Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, July 2014

Rainbow Parrotfish - one of the important grazers on Caribbean reefs. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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:

- Scientists from NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources are using REEF data to evaluate populations of seabass and grouper in the Caribbean.

- A scientist from the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs is using REEF data on fishes and invertebrates to evaluate MPAs in the Puget Sound.

- A professor from California State San Luis Obispo is using REEF data to evaluate populations of three large parrotfish species in the Caribbean (Blue, Midnight, Rainbow).

The Faces of REEF: Joyce Schulke

Joyce diving with a turtle.
Purple Reeffish, a species typically found on deep reefs, can sometimes surprise us. Photo by Carol Cox.
Joyce surveying in Cozumel.

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 Joyce Schulke, one of REEF's earliest members. She has been a REEF member since 1996. An active surveyor who lives in Florida, Joyce has conducted almost 900 surveys to date and has been a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropcial Western Atlantic region since it's beginnings. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

In 1989 I snorkeled in Cancun. Diving lessons followed and the underwater world was wide open. Being a professional photographer, it was natural for me to learn underwater photography as well. Identifying those fish led me to the Humann and DeLoach book, Reef Fish Identification. It talked about REEF and so I followed through and became a fish surveyor in 1996. In 1999 I qualified as a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team. Being a surveyor inspired me to look harder and enjoy each dive more.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

Suddenly, even common fish are important to find and record. It is exciting to be part a larger goal and I have gotten a good idea of distribution of species, habitat, behavior, and changes to specific areas over the years. There is always a surprise. After diving to 130 feet to see my first Purple Reeffish in the southern Caribbean, I found one at 13 feet in Marathon Key. Recently, seeing the Longnose Batfish far from its normal habitat in 13 feet of water at Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, Florida, is another great example of the treasures awaiting those who really search.

I have specialized in the TWA and have done all of my diving there. I get enthusiastic when talking fish. I have currently seen and identified 519 species of TWA fish. My husband, Tom, and I used to divide the cost of a dive trip by the number of new species we found. You can imagine how expensive some of those species have become!

Where is your favorite place to dive?

Without hesitation, St. Vincent has added most of my unusual finds, with dozens of new species added on each trip. One trip produced 18 species of eels alone. The diversity of types of diving spots and willingness of Dive St. Vincent to take us to the odd spots makes this a favorite. However, now that I live in Florida, the lure of Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm, has added a few more dozen new species in the last two years.

What fish am I looking for now?

If I haven’t seen it yet, I want it! Whether it’s a Spanish Sardine or a Longnose Batfish, I’m elated. Of course, when I see one that’s never been on a REEF survey before, I grin while emailing REEF for a new fish code.

What do you say to others about joining REEF?

I cannot encourage others enough. Being a REEF surveyor is a great contribution to ocean research and preservation. The real bonus, however, is how it adds a whole new purpose and enjoyment to your personal diving adventures.

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: An Annual Celebration of Marine Conservation, September 29 - October 2

We hope you can join us this Fall for REEF Fest 2016 in Key Largo, Florida. The four-day celebration of marine conservation is planned for September 29 through October 2, 2016. Events include diving, eco-ventures, ocean-themed seminars, and evening socials. Make sure to visit www.REEF.org/REEFFest to register for seminars, find participating dive and eco-venture operators, and for more information on REEF Fest parties and social events. And be sure to join us on Saturday, October 1, for the Celebration Dinner Party sponsored by Divers Alert Network! The event will include hors d’oeuvres, a three-course meal, and an open liquor bar, alongside live music and a silent auction benefiting the marine conservation work of REEF. Reservations are required and tickets are available at www.REEF.org/REEFFest/dinnerticket.

REEF is excited to announce this year’s seminar line-up:

Fun Fish Facts: Little Known Facts about Life in the Sea -- Carlos and Allison Estape, REEF TWA Expert Surveyors

Sustainability Risk Assessment of Florida’s Coral Reef Fisheries -- Jerald S. Ault, Ph.D., University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

The Emerald Sea: REEF Surveying in the Pacific Northwest -- Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

The War on Lionfish: How Efforts to Combat the Invasion are Affecting Marine Conservation -- Stephanie Green, Ph.D., Stanford University Banting Fellow

The Great White Sharks of Guadalupe Island -- Dan Orr, International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame

Shifting Paradigm in the Sea -- Jack Grove, Ph.D., Marine Biologist

Sister Sanctuaries: Linking the Science and Management of Coral Reefs in Cuba and the U.S. -- Billy D. Causey, SE Regional Director, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

REEF Program Update -- Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects

Wacky Creature Stories and Other Tales from the Sea -- Ellen Prager, Ph.D., President of Earth2Ocean Inc.

Please visit www.REEF.org/REEFfest/seminars for more details. See you in September!

Putting It To Work: Special Issue on the Lionfish Invasion

Invasive Lionfish are now found throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic region. Photo by Carol Cox.

Earlier this year, a special issue of the scientific journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series, was published titled "Invasion of Atlantic Coastal Ecosystems by Pacific Lionfish". The issue is a compilation of papers presented at the 2015 special session of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute meeting, which was co-organized by REEF and partner organizations. New findings include mechanisms that enhance the success of the invader, the extremely broad and variable diet of invasive lionfish, the ecological effects of the invader on native fish populations in various environmental contexts, and non-consumptive interactions between invasive lionfish and native predators. REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is a co-author on the introductory paper. The entire issue is available open access online at http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v558/#theme.

Great Annual Fish Count 2017 -25 Years of Fun!

Celebrating it's 25th year - the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) kicked off this weekend! During the entire month of July we encourage you to try your hand at conducting your first survey if you're new to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, or to do a few more if it's been a while.

The GAFC began in 1992 when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists conducted a visual fish count in California's Channel Islands National Park. The effort was modeled after the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and has now grown into an international event coordinated by REEF.

Check out the GAFC website (www.fishcount.org) to find everything you need to join in the fish counting fun as a participant or to organize your own local event. It can be as simple as hosting a survey dive (throw in a BBQ), or an ID class or presentation about your local fish. We especially encourage shops, dive clubs, marine science centers and others to organize a GAFC event.

The Faces of REEF: 2015 Volunteer of the Year, Ed Martin

REEF is proud to announce Ed Martin, of Islamorada, Florida, as our 2015 Volunteer of the Year. Ed became a REEF member in 2012, and has since conducted 60 REEF surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region. He is also a skilled underwater photographer and a member of the Century Club, having recorded at least 100 fish species on a one tank dive. In 2015, Ed became a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team by achieving 'Expert' surveyor status in the TWA. Shortly afterwards, he participated in a weeklong AAT Monitoring Project to survey the Vandenberg artificial reef and surrounding reefs in Key West, Florida.

Ed has also dedicated his survey skills, ingenuity, and countless hours of time to REEF's Invasive Lionfish fieldwork in South Florida and the Florida Keys. He continually goes above and beyond by supplying ideas and tools to support this important research. A skilled lionfish hunter, Ed has also participated in several REEF lionfish derbies. He is known for his wonderful sense of humor and positive attitude, making him a fun and upbeat team member who is instrumental to REEF's field research. In addition to his involvement in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and Invasive Lionfish Program, Ed has even helped with 'behind the scenes' REEF projects, including photography for REEF's webpages. Ed's all-encompassing support and participation in REEF programs make him an invaluable member of the REEF family. We are lucky and thankful to have a super volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you and congratulations, Ed!

Three "REEF" Non-Profits Team Up to Protect Akumal Reefs

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Eric Engler, Gabriela Nava Martinez, Joe Cavanaugh - ReefAid, Reefcheck, and REEF
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Aerial View of Protected Area
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Mayan Ruins Near Resort at Tulum
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Shore View from Bahia Principe
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Large Elkhorn Coral Stand Near Protected Area

In an Enews article last May, I wrote about a collaborative effort between REEF and the Bahia Principe Resort in Akumal, Mexico.  The Resort has been working with ReefAid ever since Hurricane Wilma (2005) did major damage to the reefs just in front of the resort, in an effort to study, protect, and restore these reefs. I was originally invited down to conduct a fish census on a large patch reef area off the beach from the property.   The destruction to the inshore reef during Wilma was severe and ever since, Bahia Principe has worked with ReefAid to restore this patch reef area, establishing a protected zone around the most hard-hit areas.  Part of Bahia Principe's long-term plan is to create a mitigation plan for future storms and to educate guests about ways they, too, can help protect the reefs.  The Hotel Gran Bahia Principe is the Yucatan's largest resort complex, and there are currently 14 such resorts worldwide.  After our last visit, ReefAid's Founder, Eric Engler and I co-wrote a protection and monitoring plan for the Resort that included periodic roving diver surey assessments, special signs and enforcement of no-swim areas, a coral nursery, and coral and invertebrate monitoring using another non-profit's methodology (ReefCheck). 

On our last trip a few weeks ago, Eric and I received Reefcheck training over two days with Gabriela Georgina Nava Martinez, learning their survey methodology.  Gaby also taught a Reefcheck class to the Bahia Principe dive staff , their onsite turtle rescue non-rpfit, Ecologica Bahia, and some of the Resort public relations personnel..   Bahia Principe is now a REEF Field Station and is close to becoming an educational center for REEF, teaching fish ID classes and training Resort guests in how to conduct fish surveys.   Resort staff will soon routinely conduct Roving Diver Surveys of both the protected area and the offshore reefs frequented by multiple dive operators. Additionally, Reefcheck will train the dive staff to conduct 3-4 surveys per year at first to form a baseline assessment of the inshore protected reef.   And finally, this year REEF is running a Field Survey to Bahia Principe (May 17-24, 2008).  Please see our Field Survey page on our website at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule  to learn more about our upcoming survey and how to participate.

The collaborative efforts between our three non-profits in Akumal represent a proactive involvement among multiple stakeholders to protect a critical resource, one that is very susceptible to damage from development and excessive tourist pressures.   The ultimate goal of this synergistic, cooperative effort is to protect a large inshore reef area (see images) and improve the reef integrity with the addition of well-placed coral recruitment modules.  To be candid, much of the Mexican Riviera is slated to be developed by an increasing number of resorts, most with requisite golf courses.  And there are other environmental concerns in addition to the coral reefs offshore that form part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef such as all the cenotes (sink-holes) with their endemic terrestrial and aquatic species; the crucial watershed provided by the cenotes; loss of mangroves; the regional rainforest cover that is in jeopardy; excessive nutrient loading from all the resorts and urban development; not to mention the cultural world heritage significance of the Mayan communities and archaeological sites.  However, the good news is that if Gran Bahia Principe is voluntarily willing to adopt special protection measures for their resort, these may serve as a "eco-friendly" archetype for other resorts in the region.   This partnership building between organizations at the regional and international level bodes well for the adoption of some conservation plans for the area.  Whether the proposed regional development can be slowed to a sustainable level is another story that time will tell. 

If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent summary article on some of the initiatives between resorts and non-profits working to preserve the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from the NY Times last week. http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/travel/24headsup.html?emc=eta1

REEF to Host Two Citizen Science Panel Discussions in Florida Keys

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REEF volunteers are citizen scientists, collecting underwater data to expand knowledge about marine life populations. Photo by Ron Lucas.

On Tuesday, February 26, REEF will host a community panel discussion to raise awareness about how volunteers contribute to scientific understanding of the Florida Keys environment. Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York will lead the discussion. Florida Keys-based citizen science practitioners will present on local projects and ways for volunteers to get involved. Topics include fish and bird surveying, native plants and coral restoration. A reception with the speakers will begin at 6:30, followed by presentations at 7 PM. This event will be held at the Key Largo Public Library and is free and open to the public.

Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Bryant and Nancy Diersing, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (volunteers)
  • Janice Duquesnel, Florida State Parks
  • Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation

A second panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West and will focus on citizen science projects in the lower Florida Keys. Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Alison Higgins, The Nature Conservancy
  • Cory Walter, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service

Please join REEF staff and community partners for at least one of these educational evenings.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub