The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is just around the corner. While REEF staff updates the event website, www.fishcount.org, we are asking our field stations and partners to begin planning their 2008 GAFC activities.
Events can be as simple as gathering a group of local divers for a one-day dive and a covered-dish party for after. Or, schedule a huge blow out to introduce more people from your town to what a difference can be made when you do more than just blow bubbles while diving. The latter could include Fish ID seminars, counting challenges, a planned picnic and whatever else you can dream up to gather a crowd and show them the fun of fish-watching.
As any veteran fish surveyor is well aware, dive travel is the spice of fishwatching. No matter how many dives you’ve made, or how many species you’ve recorded a visit to a new destination will send you scurrying for your ID books. That was certainly the case during back-to-back REEF Field Surveys held in St. Vincent during early August. During the two weeks, 40 sets of eyes ferreted out 261 different fish species, many rare, many first-time sightings, and a few that still have the trip leaders Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach scratching their heads.
Tucked away in the distant reaches of the southeastern Caribbean, the towering volcanic island is not only home to a hearty population of Caribbean fishes, but also harbors a scattering of novel species that ride the currents north from Brazil. Add to this, pumice sand and freshwater runoff (a combination that tends to attract exotic creatures), a variety of underwater habitats ranging from bold boulder and coral seascapes, to thick sea grass meadows, and protected bays bottomed with fine sediment and scattered algae patches, fondly known as muck. Oh yeah, add one more dynamic to the amazing mix, the group’s host Bill Tewes, owner of Dive St. Vincent, and his eagle-eyed dive guides. In dive parlance, Bill is a critter hunter extraordinaire. After exploring the island’s undersea riches for 25 years, his infectious enthusiasm for the hunt won’t allow him to miss a dive, and the man certainly loves to show off his animals.
So what were some of the highlights of the week? For starters: a single dive to a clearwater site, known as the Pinnacle, revealed not one, not two, but six cryptic Black Brotula. A plunge to 110 feet on the Wall, uncovered Yellowcheek Basslet, Three-lined Basslet and Cave Bass hiding under a ledge. On their way up the surveyors spotted a Golden Hamlet, Bridled Burrfish, and during their safety stop a flashy red fin of a perky little Red Banner Blenny caught their eyes.
But as good as the reefs and wall are the majority of the team’s treasures were discovered in the muck – the seldom-dived otherworldly realm where Bill’s fishwatching prowess shines. Let’s begin in the shallows where the team found, along with a long list of more common species, clingfishes, Longsnout and Lined Seahorses, a Striated Frogfish, Shortnose Batfish, an assortment of pipefish, seldom-seen pipehorses, and about every species of snake eel you’ve ever heard of, and some you haven’t. As the seemingly barren bottom angled down Jackknifefish, Spotfin Goby, Dwarf Sand Perch and tiny Blackear Bass appeared. If you continued to 90 feet an uncommon sighting of a juvenile Snowy Bass could be made.
One would be remiss without mentioning a few spectacular St. Vincent invertebrates including, the Atlantic Longarm Octopus, the rare Brownstripe Octopus, skeleton shrimp, and a spectacular Red Banded Lobster.
Did we mention Blackfin Cardinalfish, Whitemouth Croaker, Snakefish, Cornetfish, Cardinal Soilderfish, Flying Gurnard, and pikeblennies? Whew, have to stop somewhere, this is REEF-in-Brief you know. You’ll just have to contact one of the lucky participants for more details.
A gallery of all images linked from this article can be found here.
With the rapid expansion of lionfish into the Caribbean, downstream and recently invaded countries are starting to gear up for early detection and rapid response efforts. REEF is leading the way with in-country workshops focused on increasing awareness and training both fisheries and dive operators in collecting and handling techniques. The week of January 25th-31st was spent working with the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Starting in Grand Turk, we hit the ground running and less than an hour after landing, DECR officer Jodi Johnson and I had covered collecting and handling techniques and had our first 2 lionfish in the bag. Things did not slow down. Two days in Grand Turk followed by two days in Provo and a day in South Caicos resulted in 7 seminars to well over 150 people, 6 collecting training dives, over 40 lionfish collected and an evening lionfish tasting at Smokey’s on the Beach in Provo. Media coverage of the effort was also prominent with local TCI Channel 4 running a feature segment on the issue. The workshop was a huge success with both dive operators and government officials now moving forward in combined efforts to control and minimize impacts of lionfish.
In separate upcoming events, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Cozumel and Belize are also bringing REEF in to conduct lionfish workshops this spring and early summer. The goals of these programs are to build capacity for local communities and governments to be able to enact early detection and rapid response measures and increase public awareness of the issue.
This is YOUR chance to turn a donation of $10 into much more for REEF. America's Giving Challenge is a 30-day competition (ends November 6th) that allows causes such as REEF to compete for cash awards by inspiring the most people to donate to their cause. We are asking all of our members to donate $10 (or more) online here sometime before the Challenge ends -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. If REEF is a challenge winner (meaning we receive the highest number, not amount, of donations) on any given day, we will be awarded $1,000.
The Challenge is administered through Causes on Facebook. However, anyone can donate -- you do not have to be on Facebook to donate. Click here to visit REEF's Cause. If you are on Facebook, we encourage you to invite your friends to support and donate to the cause as well. The objective of the Challenge is to enable passionate individuals and nonprofit organizations to easily leverage their social networks to increase awareness about their causes and attract people to get and stay involved with causes they care about. By encouraging people to give what they can-no matter how big or small, the Challenge seeks to demonstrate the potential of social networks to bring real people together to make a significant impact.
Participants in the Challenge will compete for daily and overall cash awards of up to $50,000 for the nonprofit organizations they care most about. Awards will be distributed based on the number of qualifying donations generated for a cause, not the total dollars raised. A unique daily donation is defined as one single donation per individual per day in the amount of $10 USD or more. Individuals can donate to the same cause once a day everyday during the Challenge and this would count 30 times towards helping the cause receive an Overall Award. This would also count towards the Daily Award for that cause every day. To find out more about America's Giving Challenge and Causes, visit the Causes website.
If even 10% of REEF's members donated to our Cause before the end of the Challenge, we would most certainly make it in the award category. So please go online and show your support for REEF's marine conservation work. We hope we can count on you!
Please go to REEF's Cause page -- donate $10 (or more) -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. Thank You!
West Coast Dive Shows - Visit REEF next month at SCUBA 2010 show in Long Beach (CA) on May 15-16 and the Dive & Travel Expo in Tacoma (WA) on May 22-23. REEF staff and volunteers will be there to tell you about our latest activities, have REEF gear and supplies for sale, and sign up new members.
New Field Stations - Welcome to our newest Field Stations who have joined us in the last month. Field Stations are shops, charters, instructors and organizations that support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out the other 170+ REEF Field Stations, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.
Check out the REEF Online Store - This is the place to get all of your REEF gear, survey supplies, lionfish collection kits, and field guidebooks. The REEF Store is online here.
Approximately 100 divers collected 534 Indo-Pacific red lionfish during the first tournament dedicated to reducing the population of the invasive species in the Florida Keys waters. The September 11 tournament in Key Largo, organized by REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is the first of three Keys-based lionfish roundups. The event attracted 27 teams that competed for cash and prizes to collect the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The winning team captured 111 lionfish during the single day event. The largest lionfish caught measured in at just under 11 inches, and the smallest at less than two inches. Lionfish can grow to lengths of over 18 inches in western Atlantic waters where they are not native.
“The sanctuary is thrilled by the response from the dive community,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton. “The volume of fish caught during this single day event demonstrates that dedicated diver removal efforts can be effective at helping keep this invasive at bay.”
Team “Raaw Talent,” from the Upper Keys and led by Captain Al Wilson, captured 111 lionfish and the grand prize of $1,000 for most lionfish. The “Lion Killers” of Islamorada and Marathon netted the largest lionfish, along with $500. And with the capture of the smallest lionfish, team “Full Circle from Key Dives” also caught themselves $500. Both teams “Raaw Talent” and “Full Circle” had been through REEF’s educational workshops on lionfish safety and handling and have been very active in reporting sightings to REEF and capturing lionfish for research purposes. These lionfish derbies are great events to reward those already involved in REEF’s lionfish control programs and to recruit more people to become active in lionfish control.
“The community participation in this event surpassed even our most generous expectations”, said REEF Director of Operations, Lad Akins. “Everyone came together for a great event, including sponsors, volunteers, organizers, and of course, the lionfish hunters. Even those who brought in a single fish contributed to the protection of our native marine life and deserve our thanks.”
Divers and snorkelers interested in participating for the remaining 2010 Keys lionfish tournaments may register online at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies. The second lionfish derby will be held October 16 at Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in Marathon, FL. The third derby will be held November 13 at Hurricane Hole Marina, in Key West, FL. A $100 registration fee provides each team with a pair of puncture resistant gloves — important protection from lionfish spines — and two tickets to the tournament banquet. For more information on REEF's programs to study the lionfish invasion, go to www.REEF.org/lionfish
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 collaborator from the Global Underwater Explorers Project Baseline initiative is using REEF data to document environmental conditions in the Florida Keys.
- NOAA scientists requested data to help develop biogeographic assessment products for the Florida Reef Tract from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas.
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 Jim Pendergrass (REEF member since 2008). To date, Jim has conducted 113 surveys along the west coast from California to British Columbia, and he is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Jim had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? Seven years ago my wife Chris and I took a Habitat Diver class from Eugene Skin Divers Supply and began volunteer diving at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. We became interested in fish/invert ID and the DSO, Vallorie Hodges, told us about REEF. It was a perfect fit for us!
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? We’ve been on several REEF Advanced Assessment Team projects, and I think the most memorable was the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary out of Neah Bay, WA. The habitat was unique, the critter diversity was astounding, and the folks on the trip were great. We learned a lot!
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? We’re always interested to see what we’ll find this dive and compare it to our previous dives and those other divers have logged. Every dive is guaranteed to be a little different than the last one. We enjoy sharing our experiences with others and encouraging them to become involved. That’s why we started teaching the classes and holding REEF dives for our dive club. Oregon hasn’t had that many surveys completed yet, and our goal is to change that!
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Where is your favorite place to dive and why? We average about 100 dives/year in Oregon, Washington and BC, and travel to CA and the tropics when we can. We really like cold water diving. Our ‘home’ dive sites are at the mouth of Yaquina Bay in Newport and at the north Jetty of the Siuslaw – but our favorite place to dive is Browning Pass off the north coast of Vancouver Island. The diving there is really spectacular, and the topside scenery can’t be beat.
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? Our local shop and mother REEF field station is Eugene Skin Divers Supply. We can’t say enough good things about Mike, Diana, John and the rest of the staff. They’re knowledgeable, friendly and committed to making every dive experience a rewarding one. They treat everyone like part of the family. We couldn’t do this without them!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? I think the biggest thing is to go slow – or you miss the little things. And sometimes they are the coolest of all! Take pictures if you can for future reference and identification, and realize that learning fish and inverts is a constant process. One at a time. After hundreds of dives we’re still learning!
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 Paul and Marta Bonatz. Marta joined REEF in 1998 and she drew Paul in 2005. They have become active surveyors, and each has conducted 240 surveys. Here's what they had to say about REEF:
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Our favorite part of being REEF members is working with a network of other “citizen scientists” to make a difference. Interacting with like-minded divers in an organization that is focused on saving the marine environment is fulfilling. It’s also gratifying to see the change in newly recruited “fish geeks” as they learn more about the underwater world.
If you have been on a REEF field survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
We’ve been on two REEF field survey trips and plan to do more! The first, which hooked us on fish watching, was to Culebra, Puerto Rico. The highlight was the abundant staghorn coral. Unfortunately, it was totally devoid of adult fish. Our second trip was a lionfish control study in Belize. Spending a week focused on spotting and capturing 506 lionfish in the Belize Atolls with Peter Hughes and Lad Akins was exhilarating. We learned about the hazard this invasive species poses to the indigenous Caribbean fish population, and we now work to educate others about this urgent problem.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
Avid divers are frequently asked to name their favorite vacation destination. When we are asked this question our honest response is “Wherever we are currently diving”. REEF surveying teaches you to appreciate interesting finds on every dive. We sometimes spend an entire dive in a few square yards watching small critters in their habitat. Although every location is unique, the place we visit most frequently is Little Cayman. The sheerness of Bloody Bay wall, the healthy marine environment, and the stunning Nassau Grouper make for an incomparable mixture.
What is the most fascinating marine encounter you’ve experienced?
We have to include two favorite underwater encounters – we couldn’t agree on just one! The first was on a Manta Ray research trip to the Maldives. At a break in the action while monitoring Mantas on 5 x 1 hour shifts at North Male Atoll, we discovered an octopus positioned on a rock quietly observing us from the distance of a few feet. He welcomed us back every shift! The second was an encounter with a dolphin named “Spot" on Cayman Brac. Spot arrived on Cayman Brac after Hurricane Mitch, and he swam and played with divers on many of the Brac dive sites. Spot disappeared one day and everyone feared the worst. Two years later while diving in Cayman Brac we noticed a pod of dolphins near the boat. Spot edged up to the boat to show off his new family. He wouldn’t let us interact with him anymore, but he wanted everyone to know he was healthy and happy in his new life. It was an electric moment.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Hornby Island Diving in British Columbia, a REEF Field Station since 2010. Owners Rob and Amanda Zielinski have always been conservation-minded and involved in local projects, so when they heard about REEF several years ago through their repeat customers (who were REEF surveyors) and through discussions with REEF staff, it was an easy choice to become a REEF Field Station. Although divers have been flocking to this area for years, not many surveys had been conducted in the area, so they felt this would be a good way to get the word out about REEF and to encourage divers in that direction. Being a dive charter and lodge, they have the facilities and space for classes. They just hosted twelve enthusiastic surveyors for 5 days for a REEF Field Survey complete with nightly seminars in their meeting area. Amanda is very knowledgeable about marine life and has conducted REEF surveys herself, so she is a good one to ask any questions you might have if you’re just getting started. The area boasts some big attractions for REEF surveyors, including frequent sightings of Tiger Rockfish and Yelloweye Rockfish, both adult and juvenile.
Amanda has some great ideas up her sleeve for getting divers involved in conducting surveys while at Hornby Island Diving, whether for just a weekend or for a week. She says, “If everyone who is a REEF surveyor comes and does one survey, and everyone who’s not, joins REEF and gets started, think of the possibilities.” She’s also been collaborating with another REEF Field Station in the area (The Edge Diving Centre in North Vancouver, BC) to provide more in-depth fish and invertebrate ID training.