Remembering Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas at the helm of his boat.

On August 24, 2015, a beloved member of our Key Largo community unexpectedly passed away. Joe Thomas of Ocean Divers was a brilliant captain, a caring mentor, and a wonderful friend, known for his softspoken demeanor and sharp sense of humor. Joe loved to share his passion for the sea, whether it was through educating young divers or imparting his knowledge of the local dive sites and Key Largo history to the many who looked up to him. Joe was a member of the REEF family for more than 20 years. He selflessly dedicated his time to helping many generations of Marine Conservation Interns advance their diving skills by offering training and certifications for courses such as Nitrox, Advanced Open Water, and Rescue Diver. Joe also provided support for and participated in numerous REEF monitoring and research projects throughout the Florida Keys. He was a valued member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team and made a significant contribution to citizen science by submitting more than 500 fish surveys. He will be greatly missed.

At the request of Joe's close friends throughout the Key Largo community, The Joe Thomas Memorial Fund has been created as a legacy to remember the ideals by which Joe lived and worked, and to support educating future generations of marine conservationists and divers to protect the ocean that Joe loved so much. Proceeds from the fund will be used to aid young people beginning careers in marine conservation and diving by providing intern scholarships and dive certifications. To contribute to the fund, click here to donate securely online. Be sure to type "Joe Thomas" in the comment section on the donation page. You can also make a donation over the phone by calling REEF at 305-852-0030, or by sending a check to REEF HQ, PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037.

A celebration of life will be held in Key Largo later this month. If you have a memory of Joe to share, please visit www.REEF.org/joethomas.

Connecting With Classrooms in the Grouper Moon Project

Elementary students in the Cayman Islands working on one of the REEF Grouper Education Program lessons.
Live video feed from 2013, connecting researchers diving at the aggregation site with classrooms. Photo by Joshua Stewart.
In collaboration with a team of engineers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography we are using a cutting-edge underwater microscope with plankton net attached to study the habitat around the spawn cloud. As water flows through, two high speed cameras within an underwater microscope capture images of zooplankton and eggs.

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 DiversCayman Airways, and FLOW Cayman.

“Finding Dory” and Promoting Responsible Pet Ownership

"Dory" is a Palette Surgeonfish. Photo by Efraim Stocher.

The highly-anticipated sequel to Disney and Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”, “Finding Dory” opened in theaters in June, and was recently announced to be the highest-grossing animated film of all time. The titular character, Dory, is a Palette Surgeonfish (Paracanthurus hepatic), who spends the film searching for her family. Native to the tropical waters of the Western Pacific Ocean (REEF’s Central Indo-Pacific and South Pacific regions), these bright blue, reef-dwelling, algae-eating fish are also referred to as Pacific Blue Tangs, Hippo Tangs, or Regal Tangs. In addition to the film’s endearing characters and entertainment value, the release of “Finding Dory” carries the potential for an increased demand for Palette Surgeonfish in home aquariums, as well as the message that marine fish should be released into the wild.

Marine biologists worry that the release of “Finding Dory” could cause an increased demand for Palette Surgeonfish, threatening wild populations as well as coral reef habitats. National Geographic estimates that following the release of “Finding Nemo” in 2003, the demand for Clown Anenomefish (Amphiprion percula) like Nemo, more than tripled. Anenomefish are able to be aquacultured, or bred in captivity. Until recently, Palette Surgeonfish had never successfully been captive-bred, however, researchers at the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory recently announced that for the first time they have successfully raised the Palette Surgeonfish in captivity. This conservation breakthrough means that aquarists may soon have a source for Palette Surgeonfish that does not rely on fish removed from the wild. REEF encourages pet owners to educate themselves about fish ownership before buying a marine fish, including specifics on living requirements such as tank size, and whether the fish was bred in captivity or caught in the wild.

In addition, pet owners should have a plan in place in case they are ever unable to care for their fish. In “Finding Dory”, we learn that Dory was born and raised in a facility on the California coast, but eventually ended up in the wild. Releasing non-native marine fish into the ocean from home aquariums, while well-intentioned, can create severe problems for marine ecosystems. One threat includes the spread of invasive species, like the Indo-Pacific Lionfish, which has caused dramatic impacts since their initial introduction in the 1980’s. Non-native fish may also carry diseases and parasites that can have harmful impacts on native fish species.

In 2015, REEF launched the “Don’t Release Me” campaign to educate pet owners about responsible pet ownership, teach the public about the effects of releasing non-native pet species into the wild, and work cooperatively with other organizations to promote alternatives to pet release and stop the spread of invasive species. To learn more about Don’t Release Me and responsible pet ownership, visit www.dontreleaseme.org.

Support REEF This Winter and Receive Limited-edition Mandarinfish Print

This past Tuesday, REEF launched our Winter Fundraising campaign. Thank you to all who have already donated. If you haven' yet given, we are asking for your help today! By giving a gift, you are ensuring that REEF can continue to inspire people around the world to cherish and protect our marine resources.

You can give securely online at www.REEF.org/donate, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030.

Inspiring individuals to protect our marine resources is critical because our oceans are under constant threat. These threats include coral bleaching, temperature fluctuations, increased risk of invasive species, and overall declines in fish populations worldwide. Your financial support is essential to ensure REEF can provide education and research to assist in managing these impacts.

One fish that is sensitive to these threats is the vibrant and charismatic Mandarinfish. This year's limited-edition print is a scene I photographed while in the Indonesia. The image captures the species' amazing spawning ritual, truly spectacular to witness. By making a donation today of $250 or more, you will receive a beautiful 11” X 14” signed print, showcasing the astounding colors of the Mandarinfish and highlighting the importance of protecting our oceans. Donors giving $500 or more will be included on the Giving REEF, located at our headquarters.

Thanks again for your support and Happy Holidays!

Last Chance For a Brick in Pathway to Ocean Conservation

We are in the last few weeks of our summer fundraising campaign, and we need your help. Donations from our members are critical to REEF’s marine conservation efforts. In addition to supporting programs for marine biodiversity, fisheries management, and invasive species control, we are asking our members to make an extra donation this summer to help us build an Interpretive Center on the REEF Campus in Key Largo. Please help us continue to build our legacy of ocean conservation by being a part of this special campaign. Gifts of $500 or more will be honored with a personalized brick in the “Pathway to Ocean Conservation” that we are installing in front of the new center. Sunday August 13th is the last chance to get your inscribed brick, so please make your donation today. As a special bonus, every donation made before the end of August will be matched dollar-for-dollar. Click here to find out more about the Interpretive Center.

Putting it to Work: New Publication Showing Link Between Land Impacts and Fish Populations

Figure 4a from Roberts et al 2017 paper in "Ocean & Coastal Management", showing a topographic map of Bonaire.

We are proud to share details on a recent scientific paper published using REEF data - "Terrestrial degradation impacts on coral reef health: Evidence from the Caribbean" by M. Roberts et al. This was the 7th scientific paper using REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data or other REEF projects published in 2017.

In this paper, published in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management, REEF fish survey data collected from Bonaire in 2015 were used to help evaluate the impact of terrestrial degradation on nearby coral reefs, specifically investigating the link between vegetation ground cover and tree biomass index to coral cover, fish communities, and visibility. The authors found a positive relationship between ground cover and coral cover below 10 m depth, and a negative relationship between tree biomass index and coral cover below 10 m. Greater ground cover is associated with sediment anchored through root systems, and higher surface complexity, slowing water flow, which would otherwise transport sediment. The negative relationship between tree biomass index and coral cover is unexpected, and may be a result of the deep roots associated with dry-forest trees, due to limited availability of water, which therefore do not anchor surface sediment, or contribute to surface complexity. The analysis provides evidence that coral reef managers could improve reef health through engaging in terrestrial ecosystem protection, for example by taking steps to reduce grazing pressures, or in restoring degraded forest ecosystems. 

To see all of the scientific papers featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

From the Science Desk

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Christy presenting at the Flower Garden Banks NMS offices in Galveston, Texas.

WASH Nearshore Symposium

REEF’s Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, was an
invited speaker at the Temperate Reef Resources Symposium held at the University of Washington in early June. Christy spoke on the role that volunteers play in generating needed data for managing temperate reefs, and used examples from REEF experiences and projects in three west coast National Marine Sanctuaries, the Olympic Coast, Monterey Bay, and
the Channel Islands. To date, over 10,000 REEF surveys have been conducted in coastal areas along the west coast of the US and Canada.

Channel Islands Shore to Sea Lecture Series

 
In early July, Christy was the featured speaker for the monthly Channel Islands Shore to Sea Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Park. Christy spoke on REEF surveying inside and outside of the marine reserve network that was
implemented around the Channel Islands in 2004. Much of these data are
collected using REEF’s Pacific Advanced Assessment Team aboard the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s Research Vessel Shearwater.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine
Sanctuary fisheries impact workshop

Christy also presented information on the REEF
Volunteer Survey Program at a recent priority issues workshop on fishing impacts for the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The workshop was used to discuss the possibility of Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary implementing experimental no-take zones within the Sanctuary. Christy presented information about REEF's volunteers 14 year long monitoring of reef fish at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, and how this data can provide a valuable baseline to be able to measure the effects of any future no-take zones that might be implemented in the Sanctuary.

REEF Events 10/07

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DEMA Raffle Prize. Print courtesy of Tom Isgar.
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DEMA Raffle Prize. Print courtesy of Tom Isgar.

Here's what we're up to in the coming months:

October 31- November 3: DEMA Show in Orlando, FL. Come visit us at both 1133 and you could win a signed print by Tom Isgar by partaking in our DEMA raffle to help raise funds for REEF.

November 11-17: Conservation Week with Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bruce Purdy and Andy Dehart

Recent additions to the previously planned Eco-week at Stuart Coves Dive Bahamas in Nassau will be highlighted by Ned and Anna DeLoach, who will be presenting their famous behavior talks as part of the week's activities.  In addition, Andy Dehart, general Manager of the National Aquarium in Washington DC and Bruce Purdy, Bahamas dive operator and conservationist will talk about Bahamian conservation issues and marine protected areas. As previously planned, Lad Akins will lead the project and discuss lionfish issues as they relate to other environmental factors such as artificial reefs. Stuart Cove will host the project and discuss shark and local conservation issues.

December 8-14: Blackbeard's Cruises is announcing a new lionfish project focusing on Grand Bahama.

For more information, on these projects, view the pdf here...

Visit a REEF Discussion Forum Today

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Hairy Blenny Pair in Courtship Behavior, Photo by Todd Fulks
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Mutton Hamlet in Bonaire, Photo by Todd Fulks
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Greenbanded Goby, Photo by Todd Fulks
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Glass Blenny in Bonaire, Photo by Todd Fulks

A couple of months ago, REEF launched our new website. Along with the new website, REEF launched some new membership Discussion Forums that will become more valuable as the survey season ramps up this spring/summer. There are 3 forums: ID Central for posting mystery fish and invert pics for other members to help identify and to post interesting fish behavioral observations; Trip Reports, where members can post trip reports for Field Surveys, Exotic Species, AAT, and any REEF or other group efforts; and the General Discussion forum where you can post stories and links about marine conservation concerns, ideas for REEF programs, and myriad other things. These forums are for our 35,000+ members to interact and create a synergistic connection around our conservation diving and snorkel efforts worldwide. Below is a post from long-time member, Todd Fulks, who recently witnessed Hairy Blenny (Labrisomus nuchipinnis) courtship/mating and took a really great picture of the mating pair. I have pasted it here so you can get an example of what could be posted in the ID Central Forum. To post to the forums you have to be a registered REEF.org website user which you can do easily from our homepage in the top left corner under the heading, "Register for an account on our new site." Once registered, you can visit our forums by going up to the menu bar at the top of the homepage and moving your cursor over the Resources option, then clicking on Discussion Forums which is the second item down.

Dive Encounter by Todd Fulks -

"There I was at the end of our dive in just a few inches of water near shore, when I noticed a brilliant bright green fish with red hues on its lower jaw and streaking down its belly. It was sitting near a textbook example of a hairy blenny. I’d been told the males can have brilliant colors when mating so I knew I’d stumbled upon something interesting. As I looked around, I found two more drab olive green females. The girls were just blah-looking in comparison to the clownish colorations of the male hairy blenny. I lurched in the surf a bit as I watched a female slip up against a rock next to the brightly colored male. She jittered and shook violently. Then the male convulsed a few times and shook his body as he finned the underside of the rock. The female flitted a few feet away and the male convulsed again and then jolted to a new perch. The surge was such that I wasn’t able to look under the rock without causing damage so I’m not sure exactly what I witnessed. I’ll have to defer to the experts. Perhaps this was a courtship dance, perhaps they were actually breeding, or maybe egg care by proud parents. Or it could have been something else entirely… I mean it is Carnival time here in Bonaire and I’ve seen some guys wearing strange colorful costumes recently. None of the blennies left the two foot area the entire time and I was able to show all of them to two giddy divers that barely had room on their slates for the 100+ species we saw on the dive. I was determined to catch a good photo of the male, but it was tricky. He was more elusive and shy than the females and moved around frequently. Finally he settled between some rocks and one of his partners nuzzled in close and they posed. ‘Click.’"

REEF News Tidbits

A Big Win-Win: Have a Great Dive Trip in Key Largo and Support REEFFor REEF Members: Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort will donate 20% of the cost of your Key Largo dive vacation to REEF. This offer of support has no time or package restrictions. Contact the folks at Amoray for more information.

Very Few Spaces Left on 2008 REEF Field Survey TripsStill to come in 2008 are REEF Field Survey trips to Key Largo, St. Vincent, Sea of Cortez, and Cozumel. Very few spaces are left and several trips are sold out, book today. Coming soon -- the 2009 Trip Schedule!

Don't Just Blow Bubbles This Summer!  Participate in the 17th Great Annual Fish CountAn exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners.  Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event.  And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.  

Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry For the Northeast and Tropical Eastern PacificFollowing the successful expansion of our Online Data Entry interface for surveys in Hawaii and the Pacific West Coast regions last year, REEF is currently adding the capability for the Northeast (Virginia - Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja - Galapagos Islands). We hope that this will facilitate an increase in surveying in these important regions. To log your data online, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub