Putting It To Work: New Publications on Lionfish

Photo by Carol Cox.

REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, has co-authored several recent scientific publications on the invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic, including:

-Diet richness of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish revealed by DNA barcoding. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Significant research by REEF researchers and others has been conducted looking at stomach contents of lionfish to identify prey. However, relatively few prey species have been identified because of the challenge of identifying partly digested prey. The authors of this study addressed this issue by DNA-barcoding unidentifiable fish items from the stomachs of 130 lionfish. They identified 37 prey species, half of which had previously not been recorded as lionfish prey.

-Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets. Bulletin of Marine Science. This paper uses data from the 20,000+ REEF surveys conducted in Florida since the early 1990s, along with other long-term data sources, to document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys. Between 2009 and 2011, lionfish frequency of occurrence, abundance, and biomass increased rapidly, increasing three- to six-fold between 2010 and 2011 alone.

- Habitat complexity and fish size affect the detection of Indo-Pacific lionfish on invaded coral reefs. Coral Reefs. This paper explores detectability rates of lionfish using underwater visual census methods such as belt transects and stationary visual census. Knowing the error in these methods specficially for lionfish is necessary to help study this invasive species in the western Atlantic. The authors found that the two census methods detect fewer than 30% of lionfish present in an area and, in more than 50% of the cases, fail to detect any lionfish when one or more indivudals are actually present.

For a complete list of publications featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

REEF Joins in Submersible Expedition to Assess the Lionfish Invasion Beyond Diving Depths

REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green inside the Antipodes sub.
Several dozen invasive lionfish call an artificial reef in South florida, the Bill Boyd, home off.

REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.

During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.

The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.

As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.

Please Support REEF and Our Important Marine Conservation Work

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.

We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

The Faces of REEF: Nick Brilliande

A Whitetip Reef Shark - one of Nick's memorable finds on a recent survey. Photo by Jim Spears.

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 Nick Brilliande. He has been a REEF member since 2011. An active surveyor who lives on Oahu, Hawaii, Nick has conducted 50 surveys to date and is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Hawaii region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

The first time I heard about REEF was through a group called Reef Watch Waikiki. I attended some talks by REEF members Cassidy Lum and Jennifer Barrett describing what REEF does and how to survey fish. I answered a few questions and made some comments on fish, which impressed both Cassidy and Jen. Then came the time to try it out and I did. I had fun doing it, but it was also an excuse to look at fish, which I always find fascinating. After that, I became a member, went out to survey when I could, and slowly made my way up to an Expert Level 4/5 surveyor.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I am always curious as to how the environment changes over time and how those changes affects the species that live there. The ocean is always different every day in some way or another; you never have the same type of conditions or species.

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

When doing a fish survey, having an extra pair of eyes does help, but you want to be patient. The fish initially view you as a threat, but wait a little and eventually they will get used to you enough to come out and be able to see them. Let the animals make the first moves.

When learning fish for the first time, do not jump around families. The only thing that will accomplish is a huge headache. Take one family, learn the different species of fish one at a time, then quiz yourself to see if you actually know one species from another. Rinse and repeat. As long as you are out and about, you will never forget a fish's face. As mentioned, patience is key. Let them come out on their terms and let them make the first moves. One thing that seems to work for me is keeping my hands and arms to my side while snorkeling or diving - fish seem to view this as less threatening than flailing arms back and forth or having arms wide out.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish you would really like to see?

There are a few finds I remember. One was in Pokai Bay on O'ahu. Here, I witnessed a female Whitley's Boxfish picking at a turtle with a large tumor beside his mouth. This fish was picking at the tumor, but I still have no idea as to the purpose of this. At this same location on the same day I found my first lobster molt, a Slipper Lobster molt. Another encounter I still remember is in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. There were three notable encounters on the same day: two Longnose Butterflyfish, one of which was in a rare dark coloration alongside the other, which was in it's typical yellow coloration, a partial albino Yellow Tang in very shallow water, and a very sleepy Whitetip Reef Shark, which I was able to get very close to without disturbing him.

As far as animals I would like to see, that list would be almost half a page long. A few notable ones would include a Whale Shark, a Dragon Moray Eel, a Hawaiian Monk Seal underwater (I've seen them numerous times on beaches or them swimming around viewed from a boat or shore), and a Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

One Week Left in Summer Matching Campaign

REEF’s Summer Donation Matching Campaign is winding down, but we still need your support to reach our goal! Please consider making your donation today - click here to donate online! We are $12,000 from our goal of $60,000, and we know we can count on the support of our members. Thanks to a generous matching pledge from three of our supporting foundations, your donation will be doubled. Your support helps ensure that we can continue the critical work to protect our world oceans through education and research. Please consider donating today to help us reach our fundraising goal. Every donation, no matter how small, makes double the difference!

A highlight of the summer for us has been our new REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp. From studying mangroves to completing mock health surveys on sea turtles and investigating ocean creatures, these young REEF Explorers had a blast! Just like you, we are committed to educating the public so marine conservation continues well into the future. Education is a component that runs through all of REEF's programs and is essential to ensuring the success of our core citizen science projects. Don't forget that every dollar given is matched by our generous supporters this summer. Please make a today donation at www.REEF.org/contribute!

And a big fishy thank you to all of our members who have already donated this summer.

Explorers Summer Camp

If you know a child with a sense of adventure and a passion for the ocean, check out REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp! The 5-day program in Key Largo, Florida, immerses campers into an ocean of learning and fun! REEF will introduce campers to the underwater world and all the amazing things found beneath the sea. Meet a sea turtle, swim alongside reef fishes, and explore the beautiful Florida Keys. We have 4 sessions planned this summer and registration is now open!

Each camp session includes:

  • Snorkel trips to the coral reef
  • Kayak ventures into winding mangrove trails
  • Cruise on the glass bottom boat
  • Marine science lessons, experiments, and crafts
  • Opportunity to connect with nature and make new friends

Join REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp to make a splash this summer. We welcome campers ages 8 - 14. Sibling discount available. A $275 camp tuition includes park entry fees, activity expenses, equipment rentals, and souvenir REEF gear including a T-shirt and water bottle! Camp hosted at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, FL June 20-24, July 18-22, and August 1-5. Camp hosted at Post Card Inn at Holiday Isle in Islamorada, FL July 11-15. For more information please visit www.REEF.org/Explorers/Camp or call (305) 852-0030.

Double Your Donation and Support REEF Discoveries

Alfian's Flasherwrasse, discovered by REEF's own Anna DeLoach in Indonesia. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

On World Oceans Day, REEF kicked off our annual summer matching campaign. Every donation that comes in through August 8, up to $40,000, will be matched dollar for dollar! We are highlighting all the exciting new discoveries REEF staff and members are making through our core programs. With your help this summer, REEF can continue to study the vast underwater world that remains largely unexplored and encompasses more than 70% of our blue planet.

To make a contribution, please visit www.REEF.org/donate.

If you are a regular reader of Making It Count, you may have already heard of these exciting discoveries. They are significant steps forward in marine conservation efforts, and it is only possible through donor support, citizen science, and the help of our members, that we uncovered:

  • Previously undescribed species, including a Coralblenny from the Philippines, Eyre’s Dwarfgoby, from Fiji, and Alfian’s Flasherwrasse from Indonesia 
  • Nassau Grouper can travel up to 275 km during their reproductive season (with this finding, the Cayman Government recommended seasonal protections rather than fishing closures only at reproductive locations) 
  • Ongoing lionfish removals can suppress the invasion to a low enough level to allow for the protection and recovery of native fish populations on Caribbean reefs

From all of us at REEF, we sincerely thank all our donors who make this work possible! Please have a safe and fun-filled 4th of July!

REEF Sustainers Weekend: A Gathering of Friends in the Florida Keys

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Clara Taylor, Ned DeLoach, Joe Glenn, Anna DeLoach, Paul Humann and Amy Slate share a moment together.
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Lad Akins presents newest Golden Hamlet Club member, Linda Schillinger, with award for completing 1,000 REEF surveys
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Joe Cavanaugh presents 10-year office volunteer Audrey Smith with award and free spot on the 2008 Turks and Caicos REEF Field Survey

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 Parts - Things to Know (10/07)

Here are a few notes and news bits we'd like you to know about:

  • Field Survey Update (2007-2008): Thanks to all who have made our 2007 Field Survey year a successful year with just a few trips left!
  • Going on a trip? Order Scan forms, underwater survey paper, books, and other items at the REEF online store

4 Spots Now Available on Turks and Caicos Field Survey

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REEF Live-aboards provide a great way to become expert surveyors!
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Orange Moray, one of many cryptic species off T & C, Photo by Todd Fulks

Four spots recently opened on our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II, April 19-26, 2008.  This is a wonderful opportunity for new and experienced REEF surveyors to spend a week diving in one of the jewels of the Caribbean. You can take advantage of our live-aboard accomodations and make up to 5 dives per day at all the best sites these islands have to offer. 

There are quite a few expert surveyors on this trip, so if you're a beginning surveyor, you'll have plenty of mentorship and you could even work toward becoming an expert by the end of the week.  For our experts, there are many cryptic species to challenge us on our surveys. We will have a number of REEF Fish ID classes and time to catch participants up on the many exciting upcoming REEF projects worldwide for 2008.

To reserve your spot - please call Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030, ext. 3 or Tami Gardner at Travel for You, 1-888-363-3345,  For more information about the trip, please visit our Field Survey page atField Survey page   Hope you can join us!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub