South Florida Lionfish Workshops Train Divers in Collecting and Handling

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Lad Akins and REEF Marine Conservation Intern Lucy Davis demonstrate collecting techniques a the Miami Beach workshop.

As part of the NOAA-funded Coastal Partnership Initiative, REEF has joined forces with Florida SeaGrant to organize and conduct a series of lionfish collecting and handling workshops and hands on training dives in Southeast Florida. REEF Staff trained over 75 divers during recent workshops and dives in the Florida Keys, Miami, and Palm Beach. The project also includes organized removals by local volunteer teams throughout the year. Additional workshops and dives are planned through the summer for the entire southeast Florida coast and it is anticipated that, after training, organized removal efforts will take place year round. For a list, and to register for upcoming workshops and dives, visit http://www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops.

Two Spaces Available on Upcoming BVI REEF Trip

Need to get away before the holidays get started? Two spots are still available on the Cuan Law livaboard November 11-17, one female share and one male share. This luxurious trimaran features a wonderful menu, wide stable platform, and dive sites of various habitats sailing around the British Virgin Islands – the perfect live-aboard combo! Some of the interesting fish we will be searching for include lancer dragonets, spotted eagle rays, and striking indigo hamlets. Join REEF fish ID experts, Sue Thompson, Linda Schillinger, and trip leader Heather George for a fun-filled cruise! Details are posted online here.

If this doesn't work in your schedule, be sure to check out the full REEF Trip schedule here. Many are already full or close to it for 2013. Don't miss your chance to take a "Dive Vacation That Counts!".

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Michael Murphy

Photo by Connie Bishop.
A Wolffish, with a face only a mother (or REEF surveyor!) could love. Photo by Andrew Martinez.
The Spiny Dogfish, always an exciting find for a Northeast REEF surveyor. Photo by Herb Segars.

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 Michael Murphy, a REEF surveyor in the Northeast. Mike joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 79 surveys, mostly around his home in New Brunswick, Canada. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

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

I have always used Andrew Martinez's Marine Life of the North Atlantic as a guide to fish and other under water sightings. It was a pleasure to meet him at Deer Island Point and talk with him about fish that we observed as well as their distinguishing features. He mentioned REEF and encouraged me to join as a way to record fish sightings. I have been a surveyor ever since! (Martinez's book is available through the REEF online store.)

What do you enjoy about being a REEF surveyor?

Being a REEF member has allowed me to participate in the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) each July as well as submit data year-round. I really enjoy learning about the most common fish species found in the Northeast and other dive destinations such as the Caribbean. The REEF educational webinar component, "Fishinars", is always entertaining and informative. In the future, I am hoping to use the data submitted from divers to aid in the establishment of an artificial reef and use ongoing submissions as a method of monitoring fish species. (Be sure not to miss the "Northeast Fishes" Fishinar coming up on June 13.)

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

I regularly dive at an awesome location, Deer Island Point in New Brunswick, Canada. It is about a two hour drive and free ferry trip from my home outside of Saint John. We often encounter divers from the New England States who come for the variety of organisms to be seen. It is great because there are four possible shore dives that you can enjoy, two of these are drift dives. The dives range from easy to advanced, but are subject to ties, and we can dive there year-round.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you have experienced?

I would list as most fascinating fish encounter as being a Tuna that was swimming so fast that my dive partner missed the sighting; although seeing some Spiny Dogfish ranks a close second. My favourite fish to see is a Wolffish, they are on the endangered species list and they are so distinctive that only their mother and a hard core diver would say they are beautiful to see.

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

I always encourage my dive partners to record their fish sighting and to submit their data. A good reference book is essential. Having the REEF Fish Identification Cards as well as a dive slate to record numbers is also important. Searching for fish, invertebrates, and plants connects me to the underwater world, which makes my diving experience that much more interesting and memorable.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Manta and Mobula Rays Published Using REEF Data

A Manta Ray swimming at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Jackie Reid/NOAA.

We are excited to share a new scientific paper published last month in the journal PLoS ONE that included REEF data - Global Population Trends and Human Use Patterns of Manta and Mobula Rays, by Christine Ward-Paige, Brendal Davis, and Boris Worm. Despite being the world’s largest rays and providing significant revenue through dive tourism, little is known about the population status, exploitation, and trade volume of mobulids (Manta and Mobula species). There is anecdotal evidence, however, that mobulid populations are declining, largely due to the recent emergence of a widespread trade for their gill rakers. Researchers from Dalhousie University and eShark.org used expert divers’ observations from two citizen science programs, REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and eShark.org, to describe global manta and devil ray abundance trends and human use patterns. The study highlights the relative rarity of aggregation sites on a global scale and reveals that many populations appear to be declining. The authors warn that newly emerging fisheries for the rays gill-­‐rakers likely exceed their ability to recover. The study also demonstrates the deficiency of official catch reports, as only four countries have ever reported landing manta or devil rays– Indonesia, Liberia, Spain, and Ecuador. However, numerous diver reports compiled in the paper illustrate that many other countries are regularly landing and selling these rays without reporting.

The paper can be viewed online here. A complete listing of all papers that have featured REEF data can be found online here.

REEF Events for August

Here's what we're up to in the coming month:

September 11-16, 2007: Cape Cod Field Survey led by Joe Cavanaugh. 

Click here for more information.

 

September 22-29, 2007: Bonaire Field Survey led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. 

Click here for more information.

Final Report on Five-Year Spiegel Grove Assessment

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Note the encrusting organisms after just 5 years and the Purple Reeffish, Photo by Mike Ryan
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Invertebrate community recruitment to the Spiegel structure, Photo by Mike Ryan
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Blackfin Snapper school on Spiegel Grove, Photo by Mike Ryan
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Large Arrow Crab, Photo by Mike Ryan
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Midnight Parrotfish and Bluehead Wrasses, Photo by Mike Ryan
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Cubera Snapper on Spiegel, Photo by Alison Johnson

This past summer, REEF completed its 5-year monitoring and assessment of the ex-Navy Landing Ship Dock, U.S.S. Spiegel Grove, intentionally deployed in 130' deep water as an artificial reef off Key Largo in June of 2002. At the time of its sinking, the Spiegel, at 510' in length, was the largest vessel intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. More recently, REEF completed its final report on the data collected, largely through members' efforts in the water these last few years, so a multus gratia (big thank you) from all of us at REEF to those of you who participated on the Advanced Assessment Team monitoring of the Spiegel. This was every bit your project as much as ours. I am asked quite often in the field how REEF surveyor efforts contribute to science, conservation, and education so I want to share with you some of our findings as the Spiegel assessment serves as a great example of the power of concerned and active citizen scientists to effect positive changes in our communities. For a full viewing of our final report, please visit our website at 5 Year Spiegel Grove Monitoring .

Before I highlight a few of our findings, let's go over what our methods were for conducting our Spiegel assessment. Surveys were conducted using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT), a non-point visual survey method that serves as the mainstay for most REEF efforts in the water. The purpose of this method is to gather a comprehensive species list with sighting frequency and relative abundance estimates, for fish species only in the case of this study. Staff and REEF volunteers all had to be members of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) for REEF (learn more about how to become an AAT member http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat). Each monitoring event consisted of 4 days of two-tank monitoring dives at the Spiegel Grove and 7 surrounding reference sites.

The overall objective of the study was to assess any changes in fish community structure over time with the addition of the newly deployed artificial reef, changes not just to the Spiegel site, but changes to the surrounding natural reef sites as well. A central biological question as to the merits of vessel type artificial reef deployments is whether or not they add fish species in terms of both numbers of fish (biomass) and numbers of fish species (biodiversity) to the artificial reef and the surrounding natural reef sites. In other words, in the Field of Dreams metaphor, if you build it will they come and where will they come from? Ultimately, resource managers and other stakeholders hope that the addition of the artificial reef adds fish not only to the targeted site, but seeds surrounding reefs with the reproductive output from the resident fish population. The scale of these questions cannot be adequately addressed in a 5-year pilot study such as the one REEF just completed and that was not our charge but it is important to understand the concept behind sinking ships as artificial reefs. And we should commend Monroe County, the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF), and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) for funding this initial pilot study. A second socioeconomic question not addressed in REEF's work asks the important question of how much SCUBA diving pressure is decreased on natural reefs by the addition of a top recreational dive site such as the Spiegel and how much additional tourist revenue is gained? Finding answers to both the biological and economic questions above are critical in providing guidance for future marine resource management decisions on whether or not to deploy artificial reefs of this type and when and where the sinking of these large retired vessels is appropriate.

Okay, some quick highlights but again for the full report, please visit our website. Over the 5-year study, REEF conducted 76 RDT surveys on the Spiegel itself and another 445 survey dives on the surrounding 7 reference sites. 191 fish species were documented on the Spiegel Grove for all surveys combined. 46 species of fish were observed on the Spiegel just one month after deployment with the average number of species climbing to 76 per monitoring event thereafter. Approximately 3 years after deployment (Aug 2005), persistence in species composition at the Spiegel Grove site through time had increased to levels closer to those of the surrounding reefs. Striped grunts and Tomtates were immediate arrivals on the newly deployed site. Currently, 5 years post deployment, fish species composition on the Spiegel site is more akin to what you would expect on a deeper reef site including schools of Blackfin Snapper, Creole Wrasses, Bluehead Wrasses, Purple Reeffish, Sunshinefish, Bluerunners, Yellowtail Reeffish, Greenblotch Parrotfish, Tomtates, Spotfin Hogfish, Yellowmouth Grouper, Black Grouper, and the Federally protected Golilath Grouper (for a complete list of species sighted and statistical comparisons between study sites take a peak at the report). Blackcap and Fairy Basslets rarely occur in the Keys but interestingly, on several occasions, both have been surveyed on the Spiegel, most notably after hurricane storm surges from offshore. Of course, the Spiegel originally sunk on its starboard side was righted during Hurricane Dennis in July of 2005, confounding results of our survey shortly thereafter. And large, deeply sunk vessels such as this one certainly offer numerous hiding places to groupers in particular, making full visual assessments difficult. We have included in our report suggestions for future studies as well.

REEF would like to thank Mike Ryan of Horizon Divers for supplying important anectodal information about the Spiegel. He was one of the first divers on the newly deployed vessel and has logged more than 240 dives on site since then, meticulously recording fish and invertebrate sightings in the true naturalist vein. Also, REEF thanks Quiesscence Divers and Horizon Divers and Scott Fowler for providing boat and logistical support for all of our diving efforts over the past 5 years. This spring (2008), the Hoyt Vandenberg is scheduled for deployment a few miles off the coast of Key West. REEF will be leading the monitoring efforts over a similar 5-year time period and we'll keep you posted on our efforts. Two suggested readings are referenced in our report, one by Arena et al (2007) and the other by Leeworthy et al (2006) assessing biological and economic impacts of artificial reefs, respectively.

Happy Holidays everyone and if you are visiting Key Largo next year, visit the wreck and see for yourself how things are coming along.

 

Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard Aggressor II

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Turks and Caicos Survey Group (sans Marty Levy, off chasing a whale blenny)
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Suzanne Rose with one of two invasive Red Lionfish seen on Turks Survey
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Patricia Broom Surveying Wall on North Caicos Island
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Caribbean Reef Shark, one of many seen during the week
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Jill Ericsson surveying the wall, looking for Cave and Threeline basslets

REEF recently completed our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II on Saturday, April 26.  We had a tremendous effort by a stellar group of 20 REEF surveyors.  Although we have not yet processed the data, I can give a few hints at what we saw during the week-long trip. 

Overall, the group surveyed at least 213 fish species over 12 dive sites and 26 survey dives, 5 dives on most days.  We surveyed many habitat types including hard and soft coral areas, patch reefs and grass beds but most of our efforts were concentrated along the famed walls along the islands.  Some notable fish sightings included:  Black snapper (Apsilus dentatus), Golden hamlet (Hypoplectrus gummigutta), Dwarf blenny (Starksia nanodes), Papillose blenny (Acanthemblemaria chaplini), Cardinal soldierfish (Plectrypops retrospinis), Lofty triplefin (Enneanectes altivelis), Almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana), Fringed filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus), Wall goby (Gobiosoma pallens), Black brotula (Stygnobrotula latebricola), Goldline blenny (Malacoctenus aurolineatus),  and Punk blenny (Acanthemblemaria sp).  We surveyed some large schools of Horse-Eye jacks and saw a number of Caribbean reef sharks.  We also had two confirmed Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) sightings (see picture with article).  Unfortunately, if there are two Lionfish surveyed, there are undoubtedly many more in the Turks and Caicos islands already.

We had a seasoned group of REEF members, many of whom had been on numbers of past survey trips and 60% of the group participants were expert surveyors. Consequently, our efforts were rewarded with lots of cryptic species sightings such as the ones listed above. The hospitality of the Aggressor crew was superb, gracious, and quite professional.  One of the nice things about a live-aboard field survey is the camaraderie that develops between members who share a number of traits such as a love of diving, conservation-minded attitude towards our marine resources, a desire to make positive changes to said resources, and a general fish geekiness for lack of a better term, that rears it's head from time to time in visceral debates about whether someone really saw a Wall goby or not. 

Fortunately for us, many members brought their cameras and we were able to verify most unusual sightings with pictures.   The learning curve is leveled while on live-aboard with everyone sharing diving/surveying tips and helping each other find and verify common and rare sightings alike.

I would like to congratulate several participants on reaching new experience levels during the week:  Barbara Anderson, Marty Levy, Larry Draper, and Kayla Serote all tested into level 5 surveyors.  Suzanne Rose, Marie Robbins, and Kay Tiddmann are all new level 3 surveyors. Jerry Dickman is our newest level 2 surveyor.  Congratulations to all the participants for a great survey effort for the week and all the good spirit shared.  Also, thanks James Brook and Kristi Draper for taking Kay Tidemann under their wings and teaching her during the week, she was our most improved surveyor as a result and her enthusiasm spilled over to the group. I hope to see many of you in the water on surveys later this year.  I am currently planning our 2009 Field Survey schedule and will have more details on that in our next Enews edition in May. There are still spaces available on two Field Survey trips for 2008, Paul Humann's Discovery Tour in Key Largo (June 21-28) and the Sea of Cortez with Don Jose (Oct 5-12).  If interested in either of these trips, please contact Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030 for the Discovery Tour and Jeanne at Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 for the Sea of Cortez trip.

 

REEF Participates in International Coral Reef Symposium

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Grouper Moon scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, presented findings in the ICRS Reef Management session.
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Joe Cavanaugh talks with an ICRS participant about REEF's programs.

REEF staff recently returned from the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where nearly 3,000 scientists, conservationists, and government officials met to compare notes, network and identify problems and solutions for the ocean's most delicate ecosystem. This is the keystone scientific meeting on coral reef science. REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, gave a talk on the science and management applications of the REEF database and presented a research poster on the same topic. REEF Director of Field Operations, Joe Cavanaugh, presented a research poster on the 5-year monitoring project of the Wellwood Restoration Project in the Florida Keys. Additionally, REEF data were included in several talks and research posters by other scientists, including an analyses of Conch Reef status and trends by Dr. Steve Gittings, an evaluation of fish resources in Biscayne Bay by Dr. Todd Kellison, and the effect artisanal fisheries in developing nations have on predatory fishes by Dr. Chris Stallings. The Lionfish invasion was also a hot topic and REEF collaborators from Simon Fraser University presented a research poster on the effect of lionfish on cleanerfish in the Bahamas. Dr. Brice Semmens presented results from the Grouper Moon Project and how results from this cutting edge research being conducted by REEF and our collaborators can be used to inform marine reserve planning and evaluation.

REEF also participated in the ICRS Education Center. REEF staff and interns hosted an exhibit booth, which was a great success in spreading the word about REEF and our important conservation programs. The Grouper Moon Project was featured in the Solutions portion of the "Our Reefs: Caribbean Connections" traveling exhibit and the Grouper Moon documentary film was shown in the Coral Theater. Participating in scientific conferences such as ICRS is an important part of REEF's overall strategy of linking the diving community with scientists and resource managers.

REEF Names 2008 Volunteer of the Year

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REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, awards Sheryl Shea the 2008 Volunteer of the Year award on Little Cayman in February.
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Sheryl before a dive on the 2009 Grouper Moon Project.

REEF proudly awards our 2008 Volunteer of the Year award to Sheryl Shea, a dedicated REEF surveyor, teacher and ambassador. Sheryl became a REEF member in the very early days of the organization and has consistently been one of our most active surveyors. Her first survey was conducted in 1994 and to date Sheryl has conducted 954 REEF surveys. Sheryl became a member of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) in 1999 and her lifelist contains 351 fish species. After moving to Cozumel from Buffalo, NY, Sheryl facilitated REEF training programs for the Cozumel Marine Park and started leading an annual REEF Field Survey on the island in 2005. This popular REEF trip sells out every year. Sheryl has participated in several AAT projects including monitoring in the Florida Keys, the Grouper Moon Project and helped initiate REEF’s survey program in the Veracruz Marine Park.

Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 12,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.

The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Sheryl and congratulate her on all of her efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation. Cheers to our Volunteer of the Year!

Rare Finds on the Grenada Field Survey

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Lucky participants on the REEF Field Survey to Grenada aboard the Peter Hughes Wind Dancer.
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A Longspine Sailfin Blenny was seen by the group in the Grenadines, a species previously thought to be restricted to Venezuela. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF Field Surveys are not just another dive vacation. These eco-trips offer divers and snorkelers the chance to really get to know the critters that are seen underwater. In mid-July Paul Humann lead a Field Survey trip to the fairly remote group of Caribbean Islands in Grenada and the Grenadines and the participants were rewarded with many exciting finds. The group was a mixture of expert, intermediate and beginning REEF fish surveyors, and it was a great opportunity for everyone to learn and have fun. The evening classes and general discussions led everyone to improve their identifications skills. During the week, Blue McRight took and passed the Expert Level exam - Congratulations Blue!

Beyond having fun and learning, the objectives of this trip were two-fold: build up the fish survey data for this remote area and document possible species range expansions. Because of the islands’ proximity to South America, the group was especially interested in learning if any species thought to exist only along that continental coast would be found on these islands to the north. On the first night, Paul gave a presentation about species of fish to be on the look out for. The results were amazing. First and foremost - the Longspine Sailfin Blenny and Resh Pikeblenny, never recorded outside Venezuelan waters before were found! Sighting confirmations of the Giraffe Garden Eel, Veija, Red Banner Blenny, Bluebar Jawfish, Corocoro and Bluestripe Dartfish, rarely in waters north of Venezuela or Tobago were important as well. Also recorded were the very rarely spotted Spiny Flounder, African Pompano, Unicorn Filefish and Snapper Snake Eel. A total count of 261 species is nearly a REEF Field Survey record! And the group conducted 221 surveys during the week. To see the project summary and fish list, check out the REEF database. Paul, REEF and the fish thank everyone involved for making this such a successful Survey Trip. A special thanks goes to Jill Ericsson for taking charge of the survey forms.

Be sure to check out the exciting line-up of destinations for the 2010 REEF Field Survey Schedule. Come join us and make a dive vacation that Counts!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub