Lionfish Workshop Roadshow – Coming to a City Near You!

REEF's Keri Kenning leads a lionfish workshop.
Attendees of the lionfish workshop in Miami, Florida.

As part of our efforts to address the lionfish invasion to the western Atlantic, REEF received a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Aquatic Invasive Species Program to organize and lead lionfish workshops throughout the Southeast United States. Between August and October, REEF staff Keri Kenning and Lad Akins will be traveling to more than a dozen coastal communities to present information on the lionfish invasion and hands-on demonstrations on collecting and handling. Workshop topics include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, current research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development, and ways to get involved.

So far, nearly 400 people have attended workshops at Houston Zoo and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Headquarters (TX), North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (NC), South Carolina Aquarium (SC), and University of North Florida and University of Miami (FL).

The next workshop will be on Monday, October 21 in Cape Canaveral, FL. More workshops will be coming to Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Central and South Florida. The classes are free of charge and open to the public. All divers, fishers, and ocean enthusiasts are encouraged to attend. Check www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops as new workshops are added. Hope to see you there!

Grouper Moon Project Update

Nassau Grouper spawned in Feburary, starting 3 days after full moon. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
Grouper Moon team members spend time on each dive at the aggregation collecting data on behaviors, numbers, and size.
The Grouper Moon team gives a thumbs up before leaving for a dive.
A Nassau Grouper in regular coloration stands out among the rest in the aggregation. Photo by Christy Semmens.
Eggs were collected during spawning and then reared in a lab for a few days.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon. Watch a short video montage of the aggregation and spawning action here - http://youtu.be/GwKVzPLgmbo

Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. This year, we tested out some new techniques for collecting and rearing fertilized eggs (in the montage video you will see a diver swimming through a spawn cloud with a plastic bag). After collecting Nassau grouper eggs during the two nights of peak spawning, Scripps scientists and REEF Grouper Moon Project volunteers cultured the eggs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman. After one night, a subset of eggs were preserved for research on fertilization rates. After two nights, the eggs had hatched, and researchers were surprised to find larval Nassau swimming around the tank the next morning. Check out this video of larval Nassau grouper under the microscope - http://youtu.be/0Vph6LzH9IE

In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.

Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, recently gave a Perspectives in Ocean Science talk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire talk is online. Click here to watch! To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2014, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club (especially Neil van Niekerk and the crew of the Lucky Devil for taking our team out in January), and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible - Adam, Alex, Brenda, Bradley, Croy, Guy, Hal, Ivan, James, Josh, Keith, Leslie, Laura, Lynn, Paul, Steve, and Todd. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) Wrap-Up for July

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Upper Keys AAT: Mike Smith, Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Brenda Hitt
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Middle Keys AAT: Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Paige Switzer, Wayne Manning, Brenda Hitt, and Ann Outlaw
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Joe Cavanaugh, Brian Hufford, Dave Grenda, Erin Whitaker, Mike Phelan, and Brenda Hitt

REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project.  Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program.  Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff.  To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here.

Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments.  The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework.  In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.

The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002.  Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef.  Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented.  The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites.  Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.

I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks.  In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight!  Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.

Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled).  Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year.  Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA.  It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854 .  We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event.  You will hear more about this project in the coming months.

Hope to see you in the water soon.

Best "fishes,"

Joe

REEF Participates in Annual Caribbean Fisheries Conference

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Grouper Moon researcher and OSU Professor, Dr. Scott Heppell, reviews findings from cleaning station research conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation site at the recent GCFI conference.

REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented a summary of 5 years of fish monitoring on two modified reef areas off Key Largo, Florida: the Spiegel Grove artificial reef and the Wellwood grounding restoration (see next month’s edition of REEF-in-Brief for more information on these projects). Brice was an invited speaker in the special session on Nassau grouper, presenting an overview of the conservation status of the species. During the Spawning Aggregation session, Brice also presented changes in the average size of Nassau grouper that are visiting the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site since it was protected from fishing in 2003. Scott presented a poster summarizing cleaning station research that the Grouper Moon team has been conducting on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site. Other presentations that included REEF data included a talk by Dr. Todd Kellison from NOAA Fisheries on trends in commercial species abundances in Biscayne National Park and a talk by Nicole Cushion from University of Miami on patterns of abundance in grouper species in the Bahamas.

Introduction

Happy St. Patrick's Day! We show our "green" spirit here at REEF by continuing important conservation initiatives. In this edition, learn about REEF's participation in the 54th annual Boston Sea Rovers international underwater clinic, a visit with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and a citizen science discussion series recently hosted by REEF in the Florida Keys. Two valuable REEF members learn bi-coastal fish ID and there is one spot left on the Turks and Caicos field survey next month. Last chance to sign up for this amazing conservation diving opportunity!

With best wishes and best fishes,

Leda

Dr. Jim Bohnsac Discusses No-Take Zones for the Dry Tortugas National Park

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REEF Diver, Marah Hardt, on Riley's Hump, Dry Tortugas National Park
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Coral Reef at Dry Tortugas, Photo by Tim Taylor
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Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park
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View from inside Fort Jefferson of the mote surrounding the Fort

Dr. Jim Bohnsac is our Science Liaison to the Board of Directors and a Fisheries Biologist with NOAA.  Recently, Jim has been  interviewed several times about the effectiveness of the Dry Tortugas National Park in protecting fish species inside and outside of the protected areas.  The Dry Tortugas lie approximately 70 miles SW of Key West and are an integral part of the greater Keys coral reef ecosystem.
 No-fishing zones studied, Protective areas aim to increase size, number of fish
Brian Skolof, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Wednesday, July 2, 2008

DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK - Reeling in a 45-pound grouper used to be just an average day on the water in the Florida Keys. The abundance of behemoth fish attracted anglers from around the world in the early 1900s, including adventurers such as Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey, who pulled in monsters from the clear, warm depths off Key West. But as Florida's population boomed, the attraction that drew them began to vanish. Anglers were snapping up the larger fish by the thousands. An average grouper caught in the Keys now is about 8 pounds. "We were starting to look like a Third World nation in regards to having blitzed our resources," said University of Miami marine biologist Jerald Ault.

Mr. Ault and others are studying whether putting large tracts of ocean off-limits to fishing in the Keys can help species rebound - and prove a way to help reverse the effects of overfishing worldwide. Federal and state scientists, along with University of Miami researchers, wrapped up a 20-day study on June 9 after 1,710 dives in the region, surveying fish sizes and abundance, in an effort to determine whether it's working. Critics assert that it isn't. They say limiting size and catch quantities, not fencing off the seas, will help restore ocean life.

 The fierce debate has raged between scientists and anglers for years. Some studies suggest the outcome could mean life or death for not only commercial and sport fishing, but for mass seafood consumption as it exists today. Florida has the largest contiguous "no-take" zone in the continental U.S. - about 140 square miles are off limits to fishing in and around Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of seven sandy islands about 70 miles west off Key West amid the sparkling blue-green waters that teem with tropical marine life. Nearby, another 60 square miles are also off limits.The region is home to some 300 fish species and lies within a crucial coral reef habitat at the convergence of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  To see the rest of this story, please visit -
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/02/no-fishing-zones-studied/

More recent interviews with Jim Bohnsac - 

Are artificial reefs good for the environment?

Proponents say they replenish the ecosystem. Some scientists aren't so
sure.
Jeneen Interlandi
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 8:49 PM ET Jun 20, 2008

http://www.newsweek.com/id/142534

 

Off the Hook? Scientists, anglers debate if 'no-take' zones are helping endangered fish to rebound

http://www2.journalnow.com/content/2008/jul/28/scientists-anglers-debate-if-no-take-zones-are-hel/?living

Jim also did an impromptu interview for the Keynoter newspaper here in the Keys with Kevin Wadslow.  Paul Humann and others participated in this interview as wel. The focus was on the post International Coral Reef Symposium Field Trip discussed in this Enews edition.  The story link is not yet posted but will be within the next few days from here - http://www.keysnet.com/

REEF Programs Presented During International Conference

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Recent results from REEF's Grouper Moon research was presented at the GCFI conference in November. Photo by Phil Bush.

REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting last month in Guadeloupe. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented preliminary results from an analysis of data from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries no-take sites (Sanctuary Preservation Areas) as part of the Marine Protected Areas session. Christy also represented 

REEF during the special session on Marine Invasive Species. She presented an overview of the role that REEF's outreach programs and large corps of volunteer divers have played to better understand the impact of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish on western Atlantic reefs and to help slow the invasion of this unwanted species. Christy also participated in a panel discussion that followed the session.

Both Brice and Scott presented recent Grouper Moon Project results during the Spawning Aggregation session. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, our grouper work in the Cayman Islands has greatly expanded and includes ground-breaking conservation research. Brice's presentation focused on the expansion of the work to Cayman Brac, an island where the historical aggregation was fished heavily and was assumed to be non-functional. Scott presented exciting findings from a pilot study conducted earlier this year to understand where Nassau grouper larvae go after they are released from the Little Cayman aggregation site.

A Rare Fish Find on Bonaire's Bari Reef

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A post-larval Reef Bass, Pseudogramma gregoryi, was spotted by REEF surveyors in Bonaire earlier this summer. Photo by Patti Chandler.
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Scott Chandler presents a T-shirt to this year's (young) winner of the Bonaire Fish ID Challenge, David Lieberman.

Active REEF surveyor and Advanced Assessment Team member, Patti Chandler and her husband Scott, recently found a new fish species for Bonaire! Scott and Patti, of ReefNet, were in Bonaire as presenters for the Second Annual Fish ID Challenge. Nearing the end of a lengthy night dive on Bari Reef over sand, in 10 feet of water, something very strange was illuminated by their video lights catching Scott and Patti's eyes. It was a clear fish,1 inch in length, with a rounded tail, and large pectoral fins that practically encircled it, giving it an appearance of wearing a tutu with yellow dots.

The little fish was very active in the water column making photography and videography more of a challenge than usual. This fish was a very young juvenile, more precisely described in the scientific community as post larval in the "settling stage". As they were at a loss for its identification, photos of the strange little fish were sent off for identification to Les Wilk, Head of Scientific Research at ReefNet who in turn sent them to Benjamin Victor, who is the recognized expert for juveniles of any kind, especially larvae. Ben is a frequent poster to the REEF Discussion Forums and has a very useful website, www.coralreeffish.com.

Ben made a positive ID for the wacky little fish. It is a juvenile Reef Bass, Pseudogramma gregoryi! The adult version of the Reef Bass looks totally different. Very few reference guides even mention this obscure but beautiful fish. You can see a photo of the adult at on the bottom of this webpage. The new species was reported on Patti's REEF survey and will be added to the species count for Bonaire. Bonaire's Bari Reef is the ONLY place this fish has ever been reported to REEF in the entire Tropical Western Atlantic! Bari Reef was already the number one reported reef for species diversity in Tropical Western Atlantic and this new species just increases the lead.

The Annual Fish ID Challenge is sponsored by Bonaire Dive & Adventure, Budget Car Rental, ReefNet, and Sand Dollar Condominium Resort for promotion of marine education and conservation.

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Active REEF Surveyor in San Diego Honored by SD Oceans Foundation

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REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team member, Bob Hillis. Photo courtesy SDOF.

The San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF) is one of REEF's valued partner organizations. SDOF has been supporting its volunteers to participate in REEF surveying for the last several years and has sponsored dozens of survey training workshops. SDOF recently honored REEF member, Bob Hillis, who is a long-time SDOF Reef Monitoring Volunteer, as their 2009 top volunteer for his invaluable support of the oceans. Having completed 202 REEF Surveys, Bob has continued to strengthen his connection to the sea while providing indispensable information about the status of marine populations off the coast of California. 
Bob joined REEF in 2006 and is a member of the REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). In addition to being an active surveyor, he and his wife helped spread the REEF word last year at our SCUBA Show 2009 booth.

Bob says - “I started doing surveys when I saw a notice for an SDOF Fish ID class on the Divebums website. I had started fish watching a few years before when I reached the "been there, done that" point of diving in San Diego. I started diving here in the early '70's and did all the abalone, lobster, blue water spearfishing, divemaster, instructor, dive medtech and public safety diver things. I live in the mountains (about 60 miles from the coast), but the ocean is my favorite playground! I am also an avid surfer, body surfer and ocean swimmer. Doing REEF surveys with SDOF gives me an opportunity to enjoy my passions and give a little back to the ocean as well. These surveys actually force me to focus on and identify all of the species that I used to see (but not REALLY see). Always hoping to locate a new or rare species has added a new and exciting dimension to diving.”

Thanks for your efforts, Bob, and congratulations! And thanks to SDOF for their continued support of the REEF program.

Counting Fish on the Spike in Jacksonville

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Happy REEF surveyors after conducting GAFC surveys in Jacksonville.
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Polka-dot Batfish are one of the interesting critters found around the Spike. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Thirty miles offshore, in 100 feet of water, the Spike isn’t the most accessible dive site off North Florida’s coast but July 17th marked the first anniversary of the former Coast Guard tender’s deployment as an artificial reef so we were eager to see what had changed over the past year. The Spike had only been down 10 days when we surveyed it during last year’s Great Annual Fish Count. We weren’t expecting much then – the chance to dive a freshly minted reef was the main attraction, but it was interesting that it had already attracted a small crowd of nervous bottom fish, including the usual Black Sea Bass and Vermillion Snappers.

It was a very different site one year later. A large school of nosy barracudas followed the first diver down the line, clearing the way for hundreds of Atlantic Spadefish to move in and escort the rest of our group down. The Spike was surrounded by silversides that fled en masse as we moved through them, then streaked back to the structure for protection when gangs of Great Amberjack attacked. It’s difficult to describe the sound made by thousands of fleeing fish, but they are noisy. The superstructure is now covered with invertebrates – barnacles, tunicates, sponges, and anemones – that provide shelter and food for hundreds of tiny seaweed blennies. Jacksonville’s ubiquitous grunt, the Tomtate, was there in every phase from juvenile to adult. The Black Sea Bass and Vermillion snappers are now settled in under the bow with a group of small Red Snappers and waddling around in the sand was one of my favorites, a Polka-dot batfish! A year ago, I counted 6 species of fish. This year I counted 16 species.

Our group also dived the Gator Bowl Press Boxes, an artificial reef created years ago when the city’s stadium was renovated. Although it had about the same amount of biomass as the Spike, there were more species. One of the joys of offshore Jacksonville for fishwatchers is getting to see species like Dwarf Goatfish, Longspine Porgys, Bank Sea Bass and Oyster Toadfish that we see don’t tend to see in more tropical waters. Congratulations to Richard Salkin and T.C. Howe, who conducted their first REEF surveys.

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