our homepage, and our mantra, "diving that counts." Also please keep in mind that REEF actively surveys in 5 regions, not just the tropical western Atlantic. Please send your submissions to joe@reef.org, making sure they are in an easily readable format such as a jpeg file (preferred). Please send all entries in by Dec. 31, 2007.

Depending on the number of submissions we receive, we may have our members vote on the winner in January of 2008. Past t-shirts have had fish images, divers surveying, cartoons depicting divers surveying with witticisms, watercolors of fish, etc. Most importantly, our t-shirt design should incorporate the conservation-based focus of our Field Survey Program.

Thanks in advance for your participation and our staff will look forward to your entries. First prize will be a signed and framed 2008 Paul Humann print of two beautiful Eagle Rays.

 

Field Survey Season 2008 - 5 Spaces are still available for our Turks and Caicos Liveaboard on Aggressor II, April 19-26, 2008.
Please contact Travel for You at 1-888-363-3345 or Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030. The 2008 Field Survey page will be completed shortly - please check back in a week for final content.

Grouper Moon Project Kicks Off Expanded Research Efforts

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Thousands of Nassau grouper in spawning colorations aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in January. Photo by Phil Bush.
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A Nassau grouper from Cayman Brac that will be acoustically tagged to better understand local reproductive behaviors.
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The 2008 team of Grouper Moon researchers and REEF volunteers.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, entitled "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.

In 2003 the Cayman Islands government protected all five known current and historic Nassau grouper spawning sites in the Cayman Islands. This move was motivated by the 2001 discovery and rapid depletion of a large spawning aggregation (~7000 fish) on the west end of Little Cayman. This rapid legislative response protected the west-end spawning site before all the fish were taken (~3,000 remain), and the site is now one of the largest fully-protected Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in existence. However, the other four spawning sites had previously been fished to exhaustion and are believed to be inactive, i.e. aggregations no longer occur during spawning season.

Over the next three years, REEF will continue the ongoing aggregation monitoring and acoustic research that has been conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation since 2002 and expand efforts to Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, where historical spawning aggregations were fished out during the last ten years. Four primary research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest-funded project are: 1) Do aggregations form in regions that have been fished out? 2) If aggregations form, do the fish ultimately spawn? 3) Do these aggregations form at historic sites or somewhere else? And, 4) Does spawning at these remnant aggregations result in new recruitment?

The new research kicked into gear last month with a team of Grouper Moon scientists and REEF volunteers who conducted twelve days of field work in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The team visually monitored the Little Cayman aggregation, documenting the largest number of fish since the fishing ban was implemented in 2003. Spectacular mass spawning was documented at dusk seven days after the full moon. Grouper Moon scientists conducted extensive work on Cayman Brac to enable future visual monitoring on the historical aggregation site and initiate an acoustic tagging study that will facilitate a better understanding of the behaviors of Nassau grouper on an island with a limited number of reproductively-aged individuals. Later this Spring and Summer, REEF researchers, volunteers and an OSU graduate student will return to the Cayman Islands to conduct larval recruitment studies and begin acoustic tagging on Grand Cayman.

Capitalizing on the the increased breadth of research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest Ocean Program grant, the CIDOE is supporting a larval dispersal study that also kicked off this year under the guidance of Dr. Scott Heppell from OSU. Three satellite drifters were deployed at the Little Cayman aggregation site on the night of spawning. The paths will be recorded by ARGOS satellites for 45 days and the resulting data will be used to develop a larval dispersal model in collaboration with researchers from University of Miami. Check out the 2008 image gallery to see where the drifters are today.

Visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage to find out more about this critical conservation research program and the 2008 Gallery page to see images and video of the field work.

REEF extends a big thank you to the island business who continue to support this project, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, as well as Peter Hillenbrand and Mary Ellen Cutts, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and the 2008 REEF Volunteer Team -- Judie Clee, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell, and Leslie Whaylen.  We also greatly appreciate the continued support of our collaborative team, including the CIDOE and OSU, and the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub