REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
Our outstanding Field Station this month is the New England Aquarium, and their affiliated dive club, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Begun in 1975, the New England Aquarium Dive Club (NEADC) is one of the world's oldest, largest, and most active dive clubs. They host an annual event for Northeast divers in conjunction with REEF's Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). This past July, they hosted their 10th annual GAFC event, and over 90 divers submitted 100+ surveys. The event took place simultaneously at 8 dive sites in Massachusetts and Maine. After the morning surveys, divers gathered for a feast and to distribute over $8,000 in prizes at Stage Fort Park. The event not only gathers important data, but it also introduces divers to REEF surveying and encourages them to continue surveying on their dives throughout the year. Local REEF volunteers, Bob Michelson and Holly Martel Bourbon, help ramp up the event by offering fish ID classes in the preceding months.
The Northeast is a cold water dive location, with REEF surveyors commonly finding Cunner, Winter Flounder, Striped Bass and Rock Gunnel. However, they have the added bonus of having some tropical fish find their way into the area as waters warm up in the summer. REEF staff are currently working with Bob and Holly to implement an invertebrate monitoring program into the Northeast REEF program. Thank you New England Aquarium Dive Club for promoting REEF and the volunteer survey project in the NE!
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Randy Keil. Randy joined REEF in 1996 and has conducted 279 surveys. He is a member of REEF's TWA Advanced Assessment Team and teaches REEF surveying and fish ID through his dive shop, Paradise Watersports in the British Virgin Islands (see REEF Field Station profile here). Here's what he had to say about REEF:
What do you feel is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
I feel as if REEF surveys are the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs for the simple reason that this data would not be available otherwise. To have scientists survey all the areas REEF covers would be an impossible undertaking. The lionfish invasion is a good example. To see what effect the lionfish are having on our reef communities all we need to do is look at past surveys and compare them to present surveys. Without past historical data we would have no way to of knowing which species are most effected by the lionfish or what kind of time scale it takes for the effects to become noticeable. Are the areas where the lionfish appeared first the most effected? Is there any effect noticed on the surveys? These questions can only be answered by comparison of data.
Do you have any surveying tips for REEF members?
One tip I would give other surveyors is to watch the coneys. Coneys seem to have an interesting relationship with goldentail morays. Anytime you see a coney staring intently, stop and see if you can make out what he/she is staring at. Often there will be a tiny goldentail in the vicinity.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I do most of my diving in the British Virgin Islands where I have both a home and a dive shop/REEF Field Station. The best thing about diving in the BVI is the diversity of dive sites. Our sites are all moored and this allows us to build up an intimate knowledge of the underwater terrain. This means that if we find a juvenile queen angel or juvenile spotted drum we can follow it as it grows until it is eaten or moves on. Fish such as frogfish and creatures such as seahorses often will stay in the same area for months at a time.
What is your favorite place to dive outside of where you live?
My favourite place to dive is the Galapagos. If schooling hammerheads, hundreds of Galapagos sharks, dozens of white-tipped reef sharks, whale sharks, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins and abundant creatures and fish life are not enough then there are species of fish that exist nowhere else in the world. The land excursions are almost as exciting as the diving and the guides the most knowledgeable I’ve ever encountered in almost 30 years of traveling the globe seeking out underwater phenomena.
My last trip to the Galapagos was the first one after Paul Humman had published his Galapagos Fish Identification book and I poured over the book to find species seen nowhere else. Being a confirmed “fish nerd”, the Meyer’s butterflyfish really caught my imagination. So here we are in the far reaches of the northern islands and I have my slate with a list of what we might see and a blank slate for messages.. I moved closer to the guide and wrote on my slate” Meyer’s Butterfly” with a question mark. He took my slate and wrote hammerheads and pointed to the hundreds of sharks passing in front of us. I erased the hammerheads message and again wrote” Meyer’s butterfly?” and this time pointed to the sloping reef wall that was packed with fish. The guide once again pointed out the schooling sharks. As a 30 foot whale shark came into sight I realized that not only was this not going to be the dive where I sighted my first Meyers butterfly but also that no one was going to be the least sympathetic to my plight.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
As REEF heads into the 20th year of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, we will be looking back at some of the milestones that got us here. In this month's Faces of REEF, we feature one of our earliest members, Ken Marks. Ken was instrumental in helping guide REEF in our early years, building the first data processing and storage tools. Ken first met REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann, on a dive trip in 1992. Paul soon realized Ken's computer background and mentioned the idea that he and Ned DeLoach were working on for a diver-led fish survey program. The unsolved problem was the logistics of collecting data. They had thought of mailing out 3.5" floppies (remember them?!) that would be mailed back by the volunteer diver to REEF HQ (which didn’t even exist at this time). Because this was back in the days before smart phones, tablets, and ubiquitous laptops, Ken suggested a more low-tech approach. After several rounds of prototypes, Ken produced what would become REEF's very first survey scanform. Today, Ken remains an important part of our IT volunteer team, and has conducted 311 REEF surveys. Here's what Ken had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
After meeting Paul on a liveaboard dive boat, we got to talking about ways divers could report fish sightings. I suggested a computer scannable form as a solution and upon my return to Chicago researched the specifications for creating such a form. Over the next couple of months I wasted lots of Paul’s fax paper sending him 17 evolving versions of what came to be the first version of the REEF survey form, which was first printed in 1993. The creation of the REEF underwater survey sheets, guides such as Fish-in-a-Pocket and waterproof ID cards, training DVDs and courses, and the web-based online data entry are all indications that REEF has matured from its humble beginnings.
Do you dive close to where you live? Where is your favorite place to dive?
Though my involvement with REEF I have been fortunate to be able to work with scientists and various organizations surveying and teaching fish identification. This has allowed me to dive in many places throughout the Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean area but one of my favorites is just a 45-minute ride from my home – the Blue Heron Blvd Bridge near West Palm Beach. Experienced fish surveyors sooner or later start diving in “alternative habitats” in order to see species that they haven’t seen before. The shore dive under the BHB is a great way to experiencing muck diving without a passport and a 24-hour flight to Indonesia. There are all sorts of things to see “under the bridge” from octopus and bobbit worms to frogfish, stargazers, seahorses, and sea robins.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
First – slow down; it’s not a race. The mooring buoy at a dive site is usually placed in the middle of the best area. Let the others burn their air swimming around for hundreds of yards searching for turtles, sharks, dolphins (or whatever “big ticket” species will make their dive). Spend your time slowly searching over the reef (and alternative habitats near the reef) for the odd and unusual that will help you expand your list of species seen. Use the REEF forums, database, and field stations to plan your trip so you can extend your lifelist and see something you’ve never seen before on a dive.
It also helps to really know your fishes. Study your ID books or take one of the REEF courses or webinars to increase your knowledge. When you are very proficient at identifying the common species that are encountered on most dives, the unusual species will be much easier to spot when you come across one. You might even spot a species new to science – several REEF surveyors have made such discoveries over the years.
What is your most memorable fish find and why?
My most memorable fish find would have to be the Yellow Garden Eel (Heteroconger luteolus). Back in 1997, a coworker had mentioned diving on a wreck where a Goliath grouper (then known as Jewfish) had taken up residence for several weeks. At the time I had not yet added this species to my lifelist and was eager to get a photo. The following weekend we dived the site and I was ready with my Nikonos and my wide-angle 15mm lens. Of course the fish had cleared out and I never got the picture. This wreck, a tug boat, was part of a cluster of three closely spaced wrecks so we took a compass bearing and headed across the sand at 70 feet heading for the larger wreck for the rest of the dive. Along the way I noticed a colony of unusual garden eels out feeding in the Gulf Stream current.
About two weeks prior to this dive I had been helping Paul on a new printing of the Reef Fish ID book. I had purchased a reference book from the American Fisheries Society and was using it to verify that Paul’s book was using the AFS accepted common and scientific names. In that reference book, I noticed that the species previously just known as Garden Eel had been renamed to Brown Garden Eel due to a recently described second species of garden eel from the Florida area. The new species name “luteolus” implied that the species was yellow. And bright yellow was the color that I saw while crossing that sand plain at 70 feet between wrecks. I knew in an instant that this must be the newer species of garden eel. I had a friend pull the scientific paper containing its description and it matched exactly what I saw (bright yellow dorsally with a white belly). The paper mentioned that the species was described from a few partial specimens that had been dredged from deep water off Tampa as well as a few larvae that appeared different from the “standard” Brown Garden Eel. I contacted the paper's author and he suggested I try to capture one and send it to him. A short time later Ned & Anna DeLoach, Eric Riesch, and John Pitcairn joined me on a dive to photograph this species and collect a specimen. The fish we collected now sits in the Smithsonian’s collection and is, to this date, the only whole adult specimen of this species in any collection. The photo taken on the collection dive can be found in the latest edition of Reef Fish ID.
Though this was not a new species to science we were able to provide an important specimen and REEF data has subsequently found this species on other sites throughout Florida expanding our knowledge of this colorful little species. Citizen science for the win!
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 Joe Gaydos, Ph.D., an avid REEF volunteer in Washington State and Director of the SeaDoc Society (a REEF Field Station). Joe has been a REEF member since 2003 and has conducted 120 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and Joe was instrumental in initiating the AAT San Juan Islands Annual REEF Monitoring Project that kicked off this summer (see story in this enews issue). Here's what Joe had to say about REEF:
How are you involved as a REEF member?
I conducted my first REEF survey in Washington State in 2003, and have been doing them ever since. In addition, the program I run, the SeaDoc Society, is a REEF Field Station. We’ve hosted numerous fish and invertebrate identification classes and multiple Great Annual Fish Count dives, but I’m most excited about our new monitoring program collaboration. We’ve partnered with REEF to have Advanced Assessment Team Divers come to the San Juan Islands for annual week-long survey trips. We expect that over the next 8-10 years these data will help us understand long-term sub-tidal changes in the ecosystem.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I live and dive in the Salish Sea, a 17,000 square kilometer inland sea shared by Washington and British Columbia. The data collected by REEF volunteers are valuable to the managers in the region who are working to recovery declining species like Northern Abalone and Rockfish. I love being able to collect data that is meaningful.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
As a scientist, I love that the REEF data are collected in a way that is scientifically rigorous. Volunteers are trained and their level reflects their training and experience. Also, it is great that the data are collected and stored in a way that they will always be available for evaluation – even decades from now. This is citizen-science at its finest.
Where is your favorite place to dive?
My favorite place to dive is about 2 miles from my house. It’s a high current area split by an island so you get the benefits of seeing all of the invertebrates that flourish in the current, but you can always dive on one side of the island or the other. The site is familiar, but strikingly beautiful and I always find something new. The water is cold here and people generally expect everything to be dull and they are amazed to see videos or stills of colorful invertebrates and fishes.
Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
Here, most everybody wants to see a Giant Pacific Octopus – 150 lbs, 2,240 suckers (unless it’s a male, then they only have 2,060) – what’s not to love. But me, I still want to see a Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. They’re only the size of a golf ball, but dang are they cute. When is Disney going to make a movie starring one of them?! Maybe this year.
REEF is excited to announce that we have added a new invertebrate and algae survey program to the Northeast region (Virginia - Newfoundland). Similar to our other temperate regions, REEF surveyors in this area can now record all fishes as well as a select group of 60 invertebrate and algae species. Species included in the program were selected in consultation with regional scientists and experts to serve as a representative sample of the biodiversity of the region. Consideration was given to species that are habitat indicators, are harvested, and those that are just fun to look at (like nudibranchs!). REEF Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, launched the new program at the Boston Sea Rovers meeting last month. As part of the new program, we have created a new underwater survey paper that includes the invertebrates and algae, as well as a waterproof color ID card. New training curricula are currently being developed for Northeast Fishes and Northeast Invertebrates and Algae. All of the new materials can be found on the REEF online store. A big thanks to all who helped shaped this program, provided guidance, and donated images for the new materials.
Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the GreatNonprofits.org website at: http://gr8np.org/go/yKD
Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member:
"Doing surveys is a lot of fun and knowing what I am looking at has helped hold my interest in my SCUBA diving generally. The educational component is exceptional and I would add that the people that work for REEF are simply amazing and dedicated individuals who really demonstrate they want what is best for the members and the critters we encounter. I'm glad to be associated with such a fine organization!" Thanks Keith!
Funded by a grant through the US Fish and Wildlife Service, REEF’s Lionfish Program Coordinator, Elizabeth Underwood, will travel to cities throughout the Southeast United States to conduct a series of lionfish collecting and handling workshops. These workshops are meant to educate and engage stakeholders (recreational divers, professional divers, environmental groups, students, general public, etc.). Workshop topics will include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, recent research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development and ways to get involved. Workshops are free of charge and open to the public, however registration is required. To register or learn more visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops. We hope to see you there! Scheduled workshops include: May 6th—New Orleans, LA; May 7th—Ocean Springs, MS; May 8th—Panama City, FL; May 11th—Pensacola, FL; May 12th—Mobile, AL; May 14th—Tallahassee, FL; May 26th—Morehead City, NC; May 28th—Durham, NC; June 4th—Jupiter, FL; June 8th—Charleston, SC; June 10th—Savannah, GA; June 18th—Orlando, FL; June 23rd—Naples, FL.
Itziar Aretxaga, a long-time REEF surveyor who lives in Veracruz Mexico recently sent in this rare fish sighting report about finding a Swordtail Jawfish. What a great sighting! Here's Itziar's story:
"Earlier this year, I was taking part on an underwater photography competition in Veracruz, Mexico. Every year the diving operators and other supporting organizations launch it as a way to draw awareness upon the diversity and richness of the protected National Park of Veracruz. I had no hope of winning anything as I am a novice photographer with a very basic camera and no illumination, but I wanted to support their efforts. Each of us had a 90-minute time limit to take up to 100 photos.
I saw this jawfish on the sandy area immediately below the buoy in Cabomex, Anegada de Adentro, at about 14m depth. I knew it was not any of the jawfishes I had reported before: face markings, behavior, and burrow type gave it away as a different species. I was set on identifying it more than on making any impression on the competition jury, so I spent my allotted 90 minutes by the jawfish, as motionless as possible, and trying to make it get used to the camera just 15cm away from its burrow. The series of photographs allowed me to identify it as a Swordtail Jawfish (Lonchopisthus micrognathus) based on the body bars and the pointy protruding tail, as described in the sketches of the ReefNet Fish Identification DVD. In looking at the REEF database later, I realized it is extremely uncommon to see this species. So all in all, I felt I had won a big prize in that competition!"
Thanks for sharing, Itziar. If you have a rare sighting or fun find to share, please drop us a note.
During the entire month of July we encourage you to try your hand at conducting your first survey if you're new to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, or to do a few more if it's been a while.
The GAFC began in 1992 when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists conducted a visual fish count in California's Channel Islands National Park. The effort was modeled after the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and has now grown into an international event.
The ideas behind the GAFC are to:
We've revamped the GAFC website, and it's got everything you need to be able to join in the fish counting fun as a participant or to organize your own local event. It can be as simple as hosting a survey dive (throw in a BBQ), or an ID class or presentation about your local fish.
We especially encourage shops, dive clubs, marine science centers and others to organize a GAFC event.
Be sure to visit www.fishcount.org to get the scoop.
See you in the water!
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.