The Faces of REEF: Nick Brilliande

A Whitetip Reef Shark - one of Nick's memorable finds on a recent survey. Photo by Jim Spears.

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 Nick Brilliande. He has been a REEF member since 2011. An active surveyor who lives on Oahu, Hawaii, Nick has conducted 50 surveys to date and is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Hawaii region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

The first time I heard about REEF was through a group called Reef Watch Waikiki. I attended some talks by REEF members Cassidy Lum and Jennifer Barrett describing what REEF does and how to survey fish. I answered a few questions and made some comments on fish, which impressed both Cassidy and Jen. Then came the time to try it out and I did. I had fun doing it, but it was also an excuse to look at fish, which I always find fascinating. After that, I became a member, went out to survey when I could, and slowly made my way up to an Expert Level 4/5 surveyor.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I am always curious as to how the environment changes over time and how those changes affects the species that live there. The ocean is always different every day in some way or another; you never have the same type of conditions or species.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

When doing a fish survey, having an extra pair of eyes does help, but you want to be patient. The fish initially view you as a threat, but wait a little and eventually they will get used to you enough to come out and be able to see them. Let the animals make the first moves.

When learning fish for the first time, do not jump around families. The only thing that will accomplish is a huge headache. Take one family, learn the different species of fish one at a time, then quiz yourself to see if you actually know one species from another. Rinse and repeat. As long as you are out and about, you will never forget a fish's face. As mentioned, patience is key. Let them come out on their terms and let them make the first moves. One thing that seems to work for me is keeping my hands and arms to my side while snorkeling or diving - fish seem to view this as less threatening than flailing arms back and forth or having arms wide out.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish you would really like to see?

There are a few finds I remember. One was in Pokai Bay on O'ahu. Here, I witnessed a female Whitley's Boxfish picking at a turtle with a large tumor beside his mouth. This fish was picking at the tumor, but I still have no idea as to the purpose of this. At this same location on the same day I found my first lobster molt, a Slipper Lobster molt. Another encounter I still remember is in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. There were three notable encounters on the same day: two Longnose Butterflyfish, one of which was in a rare dark coloration alongside the other, which was in it's typical yellow coloration, a partial albino Yellow Tang in very shallow water, and a very sleepy Whitetip Reef Shark, which I was able to get very close to without disturbing him.

As far as animals I would like to see, that list would be almost half a page long. A few notable ones would include a Whale Shark, a Dragon Moray Eel, a Hawaiian Monk Seal underwater (I've seen them numerous times on beaches or them swimming around viewed from a boat or shore), and a Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

Long-Spined Sea Urchin To Be Added to TWA Survey Protocol

Diadema antillarum, the Long-Spined Sea Urchin, will soon be part of the TWA REEF survey protocol. Photo by Paul Humann.

In response to requests from the scientific community, we are adding a new species to monitor on REEF surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) - Diadema antillarum, the Long-Spined Sea Urchin. In the early 1980s, a large die-off of Diadema occurred throughout the TWA. This has had a significant and long-lasting impact on coral reefs in the region because Diadema is (was) one of the primary grazers on Caribbean coral reefs (keeping rocks clear for baby corals to establish and keeping algae from overgrowing established corals). The disappearance of Diadema, coupled with overfishing of grazing fish species such as parrotfish and surgeonfish in some parts of the Caribbean along with other complicating factors, has resulted in many algae-dominated reefs. Despite 20+ years since the die-off, the once wide-spread and abundant species has failed to recover in most places in the Caribbean. There is a growing collective of researchers who are hoping to map the current distribution and abundance of Diadema. REEF will be assisting this effort by including Diadema in our TWA protocol. Surveyors will report whether they were actively looking for Diadema or not, and if they were, in what abundance category (S,F,M,A - same as for fish). We are currently working on the necessary training materials and additions to the database, and the new protocol will be in place soon.

Explorers Summer Camp

If you know a child with a sense of adventure and a passion for the ocean, check out REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp! The 5-day program in Key Largo, Florida, immerses campers into an ocean of learning and fun! REEF will introduce campers to the underwater world and all the amazing things found beneath the sea. Meet a sea turtle, swim alongside reef fishes, and explore the beautiful Florida Keys. We have 4 sessions planned this summer and registration is now open!

Each camp session includes:

  • Snorkel trips to the coral reef
  • Kayak ventures into winding mangrove trails
  • Cruise on the glass bottom boat
  • Marine science lessons, experiments, and crafts
  • Opportunity to connect with nature and make new friends

Join REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp to make a splash this summer. We welcome campers ages 8 - 14. Sibling discount available. A $275 camp tuition includes park entry fees, activity expenses, equipment rentals, and souvenir REEF gear including a T-shirt and water bottle! Camp hosted at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, FL June 20-24, July 18-22, and August 1-5. Camp hosted at Post Card Inn at Holiday Isle in Islamorada, FL July 11-15. For more information please visit www.REEF.org/Explorers/Camp or call (305) 852-0030.

Putting It To Work: REEF Staff Attends International Coral Science Conference

Christy and Brice posing with a shark at ICRS2016 to raise awareness about the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands

In June, REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, attended the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium meeting held in Hawaii. This conference, held every four years, brings together several thousand scientists, policy makers, and managers to discuss coral reefs and share latest research. During the week, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, presented an analysis of REEF survey data collected by volunteers in Bonaire Marine Park over the last 20 years. This valuable citizen science dataset includes over 22,000 surveys and 26,000 hours of underwater time. The findings reveal precipitous declines in large-bodied fishes such as grouper, but steady increases in mid-sized parrotfish. Hundreds of other talks were given, on a range of topics from the severe bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, to the impacts of harmful fishing practices such as dynamite and cyanide, to discovering bright spots in some coral reef areas. Also at the conference, Dr. Jack Randall was awarded the Darwin Medal for his lifetime of achievements. All us fish watchers owe Dr. Randall a lot! Jack has described 815 reef fish species in his lifetime. He is 91 years old and has published 878 papers and dozens of fish ID guides.

Rapid Response To Non-native Onespot Rabbitfish

Onespot Rabbitfish, native to Asia Pacific. Photo by Florent Charpin.
REEF's rapid response team after removing the non-native rabbitfish from Dania Beach.

In October 2016, REEF's Rapid Response Team removed a non-native Onespot Rabbitfish from Florida waters within 24 hours of its reporting. The rabbitfish is the 36th non-native marine fish documented in Florida waters through REEF’s Exotic Species Sightings Program, and its removal is the 5th successful rapid response effort led by REEF.

The Onespot Rabbitfish was seen by a REEF member while diving offshore of Dania Beach, Florida, who then reported it through REEF’s Non-native Sightings Program. Within 24 hours of receiving the sighting report, REEF and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) coordinated a successful live-capture of the fish. The fish was placed at the new Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami and will be displayed as part of an educational exhibit on the dangers of non-native species.

Like the lionfish, the rabbitfish is a venomous fish with a voracious appetite. Rabbitfish eat marine vegetation like seaweeds, algae, and seagrasses, and could impact native fish habitat. They are native to the Asian Pacific region. It is probable that, like the lionfish, the Onespot Rabbitfish was introduced to the South Florida reef via an aquarium release. Please spread the word about the dangers of introducing exotic fish to local waters. Other options include reaching out to a local fish or pet shop, asking other fish owners to adopt, looking for a local fish club, or donating the fish to school or office. If you are a diver in Florida, please keep your eyes open for this species. If you see one, please fill out an exotic species reporting form at www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report.

Over the last several years, USGS and REEF have coordinated the removal of the rabbitfish and four other non-native marine fish species from Florida waters. All four species were captured alive, and three of the four are currently on display at educational institutions. The rabbitfish will be on display at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida, when it opens its doors in early 2017.

Fishinars Coming Up - Galapagos, Roatan, and more!

The Galapagos Blue-banded Goby, is one of the many endemic species that will be discussed in the upcoming Fishinar. Photo by Paul Humann.

We have some fantastic Fishinars coming up in the next few months, and we’d like for you to join us. Fishinars, REEF's brand of online webinars, are live, fun, interactive, and educational. Never boring! They last one hour, and you can log on from your home computer or mobile device.

Our next Fishinar in May (Wednesday the 3rd) will focus on “Fish in the Land of Finches: Galapagos”, and will be taught by our Science Director Christy Semmens. After that, shift your focus to a favorite destination of divers, Roatan, when Scott and Patti Chandler teach the Fishes of Roatan on Thursday May 11th.

You can register and get more information on these and other great Fishinars scheduled for 2017 by going to: www.REEF.org/fishinars. ‘Sea’ you online!

It's Not Too Late to Get the Hammerhead Print

During our Winter Campaign, donors contributing $250 or more will receive this limited edition, signed print of a schooling Hammerhead Sharks taken by Paul Humann.

Now that we are well into the swing of this new year, it has never been a better time to contribute to a very important cause: conserving the oceans that connect us all. If you haven't already given this winter, please do so today! You can donate securely online at www.REEF.org/donate or call REEF at (305) 852-0030. And if you donate at least $250 before the end of February you will receive my limited-edition, signed print of Schooling Hammerheads taken in the Galapagos Islands. By supporting REEF, you are protecting biodiversity and making an investment in the health of our oceans.

Join a REEF Trip this August!

The island of South Water Caye, located in the Mesoamerican barrier reef system in Belize.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, is known for its beautiful landscapes.

If you haven't planned your summer vacation yet, it's not too late to join a REEF Field Survey Trip this August. We have spaces remaining on trips to Brazil and Belize this summer and hope you can join us!

Brazil Field Survey: Aug 4-13, 2018: Discovered in 1503, Brazil's Fernando de Noronha archipelago is known as a great destination for ecotourism and diving. The islands are located about 200 miles from the mainland and the entire area makes up a protected marine park. Ocean currents from East Africa flow past the islands, creating excellent dive conditions year round, making this a perfect destination for divers who enjoy warm, clear water. Unique underwater structures including rock formations and reefs attract many diverse species of fish and other marine life. Renowned marine life authors and REEF Board of Trustees members Ned and Anna DeLoach will share engaging presentations and photos. When not diving, attendees can enjoy the beautiful landscape of the island, including lush greenery and deserted beaches. Click here for more information on this trip.

Belize - Special Research Itinerary: Aug 18-25, 2018: South Water Caye Marine Reserve in southern Belize, is a unique mangrove/coral reef habitat and home to several endemic species including the Social Wrasse and the Maya Hamlet. The goal of this trip is to study the effects of stressors such as invasive lionfish 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 work with local partners to 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. Click here for more information on this trip.

Contact trips@REEF.org for more information or to register for a REEF Trip today!

The Great Annual Fish Count is in Full Swing!

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GAFC Event at Biscayne National Park 7/21/07

7/7/07 marked a successful GAFC Kickoff Party here at the REEF Headquarters, while across the country in Seattle, people gathered to celebrate the art, ecology, and culture of Puget Sound at the Puget Soundscape. Environmental groups were welcomed to this event to share each of their unique contributions to conservation. The renowned Foster/White Art Gallery of Seattle arranged an event in the afternoon dedicated to linking the gap between art and nature through “watchable wildlife.” Master Artist, Tony Angell spoke at the event along with our Director of Science, Christy Semmens, who shared information about the Great Annual Fish Count and REEF’s mission . The gallery generously agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from the event to REEF.

So far, over half of the registered events have already been completed, and we are eager to hear back of their success. We would like to extend great thanks to all of the coordinators, and best wishes to those coordinators whose events are coming up very soon. Events and their locations still to come include:

California: Discount Dive Trips for the entire month of July hosted by Paradise Dive Club, Santa Barbara, CA

US Northeast/New England: Fish Count Dives onJuly 28th conducted by the New England Aquarium Dive Club, Gloucester, MA;

Caribbean and Bahamas: Weekly multimedia fish ID classes held at CoCo View Resort, Roatan, Honduras through August 4th.

For all of you Great Annual Fish Fanatics who have participated in fish seminars across the country, thank you for your support and don’t forget that you can complete fish survey dives anytime!

REEF Launches Training and Surveys Initiative in the Pacific Northwest

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Ten active REEF surveyors in the Pacific Northwest recently conducted a day of surveys around the San Juan Islands. Participants included: Kaia Turner, Pete Naylor, Mark Dixon, Mike Racine, Georgia Arrow, Mary Jo Adams, Sarah Hillebrand, Janna Nichols.
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Pete Naylor, one of REEF's newest Pacific AAT members, shortly after taking his test. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Thanks to a grant from The Russell Family Foundation, we are in the middle of a year-long initiative to actively engage new REEF surveyors in the region and to provide incentive to our existing surveyors to stay active and move up through the ranks of the REEF Experience Level system.  We have teamed up with PNW REEF instructor, Janna Nichols, to coordinate a series of free training workshops throughout Washington and Oregon. These seminars will cover the Introductory REEF Fish Identification training, the REEF Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Identification training, and a NEW Advanced Fish Identification training program. Visit the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers Webpage to see a complete list of classes.  The project will also support a series of REEF survey day trips on area dive charters that will be open free of charge to current REEF surveyors who are actively conducting surveys and interested in advancing their REEF experience level. Ten active REEF surveyors recently participated in the first such opportunity - survey dives at two new REEF sites in the San Juan Islands, Washington earlier this month.  In addition to conducting REEF surveys. The great news is that everyone on the trip who was eligible to move up one experience level did so! A big congratulations goes to Pete Naylor and Mary Jo Adamas, REEF's newest Pacific Advanced Assessment Team Level 5 members, and the rest of the gang who successfully passed the Level 2 or Level 3 exam.

We greatly appreciate the funding support of The Russell Family Foundation. This project will enable REEF to actively engage divers in marine conservation through support and enhancement of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project in the Pacific Northwest. Traditionally, divers and snorkelers have not received much more than a cursory introduction to underwater ecology or marine life identification. Even after years of experience in the water, most divers are able to identify only a handful of the marine life they see during their dives. REEF introduces marine enthusiasts to the incredible diversity of fishes and other wildlife found in local waters as well as the identification resources and survey methods needed to document these species. Active REEF surveyors advance through five experience levels (Novice: 1-3 and Expert: 4-5), based on the number of surveys completed and passing scores on comprehensive identification exams. While 536 volunteers have conducted surveys in the Pacific Northwest as part of the REEF Fish Survey Project, there are currently only twenty-eight members rated as Expert surveyors.  However, expert level volunteers have conducted approximately one-third of all surveys submitted to date. It is clear that as volunteers improve their skills, they are more likely to stay actively involved in data collection.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub