The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Valerie Lyttle

Lion's Mane Jelly. Photo by Janna Nichols.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Valerie Lyttle. Valerie joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 437 surveys. She is a member of REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? How did you first hear about REEF?

I started doing REEF surveys in 2004 after taking Janna Nichols' PacNW Fish & Invertebrate ID courses. I was learning on my own and trying to remember at least one new fish/critter each dive, but the course really helped solidify things. The idea of being able to contribute my observations to the greater good really appealed to me.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I like knowing that I’m contributing to a large database and that others may benefit as a result. Seeing how dive sites and critters change from times of day, seasons of the year, etc. keep me going. Even surveys from winter dives where few species are noted have value, as it helps illustrate trends. I love being able to “speak fish” & be a critter geek with like-minded people.

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

I dive locally because otherwise I’d only get to dive once a year or two otherwise! I think it’s important to practice stewardship of your local waters and sites on whatever level you are able; every bit counts. My favorite local site is Redondo (Highline MaST Pier) for several reasons; it’s close, it never disappoints, and it’s diveable just about any time. Many of my “firsts” were there; my first Six Gill shark, my first Big Skate, the only Pacific Electric Ray and Mola Mola sightings I’ve ever had, my first Grunt Sculpin, my first Giant Pacific Octopus (or GPO, as we call it here), my first Stubby Squid. This is a site for all abilities and there are interesting things to see at every depth.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

There are two favorite local REEF fields stations, both of them dive charters. Bandito Charters know the Puget Sound waters and its critters solidly, and always provide a great experience. Pacific Adventures, based in Hood Canal, Washington, are also heavily involved in local REEF and other projects that promote the health of Hood Canal waters. Both organizations promote stewardship and love talking critters!

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?

The first time my buddy and I encountered courtship behaviors of Painted Greenlings at a local dive site. The male was sporting full mating colors and clearly had only one thing on his mind. Even though it was winter and the water was very cold, we stopped and watched the dancing and flirting for a good 10 minutes. My favorite critters hands down are jellies, in particular Lion’s Mane, aka Sea Blubber jellies. Their vibrant reds, oranges and yellows make them look like an underwater fireball that I find simply mesmerizing.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Go slow, don’t be in a hurry. Get to know your local critters and their behaviors. Carry a magnifying glass. Dive at different times of day and different seasons so you can appreciate the entire spectrum.

The Faces of REEF: 2012 Volunteer of the Year, Jonathan Lavan

We proudly announce our Volunteer of the Year for 2012, Jonathan Lavan. Jonathan joined REEF in 2004 and since then, he has logged 324 REEF fish surveys and become a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast survey regions. He has submitted surveys in five of REEF's six regions. Jonathan's involvement with REEF has been instrumental in spreading the word about REEF and its programs. In 2012, he helped to expand the Volunteer Fish Survey project by instructing for REEF's online webinars, called Fishinars. His background in theatre, sense of humor and teaching style quickly made his Fishinars popular with both new and experienced fishwatchers. He has also assisted by serving as an administrator for REEF's experience level tests. To learn more about Jonathan and his involvment with REEF, check out his Member Profile featured in a previous issue of Making It Count.

As a former diver and staff member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and a current diver at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Lavan actively seeks opportunities to educate others about marine life, conservation and REEF. He is often a guest speaker at dive clubs and shows, and especially enjoys educating youth. An avid underwater photographer, Jonathan uses his images gathered over the past 10 years to educate others about marine life, and many of his photos appear in art shows as well as online resources. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Jonathan!

New REEF Program for South Atlantic States - North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia

SAS Launch attendees dove on the artificial reef, the Indra, with Discovery Diving.
Oyster Toadfish, a fun find on the Indra Wreck off North Carolina. Photo by Janna Nichols.
Two days of workshops were held at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll to kick off the new SAS region.

After several years of planning and collaborating with local marine scientists and divers, REEF has expanded the Volunteer Fish Survey Project into another region: the South Atlantic States (SAS). Recreational and scientific divers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia now have survey materials specific to the local ecosystem, including waterproof color ID cards, waterproof survey paper, teaching curriculum, data entry, and online data summaries. Like all of REEF's regions, all species of fish are reported, but in addition the SAS program also monitors fifty-one species of invertebrates and algae that are important indicator species.

Divers have been able to conduct REEF surveys in coastal waters off these three states since the early 1990s when REEF surveying began, but divers had to use survey materials and data entry tools designed for the entire Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean). Large differences in species between the TWA and SAS meant the survey materials were less than ideal for divers in this region.

To launch the new region, REEF and our partners at NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) led two days of training workshops and survey dives during "Bringing Shipwrecks to Life", a NOAA program for divers to appreciate shipwrecks as historical treasures loaded with divers and plentiful biological treasures. Nearly 70 people attended the workshops and completed 40 survey dives over the weekend in early September. Many workshop attendees passed their REEF Level 2 exam.

REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, reported many people learned to really see underwater. “The divers had the usual buzz and excitement that you often hear on a boat full of REEF divers. One diver said, ‘I have dove on that wreck (the Indra) so many times before but I had never noticed that it was covered in coral.’ It's literally covered in Ivory Coral, Occulina spp, one of the invertebrates that we now monitor in the SAS region.

If you live or dive in the SAS region, please contact us to find out more about how you can get involved in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. And please encourage your local dive clubs, dive shop, or education center to teach the new fish and invertebrate curricula.

The Faces of REEF: Randall Tyle

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Randall Tyle. Randall has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 539 surveys (many in his home state of Oregon). He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and has participated in several of REEF's west coast special projects. Here's what Randy had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

At one of my very First Eugene Dive Club meetings, Janna Nichols (REEF Outreach Coordinator) did an "Introduction to REEF" presentation. From that point forward, I have been doing surveys on almost every dive!

Have you been on any REEF Trips?

I have participated in two of the AAT projects to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, in 2011 and 2012. These trips, in addition to surveys I do in the Channel Islands, have been some of my most rewarding dive adventures.

What's your favorite thing about conducting REEF surveys?

I am inspired by the possibility of spotting something unknown, rare or even just something I personally have not seen before. In addition to keeping track of all the cool marine life you have seen on your dives, the REEF website allows you to go back and look at your dive history.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

During my most recent trip to the Channel Islands NMS, I witnessed a flying formation of over 20 Bat Rays. From my first encounter with a California Giant Sea Bass to past encounters with the tiny Spiny Lumpsucker, I would have to say, I enjoy all of my fish encounters. I am especially fond of our resident (Pacific Northwest) Giant Pacific Octo’s and Wolf Eels.

Great Annual Fish Count Summary (GAFC)

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New England Aquarium Dive Club GAFC event in Gloucester, MA
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GAFC 2007 - Dive Friends at Yellow Submarine, Bonaire

Thanks to everyone who participated in a GAFC event this summer! This July, over twenty-three events were hosted throughout REEF's survey regions. We are still receiving data from these events and have processed a large amount already!

Since REEF's GAFC's inception in California in the early 90's, it has continued to grow and expand. More people are become involved in REEF by making a meaningful contribution to marine conservation by conducting REEF Fish Surveys. Previous events have generated over 2,000 surveys during the month of July. This year, the New England Aquarium Dive Club hosted an event in Gloucester, MA, with 103 surveyors! 

GAFC is REEF's biggest annual signature event which mobilizes our wonderful partners, volunteers, and dive shops throughout much of our survey regions.  All of whom coordinate their own local events which include offering free REEF Fish ID courses, organizing survey dives/snorkels, and other fun events tied into the theme of counting fish. The GAFC draws local, national (US), and international media attention each year. It reengages veteran REEF volunteers and also serves as a terrific mechanism to expose new ones to what REEF is all about. Though the GAFC takes place each July, it highlights nothing more than what we do year-round - engaging individuals to become active stewards of the marine environment. Volunteers learn by taking REEF Fish ID courses and conducting fish surveys as part of The Fish Survey Project. 

Grant Gove, who attended the GAFC event hosted by the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop in Bonaire, Netherlands Atillies, sent REEF wonderful DVD's of their successful event for our public library! If you hosted an event this year, or participated in one, we encourage you to either mail a DVD to REEF HQ, Post Office Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037 or email your pictures to intern@reef.org. 

Thank you to everyone who made GAFC successful this year and look forward to next years 17th annual GAFC event!

Announcing Online Data Entry for Pacific and Hawaii Regions

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The all new REEF Online Data Entry Interface.

The long wait is finally over! REEF is proud to announce the launch of an expanded online data entry interface that now includes surveys conducted in the Pacific (California – British Columbia) and Hawaii regions. Surveyors in these regions can now enter data online and enjoy quicker processing time to view their data. With more than 2,000 survey forms coming in to REEF HQ each month, this expanded service will both improve efficiency and reduce rising costs of processing data. The program will eliminate many of the common clerical errors and will flag potential species misidentification based on existing REEF sightings data. REEF originally launched online data entry for surveys conducted in the Tropical Western Atlantic region (includes East and Gulf Coasts of US, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda) in February 2005. Here are answers to some of the most common questions

When and how?
Starting today, members can go online to http://www.reef.org/dataentry and enter data for surveys conducted anywhere in these Volunteer Survey Project regions. You will log in using your REEF member number and last name.
Will the data immediately be added to the REEF database?
No, similar to data submitted via paper scanform, REEF staff will run the data through error checking programs first. However, overall processing time will be greatly reduced.
Will I still be able to submit data using the paper scanforms?
Yes, REEF will continue to provide and process paper scanforms. However, beginning in 2008, REEF will charge a nominal fee per paper scanform to cover rising costs in processing these paper forms.

A very big thank you to Dr. Michael Coyne, REEF’s longtime database programmer and overall IT guru, for making this new program a reality, and to stellar REEF volunteers Janna Nichols, Liz Foote, Carl Gwinn, Herb Gruenhagen, and Janet Eyre for their help in beta testing the program.

To find out more, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/information.

Grouper Moon Project Kicks Off Expanded Research Efforts

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Thousands of Nassau grouper in spawning colorations aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in January. Photo by Phil Bush.
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A Nassau grouper from Cayman Brac that will be acoustically tagged to better understand local reproductive behaviors.
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The 2008 team of Grouper Moon researchers and REEF volunteers.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, entitled "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.

In 2003 the Cayman Islands government protected all five known current and historic Nassau grouper spawning sites in the Cayman Islands. This move was motivated by the 2001 discovery and rapid depletion of a large spawning aggregation (~7000 fish) on the west end of Little Cayman. This rapid legislative response protected the west-end spawning site before all the fish were taken (~3,000 remain), and the site is now one of the largest fully-protected Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in existence. However, the other four spawning sites had previously been fished to exhaustion and are believed to be inactive, i.e. aggregations no longer occur during spawning season.

Over the next three years, REEF will continue the ongoing aggregation monitoring and acoustic research that has been conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation since 2002 and expand efforts to Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, where historical spawning aggregations were fished out during the last ten years. Four primary research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest-funded project are: 1) Do aggregations form in regions that have been fished out? 2) If aggregations form, do the fish ultimately spawn? 3) Do these aggregations form at historic sites or somewhere else? And, 4) Does spawning at these remnant aggregations result in new recruitment?

The new research kicked into gear last month with a team of Grouper Moon scientists and REEF volunteers who conducted twelve days of field work in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The team visually monitored the Little Cayman aggregation, documenting the largest number of fish since the fishing ban was implemented in 2003. Spectacular mass spawning was documented at dusk seven days after the full moon. Grouper Moon scientists conducted extensive work on Cayman Brac to enable future visual monitoring on the historical aggregation site and initiate an acoustic tagging study that will facilitate a better understanding of the behaviors of Nassau grouper on an island with a limited number of reproductively-aged individuals. Later this Spring and Summer, REEF researchers, volunteers and an OSU graduate student will return to the Cayman Islands to conduct larval recruitment studies and begin acoustic tagging on Grand Cayman.

Capitalizing on the the increased breadth of research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest Ocean Program grant, the CIDOE is supporting a larval dispersal study that also kicked off this year under the guidance of Dr. Scott Heppell from OSU. Three satellite drifters were deployed at the Little Cayman aggregation site on the night of spawning. The paths will be recorded by ARGOS satellites for 45 days and the resulting data will be used to develop a larval dispersal model in collaboration with researchers from University of Miami. Check out the 2008 image gallery to see where the drifters are today.

Visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage to find out more about this critical conservation research program and the 2008 Gallery page to see images and video of the field work.

REEF extends a big thank you to the island business who continue to support this project, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, as well as Peter Hillenbrand and Mary Ellen Cutts, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and the 2008 REEF Volunteer Team -- Judie Clee, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell, and Leslie Whaylen.  We also greatly appreciate the continued support of our collaborative team, including the CIDOE and OSU, and the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

REEF News Tidbits for June

Please Help REEF Meet Our Summer Fundraising Goal! -- Please remember to donate online today through our secure website or call the REEF office (305-852-0030).

Pre-order Your Copy of the 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification -- Greatly expanded and improved, the 2nd edition includes more than 30 new species and 70 new photographs.  It's the perfect identification resource for surveyors from California to Alaska.  Orders are being taken now through the REEF online store.  Copies will be shipped by the end of July.

Upcoming Lionfish Research Project Opportunity -- Interested in seeing REEF's lionfish research first-hand?  Join us and our partners from the National Aquarium in Washington D.C., the Bermuda government, and Ned and Anna DeLoach at Stuart Cove's in the Bahamas September 14-20.  Click here to find out more.

Fall Fundraising

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The 2008 Fall Fundraising premium image - a male yellowhead jawfish guarding a brood of eggs in his mouth. Photo by Paul Humann.

Here at REEF, we are tightening our belts and doubling our efforts to keep our long tradition of service alive during these challenging financial times. As never before, we are counting on your financial support, which for nearly two decades has been the cornerstone of our grass-roots’ partnership protecting the marine environment. Watch your mail for REEF's Fall Fundraising appeal. Or better yet, don’t wait and donate today using our secure online form.  Once again, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, Paul Humann, has donated a special signed print as a premium gift for REEF members donating $250 or more. This year's print features a beautiful male yellowhead jawfish guarding a brood of eggs in his mouth.

Since its inception REEF’s accomplishments have been powered by volunteers and donations from many friends like you who have a strong commitment to the health and protection of the natural world. We attribute our longevity to service, ethics, innovation and the wise use of this funding. We are proud to maintain one of the lowest administrative to program cost ratios in the non-profit sector. Even so, we have been able to increase our services and support long-term projects, such as the Volunteer Survey Project, the Grouper Moon Project, and the Lionfish Invasion Research Program.

Thank you for considering a gift of any size, we truly appreciate your support and your belief in our mission.

Online Data Entry 2.0 - Now Available For All Regions

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The online Data Entry interface -- www.reef.org/dataentry.
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With the expanding availabitly of wireless internet, REEF volunteers can submit their surveys online almost anywhere. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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REEF surveys conducted throughout the REEF project regions can now be submitted online.

We are excited to announce the launch of Online Data Entry 2.0. The new version includes several upgrades and now encompasses all of REEF's project regions. At long last, our REEF surveyors in the Tropical Eastern Pacific region (Baja Mexico - Galapagos Islands) and the Northeast US & Canada (Virginia - Newfoundland) are able to submit their survey data online. In addition, based on feedback from our members, the interface to add unlisted species has been greatly improved. Additional new features include: surveyors can now remain logged in for multiple submissions, ability to delete a survey in your queue, and the number of species entered is given on the summary page to cross-check with the survey paper. The Online Data Entry interface can be found at www.reef.org/dataentry. If you have feedback or suggestions you can send them to data@reef.org.

The online data entry interface allows volunteers to log on to the REEF Website and complete data entry, either during one or multiple sessions, and includes a variety of error checking features. Submissions of Volunteer Survey Project data through the online interface is becoming the preferred method among our volunteers, due to the quick turnaround in processing (typically posted to their personal survey log report within 2 weeks versus 10 weeks) as well as the time and money savings for the volunteer. Similarly, REEF strongly encourages online submission due to the higher quality of data that are submitted (the program eliminates clerical errors and missing data, and requires surveyors to verify questionable sightings), as well as the comparably minimal staff and natural resources that are required to process the survey data. Paper scanforms will still be available and will continue to be accepted.

If you are new to entering REEF data online, check out these instructions and this past enews article on data entry tips. Most notably:

  • In order to submit a survey from a location, REEF must have an 8-digit zone code for the site in our database first. Existing zone codes are listed at http://www.reef.org/db/zonecodes. To have a zone code assigned for a new site, please contact us at data@reef.org.
  • REEF first launched online data entry for the Tropical Western Atlantic region in 2005. To date, over 15,000 REEF surveys have been submitted online. REEF is beginning work on developing an offline entry program that will enable surveyors to electronically capture data offline and later submit the survey information through the existing REEF online data entry interface. Stay tuned for updates.

    We would like to extend a very big thank you to Michael Coyne for all of his work on the new Online Data Entry interface. His assistance and support through the years is much appreciated!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub