Earlier this week, on March 3rd, 2009, the number of REEF surveys conducted by volunteers in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (incl. the US East Coast, Caribbean, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico) topped 100,000! The REEF Volunteer Survey Project database as a whole (including all regions) reached this benchmark in October 2006. The 100k surveys have been conducted by 8,582 volunteers at 6,203 sites in the TWA region. Other remarkable project milestones reached this week -- there are now two TWA surveyors who have conducted over 2,000 surveys each(!), many of our surveyors in the Pacific and Hawaii regions are about to surpass the 500 survey mark, and the number of surveys conducted in the Pacific region will soon exceed 15,000. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations and our most active surveyors.
REEF's mission, to educate and enlist divers in the conservation of marine habitats, is accomplished primarily through the Volunteer Survey Project. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers. To find out more about who is using the data, visit the Publications page on the REEF website. The first surveys were conducted in 1993. As of February 2009, 125,717 surveys have been submitted to the REEF Survey Project database. Visit the About REEF page to find out more and to see where our volunteers are conducting surveys.
Just when you thought you had it all figured out, you realize there is more to learn. A few years ago, scientists working on Blue Rockfish genetics discovered that there were actually two species of Blues. After fishermen bagged both types off Eureka, California, and were able to correctly separate them by appearance, Drs. Tom Laidig and Milton Love wondered if they could be correctly identified by divers underwater, and in what range and depth they are found. What a perfect project for our west coast REEF surveyors.
Using photos taken by Pacific NW AAT members (Pete Naylor, Janna Nichols) in both Monterey and the Neah Bay area (on our annual REEF survey projects of these areas), they were able to determine that yes indeed, the two species of Blue Rockfish could be correctly ID’d underwater. Both species are being found along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts by fishermen. REEF surveyor Taylor Frierson has seen both species (in the same school!) while diving near Newport, Oregon. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has both species of Blue Rockfish on display in Halibut Flats – a good way to compare them.
Although the species has yet to be officially described, REEF is asking Pacific surveyors, whenever possible, to start separating the two into what for now will be called, “Blue Blotched” and “Blue Sided”. These new species are listed in the Unlisted Species section on the online data entry form. A general “Blue Rockfish” category will still exist if you’re unsure (the one listed on the Listed Species list). We are also asking surveyors who have photos from previous survey dives, to go through and if they can positively ID the species seen based on the photos, to submit the change to us at email@example.com. Please include the survey number (if know), date, and location.
To help you ID the two species, here are some tips:
Comparison photos may be seen here.
Each month, we get questions from our surveying members about the ins and outs of conducting REEF surveys, submitting their data online, and accessing those data. Here's a compilation of some of the most frequently asked questions. The survey scoop -- all in one place!
I’ve submitted my survey online – why can’t I see my data? Your data goes into a batch, which gets processed every few weeks. Not only does it go through computer error checks, but a live human checks it as well, and we may send an email to verify your sightings. Data submitted on paper forms take much longer (months, sorry!). So be extra patient on those.
Once my data are processed, how can I see them? You can generate reports of your survey activity ("My Survey Log") and your species lifelist ("My Data") through the REEF website. You need to be logged in to REEF.org and then look on the left hand side of the page under your User Name. If you haven't yet created a REEF.org login, start here.
Some fish I saw don’t appear in the Listed Species section on the online survey form. Now what? Only the most common fish in a region are listed on the online form to save space – but if you click on Unlisted Species link on the left side of the submission page, you can search the complete list that will most probably contain your species, and you can record it there. If you can't find it, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don’t see the invertebrate/algae I saw on the online survey form – now what? Remember that the REEF protocol only includes specific set of Invertebrates (PacNW, CAL) and algae (CAL) and they are listed both on the underwater survey paper, as well as the online submission form. If you don’t see it there, it isn’t monitored by REEF.
What if the place I dove/snorkeled doesn’t have a geographic zone code assigned? Just email email@example.com with the name of the site, lats/longs (preferably in degrees/decimal minutes form) and most likely 4 digit zone code area it falls in, and it will get created for you. After confirmation, you’ll be able to submit your survey. To see a list of current Geographic Zone Codes, check here.
Do I have to submit the lats/longs on each survey I do? No way! You can leave that section blank. You can also leave water temperature blank, but all other fields are required.
I dove a site that was composed of many different habitat types. Which one do I mark? It’s a judgment call for this one – I usually just mark the habitat where I found the most species on my survey.
I made a mistake on a survey I already submitted. Is it too late? Nope, it’s not too late. While you should try to avoid mistakes (because it’s a lot harder to change once it’s in the system), it is possible to correct and accuracy is always a good thing. Email us details.
I forgot to turn in a few surveys from last year (or longer). Is it still OK to do so? Yes. Old data can still be submitted, but do try to keep current on your surveys so that those accessing the data are getting the most recent and accurate information available.
Where can I take REEF Experience level tests? Find a Field Station near you – or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll find a way to make it possible.
Last month, the launch of our 6th REEF survey region was a big success due to the combined efforts of our newest partners in American Samoa, and numerous volunteers and partners in the scientific community. Thanks to support from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and other donors, we were able to bring fish ID training workshops and surveying opportunities to over two dozen local participants on the main island of Tutuila. The launch included distributing locally oriented underwater fish ID cards, underwater paper, and a number of Tropical Pacific Fish ID books to an enthusiastic group of local residents. Through meetings and trainings with staff at the Fagatelle Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, the National Park Service, the Coral Reef Advisory Group, local residents and business owners, we established a network of snorkelers and divers who will continue surveying at sites such as Alofau, Faga`alu, and Tisa’s Barefoot Bar at Alega Beach.
At over 1,500 known reef fish species, the fish diversity of South Pacific coral reefs is higher than in the Caribbean. Our survey team definitely had our work cut out for us, but with the help of cameras, video, and the REEF training materials, we managed to positively identify over 200 species in a total of 60 surveys throughout the week. A few of the highlights included charismatic emperor angelfish (including a juvenile), saddled butterflyfish, mimic surgeonfish, longnose filefish, and Leslie’s cardinalfish - named after former REEF employee Leslie Whaylen Clift, who first discovered it in 2004 while living in American Samoa.
Originally scheduled for last fall, this launch was delayed by the devastating tsunami that hit American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga in September 2009, and evidence of the disaster was apparent with numerous toppled plate and branching corals at some of the sites. REEF surveys will provide important information about fish populations as the local reefs rebuild over the coming years.
In the coming months, REEF will continue to grow the Samoa program with the help of local coordinators as our pilot region in the South Pacific, and has developed a curriculum that will be available soon on our website. Our next step in expanding into this vast region will be our first survey trip to the South Pacific in May 2011 to Fiji, where surveyors and will use a new set of survey materials designed for broad use throughout the South Pacific region. Click here for more information about this exciting field survey into our newest region, which will be led by Paul Humann.
REEF’s Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, along with REEF Board of Trustee member Heather George, and longtime REEF science advisor, Dr. Brice Semmens, led the expedition. A big thank you to frequent Hawaii surveyors Donna and George Brown, and Pat Richardson, who also participated in this expedition. Thank you also to New World Publications, Leslie Whaylen Clift, Neil Ericcson, Dr. Jack Randall, and Doug Fenner, whose contributions to the development of these new materials has been invaluable. And we greatly appreciate the support of the many photographers who generously donated the use of their underwater images for use in our training materials: Donna Brown, Paul Brown, Joyce Burek, Bob Fenner, John Hoover, Paul Humann, Josh Jensen, Ed Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Keoki Stedner, and Marty Snyderman.
If you would like to make a contribution specifically to support the South Pacific regional expansion, you can donate online here, or mail your donation to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Include “South Pacific Expansion” with your donation information.
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 collaborator from the Global Underwater Explorers Project Baseline initiative is using REEF data to document environmental conditions in the Florida Keys.
- NOAA scientists requested data to help develop biogeographic assessment products for the Florida Reef Tract from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Jim Pendergrass (REEF member since 2008). To date, Jim has conducted 113 surveys along the west coast from California to British Columbia, and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Jim had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? Seven years ago my wife Chris and I took a Habitat Diver class from Eugene Skin Divers Supply and began volunteer diving at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. We became interested in fish/invert ID and the DSO, Vallorie Hodges, told us about REEF. It was a perfect fit for us!
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? We’ve been on several REEF Advanced Assessment Team projects, and I think the most memorable was the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary out of Neah Bay, WA. The habitat was unique, the critter diversity was astounding, and the folks on the trip were great. We learned a lot!
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? We’re always interested to see what we’ll find this dive and compare it to our previous dives and those other divers have logged. Every dive is guaranteed to be a little different than the last one. We enjoy sharing our experiences with others and encouraging them to become involved. That’s why we started teaching the classes and holding REEF dives for our dive club. Oregon hasn’t had that many surveys completed yet, and our goal is to change that!
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Where is your favorite place to dive and why? We average about 100 dives/year in Oregon, Washington and BC, and travel to CA and the tropics when we can. We really like cold water diving. Our ‘home’ dive sites are at the mouth of Yaquina Bay in Newport and at the north Jetty of the Siuslaw – but our favorite place to dive is Browning Pass off the north coast of Vancouver Island. The diving there is really spectacular, and the topside scenery can’t be beat.
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? Our local shop and mother REEF field station is Eugene Skin Divers Supply. We can’t say enough good things about Mike, Diana, John and the rest of the staff. They’re knowledgeable, friendly and committed to making every dive experience a rewarding one. They treat everyone like part of the family. We couldn’t do this without them!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? I think the biggest thing is to go slow – or you miss the little things. And sometimes they are the coolest of all! Take pictures if you can for future reference and identification, and realize that learning fish and inverts is a constant process. One at a time. After hundreds of dives we’re still learning!
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Paul and Marta Bonatz. Marta joined REEF in 1998 and she drew Paul in 2005. They have become active surveyors, and each has conducted 240 surveys. Here's what they had to say about REEF:
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Our favorite part of being REEF members is working with a network of other “citizen scientists” to make a difference. Interacting with like-minded divers in an organization that is focused on saving the marine environment is fulfilling. It’s also gratifying to see the change in newly recruited “fish geeks” as they learn more about the underwater world.
If you have been on a REEF field survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
We’ve been on two REEF field survey trips and plan to do more! The first, which hooked us on fish watching, was to Culebra, Puerto Rico. The highlight was the abundant staghorn coral. Unfortunately, it was totally devoid of adult fish. Our second trip was a lionfish control study in Belize. Spending a week focused on spotting and capturing 506 lionfish in the Belize Atolls with Peter Hughes and Lad Akins was exhilarating. We learned about the hazard this invasive species poses to the indigenous Caribbean fish population, and we now work to educate others about this urgent problem.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
Avid divers are frequently asked to name their favorite vacation destination. When we are asked this question our honest response is “Wherever we are currently diving”. REEF surveying teaches you to appreciate interesting finds on every dive. We sometimes spend an entire dive in a few square yards watching small critters in their habitat. Although every location is unique, the place we visit most frequently is Little Cayman. The sheerness of Bloody Bay wall, the healthy marine environment, and the stunning Nassau Grouper make for an incomparable mixture.
What is the most fascinating marine encounter you’ve experienced?
We have to include two favorite underwater encounters – we couldn’t agree on just one! The first was on a Manta Ray research trip to the Maldives. At a break in the action while monitoring Mantas on 5 x 1 hour shifts at North Male Atoll, we discovered an octopus positioned on a rock quietly observing us from the distance of a few feet. He welcomed us back every shift! The second was an encounter with a dolphin named “Spot" on Cayman Brac. Spot arrived on Cayman Brac after Hurricane Mitch, and he swam and played with divers on many of the Brac dive sites. Spot disappeared one day and everyone feared the worst. Two years later while diving in Cayman Brac we noticed a pod of dolphins near the boat. Spot edged up to the boat to show off his new family. He wouldn’t let us interact with him anymore, but he wanted everyone to know he was healthy and happy in his new life. It was an electric moment.
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!