Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our partners at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are wrapping up two weeks of field work on Little Cayman for the Grouper Moon Project. Since 2002, the collaboration has conducted ground-breaking research on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands, to help ensure that populations of this iconic species recover. Around winter full moons, Nassau Grouper leave their home reefs and aggregate in mass to spawn. January didn't turn out to be the big month for spawning, and therefore our team will return for the February full moon. Nevertheless, many of the fish (at least 1,000) showed up at the aggregation site and our team kept busy collecting ongoing monitoring data (counts, size of fish, and documenting behaviors), field testing cutting-edge tools such as an underwater microscope, and running the Grouper Education Program.
In 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched the Grouper Education Program to engage Caymanian students in the Grouper Moon Project. This exciting effort brings the Nassau Grouper in to elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and live-feed videos that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper in which students create their own understanding of this important fish. Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations.
In January, we conducted four live-feed webcasts - three topside chats with scientists and one from underwater at a coral reef site along Bloody Bay Wall. All webcasts are archived on YouTube on TheGrouperTeacherREEF channel online here. Over 200 students from 17 schools participated.
Several interesting video clips and stories from the field were posted on REEF's Facebook page.
The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Peter Hillenbrand, Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef Divers, Cayman Airways, and FLOW Cayman.
"Did you ever have a fish experience that both excited and sadden you?"
That feeling recently happened to me at the dive site Kalli's Korner in Bonaire. My husband, Chile, and I were having a great day of diving with our friends Bryan and Phyllis McCauley in their boat, Pufferfish. Towards the end of our second dive that day, I noticed a pair of eyes peeping out of some coral rubble. As I watched suddenly a small eel darted out and raced few feet before hiding again. I was immediately intrigued and, using my rattle, got my buddy Phyllis' attention. Pointing out the location, we watched as once again the little conger eel slipped out of his cover and moved away. We slowly began to approach in hope of a better look. The process continued as we sought to identify him and he continued his trek. Each time we were able to get a bit closer and look for characteristics. Finally he seem comfortable enough to look at us, as we looked at him. Suddenly, a barred hamlet appeared above him and scooped him up. Imagine our shock and horror!!! Anger raced through my body and instinctually I reached for my dive knife and took off after that (blank blank) hamlet. The chase continued as the hamlet, with his full tummy, eluded me and viewed me as if to say 'why are you after me?' What was my plan I thought later? Well, I only know if I had caught the sucker, oops fish, he would have been disemboweled in the search for the little conger eel. The sound of laughter underwater reaches me. By this time, my dive buddy is in stitches as I sheepishly return. Later research found a margaintail conger that matched our descriptions.
Now as I continue my search for what I hope are his companions, I will be keeping a wary eye out for hamlets in the surrounding area. So that’s my fish tale and now for the question: Should you report to REEF a fish, found, identified but not longer living in the underwater world?
You can bet I did.
Here are a few notes and news bits we'd like you to know about:
On Saturday, February 9, REEF hosted the first annual For the Love of the Sea benefit dinner and auction at Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida. The event was a huge success! More than 150 guests attended a sold-out event, enjoying a picturesque sunset set to island music and the awe-inspriring underwater photography of authors and REEF founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. REEF raised more than $25,000 thanks to successful silent and live auctions and the generosity of event sponsors in the Keys and greater REEF community. Proceeds of the event will support ongoing citizen science projects to engage volunteers in marine conservation.
Many thanks to event sponsors for their support and to the local REEF "Fun Raisers" event planning committee. Please click here for more information on the event.
The recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into Atlantic waters has been causing great concern among researchers, marine park and fisheries managers, and divers. REEF, in partnership with Bahamian dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy, NOAA, the United States Geological Service (USGS), the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem. As part of REEF’s Lionfish Research Program, over the last two years REEF has coordinated 12 research projects that have involved over 175 REEF volunteers. This research has generated a wealth of in-situ observations and over 1,000 lionfish specimens, which have led to great advances in the understanding of the biology and potential impacts of this most unwanted invader.
REEF’s most recent field project at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in May 2008, involving over 20 volunteers and researchers, found that the problem continues to get worse. The team gathered data on nearly 200 specimens of lionfish to determine relative abundance, size increases, reproductive status, growth rates, predator prey relationships and movement. Findings included:
Lionfish continue to grow in size: Tagging data show growth rates exceeding 190mm/year, far larger than necessary to reach sexual maturity.
Site Fidelity: All 12 previously-tagged specimens that have been recaptured indicate strong site fidelity even after 6 months.
Prey: Lionfish continue to amaze us during stomach content studies. The recent effort turned up new records including two entire spotted goatfish, a large brown chromis, a small reef octopus, and even a small mollusk in its shell. Lionfishare eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.
Reproduction: Lionfish reproduction occurs throughout the year – many gravid females and a small recently settled juveniles have been found.
REEF’s future fieldwork will concentrate on lionfish movement, trap design, habitat preference, and local control measures. Our next project is scheduled to take place at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau from September 14-20. If you would like to help with our ongoing work please consider joining us as a field volunteer and/or making a contribution to REEF’s Exotic Species Program.
For more information on REEF’s Exotic Species Program, to volunteer on a future research project or to discuss funding opportunities, contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, Lad@reef.org.
The USS Hoyt Vandenberg is the most recent ship to be placed as an artificial reef in the waters off Key West, Florida. The ship was sunk on May 27, 2009, but three weeks prior to the sinking the REEF team was in action conducting surveys of the sinking site and 7 other adjacent sites for comparison. The data will be used by the State of Florida to document fish recruitment onto the wreck and response of nearby reef sites to the new structure. In addition to regular REEF fish surveys, the team is also gathering important fish biomass data at two sites and recording any observations of non-native titan acorn barnacles, orange cup corals or non-native fish including lionfish.
The pre-deployment surveys at the sinking site did not document any fish present at the sandy bottom site though one barracuda was seen swimming through the area shortly after. Combined data from the 7 reference sites documented 159 species including rare sightings of pugjaw wormfish and cherubfish (rare for the Keys). The summary of data can be found here.
REEF will continue regular monitoring of the Vandenberg and reference sites through next summer, with a final report due by the end of 2010. A huge thank you to all of the REEF experts joining in on the effort including Rob McCall, Tracy Harris, Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Jamie Giganti, Lisa Canty and Pat Zuloaga.
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 biologist from Fisheries and Oceans Canada is evaluating fish and invertebrate populations in Race Rocks outside of Victoria BC, in preparation for the establishment of an Marine Protected Area.
- A researcher at the University of Texas is conducting a large-scale study of evolutionary ecology in Caribbean reef fishes using REEF data and other publically available sources of morphological and phylogenetic data.
- A scientist from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is conducting an analysis on goliath grouper populations for a NOAA Fisheries stock assessment.
- A researcher from University of East Anglia is using the entire REEF Caribbean dataset to conduct a large-scale analysis of species diversity.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations
This month we feature Sea Saba, a top-notch dive operator located on a small Caribbean island devoid of beaches, but abundant in spectacular dive sites! The island of Saba is known for its unspoiled natural beauty and lack of development- the island has fewer than 2,000 residents. Dive shop owners, Lynn and John, have made scuba diving, travel, and photography their life for well over 2 decades. Some time ago, while exploring a rainforest in Peru with an exceptionally knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, Lynn realized that there aren’t enough scuba guides in the industry who are highly knowledgeable about the marine life and habitats they work in. To quote her, “Certainly professional and safety standards are important but sadly, far too many dive guides are actually poor guides.”
Working with the REEF program is one great tool utilized by Sea Saba to continue to improve the knowledge base of their dive instructors. Dive staff members are frequently reminded that their core function is to be great guides, and newly hired dive staff are required to become REEF Level 3 surveyors within 60 days! “It’s a win/win/win. We’re making a concerted effort to ensure a great dive experience is had by all our visitors but also by our staff. If we can engage each guide to be more aware and knowledgeable and share this information with our diving guests, dive guides avoid burnout. The enthusiasm is contagious.” says Lynn.
Sea Saba understands and shares REEF’s mission to educate, enlist, and engage divers in marine conservation efforts. In Lynn’s words, “Fish identification skills are a stepping stone in understanding our underwater environment. By sharing knowledge, we not only create better surface interval conversations, we can hope each diver is also an advocate to use what power he/she has to protect this realm: the coral, the fish, the reef, the ocean…our planet.”
Sea Saba hosted the first REEF Field Survey of the year in March and they made sure our trip season got off to a great start - participants confirmed over 150 species sightings during the week, including rare finds such as yellowcheek basslets, punk blennies, and a hammerhead shark! Our team of ten was well taken care of by the excellent divemasters and staff of Sea Saba, many of whom are active surveyors throughout the Saba Marine Park surrounding this petite island. The natural beauty of Saba was the perfect setting for our diving (and hiking) adventure.