REEF Data Used To Evaluate Evolution in Marine Species

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The golden hamlet is one of the more rare species, infrequently found in just a few locations. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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The distribution of yellowtail hamlet, as documented by REEF surveyors and analyzed by Ben Holt et al. This work was published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography 2010.

As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography

It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist. 

"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).

To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.

Neon Goby Split Into Two Species

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Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops) is found in South Florida and the Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Caribbean Neon Goby (Elactinus lobeli), is known from Belize and Honduras. Photo by Paul Humann.

Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.

The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.

Key Largo Community Volunteer Award

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Paul Humann presents Nancy Perez with the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award.

REEF recently awarded Nancy Perez the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award. Nancy joined during REEF's inaugural year in 1993! She lives in the Florida Keys and has become an instrumental volunteer at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo. Nancy helps connect REEF with the local community through planning special events, including holiday parties, the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters dedication, and participation at local festivals. Nancy has also encouraged other locals to volunteer at REEF HQ and is always available to assist REEF staff on projects. Nancy's biggest impact has been through her role coordinating the Fish and Friends gatherings at REEF HQ. During these popular monthly meetings, which started in 2009, REEF supporters come together to socialize with fellow fish followers and listen to presentations about various marine species and habitats. The success of this event would not be possible without the hard work and time that Nancy puts in to finding speakers, getting volunteer hosts, coordinating the snacks and beverages, and always wearing a smile. Her tireless dedication to the REEF Fish and Friends event is admired by all. In her spare time, Nancy is out diving and completing REEF surveys! On behalf of the REEF Staff and Board of Trustees, we extend Nancy our deepest appreciation.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Dave Grenda

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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 Dave Grenda (REEF member since 1998). After retiring from the military, he became a volunteer, divemaster, and an American Academy Of Underwater Sciences Scientific Diver at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Dave has conducted over 1,800 REEF surveys and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor. In addition to his own diving activities, Dave has participated in numerous research projects, including numerous REEF Advanced Assessment Team trips, Nassau grouper tagging in the Caymans, mutton snapper spawning in the Dry Tortugas, piscivore cooperative hunting research off Georgia (see "Putting it to Work"), queen conch population surveys in St. Croix, Aquarius undersea laboratory support in Key Largo, Tampa Bay Civil War shipwreck archeology, Paleolithic Indian archeology in North Port Florida, coral spawning in the Flower Gardens and Key Largo, Gulf Red Tide recovery, reef health assessments with the Living Oceans Foundation in the Caribbean, point/transect fish surveys throughout the Keys, and collecting exhibit animals for aquaria educational displays. Here's what Dave had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first hear about REEF? What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? I became involved with REEF after attending a fish ID lecture at the Florida Aquarium given by John Pitcarin - a founding REEF staff member. Being a REEF member has opened an entirely new world to me. The fish identification skills I've acquired through REEF has opened many doors for me as a citizen scientist. I'm extremely grateful for the many opportunities I've been provided through my association with REEF. Attaining Expert survey level has enabled me to join numerous research efforts with NOAA, National Park Service, Universities, Aquaria, and of course REEF itself. Working with marine scientists has been very interesting and those scientists have relied extensively on my fish identification skills that I've acquired during my REEF survey diving. While these scientists knew their particular specialty very well, they were often rusty in general fish identification. I quickly became a valued member of their team, treated as an equal colleague, and sought after for future projects.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEFís projects and programs? Doing REEF surveys not only provides valuable data, it's a great way of "giving back" (helping the aquatic environment), but it also greatly enhances your diving enjoyment. What I like about the REEF survey method is that it can adapt to any type of dive site - regardless of visibility, current, depth, etc. While other divers might be disappointed at the visibility, or the failure to see certain animals (like sharks, turtles, eels, etc.), I will have had a great dive doing a REEF survey. I see more during my dives by doing surveys and I get excited at a rare sighting and adding a new species to my lifelist.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? What new fish ID'ers need to do is SLOW down. It's much easier to see the movement of a cryptic fish, or just about any fish, when you aren't moving. If conditions allow, I'll start my dive by hovering in the water column. I'll write down every species I see as I slowly make a complete turn - looking in the water column as well as on the bottom below. To get the most species from each dive site, I'll try to hit as many different environments as possible (sand, rubble, top/middle/bottom of the reef, shallow/deep, etc.). Bring a flashlight to look into crevices and every tube sponge. It also helps to use the REEF database to know what species have been previously sighted at your dive destination. Before the dive you can acquaint yourself with the descriptions of new fish you might see there, so if you do come across that new fish, you'll already know how to identify it. Chance favors the prepared mind. You should also jump at the chance to dive with other fish watching experts. I've learned so much and so quickly by diving with other REEF folks - gaining confidence, learning new techniques, and just sharing wonderful fish stories.

REEF Trips - Handful of Spaces Remain in 2012, 2013 Schedule Coming Soon

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REEF Field Surveys trips that are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF coordinates Field Surveys to locations throughout our project regions each year. These projects are led by REEF staff and other REEF instructors and feature daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Many of the 2012 REEF Field Survey trips are sold out, but there are still a few spots on the lionfish research expedition to Dominica, the fish behavior trip to Bermuda, and a liveaboard through the British Virgin Islands. We are also working on an exciting lineup for the 2013 schedule. We will announce the full lineup and details soon. Destinations include Fiji, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Utila, and the Soccoro Islands. Get in touch with our travel experts at Caradonna to find out more and to book your space - 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. The full schedule and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips.

REEF's Volunteer Survey Project is Turning 20! Save the Date.

To celebrate 20 years of ocean conservation and education through the Volunteer Survey Project, and to honor our members for making these successes possible, REEF will be hosting a fun-filled weekend of diving, learning, and parties -- August 8-11, 2013, in Key Largo. Please mark your calendar and save the date! More details will be announced in the coming months. The first REEF surveys were conducted during a Field Survey trip in Key Largo, Florida, in the summer of 1993. Led by co-Founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, as well as founding Executive Director, Lad Akins, a total of thirteen volunteers conducted 102 surveys. Almost 20 years later, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project has grown to become the largest ocean citizen science program. Approximately 14,000 volunteer divers and snorkelers have conducted over 165,000 surveys at 12,000 sites throughout the world. These data have been used by scientists, government agencies, and other conservation groups, and have been featured in dozens of scientific publications. Our marine conservation programs, education initiatives, and research efforts are backed by over 50,000 REEF members. We hope you will join us next August to celebrate 20 years of education, surveys, fish stories, and friendships!

Thank You For Helping Us Reach Our Goal

On behalf of our current, past, and future REEF Marine Conservation Interns, we would like to thank all those who donated during our Spring fundraising campaign to support our internship program. Thanks to the generous contributions of many members, we reached (and surpassed) our goal, raising $10,196! These funds will help ensure that we can continue this important program and support these enthusiastic young professionals as they gain critical career skills. Although less known, the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program is one of our most successful endeavors. Our interns are a key part of ensuring smooth operations at REEF Headquarters, as they contribute in so many ways to the daily tasks and activities required to manage REEF’s important programs. Through experiences gained and connections made during their internship, many of our interns have gone on to work at government agencies or other non-profit organizations. Others have gone on to complete graduate programs focused on ocean issues. And several of them have come back to work at REEF!

REEF Sponsors Grouper Education Workshop

Educators learned a Food Web Game classroom activity that is part of the Grouper Education Program curriculum. REEF Educator, Todd Bohannon, demonstrates how the food web connections are represented by yarn strung between different members of the coral reef community.
Mr. Bradley Johnson, from Cayman Islands Department of Environment, presenting information to educators during the Grouper Education Workshop on Cayman Brac.
Two students participating in the Grouper Education Program.

On December 3rd and 5th, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) held free educator workshops on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The professional development workshops presented the Grouper Education Program, a marine sciences curriculum for intermediate/elementary and high school students that was developed as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Nineteen teachers from 12 schools participated, including 2 schools from the Bahamas. Participants received the materials and resources necessary for successfully implementing the Grouper Education Program in their classrooms. This exciting project focuses on bringing the Nassau Grouper into classrooms through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect classrooms with Grouper Moon scientists in the field.

The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important fish. Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations. In addition to classroom lessons, the program includes live-feed video sessions that take place at the Grouper Moon Project research site on Little Cayman, bringing real-world field science into the classroom.

The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support for the workshops was provided by Cayman Airways, Brac Reef Beach Resort, and LIME. The program curriculum was developed to complement the research and scientific efforts of the Grouper Moon Project. Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, along with Grouper Moon scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. (REEF), and Mr. Bradley Johnson (DOE), have led the educational effort. Activities were developed in consultation with teachers at Cayman Prep on Grand Cayman, Verity Redrup and Brenda Bryce, and Cynthia Shaw, author of the youth fictional book, Grouper Moon. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

Welcome to the Golden Hamlet Club - Patricia Richardson

Patricia Richardson of Hawaii recently submitted her 1000th REEF survey! Pat joins 16 other REEF members in the Golden Hamlet Club. Pat has done most of her surveys at one location, Richardson Ocean Park in Hilo, which has given her a very unique perspective on how the populations change throughout the year and over time. When asked about her recent achievement and what she thinks about REEF, Pat had this to say-- "REEF has provided me with a purpose for my retirement years that is filled with constant beauty and new things to see and learn. I am very grateful to REEF for giving a focus to my passion. Imagine doing something so beatiful and satisfying - and getting to call myself a citizen scientist as a big bonus!"

You can read more about Pat in this past Faces of REEF Member Spotlight. Congratulations Pat, and thank you for your dedication to REEF's mission!

The Faces of REEF: Daryl Duda

Daryl underwater. Photo by Steve Simonsen.
A smiling porcupinefish. Photo by Daryl Duda.
Scrawled Cowfish eating a jellyfish. Photo by Daryl Duda.
One fish that can scare a shark - the Goliath Grouper. Photo by Daryl Duda.

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 Daryl Duda. Daryl has been a REEF member since 2012, and has conducted 43 surveys. He is working his way up the ranks, and is now a Level 3 Surveyor! Here's what Daryl had to say about REEF:

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

I first learned about REEF during a stay in Key Largo while spending the day with the Coral Restoration Foundation. Later, I met Keri Kenning (past REEF intern and staff) at "Our World Underwater" scuba show in Chicago and she invited me to the little yellow house on my next visit to Key Largo. Its been over 2 years and I've been a member since.

What are some of your favorite moments as a REEF surveyor?

During REEF's 20th anniversary REEF Fest event last summer, I did my first survey dives, and it happened to be with Paul Human, Ned and Anna DeLoach, and Jonathan Lavan. After a morning full of interesting seminars, the afternoon diving with this all-star REEF cast made for an incredibly fun filled day. Since those first surveys, I find it difficult to be underwater and not identify and count fish. I feel like all my previous diving was just being underwater looking around. As the Sherpa said to Sir Edmund Hiliary as they scaled the mountain, "Some come to look, but others come 'To See'". I see things I have never seen before now that I started doing field surveys.

Do you have a favorite REEF Field Station?

There are many terrific dive shops in Key Largo. My favorite is Rainbow Reef Dive Center. They put a guide in the water with every 6 or so divers at no extra charge. This way I can concentrate on my photography and fish identification. Their crew is extremely knowledgeable about underwater life and curious about everything we see. Captain Alecia Adamson (another past REEF intern and staff) has become my fish ID mentor. Whenever I get stumped by a fish, I email her a photo and she helps me out.

Do you have a memorable fish encounter?

Diving on Molasses Reef in Key Largo one day, we swam around a ledge to see a 6 foot reef shark cozy up to a goliath grouper. The grouper let out a loud bellow that frightened the shark away. I never saw such a large fish swim so fast. Also, at Elbow Reef off Key Largo I got some good shots of a scrawled cowfish chomping on a jellyfish. It was the cutest thing to watch.

What is your favorite fish?

My favorite fish is the Porcupinefish. I can usually get reasonably close to get a good photo. They always look like they are smiling at you. I also like Honeycomb Cowfish that can change colors right before your eyes.

Any fishwatching tips to share?

I started of very slowly identifying fish because I didn't know very many. I always carry my camera on a dive and Ned DeLoach suggested using my point and shoot to help with my fish ID. Later back home I can zoom in and do a more accurate ID using my library of reference books. If I can't figure it out, I can email the photo to someone at REEF or post on the ID Forum at REEF.org.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub