REEF Gearing Up For Another Year of Nassau Grouper Aggregation Research

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Approximately 3,500 Nassau grouper, an endangered species, gather off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons to reproduce. Photo by Scott Heppell.
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A light trap deployed underwater in Little Cayman to study the recruitment of larval Nassau grouper.

REEF scientists, volunteers and collaborators will be in the Cayman Islands next month for the 8th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded last year by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF has greatly expanded the critical conservation research conducted as part of this study of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations. We will have teams on all three of the Cayman Islands conducting field research as part of the project, “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”. The Little Cayman team will continue the long-term visual monitoring of the large aggregation located there. Work on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will focus on studying the remnant aggregations that remain on these islands after years of fishing. There is currently a harvest ban in effect for all aggregations in the islands. This ban is set to be lifted in 2011 unless the extension of the protections are warranted.

Despite logistical complications, weather anomalies and difficulties locating fish, the Grouper Moon Project had a successful year of field-work in 2008. The team conducted preliminary work on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, tagging Nassau grouper with pinger acoustic tags and then installing hydrophone arrays to track the movements of those tagged individuals. Studies were also conducted to better understand the patterns of recruitment by larval and juvenile Nassau grouper to the islands. In addition, members of our team attended major scientific conferences both nationally and internationally, and presented aspects of our research and findings to date.

In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched the Grouper Moon Project with a ground breaking expedition to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. This work is a collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and researchers from Oregon State University.

To find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

REEF Regional Lionfish Workshops in Georgia and Mexico

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REEF's Special Project and Lionfish expert, Lad Akins, demonstrates collecting techniques during a Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary workshop.
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Director of the Cozumel Marine Park, Ricardo Lozano, explains the lionfish response plan to media.

As part of REEF's efforts to increase awareness about the invasive lionfish, train removal teams and develop regional response plans, REEF recently conducted a series of workshops, talks and lionfish removals in partnership with the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) in Georgia and the Cozumel Marine Park in Mexico. Combined the two projects held in July 2009 included 15 talks to more than 370 people.

The Gray's Reef project included a meeting of Sanctuary personnel from the Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks and Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuaries, working to develop a regional coordinated response plan. Sanctuary and REEF staff also conducted two days of lionfish collecting and handling dives, including the removal of 54 lionfish averaging almost 30 cm from sites just outside the GRNMS boundaries. Talks to the general public, Sanctuary Advisory Council and Georgia Law Enforcement working groups also helped increase awareness of the lionfish issue and conveyed removal plans for the region.

Immediately following the Gray's Reef project, a week-long series of workshops and talks were held in Mexico to initiate development of the Mexican regional lionfish response plan focusing on the Yucatan. An initial day-long meeting included over 40 representatives, including national environmental regulators, regional marine park directors, conservation and science groups, academia and the Mexican Navy. Presentations and discussions resulted in the development of an early detection/rapid response plan. The plan was then unveiled in numerous public and key user group talks including those to dive operators, fishermen, medical/first responders and university groups. Training dives with Marine Park staff also resulted in the removal of 3 juvenile lionfish from local Cozumel reefs.

To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program and to report a lionfish or other non-native fish sighting, visit the REEF Lionfish Webpage.

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Original Grumpy Grouper Painting by Rogest, On Auction Now!

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For the next 10 days (starting 10am PST on March 25), the original "Grumpy" grouper painting will be up for auction on eBay. Bidding ends on April 4.

VISIT the AUCTION eBAY PAGE HERE

Own the original painting by Rogest and at the same time benefit an endangered reef fish species. Proceeds from this auction will go to the support REEF's important work on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations.

Last Summer, REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), created a brand new piece celebrating the Nassau grouper. Rogest was inspired after talking with REEF scientists about the REEF Grouper Moon Project and the important conservation research being done to study one of the last remaining spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Rogest painted "Grumpy", which features the face of a Nassau grouper, with the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". He has since been inspired to create additional pieces with Grumpy.

“The Ocean is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more. My life is the Ocean and its critters. I created this grumpy grouper for REEF. It is my hope it will give a little back to the Ocean we all love so much." -- Rogest

The original "Grumpy" painting is 18"x24", created with acrylic, saltwater and sand on 100% cotton canvas, stretched ready to frame or hang.

Place your bid today and help make this auction a success!

News Tidbits

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New Additions to the REEF Store - The newly revised and expanded "Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest" by Andy Lamb and Phil Edgell is now available through the REEF online store. This useful guide is a must for any PNW fishwatcher! Lionfish Derby T-shirts are also available through the store while supplies last. Check out the REEF Store today.

New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed the following to our growing list of Field Stations. They join the almost 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.

  • Eugene Skin Divers Supply, Eugene OR
  • Pleasure Diver, Key Largo FL
  • Dive Bequia, Bequia VC
  • Marine Science Station / Citrus County Schools, Crystal River FL
  • REEF Survey Processing - Thank you to all of our members who have submitted REEF surveys in the last few months. As usually happens toward the end of the busy summer season, we have gotten a bit behind on processing. But rest assured that your surveys have been received and will be available in the database soon. Thank you for your understanding, and for your support of the REEF Survey Project.

    Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook - The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!

    Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Reef Watch Waikiki

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    REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

    This month we feature Reef Watch Waikiki in Hawaii, which has been a Field Station for about a year. Reef Watch Waikiki is a project of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program and their mission is to inspire and facilitate community stewardship of the famed Waikiki coastline. They coordinate a suite of ocean education and marine monitoring programs, which began in February 2009 with "Beach Watch", a human-use monitoring program, followed by "Fish Watch" in February 2010. Fish Watch trains community volunteers and visitors in the REEF method and encourages participants to conduct surveys in the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District. This unique site is a small, no-take marine protected area located along a largely "engineered" shoreline that is heavily utilized by both visitors and residents. Reef Watch Waikiki has really embraced the REEF program and we are thrilled to have this active partner on Oahu, an island that previously had very few REEF surveys. Coordinator, Jennifer Barret, says that her favorite things about the REEF program are "to see people's excitement and enthusiasm when they participate in their first survey and see FISH, yes, even in Waikiki!, as well as the easy access online to the database."

    In the past year, since becoming a REEF Field Station, the folks at Reef Watch Waikiki have offered 17 REEF classes and have coordinated 15 snorkel surveys (because of UH requirements for SCUBA, they stick to snorkeling)! Thanks to grant funding that they secured, Reef Watch Waikiki provides REEF starter kits and a supply of underwater survey paper to most of their volunteers. For participants who happen to have a favorite snorkel spot outside of Waikiki, they take advantage of the opportunity for a 'field trip' to help out with obtaining GPS coordinates for new surveys sites. They also connect their volunteers with monthly dives planned by another local REEF Field Station, FIN Oahu. In order to share sightings and post information about their monitoring efforts, they recently started a blog, which has been a great way to keep the community informed of their activities and to experiment with online resources like quizzes and (coming-soon) self-paced training modules.

    A big fish thanks to Reef Watch Waikiki - keep up the great work!

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Mike Phelan

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    Mike has been monitoring an aggregation of Goliath grouper in Florida for the last several years. Photo by Mike Phelan.
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    Black brotula in St. Vincent - one of Mike's favorite finds. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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    Goliath! Photo by Mike Phelan.

    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 Mike Phelan (REEF member since 1998). Mike is a member of our Golden Hamlet Club, having conducted over 1,000 surveys (1,211 to be exact!), and he is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. In addition to being an active REEF surveyor, Mike has been documenting an annual aggregation of Goliath Grouper in Florida. Here's what Mike had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? I read an article in Skin Diver Magazine over 12 years ago. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for a REEF Field Survey trip to Saba and several other nearby islands on a live aboard. Since then, I have participated in seven REEF Field Surveys and several REEF Advanced Assessment Team surveys in the Florida Keys. The most memorable was my trip to St. Vincent. I was fortunate to add several fish to my species life list including the illusive Black Brotula. My favorite part of being a REEF member is interacting with fellow citizen scientists.

    What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey? I believe that REEF members occupy a somewhat unique position to make a dive that really counts. I find that the focused experience of completing a survey opens up your eyes to the entire reef ecosystem including fish behaviors, the surrounding benthic community, and both species presence and absence. I have been a diver for over 44 years, and I can state with certainty that you need to enlarge your diving hobby beyond “blowing bubbles” to keep that inquisitiveness that attracted you to diving in the first place.

    Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I live in SE Florida and most of my diving takes place on the off-shore reef system of Jupiter, Florida. Jupiter is a unique location. It is the only known aggregation and spawning site for the Goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) in the SE United States. In the late Summer, aggregations of 30-50 Goliath groupers can be seen. Since the species was almost fished to extinction in the late 1980s, it is a privilege to witness its repopulation on the reefs of Florida. Jupiter is also a major nesting site for three species of sea turtle (Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Green). In the Spring and Summer, the reefs abound in turtles. They are very cool animals. Lastly, there is a Winter aggregation of lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) and seeing them is quite a thrill.

    Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? My favorite dive shop is the Jupiter Dive Center. They are very supportive of the Goliath grouper research.

    What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? While bluewater drift diving in the Gulf Stream near Jupiter, I sighted a large Sailfish that turned sharply upon sensing me and thereby displayed its sail. Last year, I was able to see the Flashlightfish in a cave at night in the Solomon Islands. The flashing light was very disorienting since you were hovering in completely black water while the blinking lights of about 30 fish turned on and off. The number one fish that I would like to see is the Sawfish (Pristis pectinata).

    Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? My recommendation for all fish surveyors is to slow down and let nature emerge right in front of you. Carry a point and shoot type camera to aid in identification after the dive. This can be very helpful with the smaller gobies and blennies.

    In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs? By far, the database containing the fish and sea turtle sightings gains ever more importance each year. There really is no other information source on the planet containing the number of reported survey dives with such a broad geographic scope.

    Putting It to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, January 2012

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    Photo by Ned DeLoach.

    Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

    - A researcher from the Seattle Aquarium is using REEF data on rockfish populations from Washington State to analyze with other long-term monitoring data.

    - The Nature Conservancy in Washington State is using REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity in the Salish Sea and Oregon.

    - A citizen group from the Florida Keys is using data from areas around Key Largo to evaluate the status of fish populations on reefs that are not currently protected within the existing network of Sanctuary Preservation Areas.

    - A scientist from University of Connecticut is using REEF data collected in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia.

    Take a Dive Trip That Counts

    We are excited to announce our 2013 Field Survey Schedule. Spaces are already starting to fill up so reserve yours today. These 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 fishwatchers. Each trip features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Complete package details and prices can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Make a Dive Trip That Counts!

    Dates and destinations for 2013 --

    May 11 - 21, 2013 Fiji, aboard the Nai'a, Led by Paul Humann

    May 18-25, 2013 Southern Bahamas, Lionfish Research Cruise aboard Explorer II, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes

    July 13-20, 2013 Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

    July 20-27, 2013 Utila, Deep Blue Utila, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers

    September 25-28, 2013 Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

    October 5-12, 2013 Grenada, with True Blue Bay Resort and Aquanauts Diving. Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science

    December 3-12, 2013 Socorro Islands, aboard Rocio del Mar, led by Andy Dehart and Marty Snyderman, Shark Experts, Photographers, and REEF Board Members

    December 7-14, 2013 Cozumel, Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin and Sheryl Shea, REEF Fish Experts and Cozumel Naturalists

    2012 Trips with space available --

    July 14-21, 2012 - Lionfish Research in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects

    July 28 - August 4, 2012 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

    September 22-29, 2012 - Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens, REEF Director of Science, REEF Researcher

    October 6-13, 2012 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers

    November 10-17, 2012 - British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert

    Visit REEF at a Dive Show This Year

    We have a full line-up of dive show appearances planned this year. If you are in the area of one of these shows, please stop by the REEF booth to find out what new and exciting things are happening. In 2013, we will be at: Our World Underwater (Chicago, February 15-17), Beneath the Sea (NJ/NY, March 22-23), Northwest Dive & Travel Expo (WA, April 20-21), and Northern California Dive & Travel Expo (Bay Area CA, May 11-12). We are always looking for volunteers to help at the booth. If you are interested in being a REEF ambassador, contact Martha at martha@REEF.org.

    Putting It To Work: Two Papers Published Using REEF Data From Monterey Peninsula, California

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    A member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team conducting a REEF Survey in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Pete Naylor.

    We are pleased to share the publication of two new scientific papers that utilize data collected by REEF volunteers in the Monterey Peninsula area of California. Co-authored by REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) member, John Wolfe, and REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, the companion papers were published earlier this summer in the journal CalCOFI Reports. The first paper, Estimating Fish Populations From REEF Citizen Science Volunteer Diver Order-of-Magnitude Surveys, describes several mathematical models to convert order-of-magnitude count data (the type of data collected during REEF Roving Diver Technique surveys) to a numeric mean. The second paper, Fish Population Fluctuation Estimates Based on Fifteen Years of REEF Volunteer Diver Data For the Monterey Peninsula, California, used the best-performing model technique to evaluate population trends in rocky reef fish species along the Monterey Peninsula. Over 3,000 REEF surveys have been conducted in this region over the last 15 years. Many of these data were collected during an annual project within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary conducted with the help of members of the Pacific AAT. Changes in relative density over time were reported for 18 fish species, including several fisheries-targeted species. Strong concordance was also found between REEF data and those collected by Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), a consortium of academic institutions. Results showed that data collected by REEF have great potential to augment and strengthen professional research data and serve as a valuable baseline to evaluate marine reserves. Both of these papers can be found on the REEF Publications page here - www.REEF.org/db/publications (as well as downloadable from the CalCOFI Reports webpage).

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub