The 21st annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) took place in July, with many dive shops, dive clubs, and other groups organizing fish ID classes, dive /snorkel days, BBQs and more fun gatherings. The concept behind the GAFC is not only to accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers/snorkelers to fishwatching and get them started doing REEF surveys. Groups from California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and new to the event in 2012 - New Brunswick, all participated! Once again, this year's largest one day event was held in the Northeast, coordinated by the New England Dive Club. Thank you to ALL participants, and we hope you'll continue conducting REEF surveys on your dives year round!
A new scientific paper published earlier this month in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution reports that REEF surveys conducted by citizen scientists compare well with traditional scientific methods when it comes to monitoring species biodiversity. The findings of the research, conducted by Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Angila in the UK, give weight to the growing phenomenon of citizen science programs such as REEF's Volunteer Survey Project. The field study compared methods used by REEF volunteer divers with those used by professional scientists to measure the variety of fish species in three Caribbean sites in the Turks and Caicos. The divers surveyed the sites using two methods – the 'belt transect', used in peer reviewed fish diversity studies, and the 'roving diver technique', used by REEF volunteers. Two teams of 12 divers made 144 separate underwater surveys across the sites over four weeks. While the traditional scientific survey revealed sightings of 106 different types of fish, the volunteer technique detected greater marine diversity with a total of 137 in the same waters. Dr Holt led the research in partnership with the Centre for Marine Resource Studies in the Caribbean and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He said: "The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs. Very few, if any, scientific groups can collect data on the scale that volunteer groups can, so our proof that both methods return consistent results is very encouraging for citizen science in general. We're living in a world that's changing very significantly. Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists." Click here to read the full paper, entitled "Comparing Diversity Data Collected Using a Protocol Designed for Volunteers with Results from a Professional Alternative".
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 Nick Brown. A US Pacific Northwest native, Nick is currently living in St. Kitts. Nick has been a REEF member since 2004 and has since conducted 138 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Nick had to say about REEF:
How did you first volunteer with REEF?
I first became involved with REEF in 2004 while working as a research intern for the SeaDoc Society, a marine ecosystem health program based in Washington State. The SeaDoc Society and REEF frequently collaborate to offer free fish and invertebrate identification courses to the public. Although I was still completing my open water certification at the time, the enthusiasm of SeaDoc’s chief scientist Joe Gaydos and REEF’s Janna Nichols was contagious. Within a month of finishing my certification, I completed my first REEF survey and haven’t stopped since.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I take great satisfaction in knowing that every survey I submit contributes to an ever growing database that can be used by the public, researchers and policy makers around the world. Not only am I adding more purpose to my dives by contributing to something useful, I’m able to reference my submitted data later on which functions as my own personal invertebrate (in the PAC region) and fish sighting logbook.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I’ve been very fortunate in being able to dive very close to where I live. Until about a year and a half ago, the vast majority of my dives were in the cold but beautiful waters of my home state of Washington and nearby British Columbia, an area known locally as the Salish Sea. My favorite part about diving in the Pacific Northwest is the large diversity of marine invertebrates. Recently though, I’ve hung up my drysuit and slipped into a wetsuit for the warm Caribbean waters of St. Kitts and Nevis where I’m currently attending veterinary school. My favorite part of Caribbean diving is the great visibility and large variety of ornately colored fish.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
For better surveying and fish watching move slowly; not only will your dive last longer, but you’ll notice more and the marine life tends not to be as shy. For identification, I recommend investing in a few fish and invertebrate ID books; often the subtleties between different species are hard to appreciate without a detailed reference.
To all our members who donated to the Winter Fundraising Campaign, thank you! REEF depends heavily on individual donors to support our critical marine conservation programs. Together we raised over $97,000 to ensure REEF can continue:
• Expanding and building upon our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, including the recent addition of invertebrate and algae monitoring in our Northeast region. With this new program, all temperate REEF regions now have an invertebrate/algae component. For more information, click here.
• Protecting and monitoring Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands as well as educating the public about the importance of this iconic species. Our team just came back from another successful trip documenting their annual spawning aggregation. For more information, click here.
• Organizing research, training, and removal tactics to battle the lionfish invasion on the East Coast and in the Caribbean. REEF’s recent research shows that strategic local efforts can control lionfish populations and help native fish communities recover. For more information, click here.
In addition to supporting these programs, donations raised by the Winter Fundraising campaign help REEF with the minimal costs required to manage operations. We ensure that every dollar spent is maximized so our projects make a difference for marine conservation around the world.
REEF’s recent Field Survey Trip to Belize was wonderful in many ways, but two events were of particular scientific interest. First, everybody’s favorite, the Sharpnose Pufferfish were spawning so there were literally hundreds seen on every single dive. More importantly, trip leader Jonathan Lavan got a photo of the rarely seen Glover’s Reef Toadfish (Vladichthys gloverensis) down in a sponge. It was thought to only live on Glover’s Reef, Belize, but this animal was photographed on an adjacent reef in Turneffe Atoll so perhaps a common name change is in order. Additionally, Jonathan's photograph is thought to be the only existing shot of the fish in its natural habitat. Great find, Jonathan!
We are excited to introduce Ellie Splain, who recently joined REEF staff at headquarters in Key Largo, FL. Ellie will serve as REEF's Education Program Manager. Ellie is no stranger to REEF, as she was a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the summer of 2013. From a small rural town in Illinois, Ellie attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in FIsh and Wildlife Conservation. Despite growing up landlocked, Ellie has always been drawn to the ocean (and the good weather of South Florida doesn't hurt!). In addition to the REEF internship, during her undergraduate time, she spent time living in the Turks and Caicos Islands and assisted in REEF lionfish research in the Bahamas. After graduation, she moved back to the Florida Keys, where she earned her dive master rating and worked as a field instructor for Marine Resources Development Foundation. Ellie brings with her experience teaching marine ecology and conservation programs in both a classroom and field setting. Her primary focus at REEF will be education, outreach, and capacity building within the REEF Explorers Program, an informal education program offered to visiting groups of all ages. A big fish welcome to Ellie!
REEF Field Survey 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 ocean enthusiasts. There are still a few spaces remaining on 2015 trips to St. Lucia and Catalina, and we have an exciting lineup of destinations planned for 2016. We hope you will join us. REEF staff, board members, and other marine life experts lead the trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Visit www.REEF.org/trips to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, and more. To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Book early - REEF trips often sell out! Also, keep an eye on the REEF Trips webpage because we will be adding a few more trips to the 2016 schedule (and beyond) in the coming months.
A new publication in the scientific journal, Coral Reefs, evaluates population genetics of spawning aggregations and the role of juvenile recruitment, from both local and external sources, in sustaining and increasing local aggregations. The study included information from REEF's Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands.
Like many places throughout the Caribbean, Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the US Virgin Islands were overfished until their disappearance in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 2000s, however, Nassau Grouper were found gathering at Grammanik Bank, USVI, a mesophotic coral reef adjacent to one of the extinct aggregation sites, and regulatory protective measures were implemented to protect this fledgling aggregation. The authors of this study addressed two objectives: 1) which factors (local vs. external recruitment) are important in shaping recovery of the USVI spawning aggregations, and 2) the impact of severe past overfishing on the genetic structure of the Gremmanik Bank aggregation. For this second objective, REEF Grouper Moon Project scientists provided genetic samples from individual Nassau Grouper taken from the Little Cayman spawning aggregation, a much larger and less impacted aggregation.
No population structure was detected between the USVI and Cayman spawning aggregations. Additionally, the USVI spawning population showed signs of a genetic bottleneck, typical of greatly reduced populations. These collective results suggest that external recruitment is an important driver of the USVI spawning aggregation recovery. These findings also provide a baseline for future genetic monitoring of the spawning aggregations. The paper, titled "The ups and downs of coral reef fishes: the genetic characteristics of a formerly severely overfished but currently recovering Nassau grouper fish spawning aggregation", was published earlier this month in the March 2016 issue of Coral Reefs. Grouper Moon scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, was a co-author on the paper. To find out more about this study and to see a list of all publications that have included REEF projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.
REEF is excited to announce the launch of a completely redesigned REEF.org website! A unique look, enhanced features, and pages of fresh content ... the address is the same but almost everything else about the REEF website is new. Through enhanced technology and innovative tools, the new Website will enable REEF to more effectively recruit, train and engage divers and snorkelers in the Volunteer Survey Project and REEF’s larger conservation science program. The new REEF.org will also facilitate communication among the REEF community through Member Forums.
The new and very much improved REEF.org is the result of a grant from the Norcross Foundation and a huge amount of work and patience by Ben Weintraub. Ben, a University of Washington Computer Sciences student, created the new site, which includes several new interactive features and a member log-in as well as many of the existing content and features in an updated, easy to navigate and user-friendly site.
Just a few of the features that you will find are:
To get the most out of the new website, you will need to become a registered REEF.org user, so be sure to create a user login profile.
The new REEF.org website will enable REEF to more effectively achieve it's mission to educate, enlist and enable divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active stewards and citizen scientists. The site will also facilitate collaboration with REEF’s existing and new partners and allow our programs to reach a broader audience.
In the coming months, REEF will continue to add new content, and areas still under construction will be completed. All of the REEF staff appreciate your patience in advance as the transition to REEF’s new website is completed.
This is the third major revision to the REEF website. REEF’s online home was originally launched ten years ago in 1997. REEF would like to extend a huge thank you to Ben Weintraub and the Norcross Foundation for making this new site possible, as well as Dr. Michael Coyne (REEF’s primary IT Support Volunteer and developer of the REEF database), and Brice Semmens and Ken Marks (the designers of the previous two versions of REEF.org).
By popular demand, REEF has adapted its classrrom course into a home study DVD course package for beginning "fishwatchers" in the Caribbean, Florida and Bahamas. Click here to read the press release; click here to purchase the DVD course. This would make an ideal holiday gift for your favorite fishwatcher!