Announcing REEF's Inaugural Trip to the Central-Indo Pacific

An incredible table coral in Tubbataha Marine Park in the Philippines. Photo by Q Phia.
Atlantis Azores Liveaboard, host of our REEF trip April 16-23, 2016.
Atlantis Resort in Dumaguete.

We are excited to announce the first of our 2016 REEF Trips -- a land and sea adventure in the Philippines. On this inagaural REEF trip to the Central Indo-Pacific, we will explore this diverse region by land and by see during two weeks of adventure -- by land, based at the Atlantis Resort in Dumaguete, April 9-16, 2016, and then by sea, aboard the Atlantis Azores Liveaboard, April 16-23, 2016. Join us for either week or both! The area is known for some of the most interesting and beautiful fish and critters to add to your life list, including ghost pipefish, mandarinfish, pygmy seahorses, flamboyant cuttlefish, and much more. Visit the REEF Trips page to see all the details.

During the first week, we'll dive and stay at the all-inclusive Atlantis Resort, featuring first class accommodations and an on-site restaurant, spa, camera room, and five star PADI dive operation. On April 16th, we will transfer to Puerto Princesa, where we will board Atlantis Azores. Our at-sea itinerary includes the isolated Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park, which features dramatic underwater terrain, incredible biodiversity, and megafauna such as sharks and manta rays. The liveaboard package includes double occupancy twin share accommodations, all diving (up to 4 dives a day), all meals and snacks on board, local soft drinks, beer and wine.

The Philippines archipelago is home to more than 3,000 species of fish, and the dive sites combine unbelievable muck-diving with pristine coral reefs and shoals of schooling fish. The diving, accommodations, and amenities are all sure to make for a once in a lifetime adventure - sign up early to secure your space! Both weeks will be led by our Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens.

We have a few special offers: REEF members who sign up for both weeks will only pay one REEF Program Fee of $300 (a $300 savings), and discounted early bird prices for booking before June 1st. Visit the Philippines Land and Sea Package page to view all of the details. We'll be announcing more 2016 trips soon. Keep an eye on www.REEF.org/trips for more details.

REEF Fest 2015 a Success!

REEF Fest 2015 drew to a close last Sunday in Key Largo, Florida. Thanks to the over 200 members who came to the Keys to help us celebrate. The 4-day event featured diving, seminars, and parties. Seminar topics ranged from fish identification and behavior, to REEF's programs, to underwater encounters with animals big and small. A big thanks goes to all of our event sponsors and auction donors, including Florida Keys dive operators, hotels, and breweries. A special thanks to our platinum sponsors, Atlantis Dumaguete Resort, Explorer Ventures II, and M/V Caribbean Pearl. We especially appreciate Rob and Linda Blesser of Quiesence Diving Services for hosting our Saturday night party and providing lodging for our out-of-town staff.

Mark your calendar for REEF Fest 2016, set for September 29 - October 2, 2016. Watch the event webpage, www.REEF.org/REEFFest2016, for program updates. We hope to see you there!

Upcoming Fishinars: Lionfish, South Atlantic States, Scientific Illustration, and More

The beautiful hard bottom reefs of the South Atlantic States will be the topic of a two-part Fishinar in April. Photo by Greg McFall/NOAA.

Check out the great Fishinars we have planned for April! We invite everyone to join in the fun of learning in the convenience of your home, with these energetic and informative online webinars. Our Fishinars are free to REEF members, interactive (so you don't fall asleep), and chock full of tips and tricks to help you learn fish ID in many areas of the world.

In April, we have five Fishinars on the calendar:

  • Wednesday, April 6th - The Lionfish Invasion: Current Findings and Control Efforts, with Emily Stokes
  • Wednesday, April 13th - More Holy Moly Gobies, with Jonathan Lavan
  • Tuesday, April 19th - Fishes of the South Atlantic States (GA, SC, and NC), with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec
  • Thursday, April 21st - Invertebrates of the South Atlantic States, with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec
  • Tuesday, April 26th - You Do WHAT for a Living?, with marine science illustrator Val Kells. Val will be talking about what went into the drawings seen in her new book, A Field Guild to Coastal Fishes: from Alaska to California.

And coming up in May, we have even more exciting sessions in store:

  • Wednesday, May 4th - Hawaii Fishes: Life on a Coral Head, with Christy Semmens
  • Thursday, May 5th - REEF 2017 Trips Preview, with REEF trip leaders!
  • Tuesday, May 17th - The Wrasse Class: Back in School, with Jonathan Lavan
  • Thursday, May 26th - The Northeast's Less Frequently Seen Fish, with Janna Nichols and Jason Feick

Register and get more details here: www.REEF.org/fishinars. We hope to 'see' you online!

Great Annual Fish Count 2016 a Success

Happy surveyors in Virginia participate in the 2016 GAFC. Photo by Susan Sarrett.
A surveyor in Virginia. Photo by Susan Sarrett.

REEF’s 2016 Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) brought together experienced and beginner fish watchers to count fish (and invertebrate) populations. Beginning fish ID classes were held, and then students were able to use their new skills out in the water during organized GAFC events. Participating groups and shops this year were based in several of REEF's regions, including the TWA, SAS, NE, CAL and PNW regions. The biggest GAFC events this year were held in our NE and California regions.

One group of note was a newcomer to the scene -- Lynnhaven Dive Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They are located in the southern part of our Northeast region, and the sites in that area have only had a handful of REEF surveys done up until now. Volunteers Kathy O’Hara and Lindsey Hillier Hotchkiss organized the event and eight women motored 14 miles off the coast to Chesapeake Light Tower, where they conducted surveys. They found Oyster Toadfish, Tautog, Great Barracuda, and Invasive Lionfish, among many other species.

Thanks to ALL groups who participated this year – here’s to continued fish counting year ‘round!

REEF by the Sea - Annual Donor Event Planned for March

Poolside dining at Mango Manor.

To celebrate our sustaining donors and most active volunteer surveyors, we annually host REEF by the Sea. This year's special event will be held this March at Mango Manor, Paul Humann’s home in South Florida. This invitation-only event includes a special day of engaging presentations, socials, meals, and fun. We will celebrate pool-side and enjoy exploring Paul's award winning gardens in between exciting presentations by REEF staff and beautiful slide shows by renowned photographers. We are also organizing an opportunity to dive at the famous Blue Heron Bridge the day before. Donors who give at least $1,000 in a year are included in REEF's Sustainer's Club and are invited to REEF by the Sea and other special events and opportunities. If you are interested in finding out more, please contact Martha Klitzkie at martha@REEF.org or 305-852-0030.

Speaker Line-up For REEF Fest 2017

REEF Fest includes fun and festive socials each evening.
In addition to a great line-up of speakers, REEF Fest features a schedule of diving, snorkeling, and paddle boarding opportunities.

What will you be doing September 28-October 1 this year? Hopefully joining REEF board, staff, and members in Key Largo, Florida, for the annual REEF Fest event! This year, REEF Fest will kick off on Thursday, September 28, with a sunset picnic, including complimentary dinner and refreshments before our opening seminar. REEF Fest hosts an impressive line-up of scientists and conservation leaders during this year’s seminar series, including:

Diving Deep: Linking the Effects of Climate Change on Fishes to Future Fisheries Management and Conservation, Dr. Stephanie Green, Banting Fellow and REEF Affiliate Scientist

Ocean Conservation through the Eyes of a Whale, Natalie Barefoot, Executive Director of Cet Law

Cloudy Monster Engineering: How Red Grouper Transform their Environment, Creating Homes for Many, Dr. Scott Heppell, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University

Pelagic Marine Life, Andy Dehart, Vice President of Animal Husbandry at Frost Museum of Science, REEF Board of Trustees

Caribbean Coral: Is there Hope for the Future?, Dr. Margaret W. Miller, NOAA-NMFS, Southeast Fisheries Science Center

Diver Photos and Reef Biodiversity Changes: Citizen Science on Bahamian Coral Reefs, Dr. Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, Department of Biology, University of Miami

Conservation Successes: New Findings and Future Efforts to Enhance our Marine Environments, Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects

REEF Fest days are filled with diving, snorkeling and other eco-adventures. Evening social events continue on Friday, September 29 with the REEF Open House from 6pm to 9pm. We will unveil the REEF Interpretive Center, a unique and beautiful addition to the REEF campus. Guests will also enjoy REEF’s newest exhibits, photography displays, and Native Plants Trail. And don’t forget to purchase your tickets for the Saturday banquet, For the Love of the Sea. Space is limited and you won’t want to miss out on this evening celebration that includes a three course meal, plus hors d'oeuvres, a full service liquor bar, live music, and great friends- alongside fantastic silent auction items!

Check out www.REEF.org/REEFFest for more event details or contact Events@REEF.org . See you in September!

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.

17th Great Annual Fish Count is Here

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REEF Member Judie Clee Surveying. Photo by Ron Lucas.
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REEF Member Brian Hufford Surveying.

The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) has arrived! GAFC is a month long event coordinated by REEF Field Stations that encourages volunteer divers and snorkelers to participate in recreational trips to raise awareness regarding marine habitats and trends in fish populations. REEF partners and Field Stations have organized everything from group dives and snorkels to photo contests, BBQs, and aquarium tours. This is a great opportunity to take a free REEF Fish ID class and connect with other individuals as well as groups, such as local dive operations and non-profit organizations, who are also interested in doing the same objectives. Numerous activities have been scheduled for the Pacific Coast, Hawaii, California, Washington, Florida, Maine, British Columbia, and many other regions- and still more are being added! Details for scheduled events can be found on the GAFC website. Each year GAFC events generate approximately 2,000 surveys in July alone and increase the interest and involvement of hundreds of surveyors worldwide. Participating in a GAFC event is a great way to make an active contribution to marine conservation and get involved with what REEF does year round- engage volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect critical, valid, and cost-effective data. We hope you get involved!

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