REEF Divers Net Quite a Find

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A derelict gill net found by REEF surveyors in the Puget Sound. The net had ensnared dozens of animals and was damaging habitat. Photo by Pete Naylor.
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A lingcod entangled in the gill net, a result of "ghost fishing". Photo by Pete Naylor.
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The net was draped over rare cloud sponges. Photo by Pete Naylor.

Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.

AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.

Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.

Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”

Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”

If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.

REEF News Tidbits for July

  • One female space just opened up on the upcoming Baja Mexico Field Survey aboard the Don Jose Liveaboard. This trip has been sold out for a while and we don't expect the space to last long.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz and runs October 5-12.  Check out the trip flyer to find out more.  Contact Jeanne from Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 or travel@bajaex.com.
  • Get your limited edition "It's All About the Fish" t-shirt today.  Available in 4 tropical colors.  Order yours today from the REEF Store.  Also available from the REEF Store is the brand new 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification field guide by Paul Humann.  This book covers species found from California to Alaska and the new edition includes more than 30 new species and over 70 new photographs.  Click here to order your copy.

REEF Gearing Up For Another Year of Nassau Grouper Aggregation Research

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Approximately 3,500 Nassau grouper, an endangered species, gather off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons to reproduce. Photo by Scott Heppell.
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A light trap deployed underwater in Little Cayman to study the recruitment of larval Nassau grouper.

REEF scientists, volunteers and collaborators will be in the Cayman Islands next month for the 8th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded last year by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF has greatly expanded the critical conservation research conducted as part of this study of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations. We will have teams on all three of the Cayman Islands conducting field research as part of the project, “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”. The Little Cayman team will continue the long-term visual monitoring of the large aggregation located there. Work on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will focus on studying the remnant aggregations that remain on these islands after years of fishing. There is currently a harvest ban in effect for all aggregations in the islands. This ban is set to be lifted in 2011 unless the extension of the protections are warranted.

Despite logistical complications, weather anomalies and difficulties locating fish, the Grouper Moon Project had a successful year of field-work in 2008. The team conducted preliminary work on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, tagging Nassau grouper with pinger acoustic tags and then installing hydrophone arrays to track the movements of those tagged individuals. Studies were also conducted to better understand the patterns of recruitment by larval and juvenile Nassau grouper to the islands. In addition, members of our team attended major scientific conferences both nationally and internationally, and presented aspects of our research and findings to date.

In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched the Grouper Moon Project with a ground breaking expedition to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. This work is a collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and researchers from Oregon State University.

To find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

REEF Regional Lionfish Workshops in Georgia and Mexico

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REEF's Special Project and Lionfish expert, Lad Akins, demonstrates collecting techniques during a Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary workshop.
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Director of the Cozumel Marine Park, Ricardo Lozano, explains the lionfish response plan to media.

As part of REEF's efforts to increase awareness about the invasive lionfish, train removal teams and develop regional response plans, REEF recently conducted a series of workshops, talks and lionfish removals in partnership with the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) in Georgia and the Cozumel Marine Park in Mexico. Combined the two projects held in July 2009 included 15 talks to more than 370 people.

The Gray's Reef project included a meeting of Sanctuary personnel from the Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks and Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuaries, working to develop a regional coordinated response plan. Sanctuary and REEF staff also conducted two days of lionfish collecting and handling dives, including the removal of 54 lionfish averaging almost 30 cm from sites just outside the GRNMS boundaries. Talks to the general public, Sanctuary Advisory Council and Georgia Law Enforcement working groups also helped increase awareness of the lionfish issue and conveyed removal plans for the region.

Immediately following the Gray's Reef project, a week-long series of workshops and talks were held in Mexico to initiate development of the Mexican regional lionfish response plan focusing on the Yucatan. An initial day-long meeting included over 40 representatives, including national environmental regulators, regional marine park directors, conservation and science groups, academia and the Mexican Navy. Presentations and discussions resulted in the development of an early detection/rapid response plan. The plan was then unveiled in numerous public and key user group talks including those to dive operators, fishermen, medical/first responders and university groups. Training dives with Marine Park staff also resulted in the removal of 3 juvenile lionfish from local Cozumel reefs.

To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program and to report a lionfish or other non-native fish sighting, visit the REEF Lionfish Webpage.

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Original Grumpy Grouper Painting by Rogest, On Auction Now!

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For the next 10 days (starting 10am PST on March 25), the original "Grumpy" grouper painting will be up for auction on eBay. Bidding ends on April 4.

VISIT the AUCTION eBAY PAGE HERE

Own the original painting by Rogest and at the same time benefit an endangered reef fish species. Proceeds from this auction will go to the support REEF's important work on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations.

Last Summer, REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), created a brand new piece celebrating the Nassau grouper. Rogest was inspired after talking with REEF scientists about the REEF Grouper Moon Project and the important conservation research being done to study one of the last remaining spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Rogest painted "Grumpy", which features the face of a Nassau grouper, with the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". He has since been inspired to create additional pieces with Grumpy.

“The Ocean is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more. My life is the Ocean and its critters. I created this grumpy grouper for REEF. It is my hope it will give a little back to the Ocean we all love so much." -- Rogest

The original "Grumpy" painting is 18"x24", created with acrylic, saltwater and sand on 100% cotton canvas, stretched ready to frame or hang.

Place your bid today and help make this auction a success!

News Tidbits

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New Additions to the REEF Store - The newly revised and expanded "Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest" by Andy Lamb and Phil Edgell is now available through the REEF online store. This useful guide is a must for any PNW fishwatcher! Lionfish Derby T-shirts are also available through the store while supplies last. Check out the REEF Store today.

New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed the following to our growing list of Field Stations. They join the almost 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.

  • Eugene Skin Divers Supply, Eugene OR
  • Pleasure Diver, Key Largo FL
  • Dive Bequia, Bequia VC
  • Marine Science Station / Citrus County Schools, Crystal River FL
  • REEF Survey Processing - Thank you to all of our members who have submitted REEF surveys in the last few months. As usually happens toward the end of the busy summer season, we have gotten a bit behind on processing. But rest assured that your surveys have been received and will be available in the database soon. Thank you for your understanding, and for your support of the REEF Survey Project.

    Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook - The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!

    Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, December 2010

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    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 Florida State University requested data from sites along the west coast of Florida to evaluate how fish species richness is influenced by the presence of certain grouper species.

    - A scientist from the Smithsonian Institute is mapping the distribution and co-occurance of garden eel species in the western Atlantic.

    - A researcher from NOAA Fisheries is looking at the species distribution of Gray Snapper.

    Great Annual Fish Count is Here

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    The 20th annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July. You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.

    The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at gafc@reef.org.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Keith Rootsaert

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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 Keith Rootsaert (REEF member since 2009). Keith is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Pacific Coast region and has conducted 138 surveys. He has become one of the Pacific region's most active surveyors, and during our interview, revealed that he is gunning to be the top surveyor someday! Keith has also started teaching marine life ID and is an instructor for our newest training tool, the Fishinars! Here's what Keith had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? I first found out about REEF at a 2009 Great Annual Fish Count event sponsored by the Dive Club of Silicon Valley at Lover’s Cove. This was my first and second surveys and when I first met Alex Matsumoto and John Wolfe. Over the years I dove with them many times and expanded my knowledge and interest in REEF. Now I am a level five Expert and I teach Fish and Invert ID seminars at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with Alex.

    If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? I have attended the West Coast REEF Advanced Assessment team survey of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary the last two years and it is always fun to do surveys with fellow fish geeks. Even though it is just for fun, there is always an element of competition among these adventure seeking divers. At the onset of the trip we all pick a number for the total number of fish species we will survey. My first year on the team I was closest at 55 species and won a postal fish stamp sheet which I have on the wall in my study.

    What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? I first started diving in Monterey Bay in 1984 and there were a lot more fish back then. Over the years I have noticed a gradual decline until now there are not as many and not as big fish as before. REEF helps me to share my actual observations in my dive log with scientists that can crunch that data and make informed decisions about conservation. For me, knowing what I am looking at makes all the difference in the world, it makes diving interesting and sharing my surveys and teaching others to properly survey and identify fish helps me to feel like I am giving back to community.

    What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? I have resigned myself to being a competitive fish geek so after coming in second place in the number of surveys in California in 2010 I set out to do the most surveys in California in 2011. About November my number was looking good for California in 2011. So then I had to ask Janna Nichols about my chances of being “Best in the West”. The PNW divers have a solid base of divers and there was just no way to catch them. California has so many more divers but less than half the total number of surveys done in the PNW. My future goal is to help grow the California survey group and become Best in the West. Look out Randal T. - you’re going down!

    What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? My most fascinating fish encounter just happened recently. In mid-December, we were diving at the Metridium Fields like I’ve done 50 times before and my buddy was staring over my shoulder. I looked to my left and two feet away was the eye of a four foot Ocean Sun Fish (mola mola). I tried to approach it but it backed away but then it followed us and at times led us back on a reciprocal course. It was just magical to watch this huge fish swim/row above the bright white plumose anemones.

    Upcoming Webinars

    Silverspotted Sculpin. Photo by Georgia Arrow.

    New Fishinars have been added! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars). These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

    Sculpins Under Scrutiny  - Sculpins have been called some pretty bad names through the years, because it's so difficult to tell them apart. Well, it's time to master the art of identifying the little buggers and Sculpin Master Guru, Dr. Greg Jensen, will be the one to help you along your journey to loving sculpins. Greg will cover some of the lesser-known and lookalike sculpins. Thursday, July 19th at 7pm PDT. REGISTER

    The Blennywatcher!- Oooh, this is gonna be a good one! Videographer and blenny expert Anna DeLoach will walk us through some of her favorite Blennies and how to tell them apart. Tuesday, July 31st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

    Holy Moly Gobies - Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan, on how to ID the top 12 gobies in the Caribbean. Essential for dive travelers heading to Cozumel, Bonaire, and any other Caribbean destination. This short, fun fishinar won't make your brain explode with fish overload - just the right amount of info! Thursday, September 6th at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub