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).

Fishwatching - The Thrill of the Hunt For New Species

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Hogchoker, a tiny flatfish, was a great find by active REEF surveyors, Todd and Lynn Fulks. Photo by Todd Fulks.

It's one of the great things about fishwatching and doing REEF surveys - no matter how many surveys you have conducted, there is always an opportunity to find something new. These "mystery fish" are what keep folks who have done even 1,000+ surveys coming back for more. Finding a "lifer", a species new to your species life list, is always rewarding. A great part of submitting REEF surveys is that REEF keeps track of your lifelist for you.  

One of the many data summary reports that are available through the REEF Website is your personal Life List Report, which includes all of the species that you have reported during REEF surveys. REEF Surveyors also have access to "My Survey Log", which lists information about each survey dive, including date, time, location and the number of species seen. In order to access these reports, you need to be logged into REEF.org. If you haven't already done so, create a Website login account today.

Active surveyors, Todd and Lynn Fulks, found one such "lifer" recently during a survey dive in San Blas, Panama -- a hogchoker (Trinectes maculatus). This little flatfish was happy to pose on Todd's slate underwater while they snapped a photo. Great find! Do you have your own great lifelist story? Please post it to the REEF Forum Discussion Board.  And if you are looking for a great read this Fall, check out The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. It chronicles obsessed bird watchers participating in a contest known as the North American Big Year, hoping to be the one to spot the most bird species during the course of the year. If you are a fish fanatic, you will definitely see some similarities!

REEF News Tidbits

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Dr. Brice Semmens presented REEF's Grouper Moon Project results at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in May 2009.
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This is one of the new books added to the REEF Online Store.

REEF's Grouper Moon Project Featured as "Success Story in Marine Conservation" REEF's research program focused on studying one of the last remaining large spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Cayman Islands, the Grouper Moon Project, was included as one of 26 stories of good news in the typically grim news of marine conservation efforts. Dr. Brice Semmens, Grouper Moon Project lead scientist, presented results from the collaborative research efforts during the Beyond the Obituaries: Success Stories in Ocean Conservation symposium organized by Drs. Jeremy Jackson and Nancy Knowlton at the National Museum of Natural History last month. To watch Brice's talk archived online, click on this link and then navigate to about 52:45 on the time bar. The presentation is 10 minutes.

REEF Featured on NPR's Morning Edition REEF surveyor, Pacific NW diver, and NPR reporter Ann Dornfeld wrote and narrated a story that aired on National Public Radio on May 20th. The story covers a typical REEF survey, as well as discussing how the data is being used in Washington State to help understand the status of rockfish species. The story features interviews with REEF surveyors Janna Nichols and David Jennings, REEF's Director of Science - Christy Semmens, and WDFW's Greg Bargmann. Click here to listen to the story or visit KUOW webpage to read the transcript.

New Hawaii Field Guides Added to the REEF Online Store We have just added three new field guide books for critters and fish found on Hawaii's reefs. The new selection includes an updated and expanded fish guide by John Hoover, which is a must for any diver or snorkeler planning to do surveys in Hawaii. We also added Hoover's Hawaii's Sea Creatures, a guide to over 500 invertebrate species, and a waterproof booklet of 100 of the most common Hawaii fishes.  Visit the REEF Store today for all of your field guide needs, as well as your place for REEF survey materials and REEF gear!

REEF To Collaborate On Assessment of Coral Reefs REEF will be providing fish population data to Reefs at Risk Revisited, a global analysis of threats to coral reefs using high-resolution data and biological modeling. The Reefs at Risk project is led by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), and will serve as a landmark evaluation of coral reefs worldwide. Stay tuned for future issues of REEF-in-Brief for updates.

Great Annual Fish Count 2009 An exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners. Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event. And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.

Please Remember to Donate During REEF's Summer Fundraising Campaign Your support is needed to ensure the long-term success of REEF and our important marine conservation programs. Donate online today through this link. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and Staff -- Thank You!

Active REEF Surveyor in San Diego Honored by SD Oceans Foundation

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REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team member, Bob Hillis. Photo courtesy SDOF.

The San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF) is one of REEF's valued partner organizations. SDOF has been supporting its volunteers to participate in REEF surveying for the last several years and has sponsored dozens of survey training workshops. SDOF recently honored REEF member, Bob Hillis, who is a long-time SDOF Reef Monitoring Volunteer, as their 2009 top volunteer for his invaluable support of the oceans. Having completed 202 REEF Surveys, Bob has continued to strengthen his connection to the sea while providing indispensable information about the status of marine populations off the coast of California. 
Bob joined REEF in 2006 and is a member of the REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). In addition to being an active surveyor, he and his wife helped spread the REEF word last year at our SCUBA Show 2009 booth.

Bob says - “I started doing surveys when I saw a notice for an SDOF Fish ID class on the Divebums website. I had started fish watching a few years before when I reached the "been there, done that" point of diving in San Diego. I started diving here in the early '70's and did all the abalone, lobster, blue water spearfishing, divemaster, instructor, dive medtech and public safety diver things. I live in the mountains (about 60 miles from the coast), but the ocean is my favorite playground! I am also an avid surfer, body surfer and ocean swimmer. Doing REEF surveys with SDOF gives me an opportunity to enjoy my passions and give a little back to the ocean as well. These surveys actually force me to focus on and identify all of the species that I used to see (but not REALLY see). Always hoping to locate a new or rare species has added a new and exciting dimension to diving.”

Thanks for your efforts, Bob, and congratulations! And thanks to SDOF for their continued support of the REEF program.

Counting Fish on the Spike in Jacksonville

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Happy REEF surveyors after conducting GAFC surveys in Jacksonville.
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Polka-dot Batfish are one of the interesting critters found around the Spike. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Thirty miles offshore, in 100 feet of water, the Spike isn’t the most accessible dive site off North Florida’s coast but July 17th marked the first anniversary of the former Coast Guard tender’s deployment as an artificial reef so we were eager to see what had changed over the past year. The Spike had only been down 10 days when we surveyed it during last year’s Great Annual Fish Count. We weren’t expecting much then – the chance to dive a freshly minted reef was the main attraction, but it was interesting that it had already attracted a small crowd of nervous bottom fish, including the usual Black Sea Bass and Vermillion Snappers.

It was a very different site one year later. A large school of nosy barracudas followed the first diver down the line, clearing the way for hundreds of Atlantic Spadefish to move in and escort the rest of our group down. The Spike was surrounded by silversides that fled en masse as we moved through them, then streaked back to the structure for protection when gangs of Great Amberjack attacked. It’s difficult to describe the sound made by thousands of fleeing fish, but they are noisy. The superstructure is now covered with invertebrates – barnacles, tunicates, sponges, and anemones – that provide shelter and food for hundreds of tiny seaweed blennies. Jacksonville’s ubiquitous grunt, the Tomtate, was there in every phase from juvenile to adult. The Black Sea Bass and Vermillion snappers are now settled in under the bow with a group of small Red Snappers and waddling around in the sand was one of my favorites, a Polka-dot batfish! A year ago, I counted 6 species of fish. This year I counted 16 species.

Our group also dived the Gator Bowl Press Boxes, an artificial reef created years ago when the city’s stadium was renovated. Although it had about the same amount of biomass as the Spike, there were more species. One of the joys of offshore Jacksonville for fishwatchers is getting to see species like Dwarf Goatfish, Longspine Porgys, Bank Sea Bass and Oyster Toadfish that we see don’t tend to see in more tropical waters. Congratulations to Richard Salkin and T.C. Howe, who conducted their first REEF surveys.

Reports from the Field: October 2010

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Field Surveys – Eighteen REEF members joined Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens earlier this month on a Field Survey to the Sea of Cortez aboard the Rocio del Mar live-aboard. The team conducted over 300 surveys in 20 locations around the Midriff Islands, many of which were new to the REEF database. It was a great trip, with 130 species of fish found, beautiful topside scenery, and pods of sperm and pilot whales! Find out more about REEF Trips.

Lionfish Derby – The second of three lionfish round-ups in the Florida Keys was held last week off Marathon (FL). During this one-day event, several teams participated to collect this voracious predator off local reefs. The third derby is scheduled for November 13 in Key West. Find out more about REEF’s Lionfish Program.

REEF Volunteers of the Year 2010

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Liz teaching fish ID at Kahekili Beach on Maui.

REEF proudly awards our 2010 Volunteer(s) of the Year award to Donna Brown and Liz Foote. Donna and Liz both live on Maui in Hawaii, where they have been active in REEF since 2001 when we expanded the Fish Survey Project to the Hawaiian Islands. Donna has been a REEF member since 1994 and Liz since 1999. Both are members of the Hawaiian Islands Advanced Assessment Team and collectively have conducted 361 surveys. Donna and Liz were instrumental during the expansion to Hawaii. They provided technical assistance in the development of the survey and training materials and supported a growing network of local REEF surveyors. Through the years, these volunteers served as incredible ambassadors of the program, generating a core group of dedicated REEFers, who have in turn have carried the REEF torch. The Fish Identification Network (FIN), a local REEF group, grew out of their efforts. 10 years and 10,000 Hawaii surveys later (as of January 2011), REEF is going strong on the islands. Donna and her husband George have also been a part of the South Pacific expansion team, and participated in two REEF training trips to American Samoa. Both Donna and Liz continue to be very active in many other regional marine environmental issues in addition to their REEF activities.

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 14,000 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.

The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Liz and Donna and congratulate them on all of their marine conservation efforts and great work on behalf of our organization!

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Kenny Tidwell

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REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we feature Kenny Tidwell (REEF member since 1998). Kenny is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 291 surveys. Here's what Kenny had to say about REEF:

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

I had been scuba diving for many years and after several hundred dives, I was honestly getting a little bored with what seemed to me as basically the same stuff on every dive. Little did I know I had been blindly swimming by some pretty amazing stuff that I didn’t even realize was there! I was lucky enough to take a dive trip to Bonaire in 1993 where I first met Jerry Ligon who is a naturalist in the area and inspired me to become a fish watcher! I immediately bought Paul Humann’s Caribbean fish ID book and made it my mission to learn something new on every dive. Around that same time, I started reading about REEF in dive magazines and liked what I saw about the organization's mission and activities. I had long wanted to go on one of their field survey trips and finally signed up along with my wife, Vickie, to go on my first REEF Discovery field survey trip to Puerto Rico led by Paul Humann. After that first trip, I was hooked and would rather dive with other REEF divers than do any other dive activity. I had finally figured out why I was getting a little bored with scuba. REEF really breathed new life into my diving!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

I have been on about one or two field survey trips each year since I started diving with REEF. In addition to my first Discovery trip to Puerto Rico, I have been to the Sea of Cortez, Lee Stocking Island, Bonaire, Little Cayman, a lionfish research trip to Bahamas, and several times to Cozumel. The highlight of each trip was the opportunity to meet and learn from other REEF divers who share a similar mission.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I strongly believe in the mission of the organization and sincerely want to contribute something from my diving efforts. It has been a real challenge to me to try and learn as much not only about fish ID, but also about fish behavior. I am just like a birder who wants to find that new species to add to their list. It is a real thrill to me to add something new to my list and to find something I have been looking at in the books, but haven’t yet seen in the ocean!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Going on field survey trips and interacting and learning from other divers. I have learned a lot and have met some wonderful REEF members who have really inspired me, including Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach, Sheryl Shea, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, Lad Akins, Brice and Christy Semmens, Judie Clee, and many many others! I actually enjoy the classroom time almost as much as the diving itself! I only wish I had hooked up with REEF sooner! I have also used the opportunity to invite other divers and snorkelers that I meet on trips outside of REEF to tell them about the organization and invite them to participate. Each time I am on a dive boat and have a survey slate in my hand, it always seems to invite an inquiry as to what I am doing? I use that window of opportunity to try and inspire new fish watchers. We have given away many of the waterproof underwater fish ID books to divers and snorkelers that we meet in order to get them more interested in learn the amazing variety of marine life around them that most seem to not even recognize that they are there, much less know what they are looking at.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

All of the REEF field stations that I have visited are great, but if I had to pick one, I would choose Aqua Safari. I first dove with them in 2005 about 5 wks after Hurricane Wilma struck Cozumel. That is when I had the opportunity to meet Sheryl Shea and the rest of the staff at Aqua Safari. I have been back for every field survey there since that time with the exception of last year when I was in a severe accident that curtailed my diving for quite a while. Sheryl is a GREAT teacher and a real inspiration to dive with as is all of the staff at Aqua Safari. Tracy Griffin is also a great teacher and will be leading the trip this year. There are places in the Caribbean that you can count on finding more species to log on your survey, but the field survey trip to Cozumel always is a lot of fun.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

Increasing the awareness of the fragility or our marine environment I think is critical to REEF’s mission. The contribution of an enormous amount of data to document declining fish populations is valuable, which changes how people view the fragile nature of the environment and ultimately affects public policy to protect those resources. The lionfish project is extremely important in addressing an issue that is rapidly decimating fish populations on reefs where they have established themselves and in finding solutions to this problem is critical to protecting the reefs.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

Usually the last place that I have visited, but if I had to pick one it would probably be Bonaire or Little Cayman. You can’t beat the number of species and abundance of fish life in Bonaire, but I really like the island of Little Cayman for its beauty and lack of development and it also has some of the best diving in the Caribbean along Bloody Bay Wall. I have been to each location several times and would go back to either in a heartbeat.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub