Putting it to Work: Study Documents Decline in Bahamian Fish Populations Due to Lionfish Predation

REEF data showing increase of lionfish in New Providence, Bahamas, between 2004 and 2010.

There is growing concern that lionfish will affect the structure and function of invaded marine ecosystems. REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is a co-author on a recently published paper evaluating these effects. The study was published in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE. Lead author, Stephanie Green, from Simon Fraser University (SFU), along with Akins and other co-authors Aleks Maljković (SFU), and Isabelle Côté (SFU), documented a dramatic 65% decline in 42 species of reef fish eaten by lionfish over a two year period. The study, conducted off New Providence Island in the Bahamas, used data collected during REEF's volunteer lionfish projects to track the explosion of the lionfish population over time, and reveals that lionfish biomass increased from 23% to nearly 40% of the predator biomass on the study sites between 2008 and 2010. This study represents the first documented direct impact of lionfish predation on native reef fishes and highlights the importance of control programs to minimize impacts. You can find a link to this and all published papers that have included REEF data on our Publications page.

Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used in New Publication on Hamlets

A newly described species, the Florida Barred Hamlet (H. floridae). The species is distinguished by the two spots at the base of the tail. Photo by Kevin Bryant (Creative Commons).
The wide-spread Caribbean Barred Hamlet (H. puella). Photo by Paul Humann.
The Contoy Hamlet (H. ecosur) has so far only been found on the northern Yucatan peninsula. Photo from video by Bruce Carlson
Another look at the Florida Barred Hamlet (H. floridae). Photo by Paul Humann.

New research using powerful genetic techniques and the REEF survey data have revealed two new species of hamlet in the Caribbean. The findings were recently published by scientist Ben Victor in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation. As our Caribbean surveyors know, hamlets are a group of colorful small sea basses that can sometimes cause ID confusion because of their myriad of colors and patterns. The varied color patterns in these small predators are thought to be a result of mimicry of other colorful but more innocuous herbivore species. There has been ongoing debate about which are actual species and which are simply just color variants or morphotypes. Ben's research revealed significant genetic differences among what seemed to simply be variations of the well-known Barred Hamlet. Ben stated that "the REEF database supplied valuable survey data indispensable to understanding ranges and abundances and unmatched in its comprehensive coverage".

The two new species are the Florida Barred Hamlet, Hypoplectrus floridae, and the Contoy Hamlet, H. ecosur. The typical Barred Hamlet (H. puella) that is found throughout the Caribbean will be updated in the REEF database to be called the Caribbean Barred Hamlet. Florida Barred Hamlet have been found in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Florida, and overlaps in range with the Caribbean Barred Hamlet in those areas. To date, the Contoy Hamlet has only been documented on Isla Contoy near the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula and maybe Isla Mujeres. Florida Barred Hamlet are distinguished by a pair of symmetrical dark spots at the base of the caudal fin along with a break in the mid-body narrow bar. The Contoy Hamlet is distinguished by the same paid of dark spots at the base of the tail as well as a series of additional dark spots along the upper caudal peduncle and below the dorsal fin. A PDF of Ben's paper can be found online here, and it includes many pictures of the new species. Video of the Contoy Hamlet has been posted on Youtube.

REEF surveyors in the regions of the new species are encouraged to learn the differences and being reporting them as distinct species using the Unlisted Species section of the online data form. To see a list of a all scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects, visit our Publications Page.

REEF's Marine Conservation Internship Program

Many of you know that REEF helps out sea-dwelling creatures, but you may not know that we also help prepare our future land-dwelling leaders to deal with issues facing our marine ecosystems. Meet the faces of our Marine Conservation Internship Program! Every four months, REEF invites hundreds of applicants to compete for four internship positions. The chosen interns implement community outreach and education programs focused on reef fish identification and lionfish handling and collection. Interns also dive and volunteer with partner organizations in the Florida Keys. Examples of some average daily intern activities include computer data entry, helping to write and layout newsletters and flyers, packaging orders, answering phone calls and e-mails, greeting visitors at REEF Headquarters, biological assessment fieldwork and data analysis, community education and outreach, writing, artwork, and GIS mapping.

For more information on this program or if you know someone who would like to apply, please visit the Internship Webpage or email General Manager, Martha Klitzkie, at Martha@reef.org. Applications for the Fall internship are due June 15th.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Lillian Kenney

Striated Frogfish. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Lillian Kenney, one of REEF's earliest members. Lillian lives in Florida and joined REEF in our inaugural year of 1993. Lillian conducted her first survey in 1994, and has since conducted 1,250 surveys, making her a member of the Golden Hamlet Club (see article in this issue for more on this achievement). She has conducted surveys in all of REEF's tropical regions (TWA, TEP, and SOP), and is a member of the TWA Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Lillian had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF? In what ways are you involved?

I joined REEF in 1993, when it was first started. I saw an ad in a diving magazine and it sounded like the very thing I wanted to get involved in. I missed the first classes in Key Largo, but started doing fish surveys right away. Before this, I had concentrated on photography when diving, but I always tried to ID the fish. At first I did surveys on my own, but then I heard about the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) and I took the tests and started doing Expert-level surveys. I really enjoy the camaraderie and discussing fish ID with other avid surveyors. I have done many REEF Field Survey trips over the last 20 years, including the recent ones to Fiji. The soft corals and fish in Fiji are definitely a highlight for me.

Do you dive close to where you live?

In the summer I dive regularly and do surveys in Florida. I live near the Gulf of Mexico and enjoy diving the same sites year after year to see what stays the same and note any changes. I also dive on the East Coast of Florida and in the Keys. One of my favorite sites is Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach, Florida. I always see interesting critters there.

What is your favorite fish find?

I have many favorite fish and invertebrates. If I had to pick one I guess it would be the frogfish. It is so cute and reminds me of children's bathtub toys. It is very interesting to watch as it 'walks' on the bottom. I see Striated Frogfish at Blue Heron Bridge. I have also seen the same species in Indonesia. In the Gulf I sometimes see Ocellated Frogfish.

The Faces of REEF: Susan Hieter

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Susan Hieter. Susan has been a REEF member since 2001, and has conducted 38 surveys. She recently moved to Aruba and is enjoying getting back in the water as a REEF surveyor. Here's what Susan had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?

I became a member 12 years ago when I designed a marine biology/oceanography class for my high school in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. We decided to become members of various marine organizations and donate money that we did fund raisers for. I did my first REEF volunteer survey at the Flower Garden National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006 through a teacher program called Down Under, Out Yonder (DUOY).

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

I really enjoy visiting the same reefs to see what new fish have arrived. It also leads me to think about why some fish are there sometimes and other times not due to various stressors. The most interesting thing I have learned from doing REEF fish surveys is seeing the abundance of fish on the island of Aruba, where I am currently working and living.

Do you have a favorite local REEF field station or dive shop?

My favorite REEF field station is JADS Dive Center in Aruba. The dive staff is very friendly and will make sure you enjoy your dives. The shop is well equipped with rental gear that is in good working condition. They will go out of their way to help you.

What is your favorite fish?

I would have to say the Goliath Grouper (somewhat small compared to the ones in Florida) that I meet on the Jane Sea wreck in Aruba was the most fascinating fish encounter because it was not afraid of me and was about to give me a kiss but on second thought, maybe it was going to take a bite out of me.

Announcing the 2015 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule

The Fiji Field Survey in 2013
Happy surveyors!
The giant kelpfish, a great find in Catalina. Photo by Janna Nichols.
The Kona Aggressor -- join us in February 2015!
Learn about REEF's lionfish research on a special Lionfish Expedition.

We are pleased to announce the 2015 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule. We have 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. We are also offering two of the ever-popular Invasive Lionfish Research Expeditions. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Please note the new email and phone number - beginning with these 2015 trips, we are handling all Field Survey inquiries and bookings through REEF Headquarters. Visit www.REEF.org/trips to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, trip policies, and more. We hope you will join us!

2015 REEF Field Survey Schedule

Feb 28 - Mar 7 -- Hawaii -- Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Details

Mar 14 - 21 -- Grand Cayman -- Wall to Wall Diving and Comfort Suites, Led by Jonathan Lavan, Details

May 2 - 12 and May 12 - 19 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Chrisy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Wk 1 Details, Wk 2 Details

May 9 - 16 -- Bahamas Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Jun 13 - 20 -- Roatan -- Anthony's Key Resort, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Details

Jul 11 - 18 -- Grand Turk -- Oasis Divers & Osprey Beach Hotel, Led by Paul Humann, Details

Aug 1 - 8 -- Bonaire -- Buddy Dive, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Details

Aug 22 - 29 -- Curacao Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- GO WEST Diving & Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Sep 19 - 26 -- Bahamas -- Aqua Cat Liveaboard, Led by Heather George, Details

Nov 1 - 5 -- Catalina Island -- Scuba Luv & Pavilion Hotel, Led by Janna Nichols, Details

Dec 5 - 12 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn or Casa Mexicana, Led by Tracey Griffin, Details

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, March 2015

Identifying YOY rockfish habitat is one recent use of REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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:

- Scientists from NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center are using REEF data on juvenile (YOY, young-of-year) rockfishes to evaluate potential YOY habitat for development of a monitoring program in the Puget Sound.

- A scientist from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) is using REEF data to evaluate the spread of invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico.

- Another scientist from Florida FWCC is using REEF data to evaluate populations of Goliath Grouper in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico as part of the species' protected status review.

- Graduate students from Coastal Carolina University are assessing biodiversity, status, and trends of fishes and invertebrates in the South Atlantic States (SAS) region (the Carolinas and Georgia).

A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Palau/Yap and Sea of Cortez Added to the REEF Trip Schedule

The islands of Palau await 18 lucky divers.
Squarespot Anthias are one of the hundreds of species that we'll see while diving in Micronesia. Photo courtesy Palau Aggressor.
REEF members will be on the lookout for whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. Photo by Christy Semmens.
The Rocio del Mar liveaboard, against a backdrop of beautiful topside scenery in the Sea of Cortez.

We are excited to announce two new trips that have been added to the REEF Field Survey schedule -- Micronesia by Land and Sea in October 2016 and the Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez in August 2017! Details on these trips are below, and the full schedule of REEF Trips can be found at www.REEF.org/trips. REEF Field Survey trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their lifelist while interacting with fellow ocean enthusiasts. Book early - REEF trips often sell out! Also, keep an eye on the REEF Trips webpage and your inbox- we'll be announcing the full 2017 schedule soon.

Micronesia by Land and by Sea - Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap and Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard, October 4 - 16, 2016. REEF members and enthusiastic fish surveyors will not want to miss our first-ever Field Survey Trip to Micronesia, alongside REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens! This exciting 12-day adventure begins land-based at the world-renowned Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, featuring three days of diving Yap's rich coral walls, channels, and lagoon sites, all while observing creatures including manta rays, reef sharks, and maybe even mating mandarinfish. After diving Yap, recharge with a night at the Palau Royal Resort, within walking distance of the yacht marina. Then the excursion continues with a 7-night charter aboard the Palau Aggressor II, with the opportunity for up to 5 dives per day in warm, tropical water. Surveyors can look forward to discovering Napoleon wrasses, titan triggerfish, crocodile fish, and many different species of gobies tucked among an abundance of hard and soft corals. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for all the details.

Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez, August aboard the Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, August 19 - 26, 2017. Join Christy and Brice for an unforgettable week of diving and citizen science in the diverse and dynamic Sea of Cortez, home to a wide range of creatures including nudibranchs, blennies, jawfish, rays, guitarfish, sharks, eels, octopuses, seahorses, and much more! In addition to numerous fish and invertebrate families, participants may also get to observe pilot and sperm whales while in transit. The plankton-rich currents of the Pacific along the coast of California and Mexico, along with the sheltered waters of the Sea of Cortez, also create a great opportunity to encounter whale sharks and manta rays. In fact, Jacques Cousteau once called this region, "the aquarium of the world." And top-side scenery is as spectacular as below the water. Participants will spend 7 nights aboard the magnificent Rocio Del Mar liveaboard, a spacious 110-foot vessel complete with a fantastic crew. Visit the trip page for all the details.

March Membership Madness - Help Us Reach Our Goal

Thank you to everyone who spread the word about marine conservation this month… 554 new members signed up. Let’s try to make it 600 by March 31st, which is the last day to enter to win a free wetsuit.

Have a friend join REEF, and you will both be entered to win. If you are already a member, have your friend enter your name when they join by choosing "Other" under “How did you hear about REEF?” Good luck to everyone!

Another Fun Summer of Ocean Explorers Camp

REEF Summer Campers.

Over the summer, REEF hosted the second year of Ocean Explorers Summer Camp, a marine science camp designed to get kids outdoors and on the water. 57 campers joined us over 4 weeks of camp, and it was a blast! Led by REEF Education Program Manager, Ellie Splain, and assisted by our wonderful Marine Conservation Interns, each week was filled with fun and interesting activities. Campers snorkeled at the coral reef, kayaked through the mangroves, dissected squid, created lionfish jewelry, and even got up close and personal with some animal visitors! Above all, campers learned about conservation and what each of us can do to protect the environment and make a difference. Keep a look out for the REEF Ocean Explorers 2017 Summer Camp date announcement! For more information, visit www.REEF.org/explorers/camp.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub