REEF Attends Earth Day

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Old Flagler Railroad and rail car in background at Earth Day
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Joe Cavanaugh and Laura Dias staff REEF Booth
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Laura Dias after survey training dive with Horizon Divers
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Water view from under the old railroad

On April 12, REEF attended a Middle Keys Earth Day celebration at Bahia Honda State Park.  It was a lovely day, albeit unseasonably hot!  Several organizations had booths in attendance as well, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Dolphin Research Center, Reef Relief, the Turtle Hospital, and many others. In addition to the usual face painting and music associated with Earth Day, REEF had many visitors to our booth inquiring about who we are and how they could get involved. REEF recently stepped up our efforts to increase awareness of our organization within the Florida Keys community. 

As many of you know, Key Largo is where REEF got started in the early 90's and many of our Advanced Assessment Team projects focus on local marine resources, such as FKNMS, Biscayne National Park, and the Dry Tortugas National Park.  Most recently, REEF teamed with local stakeholders to create a rapid response team for the possible arrival of invasive lionfish species which many predict could be anytime, given the robust resident population of lionfish in the Bahamas and increasingly elsewhere in the Caribbean.

For those of you who are new to REEF, you can see where REEF surveys by visiting our website http://www.reef.org/about/faq.  Essentially, REEF members survey areas covering the tropical western Atlantic from Brasil to Florida and along the eastern seaboard through the northeastern U.S. and Canada, the Pacific coast of Canada and California southward through the tropical eastern Pacific down to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, and in the not-too-distant future, American Samoa.

REEF has a new volunteer helping us in the office and who helped staff the REEF booth, Laura Aichinger Dias.  Laura came to us a couple of months ago inquiring about opportunities at REEF.  Since then, she has been conducting survey dives and honing her fish identification skills. She is already accomplished in her own right, receiving her Master of Science from Florida Atlantic University.  Her thesis focused on dolphin population dynamics in Sepetiba Bay in Brasil, where she is from originally.  Laura will help REEF with projects this spring and hopes to become part of our Advanced Assessment Team by the end of the summer so she can participate in future projects. For more information on becoming an Advanced Assessment Team member, please review the requirements at http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat  AAT members are utilized in most of our monitoring and assessment contracts with government and non-government agencies.  Essentially, REEF members take fish ID classes and pass qualification quizzes in tandem with gaining a prerequisite number of survey dives, all leading to membership in the AAT.  The ultimate reward is that once you are placed on the AAT list-serve you will be emailed opportunities to participate in projects oftentimes where the diving is paid for by the sponsoring agency.  You also will gain increased fish ID acumen by diving with other AAT members and learning to find and identify the really small and cryptic species.  For more information beyond the website, please email Joe Cavanaugh at joe@reef.org or our Director of Science, Christy Semmens at christy@reef.org.

 

Lionfish Letters from the Field

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A lionfish sighted in the Exuma Cays and reported through REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Program. Photo by Sean Nightingale.
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Volunteer divers assisted with lionfish research in the Bahamas in May 2008.
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Magnificent to look at, but devastating to the local ecosystem, lionfish like this one are seen throughout the Bahamas. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Nassau, Bahamas - July 30, 2008 -- Up early this morning and readying for another big day on the lionfish front.  As part of an Associated Press story on the lionfish, I am joined by Andy Dehart and Lisa Mitchell here in Nassau to shoot footage of our lionfish work and do interviews for an AP television segment.  We'll be live collecting fish, tagging a few and talking about the current research being conducted by REEF, NOAA, Simon Fraser University and Oregon State University - research showing that the lionfish appear to  be having severe impacts on our native fish populations.  To summarize, stomach contents show over 50 species of prey items including fish and invertebrates; lionfish are eating the prey faster than they can naturally recover and they can reduce recruitment of juveniles to reefs by 80%!  It is a scary picture.

While the research efforts are being conducted to better understand lionfish and their impacts, REEF is also leading the way in working on control.  Our recent workshop in Florida paved the way for early detection/rapid response in South Florida and will serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean.  Tagging studies, removal (culling) efforts, activity and movement documentation, trap design and other control measures are being implemented to direct our efforts both in the US and Bahamas where the fish are established as well as in downstream countries in the path of the invasion. REEF's next project will take place September 14-20 at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with a few spaces left. (Call Pam Christman at 800-879-9832 to participate).  

If you see a lionfish, or any other non-native fish, please be sure to report your sightings to the REEF website.

In addition to using your sightings to direct research and rapid response on non-native species in coastal areas, REEF provides data to our partners at the US Geological Survey (USGS). REEF recently contributed a significant number of records to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. These records included information submitted by volunteers through the REEF Exotic Species Sighting Program, and included 311 records of lionfish sightings from approximately 160 sites along the US East Coast, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as information on 29 other fish species from 54 locations (mostly in South Florida). Approximately half of the species were new records for the USGS NAS database. The lionfish data contributed to the generation of an on-line display of current lionfish distribution.

If you have questions about the lionfish or other non-native species, feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail.  We are also looking for funding for these critically important programs and any ideas or contributions are welcome.  Look for the AP coverage early next week!

REEF is a Platinum Organization

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As Lad reported in an earlier article, DEMA was eventful and exciting. Beyond the networking and outreach about the lionfish invasion, REEF was proud to attend the SSI Platinum Pro Award ceremony. On Thursday October 23, Lad Akins and Anna DeLoach joined Paul Humann (1993) REEF Board of Trustees, Ned Deloach (1993) REEF Board of Trustees and Lisa Mitchell (1993) REEF Executive Director as proud recipients of the SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver award. The SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver card is the calling card of the world’s most elite water explorers. The list of cardholders is a “who’s who” of diving, containing the world’s most prominent dive leaders, scientists, photographers, manufacturers, retailers, and resort operators.

What makes the SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver award so special is that it’s all about diving. The unsung dive master on any island and Jacques Cousteau earned their cards the same way—by diving 5,000 times. Let’s put 5,000 dives into perspective. It takes 500 dives a year for 10 years, or 100 dives a year for 50 years! That’s a lifetime of dedication and commitment to the sport.

Any other REEF Members out there that are SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver, please e-mail us with your REEF number and the year you were inducted into this elite group.

Great Annual Fish Count in the Northeast

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There was a record turnout at the 7th annual Northeast GAFC event. 103 divers conducted fish surveys at 8 dive sites in 2 states. Photo courtesy Bob Michelson.
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Olympus camera representative Andrew Bausk demonstrates new product to divers. Olympus sponsored the event by donating a digital camera and waterproof housing to the volunteer fish counters raffle. Photo courtesy Bob Michelson.

The 18th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is now in full swing. There are GAFC events being held around the country. One of the largest and longest running is held in the Northeast US. Over 100 divers are expected to converge at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, MA, on July 25, for the 8th annual Northeast GAFC event. The celebration, hosted by The New England Aquarium Dive Club and REEF, will include survey dives, a picnic, free raffles and door prizes. GAFC dives are planned at seven shore locations around Cape Ann, along with dives at Nubble Light, York, ME. Every survey form submitted after each dive will count as an entry into the raffles for each diver.

Begun in 1975, the New England Aquarium Dive Club, Inc. is one of the world's oldest, largest and most active aquarium affiliated dive clubs. We share the fun of diving, a love of the sea, a concern for diving safety, and a desire to learn more about the aquatic realm and to share that knowledge with others. The REEF Fish Survey Project allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers. In 2001, the acclaimed REEF Fish Survey Project and the Great Annual Fish Count was introduced to New England's SCUBA-diving community.

During our 7th Annual GAFC event held on July 18, 2008, 98 divers conducted 123 fish surveys at 7 locations around Cape Ann and southern Maine, making this the largest single day GAFC event held in the United States for an unprecedented seventh year in a row! Join us as our celebration continues with the New England Aquarium Dive Club, REEF and the Great Annual Fish Count.

For more information, please contact: Bob Michelson, event coordinator for the New England Aquarium Dive Club at (781) 848-8870, or by e-mail, pbm.inc@verizon.net.

Support REEF During Our Fundraising Campaign

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Members who donate $250 or more during our 2009 Winter campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print.

Our 2009 Fall/Winter fundraising campaign has been a huge success! Despite these challenging economic times, loyal REEF members have donated over $59,000, just $3,000 less than the Winter 2008 campaign total. If you haven’t already donated, please consider donating today to help us exceed last year’s total. It’s not too late to get this limited edition, signed print of a beautiful South Pacific reef. There are only a few left! Click here to securely donate online (https://www.reef.org/contribute) or mail your donation to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037!

We are excited to kick off 2010 by continuing and expanding our core programs:

  • REEF will continue a Lionfish project in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands aimed at increasing awareness, conducting hands-on training and determining effectiveness of removal strategies;
  • Scientists will be in the field in Little Cayman next month for the Grouper Moon Project research, studying one of the last large spawning aggregations of endangered Nassau grouper; and,
  • REEF will expand our central citizen science program, the Fish Survey Project, to the South Pacific, with a launch event planned in American Samoa at the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
  • Thank you again for your dedication and support of REEF conservation programs.

    REEF Provides Lionfish Collecting Gear to Florida Keys Dive Operators

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    Lionfish collecting kits were donated to Florida Keys operators who are actively reporting and collecting the invader.
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    Lad Akins demonstrates safe collection techniques at a training workshop.

    As the lionfish invasion progresses throughout the Western Atlantic region, marine resource managers are struggling with lionfish control in protected areas. In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Sanctuary managers have come up with a special permit process to allow removal of lionfish within the Sanctuary Preservation Areas (no-take zones). A critical part of the permit process is participation in a training and handling workshop conducted by REEF. To date, over 15 workshops have been held in the Keys and over 230 on the water professionals have been trained and permitted. Of course the permit is only half the issue, the second half is getting the fish! In an effort to encourage and facilitate removals of lionfish, REEF recently provided dive operators who have been through the permitting workshops and are actively reporting or removing lionfish with a complete set of lionfish collecting gear at no cost. The kits, normally retailing for $138.00 and available through REEF's online store, each contain a pair of puncture resistant gloves, two vinyl collecting nets, and a clear dry bag used as a collection bag. The donation of the collecting kits to 27 dive operators throughout the Keys was facilitated through REEF, NOAA’s Aquatic Invasive Species program, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and a generous contribution by an upper Florida Keys resident.

    REEF has also worked with local dive operators and conservation groups to establish 13 lionfish collection banks in the Keys. These locations have been equipped with storage supplies, including bags, labels, markers, etc., and promoted as drop-off locations for lionfish collected by the public. The lionfish at each location will be picked up on a regular basis and shipped from REEF to researchers at the NOAA lab in North Carolina and researchers at the USGS. Key research questions including predation, genetics, age and growth rates, among others will be addressed through acquisition of these samples. For a listing of lionfish collection banks in the Keys, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish and follow the links.

    REEF Releases Lionfish Cookbook

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    REEF announces the release of "The Lionfish Cookbook", available for $16.95 online at http://www.reef.org/catalog/cookbook. The book is a unique blend of 45 tantalizing recipes, background on the lionfish invasion and its impacts, as well as information on how to safely catch handle and prepare the fish. Invasive lionfish are a new threat to western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters. Lionfish densities in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the East Coast of the United States are on the rise due to their lack of predators and prolific, year-round reproduction. Thriving lionfish populations pose a serious risk to marine ecosystems through their predation on native marinelife including both commercially and ecologically important species. That lionfish are delicious table fare with a delicate buttery flavor may be our best hope for helping to remove the fish and minimize its impacts. As Bermuda has so aptly coined, we need to “Eat ‘em to Beat ‘em”! Proceeds from the sale of this book will support REEF’s marine conservation and lionfish research and removal programs.

    Grouper's Last Stand

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    We are happy to share with you a short (3-minute) Public Service Announcement (PSA) from the REEF Grouper Moon Project, featuring spectacular underwater footage and the hopeful story of the Nassau grouper in the Cayman Islands. The video discusses the importance of protections for spawning aggregations and the work that REEF and our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University have done on this important conservation issue. The PSA is on REEF's We Speak Fish YouTube channel -- http://www.youtube.com/user/WeSpeakFish

    Cayman Island spawning aggregations have been seasonally protected from fishing for the last 8 years at all current and historic aggregation sites. This protection expires at the end of 2011. The status of future protections for the aggregations is still uncertain. Based on the research and findings of the Grouper Moon Project, the CIDOE has recommended a permanent seasonal closure during the spawning season (Nov-Mar) for Nassau grouper.

    Visit REEF at a Dive Show Near You!

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    We have a full line-up of dive show appearances planned this year. If you are in the area of one of these shows, please stop by the REEF booth to find out what new and exciting things are happening. In 2012, we will be at: Our World Underwater (Chicago, February 17-19), Beneath the Sea (NJ/NY, March 23-25), Northwest Dive & Travel Expo (WA, April 21-22), SCUBA Show 2012 (Long Beach CA, May 5-6), and Northern California Dive & Travel Expo (Bay Area CA, May 12-13). We are always looking for volunteers to help at the booth. If you are interested in being a REEF ambassador, contact Martha at martha@REEF.org.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Douglas and Jane Rorex

    Yellowtail Damselfish. Photo by Alex Griffin.

    As we celebrate REEF Member #50,000, it is exciting to also look back to the beginning. This month we feature two of our charter members, Douglas and Jane Rorex (REEF Members #25 and #26). Nineteen years ago this month they were diving in the Florida Keys and happened upon information about what was to be the first REEF Survey Project class in July 1993. They couldn't attend that one, but they did attend a class a few months later. Since then, Douglas and Jane have conducted over 400 surveys combined. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

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

    We still have the letter from Laddie Akins confirming our being a part of this second class, that took place starting 17 October 1993. The week-long project included 12 dives and surveys along with the daily lessons. It was a blast. It was the best course we had ever had in Scuba in that it enabled us to enjoy our diving ever so much more as we came to recognize what we were actually seeing. Ned DeLoach, Paul Humann, Gloria Teague, and Laddie Akins were all wonderful. Laddie was our primary teacher and has been a mentor, friend, and teacher ever since. Over the years, REEF has continued to provide educational materials, and those combined with books by Ned and Paul have expanded our enjoyment from not only identifying fish, but also watching their behavior. We really enjoyed diving with Ned and Anna DeLoach this past year, where we kept an eye on a pair of courting Frogfish.

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

    Most of our Midwest diving involves quarries, lakes, cowponds, caves (springs), and/or rivers. I (Doug) have done all of the former, but presently do most of my local diving in Missouri caves. There is a sense of adventure and exploration and accomplishment in cave diving that is somewhat missing from most cowponds, plus you don't have to run the cattle out of the cave before you dive. The fish life is not as abundant, but there is plenty to see. Cannonball Cave in Missouri is the cave I have explored most thoroughly. I have explored back more than a 1/4 mile and to a depth of 365 feet. The cave is stunning and has beautiful clay formations that are breath-taking.

    What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

    The juvenile Yellowtail Damsel. We called it by the name "Jewel" fish when we first started diving. Our signal to each other identifying the fish is to hold out one hand and peck on it with the forefinger of the other hand indicating the bright, jewel like dots that adorn the juvenile. We usually spend time at the end of each dive in the shallows among the fire coral on Bonaire looking at interesting fish and creatures, but the tiny Yellowtail Damsels is our favorite. I suppose its our favorite because of its stunning beauty and its also nice getting to see your favorite fish every dive.

    What is your most memorable fish find? Is there a fish (or Marine invertebrate) you haven't seen yet diving, but would like to?

    Diving Bonaire in the middle 1990's we kept seeing this tiny goby. I drew it and sent the drawing along with a description to Laddie Akins. Laddie had previously identified dozens of fish for us in this manner, (for example, the Cave Bass and the Black Brotula), and, that he could do it was amazing. This fish he eventually identified as an "Island Goby." It was eventually recognized as the same fish by a previous name: "the Semi-scale Goby." I have drawings of it in log pages from those early days and still think of it as an Island Goby, though, on survey sheets I list it otherwise.

    We have not seen either a Whale Shark or a Shortnose Batfish. But we're keeping the dream alive...and they are out there awaiting us.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub