Be On The Lookout - Indo-Pacific Damsel Reported in Gulf of Mexico

Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.

We are encouraging all REEF surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic region to be on the lookout for a new non-native fish! Researchers from the University of Veracruz have documented a new non-native species in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico with the potential to spread throughout the region. Sightings of the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos) have recently come from the nearshore reef systems south of Veracruz, Mexico. The species is native to a broad region of the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. The damselfish was documented at depths from 2-21 meters, though it was more common on deeper reefs. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel can reach sizes of up to 9 cm (3.5 inches) in length and is distinguished by a yellow or white spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin, a dark spot behind the gill, and yellow rear margins of the tail, dorsal and anal fins. In contrast, the native Brown Chromis is identified by dark margins on the tail and a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin. Observations from Dr. Ross Robertson indicate the Regal Demoiselle can be a bit more cryptic than the native Chromis, tending to hide under ledges and in crevices between corals, rather than swimming in the open. Experts in Mexico believe that this damsel has the potential to disrupt natural systems around Caribbean reefs, as they have witnessed displacement of the native Brown Chromis on heavily-invaded sites.

If you see this fish while doing a REEF survey, be sure to report it on your form in the unlisted fish section. Please also report detailed information on the sighting to REEF through the invasive species reporting page.

Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used to Evaluate Species in the Northeast US

A Radiated Shanny, one of two species in the Northeast US whose populations are possibly being impacted by temperature changes. Photo by Jerry Shine.

We are proud to share a story from the East Coast that is a perfect example of how REEF data are put to work to address our changing seas. Dr. Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut and Mystic Aquarium, recently submitted a petition to add the Radiated Shanny and Atlantic Seasnail to the list of Species of Concern under the State of Connecticut's Endangered Species Act. Dr. Auster used REEF data as his primary source of information for the petition.

Both species are considered "cold-adapted," with their distribution largely north of Cape Cod with rare sightings in Long Island Sound. Data show that these species may be the first climate-change casualties in Connecticut waters as Long Island Sound continues to warm. These species occur in rocky habitats, and the best population data come from diver surveys, such as those from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. If you are a REEF surveyor in the northeast region, please keep an eye out and report these species on your surveys! Dr. Auster will continue to track their abundance through the REEF database and assess the effect of changing seas on their populations.

Take a Dive Vacation That Counts in 2016

Snorkel Jellyfish Lake in Palau this Fall. Photo courtesy PicCorrect.
Learn about the Lionfish Invasion in Curacao.
Dive with Sea Lions in the Coronado Islands.
Spend a week at the beautiful Blackbird Caye Resort.

We are looking for passionate ocean enthusiasts to join us later this year on a REEF Trip. There are still a few spaces left on the following trips in 2016:

Curacao Lionfish Research Trip, August 20 - 27 - led by REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF Board of Trustee Member, Peter Hughes. Learn all about the lionfish invasion while diving and helping with research. Visit the trip page for details.

Bermuda, October 1 - 8 - led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Renowned Underwater Photographers and Marine Life Authors. Ned and Anna will entertain participants with their fish id and behavior expertise. Pink sand beaches and fascinating historic sites help to make Bermuda a captivating destination for non-divers as well. Visit the trip page for details.

Palau and Yap, October 4 - 16 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. We will begin our trip at Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, and then board the Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard. We will explore rich coral walls and channels, documenting the biodiversity of the area. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for details.

Barkley Sound, BC, October 9 - 13led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. A must-dive destination for cold-water divers, Barkley Sound will treat participants to excellent diving and encounters with wildlife both above and below the water. Visit the trip page for details.

Saba, October 22 - 29 - led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer, and Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. A chance to dive this beautiful mountainous island in the Caribbean. In addition to the REEF seminars, participants can participate in "Sea and Learn", a month-long education program offered by Sea Saba. Visit the trip page for details.

Coronado Islands, California/Mexico, November 7 - 10 - led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. This West Coast trip offers the chance to encounter a diverse array of habitats and organisms, including kelp forests brimming with fish and invertebrates and playful sea lion pups. Visit the trip page for details.

Belize, December 3 - 10led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Decompress before the holidays with a week on Belize's Turneffe Atoll at the spectacular Blackbird Caye Resort, named one of Sport Diver Magazine's "2015 World's Best Diving Resorts." Divers will delight in the high diversity of fishes and endemic species. Non-diver companions will delight in the sandy beaches, pool side relaxing, and kayaking. Visit the trip page for details.

The complete 2016 and 2017 schedule is posted at: Contact Amy Lee at or call 305-588-5869 to book your space or to find out more.

2008 Field Surveys: Sign Up Now!

Anna Deloach surveys a reef. Photo courtesy of Ned Deloach
REEF St. Croix Field Survey Team.

REEF announces the release of the 2008 Field Survey schedule. Click here to see the flyer and read more information on these unique eco-expeditions, including contact information for each trip.

We kick off the season with a special expedition to Little Cayman Island January 20-27. Participants will join REEF Science Director Dr. Christy Semmens on the seventh consecutive year of studying reproductive behavior of the endangered Nassau grouper. Contact Southern Cross Club directly to sign up at (800) 899 CLUB (2582). This is a high-demand trip so please reserve your spot soon.

Field Surveys offer participants a fun and educational way to contribute to marine conservation. Led by expert underwater naturalists, scuba divers and snorkelers will learn to identify marine life and conduct fish population surveys that assist scientists in making informed resource management decisions. A unique combination of classroom presentations, group discussion and survey dives make Field Surveys the ideal choice for people just getting started with diving or "fish watching." We invite you to join a REEF Field Survey team of like-minded divers and snorkelers who want to make a difference for the future of our oceans. 2008 destinations include the Akumal, Mexico, St. Vincent, the Sea of Cortez, and many others-sign up today!

Five-Year Wellwood Restoration Assessment Completed

The M/V Wellwood aground on Molasses Reef. Photo courtesy of the FKNMS.
A REEF diver conducts an RDT survey at the Restoration Site in October 2002, with several restoration modules in view.
Location map showing areas of fish monitoring effort.
Transplanted specimens of Sstaghorn coral on one of the restoration modules (colonies were transplanted in 2004, photo taken August 2007). Photo by Ken Nedimyer.
Wellwood AAT Team, Summer 2007

REEF has just completed our final assessment report for our five-year Wellwood Restoration Site monitoring project. Before I share some results from our study, let me give you a little background information and please visit our website to view our full report The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). The ship impacted the reef’s upper fore reef and subsequently remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living coral reef and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework. Prior to the grounding, the area was a transition zone with high relief coral formations. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. 

The study area of this project included a portion of the grounding area that is being restored and two adjacent reference sites. The Restoration site surveyed included restoration modules and contiguous low profile hardbottom areas adjacent to and in between the restoration modules. Nearby high profile reef, ledges, and undamaged/unrestored reef were not included as part of the Restoration Site. A north and south undamaged reef area were both used as two control sites to compare fish sighting data between the Restoration area and the natural (control) reefs.

REEF’s study focused on fish assemblages and not the coral and invertebrate communities. A team of Advanced Assessment Team REEF Experts conducted Roving Diver Technique (RDT) surveys in addition to belt transect surveys on the Wellwood restoration site and two adjacent natural reef sites seven times during Year 1. The team visited the sites once prior to restoration (May 2002) and 13 times after restoration was completed, monthly for the first three months, quarterly for the following year and semi-annually thereafter. An average of 12 surveys of each survey type was conducted during each survey effort. While REEF surveyors used the RDT surveys to collect sighting frequency and abundance data on fishes over all three reef areas, the belt-transect method was used to collect density and biomass data on fish taxa. These two methods used together give us a snapshot of how the restoration site is recovering in terms of fish assemblages as compared to the two non-impacted, adjacent reef areas.

Obviously, the most notable observation a diver makes when diving on the Restoration site is one of just how long it takes coral reefs to recover after devastating ship impacts. The Restoration site shows little resemblance to the surrounding non-impacted reef sites. The areas surrounding the Restoration site are high relief reef areas dominated by reef building corals with some very old colonies of Star coral (Monastrea annularis) and Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), old to the tune of thousands, not hundreds of years old. Age is important here since it takes a long time for coral colonies to rebuild structure and relief that attract different fishes over time. The smaller overall fish populations and absence of many species of fish on the damaged site are both conspicuous and the lack of coral structure makes it easy to destinguish the Restoration area from the surrounding reefs even 23 years after the initial ship grounding. However, there are signs that fishes are very slowly recruiting onto the Restoration site.

During the monitoring period (2002 - 2007), a total of 165 species were recorded at the Restoration site, 189 species at the North reference site and 207 species at the South reference site. The Restoration site recovery is clearly aided by the addition of restoration modules (2002), increasing the amount of available habitat suitable for reef fish communities, think vertical habitat here, and recessed areas underneath these modules for fish to shelter. At the Wellwood grounding site, the overall fish diversity as well as density and biomass of most key fish families continue to be less than that of the two nearby, non-impacted reefs that were selected as monitoring reference sites. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding the quickest to the restoration efforts, grazing along a recovering hard coral landscape currently dominated by soft corals (Gorgonians). Nearly absent today on the damaged area are sightings of grunts and snappers, both of which are seen in high frequency and abundance on surrounding reef sites with plenty of relief for them to take cover. Residency of fish, movement patterns and habitat usage are all important indicators of reef recovery. So are linking coral, invertebrate, and fish studies to see a more complete picture of how the Restoration site is improving. There are signs outside of the slowly improving trends the data show such as a little Redspotted hawkfish that has taken residence on one of the modules with lots of Ken's Staghorn coral affixed.

Many more studies are necessary to properly evaluate recovery dynamics for reefs and since most reef recoveries worldwide are hampered by other anthropogenic impacts such as overfishing, excessive nutrient loading from human pollutants, and global warming stresses, these case studies are critically important in developing mitigation strategies for damaged reefs. For the full report on our Wellwood findings, please visit our website REEF would like to thank the many individual REEF members who dived on this project over the past 5 years, as well as Quiesscence Dive Shop in Key Largo for dive support, and Ken Nedimyer for photos and his ongoing coral replenishment work. And finally, our thanks to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for contracting REEF for this project. We hope that this work will continue in order to monitor the long term changes in fish assemblages on the Restoration site.


120,000! And Counting

A REEF surveyor records a school of grunts. Photo by Paul Humann.
REEF volunteer, Dana Haggarty, reviews her data after a survey dive in Monterey Bay.
REEF data have been used in the stock assessment of Goliath grouper. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF eclipsed a milestone this week when the REEF Volunteer Survey Project Database passed the 120,000 survey mark.  This represents over 150,000 hours of underwater survey time from our volunteers.  The achievement comes almost 15 years to the day when the first REEF fish survey was conducted off Key Largo, Florida, on July 17, 1993.  Today, the program is going strong throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Galapagos Islands and Hawaii. In the tropical western Atlantic region alone, 96,469 surveys have been conducted at 6,085 sites and 795 fish species have been recorded.  Of course, improving your marine life identification skills, building your lifelist of sighted species, and conducting surveys are a lot of fun.  But have you ever wondered what good are all of these data?  

Volunteer data collection, or citizen science, provides a valuable alternative for scientists and resource agencies needing information but lacking sufficient resources to gather it. In addition, involvement in data collection leads to greater awareness about marine resources and creates a stewardship ethic among key user groups.

In addition to providing data summaries on the REEF Website, REEF staff provide raw data to scientists and resource agencies.  REEF data have been used in the development of stock assessments (Kingsley 2004), in the evaluation of trends of fish species (Semmens et al. 2000), to measure the effect of marine protected areas on kelp forest fish communities (Semmens et al. in prep) and coral reefs (REEF 2003), as an indicator of population pressure on natural resources (Burke and Maidens 2004), to evaluate interactions between species and species-habitat relationships (Auster et al. 2005), to asses the effect of restoration efforts in areas of damaged reef (REEF 2008), and to asses the status of a group of reef fish species that is experiencing significant declines (Ward-Paige et al., in prep A and B).  REEF volunteers have been instrumental in the identification and removal of exotic species (Semmens et al. 2004), in the identification of new species (Taylor and Akins 2007; Weaver and Rocha 2007) and morphological variants of known species (Pattengill-Semmens 1999), and in the documentation of previously unrecorded range extensions (M. Taylor and J. Van Tassel, Pers. Comm.). PDFs of most of these articles and a full listing of scientific papers and reports that have used REEF data are included in the Publications section of the REEF Website.

REEF extends a big thank you to the 10,000+ volunteers who have contributed to this database over the years and we are looking forward to the next 120,000 surveys!  Be sure to visit the Top 10 Stats page to see a quick rundown  of REEF survey activity.  You can also explore the data more in-depth by visiting the Database section of the Website.

Peter Hughes Belize Lionfish Invasion Trip


The upcoming Peter Hughes Belize Lionfish awareness/outreach trip turns to lionfish research/removal after the first lionfish was discovered in Central American waters. Join REEF aboard the Sun Dancer II from June 13-20 for this exciting and fun diving adventures. Following eye opening presentations by REEF staff and partners at the recent DEMA dive show in October, long-time supporter Peter Hughes took on a new mission - to support REEF's efforts in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean. With his world-renowned fleet of liveaboard dive vessels and concern for the marine environment, Peter became an instant supporter after hearing details of the invasion. In stepping up to the plate, he offered his Belize-based liveaboard, Sun Dancer II, as a platform to raise funds and increase awareness of the issue during a June 13-20 expedition. Little did he know that within 2 short months, lionfish would actually show up in Belize in advance of our planned project.

Sun Dancer II instructors, leading a group of divers on Turneffe Reef, spotted a juvenile lionfish on December 11, 2008. Subsequent dives provided images verifying the sighting and Sun Dancer Captain Ryan Barnett, who had previously worked with REEF during Bahamas lionfish projects, put the early warning system into action through his report to REEF HQ. While the fish has yet to be recovered, Sun Dancer staff now have divers on the lookout and are stocking the vessel with collecting supplies.

While the fundraising efforts of the June project remain, the focus of the June project has now shifted to include more detailed data gathering and collection of any lionfish specimens found. Additional workshops are being organized with Belizean authorities to assist in development and implementation of their lionfish response plan. For those interested in joining the June 13-20 project aboard the Sun Dancer, please view the project webpage or contact Peter Hughes Diving directly at (800) 9-DANCER.  For more information on the lionfish issue and to support REEF's efforts, go to or contact Lad Akins ( (305) 852-0030.

Exciting Schedule of REEF Trips Planned For 2010

REEF Field Survey Participants at the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman in 2006.
REEF trip participants enjoy hanging out and diving with like-minded individuals, while learning more about ocean life.

We are excited to announce a great line-up of destinations for REEF's 2010 Field Survey Travel Schedule. These fun and educational eco-dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". The week-long trips are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Trips are led by REEF staff and other REEF instructors and feature daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. We are featuring several new destinations, including the northern Baja Peninsula and Roatan, as well as returning to some of our member's favorites like Dominica and Grand Cayman. Several specialty trips are also being offered in 2010, including invasive lionfish research projects and reef fish behavior tours.

REEF Trip Schedule 2010 -- Prices, package details and more available soon.

  • Dominica with Dive Dominica and Ft. Young Hotel -- April 17-24, 2010. Led by Heather George.
  • Belize with Sun Dancer II Liveaboard -- May 1-8, 2010. Lionfish Research Expedition, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes.
  • Bahamas with Aqua Cat Liveaboard -- June 12-19, 2010. Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Roatan with Turquoise Bay Resort -- July 17-24, 2010. Led by Paul Humann.
  • Cozumel with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn -- August 14-21, 2010. Led by Sheryl Shea.
  • Key Largo with Amoray Dive Center -- August 26 - September 2, 2010. Sea Critter Seminar, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Bonaire with Buddy Dive Resort -- September 26 - October 2, 2010. Field Survey and Coral Spawning Expedition, Led by Jessie Armacost.
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico with Rocio del Mar Liveaboard -- October 9-16, 2010. Led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens.
  • Grand Cayman with Dive Tech and Colbalt Coast -- November 6-13, 2010. Led by Lad Akins.
  • To inquire about a trip and to book your space, please contact our REEF Dedicated Sales Consultant at or by phone at 1-877-295-REEF(7333). Additional details will be added to the REEF Trips webpage soon, so check back often. Book early, trips often fill up!

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    REEF Welcomes New Board Member

    Welcome to Marty Snyderman, new REEF Board of Trustee Member.

    We are pleased to welcome Marty Snyderman to our Board of Trustees. Marty is an EMMY Award winning cinematographer, still photographer, author and speaker. He currently serves as the Marine Life Editor for Dive Training Magazine and is the long time author of the magazine’s monthly “What’s That”, “Always Learning”, and “Behind the Lens” columns. He is the 2008 recipient of DEMA’s (Dive Equipment Marketing Association) Reaching Out Award and joined the ranks of DEMA’s Hall of Fame. Many REEF members also know him for his co-produced shark identification DVD, Sharks and Their Kin.

    Board of Trustees member Andy Dehart of the National Aquarium recounts: “I met Marty when he joined our production company on an extended Alaskan expedition to document the elusive salmon shark. Despite record rainfall, backcountry camping, bears, a scarcity of sharks, and an unrelenting stench from decaying salmon, Marty’s passion for the adventure remained boundless. The more I learned about his knowledge of marine wildlife, and commitment to the marine environment, it became obvious that Marty would be a valuable addition to the REEF Board.”

    As a resident of Solana Beach, California, Marty joins Board member Heather George and Pacific Northwest staff as REEF continues to expand its mission on the west coast. Marty, Welcome Aboard!

    REEF Data Featured in New Scientific Publication on Shark Population Status

    Blacktip sharks are one of the 14 species that were analyzed in the recently published paper. Photo (c) Paul Humann.
    REEF data are well suited for rarely seen species like sharks because of the wide geographic coverage by REEF volunteers. Photo by Ned DeLaoch.

    REEF Fish Survey Project data were recently featured in a paper in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, Large-Scale Absence of Sharks on Reefs in the Greater-Caribbean: A Footprint of Human Pressures. The study's authors evaluated the status of 14 species of sharks in the Caribbean. In recent decades, large pelagic and coastal shark populations have declined dramatically with increased fishing. However, the status of sharks in other systems such as coral reefs remains largely unassessed despite a long history of exploitation. The paper's authors used REEF data to explore the contemporary distribution and sighting frequency of sharks on reefs in the greater-Caribbean, and assessed the possible role of human pressures on observed patterns.

    The analysis was based on 76,340 underwater surveys carried out by REEF volunteers between 1993 and 2008. REEF data are well suited for rarely seen species like sharks because of the wide geographic coverage by REEF volunteers.The authors compared sighting frequency to the number of people in each area surveyed, and used population viability analyses to assess the effects of exploitation on population trends. Sharks, with the exception of nurse sharks, occurred mainly in areas with very low human population or strong fishing regulations and marine conservation. Population viability analysis suggests that exploitation alone could explain the large-scale absence; however, this pattern is likely to be exacerbated by additional anthropogenic stressors, such as pollution and habitat degradation, that also correlate with human population. Preventing further loss of sharks requires urgent management measures to curb fishing mortality and to mitigate other anthropogenic stressors to protect sites where sharks still exist. The fact that sharks still occur in some densely populated areas where strong fishing regulations are in place indicates the possibility of success and encourages the implementation of conservation measures.

    A PDF of the full paper can be downloaded here. The citation is Ward-Paige CA, Mora C, Lotze HK, Pattengill-Semmens C, McClenachan L, et al. (2010) Large-Scale Absence of Sharks on Reefs in the Greater-Caribbean: A Footprint of Human Pressures. PLoS ONE 5(8): e11968. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011968. To see a complete list of papers and other publications featuring REEF data, visit the REEF Publications page.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub