The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carol Cox

Sawblade Arrow Shrimp. Carol was the first to capture this creature on film! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Carol Cox. Carol joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 159 surveys. Carol is a member of the Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has been an active volunteer and instructor in REEF's Fishinar series. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

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

After retiring from the Air Force, and returning to our home in Mexico Beach, Florida (20 miles east of Panama City), I became active as a volunteer research diver for the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA). To receive State grants for our program, we are required to monitor the condition of artificial reefs we deploy. MBARA decided to incorporate fish surveys with the monitoring program, and I found REEF when researching ways to do fish surveys. REEF serves as our model, but we tailor our survey forms for the local area because our fish population is very different than the fishes found further south.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

When I saw how REEF data are used by naturalists and scientists, I wanted to add fish count data from where I live, especially because there were only a few surveys for my community. I really saw the need after the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our community was lucky, barely escaping the oil slick when a storm blew the approaching oil slick back in the direction it came from. Although we suffered few effects, I realized we needed to catalogue what we had, otherwise, how would we know how our biodiversity was adapting to environmental changes? Since I started volunteering with REEF, I have had opportunity to interact with scientists and fish enthusiasts from around the world. The education REEF provides is phenomenal. I began my self-education by doing the fish quizzes. Then I attended many of the online Fishinars and they are all very educational and FUN! I also learn a lot from other fish watchers using the online fish identification forum.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

The data that are being captured by REEF fish surveys will be invaluable to scientists of the future. As the environment changes, the REEF database will be looked at more and more. We need to record what we have now if we are to know what is affected by global warming, red tide, or the next big oil spill. Who knows, the REEF database may eventually provide the knowledge on how to control the lionfish invasion.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

Most of my diving is where I live, in Mexico Beach, Florida. MBARA has deployed over 150 artificial reefs, everything from reef balls to a large shrimp boat, which is my favorite dive. We see everything from giant Goliath Groupers, to small arrow shrimp (a species that had never been photographed until I discovered them during a survey). Because the survey programs for MBARA and REEF are similar, I encouraged MBARA to become a local Field Station. We are always looking for divers interested in doing surveys on our artificial reefs and can now provide training. I use training gained from REEF, along with my local experience, to teach regional fish identification and throw in some local knowledge for enthusiasts that primarily dive in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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

We were 20 miles offshore of Mexico Beach, when our boat was surrounded by small Mahi Mahi. I had a few shots left on my camera, so I slipped into the water to use up my film (am I dating myself?). Suddenly, a Mahi sped towards me, followed by a large, dark shadow in pursuit. In a matter of seconds, I could see fins, tails, and bubbles, as a large sailfish did a 360-degree turn right in front of me as it tried to capture the Mahi. In an effort to escape, the Mahi swam over my shoulder smacking me in the side of the head. The bill of the sailfish missed by chest by inches as it veered away. Having lost its prey, it swam around me three times before disappearing into the depths. The entire event lasted less than a minute, but the memory of it will last me a lifetime, especially because I got the photos.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? What is your most memorable fish find? What fish are you still waiting to find?

I love blennies! They are such a great photo subject—colorful and expressive. With a little patience, most will gladly pose for the camera exhibiting as many poses as a Vogue covergirl. Of course I am a big, big fan of Anna DeLoach’s Blennywatcher blog. My favorite find wasn’t a fish, but a sawblade arrow shrimp, Tozeuma serratum. I have REEF to thank for putting me in touch with Les Wilk who requested critter photos for the upcoming Reef Creature DVD to be published by ReefNet. I didn’t know what a rare find I had until I sent a photo of the unidentified shrimp to Les for the DVD. He sent the photo off to a marine biologist, who identified the shrimp after I collected one. It turns out this shrimp had never been photographed in its natural environment and scientists believed it only lived in deeper waters. The marine biologist was so excited she flew from Texas to our home so we could take out and show her some of “our” shrimp. The fish I would love to check off my life list is the whale shark. With all the diving we do in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure it is only a matter of time, but I am still waiting!

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

Doing surveys for both MBARA and REEF, I’ve learned it can be fun to get away from the big sites and spend time on something small that isn’t frequented by divers. I’ve spent 45 minutes looking at two 3-foot reefballs. If I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really look, I would never have seen the small juvenile jackknife-fish, or a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Eileen Byrne

Sea Turtles - one of Eileen's favorite non-fish sightings! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.

When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.

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

Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.

What is your favorite non-fish sighting?

Turtles!!!

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

Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.

REEF is Hiring

REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.

REEF 2013 Annual Report Released

REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects including Invasive Lionfish Research and the Grouper Moon Project, data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2013 such a success! Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about any of the information presented in our Annual Report.

REEF Lionfish Expeditions Lead to New Information

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Pterois volitans AKA lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo
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August Blackbeard's Lionfish Project.
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Hesperis dissection by Everton Joseph (College of the Bahamas), Tim Schwab (Nassau Guardian) and Marcian Tucker (College of the Bahamas)
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Juvenile lionfish. Photo by Tom DeMayo

Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.

To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers.  REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.

Interesting data to date include:

  • Average size:188mm
  • Most species: Pterois volitans (though there are some Pterois miles present also)
  • Stomach content: about 70 % fish and 30 % crustacean with the most prevalent prey families including basslets, gobies and shrimp. Also found in stomachs: whole crab, whole sand diver, jawfish with eggs still in its mouth, and juvenile grouper (including Nassau)
  • Genetics: It appears that there were at least 11 females involved in the original founding population. This number is up from previous indications of four fish.
  • Reproduction: Fish are reproducing year-round with age at reproduction as young as 1-2 years.
  • Habitat preference: Lionfish have been found in almost all habitat types including artificial sites, canals, deep reefs, shallow reefs, small ledges and sand bottom.
  • Parasites: Compared to native fish, lionfish have almost no parasites, leaving more energy and time for growth and reproduction.
  • Growth: Lionfish appear to grow faster than similar sized native fish species like the graysby and the red hind.

REEF Remembers Chile Ridley

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Just before the holidays, REEF was saddened to learn of the passing of long-time volunteer and friend, Chile Ridley of Bonaire. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, especially his wife, Linda. The following article by Buddy Stockwell was published in the Caribbean Compass.

"On December 16, 2007 , the Cruising Community, the Island of Bonaire, and Mother Earth all lost one of their most wonderful, talented, and trusted friends. Edward Alton Ridley, known to all as " Chile" Ridley, took his own life at the age of 58. Chile was born in Valentine, Texas, and had battled the disease of depression all of his life. He is survived by his wife, Linda Ridley of Marfa, Texas . The Ridley's began their Cruising life aboard their Valiant 42 "Natural Selection" by departing Galveston in 1998 and sailing to St. Petersburg, Florida , where their new Valiant was part of the 1998 boat show. Thereafter, they cruised down the Eastern Caribbean , finally arriving in Bonaire five years later on Valentine's Day of 2003. As avid SCUBA divers, both Chile and Linda instantly fell in love with Bonaire and remained there as residents living aboard "Natural Selection." Chile was Manager of Bonaire's Capture Photo and also worked as a Dive Master. Most important, he was an indispensable volunteer for environmental organizations such as REEF, STINAPA and the Bonaire Seaturtle Conservation Project. Chile completed 300 Level 5 surveys for REEF, collected hundreds of amazing underwater images on film, and completed almost 2,000 dives. Chile's "True Grit" Texas spirit, fine character, and exceptional skills combined to make him an unflagging Champion of the environment like no other. Loved by all, Chile was not just a gentleman but a gentle man, always willing to lend a hand and always the first to volunteer. He will be missed by all who knew him, including all of the beautiful sea creatures of Bonaire that he loved so well and fought so hard to protect. The family asks that in lieu of cards or flowers, donations should be made in his name to support the Sea Turtle Conservation Project by visiting https://www.supportbonaire.org or to www.REEF.org for the fish survey projects."

New England Online Data Entry Teased Apart from TWA

REEF will separate our online dataentry interface for New England region from the tropical western Atlantic (TWA) where it currently resides, in the coming month.  Just in time for the Great Annual Fish Count, for more information, please contact gafc@reef.org or call 305-852-0030. We hope that this will facilitate an increase in the New England region survey efforts starting this summer.  In the next few weeks, login at http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php and you will be able to select New England for uploading New England fish surveys.  There are a few New England members who are willing to assist and guide those REEF members who are interested in participating in New England surveys.

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REEF in the Northwest

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Janna Nichols presented the REEF Invasive Tunicate Program at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin conference.
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Visit REEF's booth at the NW Dive Expo, April 25 & 26th.
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A recent REEF ID class in Redondo Beach, WA, part of a series of training workshops being held in the Pacific region.

REEF staff and volunteers are attending several events in the Northwest this winter and spring to spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project. These include scientific conferences and dive shows. REEF volunteer and instructor, Janna Nichols, represented REEF at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin (PSGB) Ecosystem Conference last month in Seattle, Washington. Over 1,000 scientists, decision-makers and others attended the PSGB and the overall conference theme was to share knowledge and commit to action to protect the region's marine environment. Janna presented posters on two of REEF's important programs in the Pacific Northwest, tracking the presence and spread of invasive tunicates and the long-term monitoring of sub-tidal fish and invertebrates in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

If you weren't able to attend the PSGB Conference, REEF is participating in two upcoming events in Washington. The first is a workshop organized by the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) and others, "Exploring the Spectrum of Citizen Science". The workshop is being held April 10-11 at Fort Wordon State Park and will bring together many citizen science practitioners to discuss what make successful programs. Later that month, come visit the REEF booth at the Northwest Dive and Travel Expo in Tacoma, April 25 & 26th. REEF volunteers and Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, will be at the booth to spread the word about REEF. We'll have survey materials and guide books on hand and will be presenting a seminar, "REEF: Diving That Counts" on Saturday afternoon at 2pm. See you there!

The REEF Pacific Region, which includes California through British Columbia, continues to be one of our most active areas. This is thanks to funding support from several West Coast foundations as well as partnerships with some great organizations. REEF survey and identification training opportunities abound, long-term monitoring projects in several National Marine Sanctuaries continue, the number of REEF Expert surveyors is increasing, and REEF data and projects are being presented at conferences and used by scientists and agencies. REEF greatly appreciates the continued support of several West Coast funders, including The Russell Family Foundation and the Sustainable Path Foundation, as well as our dedicated volunteers for making this continued success possible. If you are in the Pacific Northwest, check out the REEF PNW Critter Watchers webpage, which connects area REEF surveyors for training and surveying opportunities.

News Tidbits

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  • Check Out the REEF Store! It's your one stop shop for all of your REEF Gear, ID Books and REEF Survey Supplies. Just added - "Not On My Reef" Lionfish Invasion Research T-shirts.
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  • Remember REEF in Your Year-End Giving We need your help to continue REEF's important marine conservation work. Please donate during our Fall campaign using our secure online donation form, by mailing a check to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call the office at 305-852-0030. Every amount helps and donations are 100% tax-deductable. Donations of $250 or more will receive a limited edition signed print of a South Pacific coral reef by Paul Humann.  Our secure online donation form is https://www.reef.org/contribute
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  • Holiday Open House at REEF HQ  If you will be in the South Florida area next week, please join us at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo (MM 98.3) for our Holiday Open House on December 8 from 6 - 8 PM. Ned and Anna DeLoach will be on-hand to sign books and talk fish, and our Gift Shop has lots of unique holiday gifts. Call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030 or email reefhq@reef.org to find out more information
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  • Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook. The REEF Facebook Page gives you the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and see exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind.
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