Putting It To Work: New Publication on Manta and Mobula Rays Published Using REEF Data

A Manta Ray swimming at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Jackie Reid/NOAA.

We are excited to share a new scientific paper published last month in the journal PLoS ONE that included REEF data - Global Population Trends and Human Use Patterns of Manta and Mobula Rays, by Christine Ward-Paige, Brendal Davis, and Boris Worm. Despite being the world’s largest rays and providing significant revenue through dive tourism, little is known about the population status, exploitation, and trade volume of mobulids (Manta and Mobula species). There is anecdotal evidence, however, that mobulid populations are declining, largely due to the recent emergence of a widespread trade for their gill rakers. Researchers from Dalhousie University and eShark.org used expert divers’ observations from two citizen science programs, REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and eShark.org, to describe global manta and devil ray abundance trends and human use patterns. The study highlights the relative rarity of aggregation sites on a global scale and reveals that many populations appear to be declining. The authors warn that newly emerging fisheries for the rays gill-­‐rakers likely exceed their ability to recover. The study also demonstrates the deficiency of official catch reports, as only four countries have ever reported landing manta or devil rays– Indonesia, Liberia, Spain, and Ecuador. However, numerous diver reports compiled in the paper illustrate that many other countries are regularly landing and selling these rays without reporting.

The paper can be viewed online here. A complete listing of all papers that have featured REEF data can be found online here.

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Ten Reasons to Join REEF’s Field Survey to Grenada this May

Many cryptic species, including Frogfish, can be found in Grenada. Photo courtesy of Aquanauts Grenada.
An aerial view of True Blue Bay Resort.
One of Aquanauts' spacious dive boats.
The Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park is a unique attraction.

Known as the dive capital of the Eastern Caribbean, Grenada is located on the border between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Grenada’s diving includes famous shipwrecks, colorful reefs, and mind-blowing macro marine life. The island is also home to an underwater sculpture park and has plenty of land-based activities to enjoy during surface intervals, including hiking, visiting beautiful Grand Anse Beach, river tubing, and touring historic sites. Trip participants will collect data on marine fish species while diving, and enjoy fish ID classes each evening. 

Space is filling up quickly and the last chance to register for this trip is Feb. 10, so if you are interested, don’t wait to book! Trip details are available here.

Here are ten reasons to join REEF in Grenada this year:

10. Perfect time of year: While the dive season is year round, May is a great month to visit the island. It’s the end of the dry season, which means great visibility for diving – the average is 50-100 feet. Weather-wise, air temperatures in May are in the mid-80’s and there is always a nice breeze from the ocean.

9. Be a citizen scientist: REEF’s database currently has less than 500 surveys from Grenada. This is a great opportunity to collect data from a less-frequently surveyed location, while adding to your life list of fish sightings and surveys.

8. Expand your fish ID knowledge: Surveyors of all levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced, and daily classes will focus on different fish families and fun sightings from the day’s dives. 

7. Make a difference: When you travel with REEF, you make a difference in the health of our oceans by supporting marine research, education and conservation. REEF is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. The IRS may consider expenses associated with your work as a REEF Field Survey volunteer tax deductible. For details, visit www.REEF.org/fieldsuveys/taxinfo and consult your tax advisor.

6. Diving perks: Aquanauts Grenada is known for offering great service, valet diving, and having comfortable, spacious boats. Most dive sites are less than 30 minutes away via boat ride. For those who are Nitrox certified, free Nitrox is included with this trip, and the dive shop is located onsite at True Blue Bay Resort. 

5. Relaxing accommodations: True Blue Bay Boutique Resort is a family-owned and operated hotel overlooking the water. All rooms have a view of the bay, and there are many onsite amenities and activities including a spa, yoga studio, boutique, restaurant, rum tastings, free Hobie cats and kayaks, and several pools.  

4. Easy to get there: There are daily direct flights to Maurice Bishop International Airport (GND) from several major US cities. Once you’re there, getting around the island is easy via bus or taxi.  

3. Plenty to do on surface intervals: When you’re not diving, Grenada, known as the Spice Island, has many topside activities and beautiful scenery including hiking trails through rainforests, ending in fantastic waterfalls. Visit Georgetown’s spice market to sample nutmeg, clover, cinnamon, ginger, and cocoa, or tour the Grenada National Museum or Fort Matthew to learn more about the history of the island. 

2. Unique dive sites: Awe-inspiring wrecks, colorful reefs, and exciting drifts make Grenada a great place for divers of all levels. The island’s reefs, walls, and underwater sculpture parks are prolific marine ecosystems. One drift diving site, located where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, offers plenty of chances to see large schools of fish and lesser-seen migratory species.

1. Great spot for marine life: Surveyors will love the abundant marine life here. The dive site “Purple Rain” is named for the schooling Creole Wrasse that descend like purple raindrops over the reef. Blennies, frogfish, and seahorses can be found in shallows, and acording to locals, Grenada’s reefs and walls also provide a good opportunity to see the elusive Black Brotula – a fish on every surveyor’s bucket list!

If you’re interested in joining this trip or have questions, contact trips@REEF.org for more information or to sign up today!

Membership Madness a Success

REEF’s first Month of Membership Madness was a huge success! In April, lucky Michelle Rogers joined as our 60,000th member, and we far exceeded our goal, with 603 new members signing up. If you are a new member, WELCOME to REEF! The winner of the wetsuit giveaway will be announced April 15 on our Facebook page. If you haven’t yet seen the video that our brilliant intern Jack Fishman produced about joining REEF, we highly recommend it (visit www.REEF.org/membershipmadness)! From being a part of the largest marine citizen science project in the world to making new fishy friends, REEF’s community of members will guarantee you a fishy adventure. Also, included in this month’s activities was an infographic about our incredible REEF members. This graphic illustrates an amazing diversity of support that really highlights how REEF truly depends on our members and volunteers to expand our knowledge of our underwater world. Thank you for everything!

REEF Surveyor Find Rare Jawfish in Veracruz Mexico

The rare Swordtail Jawfish. Photo by Itziar Aretxaga.
The rare Swordtail Jawfish. Photo by Itziar Aretxaga.

Itziar Aretxaga, a long-time REEF surveyor who lives in Veracruz Mexico recently sent in this rare fish sighting report about finding a Swordtail Jawfish. What a great sighting! Here's Itziar's story:

"Earlier this year, I was taking part on an underwater photography competition in Veracruz, Mexico. Every year the diving operators and other supporting organizations launch it as a way to draw awareness upon the diversity and richness of the protected National Park of Veracruz. I had no hope of winning anything as I am a novice photographer with a very basic camera and no illumination, but I wanted to support their efforts. Each of us had a 90-minute time limit to take up to 100 photos.

I saw this jawfish on the sandy area immediately below the buoy in Cabomex, Anegada de Adentro, at about 14m depth. I knew it was not any of the jawfishes I had reported before: face markings, behavior, and burrow type gave it away as a different species. I was set on identifying it more than on making any impression on the competition jury, so I spent my allotted 90 minutes by the jawfish, as motionless as possible, and trying to make it get used to the camera just 15cm away from its burrow. The series of photographs allowed me to identify it as a Swordtail Jawfish (Lonchopisthus micrognathus) based on the body bars and the pointy protruding tail, as described in the sketches of the ReefNet Fish Identification DVD. In looking at the REEF database later, I realized it is extremely uncommon to see this species. So all in all, I felt I had won a big prize in that competition!"

Thanks for sharing, Itziar. If you have a rare sighting or fun find to share, please drop us a note.

Get Ready For the Great Annual Fish Count 2016

During the entire month of July we encourage you to try your hand at conducting your first survey if you're new to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, or to do a few more if it's been a while.

The GAFC began in 1992 when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists conducted a visual fish count in California's Channel Islands National Park. The effort was modeled after the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and has now grown into an international event.

The ideas behind the GAFC are to:

  • introduce divers and snorkelers to fishwatching and citizen science
  • connect local fishwatchers with each other
  • encourage participation in REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project, and
  • help gather data on fish populations around the world

We've revamped the GAFC website, and it's got everything you need to be able to join in the fish counting fun as a participant or to organize your own local event. It can be as simple as hosting a survey dive (throw in a BBQ), or an ID class or presentation about your local fish.

We especially encourage shops, dive clubs, marine science centers and others to organize a GAFC event.

Be sure to visit www.fishcount.org to get the scoop.

See you in the water!

Digging for Data: a Fishinar on how to use the REEF Website reports

And now for something completely different - Ever wonder how you could use REEF's amazing, online, publicly accessible database to answer some common questions you might have?

Join REEF staff Ellie Splain and Janna Nichols for a free Fishinar that will answer those questions (we're mind readers and know what you'll ask) and give you tips and tricks along the way. -- Wednesday November 2nd, 8pm Eastern time. Register online at www.REEF.org/fishinars.

And don't miss our other upcoming Fishinars:

  • November 14th - Hawaii - Life in the Sand with Christy Semmens
  • December 15th - Don't Forget the Chubs and Porgies with Carlos and Allison Estapé
  • REEF’s 2017 Lionfish Derby Summer Series Brings in Over 2,000 Lionfish

    REEF staff member, Marie Diaz, scores a lionfish brought in for this year’s Fort Lauderdale Derby.
    REEF Derby volunteer, Betty Siersma passes out Lionfish Ceviche, made fresh from the derby catch, to hungry patrons.

    This summer, divers and snorkelers from around the country came together to combat the invasive lionfish, vying for over $14,000 in total cash prizes. The series included derby events throughout Florida including Sarasota, the Upper Keys, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach County, as well as Lionfish Culinary Competitions in conjunction with the Sarasota and Palm Beach County derbies. Derby events serve to educate the public about invasive species, gather important scientific information on lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market by providing the public with a chance to taste this delicacy, all of which are important factors in addressing this issue.

    This year’s Summer Lionfish Derby Series brought in 2,112 invasive lionfish. Over the next year, these lionfish would have consumed somewhere between 14,789,260 and 3,662,991 prey fish-fish that are commercially, ecologically, and recreationally important. According to Dr. Stephanie Green, Oregon State University researcher, some sites in the Bahamas have seen 65-95% declines in native fish in a two-year period, when lionfish are present. Impacts to valuable food fish like grouper and snapper could cause damage to the economy and ecology of countries throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic. Overall, the average size of lionfish brought in seems to have decreased this year, indicating the success of derby events and ongoing removals.

    The 2017 REEF Summer Lionfish Derby Series was made possible by Mote Marine Laboratory, 15th Street Fisheries, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, ZooKeeper, and Whole Foods.

    For complete derby results and information on additional lionfish derbies throughout the region, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies

    Putting it to Work: New Publication Looks at Effects of Urbanization on Giant Pacific Octopus

    Giant Pacific Octopus, photo by Janna Nichols

    We are excited to share information on the newest publication that features data collected by REEF surveyors as part of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project - "Urbanization-related distribution patterns and habitat-use by the marine mesopredator, Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini)", published last month in the scientific journal Urban Ecosystems. The authors, Eliza Heery and colleagues at the Seattle Aquarium, NOAA, and the University of Washington, used REEF sightings data on Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State to evaluate patterns of occurrence with urbanization.

    The species is the largest known octopus in the world, and they can reach over 20 feet in length from one tentacle tip to the other. The study objectives were to determine whether the distribution and habitat-use patterns of Giant Pacific Octopus were correlated with urbanization intensity on nearby shorelines in Puget Sound. REEF was instrumental in the study, providing data for a much larger spatial area and longer time period than would otherwise have been available. Heery et al. used REEF data in a series of statistical models and found that urban effects varied with depth. On deeper dives (> 24 m), REEF divers had a higher probability of encountering octopus in more urban locations.

    Why might this be? The study's authors conducted additional field surveys to explore two potential explanations. To determine whether food resources played a role, Heery et al. collected middens – piles of shells leftover from past meals of octopus – from octopus dens throughout Puget Sound. Midden piles indicated there were no differences in the diets of urban octopus and rural octopus, suggesting that food resources were not the driver of urban-related distribution patterns. Secondly, they conducted a series of video surveys in sets of adjacent sites where there was a lot versus very little anthropogenic debris (junk). As many recreational divers might have predicted, they found more octopus in locations where there was a lot of junk.

    How is this important for science? Past studies in urban ecology have suggested that mesopredators (mid-sized consumers) benefit from urbanization because of the food and shelter resources city environments provide, but those studies have focused exclusively on terrestrial mesopredators (like racoons and coyotes). This is the first study to examine whether marine mesopredators exhibit comparable patterns. It concludes that within certain habitats (deeper zones), octopus are indeed positively correlated with urbanization. Yet it is likely that shelter resources (from junk) rather than food are the driver.

    To get a link to this paper, and to read about all of the scientific publications that have featured REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

    DEMA Bound: REEF to Attend World’s Largest Dive Trade Show

    REEF_Dema-Logo_l.jpg

    Every year, more than 10,000 dive professionals from around the world attend DEMA, the flagship event of its namesake, the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association. This year, DEMA will be held October 31-November 3 in Orlando, Florida. REEF is proud to host a booth and present three environmental seminars on how dive operators can promote "fish watching" and the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project to recruit and retain their dive customers. Our audience includes dive shop owners, industry reps, instructors, underwater photographers, destination and travel companies, dive magazines and many other members of the international dive community who will convene to share best practices and learn about new products coming on the market.  

    Recognizing the important role of the dive community in marine conservation, an increasing number of environmental organizations will attend DEMA as well. Partners including The Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, and Project AWARE Foundation will also reach out to divers to enlist their support for important conservation issues. REEF will take this four-day opportunity to raise awareness about the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, recruit new Field Stations, connect with key partners and raise the profile of REEF programs as a way for the dive industry to give back to the underwater environment. We will also be launching a home-study DVD course for beginning fish watchers; stay tuned to REEF in Brief for more information.

    REEF is looking for a few good volunteers to help at our DEMA booth this year. Since DEMA is only open to dive professionals, this is a great way to get in to see the show. If you can help out for a few hours each of the show, please contact REEF office manager Kim Sovia-Crandon to join the REEF DEMA 2007 team: Kim@reef.org or (305) 852-0030. For more information on DEMA Show 2007, please visit  www.demashow.com .

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub