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.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Georgia Arrow

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Georgia (on the far right) and some of her fellow Pacific NW REEF surveyors.
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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 highlight Georgia Arrow (REEF member since 2002). Georgia lives in Portland, Oregon, has conducted 686 REEF surveys in four different regions, and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor in the Pacific. She has the most surveys of anyone in the west coast Pacific region. Here's what Georgia had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

I was unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to get an ear infection during my Open Water certification weekend. I was not allowed to participate in this new and exciting experience for 2 months! I checked at the dive shop and found that there was to be a Fish ID class and immediately signed up thinking it would be a lot more fun to dive if I actually knew what I was looking at-I found this to be true when birdwatching so it made sense that fishwatching would be the same. At that class, I learned about REEF and surveying and I met Janna Nichols, one of my first scuba/fish ID mentors. I wasn’t able to do the dives with the rest of the class because of my ears but when I was healthy, Janna took me on my first surveying dives. It was very exciting to be putting names to all the fish I saw on those dives. The dives were quite memorable for many reasons but knowing the fish and being able to do a survey was certainly one of them. So I have been surveying since my first dive after certification in 2002.

Have you ever been on a REEF Field Survey, and if so where and what was your trip highlight?

I went on the Sea of Cortez Field Survey in 2003. It was a wonderful trip from beginning to end. It was my first experience in warm water! I was in heaven. The divers were fun, the water was amazing, learning warm water fish was overwhelming and exciting. The highlight was diving in the middle of a school of Big Eye Scads - they were just swirling all around us and I was mesmerized.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

Although I’ve taken several warm water trips, most of my diving is in Puget Sound, a 3 hour drive from my home. I try to get up there 3-4 times and do 8-10 surveys a month. I love the green water, I love the critters we have here from the cute little Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker to the Giant Pacific Octopus. Usually by the time I’m home from a warm water trip I am ready to get back to surveying “my” critters. It’s harder and colder to dive here but that makes it challenging. It’s hard to find some of the critters but that makes it more rewarding when you actually find that elusive fish or nudibranch.

What are some of your most favorite or memorable finds on a survey?

There are so many to choose from it is hard to pick but I have to say the Spotted Ratfish is my favorite fish. I have a Spotted Ratfish tattoo on my shoulder. It is odd-looking but so graceful underwater - it “flies” rather than swims. And it can be as cute as a little puppy dog. One of my best rare sightings is the silver-spotted sculpin.

Take a Dive Trip That Counts

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We are pleased to announce the 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule - check it out online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. 2012 destinations include: Nevis, San Blas Islands in Panama, Dominica, Belize, San Salvador in the Bahamas, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel.

Give Thanks to Our Oceans by Donating to REEF

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Members who donate $250 or more will receive this limited, signed, and numbered print of a beautiful Peppermint Basslet.

I am excited to announce the launch of our Winter Fundraising Campaign. During this holiday season, please consider a contribution to protect and conserve our marine eco-systems. Donate today using our secure online form, call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Members who donate $250 or more will receive a limited, signed, and numbered print of a beautiful Peppermint Basslet.

This year, we give thanks to all our supporters and donors who have made REEF's programs in 2011 successful. Your donation supports a database of over 154,000 fish and invertebrate surveys, marine conservation research, Nassau Grouper and Goliath Grouper protections, lionfish invasion control, educational outreach, and a whole lot more.

Please give thanks this month to our oceans! They cover 70 percent of this planet, are home to millions of magnificent species, and contain important resources that we all depend on. We appreciate your ongoing dedication to our marine conservation initiatives and wish you a happy holiday season.

The Faces of REEF: 2011 Volunteer of the Year, Heather George

REEF proudly names Heather George as our 2011 Volunteer of the Year. Since becoming a member nearly a decade ago, Heather has conducted 192 REEF surveys throughout the world and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. In 2010, Heather joined the volunteer research team for the Grouper Moon Project. Through the years, she has conducted fish identification trainings for dive shops and aquaria and has led several REEF Field Survey Trips. Heather also served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010 and brought a wealth of knowledge about fundraising and membership development to the organization. In 2011, Heather assisted with the expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the South Pacific as part of the field team to American Samoa. When Heather is not underwater looking at fishes or teaching others about the joys of fish watching, she is helping other ocean-related organizations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Waterkeeper Alliance. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Heather!

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Scuba Obsession

REEF is proud to partner with over 270 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. For more information on how to find one near you, or to become a Field Station in your area, visit the Field Station Directory.

This month we feature Scuba Obsession, Al Audet's independent instruction business located in Melbourne Florida. Al was introduced to the wonderful world of fish identification through a class through OceanWatch.org. He attended as many classes as he could, and through the help of outstanding instructors and guides, he was hooked. He decided to incorporate fish ID into his teaching repertoire, and signed up as a REEF Field Station in November 2009.

Instructors have a lot of influence on their new open water students, and Al steers them toward fish ID all along the way. During the last Open Water dive, he normally takes his waterproof Fish-In-A-Pocket guide and points the fish they see on their dive out to the students. As his students move on to their Advanced Open Water courses (of which they can choose some that match their interests), he always encourages them to select Fish ID as one of their Adventure Dives. During the class, they learn about fish ID, do REEF survey dives together, and then are encouraged to join REEF and enter their data.

Al feels that the east coast of Florida is a great place to engage divers in fish ID. "The east coast of Florida has some of the best diving in the world. You never know what you're going to see. We also have the most popular muck dive in the world - the Blue Heron Bridge. You'll find fish under the bridge that you won't see any place else in Florida."

Al employs several different teaching techniques for his students. He offers Fish ID classes regularly and also attends REEF Fishinars, which he touted as one of REEF's best programs. He has also put together a video for his Fish ID students, online and available for viewing here: http://vimeo.com/11153948

One of Al's most exciting moments during a dive was when he was teaching a Fish ID Adventure dive for an Advanced Open Water class off Jupiter, FL. The boat captain gave them a sand drop, so after a few minutes of looking for the reef, the dive guide decided to ascend. On the way up... they looked up, and realized they were ascending into a whale shark! One of Al's students described it best, "I looked up, and I thought I saw the boat. Then I saw the fins." Thanks Al and Scuba Obsession for serving as a REEF Field Station!

Putting It to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, June 2013

Goliath Grouper and a REEF Surveyor. REEF sightings data for Goliath Grouper are critical to scientists and government agencies working to protect and manage this important species. Photo by Armando Jenik.

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 University of British Columbia is using REEF data to evaluate the efficacy of marine reserves in Canadian waters.

- A researcher from Florida State University has requested REEF data to study Goliath Grouper populations in Florida.

- A student at Coastal Carolina University is using data to study fish populations at Discovery Bay in Jamaica.

- Scientists from NOAA Fisheries and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are using data from multiple monitoring programs, including REEF, to evaluate new methods of evaluating population trends in fisheries.

Support REEF While Shopping on Amazon

Do you shop on Amazon? If so, we encourage you to use Amazon Smile. It's the same Amazon experience, same products, prices, and service. But a portion of your purchases will be donated to REEF. Go to smile.amazon.com and select Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Inc. as your selected charity (or go directly to http://smile.amazon.com/ch/65-0270064). Thank you!

Lionfish - What We Know and What We're Learning

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Lionfish photo by Tom DeMayo
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Juvenile Lionfish photo by Tom DeMayo

If you’ve read recent REEF releases, you’ve heard the news that Indo-pacific lionfish are now well established along the eastern US coast and throughout the Bahamas. REEF has been and continues to work with researchers to learn as much as we can in order to most effectively address the invasion. Since January of this year, REEF has organized and led 5 week-long projects in the Bahamas to document the extent of the invasion and gather samples and information needed by NOAA and Bahamian researchers.

 
Here is what we’ve found:

  • Lionfish are being found as deep as 350’ and as shallow as 2’.
  • Lionfish have been documented in almost all habitat types including patch reefs, artificial reefs, walls, and even mangroves
  • Lionfish have been captured as small as 25mm and as large as 389mm
  • Most lionfish have been in the 200mm size range
  • Lionfish prey has included fish, shrimp and crabs
  • Lionfish appear to have high site fidelity (they don’t move much)
  • Lionfish appear to be reproducing year-round in Bahamian waters
  • The lionfish invasion appears to have come from a small founding population (not a large release of many fish)
  • Stomach content analysis has documented lionfish predation of cleaner fish
  • Every site visited in the Berries in April contained lionfish – most contained multiple fish

 
Here is what we are working on with NOAA and Bahamian researchers:

  • Continuing documentation of lionfish distribution and impacts on local fish populations
  • Documentation of lionfish at cleaning stations and subsequent predation on cleaning fish
  • Predation by other species on lionfish
  • Genetic relationships of lionfish in one area (NC, northern Bahamas) to those in other areas (S Bahamas) to determine dispersion pathways.
  • Parasitology of lionfish (they appear to have few parasite compared to native fish)
  • Larval occurrence at different locations using larval light traps
  • Juvenile recruitment preference using small shallow water nets and trawls
  • Trap preference of adult lionfish
  • Lionfish recruitment rates to sites denuded of lionfish (i.e., recruitment pressure)
  • Recruitment of lionfish to artificial structures
  • And more!

As part of this effort, REEF has planned more research efforts through the end of 2007. Each project will include participation of scientists, researchers, and/or REEF staff. For a list of upcoming projects visit http://www.reef.org/exotic/lionfish/ or e-mail lad@reef.org

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub