Another GREAT Annual Fish Count

The 21st annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) took place in July, with many dive shops, dive clubs, and other groups organizing fish ID classes, dive /snorkel days, BBQs and more fun gatherings. The concept behind the GAFC is not only to accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers/snorkelers to fishwatching and get them started doing REEF surveys. Groups from California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and new to the event in 2012 - New Brunswick, all participated! Once again, this year's largest one day event was held in the Northeast, coordinated by the New England Dive Club. Thank you to ALL participants, and we hope you'll continue conducting REEF surveys on your dives year round!

Putting It To Work: New Publication Showing Validity of REEF Survey Data

A REEF "Roving Diver" has free swimming range around a dive site. Surveyors are encouraged to search high and low for as many species as they can positively ID. Photo by Paul Humann.
Transect surveyors follow a path for a pre-determined length (typically around 25m) and record all species within a 1-3 meter swath. Photo courtesy of Ken Marks.

A new scientific paper published earlier this month in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution reports that REEF surveys conducted by citizen scientists compare well with traditional scientific methods when it comes to monitoring species biodiversity. The findings of the research, conducted by Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Angila in the UK, give weight to the growing phenomenon of citizen science programs such as REEF's Volunteer Survey Project. The field study compared methods used by REEF volunteer divers with those used by professional scientists to measure the variety of fish species in three Caribbean sites in the Turks and Caicos. The divers surveyed the sites using two methods – the 'belt transect', used in peer reviewed fish diversity studies, and the 'roving diver technique', used by REEF volunteers. Two teams of 12 divers made 144 separate underwater surveys across the sites over four weeks. While the traditional scientific survey revealed sightings of 106 different types of fish, the volunteer technique detected greater marine diversity with a total of 137 in the same waters. Dr Holt led the research in partnership with the Centre for Marine Resource Studies in the Caribbean and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He said: "The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs. Very few, if any, scientific groups can collect data on the scale that volunteer groups can, so our proof that both methods return consistent results is very encouraging for citizen science in general. We're living in a world that's changing very significantly. Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists." Click here to read the full paper, entitled "Comparing Diversity Data Collected Using a Protocol Designed for Volunteers with Results from a Professional Alternative".

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Nick Brown

Nick snapping a quick photo during a REEF Advanced Assessment Team trip in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Pete Naylor.
Nick Brown (center) diving with Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders (l) and Joe Gaydos from SeaDoc Society (r) off Orcas Island, WA.
Nick with his faithful dog, Neri, in St. Kitts.

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 Brown. A US Pacific Northwest native, Nick is currently living in St. Kitts. Nick has been a REEF member since 2004 and has since conducted 138 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Nick had to say about REEF:

How did you first volunteer with REEF?

I first became involved with REEF in 2004 while working as a research intern for the SeaDoc Society, a marine ecosystem health program based in Washington State. The SeaDoc Society and REEF frequently collaborate to offer free fish and invertebrate identification courses to the public. Although I was still completing my open water certification at the time, the enthusiasm of SeaDoc’s chief scientist Joe Gaydos and REEF’s Janna Nichols was contagious. Within a month of finishing my certification, I completed my first REEF survey and haven’t stopped since.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I take great satisfaction in knowing that every survey I submit contributes to an ever growing database that can be used by the public, researchers and policy makers around the world. Not only am I adding more purpose to my dives by contributing to something useful, I’m able to reference my submitted data later on which functions as my own personal invertebrate (in the PAC region) and fish sighting logbook.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

I’ve been very fortunate in being able to dive very close to where I live. Until about a year and a half ago, the vast majority of my dives were in the cold but beautiful waters of my home state of Washington and nearby British Columbia, an area known locally as the Salish Sea. My favorite part about diving in the Pacific Northwest is the large diversity of marine invertebrates. Recently though, I’ve hung up my drysuit and slipped into a wetsuit for the warm Caribbean waters of St. Kitts and Nevis where I’m currently attending veterinary school. My favorite part of Caribbean diving is the great visibility and large variety of ornately colored fish.

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

For better surveying and fish watching move slowly; not only will your dive last longer, but you’ll notice more and the marine life tends not to be as shy. For identification, I recommend investing in a few fish and invertebrate ID books; often the subtleties between different species are hard to appreciate without a detailed reference.

A Few Spaces Remain on 2014 REEF Trips

Have you booked your 2014 REEF Trip yet? If not, confirm your space now before it's too late! Many trips are sold out, or close to it. Prices and complete details can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com, or our staff at REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, trips@REEF.org.

June 21 - 28, 2014 -- Bay Islands, Honduras, MV Caribbean Pearl II -- Diving around Utila, Roatan, and the banks in between, from a beautiful liveaboard. This special trip is led by two marine biologists, and we hear that whale sharks could be seen!  *2 Spaces Left (one male share and one female share)*

July 19 - 26, 2014 -- Key Largo, Florida, REEF Discovery Tour -- A special trip aimed at beginner surveyors (but everyone is welcome), and led by Paul Humann, REEF Founder and Renowned Marine Life Author and Photographer. This is your chance to dive with the man who brought us the definitive Caribbean fish ID guide. *3 Spaces Left*

August 16 - 23, 2014 -- Curacao, Lionfish Control Study -- Join Lad Akins and Peter Hughes for the second annual trip to Curacao to study the impacts of the invasive lionfish. Participants will have an oportunity to assist with the research. *2 Spaces Left*

September 14 - 18, 2014 -- Hornby Island, British Columbia -- Dive in the ledgendary Pacific Northwest waters, and learn your fish (and invertebrates) with REEF's own Janna Nichols. *6 Spaces Left*

November 8 - 15, 2014 -- Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands -- A wonderful island full of Caribbean charm, Cayman Brac features spectacular walls and reefs that you expect from the Cayman Islands.  *6 Spaces Left*

December 6 - 13, 2014 -- Nevis, Eastern Caribbean -- This little gem next to St. Kitts is easy to get to, but certainly off the tourist track. With great diving and many fun fish finds to be had, this is sure to be a great trip. *4 Spaces Left*

Putting It To Work: New Publication from the Grouper Moon Project

Approximately 5,000 Nassau Grouper gather, temporarily, on the west end of Little Cayman each winter. Photo by Paul Humann.

A new scientific paper that features research from REEF's Grouper Moon Project, "Hot Moments in Spawning Aggregations", was recently published in the journal, Coral Reefs. The study looked at the impact of a Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation in creating biogeochemical "hot moments", which occur when a temporary increase in one or more limiting nutrients results in elevated rates of biogeochemical reactions. In this case, the limited nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. And the temporary increase is from the large amount of grouper excrement that results when approximately 5,000 Nassau Grouper gather in a small area for 10 days during the spawning season, as happens around winter full moons on Little Cayman. The authors estimated the rate of nutrients supplied by the Nassau Grouper at the Little Cayman aggregation site, and found that the temporary surge in the nutrient supply rate was larger than nearly all other published sources of nutrients on coral reefs, an ecosystem that is typically a food and nutrient desert. Beyond the loss of this iconic species in the Caribbean, the significant decline in Nassau Grouper and their spawning aggregations over the last few decades has likely had large consequences on the productivity of the reefs that historically hosted spawning aggregations. To read the full paper, click here. And to see all of the scientific papers that have included REEF's data and programs, visit our Publications page.

Review Us On GreatNonprofits.org

Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the GreatNonprofits.org website at: http://gr8np.org/go/yKD

Thanks to such great feedback by our members in 2014, REEF achieved "Top-Rated" status on the GreatNonprofits webpage. We need at least ten new reviews in 2015 to maintain this honored status. Please help us.

Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member: "I have been contributing to REEF's database of dive surveys for over 5 years now and I really like the amount of support they provide to divers and snorkelers at any level. Their web site is a wealth of information, not only their database but also quizzes for all different regions. Their free webinars aka "Fishinars" are always fun and entertaining to be experienced from the comfort of your home. To top if all off, they have friendly staff to answer any kind of questions you may have from your dive experiences. I learned so much regarding the critters I see in the ocean and it keeps it interesting and fresh. REEF offers a lot for FREE but actually they are priceless." Thanks Gerald!

Don't Miss The Last Two Fishinars of the Year

The charismatic Garibaldi is a favorite among divers in the California Channel Islands. Photo by Janna Nichols.

As the air turns crisp and the leaves start to turn, we are winding down on our 2015 Fishinar program. You won't want to miss the last two sessions -- Fishes of the Channel Islands of California on October 20th and the Top 25 Fish You Should Know in the Caribbean on November 16th.  From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars (our version of Webinars). Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information. And keep an eye on the webpage for our 2016 schedule coming soon. If you have a topic that you would like to see covered, drop us a note!

REEF Fish Field Methodology Course

Common field methodologies including transects will be covered in the REEF Field Methodology Course this summer.

Calling all college students or recent graduates who are divers! This summer, spend a week learning marine life survey techniques with REEF experts in Key Largo, Florida. Build your skills and resume for marine field research and discover career opportunities in the marine and conservation field. The course covers commonly used tools and techniques utilized in visual assessments of reef fishes. Classroom and field experiences will expose students to tropical western Atlantic reef fish identification, size estimations underwater, surveying reef fishes using transect, roving and stationary visual techniques, benthic assessments using photo quadrats and rugosity, and management of survey data.

The field course will be offered August 7 – 13, 2016, in Key Largo, Florida. The $780 course fee includes accommodations, 5 days of two-tank boat dives including tanks and weights, REEF fish survey materials, and the ReefNet Fish Identification DVD. For more information on the course and details on registering, please visit www.REEF.org/FieldCourse.

Another Fun Summer of Ocean Explorers Camp

REEF Summer Campers.

Over the summer, REEF hosted the second year of Ocean Explorers Summer Camp, a marine science camp designed to get kids outdoors and on the water. 57 campers joined us over 4 weeks of camp, and it was a blast! Led by REEF Education Program Manager, Ellie Splain, and assisted by our wonderful Marine Conservation Interns, each week was filled with fun and interesting activities. Campers snorkeled at the coral reef, kayaked through the mangroves, dissected squid, created lionfish jewelry, and even got up close and personal with some animal visitors! Above all, campers learned about conservation and what each of us can do to protect the environment and make a difference. Keep a look out for the REEF Ocean Explorers 2017 Summer Camp date announcement! For more information, visit www.REEF.org/explorers/camp.

The Faces of REEF: Chuck Curry

Chuck on his home turf in the Pacific Northwest.
Chuck under the water in the Philippines. Photo by Ron Lucas.
Chuck topside on the Philippines REEF Trip in 2016.
A Puget Sound King Crab, the subject of Chuck's close encounter story with a Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo by Janna Nichols.
In addition to volunteering with REEF, Chuck volunteers at the Seattle Aquarium. Here he is as Santa in the big aquarium tank. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Chuck Curry, a REEF member since 2013. Chuck lives in Washington State, and while he hasn't been a member for long, he has already conducted 400 surveys! He has achieved Level 5 Expert Surveyor status in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA), Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), and the Pacific Coast (PAC) regions, and Level 3 Advanced Surveyor status in the South Pacific (SOP) and Hawaii (HAW) regions. Here's what Chuck had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I first became a REEF member and volunteer in the spring of 2013. I learned about REEF while at a talk given by Joe Gaydos at the Seattle Aquarium. Joe’s the Science Director at the SeaDoc Society, which conducts and sponsors scientific research in the Pacific Northwest’s inland waters, also known as the Salish Sea. Joe mentioned a ten-year sub-tidal monitoring project SeaDoc would be starting that would use REEF’s Roving Diver Technique and expert REEF surveyors to do the monitoring. I thought, “I want to do that!” I joined REEF after that talk and started conducting surveys.

Have you been on a REEF Field Survey Trip?

I’ve been lucky enough to be on a number of REEF Field Survey trips. The highlight of my Field Survey diving last year was getting exposure to the awe-inspiring (and sometimes overwhelming!) fish diversity of the Central Indo-Pacific region on the Philippines and Micronesia Field Survey trips.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

My desire to make a contribution to scientific research inspires me to complete REEF surveys. As a kid, I dreamed of being a marine biologist and Jacques Cousteau was one of my heroes. REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project allows me to fulfill, in part, that dream as a citizen scientist. And I get to experience some of the undersea world that my childhood hero introduced me to when I was growing up in Kansas City.

What do you like most about being a REEF member?

Without question, my favorite part about being a REEF member has been meeting, getting to know and learning from/with all the fun and interesting fish geeks who volunteer for REEF! :-)

Do you dive close to where you live?

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a great dive site (it’s “Norrander’s/Rockaway Beach” in the REEF database) 7 minutes from where I live on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. It’s my favorite place to dive because it’s my “home” site, provides great habitat for all sorts of fishes and critters (including Wolf Eels and Giant Pacific Octopuses) and I can fit in a dive between any two meals at home.

What is the most fascinating creature encounter you have had underwater?

The most fascinating fish encounter I’ve experienced wasn’t with a fish but with a marine invertebrate—we survey a selected list of invertebrates and algae in the PacNW. While taking a picture of a juvenile Puget Sound King Crab, a Giant Pacific Octopus loomed up in front of me and held on to me for five minutes with first two, then four of its arms. It seemed to be curious, running its arms over my light, camera, hands and arms as I watched it and it watched me—just an amazing experience.

Do you have any tips for new surveyors?

I’d offer two tips to other REEF members, particularly to those just getting started. One is to seek ID help from expert surveyors you dive with or meet. I’ve gotten lots of help from folks, they’ve all been happy to share their knowledge and no one has ever made fun of me for getting excited about seeing a very common fish that’s new to me. The second tip is to carry a camera and take pictures while you’re surveying. You don’t need to become an expert photographer, just getting ID shots of new fish to review topside can really speed you along the learning curve.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub