The Faces of REEF: Peyton Williams

Peyton doing a buddy check with his favorite dive buddy, grandson, Andrew.
The stunning male Bird Wrasse. Photo by David Andrew.

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 Peyton Williams, a REEF member since 2012. An active member based in Hawaii, Peyton teaches SCUBA and passes on the fun of doing REEF surveys to others. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I had been diving for about 30 years when I decided to become an instructor. With my increase in diving on trips, I grew bored with blowing bubbles, and decided it was time to learn more of the ecology of the dive sites (mostly in the Caribbean) I visited. My mentor was Marty Rayman, who had worked as a volunteer at the National Aquarium. Marty offered an outstanding Fish ID course that was based on the REEF program. I have been teaching Fish ID for both the TWA and Hawaii ever since using the REEF program, requiring my students to perform at least the two survey dives to become a Level 2 surveyor. Unfortunately, as an instructor, I do not get to do as many surveys as I would like, but I do get to point out many interesting critters to students and others as we dive that I would not have learned as easily without the REEF programs.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Being able to learn more about the ecology of areas I am diving in. I am a regular with the Fishinars, even for regions I do not survey in regularly. It also gives purpose to my observing fish by completing the surveys and entering them into the database.

What is the most memorable fish encounter you’ve experienced?

While taking a Venturing scout on her 4th open water dive while on a live-aboard in Bimini, I saw a large hammerhead come up on our left. I decided not to tell her, but when the hammerhead passed us and curved about 20 feet in front, I changed my mind and pointed him out. Her excitement was palpable. And she had no fear. When we returned to the boat she yelled, “I saw a hammerhead!” My wife, helping at the ladder, said, “You saw what! He never takes me where I see the big fish.” Oh, well.

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

I always try to carry at least a small camera when doing surveys. On a recent trip to St. Lucia where I was teaching fish ID, I saw several fish that I had not known which I photographed and identified at leisure and added to my surveys.

What is your favorite fish?

In Hawaii, it is the Bird Wrasse. It is a very interesting fish. My favorite invertebrate (other than the blue crab that I love to eat) is the banded shrimp. They are fun to play with.

REEF Lionfish Study Trips

Lionfish Trip co-leaders, Peter Hughes and Lad Akins.
Lionfish Field Survey Team in Curacao

REEF’s 2016 REEF Trips schedule is well underway! Two trips have already happened (Dominica and Barbados), and a group of eager fishwatchers is heading to the Philippines in a few days for our inaugural Field Survey to the Indo-Pacific. Be sure to check out the Trips schedule at www.REEF.org/trips, if you haven’t already. In addition to the traditional fish identification and surveying trips, we also host several Lionfish Study Trips each year. There are still a few spaces left on lionfish trips to Honduras in May and Curacao in August, and we are looking for team members. These important projects provide valuable data, and result in the removal of hundreds of the invading fish during the week.

During the week-long projects, either liveaboard or land based, team members are presented with training and opportunities to remove lionfish through spearing or hand netting. All collected lionfish are measured and some dissected on site to get valuable biological and impact information and some fish are prepared for team and public tastings to help promote the market for lionfish as a food fish. Team members can get fully immersed in as much of the collecting and research activities as they would like. Divers not wanting to take part in removals, still provide valuable sighting information and conduct REEF fish surveys to augment the long-term data used to look at ecological changes.

One example of Lionfish Study Trip data includes a series of annual projects we held in Belize between 2009 and 2012 that documented the progression of the invasion. From zero fish seen or collected during the first year of the project, to over 500 fish removed in a single week during year three, divers were able to document the incredible explosion in numbers but also dramatic increases in sizes. Average size of lionfish collected in 2010 was 194mm, exploding to 270mm in 2012. Another example was from our lionfish recent trip to Dominica in February. This was our second lionfish trip there. In 2012, our team collected 45 lionfish. This year, in the same locations, the team collected 566. Click here to see other examples of findings from Lionfish Study Trips.

And keep an eye on your inbox because we will be sending out the full 2017 REEF Trips schedule next week!

REEF Fest 2016 is Coming Up

A group photo during the Sunset Social Hour during REEF Fest in 2014.

REEF Fest 2016 in Key Largo, Florida, is just one month away, Thursday, September 29 – Sunday, October 2. Events include ocean-themed seminars, scuba diving, and social gatherings alongside marine conservation and dive industry leaders. Attendees will enjoy opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard in the truly unique habitats of the Florida Keys. Diving and other eco-ventures are offered each morning. Each afternoon, sit back and enjoy our exciting and compelling ocean-themed seminar series. Finally, wrap up your evenings wining and dining, in good company alongside a breathtaking sunset. All REEF Fest events are open to the public.

Check out full event details at www.REEF.org/REEFFest.

We hope you will join us for an unforgettable event in the beautiful Florida Keys! Click here to register. Don't forget to purchase your ticket for the Saturday Celebration Dinner Party! Seating is limited, so reserve your space today. Click here to purchase your ticket.

On Facebook? Please join the REEF Fest 2016 Facebook event page for updates on dive opportunities, event locations, and seminar topics! Click here to connect to the Facebook event!

The Faces of REEF: Bob Weathers

Masked Hamlet, a rare and exciting find. Photo by tomh009/wikimedia.

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 Bob Weathers, a REEF member since 2002. Bob lives in Washington State, and while he was an active diver in the Pacific Northwest for a long time, he now prefers the warmer waters of the Caribbean and Hawaii! He just recently started doing REEF fish surveys, and so far he has submitted 84. He achieved Level 3 Surveyor status in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region last year. Here's what Bob had to say about REEF:

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

I first heard about REEF when it was being launched in the early ‘90s, but I didn’t join until 2002 or start volunteering until 2012 because I had the erroneous impression that training and testing by REEF were prerequisites. I also had the mistaken impression that snorkeling surveys were not allowed.

Have you participated in a REEF Field Survey?

I’ve now been on three REEF trips (Dominica, Bonaire, Cozumel), and the highlights for me have been meeting and learning from REEF staff and volunteers.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

My favorite part is being able to contribute to and access information in an incredible database on fish distribution and abundance. I appreciate that REEF projects and programs promote understanding and stewardship of marine organisms and their environments.

Where is your favorite place to dive?

I thoroughly enjoyed diving primarily on the US West Coast for 40 years, but I now dive primarily in the Caribbean and Hawaii. I love the warmth, visibility, biological diversity, and simplicity of diving in tropical waters.

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

I would say that REEF is a citizen-science organization that encourages snorkelers and SCUBA divers to submit reports about fish (and some invertebrates) that they can identify with confidence whenever they “dive” in geographic areas for which databases are maintained.

Fish! What is the most fascinating encounter, most memorable, and still on your wish list?

While snorkeling in Belize one late afternoon, a pair of Scrawled Filefish made three laps around me at a speed much faster than I would have imagined filefish to be capable of. Then they came together for a spawning rise to the surface! As for most memorable - thinking that it is so rare that I would never see one, I was recently delighted to encounter a Masked Hamlet in Cozumel. And on my list - although I’ve had reasons to anticipate sighting Whale Sharks while diving and snorkeling in Belize and the Galapagos, seeing one remains an unfulfilled dream.

REEF’s “The Lionfish Cookbook” named Best in the World at Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Lad Akins accepting the award in China from Gourmand Founder Edouard Cointreau.
The second edition of "The Lionfish Cookbook."
The 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were held in China in May.
A spread from REEF's "The Lionfish Cookbook"

Competing against thousands of books from more than 200 countries, REEF's The Lionfish Cookbook was awarded Best in the World status in two categories at the 22nd annual Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held last month in Yantai, China. The Lionfish Cookbook was recognized one of the top three books in the world in the categories of Sustainable Food Book and Fundraising/Charity Book. The book had also reached the short list in the Seafood category.

The second edition of The Lionfish Cookbook, co-authored by Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins with photography by David Stone, features a collection of more than 60 appetizer and entrée recipes designed to encourage the removal and consumption of invasive lionfish. Adding to the original 45 recipes in the first edition, the highly awarded second edition features 16 new recipes from guest chefs serving lionfish throughout the Caribbean. The 160-page book also contains detailed information on the background and impacts of the lionfish invasion and how to safely collect, handle and prepare lionfish. To purchase your own copy of the cookbook, visit REEF's online store at www.REEF.org/store.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are the first non-native marine fish to successfully invade Atlantic waters. Their thriving populations pose a serious threat risk to marine ecosystems through their predation on native marine life, including commercially and ecologically important species. Lionfish densities in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast of the United States are on the rise due to their lack of natural predators and their prolific, year-round reproduction.

“Many countries in the affected region are encouraging consumption of lionfish to create a demand and incentive for lionfish removals,” says Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and co-author of the book. Contributing chef Francesco Ferraris, of New Especias Italian Restaurant in Cozumel, Mexico, adds, “From a culinary standpoint, lionfish are incredible. The fish has a mild, white meat and is not too overpowering.”

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were created in 1995 to celebrate global cookbook and wine publishing and feature many world-renowned chefs each year. Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, attended this year’s Gourmand World Cookbook Awards Ceremony in Yantai, China, accepting the award from Gourmand Founder Edouard Cointreau.

Supporting REEF Through Planned Giving

Did You Know?

With the tax law changes for 2018, giving appreciated property (appreciated stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, etc.) still allows a donor to avoid capital gains taxes on these outright gifts, regardless of whether they itemize deductions. And there are financial benefits for donating through an IRA, or by combining charitable gifts to various organizations to be distributed through a Donor Advised Fund. Check with your financial advisor for details. 

REEF recently established a Legacy Society to recognize donors who have remembered REEF in their estate plan. Click here to download the form and become a member of REEF’s Legacy Society. Please contact us at giving@REEF.org to discuss your plans.

Great Annual Fish Count Summary (GAFC)

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New England Aquarium Dive Club GAFC event in Gloucester, MA
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GAFC 2007 - Dive Friends at Yellow Submarine, Bonaire

Thanks to everyone who participated in a GAFC event this summer! This July, over twenty-three events were hosted throughout REEF's survey regions. We are still receiving data from these events and have processed a large amount already!

Since REEF's GAFC's inception in California in the early 90's, it has continued to grow and expand. More people are become involved in REEF by making a meaningful contribution to marine conservation by conducting REEF Fish Surveys. Previous events have generated over 2,000 surveys during the month of July. This year, the New England Aquarium Dive Club hosted an event in Gloucester, MA, with 103 surveyors! 

GAFC is REEF's biggest annual signature event which mobilizes our wonderful partners, volunteers, and dive shops throughout much of our survey regions.  All of whom coordinate their own local events which include offering free REEF Fish ID courses, organizing survey dives/snorkels, and other fun events tied into the theme of counting fish. The GAFC draws local, national (US), and international media attention each year. It reengages veteran REEF volunteers and also serves as a terrific mechanism to expose new ones to what REEF is all about. Though the GAFC takes place each July, it highlights nothing more than what we do year-round - engaging individuals to become active stewards of the marine environment. Volunteers learn by taking REEF Fish ID courses and conducting fish surveys as part of The Fish Survey Project. 

Grant Gove, who attended the GAFC event hosted by the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop in Bonaire, Netherlands Atillies, sent REEF wonderful DVD's of their successful event for our public library! If you hosted an event this year, or participated in one, we encourage you to either mail a DVD to REEF HQ, Post Office Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037 or email your pictures to intern@reef.org. 

Thank you to everyone who made GAFC successful this year and look forward to next years 17th annual GAFC event!

Counting Smallmouth Grunts in REEF's Backyard

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Smallmouth Grunts Key Largo, photo by Jessica Morris
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Painted Buntings, Passerina ciris, at REEF HQ
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Cardinalfish, oops, Cardinal at REEF HQ
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Hawk (Probably Red Shouldered) visiting the REEF Birdbath

Okay, well not exactly. But now that I have your attention.  We ARE counting something in REEF HQ's backyard, not fish, but birds!  I have signed myself /REEF up for Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology Project FeederWatch, an annual survey of birds that visit bakcyard feeders in winter. I have known about this other great citizen science program for a couple of years and like many of you, my love for birds, equals my affinity for fishes.  Last week, 4 painted buntings visited REEF's feeder for a little over a week!  You can see my fuzzy picture of a couple of them at the feeder from afar in one of the attached photos. This prompted me to go online and investigate Cornell University's FeederWatch Program further.  From their homepage you will read, "FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each species they see at their feeders from November through early April. FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance."  Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it?  

Spend a little time on their website and you will see that FeederWatch parallels REEF programmatically in a few significant ways:  1. Anyone can participate in North America, all different levels from beginners to experts; 2. We both begin participation by purchasing a starter kit, FeederWatch calls theirs a Participant Kit and it costs $15; 3. Both organizations have online Dataentry and tracking of individual participant data; 4. Similar absence/presence data, abundances, and distribution for both groups in addition to viewing individuals' data http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/PFW/ExploreData; 5. Both of our organizations utilize citizen science data to inform and assist scientists in assessing population abundance indices of important avian and fish species, leading to peer-reviewed publications and ultimately influencing species and habitat management decistions; 6. You can check on their database to see what birds are rare in your area and if there are any other FeederWatch stations near you, just as REEF members can check for fish sighting frequencies and dive sites that have been surveyed in our areas of interest.

I'm sure there are many more parallels I could draw for you, but you get the point.  One important note and the reason I am submitting this article right now is that FeederWatch season runs from the the second Saturday in November through April and is a winter activity.  For all of our temperate REEF members who are looking for something to count when you're not underwater, this is it!  To learn more, check out their website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/Overview/over_index.html.

Introduction

Greetings from REEF HQ! Conservation science is in sharp focus here at REEF, from an expanded Grouper Moon Project to new uses of REEF data in the Channel Islands. REEF is making giant strides in the Florida Keys community with a successful For the Love of the Sea benefit event, upcoming citizen science panel discussions and the recognition of two invaluable volunteers by a prominent community foundation. If you're looking for travel opportunities, consider jumping on one of the 4 spots just released on the Turks and Caicos Field Survey, April 19-26, or joining the Sea of Cortez Field Survey October 5-12. Educators can apply to join these or other REEF Field Survey teams through a special scholarship. Please read on . . .

Best "fishes",

Please Help REEF Meet Our Summer Fundraising Goal!

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Your donation will help ensure that the REEF Volunteer Survey Project keeps going strong. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

With just a few days left in the REEF Summer Drive, we are almost there.   Help REEF meet our goal of raising $25,000 by the Forth of July holiday.  Please do your part to make sure that REEF's important marine conservation programs continue to make a difference.  In appreciation, donations of $50 or more will get you a copy of the exclusive 2008 Album of the Sea Screensaver with amazing underwater photographs by Ned and Anna DeLoach.  Please donate online through our secure website or call the REEF office today (305-852-0030).

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub