Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.
AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.
Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.
Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”
Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”
If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.
REEF scientists, volunteers and collaborators will be in the Cayman Islands next month for the 8th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded last year by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF has greatly expanded the critical conservation research conducted as part of this study of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations. We will have teams on all three of the Cayman Islands conducting field research as part of the project, “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”. The Little Cayman team will continue the long-term visual monitoring of the large aggregation located there. Work on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will focus on studying the remnant aggregations that remain on these islands after years of fishing. There is currently a harvest ban in effect for all aggregations in the islands. This ban is set to be lifted in 2011 unless the extension of the protections are warranted.
Despite logistical complications, weather anomalies and difficulties locating fish, the Grouper Moon Project had a successful year of field-work in 2008. The team conducted preliminary work on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, tagging Nassau grouper with pinger acoustic tags and then installing hydrophone arrays to track the movements of those tagged individuals. Studies were also conducted to better understand the patterns of recruitment by larval and juvenile Nassau grouper to the islands. In addition, members of our team attended major scientific conferences both nationally and internationally, and presented aspects of our research and findings to date.
In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched the Grouper Moon Project with a ground breaking expedition to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. This work is a collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and researchers from Oregon State University.
To find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage.
As part of REEF's efforts to increase awareness about the invasive lionfish, train removal teams and develop regional response plans, REEF recently conducted a series of workshops, talks and lionfish removals in partnership with the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) in Georgia and the Cozumel Marine Park in Mexico. Combined the two projects held in July 2009 included 15 talks to more than 370 people.
The Gray's Reef project included a meeting of Sanctuary personnel from the Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks and Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuaries, working to develop a regional coordinated response plan. Sanctuary and REEF staff also conducted two days of lionfish collecting and handling dives, including the removal of 54 lionfish averaging almost 30 cm from sites just outside the GRNMS boundaries. Talks to the general public, Sanctuary Advisory Council and Georgia Law Enforcement working groups also helped increase awareness of the lionfish issue and conveyed removal plans for the region.
Immediately following the Gray's Reef project, a week-long series of workshops and talks were held in Mexico to initiate development of the Mexican regional lionfish response plan focusing on the Yucatan. An initial day-long meeting included over 40 representatives, including national environmental regulators, regional marine park directors, conservation and science groups, academia and the Mexican Navy. Presentations and discussions resulted in the development of an early detection/rapid response plan. The plan was then unveiled in numerous public and key user group talks including those to dive operators, fishermen, medical/first responders and university groups. Training dives with Marine Park staff also resulted in the removal of 3 juvenile lionfish from local Cozumel reefs.
To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program and to report a lionfish or other non-native fish sighting, visit the REEF Lionfish Webpage.Share on Facebook
Want to add a few new species to your life list? Look no further than Dominica and Bonaire. These islands both offer some unique treasures and are sure to please every level of diver as well as beauty above water for your non-diving companions. REEF is leading Field Surveys to both of these beautiful islands this year, and we invite you to join us! The Dominica field survey trip is April 17 - 24, and Bonaire takes place September 25 – October 2.
The natural beauty of Dominica includes some of the most enchanting topography both above and below the waterline, with several waterfalls and hiking trails to be explored on one of the least developed islands in the Caribbean. The diving is also spectacular, and on our last trip here seven years ago flying gurnards, short-nose batfish, fringed filefish, blackfin snapper, harlequin pipefish and reef scorpionfish were all documented by our keen-eyed surveyors. REEF Board member Heather George is leading the trip this year, and she will help you look for these species and many more.
Few dive sites in the world can provide 100 fish species on a single dive - Bonaire is one of these special places. During our survey week here, you are likely to add at least 5 or more new species to your life list, no matter what your current REEF level. Trip Leader, Jessie Armacost, lived in Bonaire and taught Fish ID there for 7 years. She will help you find clingfish, pikeblennies, maculated flounders, medusa blennies, semi-scaled gobies and many other fish that are rarely found elsewhere. During group sessions you will learn where to look for viper morays, ringed blennies as well as popular fish like spotted drums and seahorses. The diving is easy with great accessible shore dives as well as easy close-by boat dives, and the trip will be particularly exciting this year during the annual coral spawn, when the reef is charged with sexual energy day and night.
Join us on one of these exciting weeks full of fish ID, friendship, new discoveries and great memories! Our full field survey schedule, trip details, and sign up information can be found here.
For the ninth year in a row, New England's SCUBA-diving community hosted the largest single-day Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event. On July 24, 2010, a stunning 104 divers conducted 114 fish surveys at 13 locations around Cape Ann and southern Maine. After conducting their surveys, divers gathered at Stage Fort Park in Glouster, MA, for fun, food, and prizes (over $8,000 in prizes were donated for the event). The event was coordinated by active REEF volunteers, Holly Martel Bourbon and Bob Michelson, and was sponsored by the New England Aquarium Dive Club. With support from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, REEF expanded the Fish Survey Project to the Northeast in 2001 and participation has been slowly growing ever since. We are currently working to increase the frequency that divers conduct surveys, taking it beyond the one-day GAFC event. Regional survey and training materials are currently being revised, and a companion invertebrate monitoring program for the area is also now in development.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Reef Watch Waikiki in Hawaii, which has been a Field Station for about a year. Reef Watch Waikiki is a project of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program and their mission is to inspire and facilitate community stewardship of the famed Waikiki coastline. They coordinate a suite of ocean education and marine monitoring programs, which began in February 2009 with "Beach Watch", a human-use monitoring program, followed by "Fish Watch" in February 2010. Fish Watch trains community volunteers and visitors in the REEF method and encourages participants to conduct surveys in the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District. This unique site is a small, no-take marine protected area located along a largely "engineered" shoreline that is heavily utilized by both visitors and residents. Reef Watch Waikiki has really embraced the REEF program and we are thrilled to have this active partner on Oahu, an island that previously had very few REEF surveys. Coordinator, Jennifer Barret, says that her favorite things about the REEF program are "to see people's excitement and enthusiasm when they participate in their first survey and see FISH, yes, even in Waikiki!, as well as the easy access online to the database."
In the past year, since becoming a REEF Field Station, the folks at Reef Watch Waikiki have offered 17 REEF classes and have coordinated 15 snorkel surveys (because of UH requirements for SCUBA, they stick to snorkeling)! Thanks to grant funding that they secured, Reef Watch Waikiki provides REEF starter kits and a supply of underwater survey paper to most of their volunteers. For participants who happen to have a favorite snorkel spot outside of Waikiki, they take advantage of the opportunity for a 'field trip' to help out with obtaining GPS coordinates for new surveys sites. They also connect their volunteers with monthly dives planned by another local REEF Field Station, FIN Oahu. In order to share sightings and post information about their monitoring efforts, they recently started a blog, which has been a great way to keep the community informed of their activities and to experiment with online resources like quizzes and (coming-soon) self-paced training modules.
A big fish thanks to Reef Watch Waikiki - keep up the great work!
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 Mike Phelan (REEF member since 1998). Mike is a member of our Golden Hamlet Club, having conducted over 1,000 surveys (1,211 to be exact!), and he is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. In addition to being an active REEF surveyor, Mike has been documenting an annual aggregation of Goliath Grouper in Florida. Here's what Mike had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? I read an article in Skin Diver Magazine over 12 years ago. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for a REEF Field Survey trip to Saba and several other nearby islands on a live aboard. Since then, I have participated in seven REEF Field Surveys and several REEF Advanced Assessment Team surveys in the Florida Keys. The most memorable was my trip to St. Vincent. I was fortunate to add several fish to my species life list including the illusive Black Brotula. My favorite part of being a REEF member is interacting with fellow citizen scientists.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey? I believe that REEF members occupy a somewhat unique position to make a dive that really counts. I find that the focused experience of completing a survey opens up your eyes to the entire reef ecosystem including fish behaviors, the surrounding benthic community, and both species presence and absence. I have been a diver for over 44 years, and I can state with certainty that you need to enlarge your diving hobby beyond “blowing bubbles” to keep that inquisitiveness that attracted you to diving in the first place.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I live in SE Florida and most of my diving takes place on the off-shore reef system of Jupiter, Florida. Jupiter is a unique location. It is the only known aggregation and spawning site for the Goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) in the SE United States. In the late Summer, aggregations of 30-50 Goliath groupers can be seen. Since the species was almost fished to extinction in the late 1980s, it is a privilege to witness its repopulation on the reefs of Florida. Jupiter is also a major nesting site for three species of sea turtle (Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Green). In the Spring and Summer, the reefs abound in turtles. They are very cool animals. Lastly, there is a Winter aggregation of lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) and seeing them is quite a thrill.
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? My favorite dive shop is the Jupiter Dive Center. They are very supportive of the Goliath grouper research.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? While bluewater drift diving in the Gulf Stream near Jupiter, I sighted a large Sailfish that turned sharply upon sensing me and thereby displayed its sail. Last year, I was able to see the Flashlightfish in a cave at night in the Solomon Islands. The flashing light was very disorienting since you were hovering in completely black water while the blinking lights of about 30 fish turned on and off. The number one fish that I would like to see is the Sawfish (Pristis pectinata).
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? My recommendation for all fish surveyors is to slow down and let nature emerge right in front of you. Carry a point and shoot type camera to aid in identification after the dive. This can be very helpful with the smaller gobies and blennies.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs? By far, the database containing the fish and sea turtle sightings gains ever more importance each year. There really is no other information source on the planet containing the number of reported survey dives with such a broad geographic scope.
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 the Seattle Aquarium is using REEF data on rockfish populations from Washington State to analyze with other long-term monitoring data.
- The Nature Conservancy in Washington State is using REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity in the Salish Sea and Oregon.
- A citizen group from the Florida Keys is using data from areas around Key Largo to evaluate the status of fish populations on reefs that are not currently protected within the existing network of Sanctuary Preservation Areas.
- A scientist from University of Connecticut is using REEF data collected in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia.