Grouper Moon 2013 - Protecting a Caribbean Icon

A lone Nassau Grouper in front of 4,000 others at the spawning aggregation site on Little Cayman. Photo by Josh Stewart.
Cayman Prep student showing off her Nassau Grouper drawing, one of several activities through the Grouper Education Program.
Christy and Brice doing a live-video feed from the spawning aggregation to classrooms. Students ask Brice questions in real time and get to virtually dive on the site! Photo by Josh Stewart.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for the species in the Cayman Islands. 2013 was a very exiting year - we continued to document increases in the number of fish at the site and there were many "teenagers" (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time). The number of spawning bursts and the number of nights spawning occured has increased. Watch this short video to see the action. We continued our education efforts. With support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we were able to expand the program to more classrooms at Cayman Prep and High School on Grand Cayman and initiated the program at Spot Bay Primary School on Cayman Brac. The Grouper Education Project introduces children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau Grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum has been developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. Seattle-based educator, Todd Bohannon, leads up this effort.

To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, watch the Changing Seas episode online here.

To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2013, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Pegasus Thrusters supported the project in 2013 through the donation of Diver Propulsion Vehicles. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Upcoming Fishinars - Cryptic Fish, Parrotfish, Drums, Rare Cozumel Finds, and Scientific Illustration!

Keep Pointing! Do you see the fish? Photo by Gayle Van Leer.

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

Perplexing Parrotfish of the Caribbean - September 10

Keep Pointing! The Top 12 Caribbean Fish You Might Mistake For a Rock - September 26

Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel - October 17

Feel the Beat! The Top 12 Drums & Croakers of the Caribbean - October 29

You do WHAT for a living? Illustrating Fishes - with special guest Val Kells, Scientific Illustrator - November 13

Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.

Thank You For Your Support

To all our members who donated to the Winter Fundraising Campaign, thank you! REEF depends heavily on individual donors to support our critical marine conservation programs. Together we raised over $97,000 to ensure REEF can continue:

• Expanding and building upon our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, including the recent addition of invertebrate and algae monitoring in our Northeast region. With this new program, all temperate REEF regions now have an invertebrate/algae component. For more information, click here.

• Protecting and monitoring Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands as well as educating the public about the importance of this iconic species. Our team just came back from another successful trip documenting their annual spawning aggregation. For more information, click here.

• Organizing research, training, and removal tactics to battle the lionfish invasion on the East Coast and in the Caribbean. REEF’s recent research shows that strategic local efforts can control lionfish populations and help native fish communities recover. For more information, click here.

In addition to supporting these programs, donations raised by the Winter Fundraising campaign help REEF with the minimal costs required to manage operations. We ensure that every dollar spent is maximized so our projects make a difference for marine conservation around the world.

REEF Surveyors Find Rare Fish on Belize Field Survey

The rarely seen Glover's Reef Toadfish. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

REEF’s recent Field Survey Trip to Belize was wonderful in many ways, but two events were of particular scientific interest. First, everybody’s favorite, the Sharpnose Pufferfish were spawning so there were literally hundreds seen on every single dive. More importantly, trip leader Jonathan Lavan got a photo of the rarely seen Glover’s Reef Toadfish (Vladichthys gloverensis) down in a sponge. It was thought to only live on Glover’s Reef, Belize, but this animal was photographed on an adjacent reef in Turneffe Atoll so perhaps a common name change is in order. Additionally, Jonathan's photograph is thought to be the only existing shot of the fish in its natural habitat. Great find, Jonathan!

Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) Wrap-Up for July

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Upper Keys AAT - Mike Smith, Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Brenda Hitt
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Middle Keys AAT - Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Paige Switzer, Wayne Manning, Brenda Hitt, and Ann Outlaw
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Joe Cavanaugh, Brian Hufford, Dave Grenda, Erin Whitaker, Mike Phelan, and Brenda Hitt

REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project.  Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program - http://www.reef.org/member/aat.htm.  Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff.  To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here - http://www.reef.org/member/experience.htm.

Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments.  The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework.  In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.

The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002.  Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef.  Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented.  The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites.  Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.

I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks.  In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight!  Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.

Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled).  Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year.  Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA.  It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854.  We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event.  You will hear more about this project in the coming months.

Hope to see you in the water soon.

Best "fishes,"

Joe

DEMA 2007: New Partnerships Help REEF, Help Dive Industry

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Fall Intern, Lauren Finan giving a certificate of appreciation to one of our volunteers James Brooke
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Two of the raffle winners Cindy Whitaker and Catherine Whitaker with the photographer, Tom Isgar
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DEMA 2007 Booth with Leda Cunningham, Executive Director and REEF volunteer Mike Phelan

On October 31, while many of you donned witch's hats and goofy masks, the REEF team suited up in Diving That Counts! t-shirts and made the annual pilgrimage to DEMA Show 2007, the largest dive industry trade show. DEMA was again held in Orlando, Florida, allowing local volunteers Mike Phelan, Tom Isgar, Dave Grenda, Lillian Kenney, and Nancy Eickelmann to generously donate their time in helping at the REEF booth. Fall interns Catherine Whitaker and Lauren Finan were rock stars as REEF ambassadors at the show by promoting the Volunteer Survey Project among attendees, helping recruit new Field Stations and selling REEF merchandise. Many thanks to Tom Isgar for donating four marine life prints to a daily raffle at the REEF booth.

One notable difference at DEMA this year was the undercurrent of environmental awareness among both exhibitors and attendees. REEF Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, co-led a workshop on using eco-activities (like the REEF Volunteer Survey Project) to increase diver acquisition with Project AWARE Director Jenny Miller-Garmendia. More than 12 organizations - non-profit, government, small business - have formed an alliance to serve as a resource for eco-activities and environmental education to the dive industry. We were honored to meet with White House representative, Gerhard Kuska, DEMA President, Tom Ingram and others with an interest in seeing this "Blue Diver Alliance" grow into active partnerships with the dive industry.

From the dive industry's perspective, the environment sells. Recent market research shows that the target dive consumer is the baby-boomer, for whom the environment is an important factor in their consumption decisions, including whether and where to go diving. Many exhibitor-sponsored seminars focused on practical strategies for marketing to the eco-conscious customer; one even demonstrated ways that a dive shop might "green" itself by, for example, using bio-diesel in its boats or installing energy efficient appliances. REEF continues to work with dive industry members in promoting the Volunteer Survey Project as a way to recruit and retain divers while helping collect important underwater information to help preserve the marine life that divers want to see. REEF survey materials like Starter Kits and the new home study DVD course (read the press release here) and the Field Station program (visit www.REEF.org for more info) are tools REEF uses to provide incentives to dive shops and other industry members to get involved with REEF.

REEF is excited to be working closely with the dive industry as DEMA launches its new "Be A Diver" campaign (January, 2008). We look forward to welcoming a new wave of environmentally engaged divers and training them to better understand and preserve marine life.

REEF Attends 54th Boston Sea Rovers Clinic

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54th Annual Underwater Clinic of Boston Sea Rovers
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Boston Scene near Fairmont Hotel
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Increasing awareness of REEF in the Northeast
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Joe Cavanaugh and Holly Martel Bourbon
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Foureye Butterflyfish seen with Cunner in Woods Hole. Photo: Alison Johnson

REEF had the opportunity to attend the 54th Annual Underwater Clinic of Boston Sea Rovers, March 8-9th in Boston, MA. The Boston Sea Rovers has sponsored the “Longest Continuously Running Dive Show in the World.” Each annual clinic attracts as speakers, educators, explorers, scientists, divers and underwater photographers. The purpose of the lectures is to help Sea Rovers achieve the club mission “to educate the general public about the underwater world.” Since 1954, Sea Rovers has held an annual clinic in Boston for the purpose of raising the level of knowledge of the underwater world. Early members of the club invented the first underwater film show or clinic as it was known then and is still called such today. In addition to over 40 speakers this year and many booths at the show, there was the Saturday evening film event which is a must-see showcase of underwater photos and videos from renowned leaders in the field.

Past speakers at the annual clinic include myriad famous names such as Jacques Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, Robert Ballard, George Bond, Peter Gimbel, Stan Waterman, Brian Skerry, Bob Talbot, David Doubilet, and many others.  Really, the Sea Rovers history mirrors that of SCUBA diving and the presenters have always been those same individuals who have been pioneers and innovators in diving, underwater science, marine conservation, underwater archaeology and discovery, and photography/videography.  I think if I were to describe the Sea Rovers in one sentence, it would be this: If every dive site in the world had 10' viz, 30 degree water temps, 1 fish and one moonsnail to see, it took the entire dive to find said fish and moonsnail, and you had to wear 40lbs in dive weight, there would still be an avid group of SCUBA enthusiasts in the Boston Sea Rovers! The annual event is really the last major dive show in America run solely by volunteers and proceeds from the event are used for scholarships, internships, in support of other non-profit organizations such as SeaMark and the Cotting School for Handicapped Children, and to continue to promote the goals of Sea Rovers.To learn more about the Sea Rovers, please visit http://www.bostonsearovers.com/BSRpublic/library

I also spoke at the New England Aquarium as part of their Lowell Lecture Series and to the Aquarium Dive Club while visiting Boston.  The general motivation behind sending this native New Englander back home was to foster new and old liaisons in capacity building in the region.  Most people who attended my talks did not know that REEF conducts surveys or has a presence in New England.  Part of our goal in participating in the Clinic was to promote REEF programs such as the Great Annual Fish Count; increase our number of regional Field Stations; develop partnerships for utilizing the data that we hope to begin collecting in earnest in the coming year; create a regional list serve for interested individuals to connect on REEF programs; and develop a strategic plan for the region.  For our part, REEF is committed to creating a separate New England online data entry interface for our website in the coming month, revamping the NE fish ID curriculum, and hopefully adding invertebrates to this curriculum, developing a NE Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) program, then utilizing this AAT team for regional monitoring and ad hoc conservation efforts. Encouraging regional dive clubs to conduct surveys while on their winter trips in the Caribbean offers another way for NE members to get involved.  Stay tuned for more news from our NE partnerships and look to see the New England online data entry up and running very soon. Ultimately, nurturing REEF's survey efforts in New England will benefit many stakeholders just as these survey data currently inform marine management decisions in our other survey regions.

There are a few people I would like to thank here for making this trip possible:  Vickie Cataldo (NEAQ Lowell Lecture Coordinator) for her generous travel support to REEF;  Dan Laughlin and Sarah Taylor at NEAQ; David Caldwell (Exhibitor/Coordinator of Sea Rovers); David Morton (President Sea Rovers); Bob Michelson for ongoing support of REEF; Terri Rioux (WHOI DSO); Al Bozza (NEAQ Dive Club); and especially Holly Bourbon Martel for arranging my Sea Rovers talk, co-presenting with me, and for taking on the role of Volunteer NE Regional Coordinator for REEF.  Also, thanks to The New England Aquarium in Boston and the Coastal Dive Center in Hingham, MA our regional REEF Field Stations. Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester and Divers Market in Plymouth also have recently assisted REEF.

REEF Leads Non-Native Fish Workshop

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Over 20 management agencies and organizations attended the non-native fish workshop hosted by REEF last month.
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Indo-Pacific Lionfish are now omni-present throughout the Bahamas but have yet to be found south of Miami. A coordinated response plan to deal with any south Florida sightings was developed during the workshop.

As part of REEF's continuing work on non-native species, particulary the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish, a multi-agency technical workshop was hosted by REEF, NOAA and the USGS to develop early detection and rapid response plans for Southeast Florida.  Over 20 different state, federal and organizational offices were represented at the 2-day workshop, which was held June 18th and 19th in Marathon, Florida.  Breakout seesions addressing early warning and notification, jursidictions and permitting, and rapid response led to a coordinated response plan outlining detection and response efforts from intitial sighting through removal and final reporting.  

The workshop featured presentations by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Scott Hardin, REEF's Lad Akins, the USGS's Pam Fuller and NOAA's James Morris.  In addition, REEF partners from Bermuda (Chris Flook), the Bahamas (Nicola Smith), Canada (Stephanie Green) and the National Aquarium in Washington DC (Andrew Pulver) provided critical examples of their work addressing the lionfish invasion.

While lionfish are yet to be confirmed in the Southeast Florida region south of Miami, it is believed their arrival is eminent.  Plans developed as part of this workshop will be critical in helping minimize impacts of this invasive species as well as helping to prevent the establishment of other non-ative fish and invertebrates in Southeast waters.  The program, once groundtruthed, will provide an Early Detection/Rapid Response model for other areas of the US and Caribbean.  Funding for the workshop was provided by REEF, the Mote Protect Our Reefs fund, NOAA's Aquatic Invasive Species Program, the USGS, NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System, and the Gulf and Atlantic States Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species.

Special thanks is due to USGS's Pam Schofield and NOAA's Tom Culliton for their work in organizing and conducting the workshop.

To report sightings of any non-native species, go to www.reef.org/programs/exotic or call (305) 852-0030.

3 Paths that Merged As One

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The James E. Lockwood REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida.
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Members of REEF's Board of Trustees and representatives of Mr. Lockwood's estate cut the ceremonial ribbon.

On April 25, 2009 we celebrated history in Key Largo. It was a beautiful tropical day with the REEF parking lot covered in tents, tables and chairs, fish balloons with cold drinks and appetizers island music being offered up. People came from near and far as we all helped celebrate the dedication of the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters. The afternoon celebrated the merging of three paths - that of a dive industry pioneer, a historic building in the Florida Keys and a grass-roots environmental organization. The gift by James E. Lockwood will go a long way in helping REEF protect, educate and enable divers, snorkelers and armchair enthusiasts to make the world a better place.

Casey Wilder, REEF Program Assistant, designed a beautiful program that outlined how we all ended up in the parking lot on this day. Make sure you check out the online version of this little piece of history. The program provides an overview of the history of James E. Lockwood, a true diving pioneer, the 1913 Conch House that houses REEF and the history of REEF and how all three ended up moving forward together as of 4/25/09.

Special guests Mike Dorn and John Campbell provided the history of Mr. Lockwood, which is incredibly fascinating and diverse. Paul Humann and Ned De Loach spoke on behalf of REEF and talked about how REEF is Key Largo’s very own home grown environmental 501(c)(3), making it very relevant that REEF’s office are housed in the oldest building in Key Largo. Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, we unveiled the beautiful new plaque commemorating the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters and the date the house was built. The Conch house even received a spiffy new coat of paint so she was dressed for the occasion. Special thanks to Bill Corbett of Keys Home Improvement for doing such a superb job in record time!

The next time you are in the Keys be sure to stop by the James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters, MM 98.3 in the median and enjoy a little history, mingle with REEF staff and shop for the fish.

REEF 2009 Volunteer of the Year

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David Jennings is REEF's 2009 Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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David conducting a survey along the Olympic Coast. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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Never without his slate! Photo by Janna Nichols.

REEF proudly awards our 2009 Volunteer of the Year award to David Jennings, a dedicated REEF surveyor and ambassador. David has been a member of REEF since 2006. He has conducted 154 REEF surveys and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT).

David is a textbook example of the phrase “Learn it, Love it, Protect it”. After participating on REEF’s annual AAT survey project of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in 2008, David became concerned that the rockfish populations he was documenting had significantly decreased from those that the REEF teams documented in the earlier years of the project. Rockfish are especially vulnerable to over-fishing because they are long-lived species, some living to be over 100 years old! After looking at the REEF data for the region as well as the existing rules for rockfish harvest, David put together a series of proposed rule changes and submitted them to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for consideration.

What makes David special is he then took the extra step of getting involved directly. In June 2009, David was appointed by the Washington Governor to a six-year term as one of Washington’s nine Fish and Wildlife Commissioners—another volunteer conservation position.

David is also just about as active above water, working on forest conservation work. He helped establish a grassroots forest conservation organization, the Gifford Pinchot Task Force (GPTF) and serves as volunteer chair of that organization.

Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 12,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.

The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to David and congratulate him on all of his efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub