The first time we ever saw Hamlets spawn, Ned and I were on a liveaboard REEF trip in Belize. We were just starting serious work on the behavior book at the time and still unaware of just how rewarding dusk dives can be for fish watchers. Trying to squeeze in a fourth dive before dark, our group dropped in just before sunset, agreeing to be back up in time for dinner.
These were the days when I could still add new fish to my life list on almost every dive trip and the charismatic Hamlets with their 11 distinct color morphs and various “hybrid” variations were especially prized sightings (we’ll save the species debate for another day). Hamlets are solitary hunters during the day. So when we saw two chasing each other about, we instinctively knew something out of the ordinary was happening. But, was it love or war?
The traditional color of one of the pair was noticeably blanched. We’d seen that happen with fighting Sailfin blennies - the fish that was out of its hole turns very pale. But the behavior of the Hamlets was more reminiscent of flirtation rather than conflict. The fish being pursued would race ahead then stop, usually with its nose pointed up, twitch, and immediately take off once again as soon as the pursuer caught up. For over twenty minutes they dashed about in all directions before always returning to the same coral head.
Finally, just as the last light was fading, the hamlets paused above the coral head only inches apart, entwined their 3-inch bodies and slowly rose together a foot or two. I know we aren’t supposed to anthropomorphize, but it certainly looked like love to us. Suddenly, they popped apart releasing a white puff of gametes and immediately darted back toward the reef. Instead of going their separate ways, the chasing, nuzzling and twitching began anew and shortly they spawned again, then again and again before they finally disappeared, going their separate ways into the night.
Later we learned to our amazement that Hamlets are simultaneous hermaphrodites, with each partner possessing both male and female reproductive organs. This unusual scenario, known as egg trading, allows each couple to play both the male and female role each evening. The fish assuming the role of the female plays the aggressor, twitching and chasing the blanched, interim male about. After each spawn the roles reverse until the lovers are finally spent.
The best news for fishwatchers is Hamlets appear to spawn each evening year-round. So, on your next dusk dive in the Tropical Western Atlantic make a point of watching for Hamlets; if you do you’re sure to be entertained.
Note: a short video of Spawning Hamlets is available on REEF’s YouTube Channel, WeSpeakFish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEMCqVBB0CM
REEF recently completed a Field Survey trip to Roatan, Honduras, led by REEF co-founder, Paul Humann. Over six days, the group completed 17 survey dives including one night dive. Both novice and highly experienced REEF surveyors enjoyed the near perfect weather and dive conditions. Shortfin pipehorses, wrasse blennies, linesnout gobies, peppermint basslets, orangesided gobies, dash gobies, and blue dartfish are a sample of the cryptic fishes that were observed. Spotted Eagle Rays and Southern Stingrays graced us with their presence on a number of dives.
The group stayed on the east end of the island at Turquoise Bay Resort and dove with Subway Scuba. The highpoint of the trip was the Aguila Wreck and surrounding reef where there were numerous species of large grouper and snapper. There was a dog snapper displaying body bars similar to those sometimes on Cubera Snappers and Schoolmasters. Also, there was a Yellowmouth Grouper with an unusual pattern of dense brown dots covering the body. Paul remarked that he had never seen either species with these unusual markings.
A not so welcome sighting was the invasive red lionfish; one or more were sighted on nearly every dive. Alecia Adamson, REEF’s new Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator, collected 15 lionfish over the course of the week ranging in size from 2 to 14 inches. The local divemasters were also collecting lionfish but were not aware that lionfish filets are delectable. Alecia gave them a demonstration on how to safely filet lionfish. Now the dive staff captures lionfish for both control and culinary purposes!
Congratulations to those who attained a higher surveyor experience level during the week - Bobbi Kerridge and Peter Rae are now Level 3 surveyors and Pat Lommel is a new Level 5 Expert surveyor!
Field Surveys are a great way to take a dive vacation that counts! If you would like to join in one of our future Field Surveys, there are a few spots available for the upcoming trips to Cozumel, Key Largo, Bonaire, and Grand Cayman. Please visit the Field Survey Trip Schedule online to find more information.
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 researcher from Florida State University requested data from sites along the west coast of Florida to evaluate how fish species richness is influenced by the presence of certain grouper species.
- A scientist from the Smithsonian Institute is mapping the distribution and co-occurance of garden eel species in the western Atlantic.
- A researcher from NOAA Fisheries is looking at the species distribution of Gray Snapper.
The 20th annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July. You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.
The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 feature Keith Rootsaert (REEF member since 2009). Keith is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Pacific Coast region and has conducted 138 surveys. He has become one of the Pacific region's most active surveyors, and during our interview, revealed that he is gunning to be the top surveyor someday! Keith has also started teaching marine life ID and is an instructor for our newest training tool, the Fishinars! Here's what Keith had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? I first found out about REEF at a 2009 Great Annual Fish Count event sponsored by the Dive Club of Silicon Valley at Lover’s Cove. This was my first and second surveys and when I first met Alex Matsumoto and John Wolfe. Over the years I dove with them many times and expanded my knowledge and interest in REEF. Now I am a level five Expert and I teach Fish and Invert ID seminars at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with Alex.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? I have attended the West Coast REEF Advanced Assessment team survey of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary the last two years and it is always fun to do surveys with fellow fish geeks. Even though it is just for fun, there is always an element of competition among these adventure seeking divers. At the onset of the trip we all pick a number for the total number of fish species we will survey. My first year on the team I was closest at 55 species and won a postal fish stamp sheet which I have on the wall in my study.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? I first started diving in Monterey Bay in 1984 and there were a lot more fish back then. Over the years I have noticed a gradual decline until now there are not as many and not as big fish as before. REEF helps me to share my actual observations in my dive log with scientists that can crunch that data and make informed decisions about conservation. For me, knowing what I am looking at makes all the difference in the world, it makes diving interesting and sharing my surveys and teaching others to properly survey and identify fish helps me to feel like I am giving back to community.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? I have resigned myself to being a competitive fish geek so after coming in second place in the number of surveys in California in 2010 I set out to do the most surveys in California in 2011. About November my number was looking good for California in 2011. So then I had to ask Janna Nichols about my chances of being “Best in the West”. The PNW divers have a solid base of divers and there was just no way to catch them. California has so many more divers but less than half the total number of surveys done in the PNW. My future goal is to help grow the California survey group and become Best in the West. Look out Randal T. - you’re going down!
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? My most fascinating fish encounter just happened recently. In mid-December, we were diving at the Metridium Fields like I’ve done 50 times before and my buddy was staring over my shoulder. I looked to my left and two feet away was the eye of a four foot Ocean Sun Fish (mola mola). I tried to approach it but it backed away but then it followed us and at times led us back on a reciprocal course. It was just magical to watch this huge fish swim/row above the bright white plumose anemones.
New Fishinars have been added! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars). These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:
Sculpins Under Scrutiny - Sculpins have been called some pretty bad names through the years, because it's so difficult to tell them apart. Well, it's time to master the art of identifying the little buggers and Sculpin Master Guru, Dr. Greg Jensen, will be the one to help you along your journey to loving sculpins. Greg will cover some of the lesser-known and lookalike sculpins. Thursday, July 19th at 7pm PDT. REGISTER
The Blennywatcher!- Oooh, this is gonna be a good one! Videographer and blenny expert Anna DeLoach will walk us through some of her favorite Blennies and how to tell them apart. Tuesday, July 31st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER
Holy Moly Gobies - Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan, on how to ID the top 12 gobies in the Caribbean. Essential for dive travelers heading to Cozumel, Bonaire, and any other Caribbean destination. This short, fun fishinar won't make your brain explode with fish overload - just the right amount of info! Thursday, September 6th at 8pm EDT. REGISTER
Want to get the latest news and updates from REEF? Then be sure to check our the REEF Facebook Page. You don't have to be on Facebook to view the page, anyone can look at the content. If you do have a Facebook profile, be sure to "like" us so that all of the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories will go straight to your feed. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories, and whatever is on their mind. We also maintain the REEF Invasive lionfish Program Facebook Page to keep you up-to-date on our current lionfish programs.
We are pleased to share with you the the 2014 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. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.
Dates, destinations, and trip leader information is below. Prices and complete details can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com, or our staff at REEF HQ at 305-852-0030, trips@REEF.org (see trip description for booking information).
Dates and Destinations for 2014 REEF Trips --
February 22 - March 1, 2014 -- Dominica, Dive Dominica and Castle Comfort -- Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Founders and World Renowned Marine Life Authors, Photographers, and Naturalists *almost full!*
April 26 - May 3, 2014 -- Turneffe Atoll, Belize, Blackbird Caye Resort -- Led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Fishinar Instructor and Fish Expert
May 31 - June 7, 2014 -- Northern Bahamas, Lionfish Control Study, Aqua Cat Live-aboard -- Led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes, REEF Board of Trustee
June 21 - 28, 2014 -- Bay Islands, Honduras, MV Caribbean Pearl II -- Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., REEF Director of Science, and Brice Semmens, Ph.D., REEF Fish Expert
July 26 - August 2, 2014 -- Key Largo, Florida, REEF Discovery Tour, Horizon Divers and Marina del Mar Hotel -- Led by Paul Humann, REEF Founder and Renowned Marine Life Author and Photographer
August 16 - 23, 2014 -- Curacao, Lionfish Control Study, GO WEST Diving and Sandton Kura Hulanda Lodge -- Led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes, REEF Board of Trustee
September 14 - 18, 2014 -- Hornby Island, British Columbia, Hornby Island Diving -- Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator
November 8 - 15, 2014 -- Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands, Cayman Brac Beach Resort -- Led by Heather George, REEF Fish Expert
December 6 - 13, 2014 -- Nevis, Eastern Caribbean, Oualie Beach Resort -- Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., REEF Director of Science
December 6 - 13, 2014 -- Cozumel, Aqua Safari -- Led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Fish Expert and Cozumel Naturalist
It was a science lesson with a difference, broadcast live from beneath the waves with thousands of endangered fish in attendance. Earlier this month, Grouper Moon Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens from REEF, hosted three live-from-the-field web chats with students from 18 classrooms at 13 schools in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Washington State (US). The first of the three web chats was broadcast from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, and featured scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project. The other two featured Brice diving and answering questions from the students, first on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation and then on the famous Blood Bay Wall. The webcasts are archived online here.
Now in its third year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species.
Brice Semmens, who presented the underwater webcasts, said students were excited to witness science in action. “As they explore the aggregation with me, the immediacy and reality of the experience really touches them. We are giving students their first diving experience – and it happens to be with thousands of huge, endangered reef fish.”
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 Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef Divers, Cayman Airways, and LIME.
On Saturday, July 14th, seventy members of the REEF Sustainers Club (annual donors of $1,000 or more), key partners and long-time REEF friends convened in Key Largo, Florida to celebrate fourteen years of REEF accomplishments over some diving and a sunset dinner. Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach and other Board, staff and Advisory Panel members were on hand to lead guests on some spectacular morning REEF survey dives while Amy Slate and her stand-up staff at the Amoray Dive Resort generously hosted the lodging and dinner party. “The event was just beautiful.” Said long-time REEF surveyor Elaine Morden, of Homestead, Florida. “It was great to connect with old REEF friends and see some new faces.”
The bi-annual Sustainers Event is a chance for REEF to bring together important members of the REEF family to thank them for their contributions and share successes of the organization over the years. This year, REEF was proud to recognize Linda Schillinger for achieving one of the highest REEF honors: admission into the Golden Hamlet club for those who have conducted 1,000 or more REEF surveys. We were also proud to recognize Key Largo resident and REEF office volunteer Audrey Smith for nearly ten years of regular service to the organization by quality-checking survey scanforms before they are uploaded to the REEF database. REEF was itself bestowed with an honor by Sanctuary Friends of the Florida Keys Director Glenn Patton: SFFFK generously gave a gift of support for the Great Annual Fish Count this year to help underwrite the costs of public outreach and education events.
By virtue of a Paul presentation and applause vote, the group answered the perennial question “What is the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean?” Out of thirty possibilities ranging from the spotfin hogfish to the fairy basslet, the spotted eagle ray won a narrow victory over close rivals the queen angelfish and queen triggerfish. Ned enthralled the group with fish behavior anecdotes from as far afield as Indonesia and gave updates on valuable REEF programs ranging from the Grouper Moon Project to the Exotics Species Sightings Project.
All agreed that the only thing hotter than the event itself was the Florida sun in July. With the heat index topping 100 degrees, no one needed a better excuse to indulge in a new REEF-inspired cocktail, the Indigo Hamlet, a unique and diversified alcoholic concoction for our wonderful sustainers to imbibe in while enjoying the sunset! Many thanks to all who made this a Sustainers Weekend to remember. See you at the next one . . .
For information about joining the Sustainers Club, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@reef.org or (305) 852-0030.