Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Sea Saba

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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations

This month we feature Sea Saba, a top-notch dive operator located on a small Caribbean island devoid of beaches, but abundant in spectacular dive sites! The island of Saba is known for its unspoiled natural beauty and lack of development- the island has fewer than 2,000 residents. Dive shop owners, Lynn and John, have made scuba diving, travel, and photography their life for well over 2 decades. Some time ago, while exploring a rainforest in Peru with an exceptionally knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, Lynn realized that there aren’t enough scuba guides in the industry who are highly knowledgeable about the marine life and habitats they work in. To quote her, “Certainly professional and safety standards are important but sadly, far too many dive guides are actually poor guides.”

Working with the REEF program is one great tool utilized by Sea Saba to continue to improve the knowledge base of their dive instructors. Dive staff members are frequently reminded that their core function is to be great guides, and newly hired dive staff are required to become REEF Level 3 surveyors within 60 days! “It’s a win/win/win. We’re making a concerted effort to ensure a great dive experience is had by all our visitors but also by our staff. If we can engage each guide to be more aware and knowledgeable and share this information with our diving guests, dive guides avoid burnout. The enthusiasm is contagious.” says Lynn.

Sea Saba understands and shares REEF’s mission to educate, enlist, and engage divers in marine conservation efforts. In Lynn’s words, “Fish identification skills are a stepping stone in understanding our underwater environment. By sharing knowledge, we not only create better surface interval conversations, we can hope each diver is also an advocate to use what power he/she has to protect this realm: the coral, the fish, the reef, the ocean…our planet.”

Sea Saba hosted the first REEF Field Survey of the year in March and they made sure our trip season got off to a great start - participants confirmed over 150 species sightings during the week, including rare finds such as yellowcheek basslets, punk blennies, and a hammerhead shark! Our team of ten was well taken care of by the excellent divemasters and staff of Sea Saba, many of whom are active surveyors throughout the Saba Marine Park surrounding this petite island. The natural beauty of Saba was the perfect setting for our diving (and hiking) adventure.

Grouper Moon Project Works With Dr. Guy Harvey To Produce Documentary

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Acclaimed marine artist and conservationist, Dr. Guy Harvey, joined the Grouper Moon Project team in 2011 to document the research being conducted on the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation on Little Cayman. Dr. Harvey and videographer, George Schellenger, spent 7 days in the field with scientists from REEF, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, and Oregon State University. The culmination of their work came together in a documentary called "The Mystery of the Grouper Moon", which was premiered to a packed house at the Harquail Theatre on Grand Cayman in September. Since that time, Dr. Harvey has been busy showing the documentary to local schools and promoting grouper conservation to generations of future Caymanians. The film will soon be available online for REEF members to watch, stay tuned. Inpsired by his time underwater with the grouper, Dr. Harvey created a painting of the aggregation that is featured on the documentary promotional poster. The original artwork will soon be available for purchase, with all proceeds going to REEF to support the Grouper Moon Project. To read more about the documentary, check out this article in the Cayman Compass. We are excited to have Dr. Harvey as a collaborator on this important REEF program.

REEF.org Website Redesigned

REEF is proud to announce the next generation of our website - www.REEF.org. The redesigned page was launched earlier this month. The website still features the wealth of information, tools, and resources you expect from REEF.org, but now they are highlighted with a new design and user friendly navigation. Aside from the new look, you may notice that the site is much faster  due to an upgrade in our server equipment. Whether you're quizzing yourself on fish ID, looking to book a REEF Trip, or learning the latest research on the lionfish invasion, REEF.org keeps you up to date with all of our latest activities and programs. The Discussion Forum is a perfect place to post your ID questions, dive trip highlights, and more. Our website is also the central hub for the almost 160,000 fish surveys that have been submitted by our volunteer members over the last 19 years. Exploring the REEF Database is now even easier with significantly faster reporting. If you are a REEF surveyor, be sure to create a REEF.org login account (if you don't have one already) so that you can generate your personal survey log and species lifelist. The Top Stats page now shows the 25 surveyors in each region with the most surveys, so that even more of our members can track their progress.

This is the fourth major revision to the REEF website. REEF's online home was originally launched fifteen years ago in 1997. REEF would like to extend a huge thank you to longtime IT volunteer extraordinaire, Ben Weintraub, for making this new site possible. Please take a moment to explore the new website. Let us know what you think - send an email to webmaster@REEF.org. Your feedback is important to us as we continue to improve the site. We hope you enjoy it!

Putting it to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, October 2012

Red Sea Urchin populations in Washington State are being examined using REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 National Research Council post-doctoral fellow is using REEF sightings data on manta and mobula to evaluate global populations of these at-risk species.

- A researcher is evaluating fish distribution and abundance data from south Florida to be included in a NOAA document used to respond to oil spills.

- A University of Washington researcher is using data on Red Sea Urchin to evaluate population trends in this important echinoderm that is increasingly harvested.

- A graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is using population data on Nassau Grouper to document populations trends of this endangered Caribbean reef fish.

Application Deadline For Fall Internships Approaching

Do you know a young adult who is interested in ocean conservation, research, education, and diving? Applications are currently being accepted for the Fall REEF Marine Conservation Internship positions. Every four months, REEF invites hundreds of applicants to compete for four internship positions. The chosen interns implement community outreach and education programs focused on reef fish identification and lionfish handling and collection. Interns also dive and volunteer with partner organizations in the Florida Keys. Examples of some average daily intern activities include computer data entry, helping to write and layout newsletters and flyers, packaging orders, answering phone calls and e-mails, greeting visitors at REEF Headquarters, biological assessment fieldwork and data analysis, and community education and outreach.

For more information on this program or if you know someone who would like to apply, please visit the Internship Webpage or email General Manager, Martha Klitzkie, at Martha@reef.org. Applications for the Fall internship are due June 30th.

REEF Sponsors Grouper Education Workshop

Educators learned a Food Web Game classroom activity that is part of the Grouper Education Program curriculum. REEF Educator, Todd Bohannon, demonstrates how the food web connections are represented by yarn strung between different members of the coral reef community.
Mr. Bradley Johnson, from Cayman Islands Department of Environment, presenting information to educators during the Grouper Education Workshop on Cayman Brac.
Two students participating in the Grouper Education Program.

On December 3rd and 5th, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) held free educator workshops on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The professional development workshops presented the Grouper Education Program, a marine sciences curriculum for intermediate/elementary and high school students that was developed as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Nineteen teachers from 12 schools participated, including 2 schools from the Bahamas. Participants received the materials and resources necessary for successfully implementing the Grouper Education Program in their classrooms. This exciting project focuses on bringing the Nassau Grouper into classrooms through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect classrooms with Grouper Moon scientists in the field.

The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important fish. Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations. In addition to classroom lessons, the program includes live-feed video sessions that take place at the Grouper Moon Project research site on Little Cayman, bringing real-world field science into the classroom.

The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support for the workshops was provided by Cayman Airways, Brac Reef Beach Resort, and LIME. The program curriculum was developed to complement the research and scientific efforts of the Grouper Moon Project. Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, along with Grouper Moon scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. (REEF), and Mr. Bradley Johnson (DOE), have led the educational effort. Activities were developed in consultation with teachers at Cayman Prep on Grand Cayman, Verity Redrup and Brenda Bryce, and Cynthia Shaw, author of the youth fictional book, Grouper Moon. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

REEF Lionfish Expeditions Lead to New Information

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Pterois volitans AKA lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo
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August Blackbeard's Lionfish Project.
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Hesperis dissection by Everton Joseph (College of the Bahamas), Tim Schwab (Nassau Guardian) and Marcian Tucker (College of the Bahamas)
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Juvenile lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo

Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.

To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers.  REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.

Interesting data to date include:

  • Average size:188mm
  • Most species: Pterois volitans (though there are some Pterois miles present also)
  • Stomach content: about 70 % fish and 30 % crustacean with the most prevalent prey families including basslets, gobies and shrimp. Also found in stomachs: whole crab, whole sand diver, jawfish with eggs still in its mouth, and juvenile grouper (including Nassau)
  • Genetics: It appears that there were at least 11 females involved in the original founding population. This number is up from previous indications of four fish.
  • Reproduction: Fish are reproducing year-round with age at reproduction as young as 1-2 years.
  • Habitat preference: Lionfish have been found in almost all habitat types including artificial sites, canals, deep reefs, shallow reefs, small ledges and sand bottom.
  • Parasites: Compared to native fish, lionfish have almost no parasites, leaving more energy and time for growth and reproduction.
  • Growth: Lionfish appear to grow faster than similar sized native fish species like the graysby and the red hind.

REEF Remembers Chile Ridley

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Just before the holidays, REEF was saddened to learn of the passing of long-time volunteer and friend, Chile Ridley of Bonaire. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, especially his wife, Linda. The following article by Buddy Stockwell was published in the Caribbean Compass.

"On December 16, 2007 , the Cruising Community, the Island of Bonaire, and Mother Earth all lost one of their most wonderful, talented, and trusted friends. Edward Alton Ridley, known to all as " Chile" Ridley, took his own life at the age of 58. Chile was born in Valentine, Texas, and had battled the disease of depression all of his life. He is survived by his wife, Linda Ridley of Marfa, Texas . The Ridley's began their Cruising life aboard their Valiant 42 "Natural Selection" by departing Galveston in 1998 and sailing to St. Petersburg, Florida , where their new Valiant was part of the 1998 boat show. Thereafter, they cruised down the Eastern Caribbean , finally arriving in Bonaire five years later on Valentine's Day of 2003. As avid SCUBA divers, both Chile and Linda instantly fell in love with Bonaire and remained there as residents living aboard "Natural Selection." Chile was Manager of Bonaire's Capture Photo and also worked as a Dive Master. Most important, he was an indispensable volunteer for environmental organizations such as REEF, STINAPA and the Bonaire Seaturtle Conservation Project. Chile completed 300 Level 5 surveys for REEF, collected hundreds of amazing underwater images on film, and completed almost 2,000 dives. Chile's "True Grit" Texas spirit, fine character, and exceptional skills combined to make him an unflagging Champion of the environment like no other. Loved by all, Chile was not just a gentleman but a gentle man, always willing to lend a hand and always the first to volunteer. He will be missed by all who knew him, including all of the beautiful sea creatures of Bonaire that he loved so well and fought so hard to protect. The family asks that in lieu of cards or flowers, donations should be made in his name to support the Sea Turtle Conservation Project by visiting https://www.supportbonaire.org or to www.REEF.org for the fish survey projects."

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.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub