Honoring Our Golden Hamlet Club Members

No, it's not a club of Shakespearean enthusiasts! Rather it's a club of citizen scientist superstars - those REEF members who have conducted 1,000+ surveys in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The very first Golden Hamlet member was Linda Baker, achieving the status in 2005. Today, there are are sixteen members of the Golden Hamlet Club. We recently created a plaque, now hanging at REEF HQ in Key Largo, with the names of our honored volunteer surveyors -- Lad Akins, Linda Baker, Judie Clee, Janet Eyre, Dave Grenda, Doug Harder, Lillian Kenney, Peter Leahy, Rob McCall, Franklin Neal, Mike Phelan, Bruce Purdy, Linda Ridley, Dee Scarr, Linda Schillinger, and Sheryl Shea. Congratulations to you all. Thanks to their dedication, and those of the 14,000 other volunteers who have participated in the Survey Project since its inception in 1993, we have generated the largest marine fish sightings database in the world. Who's going to be the next Golden Hamlet surveyor?

Grouper Moon Scientists Talk Live with School Children From Under the Waves

Grouper Moon researchers, Brice Semmens, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Steve Gittings, join educator, Todd Bohannon, for a live-from-the-field chat with Caymanian classrooms. They explained a typical research day and showed much of the research equipment used.
Grouper Moon Educator, Todd Bohannon, goes through a coral reef food web exercise that is part of the Grouper Education Project curriculum with school children at Little Cayman Primary School.
Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, conducting a live-from-the-field chat from the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation site on Little Cayman to Caymanian classrooms. Brice answered questions from the students about grouper biology, spawning aggregations, and diving. Photo by Joshua Stewart.

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 DiversCayman Airways, and LIME.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Effectiveness of Lionfish Culling

A bag of culled lionfish in the Bahamas. Photo by Leah Neal.

REEF staff co-authored a new publication in the scientific journal PeerJ that features research findings from our Invasive Lionfish Research Program. The paper, titled "Setting the record straight on invasive lionfish control: Culling works", evaluates the effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts. Frequent culling of the invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish throughout the Caribbean has been shown to cause a shift towards more wary and reclusive behavior by lionfish, which has prompted calls for halting culls. The paper addresses those concerns and reviews research conducted by REEF and other efforts. Culling successfully lowers lionfish numbers and has been shown to stabilize or even reverse declines in native prey fish. Partial culling is often as effective as complete local eradication, yet requires significantly less time and effort. Abandoning culling altogether would therefore be seriously misguided and a hindrance to conservation. The authors also offer suggestions for how to design removal programs that minimize behavioural changes and maximize culling success. The paper is available for online viewing here. You can find a complete listing of all publications that feature REEF's programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

New La Jolla Canyon Fishinar Added to Schedule

Horn Shark, one of the many finds waiting REEF surveyors in La Jolla Canyon. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

If you haven't participated in one of our free, educational webinars yet, you don't know what you are missing! Known as Fishinars, these hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. We recently added a new Fishinar scheduled for March 26th that will cover common fishes and invertebrates found in San Diego's La Jolla Canyon. The remaining schedule includes...

  • Hamlets! - Carlos and Allison Estape, March 3rd
  • In a Cavern, In a Canyon - Jonathan Lavan, March 26th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! You can also request viewings of archived Fishinars, a special perk for REEF members. No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

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

Canary Rockfish, one of several species of concern in the evaluation of impact on jetty construction in Puget Sound, Washington. 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:

- A scientist from Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) requested REEF data to evaluate fish assemblages in Bermuda with regard to no-take reserves, comparing shallow vs. deep water habitats, and to evaluate the impact of invasive lionfish.

- A scientist from Washington State Department of Transportation requested REEF data to help evaluate the impacts of a proposed ferry terminal at Keystone Jetty on three species of protected rockfish.

- A graduate student from University of Miami requested REEF data from New Providence, Bahamas, to compare the measures of rugosity used in various research research methods and their ability to predict fish diversity and abundance.

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

The Faces of REEF: Anne Benolkin

Anne collecting an octopus for study in the lab.
Anne in the cephalopod behavior lab.

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 Anne Benolkin. Anne was a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the spring of 2013. She grew up in Alaska, and after going to college and interning in Florida, she returned to her frosty home state. Following her time as a REEF intern, Anne went on to become a Pro SCUBA Instructor and was awarded the prestigious Zale Perry scholarship, an award named after one of diving’s most celebrated women and the memorable lady-star of “Sea Hunt” (read more about Anne's award here). She is currently working on her Masters degree at Alaska Pacific University, studying the behavior of Day Octopus. Here’s what Anne had to say about her time at REEF and beyond:

What did you enjoy most about your experience as a REEF intern?

When I was a REEF intern my favorite thing was all of the connections I got to make with people all over the world. It was so inspiring to see this community of people brought together by a desire to make the world a better place. I loved leading seminars and teaching enthusiastic people all about reef fish and conservation. I especially loved watching people come together for a cause, like the work REEF does with the lionfish invasion. We took something negative and looked for positive solutions that bring people together.

What inspires you to do REEF surveys?

Diving is such a unique sport. There are a huge variety of people who come from all different backgrounds and they all got into diving for different reasons. Learning about fish and doing REEF surveys adds a whole other element to diving, making every dive uniquely exciting with new things to discover. I feel like I’m making a contribution when I do a REEF survey.

What are you doing these days, post-REEF internship?

My internship at REEF opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve since gone on to become a SCUBA instructor and enroll in a masters degree program. I moved back to Alaska and I was so thrilled when they expanded the REEF sites to include Alaska. I think sometimes people forget about the beauty and diversity that exists in cold water diving.

St. Vincent Field Survey Breaks One-Week Species Record!

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The REEF St. Vincent Field Survey Team

To those who are in the know, St Vincent is considered the critter capital of the Caribbean. To those who watch fish, it is known that the rare is commonplace and that the fishwatching is unlike any other location in the Caribbean. REEF’s data from the June Field Survey supports those claims. With a team of 13 divers, the REEF group recorded an astounding 243 species, more than 65 of which were unlisted “write-ins” on the survey forms.

Diving with Bills Tewes at Dive St Vincent, long time REEF supporter and widely regarded “Caribbean Character”, the team split up on two boats and survey sites around the southwest end of the island. Long-time REEF expert Franklin Neal provided an extra special view from above and into shallow water as he snorkeled, while other team members spent hours on each dive exploring varied habitats and depths.

Special finds during the week would take an entire newsletter to list, but there were a few fish that stood out including the still undescribed Bluebar Jawfish on most sites, five frog fish on one dive, multiple black brotula, various pipefish commonly sighted and the largest spotfin gobies (10 inches?!) we’ve ever seen. The fish of the week may well have been the Golden Hamlet that Bill pointed out as his favorite fish and the species that adorns the cover of Reef Fish Identification.

The diving was bottom time unlimited and many dives exceeded two hours finishing in shallow water. Habitats were varied and visibility ranged from good to excellent on all of our dives. REEF is already planning our next Field Survey to dive St Vincent in August of 2008. The project will be led by Paul Humann and will be a must for any serious fishwatcher. For more details, contact Joe@reef.org

Florida Biscayne National Park Monitoring Update

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Biscayne AAT Team Oct. 2007
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BNP sites monitored by REEF

REEF recently completed our AAT monitoring of Biscayne National Park (BNP). Over the last two years, we have monitored fish assemblages inside the marine park at 6 separate locations twice each year (March and September) to correlate our results with historical data that BNP has collected. REEF’s future collaboration with BNP is yet to be determined but will likely involve assisting them with the potential establishment of a protected area somewhere within the Park’s boundaries. REEF is excited to have this opportunity to continue working with BNP this upcoming spring so please stay tuned for more information once our future project is defined.

Meanwhile, I would like to personally thank the monitoring team from our last event for their “above and beyond the call” efforts to get the job done. We had weather issues that delayed the project by a full week, followed by a tragic death in the Key Largo diving community in losing Mike Smith. All of us at REEF especially acknowledge Lad Akins for his efforts as our boat captain, Rob Bleser (owner of Quiescence Dive Shop where Mike worked) for pushing this project through under very difficult circumstances, and Steve Campbell for acting as boat captain on our last day. And thank you to the diving team for juggling your schedules to make sure we had enough divers each day:  Jesse Armacost, Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Mike Phelan, and Joyce Schulke. Everyone pulled together through the above challenges and I was proud to dive with each of you.

Don’t Miss the REEF Trip to Baja Mexico This Fall

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A school of king angelfish, one of the hundreds of reef fishes that can be seen during a dive in Baja. Photo by Paul Humann.
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A REEF volunteer checks over her survey on a previous Baja Field Survey.

The REEF 2008 Field Survey Schedule is in full swing. Many of the trips are already sold out, but we wanted to bring your attention to one that still has some space on it -- the Field Survey to Baja Mexico aboard the Don Jose in the Sea of Cortez this October. This is a great trip, with spectacular diving and lots of tropical fishes, warm and clear water, and beautiful topside scenery. Some of the highlights include giant hawkfish, jawfish the size of your leg, whale sharks and manta rays, and spectacular sunsets over unpopulated desert islands.  This will be the 5th time that REEF has done this amazing trip, and there is a good reason we keep going back.  Come see what it's all about.  The trip begins and ends in La Paz Mexico aboard the Don Jose live-aboard.  Dr. Brice Semmens, reef fish ecologist and expert in Baja fishes, will be leading this trip. 

  This Field Survey is only held every few years so don't miss your chance!  To find out more, check out the trip flyer.  To secure your space, contact Jeanne at Baja Expeditions, 800-843-6967, travel@bajaex.com.

October 5 - 12, 2008 -- $1,550 - $1,750 per person, depending on room type.  Package Includes:  Six nights shipboard accommodations and one night local hotel accommodations in La Paz.  Meals are included, beginning with breakfast on Day 2 and end with lunch on Day 7, and includes beer, soda and wine while shipboard.

Bahamian Tale of Two Gobies

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A great find -- the rare Exuma goby! Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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An even greater find -- the very rare lemon goby! Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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Exuma gobys up in the water column. They behave similar to masked/glass gobies. Photo by Andy Dehart.

In January, 2008 the National Aquarium Institute organized and conducted a Bahamian conservation expedition on the Aqua Cat live-aboard dive vessel. Our mission was to conduct REEF surveys and work on the invasive lionfish project. On board this trip were Lad Akins (REEF Special Projects Director), Ned and Anna DeLoach, Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium), National Aquarium staff, and aquarium and REEF volunteers. In addition to meeting the lionfish research goals of the cruise, we were treated to not one but two exciting and rare finds - the Exuma goby and the lemon goby.

At a dive site in Eleuthera called Cave Rock Reef we geared up and readied ourselves for lionfish behavior monitoring. Just as I started getting my gear together Anna came to the surface to tell me she had found a school of Exuma gobies, Gobiosoma atronasum. What I had not realized was that the keen eye of Bruce Purdy, owner of the Aqua Cat and avid REEF surveyor and supporter had noticed them at this site before and he had directed Anna to the exact coral head. I have logged over 400 dives in the Bahamas and until this day the Exuma goby had always eluded me. To the casual observer this fish looks like a cleaning goby or sharknose goby until you notice its behavior. Unlike most other “neon-type” gobies, the Exuma Goby spends most of its time hovering in the water column, not perched on the coral. They act very similar to the masked and glass gobies. Excited to add a new species to my life list I leave the small cluster of these great fish and head down to my assigned duty of monitoring a lionfish.

Two days later, while on a dive at Blacktip Wall in the Exumas, I noticed a few fish mixed in with school bass. These fish looked out of place and very different from anything I had ever seen. I noted as much detail as possible on my REEF slate and swam on hoping that one of my fellow trip members would be able to help me identify it. As it turns out no one had any idea what it was, but luckily Ned had also seen this odd fish and had taken some great photos of it. After some research when we returned from the trip, we discovered this fish was a lemon goby, Vomerogobius flavus. The lemon goby is an exciting new fish to the REEF database. This species was identified and described in 1971 from 11 Bahamian specimens, but this sighting in the Exumas is a range extension for the species.

It was truly a rewarding experience to finally see and survey the Exuma goby that I have searched for on many trips. To document a fish that I did not even know existed was the icing on the cake. For a fish lover like me, getting to find a new species for the REEF database is an honor. REEF surveying truly keeps diving exciting and new. I am concerned about the effects that the invasive lionfish could have on these two species of gobies with such a narrow range in which they live, but the data from all of our great volunteers helps us track these changes. It would be a shame to lose such unique endemic species due to this foreign invader. We hope you enjoy seeing some of the first photos ever published of these two goby gems.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub