There is growing concern that lionfish will affect the structure and function of invaded marine ecosystems. REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is a co-author on a recently published paper evaluating these effects. The study was published in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE. Lead author, Stephanie Green, from Simon Fraser University (SFU), along with Akins and other co-authors Aleks Maljković (SFU), and Isabelle Côté (SFU), documented a dramatic 65% decline in 42 species of reef fish eaten by lionfish over a two year period. The study, conducted off New Providence Island in the Bahamas, used data collected during REEF's volunteer lionfish projects to track the explosion of the lionfish population over time, and reveals that lionfish biomass increased from 23% to nearly 40% of the predator biomass on the study sites between 2008 and 2010. This study represents the first documented direct impact of lionfish predation on native reef fishes and highlights the importance of control programs to minimize impacts. You can find a link to this and all published papers that have included REEF data on our Publications page.
New research using powerful genetic techniques and the REEF survey data have revealed two new species of hamlet in the Caribbean. The findings were recently published by scientist Ben Victor in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation. As our Caribbean surveyors know, hamlets are a group of colorful small sea basses that can sometimes cause ID confusion because of their myriad of colors and patterns. The varied color patterns in these small predators are thought to be a result of mimicry of other colorful but more innocuous herbivore species. There has been ongoing debate about which are actual species and which are simply just color variants or morphotypes. Ben's research revealed significant genetic differences among what seemed to simply be variations of the well-known Barred Hamlet. Ben stated that "the REEF database supplied valuable survey data indispensable to understanding ranges and abundances and unmatched in its comprehensive coverage".
The two new species are the Florida Barred Hamlet, Hypoplectrus floridae, and the Contoy Hamlet, H. ecosur. The typical Barred Hamlet (H. puella) that is found throughout the Caribbean will be updated in the REEF database to be called the Caribbean Barred Hamlet. Florida Barred Hamlet have been found in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Florida, and overlaps in range with the Caribbean Barred Hamlet in those areas. To date, the Contoy Hamlet has only been documented on Isla Contoy near the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula and maybe Isla Mujeres. Florida Barred Hamlet are distinguished by a pair of symmetrical dark spots at the base of the caudal fin along with a break in the mid-body narrow bar. The Contoy Hamlet is distinguished by the same paid of dark spots at the base of the tail as well as a series of additional dark spots along the upper caudal peduncle and below the dorsal fin. A PDF of Ben's paper can be found online here, and it includes many pictures of the new species. Video of the Contoy Hamlet has been posted on Youtube.
REEF surveyors in the regions of the new species are encouraged to learn the differences and being reporting them as distinct species using the Unlisted Species section of the online data form. To see a list of a all scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects, visit our Publications Page.
In the summer of 1993, a group of pioneering volunteers conducted the first REEF fish surveys. Twenty years later, the Volunteer Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. You are invited to join us this summer to celebrate 20 years of success. REEF Fest will take place August 8-11 in Key Largo, Florida, and will feature four days of diving, learning, and parties. Complete details, including the schedule, lodging options, diving and kayaking opportunities, and social gatherings can be found online at: www.REEF.org/REEFFest2013
All REEF Fest events are open to the public, but pre-registration is requested for social events and workshops. Register using this online form. Tickets are required for the Saturday Dinner Cruise celebration. Purchase dinner cruise tickets online here. A quick look at the schedule can be seen here. Questions? Please send us an email at REEFHQ@REEF.org or call us at 305-852-0030. We look forward to seeing you all in August!
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 Joe Gaydos, Ph.D., an avid REEF volunteer in Washington State and Director of the SeaDoc Society (a REEF Field Station). Joe has been a REEF member since 2003 and has conducted 120 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and Joe was instrumental in initiating the AAT San Juan Islands Annual REEF Monitoring Project that kicked off this summer (see story in this enews issue). Here's what Joe had to say about REEF:
How are you involved as a REEF member?
I conducted my first REEF survey in Washington State in 2003, and have been doing them ever since. In addition, the program I run, the SeaDoc Society, is a REEF Field Station. We’ve hosted numerous fish and invertebrate identification classes and multiple Great Annual Fish Count dives, but I’m most excited about our new monitoring program collaboration. We’ve partnered with REEF to have Advanced Assessment Team Divers come to the San Juan Islands for annual week-long survey trips. We expect that over the next 8-10 years these data will help us understand long-term sub-tidal changes in the ecosystem.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I live and dive in the Salish Sea, a 17,000 square kilometer inland sea shared by Washington and British Columbia. The data collected by REEF volunteers are valuable to the managers in the region who are working to recovery declining species like Northern Abalone and Rockfish. I love being able to collect data that is meaningful.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
As a scientist, I love that the REEF data are collected in a way that is scientifically rigorous. Volunteers are trained and their level reflects their training and experience. Also, it is great that the data are collected and stored in a way that they will always be available for evaluation – even decades from now. This is citizen-science at its finest.
Where is your favorite place to dive?
My favorite place to dive is about 2 miles from my house. It’s a high current area split by an island so you get the benefits of seeing all of the invertebrates that flourish in the current, but you can always dive on one side of the island or the other. The site is familiar, but strikingly beautiful and I always find something new. The water is cold here and people generally expect everything to be dull and they are amazed to see videos or stills of colorful invertebrates and fishes.
Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
Here, most everybody wants to see a Giant Pacific Octopus – 150 lbs, 2,240 suckers (unless it’s a male, then they only have 2,060) – what’s not to love. But me, I still want to see a Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. They’re only the size of a golf ball, but dang are they cute. When is Disney going to make a movie starring one of them?! Maybe this year.
REEF is excited to announce that we have added a new invertebrate and algae survey program to the Northeast region (Virginia - Newfoundland). Similar to our other temperate regions, REEF surveyors in this area can now record all fishes as well as a select group of 60 invertebrate and algae species. Species included in the program were selected in consultation with regional scientists and experts to serve as a representative sample of the biodiversity of the region. Consideration was given to species that are habitat indicators, are harvested, and those that are just fun to look at (like nudibranchs!). REEF Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, launched the new program at the Boston Sea Rovers meeting last month. As part of the new program, we have created a new underwater survey paper that includes the invertebrates and algae, as well as a waterproof color ID card. New training curricula are currently being developed for Northeast Fishes and Northeast Invertebrates and Algae. All of the new materials can be found on the REEF online store. A big thanks to all who helped shaped this program, provided guidance, and donated images for the new materials.
If you are looking for a Dive Vacation that Counts for the
New Year, there is still room on many of our trips for 2008. For a
condensed view of our upcoming Field Survey season, see below or visit
our Field Survey page at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. A couple of quick notes, only one spot left on Turks and Caicos trip so hurry! If interested, please call Travel For You, Inc. at 1-888-363-3345 for the Turks trip only.
If the cold weather is getting you down? There's no better place to be
at the end of January than the Cayman Islands. Join REEF Grouper Moon
researchers on an exciting expedition to Little Cayman
January 22-29. The all-inclusive package includes 5 days of diving in
Little Cayman, lodging and meals at the exclusive Southern Cross Club,
and daily lectures on a broad range of subjects including reef fish
identification and the Nassau grouper aggregation research that REEF
has been invovled with. This project coincides with the annual mass
aggregation of this endangered fish species on the west end of the
island. To find out more, view the project flyer http://www.reef.org/fieldsurvey or contact the Southern Cross Club office at 1-800-899-2582.
Also REEF's St. Vincent cryptic survey is selling out
quickly. This trip has two optional back-to-back weeks of surveying,
the first week (July 26-Aug2) will be led by world-renowned
photgrapher, Paul Humann and REEF co-founder. The second week (Aug 2-9,
2008) will be led by Ned Deloach, award-winning marine life author and
his wife Anna Deloach. Contact Dive St. Vincent at 784-457-4928 or firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to register for either week or both!
For an all-inclusive REEF trip on the beautiful Mexican Riviera, check out our Field Survey to Akumal at Bahia Principe Resort
(below) from May 17-24, 2008. I will be leading this trip and there
will be a lot of conservation education to go along with our fish
surveys for this trip. This is a best-value trip, especially
considering the 5-star resort, at $802pp/double occ. for diving,
accomodations, food, and drinks.
2008 Field Survey Schedule
REEF Grouper Moon Field Survey Expedition - Little Cayman Island, January 20-27, 2008, led by Dr. Christy Semmens (spaces available)
Turks & Caicos aboard Aggressor II - Turks and Caicos Islands, April 19-26, 2008, led by Joe Cavanaugh (1 space available)
Bahia Principe Resort, Akumal, Mexico - May 17-24, 2008, led by
Joe Cavanaugh (spaces available). REEF is working with ReefAid and
Reefcheck to ensure protection of the reefs along this part of the
MesoAmerican Barrier Reef. This trip provides a great opportunity to
witness how private sector cooperation with non-profits can enable
successful marine conservation and you will have the opportunity to
participate directly by collecting valuable fish community data for
Paul Humann's Key Largo Reef Discovery Tour, Key Largo, Florida,
June 21-28, 2008 (spaces available). Hands down a perennial
favorite for first-time surveyors and experts alike.
St. Vincent Island (Grenadines) Cryptic Species Tour, led by Ned and Anna Deloach and Paul Humann, July 26-Aug 2 (1st week), Aug 2-9 (2nd week) (selling out quickly)
Sea of Cortez aboard the Don Jose', Oct 5-12, 2008, led by Dr. Brice Semmens (spaces available)
Cozumel, Mexico with Aqua Safari Divers, Dec 6-13, 2008, led by long-time REEF Volunteer, Sheryl Shea (space available)
Dollars to Help Develop Rapid Response Plan
In April of this year, REEF received notice our proposal to develop a Marine Exotic Species Action Plan was partially funded through the Mote Marine Protect Our Reefs Fund, which is funded through the Florida coral reef license plate. The project funding will go towards a SE Florida workshop with key federal, state and local agencies to develop a coordinated response plan for dealing with non-native marine fish. To date there have been more than 20 species of non-native fishes documented in a four-county area in Southeast Florida. Of these, the indo-pacific lionfish has become established in the US and Bahamas and is rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean. To help address this issue and prevent other non-native fish invasions, coordinated early detection and notification, and rapid response plans are needed.
REEF will be working in partnership with the USGS and NOAA to lead the early summer workshop focusing on drafting these coordinated action plans. Funding for outreach and to establish and train response teams later this summer is still being sought as part of this effort.
Stay tuned for an update on the workshop and for future plans for development of local response teams. Be sure to report any sightings of non-native marine organisms to the REEF exotic species website at www.reef.org/programs/exotic
The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter, ran aground in 1984 on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. Eighteen years after the grounding, the area resembled nearby hard ground habitat with little structure and the benthic community was dominated by gorgonians. Natural recovery to a state similar to the pre-grounding condition failed to occur within a reasonable time frame and therefore, habitat restoration was initiated in May 2002. In the Fall of 2007, REEF completed a five-year monitoring project on the fish assemblages at the Wellwood grounding site and two nearby reference areas. A Summary Report, which summarizes the results of the monitoring effort, has been completed and is available for download from the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage.
Baseline surveys were conducted just prior to and immediately following restoration, quarterly monitoring took place through Year 1 and semi-annual monitoring in Years 2 through 5. The primary goals of this project were to aid in the assessment of restoration efforts and provide a benchmark for long-term evaluation of the fish communities at the grounding site. Teams of REEF Advanced Assessment Team divers conducted 558 roving fish surveys and 559 belt transect surveys during the five year monitoring project.
After initial colonization, Restoration site fish assemblage diversity, density and biomass have leveled off and remain lower than that at nearby reference areas. A total of 165 fish species were recorded at the Restoration Site during the 5-year project. In comparison, 189 were documented at the North Reference site and 207 were documented at the South Reference Site. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding quickest to the restoration efforts, with densities and biomass values similar to that of the reference sites. Grunt and snapper species are primarily absent from the Restoration Site. The relatively short duration of this study makes it difficult for results to be teased out from natural population variability. Similarly, definitive conclusions cannot be achieved from these data due to the limited amount of time that has passed since restoration and the well-known decadal processes that are required for coral reef development. However, these data will serve as a critical baseline for assessing future changes and the effect of any future restoration efforts at the site.
For more information about the 5-year project and to read the full report, visit the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage. There was also a longer story about the project in the January 2008 REEF-in-Brief.
Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. The 2009 spawning season was the most ambitious to date for the project. For the first time, we had teams of researchers and volunteers stationed on each of the three Cayman Islands--Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. The field season was certainly a success; among many interesting results and accomplishments, our most exciting find was that the teams on all three islands witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on the same night (Valentine’s Day, of all days! – which happened to be 5 nights after the full moon).
In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. This followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.
The broad goals for the 2009 spawning season were to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman; aggregations on both of these islands were fished to exhaustion in the recent past. In addition to the island specific objectives, the Grouper Moon research program expanded satellite drifter work this season. These drifters, which track current patterns associated with the body of water the grouper eggs were spawned in, will continue to report positions for 45 days after spawning; this length of time is the approximate larval duration for Nassau grouper. REEF also continued education and outreach efforts through public talks about spawning aggregations and the Grouper Moon research. Talks were held at the Little Cayman National Trust and Dive Tech/Cobalt Coast Resort.
2009 Aggregation Season Results Summary
The Little Cayman team continued the long-term monitoring of this aggregation, which includes counting the number of fish that show up, estimating the size of the fish, and recording the timing and amount of spawning observed. The Cayman Brac team’s goal was to document whether or not aggregating Nassau grouper were spawning-- evidence of spawning would refute the theory that Nassau grouper fail to recover once overfished because fish on small aggregations no longer release gametes. In the 2008 spawning season, the Grouper Moon research team discovered the location of an aggregation of Nassau grouper on Cayman Brac. This year, armed with this information, REEF and CIDOE researchers spent the full 2009 spawning season observing, videoing and documenting the Cayman Brac spawning aggregation. In addition, the team was able to accomplish the primary goal of this season’s work on the island—team members both observed and videoed spawning. Objectives for the Grand Cayman team were similar, except that they first had the task of discovering where Nassau grouper on that island go (if anywhere) during the spawning season. Using the acoutic tag pinger signal of just ONE Nassau grouper (of 6 total individuals tagged on Grand Cayman in 2008), divers confirmed the presence of aggregating grouper near the historic East End aggregation site and a dusk dive on February 14th yielded this season’s biggest accomplishment– team members witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on Grand Cayman!
The findings stemming from this work are unquestionably novel, and are certainly good news —protections on aggregation sites that have been fished to exhaustion will protect those few individuals that remain, and will protect stocks of fishes that are contributing to the next generation of this endangered reef fish. Put simply, our research demonstrates that overfished aggregations are down, but not out.
Why Does This Matter?
Nassau grouper are not just icons of the Caribbean; they are a social and ecological cornerstone of the region’s coral reefs. Historically, Nassau grouper represented one of the region’s most economically important fisheries. Unfortunately, due to intense harvest on spawning aggregations, their populations have dwindled to a fraction of their historic numbers. The species became the first Caribbean reef fish to be listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the species is candidate listed under the US Endangered Species Act. The precipitous decline in mass spawning aggregations of Caribbean grouper species has been well documented. The majority of known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive due to the ease with which aggregating species are caught. And those that are still active contain significantly fewer fish than the 10s of thousands that historically gathered at these special places.
As part of our work on the Grouper Moon Project, REEF will continue to develop a comprehensive assessment of the status of the Cayman Island’s Nassau grouper spawning population as a guide for future Nassau grouper restoration and conservation policy.
Collaborators and Supporters Who Make This Project Possible
REEF would like to thank our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, specifically Phil Bush, Bradley Johnson, Croy McCoy, James Gibb, Tim Austin, Gina Ebanks-Pietre, Chris Dixon, Keith Neale, Delwin McLaughlin and Robert Walton, as well as Drs. Scott and Selina Heppell from Oregon State University. REEF Volunteers have always been at the core of our Grouper Moon field work and 2009 was no exception – heartfelt thanks to Judie Clee, Thor Dunmire, Tracey Griffin, Doug Harder, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell and Sheryl Shea. The Grouper Moon Project has continued through the years empowered by the first year’s success and the passion of early project leader Leslie Whaylen Clift. Assistance from OSU graduate students, Stephanie Kraft and Heather Reiff, is much appreciated. Principal financial support is from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the CIDOE. Additional funding is from Mr. Wayne Panton, Mr. Dan Scott, Clive and Stella Wood, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and hundreds of REEF members. Continued in-kind logistical support from island businesses and residents, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers, the Southern Cross Club and Peter Hillenbrand, is also much appreciated. And finally, our ground-breaking achievements on Cayman Brac would not have been possible without the generous support of Wayne Sullivan, who donated his vessel the Glen Ellen, his time (and patience), his equipment and technical diving expertise, and his crew, Brady Booton and Jules James.
For more information on the project, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.