REEF Joins in Submersible Expedition to Assess the Lionfish Invasion Beyond Diving Depths

REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green inside the Antipodes sub.
Several dozen invasive lionfish call an artificial reef in South florida, the Bill Boyd, home off.

REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.

During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.

The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.

As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.

Please Support REEF and Our Important Marine Conservation Work

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.

We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

Great Annual Fish Count is Coming

The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.

The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at gafc@reef.org.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on the Role of Citizens in Detecting and Responding to a Rapid Marine Invasion

An invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Carol Cox.

A recent publication in the scientific journal, Conservation Letters, examined the invasion of lionfish in to the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters. The authors compared traditional reef fish monitoring efforts to less traditional data including the observations of divers through REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and spearfishers. They found that citizen observations documented lionfish 1-2 years earlier and more frequently than the more traditional monitoring efforts. The authors also explored the willingness of spearfishers to help minimize impacts of the invasion by harvesting lionfish. They found that spearfishers who had encountered more lionfish while diving perceived them as more harmful to the habitat than less experienced divers and were also more likely to participate in harvesting initiatives. The authors also report that encouragement from scientists and managers was a far better motivator than the desire to harvest lionfish for personal consumption. This study demonstrates the value of engaging citizens for assessing and responding to large-scale and time-sensitive conservation problems. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

California Fishinars

Opalescent Nudibranch is one of the species monitored by REEF divers in California, and one that will be covered in the upcoming series. Photo by Elaine Jobin.

Are you a California diver? Or perhaps simply an ocean enthusiast wanting to learn more about critters that call the California kelp forests home? Then be sure to check out the upcoming Fishinar schedule. Whether you've attended one of our famous Fishinars (REEF's version of an online webinar) before or not, you're sure to enjoy one of our upcoming free classes! 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. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information. 

Upcoming California Fishinars include:

  • Invertebrates and Algae of REEF's California Survey Project - This four class series (September 8, 10, 14, 16) will cover all 63 of the invertebrates and algae included in REEF's California survey program.
  • Islands in the Stream: Fish of the California Channel Islands - October 20

A few other Caribbean Fishinars are scheduled this Fall as well, including:

  • The Nightstalkers! Eels of the Caribbean - September 30
  • The Ones You Should Know: Top 25 Fishes of the Caribbean - November 16

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.

150,000 REEF Surveys Have Been Submitted in the Tropical Western Atlantic

A REEF Volunteer conducting a survey in Key Largo, Florida, one of 150,000 conducted in the western Atlantic. Photo by Nathan Brown.

We are proud to announce that on July 1st 2017, the number of REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project surveys conducted by volunteers in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region topped 150,000! The 150k surveys have been conducted by 11,123 volunteers at 8,837 sites in the TWA region (which includes the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico). The first surveys in the TWA were conducted 24 years ago in Key Largo. Since then, REEF's citizen science program has grown to ocean waters world-wide and has generated the largest database on marine life population status and trends, recently surpassing 217,000 surveys! Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors. We would like to say a huge thank you to all of our volunteers, supporters, and those who make use of these data! We couldn't have done it without you.

REEF's mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnerships with the scientific community. The REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project is a key component of our success. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations in marine waters world-wide (and invertebrates and algae in temperate waters). Visit the About REEF page to find out more and to see where our volunteers are conducting surveys.

St. Vincent Field Survey Breaks One-Week Species Record!

REEF_St-Vincent-group_l.jpg
The REEF St. Vincent Field Survey Team

To those who are in the know, St Vincent is considered the critter capital of the Caribbean. To those who watch fish, it is known that the rare is commonplace and that the fishwatching is unlike any other location in the Caribbean. REEF’s data from the June Field Survey supports those claims. With a team of 13 divers, the REEF group recorded an astounding 243 species, more than 65 of which were unlisted “write-ins” on the survey forms.

Diving with Bills Tewes at Dive St Vincent, long time REEF supporter and widely regarded “Caribbean Character”, the team split up on two boats and survey sites around the southwest end of the island. Long-time REEF expert Franklin Neal provided an extra special view from above and into shallow water as he snorkeled, while other team members spent hours on each dive exploring varied habitats and depths.

Special finds during the week would take an entire newsletter to list, but there were a few fish that stood out including the still undescribed Bluebar Jawfish on most sites, five frog fish on one dive, multiple black brotula, various pipefish commonly sighted and the largest spotfin gobies (10 inches?!) we’ve ever seen. The fish of the week may well have been the Golden Hamlet that Bill pointed out as his favorite fish and the species that adorns the cover of Reef Fish Identification.

The diving was bottom time unlimited and many dives exceeded two hours finishing in shallow water. Habitats were varied and visibility ranged from good to excellent on all of our dives. REEF is already planning our next Field Survey to dive St Vincent in August of 2008. The project will be led by Paul Humann and will be a must for any serious fishwatcher. For more details, contact Joe@reef.org

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