Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Aqua Safari

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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

Our outstanding Field Station this month is Aqua Safari in Cozumel. Aqua Safari has supported REEF since 2001. At that time, long-time REEF member and Cozumel local, Sheryl Shea, took the lead in promoting the Fish Survey program through teaching fish ID to both Aqua Safari staff and customers. That year, Aqua Safari hosted the first Cozumel Field Survey trip, with REEF surveyors and marine park staff submitting over 200 surveys in just a week! Today, REEF's database holds data for over 400 species and over 6,000 surveys from Cozumel. Aqua Safari currently offers several fish ID courses to the general public: A "dry" introduction to Fish ID for snorkelers and divers; the REEF Level 2 course; and Advanced Fishes. There are plans to add a course geared to the interests of underwater photographers and an in-water snorkeling course with surveying. The Level 3 and advanced-level surveyor exams are offered annually during REEF Week. The shop stocks REEF books -- including a reference set for its customers' use after diving -- and survey materials. And they continue to host an annual REEF Field Survey trip each December (see www.REEF.org/trips). Aqua Safari warmly welcomes REEF members whom, the staff says, are generally excellent and aware divers who never fail to educate others on their boats. Aqua Safari has been in operation since 1966, pioneering sport diving in Cozumel and serving the island as an advocate for conservation of its marine environment. During the 1990's, owner Bill Horn worked toward the establishment of Cozumel's marine park and has maintained his vigilance regarding park policies and use. Thank you, Aqua Safari!

Putting It to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, March 2012

Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 International University is using REEF data from the Florida Keys to study changes in trophic interactions as a result of changes in top level predator communities in no-take reserves.

-REEF is working with staff from the Pew Environment Group and Southeast NOAA Fisheries to provide data that will facilitate the evaluation of Warsaw Grouper and Speckled Hind populations in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Release of Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management

REEF is excited to announce the release of Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management. Available as an e-book to view and/or download (formatted for desktop and mobile devices), this extensive manual was created to aid coastal managers and field workers in effectively managing the invasive lionfish problem. This best practices manual consists of chapters on control strategies, outreach and education plans, research, monitoring, legal considerations, and ideas for acquiring resources and vital partnerships from around the region. Invasive lionfish are a major ecological disaster causing wide-reaching negative impacts throughout the western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. By utilizing examples provided in this guide, researchers and managers throughout the region will be well equipped to address the lionfish invasion.

This work would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of NOAA, REEF, ICRI, the United Nations Environment Programme, Caribbean Environment Programme, SPAWRAC, and the 40+ participants of the 2010 Caribbean Regional Lionfish Workshop. This manual will be the first book in the new GCFI Special Publication Series. Authors include James Morris (NOAA), Dayne Buddo (University of the West Indies, Jamaica), Stephanie Green (Simon Frasier University), Ricardo Lozano (CONANP, Mexico), and Lad Akins (REEF).

2013 Summer Lionfish Derby Series Announced

REEF Board Member, Peter Hughes, with a haul of lionfish at a Derby.

We are excited to announce the 2013 Summer Lionfish Derby Series! Five years ago, REEF began hosting lionfish derbies throughout Florida and the Caribbean to address the lionfish invasion. A lionfish derby is a single day team competition to collect as many lionfish as possible. Teams collect lionfish using nets or spears while SCUBA diving or free diving, and prizes are awarded to the teams with the most lionfish, biggest lionfish, and smallest lionfish caught. Not only do these events reduce lionfish populations, but they also increase education and awareness, provide samples for research, train divers in safe removal techniques, and help develop the market for lionfish as a food fish. To register or learn more, please visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies. 2013 Derby dates and locations are: June 22 - Green Turtle Cay Bahamas; July 27 - Fort Lauderdale, FL; August 17 - Palm Beach, FL; September 14 - Key Largo, FL.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, December 2013

REEF Data from Hawaii are being used to evaluate ecosystem services models for coral reefs. Photo by David Andrew.

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:

-Fisheries scientist are using data on Hogfish from Florida, Puerto Rico, and the USVI to evaluate population status and help set effective catch limits as part of the US Fisheries Management Council's stock assessment.

- A scientist from RSMAS at the University of Miami is evaluating the status of Caribbean predatory fish species, including Gray Snapper, Barracuda, and Goliath Grouper.

- An environmental researcher at University of Miami is assessing biodiversity indexes as a measure of effectiveness with ongoing septic tank replacement and canal improvement projects in the Florida Keys.

- A PhD student from University of Hawaii is using data from Maui Nui to conduct coral reef ecosystem services models.

- A researcher from University of Victoria is using data from Washington and British Columbia to evaluate community richness values for temperate rocky reefs.

The Call of the Deep Blue on a Landlocked Intern

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Joe Cavanaugh with our wonderful new intern Lauren.

As we continue to showcase our valuable interns, I mentioned in last months newsletter that we would introduce our remaining fall intern. With that thought in mind please join REEF in welcoming Lauren Finan.  Lauren is a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, pursuing her studies in Environmental Policy which is why she was such a good candidate for our program.  She has a strong passion for the quality of our reefs and the ocean and diligently championed for our last remaining fall intern slot.  An avid diver since age 14, she became interested in the quality of our delicate ecosystem, however, due to her locale in Boulder, she was totally landlocked and did not have the ability to get out and dive, and she will be doing plenty of that now, along with working her way through the various levels of our Fish Identification Course.  Lauren role here at REEF will be the coordination of our presence at DEMA this year, as well as maintaining our membership data updates and working on the improvement of our educational/outreach program.  We're fortunate that both our fall interns will be with us until December.

REEF Welcomes New Office Manager

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Bonnie Greenberg recently joined REEF as the office manager. She brings with her more than 20 years of experience in non-profit management and entrepreneurship: including work with Marathon Community Theatre, Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys , director of marketing with a family business in Pennsylvania and a few years working as a journalist for local media. She likes to snorkel, sail, spend time with friends, read great books now and then, and create a good meal. Having said for years she was writing her own version of the Great American Novel - Bonnie spent the past two years as the front desk associate with a small Florida Keys Resort while she toiled at her story. She’s about half-way there. She holds a BFA from Emerson College. Bonnie resides in Key Largo, FL with her long-term boyfriend and 3 cats. Next time you find yourself in Key Largo, please swing by REEF HQ to meet Bonnie and the other REEF staff.

Believe It Or Not -- REEF Volunteers Grow a Coral Reef

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REEF volunteers measure their staghorn coral transplants.
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Ken Nedimyer clip a coral fragment from a "mother" colony for use as a transplant.
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A staghorn coral "garden" created with transplant fragments off Key Largo, FL. REEF volunteers helped create several of the coral modules last month.
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Ken, wife Denise and daughter Julia pose behind one of their remarkable coral creations.

During the last week of April, divers from around the country gathered at Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida for a REEF Fish Behavior Tour hosted by Ned and Anna DeLoach. After making two morning dives each day, the group spent their late afternoons and early evenings attending entertaining talks about the myriad fish they encountered on the reef. Lad Akins, REEF’s Special Projects Director, dropped by to explain the science behind the recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish in the western Atlantic. But the highlight of the week was the rare opportunity for everyone to create their own coral garden.

Yes, you read it right: After being giving instructions by coral scientist Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation, participants headed out the following morning to Ken’s coral nursery located in Hawke Channel where they transplanted cuttings of staghorn coral from a mother colony onto a set of nursery blocks.

After watching 90 percent of the Keys’ staghorn coral die off from a variety of reasons over the past decades, Ken, an aquaculturist by trade, decided to do something about the disheartening problem. In the late 1990’s, he began nurturing small buds of rapidly growing staghorn that by chance settled on his underwater “live rock” farm. Following several years of trial and error, Ken pioneered the first successful method for cultivating and transplanting large quantities of coral. His current success rate hovers at an incredible 90 percent.

After the REEF divers carefully epoxyed their branches on numerically coded pedestals and recorded measurement data, the group headed off to a site on Molasses Reef where, in 1984 the M/V Wellwood, an ocean-going freighter, ran aground destroying 644 square meters of coral reef framework. Federal agencies began extensive restoration of the site in 2002 including emplacement of numerous high-profile limestone modules (click here to read about REEF's post-restoration monitoring of the fish populations on these modules). Unfortunately, to date, the new structures have had limited success recruiting new coral growth. However, the area has one extraordinary success story and the focus of our second dive: Ken’s rapidly growing staghorn coral garden – the two-year result of transplanting nursery grown corals to the grounding site.

Dates for next year’s 2nd Annual Key Largo REEF Fish Behavior Tour at Amoray are scheduled for May 29 to June 5, 2009. The popular fish behavior talks cover Reproductive Strategies, What Fish Eat, Cleaning Stations, Discovering the Night Reef, and Fish Life Cycles. Participants will once again establish their own coral colonies and transplant this year’s nursery crop onto the reef.

Life List Mania – St. Vincent Style

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Some of the lucky participants during the two weeks of Field Surveys in St. Vincent.
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Striated frogfish - one of the many amazing fish seen during the Field Survey in St. Vincent. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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It wasn't just about the fish. Many spectacular invertebrates, such as this longarm octopus, were seen too. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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A find for any fishwatcher, the St. Vincent folks found six! Black Brotula on one dive.

As any veteran fish surveyor is well aware, dive travel is the spice of fishwatching. No matter how many dives you’ve made, or how many species you’ve recorded a visit to a new destination will send you scurrying for your ID books. That was certainly the case during back-to-back REEF Field Surveys held in St. Vincent during early August. During the two weeks, 40 sets of eyes ferreted out 261 different fish species, many rare, many first-time sightings, and a few that still have the trip leaders Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach scratching their heads.

Tucked away in the distant reaches of the southeastern Caribbean, the towering volcanic island is not only home to a hearty population of Caribbean fishes, but also harbors a scattering of novel species that ride the currents north from Brazil. Add to this, pumice sand and freshwater runoff (a combination that tends to attract exotic creatures), a variety of underwater habitats ranging from bold boulder and coral seascapes, to thick sea grass meadows, and protected bays bottomed with fine sediment and scattered algae patches, fondly known as muck. Oh yeah, add one more dynamic to the amazing mix, the group’s host Bill Tewes, owner of Dive St. Vincent, and his eagle-eyed dive guides. In dive parlance, Bill is a critter hunter extraordinaire. After exploring the island’s undersea riches for 25 years, his infectious enthusiasm for the hunt won’t allow him to miss a dive, and the man certainly loves to show off his animals.

So what were some of the highlights of the week? For starters: a single dive to a clearwater site, known as the Pinnacle, revealed not one, not two, but six cryptic Black Brotula. A plunge to 110 feet on the Wall, uncovered Yellowcheek Basslet, Three-lined Basslet and Cave Bass hiding under a ledge. On their way up the surveyors spotted a Golden Hamlet, Bridled Burrfish, and during their safety stop a flashy red fin of a perky little Red Banner Blenny caught their eyes.

But as good as the reefs and wall are the majority of the team’s treasures were discovered in the muck – the seldom-dived otherworldly realm where Bill’s fishwatching prowess shines. Let’s begin in the shallows where the team found, along with a long list of more common species, clingfishes, Longsnout and Lined Seahorses, a Striated Frogfish, Shortnose Batfish, an assortment of pipefish, seldom-seen pipehorses, and about every species of snake eel you’ve ever heard of, and some you haven’t. As the seemingly barren bottom angled down Jackknifefish, Spotfin Goby, Dwarf Sand Perch and tiny Blackear Bass appeared. If you continued to 90 feet an uncommon sighting of a juvenile Snowy Bass could be made.

One would be remiss without mentioning a few spectacular St. Vincent invertebrates including, the Atlantic Longarm Octopus, the rare Brownstripe Octopus, skeleton shrimp, and a spectacular Red Banded Lobster.

Did we mention Blackfin Cardinalfish, Whitemouth Croaker, Snakefish, Cornetfish, Cardinal Soilderfish, Flying Gurnard, and pikeblennies? Whew, have to stop somewhere, this is REEF-in-Brief you know. You’ll just have to contact one of the lucky participants for more details.  

A gallery of all images linked from this article can be found here.

Lionfish Letters from the Field -- Government, Divers Move Into Action Mode on Lionfish issue

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Following REEF training, DECR Jodi Johnson works with dive operator Smitty Smith in Grand Turk to bag a lionfish.
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The DECR collection team during a lionfish round-up dive in the Turks and Caicos.

With the rapid expansion of lionfish into the Caribbean, downstream and recently invaded countries are starting to gear up for early detection and rapid response efforts. REEF is leading the way with in-country workshops focused on increasing awareness and training both fisheries and dive operators in collecting and handling techniques. The week of January 25th-31st was spent working with the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Starting in Grand Turk, we hit the ground running and less than an hour after landing, DECR officer Jodi Johnson and I had covered collecting and handling techniques and had our first 2 lionfish in the bag. Things did not slow down. Two days in Grand Turk followed by two days in Provo and a day in South Caicos resulted in 7 seminars to well over 150 people, 6 collecting training dives, over 40 lionfish collected and an evening lionfish tasting at Smokey’s on the Beach in Provo. Media coverage of the effort was also prominent with local TCI Channel 4 running a feature segment on the issue. The workshop was a huge success with both dive operators and government officials now moving forward in combined efforts to control and minimize impacts of lionfish.

In separate upcoming events, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Cozumel and Belize are also bringing REEF in to conduct lionfish workshops this spring and early summer. The goals of these programs are to build capacity for local communities and governments to be able to enact early detection and rapid response measures and increase public awareness of the issue.

For more information on in-country workshops, contact Lad Akins. Lad@reef.org (305) 852-0030. Report sightings of invasive lionfish through REEF's online sightings form.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub