Annual REEF Monitoring Projects in the Pacific Northwest

A YOY Canary Rockfish, one of many seen during 2016 summer projects in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Janna Nichols.
One of REEF's AAT members, Greg Jensen, finishes off a survey dive. Photo by Janna Nichols.

We recently conducted the 2016 surveys on two important long-term monitoring projects in Washington State. Data have been processed, and results are available for viewing. One of the most surprising results was the high abundance of many species of Young-of-the-Year (YOY, aka baby) Rockfish seen on both projects. This is a very unusual sighting, and possibly a good sign for things to come for these threatened species.

The first project is the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary monitoring project, started in 2003. REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) divers annually monitor fish and invertebrates in this remote area of rugged Washington State coastline. The team documented 100 species of fish and invertebrates, as well as YOY of 10 different rockfish species. Data for 2016 may be viewed here.

The second project began in 2013, and monitors fish and invertebrates in Washington State's San Juan Islands, which are centrally located within the Salish Sea. This project is done in conjunction with the SeaDoc Society, and also uses the AAT members within the region. Data for this project may now be viewed here. Annual results from this project have been important in tracking the spread of Sea Star Wasting disease.

Thanks to our many divers who lent their expertise in diving and identifying fish and invertebrates underwater, as well as the dive charters and donors who help fund these critical projects.

The Faces of REEF: Chuck Curry

Chuck on his home turf in the Pacific Northwest.
Chuck under the water in the Philippines. Photo by Ron Lucas.
Chuck topside on the Philippines REEF Trip in 2016.
A Puget Sound King Crab, the subject of Chuck's close encounter story with a Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo by Janna Nichols.
In addition to volunteering with REEF, Chuck volunteers at the Seattle Aquarium. Here he is as Santa in the big aquarium tank. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Chuck Curry, a REEF member since 2013. Chuck lives in Washington State, and while he hasn't been a member for long, he has already conducted 400 surveys! He has achieved Level 5 Expert Surveyor status in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA), Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), and the Pacific Coast (PAC) regions, and Level 3 Advanced Surveyor status in the South Pacific (SOP) and Hawaii (HAW) regions. Here's what Chuck had to say about REEF:

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

I first became a REEF member and volunteer in the spring of 2013. I learned about REEF while at a talk given by Joe Gaydos at the Seattle Aquarium. Joe’s the Science Director at the SeaDoc Society, which conducts and sponsors scientific research in the Pacific Northwest’s inland waters, also known as the Salish Sea. Joe mentioned a ten-year sub-tidal monitoring project SeaDoc would be starting that would use REEF’s Roving Diver Technique and expert REEF surveyors to do the monitoring. I thought, “I want to do that!” I joined REEF after that talk and started conducting surveys.

Have you been on a REEF Field Survey Trip?

I’ve been lucky enough to be on a number of REEF Field Survey trips. The highlight of my Field Survey diving last year was getting exposure to the awe-inspiring (and sometimes overwhelming!) fish diversity of the Central Indo-Pacific region on the Philippines and Micronesia Field Survey trips.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

My desire to make a contribution to scientific research inspires me to complete REEF surveys. As a kid, I dreamed of being a marine biologist and Jacques Cousteau was one of my heroes. REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project allows me to fulfill, in part, that dream as a citizen scientist. And I get to experience some of the undersea world that my childhood hero introduced me to when I was growing up in Kansas City.

What do you like most about being a REEF member?

Without question, my favorite part about being a REEF member has been meeting, getting to know and learning from/with all the fun and interesting fish geeks who volunteer for REEF! :-)

Do you dive close to where you live?

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a great dive site (it’s “Norrander’s/Rockaway Beach” in the REEF database) 7 minutes from where I live on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. It’s my favorite place to dive because it’s my “home” site, provides great habitat for all sorts of fishes and critters (including Wolf Eels and Giant Pacific Octopuses) and I can fit in a dive between any two meals at home.

What is the most fascinating creature encounter you have had underwater?

The most fascinating fish encounter I’ve experienced wasn’t with a fish but with a marine invertebrate—we survey a selected list of invertebrates and algae in the PacNW. While taking a picture of a juvenile Puget Sound King Crab, a Giant Pacific Octopus loomed up in front of me and held on to me for five minutes with first two, then four of its arms. It seemed to be curious, running its arms over my light, camera, hands and arms as I watched it and it watched me—just an amazing experience.

Do you have any tips for new surveyors?

I’d offer two tips to other REEF members, particularly to those just getting started. One is to seek ID help from expert surveyors you dive with or meet. I’ve gotten lots of help from folks, they’ve all been happy to share their knowledge and no one has ever made fun of me for getting excited about seeing a very common fish that’s new to me. The second tip is to carry a camera and take pictures while you’re surveying. You don’t need to become an expert photographer, just getting ID shots of new fish to review topside can really speed you along the learning curve.

Creating the REEF Campus in Key Largo

REEF Headquarters and the Interpretive Center, connected by the Pathway to Conservation.
An interpretive display inside the REEF HQ.
REEF's Native Plants Trail and picnic area.

Over the last quarter-century, REEF's programs and impact have grown in scale and scope, affecting ocean conservation and education world-wide. Despite our global reach, our headquarters remains in Key Largo where it all began in 1993. The REEF Headquarters building is housed in the oldest building in Key Largo and serves as a community touchstone for local residents and visitors alike. To support our growing programs, the REEF campus underwent a dramatic transformation over the last several months, thanks to generous donations from REEF members, members of the Florida Keys community, and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

A new Interpretive Center, adjacent to REEF’s HQ building, will provide space for REEF's public seminars and programs. This educational programming will be available to the local community and the tens of thousands of tourists that visit the Keys each year. In addition, live-streaming capabilities will allow for the center’s programming to reach an even wider audience. The center features self-guided exhibits and eye-catching displays highlighting the diverse marine and terrestrial habitats of the Florida Keys.

Inside the main HQ office, there are nine new educational exhibits centered around REEF's programs and important ocean issues, including - invasive species, endangered species, marine biodiversity, marine habitats of the Florida Keys, the importance of long-spined sea urchins, climate change, and an interactive exhibit about marine fishes from around the world. The Interpretive Center and HQ building are linked by the "Pathway to Conservation", created from over 100 bricks honoring our major supporters who donated during the Summer 2017 capital campaign.

In order to provide informal learning opportunities and outdoor recreational activities, we installed a Native Plants Trail to connect the REEF Campus to the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, which is used by 1.5 million guests and bicyclists annually. This educational oasis features interpretive signs describing the native fauna found on the trail, as well as shaded picnic tables, bike racks, and a drinking fountain.

We will be hosting a grand opening celebration of the new Interpretive Center and other exhibits during REEF Fest in December 2017. We hope you can join us!

Lionfish Happenings - Summer Derbies and 5% Day at Whole Foods Market®

REEF volunteers scoring lionfish collected in a derby.

Our Invasive Lionfish Research Program is keeping busy getting ready for the spring and summer. In addition to the tagging research in the USVI also reported in this month's E-News, we are also gearing up for a busy Lionfish Derby season. We have six derbies planned in Florida for REEF’s 2018 Lionfish Derby Series presented by Whole Foods Market®. These competitions encourage teams to collect and remove as many lionfish as possible. They are important education and outreach events, and have been shown to be quite effective in lowering local lionfish populations. In 2017, derby participants removed over 2,500 lionfish. More than 21,000 lionfish have been removed since the derbies began in 2010. To view the schedule and complete details, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.

And finally - if you live in Florida, be sure to mark your calendar for April 19 for 5% Day at Whole Foods Market®. Nine stores across South Florida will be supporting ocean conservation, donating 5% of their total sales from the day to REEF to support our South Florida conservation efforts. Participating stores are: Coral Springs, Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines, Pompano Beach, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, Wellington, and West Palm Beach.

Home Grown REEF Clubs! FIN and Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers

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FIN members gathered at Maluaka Beach in July for a Great Annual Fish Count dive.
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FIN members, Liz Foote and Josh Wittmer (who is also a previous REEF Marine Conservation Intern and now works for the Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui), getting ready for a FIN-organized REEF dive at Honolua Bay earlier this month.

We say it often - REEF is what it is because of our fantastic members.  The grassroots nature of the organization is reflected in all aspects of our work, including the amazing volunteers like Audrey Smith who help with daily operating tasks at REEF HQ, the networks of regional REEF partners who enlist new REEF members and provide continuing education and survey opportunities for active surveyors, our members who generously support REEF with financial donations, and of course the thousands of survey volunteers who submit marine life surveys each year. 

As the corps of active and experienced REEF surveyors has grown, we have been fortunate to have some of those members take their support and interest in REEF to the next level by forming local REEF groups.  Two such REEF "clubs" are FIN (the Fish Identification Network)  and the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers.  FIN is a REEF club based in Maui, and is touted as an opportunity to join friends and fellow fish lovers in exploring the coral reefs of Maui.  The club is for all interested divers and snorklers, and promotes marine conservation and the objectives of REEF.  FIN was founded by Terri and Mike Fausnaugh (Mike is also a member of the REEF Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team (AAT)) and is supported by the cadre of REEFers that REEF partner, Liz Foote of Project S.E.A.-Link, has generated in Hawaii through the years.  There are monthly (sometimes weekly) FIN dives at various beaches on Maui and at every event FIN folks set up a REEF station on the beach with survey materials and identification reference guides in an attempt to lure in new afishianados!  The PNW Critter Watchers encourages all divers in Washington and Oregon to become underwater naturalists.  Through training and quarterly REEF survey dives, Critter Watcher founders and REEF Pacific AAT members, Janna Nichols and Wes Nicholson, aim to put the fun in critter watching and promote REEF surveying in the Pacific Northwest.  Janna also maintains a Critter Watchers website that includes a fish of the month feature, an events listing, unusual sightings reported by fellow Critter Watchers, and congratulations to REEF surveyors who have advanced through the REEF experience level system.

These home-grown REEF clubs are a great way to help spread the fun and enjoyment of REEF surveying to a local dive community.  We are grateful that we have such enthusiastic and supportive volunteers who are willing to help spread the REEF word.  These on-the-ground activities could never be accomplished without your help!

Enter Your REEF Survey Data Online

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Are you a REEF surveyor along the US & Canadian West Coast or Hawaii? If so, you can now enter your survey data online.

Are you a REEF surveyor along the US and Canadian West coast or Hawaii? If so, did you know that you can now enter your data ONLINE! No more scanforms (unless you really want to use them - they'll still work – although note that there will be a fee to purchase scanforms beginning in 2008). No more scrounging around to find a pencil. No more stamps and trips to the post office. All you need to do is click on Submit Data Online under the Database menu and you're on your way. Entering data online is not only easy for you, it greatly eases the workload on the limited REEF staff, enhances the quality of the data and reduces typographical errors, and most importantly, it greatly decreases the processing time from 8 weeks or more for paper scanforms to typically within 2 weeks from the time of online submission.

REEF plans to add the Northeast (Virginia through Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja Mexico to the Galapagos Islands) regions to the online submission program over the next few months in order for all of our program regions to be covered by this convenient data management feature.

REEF Partners with Caradonna Dive Adventures and Previews 2009 Field Survey Season

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REEF Partners with Caradonna Dive Adventures
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Kayla Serotte Conducting REEF Survey
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Linda Schillinger Surveying in Turks and Caicos Islands
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Joe Cavanaugh Surveying Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

REEF is happy to announce our new partnership with Caradonna Dive Adventures as our travel provider, beginning with our 2009 Field Survey Season.  As many of you already know, Caradonna brings years of dive travel acumen and great vendor partnerships, both of which will undoubtedly assist REEF in making our Field Survey Program once again our signature Citizen Science program.  

After all, it is each of you that make all that REEF does in and out of the water possible.  We are closing in on 120,000 Fish Surveys in our world-renowned fish sightings database.  Christy Semmens (REEF Director of Science) and I individually review all of the 1,000 plus surveys entered into the database every month.  We know all of you by name but it is only on our Field Programs that REEF Staff and Board members have the opportunity to put the names to the faces and share the fish surveying exhilaration with you. 

Many of you who use dive travel services have probably used Caradonna in the past and know how good they are at setting up exhilarating dive trips. With Caradonna, you'll almost have a third dive buddy right there with you, wherever you might be! We are previewing our 2009 Season (below) and will be posting additional details and more trips to the website in the coming weeks.   Doris Pfister at Caradonna will serve as our REEF liaison. Doris and I have worked hard these past couple of months to coordinate this exciting schedule.

So without further ado, a preview -

2009 Field Survey Schedule Preview

  • St. Lucia - February 21-28, 2009 with Anse Chastanet Resort, 12-dive all-inclusive package, led by Lisa Mitchell, REEF Executive Director
  • Grenada - July 11-18, 2009 aboard Peter Hughes Wind Dancer, led by Paul Humann
  • St. Croix May 9-16, 2009, with Cane Bay Dive Shop and Carambola Resorts
  • Curacao - October 17-24, 2009 with Sunset Waters Beach Resort
  • Cozumel - December 5-12, 2009 with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn, led by Sheryl Shea

Additional destinations that we are working on include St. Vincent, Maui (Hawaii), Bermuda with Ned DeLoach, and Cancun.  Stay tuned to the REEF Trips webpage.

For all bookings, please contact Doris Pfister, our REEF Dedicated Sales Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com or by phone at 1-877-295-REEF(7333). Details and more trips will be added in the next few weeks and months, so please check the REEF Trips webpage often.

Have you ever wondered how trip locations are decided?  There is a suite of considerations for Field Survey locations, including REEF data needs, diving and tourist infrastructure, costs (evermore important with rising travel costs), partnership and outreach opportunities, fish abundance and diversity, invasive species, educational value, resource management needs, and yes, fun too!  In 2009, REEF staff are planning improvements to our Field Survey program including increased capacity building while the REEF group is onsite and after the trip is over, and increasing the opportunities for resource managers to partner with REEF and utilize the valuable data you collect.  By fostering regional capacity building efforts wherein local stakeholders begin to carry the surveying efforts beyond single events, there is increased likelihood these data will be used for ongoing management decisions. 

120,000! And Counting

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A REEF surveyor records a school of grunts. Photo by Paul Humann.
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REEF volunteer, Dana Haggarty, reviews her data after a survey dive in Monterey Bay.
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REEF data have been used in the stock assessment of Goliath grouper. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF eclipsed a milestone this week when the REEF Volunteer Survey Project Database passed the 120,000 survey mark.  This represents over 150,000 hours of underwater survey time from our volunteers.  The achievement comes almost 15 years to the day when the first REEF fish survey was conducted off Key Largo, Florida, on July 17, 1993.  Today, the program is going strong throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Galapagos Islands and Hawaii. In the tropical western Atlantic region alone, 96,469 surveys have been conducted at 6,085 sites and 795 fish species have been recorded.  Of course, improving your marine life identification skills, building your lifelist of sighted species, and conducting surveys are a lot of fun.  But have you ever wondered what good are all of these data?  

Volunteer data collection, or citizen science, provides a valuable alternative for scientists and resource agencies needing information but lacking sufficient resources to gather it. In addition, involvement in data collection leads to greater awareness about marine resources and creates a stewardship ethic among key user groups.

In addition to providing data summaries on the REEF Website, REEF staff provide raw data to scientists and resource agencies.  REEF data have been used in the development of stock assessments (Kingsley 2004), in the evaluation of trends of fish species (Semmens et al. 2000), to measure the effect of marine protected areas on kelp forest fish communities (Semmens et al. in prep) and coral reefs (REEF 2003), as an indicator of population pressure on natural resources (Burke and Maidens 2004), to evaluate interactions between species and species-habitat relationships (Auster et al. 2005), to asses the effect of restoration efforts in areas of damaged reef (REEF 2008), and to asses the status of a group of reef fish species that is experiencing significant declines (Ward-Paige et al., in prep A and B).  REEF volunteers have been instrumental in the identification and removal of exotic species (Semmens et al. 2004), in the identification of new species (Taylor and Akins 2007; Weaver and Rocha 2007) and morphological variants of known species (Pattengill-Semmens 1999), and in the documentation of previously unrecorded range extensions (M. Taylor and J. Van Tassel, Pers. Comm.). PDFs of most of these articles and a full listing of scientific papers and reports that have used REEF data are included in the Publications section of the REEF Website.

REEF extends a big thank you to the 10,000+ volunteers who have contributed to this database over the years and we are looking forward to the next 120,000 surveys!  Be sure to visit the Top 10 Stats page to see a quick rundown  of REEF survey activity.  You can also explore the data more in-depth by visiting the Database section of the REEF.org Website.

Peter Hughes Belize Lionfish Invasion Trip

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The upcoming Peter Hughes Belize Lionfish awareness/outreach trip turns to lionfish research/removal after the first lionfish was discovered in Central American waters. Join REEF aboard the Sun Dancer II from June 13-20 for this exciting and fun diving adventures. Following eye opening presentations by REEF staff and partners at the recent DEMA dive show in October, long-time supporter Peter Hughes took on a new mission - to support REEF's efforts in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean. With his world-renowned fleet of liveaboard dive vessels and concern for the marine environment, Peter became an instant supporter after hearing details of the invasion. In stepping up to the plate, he offered his Belize-based liveaboard, Sun Dancer II, as a platform to raise funds and increase awareness of the issue during a June 13-20 expedition. Little did he know that within 2 short months, lionfish would actually show up in Belize in advance of our planned project.

Sun Dancer II instructors, leading a group of divers on Turneffe Reef, spotted a juvenile lionfish on December 11, 2008. Subsequent dives provided images verifying the sighting and Sun Dancer Captain Ryan Barnett, who had previously worked with REEF during Bahamas lionfish projects, put the early warning system into action through his report to REEF HQ. While the fish has yet to be recovered, Sun Dancer staff now have divers on the lookout and are stocking the vessel with collecting supplies.

While the fundraising efforts of the June project remain, the focus of the June project has now shifted to include more detailed data gathering and collection of any lionfish specimens found. Additional workshops are being organized with Belizean authorities to assist in development and implementation of their lionfish response plan. For those interested in joining the June 13-20 project aboard the Sun Dancer, please view the project webpage or contact Peter Hughes Diving directly at (800) 9-DANCER.  For more information on the lionfish issue and to support REEF's efforts, go to www.reef.org/lionfish or contact Lad Akins (Lad@REEF.org) (305) 852-0030.

Exciting Schedule of REEF Trips Planned For 2010

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REEF Field Survey Participants at the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman in 2006.
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REEF trip participants enjoy hanging out and diving with like-minded individuals, while learning more about ocean life.

We are excited to announce a great line-up of destinations for REEF's 2010 Field Survey Travel Schedule. These fun and educational eco-dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". The week-long trips are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Trips are led by REEF staff and other REEF instructors and feature daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. We are featuring several new destinations, including the northern Baja Peninsula and Roatan, as well as returning to some of our member's favorites like Dominica and Grand Cayman. Several specialty trips are also being offered in 2010, including invasive lionfish research projects and reef fish behavior tours.

REEF Trip Schedule 2010 -- Prices, package details and more available soon.

  • Dominica with Dive Dominica and Ft. Young Hotel -- April 17-24, 2010. Led by Heather George.
  • Belize with Sun Dancer II Liveaboard -- May 1-8, 2010. Lionfish Research Expedition, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes.
  • Bahamas with Aqua Cat Liveaboard -- June 12-19, 2010. Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Roatan with Turquoise Bay Resort -- July 17-24, 2010. Led by Paul Humann.
  • Cozumel with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn -- August 14-21, 2010. Led by Sheryl Shea.
  • Key Largo with Amoray Dive Center -- August 26 - September 2, 2010. Sea Critter Seminar, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Bonaire with Buddy Dive Resort -- September 26 - October 2, 2010. Field Survey and Coral Spawning Expedition, Led by Jessie Armacost.
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico with Rocio del Mar Liveaboard -- October 9-16, 2010. Led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens.
  • Grand Cayman with Dive Tech and Colbalt Coast -- November 6-13, 2010. Led by Lad Akins.
  • To inquire about a trip and to book your space, please contact our REEF Dedicated Sales Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com or by phone at 1-877-295-REEF(7333). Additional details will be added to the REEF Trips webpage soon, so check back often. Book early, trips often fill up!

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