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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.
When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.
What is your favorite non-fish sighting?
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.
To all our members who donated to the Winter Fundraising Campaign, thank you! REEF depends heavily on individual donors to support our critical marine conservation programs. Together we raised over $97,000 to ensure REEF can continue:
• Expanding and building upon our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, including the recent addition of invertebrate and algae monitoring in our Northeast region. With this new program, all temperate REEF regions now have an invertebrate/algae component. For more information, click here.
• Protecting and monitoring Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands as well as educating the public about the importance of this iconic species. Our team just came back from another successful trip documenting their annual spawning aggregation. For more information, click here.
• Organizing research, training, and removal tactics to battle the lionfish invasion on the East Coast and in the Caribbean. REEF’s recent research shows that strategic local efforts can control lionfish populations and help native fish communities recover. For more information, click here.
In addition to supporting these programs, donations raised by the Winter Fundraising campaign help REEF with the minimal costs required to manage operations. We ensure that every dollar spent is maximized so our projects make a difference for marine conservation around the world.
On Saturday, July 14th, seventy members of the REEF Sustainers Club (annual donors of $1,000 or more), key partners and long-time REEF friends convened in Key Largo, Florida to celebrate fourteen years of REEF accomplishments over some diving and a sunset dinner. Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach and other Board, staff and Advisory Panel members were on hand to lead guests on some spectacular morning REEF survey dives while Amy Slate and her stand-up staff at the Amoray Dive Resort generously hosted the lodging and dinner party. “The event was just beautiful.” Said long-time REEF surveyor Elaine Morden, of Homestead, Florida. “It was great to connect with old REEF friends and see some new faces.”
The bi-annual Sustainers Event is a chance for REEF to bring together important members of the REEF family to thank them for their contributions and share successes of the organization over the years. This year, REEF was proud to recognize Linda Schillinger for achieving one of the highest REEF honors: admission into the Golden Hamlet club for those who have conducted 1,000 or more REEF surveys. We were also proud to recognize Key Largo resident and REEF office volunteer Audrey Smith for nearly ten years of regular service to the organization by quality-checking survey scanforms before they are uploaded to the REEF database. REEF was itself bestowed with an honor by Sanctuary Friends of the Florida Keys Director Glenn Patton: SFFFK generously gave a gift of support for the Great Annual Fish Count this year to help underwrite the costs of public outreach and education events.
By virtue of a Paul presentation and applause vote, the group answered the perennial question “What is the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean?” Out of thirty possibilities ranging from the spotfin hogfish to the fairy basslet, the spotted eagle ray won a narrow victory over close rivals the queen angelfish and queen triggerfish. Ned enthralled the group with fish behavior anecdotes from as far afield as Indonesia and gave updates on valuable REEF programs ranging from the Grouper Moon Project to the Exotics Species Sightings Project.
All agreed that the only thing hotter than the event itself was the Florida sun in July. With the heat index topping 100 degrees, no one needed a better excuse to indulge in a new REEF-inspired cocktail, the Indigo Hamlet, a unique and diversified alcoholic concoction for our wonderful sustainers to imbibe in while enjoying the sunset! Many thanks to all who made this a Sustainers Weekend to remember. See you at the next one . . .
For information about joining the Sustainers Club, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@reef.org or (305) 852-0030.
REEF once again participated in the Perigee Environmental's yearly evaluation of the coral ecosystems along the eastern coast of Andros, Bahamas in cooperation with the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). Using the newest Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveying protocol, scientists gathered coral, benthic and fish data during the first 2 weeks of October. The data gathered will complement the existing 30 year data that demonstrates AUTEC's continuing efforts to preserve coral reefs around their facilities and military training ranges. Judy Lang, coral ecology expert, and Chris Moses, University of Southern Florida graduate student, were in charge of gathering the coral data. Brooke Gintert was conducting her Ph.D. work for the University of Miami and assisting with the benthic data collection. One of the REEF founders, Ken Marks and REEF intern Catherine Whitaker were responsible for the fish counting.
AUTEC has been actively monitoring and protecting the coral reef near shore environment since the establishment of the facilities in the 1960s. For the last six years, AUTEC has used the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment surveying protocol, which is a method that compares the complex relationship among corals, fish and algae and provides a quantitative scale on the health of a reef's ecosystem by comparing the survey results in terms of a regional comparison. In this case, it is also being used to track temporal changes to 35 reef sites around central Andros. Point-count data and general coral data were collected to estimate coral condition and algal cover. Fish variety, abundance, and size was estimated by transects and the rover diver method.
For more information concerning this trip or AGRRA please contact Patricia Kramer of Perigee Environmental (email@example.com).
Top ten things I learned from my AGRRA trip:
10. Exhaustion is a state of mind and is not cured by more work, less sleep and diving. Food (especially Pringles and chocolate) helps though.
9. Golf carts should be used more often in the US.
8. Dinner waits for no man, so floor the pedal on that golf cart and RUN!
7. The floating pier at site 1 is cursed and sets off the rain whenever any member of the AGRRA trip steps on it to load or unload anything from the boat.
6. Snakes do not belong on planes, I mean, in camera cases but seem to like it there.
5. Crashing mountainous waves and cement-like waters are not conducive to good science or a pleasant dive.
4. Post-trip pep talks should always include sweets and beverages.
3. Rick makes the barren rock that is Site 4 look and feel like Club Med. Thanks Rick.
2. Things to do on your only day off (because of 30 knot winds and 6ft waves) include but are not limited to swimming against a raging outgoing tide at a blue hole, resting by snorkeling for 2 hours in an inland blue hole, spearing lionfish, dissecting said lionfish and having a horseshoe tournament.
1. Making new friends, doing science and experiencing a sense of accomplishment for conservation efforts... priceless.
My warmest wishes go out to our AUTEC liaisons, Tom Szlyk and Marc Ciminello for their invaluable assistance. I would also like to thank everyone who put in extra effort so that I could participate in this fantastic trip as well as anyone who taught me anything while I was on it. Thank you very much.
REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, joined a dozen other scientists in presenting the findings of monitoring the marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Channel Islands, California, earlier this month during a special session of the California Islands Symposium. The presentation highlighted the effect of reserves on common nearshore rocky reef fishes based on 10 years of REEF survey data. During this time, REEF volunteer divers have collected 1,595 visual fish surveys from 113 sites throughout the Channel Islands before and after state marine reserves were established in 2002. Using analysis methods developed to analyze volunteer bird watching data, collaborators Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA NMFS) and Dr. Steve Katz (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) developed a model to detect trends in fish densities. The analysis included 25 species of common rocky reef fishes, including targeted and non-targeted species. Rather than focusing on changes in the density of individual species, the analysis evaluated changes in multiple species to characterize responses of marine communities to protection from fishing in reserves. The analysis suggests that reserves are positively influencing fish population trajectories in both targeted and non-targeted species. On average, fish populations had ~20% higher growth rates inside reserves as compared to outside, although there was a high degree of variability across species. Dr. Pattengill-Semmens notes that this study is one of the first applications of Pacific region REEF data for use by marine resource agency officials to evaluate the effects of management actions. The results will ultimately be published and will join the many existing published studies of the utility of Tropical Western Atlantic REEF data. The cumulative impact of the data and results from the entire suite of monitoring programs being conducted around the Channel Islands will "help to inform future management of the region, aid in the implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act in southern California, and contribute to our understanding of MPAs worldwide," said John Ugoretz, manager of the Marine Habitat Conservation Program for the California Department of Fish and Game. To find out more about REEF monitoring activities in the Channel Islands, visit the Channel Islands project webpage.
June will mark a change at the helm for REEF. We would like to wish Leda Cunningham well in her future endeavors, and welcome Lisa Mitchell as our new Executive Director. Lisa is eager to bring her extensive experience in the dive industry to REEF, as well as her natural passion for ocean conservation.
Lisa’s involvement with REEF almost goes back to the organization’s inception when, in 1993, she was owner/manager of Baskin in the Sun in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. After participating in a REEF Field Survey she immediately went to work involving BVI dive operators in the new program. In fact, because of her enthusiasm, Tortola became the first destination where 100% of the island’s dive businesses became REEF Field Stations. The REEF staff and Board were so impressed that she was asked to bring her organizational expertise and energies to the Board of Trustees in 1995 where she served until leaving Tortola in 1998 to pursue an Executive MBA at the University of Central Florida.
Lisa is a diver’s diver whose life has evolved around the underwater world. She earned her first scuba certification at age 12 while attending Sea Camp in Big Pine Key, Florida where she later became Assistant Scuba Director. During the following years, while gaining experience working at dive resorts in the Florida Keys and with Peter Hughes in Bonaire, she became a Master Dive Instructor and ultimately an SSI Instructor Certifier, and holds a USCG 100 Ton Master’s License. In the process Lisa has made well over 8,000 dives. To honor her many accomplishments Lisa was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2001.
Most recently Lisa has worked as a marketing and business analysis consultant within the dive industry with clients such as Scuba Schools International (SSI), Expedition Fleet Liveaboards, and Dive Dominica.
It goes without saying the REEF staff and Board are delighted to have Lisa back in the fold, and look forward to many prosperous years with such a capable and energetic Captain at the helm.
REEF members and Lisa’s many friends are invited to join us for a “Welcome Back to REEF and the Keys” evening to be held in her honor at 7 PM June 21st, 2008 at the Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo.
Earlier this month, the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) held its once a year industry-wide, international trade show in Las Vegas. As part of the show, which attracts over 10,000 industry professionals and businesses, DEMA recognized the importance of the recent lionfish invasion into the Atlantic and asked REEF to present four show-sponsored talks for attendees and members.
DEMA organizers also provided premium space at the show for an aquarium display and informational exhibit on the issue. REEF responded by providing an all-star cast of speakers and experts including Lad Akins (REEF), Andy Dehart (National Aquarium in DC), Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium) and Stephanie Green (Simon Fraser University). The talks were very well attended and the response from industry leaders was extremely positive. Marine Life artist, Ron Steven - better known as Rogest, was also on hand to sign special edition lionfish prints that he donated in support of REEF's efforts. During one seminar, Ron stood up to say that he never thought he would be encouraging divers to remove fish from the environment he works so hard to protect, but based on what we are seeing we should get rid of all lionfish (in the Atlantic). Similar sentiments were expressed by all who attended the talks. In addition to the talks, the 250 gallon aquarium set-up donated by ATM Aquariums in Las Vegas was a big hit. Ten lionfish were on display and provided excellent opportunities for in-depth discussions at the booth.
Next steps for work within the dive industry as outlined at the DEMA show are to work with inland dive operators to organize educational and data gathering lionfish projects and to work with island governments and on-island dive operators to conduct week-long workshops including education/outreach, monitoring, collecting/handling techniques and market development themes.
REEF will be leading its next week long in-country workshop in the Turks and Caicos in November and the next diver oriented project with Dive Provo January 17-24. For more information on how to organize a REEF-led lionfish project or to host a REEF workshop, please contact Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects, Lad@reef.org, (305) 852-0030. To sign up for the Turks and Caicos project with Dive Provo call our REEF travel specialist at 877-295-REEF. To find out more about REEF's efforts on lionfish, visit the REEF Lionfish Research page.
REEF kicked off our summer fundraising campaign last week with a goal of raising $30,000 over the next 30 days. Help us meet this goal by contributing today! Although membership is free, REEF counts on financial support from individuals like you who believe in our work. Your donation will enable REEF to continue to support the Volunteer Survey Project and provide much needed data that will help to protect and preserve the underwater ecosystem. To find out more about the fundraising campaign and our plans for the next six months, read this special message from REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann. Please take a moment to make a donation now using our secure online donation form at https://www.reef.org/contribute. Our capacity to successfully implement and grow ongoing programs is directly tied to your support. REEF can’t do it alone, and we thank you generously for your contribution!
Working in close partnership, REEF, NOAA, and the USGS, have just completed the first field guide to non-native fishes in Florida. The 120 page publication documents the occurrences, identification and ecology of more than 35 non-native fish species found in Florida waters. Detailed sightings maps, notes on similar appearing species and information on native ranges are included. The goal of the publication is to provide a single source, field ready guide for enforcement as well as a reference for researchers and educators to aid in early detection and removal of non-native marine fish. The red lionfish, which was first documented off Florida in 1985, provides an example of what can happen once an invasive fish species becomes established. Lionfish are now widespread along the southeast US and parts of the Caribbean, preying upon ecologically-important native species such as fishes and crustaceans. REEF continues to conduct training, outreach, and field studies to limit the spread and impact of lionfish on native western Atlantic reefs.
The illustrated guide was published as a NOAA Technical Memorandum that is available online (http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/Marine_Fish_ID/index.html). 1,300 copies were printed and are being distributed to key local, state and federal agencies. The on-line edition guide will be continuously updated with new records and reports.
Divers and snorkelers can report non-native species that are seen underwater at REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Page.
One of nature’s most spectacular underwater wonders is the annual coral spawning, when many of the reef’s corals and other animals, cued by late summer’s full moon, synchronize their spawning. Our summer REEF Trips, to Key Largo August 26 - September 2 and Bonaire September 25 – October 2, are scheduled around the projected coral spawning for those areas. Join like-minded underwater naturalists and combine fishwatching with a chance to see this exciting event.
Ned and Anna DeLoach will host a one-of-a-kind, late August trip at Amoray Dive Resort, centering on Key Largo’s annual Coral Spawning. In addition to slide and video presentations about marine life spawning behavior, the couple will lead a week of diving with emphasis on the nights that corals are most likely to spawn. Laurie MacLaughlin, Resource Manager from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, will update us about her ongoing coral spawning research and describe coral spawn collecting methods. Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation, will speak about growing coral for restoring reefs and will escort the group to his famous coral nursery, where participants will have the opportunity for hands-on work. Day dives will provide the opportunity to hone fishwatching and survey skills and a special dusk dive is scheduled to observe fish spawning behavior and the evening gathering of hundreds of Midnight and Rainbow Parrotfishes. A rare opportunity for anyone who loves nature!
Jessie Armacost, author of the original Bonaire Diving Made Easy, and long-time REEF instructor will lead the late September trip at Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire. Few dive sites in the world can provide 100 fish species on a single dive - Bonaire is one of these special places where you can make that “Century Dive”. Jessie’s seven years of teaching fish ID in Bonaire makes her uniquely qualified to help you add fish species to your lifelist or gain the skills to move you up to your next surveyor level. Bonaire’s exceptional shore diving and easy boat diving give you access to a wide range of habitats with a chance to see everything from clingfish to Bonefish. We’ve scheduled this year’s trip to coincide with the Southern Caribbean’s annual coral spawning, so you’ll have the chance to watch fish by day and view this great natural history event at night.
For more information on either of these projects, visit the REEF Trips webpage - http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. To reserve your space please contact our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or you can e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.