REEF proudly names Heather George as our 2011 Volunteer of the Year. Since becoming a member nearly a decade ago, Heather has conducted 192 REEF surveys throughout the world and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. In 2010, Heather joined the volunteer research team for the Grouper Moon Project. Through the years, she has conducted fish identification trainings for dive shops and aquaria and has led several REEF Field Survey Trips. Heather also served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010 and brought a wealth of knowledge about fundraising and membership development to the organization. In 2011, Heather assisted with the expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the South Pacific as part of the field team to American Samoa. When Heather is not underwater looking at fishes or teaching others about the joys of fish watching, she is helping other ocean-related organizations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Waterkeeper Alliance. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Heather!
REEF is proud to partner with over 270 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. For more information on how to find one near you, or to become a Field Station in your area, visit the Field Station Directory.
This month we feature Scuba Obsession, Al Audet's independent instruction business located in Melbourne Florida. Al was introduced to the wonderful world of fish identification through a class through OceanWatch.org. He attended as many classes as he could, and through the help of outstanding instructors and guides, he was hooked. He decided to incorporate fish ID into his teaching repertoire, and signed up as a REEF Field Station in November 2009.
Instructors have a lot of influence on their new open water students, and Al steers them toward fish ID all along the way. During the last Open Water dive, he normally takes his waterproof Fish-In-A-Pocket guide and points the fish they see on their dive out to the students. As his students move on to their Advanced Open Water courses (of which they can choose some that match their interests), he always encourages them to select Fish ID as one of their Adventure Dives. During the class, they learn about fish ID, do REEF survey dives together, and then are encouraged to join REEF and enter their data.
Al feels that the east coast of Florida is a great place to engage divers in fish ID. "The east coast of Florida has some of the best diving in the world. You never know what you're going to see. We also have the most popular muck dive in the world - the Blue Heron Bridge. You'll find fish under the bridge that you won't see any place else in Florida."
Al employs several different teaching techniques for his students. He offers Fish ID classes regularly and also attends REEF Fishinars, which he touted as one of REEF's best programs. He has also put together a video for his Fish ID students, online and available for viewing here: http://vimeo.com/11153948
One of Al's most exciting moments during a dive was when he was teaching a Fish ID Adventure dive for an Advanced Open Water class off Jupiter, FL. The boat captain gave them a sand drop, so after a few minutes of looking for the reef, the dive guide decided to ascend. On the way up... they looked up, and realized they were ascending into a whale shark! One of Al's students described it best, "I looked up, and I thought I saw the boat. Then I saw the fins." Thanks Al and Scuba Obsession for serving as a REEF Field Station!
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 researcher from University of British Columbia is using REEF data to evaluate the efficacy of marine reserves in Canadian waters.
- A researcher from Florida State University has requested REEF data to study Goliath Grouper populations in Florida.
- A student at Coastal Carolina University is using data to study fish populations at Discovery Bay in Jamaica.
- Scientists from NOAA Fisheries and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are using data from multiple monitoring programs, including REEF, to evaluate new methods of evaluating population trends in fisheries.
Do you shop on Amazon? If so, we encourage you to use Amazon Smile. It's the same Amazon experience, same products, prices, and service. And a portion of your purchases will be donated to REEF.
Go to smile.amazon.com and select Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Inc. as your selected charity (or go directly to http://smile.amazon.com/ch/65-0270064). Thank you!
REEF Grouper Moon scientists co-authored a recent groundbreaking paper in the journal PLoS One that highlights the importance of regional conservation efforts aimed at spawning aggregations in the Caribbean. This study evaluated genetic connectedness between Nassau Grouper populations throughout the Caribbean using DNA markers. The authors obtained genetic tissue samples from 620 Nassau Grouper from 19 sites across 9 countries, including the Cayman Islands. They found evidence for strong genetic differentiation among Nassau Grouper subpopulations throughout the Caribbean. These results suggest that, despite a lack of physical barriers, Nassau Grouper form multiple distinct sub-populations in the Caribbean Sea. Oceanography (regional currents, eddies) likely plays an important role in retaining larvae close to spawning sites at both local and regional spatial scales. These findings highlight the importance of conservation initiatives such at REEF's Grouper Moon program in the Cayman Islands. A PDF of the paper is available online here. You can see a complete list of all scientific papers that have included data from REEF programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.
The full citation of the paper is: Jackson AM, Semmens BX, Sadovy de Mitcheson Y, Nemeth RS, Heppell SA, et al. (2014) Population Structure and Phylogeography in Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a Mass-Aggregating Marine Fish. PLoS ONE 9(5): e97508. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097508
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.
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.
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:
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.
REEF just completed our first bona fide New England Field Survey this past week. It was a big success and really ended up being a reconnoitering expedition to determine how REEF can better translate our Fish Survey Project to the Northeast where there are plenty of divers getting out in the water but very few who conduct surveys. There is also a seasonal effect for the northeast in that the fish all hibernate or leave when the water temperature drops to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving a 7 month fish surveying season in most areas (April-October). Shore diving is more the norm for many locations throughout New England and there are few commercial charter boats as you would find in the Caribbean, for instance. And dive clubs really are the main vehicle for divers to connect and coordinate temperate dives as well as arranging tropical dive trips for some winter relief.
Our REEF team was made up of 9 divers and we were based in historical Woods Hole on Cape Cod. We dived in Woods Hole, Dennis, and off of Cape Ann (our chilliest venue with bottom temps close to 50 degrees already. I co-lead this group with Holly Martel Bourbon, a marine fishery biologist and diving safety officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We were also joined by Sarah Taylor who is a New England Aquarium Aquarist II and collector. Together, Holly and I coordinated with a number of dive shops in the region and Maryhelen Shuman-Groh set up a REEF talk at the New England Aquarium Dive Club that meets every month at the aquarium and is where I got my start about 12 years ago. Incidentally, we surveyed a combined total of 19 fish species, no century dives in New England, let's just say you shoot for deca-dives (10 species) and this is why you won't find New England divers complaining on Caribbean dives, well, that and the fact that visibility beyond 10 feet is a blessing. We found a few wayward foureye and spotfin butterflyfish juveniles settled from the Gulf Stream. Next time we'll have to go to Rhode Island to help collect some of the tropicals.
New England diving is definitely unique and requires a special type of REEF capacity building to jumpstart the Fish Survey Project in the region. Bringing more dive shops into the fold such as Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester is a good first step in increasing REEF's efforts and the chance to engage the New England Aquarium Dive Club was especially important as this dive club reaches many of the naturalist divers in the region. I also attended a Boston Sea Rovers picnic (one of the oldest and most storied dive clubs in the U.S.) as Holly's guest and had the opportunity to speak with folks about REEF and our mission and hopes for increasing surveys in the region. Look for REEF to give a talk at the next Sea Rovers annual meeting in Boston http://www.bostonsearovers.com/ in March of 2008 and for us to give a REEF Citizens Science talk as part of the New England Aquarium's Lowell Lecture Series. We will also be partnering with the Aquarium as our newest Field Station http://neaq.org/. REEF and NEAQ will begin working on a number of training programs together to increase survey efforts in the northeast as well as having Aquarium divers become Advanced Assessment Team members and conduct surveys on their collection trips. There are many other opportunities for collaboration between NEAQ and REEF.
I would like to thank the REEF members who were all wonderful and patient on this trip as Holly and I had to kind of make things up as we went since this type of trip had not been done before, sort of a boat diving and shore diving mix, Bonaire meets New England without the yellow rocks. Thanks to Holly for co-leading the trip with me could not have done it without her) and to her boss, Vin Malkoski, for giving her the time to work with REEF and for the use of one of their vans for the week along with digital projector and many other shore diving supplies. Alison Johnson will be donating some underwater images from our dives for future curriculum/training along with Terrence Rioux, the dive safety officer for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). Holly and I plan on developing a more contemporary and appropriate curriculum that includes juvenile fish images and more inclusion of fish species that divers are likely to see on inshore dives. Lastly, I want to thank both Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester as well as the Marine Biological Laboratory for the use of their dive locker and their conference center at SWOPE.
Just prior to the holidays, Lad Akins and I had the pleasure of joining the Gray's Reef Research Area Working Group (RAWG) in Savannah, Georgia. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) is one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries, perhaps less well known to many of you than Stellwagon Bank or Monterey Bay Sanctuaries, and is located some 32 kilometers off the coast of Georgia. Remember that there has recently been an addition to our sanctuaries by George W. Bush (2006) in establishing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, including and extending beyond the Hawaiian archipelago. GRNMS is rectangular in its defined borders and is roughly 6.5 km N to S by 9 km E to W (17nm2) and is a popular site for recreational fishing and boating. Previous mapping and assessment studies have shown there to be 4 main benthic habitats within GRNMS that include flat sand, rippled sand, sparsely colonized live bottom, and densely colonized live bottom (ledges).
The workshop I attended was the latest iteration of several previous meetings that had the intention of exploring the concept of placing a research area (RA) inside the boundaries of GRNMS. The focus of the latest workshop was to specifically address what scientific data would be collected inside the proposed RA. The RA would be an area specifically designated for conducting controlled scientific studies in the absence of confounding factors such as recreational or commercial fishing. Previous workshops had convened to decide on biological, ecological, and socioeconomic variables that all would contribute to deciding on where to place the RA inside GRNMS borders. Deciding on the optimal RA configuration (square, hexagon, etc.), location within the sanctuary, and size (area) of the RA for biological questions alone led to some 35,000 options after detailed matrices were created to quantify a best fit design for the RA. "Best fit" in this case is a site that would minimize impact on bottom and recreational fishermen, have a high species richness and biomass, and would have strong research and educational value. And the research and public comment phase of this project has been ongoing for almost 10 years in a collaboration between a number of multidisciplinary groups. The magnitude of the previous work to date on establishing this RA along with the talented group assembled at this past workdshop really impressed me. Furthermore, the dedication and commitment of numerous individuals and agencies in developing management tools that consider multiple stakeholders such as recreational and commercial fishing interests, scuba divers and spear fishermen, and boaters, were equally impressive. If the general public had insight into how complicated decisions such as the one this group convened are to make, they would have more empathy for the folks making these decisions.
REEF's direct interest in establishing an RA within GRNMS is that we will likely be leading the fish monitoring component of the ongoing studies for the newly established RA. Of course, there will be many studies occurring within the RA involving benthic ecology, discarded gear assessments, and numerous studies quantifying the effects of a no-take, exclusionary zone within a sanctuary. The location,boundary, and definition of the RA still need to be decided as do the types and number of research projects that will take place inside the RA. More meetings and public discourse are scheduled before research gets going and REEF becomes involved. But I know that our REEF AAT will be excited at the prospect of doing more work at GRNMS in the future, so stay tuned. For more information on GRNMS, please visit http://graysreef.noaa.gov/. Incidentally, Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) have been found inside the sanctuary and Lad Akins, REEF's exotic species director, will be collaborating with GRNMS on future assessments. If you're wondering what fishes you might see in GRNMS, Belted sandfish, Black sea bass, and Slippery Dicks dominate the landscape, for a full report from previous projects there see our website http://www.reef.org/db/reports/geo/TWA/9302.
Please look for more information in future Enews editions on the progress of selecting the RA in the future and REEF's collaboration on monitoring fish at GRNMS.