We say it often - REEF is what it is because of our fantastic members. The grassroots nature of the organization is reflected in all aspects of our work, including the amazing volunteers like Audrey Smith who help with daily operating tasks at REEF HQ, the networks of regional REEF partners who enlist new REEF members and provide continuing education and survey opportunities for active surveyors, our members who generously support REEF with financial donations, and of course the thousands of survey volunteers who submit marine life surveys each year.
As the corps of active and experienced REEF surveyors has grown, we have been fortunate to have some of those members take their support and interest in REEF to the next level by forming local REEF groups. Two such REEF "clubs" are FIN (the Fish Identification Network) and the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers. FIN is a REEF club based in Maui, and is touted as an opportunity to join friends and fellow fish lovers in exploring the coral reefs of Maui. The club is for all interested divers and snorklers, and promotes marine conservation and the objectives of REEF. FIN was founded by Terri and Mike Fausnaugh (Mike is also a member of the REEF Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team (AAT)) and is supported by the cadre of REEFers that REEF partner, Liz Foote of Project S.E.A.-Link, has generated in Hawaii through the years. There are monthly (sometimes weekly) FIN dives at various beaches on Maui and at every event FIN folks set up a REEF station on the beach with survey materials and identification reference guides in an attempt to lure in new afishianados! The PNW Critter Watchers encourages all divers in Washington and Oregon to become underwater naturalists. Through training and quarterly REEF survey dives, Critter Watcher founders and REEF Pacific AAT members, Janna Nichols and Wes Nicholson, aim to put the fun in critter watching and promote REEF surveying in the Pacific Northwest. Janna also maintains a Critter Watchers website that includes a fish of the month feature, an events listing, unusual sightings reported by fellow Critter Watchers, and congratulations to REEF surveyors who have advanced through the REEF experience level system.
These home-grown REEF clubs are a great way to help spread the fun and enjoyment of REEF surveying to a local dive community. We are grateful that we have such enthusiastic and supportive volunteers who are willing to help spread the REEF word. These on-the-ground activities could never be accomplished without your help!
Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.
AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.
Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.
Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”
Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”
If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.
REEF scientists, volunteers and collaborators will be in the Cayman Islands next month for the 8th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded last year by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF has greatly expanded the critical conservation research conducted as part of this study of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations. We will have teams on all three of the Cayman Islands conducting field research as part of the project, “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”. The Little Cayman team will continue the long-term visual monitoring of the large aggregation located there. Work on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will focus on studying the remnant aggregations that remain on these islands after years of fishing. There is currently a harvest ban in effect for all aggregations in the islands. This ban is set to be lifted in 2011 unless the extension of the protections are warranted.
Despite logistical complications, weather anomalies and difficulties locating fish, the Grouper Moon Project had a successful year of field-work in 2008. The team conducted preliminary work on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, tagging Nassau grouper with pinger acoustic tags and then installing hydrophone arrays to track the movements of those tagged individuals. Studies were also conducted to better understand the patterns of recruitment by larval and juvenile Nassau grouper to the islands. In addition, members of our team attended major scientific conferences both nationally and internationally, and presented aspects of our research and findings to date.
In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched the Grouper Moon Project with a ground breaking expedition to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. This work is a collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and researchers from Oregon State University.
To find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage.
The Volunteer Survey Project is at the center of REEF's citizen science programs. It provides thousands of divers and snorkelers the opportunity to contribute information on the status and biodiversity of ocean populations. The Survey Project also serves as a training opportunity in many formal and informal education programs. In this issue of REEF-in-Brief, we feature high school students on both sides of the US who are learning first hand how to conduct fish surveys and analyze their results.
The U-32 High School in Montpelier, Vermont, offers a Marine and Fresh Water Biology Class to Seniors each year. Their instructor, Brian Slopey, is also a REEF surveyor. The course focuses on the comparison between rivers, lakes and the ocean. Students examine the living components of these ecosystems as well as the influence of physical and chemical conditions. The students conduct extensive marine research during a trip to the Bermuda Institute of Oceanic Sciences, including conducting snorkel REEF fish surveys. During each field project, approximately 100 surveys are conducted. In preparation for the trip, students use the Reef Fish Identification Beginning ID Course DVD to learn groups of fish. They then generate Geographic Summary reports for Bermuda from the REEF database and use the Fish ID Interactive DVD software to more closely research species of fish they will likely observe. Once in Bermuda, the students keep an extensive journal that includes fish and invertebrate behavior observations, plankton tow observations, lecture notes and notes on readings.
On the other side of the country, in La Crescenta, California, students at Clark Magnet High School, have been working to collect and analyze marine life survey data from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS). With this project, which is currently funded by a Toyota Tapestry Grant, students use geographic information science (GIS) to document effects of marine protected areas on species abundance. Using species lists from the REEF database, students create field reference notebooks on the fish, invertebrates and algal species inhabiting the CINMS. In preparation for field surveys, students practice with the REEF online fish identification quiz. The students then work with dive teams from NOAA, Ventura County Sheriff’s divers and Sport Chalet to conduct REEF surveys for the class and to document the study areas and project procedures with underwater photography. Following the field work, students analyze the data and display the results of their projects as maps and graphs in scientifically formatted poster presentations. Each student poster incorporated an extended abstract that the students submit for publication in The New Journal of Student Research Abstracts.
Are you using REEF programs in a formal or informal education program? Email us at email@example.com and let us know about it!
Want to add a few new species to your life list? Look no further than Dominica and Bonaire. These islands both offer some unique treasures and are sure to please every level of diver as well as beauty above water for your non-diving companions. REEF is leading Field Surveys to both of these beautiful islands this year, and we invite you to join us! The Dominica field survey trip is April 17 - 24, and Bonaire takes place September 25 – October 2.
The natural beauty of Dominica includes some of the most enchanting topography both above and below the waterline, with several waterfalls and hiking trails to be explored on one of the least developed islands in the Caribbean. The diving is also spectacular, and on our last trip here seven years ago flying gurnards, short-nose batfish, fringed filefish, blackfin snapper, harlequin pipefish and reef scorpionfish were all documented by our keen-eyed surveyors. REEF Board member Heather George is leading the trip this year, and she will help you look for these species and many more.
Few dive sites in the world can provide 100 fish species on a single dive - Bonaire is one of these special places. During our survey week here, you are likely to add at least 5 or more new species to your life list, no matter what your current REEF level. Trip Leader, Jessie Armacost, lived in Bonaire and taught Fish ID there for 7 years. She will help you find clingfish, pikeblennies, maculated flounders, medusa blennies, semi-scaled gobies and many other fish that are rarely found elsewhere. During group sessions you will learn where to look for viper morays, ringed blennies as well as popular fish like spotted drums and seahorses. The diving is easy with great accessible shore dives as well as easy close-by boat dives, and the trip will be particularly exciting this year during the annual coral spawn, when the reef is charged with sexual energy day and night.
Join us on one of these exciting weeks full of fish ID, friendship, new discoveries and great memories! Our full field survey schedule, trip details, and sign up information can be found here.
For the ninth year in a row, New England's SCUBA-diving community hosted the largest single-day Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event. On July 24, 2010, a stunning 104 divers conducted 114 fish surveys at 13 locations around Cape Ann and southern Maine. After conducting their surveys, divers gathered at Stage Fort Park in Glouster, MA, for fun, food, and prizes (over $8,000 in prizes were donated for the event). The event was coordinated by active REEF volunteers, Holly Martel Bourbon and Bob Michelson, and was sponsored by the New England Aquarium Dive Club. With support from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, REEF expanded the Fish Survey Project to the Northeast in 2001 and participation has been slowly growing ever since. We are currently working to increase the frequency that divers conduct surveys, taking it beyond the one-day GAFC event. Regional survey and training materials are currently being revised, and a companion invertebrate monitoring program for the area is also now in development.
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 researcher from Florida State University requested data from sites along the west coast of Florida to evaluate how fish species richness is influenced by the presence of certain grouper species.
- A scientist from the Smithsonian Institute is mapping the distribution and co-occurance of garden eel species in the western Atlantic.
- A researcher from NOAA Fisheries is looking at the species distribution of Gray Snapper.
The 20th annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July. You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.
The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.