Help REEF Assess Our Changing Seas

Fiji Reef Scene, by Paul Humann. Donors of $250 or more this winter will receive a signed and numbered copy of this amazing image.

Earlier this month, we launched our holiday giving campaign highlighting how REEF data are used to assess our changing seas. We are well on our way to reaching our goal, but still need your help! Please make a donation today by contributing online at www.REEF.org/donate or calling REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

Your donation will support our efforts to further scientific knowledge of marine creatures and habitats. With almost 200,000 marine species surveys submitted by REEF volunteers, I am proud to report that in 2015, researchers and scientists used REEF data to evaluate:

    • Biodiversity, status, and trends of fishes and invertebrates
    • The impact of beach nourishment projects on South Florida reef ecosystems
    • A management plan for Ecological Reserves in Puerto Rico
    • Endangered sawfish species distribution and status
    • Juvenile rockfish habitat in Puget Sound
    • The effect of citizens in detecting and responding to rapid marine invasions
    • Goliath Grouper populations for fishery management decisions

This research is only possible through generous donations from members like you! Please take a moment to donate now. For donations of $250 or more, I will mail a signed print of this gorgeous Fiji reef scene. The profusion of color from these soft corals and huge schools of Anthias species is stunning! This photo is one of my favorites - get yours today!

And for those of you who work for a company that matches charitable donations, please let us know so that we can be sure to make the most of your contribution.

Thank you for your support and happy holidays,

Paul Humann,

President, REEF Board of Trustees

Please Join Us In Key Largo for REEF Fest 2016

September 29 – October 2 in Key Largo, FL

We are excited to announce REEF Fest 2016, a celebration of marine conservation in the Florida Keys! Events include ocean-themed seminars, scuba diving, and social gatherings alongside marine conservation and dive industry leaders.

At REEF Fest 2016, attendees will enjoy opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard in the truly unique habitats of the Florida Keys. Diving and other eco-ventures are offered each morning. Each afternoon, sit back and enjoy our exciting and compelling ocean-themed seminar series. Finally, wrap up your evenings wining and dining, in good company alongside a breathtaking sunset. All REEF Fest events are open to the public.

We hope you will join us for an unforgettable event in the beautiful Florida Keys! Check out full event details at www.REEF.org/REEFFest

On Facebook? Please join the REEF Fest 2016 Facebook event page for updates and event information https://www.facebook.com/events/1736089399939722/

REEF Fest 2016 a Success!

On behalf of all of us at REEF, thank you to those who were able to join us at REEF Fest 2016, our annual celebration of marine conservation. This year's event was our largest yet, with more than 400 guests in attendance! The four-day event, free and open to the public, featured ocean-themed seminars, social gatherings, SCUBA diving, and other eco-ventures alongside some of the most prestigious names in diving and marine conservation.

Our generous SCUBA diving operators made donations based on guest participation while other sponsors supported the event by donating to the silent auction, raising more than $12,000 to support REEF! These contributions will go a long way in supporting our numerous marine conservation programs. And a special thanks to our Platinum event sponsors: Divers Alert Network, Carrow Foundation, Atlantis Philippines Dive Resorts and Liveaboards, Quino El Guardian Liveaboards, and Eco Divers Resort.

In case you missed it, check out some of our event photos in the REEF Fest Facebook album.

We hope that you will join us for REEF Fest 2017, September 28 - October 1, in Key Largo, FL. Visit www.reef.org/REEFFest/savethedate for details.

REEF Fest 2017 - Don't Miss the Banquet, For the Love of the Sea

REEF Fest 2017 is just around the corner - September 28 - October 1. There are so many great activities planned during the four day event. A highlight is always our Saturday night banquet, For the Love of the Sea. Have you purchased your ticket yet? Seating is limited and over half of our available tickets have sold. Visit www.REEF.org/REEFfest/dinnerticket to get your ticket. Tickets for this celebration include a three course meal, plus hors d’ouvres and a full service liquor bar, alongside live music and a silent auction. The silent auction will include beautiful artwork, handcrafted jewelry, and amazing dive vacation packages. Don’t miss your opportunity to bid!

We are excited to offer the following vacation packages in our silent auction (a big thank you to our donors!): - Atlantis Philippines Resort 7 night vacation package, with up to 5 dives a day, a $2,367 value - Sunset House Grand Cayman 5 night vacation package, with 2 boat dives a day and unlimited shore diving, a $2,000 value

Check out www.REEF.org/REEFfest for more event details or contact Events@REEF.org. We hope to see you there!

The Faces of REEF: Mindy Gould

Mindy (left) with Dawn Vigo (right) volunteering in the REEF booth at Our World Underwater.
Mindy having a little fun underwater in Bonaire.
Mindy diving with sharks in Gardens of the Queen, Cuba.
A bucket list fish for Caribbean fish watchers - the Golden Fairy Basslet. Photo by Arie DeJong.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Mindy Gould, member since 1997 (20 years!). Mindy has conducted 121 surveys, in both the western tropical Pacific and the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Mindy had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? I joined in the early 1990’s and went on my first survey trip to Saba in 2011.  I’ve now been on seven more REEF trips (San Salvador, Cozumel (twice), Utila, Nevis, Philippines, and Solomon Islands). I’m still a wage slave, so I save up vacation days and try to do at least 1 trip per year.
 
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? 
My “first” favorite part is meeting incredible REEF members on survey trips and then diving with them again and again. Whatever we do in “real life,” when we’re surveying, there’s a shared energy, fascination and commitment to submitting quality data that furthers the knowledge base. Everyone dives with a purpose and there’s nothing more exhilarating than sharing in someone’s unique sighting.
 
My “second” favorite part of REEF is spreading the word to other divers about becoming citizen scientists and how important collecting data is to understanding and conserving the ocean environment. For several years, I have volunteered at the REEF booth for Our World Underwater in Chicago and there’s nothing like telling someone about REEF and hearing them say: “I’ve been looking for something like this; sign me up.” 
 
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?  I’m especially glad that REEF’s work is grounded in scientific principles and reproducible results.  In this age of skepticism and challenge to even the fundamentals of science, REEF’s survey program stands out as critical to a myriad number of research projects (Grouper Moon, invasive species). It’s gratifying to see when REEF data is used in research around the world.
 
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?  It’s got to be diving in the Galapagos with whale sharks, hundreds of hammerheads and the cranky, little red-lipped batfish. As an environmental scientist with a fascination for evolution, the Galapagos is like traveling to the motherland.
 
What is your most memorable fish find?  While diving in Cuba last summer, I came across a Golden Fairy Basslet (Gramma dejongi).  I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was unlike any basslet I’d seen before.  It wasn’t a REEF trip and my dive buddy, Judy, wasn’t around to corroborate, so I snapped pictures as fast as I could.  The book says they’re rare to uncommon, so I was pretty stoked to have spotted it.  As you can imagine, the divemaster didn’t share my excitement as he herded me back to the group.

5th Annual Nearshore Assessment Conducted in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

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The REEF OCNMS '07 Team: Kirby Johnson, Stan Kurowski, Reg Reisenbichler (l. to r. back row); Phil Green, Rhoda Green, Captain Mike Ferguson, Doug Biffard (l. to r. front row)
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A REEF surveyor returns from a dive to the Porthole Dive Charter's diving vessel Dash on a very calm day diving in the Olympic Coast NMS.

A team of Pacific REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) divers recently conducted a week-long project conducting surveys of fish and invertebrate communities along the rugged outer coast of Washington.  The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers over 3,300 square miles of ocean off Washington State's rugged and rocky Olympic Peninsula coastline.  Sanctuary waters host abundant marine life.  A small but important stretch of coastline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca features some of the best diving in Washington State, but is rarely visited because of the remote location and limited diving facilities. 

The team included 6 REEF AAT members and conducted 5 days of diving with Porthole Charters.  The weather, which is always a wild card out there, fully cooperated and the team was able to visit all of our priority sites within the Sanctuary, most of which have been surveyed annually since 2002.  A total of 72 surveys were conducted.  To find out more about REEF's work in the OCNMS, visit http://www.reef.org/programs/sanctuaries/OCNMS .

Funding and support for this year's project was generously provided by Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA), an anonymous private foundation, the Winter's Summer Inn in Seiku, and the REEF survey participants.  REEF encourages our Washington members to join WSA - it's free.

Five-Year Wellwood Restoration Assessment Completed

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The M/V Wellwood aground on Molasses Reef. Photo courtesy of the FKNMS.
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A REEF diver conducts an RDT survey at the Restoration Site in October 2002, with several restoration modules in view.
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Location map showing areas of fish monitoring effort.
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Transplanted specimens of Sstaghorn coral on one of the restoration modules (colonies were transplanted in 2004, photo taken August 2007). Photo by Ken Nedimyer.
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Wellwood AAT Team, Summer 2007

REEF has just completed our final assessment report for our five-year Wellwood Restoration Site monitoring project. Before I share some results from our study, let me give you a little background information and please visit our website to view our full report http://www.reef.org/programs/monitoring/wellwood. The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). The ship impacted the reef’s upper fore reef and subsequently remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living coral reef and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework. Prior to the grounding, the area was a transition zone with high relief coral formations. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. 

The study area of this project included a portion of the grounding area that is being restored and two adjacent reference sites. The Restoration site surveyed included restoration modules and contiguous low profile hardbottom areas adjacent to and in between the restoration modules. Nearby high profile reef, ledges, and undamaged/unrestored reef were not included as part of the Restoration Site. A north and south undamaged reef area were both used as two control sites to compare fish sighting data between the Restoration area and the natural (control) reefs.

REEF’s study focused on fish assemblages and not the coral and invertebrate communities. A team of Advanced Assessment Team REEF Experts conducted Roving Diver Technique (RDT) surveys in addition to belt transect surveys on the Wellwood restoration site and two adjacent natural reef sites seven times during Year 1. The team visited the sites once prior to restoration (May 2002) and 13 times after restoration was completed, monthly for the first three months, quarterly for the following year and semi-annually thereafter. An average of 12 surveys of each survey type was conducted during each survey effort. While REEF surveyors used the RDT surveys to collect sighting frequency and abundance data on fishes over all three reef areas, the belt-transect method was used to collect density and biomass data on fish taxa. These two methods used together give us a snapshot of how the restoration site is recovering in terms of fish assemblages as compared to the two non-impacted, adjacent reef areas.

Obviously, the most notable observation a diver makes when diving on the Restoration site is one of just how long it takes coral reefs to recover after devastating ship impacts. The Restoration site shows little resemblance to the surrounding non-impacted reef sites. The areas surrounding the Restoration site are high relief reef areas dominated by reef building corals with some very old colonies of Star coral (Monastrea annularis) and Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), old to the tune of thousands, not hundreds of years old. Age is important here since it takes a long time for coral colonies to rebuild structure and relief that attract different fishes over time. The smaller overall fish populations and absence of many species of fish on the damaged site are both conspicuous and the lack of coral structure makes it easy to destinguish the Restoration area from the surrounding reefs even 23 years after the initial ship grounding. However, there are signs that fishes are very slowly recruiting onto the Restoration site.

During the monitoring period (2002 - 2007), a total of 165 species were recorded at the Restoration site, 189 species at the North reference site and 207 species at the South reference site. The Restoration site recovery is clearly aided by the addition of restoration modules (2002), increasing the amount of available habitat suitable for reef fish communities, think vertical habitat here, and recessed areas underneath these modules for fish to shelter. At the Wellwood grounding site, the overall fish diversity as well as density and biomass of most key fish families continue to be less than that of the two nearby, non-impacted reefs that were selected as monitoring reference sites. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding the quickest to the restoration efforts, grazing along a recovering hard coral landscape currently dominated by soft corals (Gorgonians). Nearly absent today on the damaged area are sightings of grunts and snappers, both of which are seen in high frequency and abundance on surrounding reef sites with plenty of relief for them to take cover. Residency of fish, movement patterns and habitat usage are all important indicators of reef recovery. So are linking coral, invertebrate, and fish studies to see a more complete picture of how the Restoration site is improving. There are signs outside of the slowly improving trends the data show such as a little Redspotted hawkfish that has taken residence on one of the modules with lots of Ken's Staghorn coral affixed.

Many more studies are necessary to properly evaluate recovery dynamics for reefs and since most reef recoveries worldwide are hampered by other anthropogenic impacts such as overfishing, excessive nutrient loading from human pollutants, and global warming stresses, these case studies are critically important in developing mitigation strategies for damaged reefs. For the full report on our Wellwood findings, please visit our website http://www.reef.org/programs/monitoring/wellwood. REEF would like to thank the many individual REEF members who dived on this project over the past 5 years, as well as Quiesscence Dive Shop in Key Largo for dive support, and Ken Nedimyer for photos and his ongoing coral replenishment work. And finally, our thanks to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for contracting REEF for this project. We hope that this work will continue in order to monitor the long term changes in fish assemblages on the Restoration site.

 

History of the GAFC

The idea of an annual fish monitoring came over 25 year ago, with the first official Great American Fish Count (GAFC) in 1992. Dr. Gary Davis led the Channel Islands National Park effort as way to encourage sport divers to report fish sightings. The small number of marine scientists, the immensity of the oceans and the scarcity of funding required that volunteers be trained to assist with a nation-wide fish monitoring effort.

The use of volunteers to monitor animal species has proven to be extremely successful. The GAFC was modeled after the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which continues to play a significant role in documenting and raising awareness of the declining populations of migratory birds, and has helped reduce destruction of their habitat.

The first GAFC event was held at Anacapa Island, California with fifty participants. The event was focused during the first two weeks of July to attempt to capture as many divers as possible and attract media attention. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary joined in 1994. By 1995, the GAFC had become a coordinated effort between the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The ultimate goal of the GAFC was to have divers become interested enough in fish monitoring to map and adopt sites that could then be visited year-round.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program expressed interest in the GAFC and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) working together to support and promote volunteer fish monitoring throughout the entire Sanctuary program. By the end of 1997, the GAFC evolved into a national event held during July of each year coordinated by American Oceans Campaign, REEF, and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program. By 1999, REEF became the sole organizer of the GAFC with continued partnership with and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program.

In 2001, a full-time dedicated staff was hired to managed the logistics and planning of the GAFC thanks to the Curtis & Edith Munson Foundation, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and PADI Project Aware. The 2001 event was a huge success. The number of seminars quadrupled and many dives were conducted throughout the nation, Canada, and in the Caribbean. Many GAFC dives were conducted within National Marine Sanctuaries, such as Florida Keys, Gray's Reef, Stellwagen Bank, Flower Garden Banks, Monterey, Channel Islands, and Hawaii. Approximately 900 people participated and over 1,900 surveys were conducted during the July event that year. 

Due to the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia, in 2002, the Great American Fish Count officially changed its name to the Great Annual Fish Count.

Today, REEF is the sole coordinator for the event which continues to grow and brings in approximately 2,000 marine life surveys in the month of July alone. These efforts reach hundreds of volunteers throughout REEF's survey regions in dozens of countries. 17th GAFC this year in 2008 is sure to be a great one - get involved!

REEF Survey Super Stars -- the Golden Hamlet Club Welcomes Two New Members

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The elusive golden hamlet is the namesake of the club reserved for REEF volunteers who have conducted over 1,000 surveys. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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Bruce Purdy has been an active supporter of REEF's lionfish research in the Bahamas.
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Dave Grenda conducting a transect survey during a REEF Wellwood monitoring project.

While every one of REEF’s 10,000+ volunteers who have conducted a survey as part of the Volunteer Survey Project are Making Dives That Count, there is a small cadre of surveyors who have taken their passion for fish and critter watching to the next level. They are the volunteers, those most active in each of REEF’s project regions, who have actively strived to move through the REEF Experience Level system, often becoming REEF Experts and members of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). And among this group, there are a handful of surveyors who have reached a significant benchmark – the 1,000 survey mark! Passing this benchmark gets you a place in the REEF Golden Hamlet Club. And this Summer, REEF welcomes two new GHC members - Bruce Purdy and Dave Grenda. They join Peter Leahy, Linda Baker, Lad Akins, Judie Clee, Linda Ridley, and Linda Schillinger.

Bruce Purdy is the owner/operator of the Bahamas diving liveaboards Aquacat, Cat Ppalu and Blackbeard's Cruises. He's been a REEF member since 1994 and a member of REEF's Tropical Western Atlantic AAT since 2002. Bruce is a staunch conservationist and has been integral in supporting REEF's lionfish work in the Bahamas. In addition to his work with REEF assessments and lionfish projects, he has also pioneered sea urchin restoration efforts in the Bahamas. Even though he has reached the milestone of 1,000 surveys, Bruce continues to encourage his diver to join him in surveying Bahamian reefs and supporting REEF's conservation projects - Way to go Bruce!!!

Dave Grenda has been a REEF member since 1998, and is one of the very few of our volunteers who have conducted REEF surveys in all four regions -- Tropical Western Atlantic, Tropical Eastern Pacific, West Cost of the US, and Hawaii! He joined the Tropical Western Atlantic AAT in 2001 and has participated in multiple AAT special projects. Dave is also a NOAA Science Diver and has participated in multiple NOAA research cruises in National Marine Sanctuaries. Most recently, Dave started helping with the REEF Grouper Moon Project and just returned from a few weeks on Grand Cayman helping to tag Nassau grouper. His passion for fishwatching shines through on projects and he is always eager to share the joy of a new find. In his "other" life, Dave is a retired Air Force Colonel. Way to go Dave!!!

Hoyt S Vandenberg -- Plans for Sinking in Early May, REEF To Monitor Fish Recruitment

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The Vandenberg at dock in the early 1980's. Photo courtesy of the Artificial Reefs of the Keys.

After many years of planning, financial woes and last minute negotiations, it appears that the Hoyt S Vandenberg, a 520-foot troop transport/missile tracking military vessel, will be sunk as the newest artificial reef in the Florida Keys. Recent communication with the State of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission has given the go ahead for REEF to initiate pre-deployment monitoring of the sinking site and 7 other adjacent reef areas to study the recruitment and movement of fish around the wreck and reef sites. 

The one year study will also include surveys of non-native orange cup coral, titan acorn barnacle and Indo-Pacific lionfish. While exact dates have not been set for the sinking, plans are for the ship, located now in Virginia to be towed to Key West in early April and then scuttled 6 miles offshore in May. REEF Advanced Assessment Teams will survey the sites prior to deployment, then again one month following the sinking and quarterly through the remainder of year one. It is anticipated that the wreck will provide significant habitat for fish as well as additional recreational opportunities for fishing and diving activities. Data gathered during REEF’s efforts will aid in determining how effective the ship is in meeting its biological objectives.

For more information on the Vandenberg fish survey project, contact Lad Akins, Lad@reef.org (305) 852-0030.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub