Grouper Moon Project Kicks Off Expanded Research Efforts

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Thousands of Nassau grouper in spawning colorations aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in January. Photo by Phil Bush.
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A Nassau grouper from Cayman Brac that will be acoustically tagged to better understand local reproductive behaviors.
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The 2008 team of Grouper Moon researchers and REEF volunteers.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, entitled "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.

In 2003 the Cayman Islands government protected all five known current and historic Nassau grouper spawning sites in the Cayman Islands. This move was motivated by the 2001 discovery and rapid depletion of a large spawning aggregation (~7000 fish) on the west end of Little Cayman. This rapid legislative response protected the west-end spawning site before all the fish were taken (~3,000 remain), and the site is now one of the largest fully-protected Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in existence. However, the other four spawning sites had previously been fished to exhaustion and are believed to be inactive, i.e. aggregations no longer occur during spawning season.

Over the next three years, REEF will continue the ongoing aggregation monitoring and acoustic research that has been conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation since 2002 and expand efforts to Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, where historical spawning aggregations were fished out during the last ten years. Four primary research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest-funded project are: 1) Do aggregations form in regions that have been fished out? 2) If aggregations form, do the fish ultimately spawn? 3) Do these aggregations form at historic sites or somewhere else? And, 4) Does spawning at these remnant aggregations result in new recruitment?

The new research kicked into gear last month with a team of Grouper Moon scientists and REEF volunteers who conducted twelve days of field work in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The team visually monitored the Little Cayman aggregation, documenting the largest number of fish since the fishing ban was implemented in 2003. Spectacular mass spawning was documented at dusk seven days after the full moon. Grouper Moon scientists conducted extensive work on Cayman Brac to enable future visual monitoring on the historical aggregation site and initiate an acoustic tagging study that will facilitate a better understanding of the behaviors of Nassau grouper on an island with a limited number of reproductively-aged individuals. Later this Spring and Summer, REEF researchers, volunteers and an OSU graduate student will return to the Cayman Islands to conduct larval recruitment studies and begin acoustic tagging on Grand Cayman.

Capitalizing on the the increased breadth of research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest Ocean Program grant, the CIDOE is supporting a larval dispersal study that also kicked off this year under the guidance of Dr. Scott Heppell from OSU. Three satellite drifters were deployed at the Little Cayman aggregation site on the night of spawning. The paths will be recorded by ARGOS satellites for 45 days and the resulting data will be used to develop a larval dispersal model in collaboration with researchers from University of Miami. Check out the 2008 image gallery to see where the drifters are today.

Visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage to find out more about this critical conservation research program and the 2008 Gallery page to see images and video of the field work.

REEF extends a big thank you to the island business who continue to support this project, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, as well as Peter Hillenbrand and Mary Ellen Cutts, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and the 2008 REEF Volunteer Team -- Judie Clee, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell, and Leslie Whaylen.  We also greatly appreciate the continued support of our collaborative team, including the CIDOE and OSU, and the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

REEF News Tidbits for June

Please Help REEF Meet Our Summer Fundraising Goal! -- Please remember to donate online today through our secure website or call the REEF office (305-852-0030).

Pre-order Your Copy of the 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification -- Greatly expanded and improved, the 2nd edition includes more than 30 new species and 70 new photographs.  It's the perfect identification resource for surveyors from California to Alaska.  Orders are being taken now through the REEF online store.  Copies will be shipped by the end of July.

Upcoming Lionfish Research Project Opportunity -- Interested in seeing REEF's lionfish research first-hand?  Join us and our partners from the National Aquarium in Washington D.C., the Bermuda government, and Ned and Anna DeLoach at Stuart Cove's in the Bahamas September 14-20.  Click here to find out more.

Fall Fundraising

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The 2008 Fall Fundraising premium image - a male yellowhead jawfish guarding a brood of eggs in his mouth. Photo by Paul Humann.

Here at REEF, we are tightening our belts and doubling our efforts to keep our long tradition of service alive during these challenging financial times. As never before, we are counting on your financial support, which for nearly two decades has been the cornerstone of our grass-roots’ partnership protecting the marine environment. Watch your mail for REEF's Fall Fundraising appeal. Or better yet, don’t wait and donate today using our secure online form.  Once again, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, Paul Humann, has donated a special signed print as a premium gift for REEF members donating $250 or more. This year's print features a beautiful male yellowhead jawfish guarding a brood of eggs in his mouth.

Since its inception REEF’s accomplishments have been powered by volunteers and donations from many friends like you who have a strong commitment to the health and protection of the natural world. We attribute our longevity to service, ethics, innovation and the wise use of this funding. We are proud to maintain one of the lowest administrative to program cost ratios in the non-profit sector. Even so, we have been able to increase our services and support long-term projects, such as the Volunteer Survey Project, the Grouper Moon Project, and the Lionfish Invasion Research Program.

Thank you for considering a gift of any size, we truly appreciate your support and your belief in our mission.

Online Data Entry 2.0 - Now Available For All Regions

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The online Data Entry interface -- www.reef.org/dataentry.
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With the expanding availabitly of wireless internet, REEF volunteers can submit their surveys online almost anywhere. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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REEF surveys conducted throughout the REEF project regions can now be submitted online.

We are excited to announce the launch of Online Data Entry 2.0. The new version includes several upgrades and now encompasses all of REEF's project regions. At long last, our REEF surveyors in the Tropical Eastern Pacific region (Baja Mexico - Galapagos Islands) and the Northeast US & Canada (Virginia - Newfoundland) are able to submit their survey data online. In addition, based on feedback from our members, the interface to add unlisted species has been greatly improved. Additional new features include: surveyors can now remain logged in for multiple submissions, ability to delete a survey in your queue, and the number of species entered is given on the summary page to cross-check with the survey paper. The Online Data Entry interface can be found at www.reef.org/dataentry. If you have feedback or suggestions you can send them to data@reef.org.

The online data entry interface allows volunteers to log on to the REEF Website and complete data entry, either during one or multiple sessions, and includes a variety of error checking features. Submissions of Volunteer Survey Project data through the online interface is becoming the preferred method among our volunteers, due to the quick turnaround in processing (typically posted to their personal survey log report within 2 weeks versus 10 weeks) as well as the time and money savings for the volunteer. Similarly, REEF strongly encourages online submission due to the higher quality of data that are submitted (the program eliminates clerical errors and missing data, and requires surveyors to verify questionable sightings), as well as the comparably minimal staff and natural resources that are required to process the survey data. Paper scanforms will still be available and will continue to be accepted.

If you are new to entering REEF data online, check out these instructions and this past enews article on data entry tips. Most notably:

  • In order to submit a survey from a location, REEF must have an 8-digit zone code for the site in our database first. Existing zone codes are listed at http://www.reef.org/db/zonecodes. To have a zone code assigned for a new site, please contact us at data@reef.org.
  • REEF first launched online data entry for the Tropical Western Atlantic region in 2005. To date, over 15,000 REEF surveys have been submitted online. REEF is beginning work on developing an offline entry program that will enable surveyors to electronically capture data offline and later submit the survey information through the existing REEF online data entry interface. Stay tuned for updates.

    We would like to extend a very big thank you to Michael Coyne for all of his work on the new Online Data Entry interface. His assistance and support through the years is much appreciated!

    2009 Keys Community Award Presented at REEF Holiday Open House

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    John Pelletier, Sr., was on hand to accept the REEF Keys Community Volunteer Award in memory of his son Chip Pelletier.
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    Nancy Perez, Ned DeLoach, Jane Bixby, John Pelletier, Sr., and Anna DeLoach.

    REEF relies on the contributions of its volunteers and donors, whether it is taking a survey, helping pay the bills or participating in a conservation project - everything we do makes a difference. John “Chip” Pelletier, a volunteer at REEF Headquarters made a difference. Every week, Chip quietly showed up at the Lockwood REEF Headquarters and worked for hours, mowing, weeding, clearing and keeping the grounds. Chip passed away in October and is truly missed by our community. In December during REEF’s Holiday Open House, on Chip’s behalf, his father John Pelletier, Sr., accepted the 2009 REEF Keys Community Volunteer Award. The award is given to a member of the Keys community in appreciation for extraordinary service to REEF.

    In addition to honoring Chip, the Holiday Open House was a fun evening that brought together REEF volunteers and supporters in the Key Largo community. Anna and Ned DeLoach hosted the event and spent the evening chatting with everyone, signing books, and raffling items. There was plenty of laughter and holiday spirit. A big thanks to Nancy Perez and Diana Philips for making sure that the food was plentiful and Headquarters looked festive.

    REEF Fish and Friends - A Monthly Gathering in Key Largo

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    Lad Akins discusses the Great Annual Fish Count during this month's Fish & Friends event in Key Largo.
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    Zach Bamman, REEF's Summer Intern, dissected one of the freshly caught lionfish that was brought in to REEF HQ.

    In April 2009, REEF started a monthly seminar series to give back to the community that has housed and supported REEF since our inception. REEF Fish & Friends gathers snorkelers, divers, and armchair naturalists at REEF HQ in Key Largo to learn more about fish and have some fun. The July seminar for REEF, Fish & Friends was all about the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). Lad Akins, REEF Director of Operations, presented a brief overview of the event and its’ 18 year history.His enthusiasm and humor encouraged participants to get involved in the annual event with the hope they will continue to conduct fish surveys and contribute to REEF’s database year-round. The How, When, and Where of conducting a survey was explained and the materials needed were shown.

    Several of the people attending the seminar brought in Lionfish along with the data regarding their capture. Lad briefly updated the audience on the status of the Lionfish in the Florida Keys and thanked the local dive community for their ongoing efforts in controlling this invasive species. Zach Bamman, REEF’s summer intern, offered to dissect one of the freshly caught Lionfish and this generated a lot of interest. He is a Senior at the University of Central Florida, majoring in Environmental Sciences.

    The August REEF Fish & Friends will feature Lauri MacLaughlin from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Her presentation entitled “SPAWN-TANEOUS Corals Catch the Corals in The Act" , will document the annual spawning event over the last 14 years through lecture and video presentation. This is big summer event and Lauri will educate divers prior to their night dive so they will fully appreciate what they are about to see.

    REEF Fish & Friends is held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation, and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar.

    REEF Releases Lionfish Cookbook

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    REEF announces the release of "The Lionfish Cookbook", available for $16.95 online at http://www.reef.org/catalog/cookbook. The book is a unique blend of 45 tantalizing recipes, background on the lionfish invasion and its impacts, as well as information on how to safely catch handle and prepare the fish. Invasive lionfish are a new threat to western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters. Lionfish densities in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the East Coast of the United States are on the rise due to their lack of predators and prolific, year-round reproduction. Thriving lionfish populations pose a serious risk to marine ecosystems through their predation on native marinelife including both commercially and ecologically important species. That lionfish are delicious table fare with a delicate buttery flavor may be our best hope for helping to remove the fish and minimize its impacts. As Bermuda has so aptly coined, we need to “Eat ‘em to Beat ‘em”! Proceeds from the sale of this book will support REEF’s marine conservation and lionfish research and removal programs.

    REEF and Florida Keys Sanctuary to Host Second Annual Lionfish Derby Series

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    Divers will return to Florida Keys waters next month on a mission: net thousands of dollars in cash and prizes while protecting the environment from invasive lionfish. REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are hosting the second annual lionfish derby series starting May 14, in Long Key, Fla. In 2010, the inaugural series of lionfish derbies removed 664 of the Pacific invaders from sanctuary waters. “Anyone who appreciates the diversity of the Keys coral reef should be concerned about these invasive fish,” said Sean Morton, Sanctuary Superintendent. “Divers have been actively engaged in lionfish removal in the Keys since 2009 and these tournaments are a way to reward them for their dedication to the reef.” Researchers will collect samples from lionfish caught at the derbies to learn more about lionfish genetics, growth, and impacts to native marine life. Each tournament also includes a detailed awareness and training briefing and lionfish tasting. In addition to the derby on May 14, two other events will be held later this year -- August 20 at Coconuts Restaurant in Key Largo and November 5 at Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West. To find out more about the Derby Series, visit the Derby Webpage.

    Lionfish Derbies in the Florida Keys Removes Over 1,000 of the Invasive Fish

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    Jen Russell shows off her catch, which netted the largest lionfish award in the Key West derby this year.

    Divers and snorkelers removed 1,518 invasive lionfish from Florida Keys waters during three Lionfish Derby events in 2011. Organized by REEF in partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby series began in 2010 to engage local communities in addressing the invasive lionfish issue. Goals of the lionfish derby series include raising awareness, educating collectors in safe collecting and handling procedures, providing samples for research, conducting lionfish cooking demonstrations and tastings for the general public, and encouraging ongoing removal efforts throughout the region. Teams of registered divers competed for cash and prizes in the categories of most, largest, and smallest lionfish. Dive teams traveled from as far as Chicago, IL.; Austin, TX; and Sunapee, NH to compete in the derbies. Participants and attendees observed filleting demonstrations and enjoyed tastings of lionfish caught during the event. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Salisbury University, University of Florida, Loyola University, international researchers from the UK, the State of Florida, and NOAA all utilized samples and data from the derbies to aid in their lionfish research. Growing populations of lionfish off the southeast U.S., Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico are impacting native marine life commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species. Derbies are just one of several strategies being employed to help control the lionfish invasion. Thanks to derby sponsors, including Ocean Reef Conservation Association, City of Layton, Divers Direct, Dive Key West, Spree Expeditions, Markey Marine Services, and The Weekly Newspapers. Visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies for derby results and updates on future derbies. Visit the REEF Lionfish webpage to find out more about REEF's Lionfish program.

    2013 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule Announced

    We are excited to announce our 2013 Field Survey Schedule. There is an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. 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. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Destinations include: Fiji, Bahamas, Little Cayman, Utila, British Columbia, Grenada, Soccoro Islands, and Cozumel. Dates and locations of the 2013 trips and information on remaining 2012 trips are below. 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 21-28, 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

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub