REEF Participates in Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas Monitoring Data Workshop

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CINMS Superintendant, Chris Mobley, gets ready to conduct a REEF survey during a recent monitoring cruise at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Carl Gwinn.
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Channel Islands MPA Monitoring Data Workshop Participants

Earlier this month, REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, participated in the first of a series of workshops to be held this Fall to analyze REEF and other data gathered from the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Originally established in 2003 (and then expanded to include Federal waters earlier this year), this network of no-take marine reserves protects 318 square miles around the northern five Channel Islands off the coast of California. In 2008, the California Fish and Game Commission will conduct a 5-year review of the MPAs to evaluate the effectiveness of the reserve network. The results from the evaluation will inform future decisions made by the Commission under California's Marine Life Protection Act. The data group workshops, held at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, will culminate in a series of publications summarizing the cumulative efforts of dozens of monitoring programs within the Channel Islands MPAs, with an emphasis on analyses that can best address key management questions concerning the reserves. These results will be presented during a special symposium associated with the California Islands Symposium.

Coincident with the establishment of the marine reserves in 2003, REEF initiated a coordinated monitoring program at specific sites inside and outside of the reserves to complement the ongoing survey activities in the area by REEF members. Surveyors on REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team participate in annual REEF cruises aboard the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) vessel R/V Shearwater, and this project has generated over 800 surveys to date. These data, along with an additional 750 REEF surveys that had been conducted around the islands prior to 2003, will provide information on the fish assemblages (and more recently key invertebrate and algae species) of the Channel Islands.

To find out more about our work in the CINMS, visit the REEF in Sanctuaries page.

REEF Volunteers Honored for Their Service to the Florida Keys Community

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CFFK President Dianna Sutton, Audrey and Ken Smith and Leda Cunningham honor the Smiths' contributions to REEF and the Florida Keys community.

On Friday, February 1, the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys honored REEF HQ volunteers Audrey and Ken Smith at the 2008 Volunteer of the Year/Unsung Heroes Awards Luncheon in Key West, Florida. Ken and Audrey have been the backbone of REEF HQ in Key Largo for ten years. Their quiet, constant and cheerful help with the unglamorous tasks of building maintenance, data management and administrative work has consistently supported REEF in its mission to actively engage divers and snorkelers in marine conservation. The Ken (“Smitty”) and Audrey team focus on outdoor upkeep and office assistance respectively, contributing their sense of humor and selfless giving to the REEF family and making REEF HQ an inspiring place to work. REEF is grateful and honored to have the Smiths working at REEF HQ. If your travels bring you to the Keys, please drop by and say hi to these important members of the REEF team.

Two REEFers Survey the Galapagos Islands

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Whale Shark encounter
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True poetry in motion, squadron of Spotted Eagle Rays

My dive partner and I, both celebrating significant birthdays this year, decided to give ourselves the best gift of all, a dive trip to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, one of the world's largest, covers approximately 138,000 square kilometers (53,282 square miles). On May 8, 2008, supplied with Paul Humann's Galapagos Fish Identification book and REEF fish survey forms, we set off aboard the Aggressor II for an eleven-day adventure. Our itinerary included diving seven islands (among them Wolf and Darwin), as well as four land excursions, one of them a visit to the famed Darwin Research Station.  Fifty-three surveys later, we had identified well over a hundred species, will have to wait for the data report to know just how many species we surveyed. We were lucky enough to see four whale sharks, and an Ocean sunfish.  Appearing almost daily were schools of Hammerhead sharks, as well as Galapagos, White-tip, Silky and Reef sharks. Green turtles, three to four feet in diameter often accompanied us and allowed the divers to swim alongside them. In addition, Manta Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, Mobula, Devil and Golden Cowrays, would suddenly appear from the deep blue below us. We had to be careful when holding onto the rocks in the strong currents not to grab onto one of the well-camouflaged Stone Scorpionfish. A special 110-feet deep dive was made to a cave to find three Red Lipped Batfish, thought to be endemic to the area. Schools of Bottlenose dolphins followed our boat and dove with us often, as did the playful Fur Sealions which would pull on the fins, swim circles around us and come right up to our masks to say “hello!” Flightless cormorants, penguins or marine iguanas would occasionally startle us when least expected under water. We were surprised by the abundances and larger sizes of several fish species. At times, it seemed like we were behind a moving curtain of fish.

Since both of us were fairly new to Pacific diving, we were thrilled even to watch commonly seen fish, such as King Angelfish, Leather Bass, Moorish Idols, Giant Damselfish, Barberfish, Burrito Grunts and the most common of all, the ubiquitous Pacific Creole Fish. The parrotfish and wrasses were also a treat to see; Blue-chins and Bicolor Parrotfish were common and the Harlequin Wrasses, with their distinctive bump on the forehead, seemed to compete for the award in the most original in “pattern and color” combination category. Even though Galapagos diving is best suited for large fish observation, it is also home to many smaller species, among them the endemic Galapagos Triplefin Blennies, Marbled Gobies and Galapagos Pike Blennies, as well as Blue-banded Gobies, Bravo Clinids. Nooks and crannies in the rock walls hid colorful seahorses and even a frogfish. Yellowfin tuna, while not abundant, were seen on many dives and averaged about 3-4 feet long. Unfortunately, their size and market value encourage illegal fishing, since they fetch a high price on some Pacific Rim markets. The land and sea environment of Galapagos is unique, consisting of volcanic islands of varying sizes; consequently, the ocean floor is made up of lava boulders with very little coral. Black coral (golden green in color) was found on some sites. Near shore, most islands had a good amount of green algae, a good source of food for the marine iguanas and green turtles. Galapagos diving is truly unique; its strong, converging currents bring abundant and rich nutrients, providing a perfect environment for the pelagics. We urge you to go see this wonder for yourselves!  The Galapagos Islands are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Located approximately 1,000 kilometres off the Ecuadorian coast, within the confluence of three ocean currents, most of the marine and terrestrial fauna is truly unique. Recent efforts at education and outreach to the Ecuadorian community are in direct response to increased illegal poaching within the Marine Reserve that has included shark finning, increased squatting from migrants from the mainland, and an increase in non-indigenous species. such as goats.   A recent response from the Ecuadorian Government has enacted a Special Law for protection of the Galapagos Islands.  This Special Law provides stricter control over immigration, a quarantine system for combating invasive species, extending the boundary of protection around the islands, limiting property rights and economic activity, and increased national funding for conservation and enforcement - all of which are needed to maintain this unique biosphere for our collective future.  Photo credits for this article -  Dusan Richtarik and Barbara Anderson

REEF Fish Academy

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Participants of the first ever REEF Fish Academy.

Where people get fish smarts! Over the weekend of October 12, six REEF Level 1 & 2 surveyors got a chance to become Level 3 Advanced surveyors and increase our fish smarts with Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach and Lad Akins. I personally became a REEF customer for this event and participated in the classroom, the fun, hanging out with Paul, Ned and Anna at the cookout, diving with Lad as he found new (for us) exciting additions to our life list and took the 100 Fish - Level 3 test (good thing I passed).

As part of the event, the first of its kind, we invited surveyors who had submitted 25 or more surveys but were still rated Introductory/Novice. Linda Crouse, Kelly Drinnen, Lureen Ferretti, Karen Hausheer and Dawn Vigo were the very fist participants in REEF Fish Academy. The weekend included classroom sessions, survey dives, and evening socials. Anna DeLoach shared REEF’s vision for this new training program with our participants, “We are looking to provide our enthusiastic REEF members with a way to share their passion and knowledge for Fish Watching. REEF Fish Academy is designed to tap into this enthusiasm and provide our members a way to become mentors for others, spreading the word about fish watching and surveying. REEF Fish Academy graduates are ready share the fun and excitement of fish ID and show people what fish surveying and contributing to REEF’s database is all about - making dives that count”.

The diving and a cookout were provided by Horizon Divers, one of REEF’s valued partners here in the local community. We had two great days of diving and over 80 species of fish sighted during the intensively fish orientated weekend. We are already planning for our next REEF Fish Academy, so keep an eye out for your invitation – coming soon.

Congratulation to Lureen Ferretti – who even passed her Level 4 Fish Test during the weekend and is now an Expert Surveyor. Special thanks to the participants for their support, coming to Key Largo to dive with us, their enthusiasm and all the great feedback and suggestions. It was a fantastic weekend.  Click here to find out more about REEF's Experience Levels.

First Bahamas Lionfish Derby Huge Success: 1,408 lionfish in 1 day!

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Thomas Roberts (left), with his family, Lad Akins, and Bobbie Lindsay (right, event organizer), won first place in the derby. Mr. Roberts brought in 289 lionfish during the one day event.
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Lionfish have proven to be a dangerous invader to Bahamian and Caribbean reefs. Photo by Lenny Zwik.

The first Bahamas Lionfish Derby, held on June 6 at the Green Turtle Club in Abaco, was a great success on many fronts. This test case for the Bahamas government was the first to allow (by special permit) the use of compressed air and spearing to remove lionfish in a derby type event. Organized by Abaco and Palm Beach resident Bobbie Lindsay and REEF, the one-day event drew 26 registered teams and brought in 1, 408 lionfish. Over $5,000 in prize money was awarded including $2,000 for the most fish by any team – 289 by team White Roach from Abaco. The largest fish award went to Team Panga with a 349mm fish and the smallest fish was brought in by Big T with a 57mm juvenile. Pre-event talks, including a school wide talk to the Amy Roberts elementary school, were well attended and generated significant awareness of the lionfish issue. Over 200 participants, residents and visitors attended the scoring and awards banquet and were treated to a lionfish tasting as well.

This is the first large scale event aimed at controlling lionfish populations in the Caribbean. More events are currently being organized in other areas and dates are being set for next year’s 2nd annual Abaco Derby. Special thanks goes out to the Green Turtle Club, Brendal’s Dive Shop and all of the great teams and volunteers who participated in the event. A great time was had by all and the lionfish population around Abaco was dramatically reduced.

Derby results –

  • Most Lionfish – White Roach (289), Little Big Fish (234), Sweet Thing (173)
  • Largest Lionfish – Team Panga (349mm), White Roach (344mm), Team Pineapple (341)
  • Smallest Lionfish – Big T (57mm), Bolo Boys (81mm), Sweet Thing (82mm)
  • Special Dreamy Timber award for most frozen lionfish – Team Panga
  • Grouper Spawning Aggregation Research Continues in 2010

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    The Grouper Moon Project studies the spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Photo by Selina Heppell.
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    Over 3,000 Nassau grouper aggregate at a site off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons. Photo by Scott Heppell.

    Scientists and project volunteers from REEF and our partner institutions, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and Oregon State University, are getting ready for another year of the Grouper Moon Project. The team will be in the field for two weeks beginning on the full moon, January 30. Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species.

    In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. This followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.

    The broad goals for the 2010 spawning season are to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman. Watch future issues of REEF-in-Brief for field season results and what's next for the protection of spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands as the current harvest ban is due to expire. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit the webpage http://www.reef.org/programs/grouper_moon

    REEF Annual Report 2009 Released

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    REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2009 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 (e.g. invasive lionfish and Grouper Moon), data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2009 such a success!

    The Blue Heron Bridge -- A Dive Site to be Thankful For

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    A school of cownose rays seen at the Blue Heron Bridge. Photo by Mike Phelan.
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    Another great find at the bridge, a Northern Stargazer. Photo by Mike Phelan.

    Some of the best dive sites for fishwatching are in the least obvious places. The Blue Heron Bridge in Palm Beach, Florida, is one such biological hotspot. This is a top dive destination for sighting unusual species that can be added to your lifelist. Mike Phelan, REEF Expert surveyor, and two other REEF members, often dive this site. The day before Thanksgiving, they were treated to quite a sight – a large school of Cownose Rays! This is a rare sighting in Florida, but it’s just another day at the Blue Heron Bridge. Some of the more unusual and recent sightings include the Blackwing Searobin, Roughtail Ray, Northern Stargazer, Orangespotted Blenny, Polkadot Batfish, and the Chain Pipefish. The bridge traverses a small island located in the inland waterway near the Lake Worth inlet. The dive sites consist of a variety of eco-niches such as sand, shell rubble, sea grass, algae hydroid fields, sailboat mooring lines and anchors and of course bridge pilings and concrete rubble. The Blue Heron Bridge has over 282 species recorded in the REEF database and the number is increasing monthly (click here to see the full list).

    The actual dive site is a local county park named Phil Foster Park that is protected with a no-take ordinance. All dives are shore-based and must be timed with the high tide. The dive can be safely done by entering the water one hour before high tide and exiting one hour after high tide. Depths range from 8 -17 feet and the water is usually clear even if the off-shore ocean is rough. Remember to bring a dive flag. Many divers combine their Blue Heron trip with some local Jupiter off-shore diving to witness the Goliath grouper aggregations in August or September, Loggerhead, Green, and Leatherback turtle nesting during the spring or the Lemon shark aggregation in the winter. This is certainly a dive site to be thankful for!

    Do you have a dive site story that you would like to share? Email us.

    REEF in the Classroom

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    We live in a small town called Nelson, in the mountains of British Columbia about 3 hours north of Spokane Washington. In the Fall I decided to take students to Belize to study reef systems and how they may be changing. The course is called "Coral Reef Studies in Belize " and 15 grade 11 & 12 high school students from LV Rogers Secondary signed up for the trip with the help of Island Expeditions from Vancouver. When I was researching the course objectives I came across REEF and realized it would be perfect to help us study the fish species that reside on reefs and indirectly gauge reef health. I also wanted students to be involved with some sort of real biological studies and contribute to science. When I first asked my "academic" students how many reef fish they knew the combined class came up with 5, with 2 species coming from the movie Nemo....

    We used REEF website to get us acquainted with common fish ID and used the book series by Paul Humann for more in-depth work. By being able to download from the REEF website the highest frequency fish from exactly the area we were going everyone was motivated to learn. One assignment was to create a Fish ID tablet of Lighthouse and Half Moon Caye. One student created such a professional one that we laminated it and donated it the Belize Audubon society on the atoll for other amateur divers to use.

    It amazed me that one day we were in snow to our knees and the next day kids were IDing fish and observing fish behviors on their first dive. From recognizing a measly 5 fish to closer to 50-70 species happened in just a few weeks, especially by using the quizzes on REEF.org. We worked with the Belize Audubon society and did surveys at some of their sites and everyone was really charged to complete and submit surveys..I was amazed that they even started to correct me daily on ID.

    Endangered Nassau grouper in the Caymans will live to spawn another generation: an 11th hour ruling

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    Findings from the Grouper Moon Project have led to an 11th hour ruling that will ensure continued protections for the endangered Nassau grouper. The seasonal fishing ban on Nassau grouper spawning aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands, which was set to expire in just a few days, has been extended for another eight years. The protections, which were initially enacted in 2003 and included an 8-year sunset clause, prohibit fishing for the species at spawning aggregation sites between November and March (the reproductive season). REEF has been working closely with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DoE) since 2001 as part of the Grouper Moon Project to study Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands and to determine how to best protect this iconic Caribbean reef species. Our research has focused on the west end aggregation site on Little Cayman, which supports one of the last great reproductive populations of this endangered species. REEF is extremely proud of our involvement in the Grouper Moon Project and we look forward to similar conservation victories in the years to come. Lessons learned in the Cayman Islands have benefited Nassau grouper conservation efforts throughout the Caribbean. Watch this 3-minute video to see spectacular footage of the aggregation and to learn more about the project.

    Normally solitary and territorial, during the winter full moons Nassau grouper travel and group together to spawn. Due to the reliable timing and location of the spawning aggregations, plus the ease with which these relative loners can be caught while congregating by the hundreds and thousands to spawn, most known Caribbean aggregation sites have been fished to exhaustion. The ground-breaking research conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project by scientists and volunteers from REEF, the DoE, and Oregon State University, led the DoE to recommend a set of actions necessary to recover and protect the species throughout the Cayman Islands. Actions include: implementing a closed season for Nassau grouper in all Cayman waters from November through March, permanently closing the aggregation sites to fishing year round (because these special places host aggregations of dozens of species throughout the year), and modifying existing catch limits for the species during other times of the year. The Cayman Islands Cabinet is currently reviewing these recommendations. While all those involved in the Grouper Moon Project are pleased that the Marine Conservation Board was able to take action prior to the expiration of the current ban, we are hopeful that Cabinet will enact permanent protections to ensure that there are Nassau grouper on coral reefs for generations to come.

    The Grouper Moon Project has been supported in part by the Lenfest Ocean Program, the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, the NOAA International Coral Reef Conservation Program, Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort, Peter Hillenbrand, and REEF member contributions. We greatly appreciate all our members who have contributed financially to REEF to make this important work possible.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub