Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, San Diego Oceans Foundation

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REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations

This month we feature San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF), an organization that promotes ocean stewardship by leading community-supported projects that enhance the ocean habitat and encourage sustainable use of the oceans resources. SDOF took on REEF as one of its core projects in 2003. SDOF offers REEF training classes and organizes survey dives; they also host a Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event each year. SDOF occasionally hosts other special opportunities for its REEF surveyors, including special tours at Sea World and of the collections department at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and'Aqua-Talk' sessions, where REEFers can learn more about some aspect of the marine environment.

One of SDOF's lead REEF supporters and teachers, Herb Gruenhagen, explains why REEF works so well as an SDOF program - "Our volunteers become ocean stewards and begin personalizing their commitment to the sea. Then the magic happens! We've hooked them (not literally) and that's how we spread our message of ocean stewardship. So many divers see something while underwater and ask each other 'Did you see that?' or 'What do you think that was?' Conducting REEF surveys helps our local divers and snorkelers learn the identification of the fish and invertebrate species that call Southern California ‘home’. The REEF method is easy to do, and Southern California has many diverse fishes and invertebrates that are easy to ID and count." Herb goes on to say, "By teaching the classes, I learn a great deal more than any of my students and that makes my diving that much more enjoyable. I hope to keep on inspiring others to 'count fishes'." When asked about some of his favorite finds as a REEF surveyor, Herb mentioned the Speckled Fin midshipman that he found at a site in La Jolla Canyon called 'Secret Garden', and that he now can distinguish between a Southern Spearnose Poacher and a Pygmy Poacher (now how exciting is that?).

Take a Dive Trip That Counts in 2012

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Are you ready to take a dive trip that counts? If you are looking to spend a week in a wonderful destination, learning and exploring with a group of fun and like-minded divers and snorkelers, then don't miss out on a REEF Trip. Now is the time to book your 2012 Field Survey with one of REEF's expert guides. We have an exciting lineup planned. Trips are starting to fill up (some are already sold out), so don't delay. Get in touch with our travel experts at Caradonna to find out more and to book your space - 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Details are given below and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips

April 21-28 - Nevis - Oualie Beach Resort. Led by Christy Semmens, REEF Director of Science.

May 26-June 2 (SOLD OUT) - Sun Dancer II, Belize - Lionfish Control Study, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and Peter Hughes.

June 9-16 (1 SPACE LEFT) and June 16-23 (book one or both weeks) - San Blas Islands, Panama - Coral Lodge, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author.

July 14-21 - Lionfish workshop in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects.

July 28 - August 4 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author.

September 22-29 - Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Brice and Christy Semmens, REEF Scientific Advisors and researchers.

September 26-30 - Hornby Island, British Columbia - Hornby Island Diving, led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator.

October 6-13 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers.

November 10-17, British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert Instructor.

December 1-8, Cozumel - Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert Instructor.

REEF Member 50,000 Coming Up!

We are about to get our 50,000th member! Spread the word and get your friends to sign up. The lucky 50,000 member will receive one of our new Rogest-designed REEF logo T-shirts (and a very notable and easy to remember member number). Forward this e-news to a friend who isn't yet a member and encourage them to sign up today. It's easy to do online, and it's free!

Upcoming Webinars in 2013

New Fishinars continue to be added, and upcoming sessions include common butterflyfishes of Hawaii, a California Invertebrate series, plus several on Caribbean fish families (including those pesky Damsels)! Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) for the most up-to-date listing. 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:

Those Darn Damsels! Top 12 of the Greater Caribbean - Jan 17

California Invertebrate ID Part One and Two - Feb 6, Feb 7

Hamlets: To Be or Not to Be (Counted, that is) - Feb 12

Bodiacious Butterflies of Hawaii - Feb 21

Triggers and Files: The ID Tools of the Trade - Mar 21

Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.

Upcoming Fishinars - Safety Stop Sightings, Parrotfish, Rare Cozumel Finds, and Scientific Illustration!

Do parrotfish like this Rainbow Parrotfish perplex you? Then attend the upcoming Fishinar on September 10th. Photo by Ned DeLoach

New Fishinars continue to be added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing. 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:

Safety Stop Survey: the Top 12 Caribbean Fish You May See at 15 Feet in 3 Minutes - July 11

Perplexing Parrotfish of the Caribbean - September 10

Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel - October 17

You do WHAT for a living? Illustrating Fishes - with special guest Val Kells, Scientific Illustrator - November 13

Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.

REEF Welcomes New Staff

Elizabeth Underwood, REEF's new Lionfish Program Coordinator.

We are excited to welcome the newest member of the REEF Team - Elizabeth Underwood, who joined our staff this month as Lionfish Program Coordinator. Elizabeth has been an active REEF member, avid fish counter, dedicated lionfish hunter, and all-round marine science enthusiast for quite some time. Elizabeth was first introduced to REEF in the Spring 2011 when she studied abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands and conducted her first of many REEF fish surveys and lionfish studies. After graduating from Davidson College in 2012 with a BS in Biology, Elizabeth joined Lad Akins and Peter Hughes on REEF’s Belize Lionfish Survey. After a week full of lionfish spearing, dissecting, and filleting she was hooked. Becoming a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the Fall of 2012 was a no-brainer for her!

After her internship with REEF, Elizabeth took a 5 month position at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas as their Lionfish Research and Education intern. But as great as the Bahamas were, Elizabeth was ready to move back to Key Largo to continue her work with REEF’s Invasive Lionfish Program. Elizabeth’s work at REEF will focus on coordinating REEF’s various lionfish research projects, organizing derbies, conducting public talks and workshops, and developing teaching tools. She’ll also be managing REEF’s lionfish social media and working with other staff on ongoing organizational duties.

We are very happy to have Elizabeth on board. This month, we also want to extend our thanks and best of luck wishes to Keri Kenning, who will be starting dental school later this year. Keri served as REEF's Communications and Affiliate Program Coordinator for the last year. She was a valued member of our team and a great REEF ambassador.

The Faces of REEF: Roger and Tricia Grimes

Roger and Patricia doing their part in the lionfish invasion. Photo by Leslie Adams.
The Mola mola, one of the oddest fish in the sea. And a great find! Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

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 Roger and Tricia Grimes. They have been REEF members since 2012, shortly after moving to the Florida Keys. They are active with REEF's lionfish research efforts, and they also lend their technology talents around REEF Headquarters. Roger is eligible to have his volunteer hours matched by his employer (Microsoft), resulting in generous financial support to REEF. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? 

We first heard about REEF when we were taking one of the first lionfish harvesting classes in Morehead City, NC. We liked REEF so much it was partially responsible for us moving to Key Largo a few years ago.

What ways are you involved with REEF?

Our main participation with REEF is with the Lionfish project. We also work to keep the REEF office computers up and running. Our highlights are all the lionfish dives we’ve done with REEF interns, Lad Akins, and the many great volunteers. Really great people! We haven’t done an official REEF survey dive yet. We’ve taken a few of the online REEF Fishinars, and they have really improved our ability to identify fish. Every new fish we see gets recorded in our copy of Reef Fish Identification. One of our life goals is to see every fish in the book!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

REEF is a special group of people with big hearts and scientific minds who dedicate a big part of their lives protecting parts of the ocean. REEF makes a big impact through its educational outreach, sharing science, and identifying ways to make the oceans better for everyone. Everything we do for REEF makes us feel like a more complete one human family! 

Do you dive close to where you live? What is the best part about diving there?

We moved to Key Largo three years ago and purposely bought a house on an ocean canal and bought a boat. We go diving every chance we get.

Do you have any fishwatching tips for REEF members?

We’ve noticed that wary fish watch your eyes. If you want to get close to a wary fish, be patient, don’t chase them directly, and advert your eyes until the last possible second.

What is your most memorable fish find?

Seeing a mola mola out in the clear bluewater. I (Roger) was a relatively new diver and I thought I was seeing the closest thing to a dinosaur. I thought I was bent. How could a fish be shaped like a hand? And I’ve never seen one since then, so I now know what a special treat it was.

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

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REEF Team Aquarius 2007: The Life Support Buoy, which provides power and communications to Aquarius, tethered 60 feet below, appears in the background. Courtesy of Lillian Kenney.
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Volunteer Dave Grenda surveys the northeast site off Aquarius. Courtesy of NMSP.

 Six volunteer divers from the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyed two sites off the Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, to assist the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) with the science component of the Aquarius 2007 Mission: If Reefs Could Talk. Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory, is part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and sits seven miles off shore at Conch Reef. A valuable resource and good neighbor to REEF HQ, Aquarius hosts scientists from around the world, from sponge chemists to astronauts, in innovative research and education.

The team included REEF Special Projects Manager Lad Akins and AAT members Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Mike Phelan. Twelve fish surveys were conducted at each of two research sites near Aquarius using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT). This year's data will be compared to surveys collected during a 2001 mission to assess change in resident fish populations. The team also assisted NMSP in documenting the occurrence of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) at each site. Once abundant on Florida Keys coral reefs, herbivorous Diadema play an important role in keeping coral-stifling algae from overtaking the reef structure. 

Click here to read more about the 2007 mission and the Aquarius habitat, including daily broadcasts and interviews with the REEF survey team. 

REEF to Host "For the Love of the Sea" Benefit Dinner and Auction

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On Saturday, February 9, REEF will host an ocean-themed dinner and auction at Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort to raise awareness about REEF in the Florida Keys community and help conserve local coral reef ecosystems. Underwater photographers Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach will present new images of sea life taken on their worldwide dive travels. A silent and live auction will offer prizes from local businesses and travel to destinations including Bonaire and Papua New Guinea. Tickets are $75 each and include buffet dinner, open bar and dancing.

For more information, including how to purchase tickets, become an event sponsor or donate auction items, please visit www.REEF.org/loveofthesea. If you are in the area, please join REEF for this unique opportunity to celebrate the Valentines season and kick off 2008 as the International Year of the Reef.

 

REEF Survey Tips

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Joe Cavanaugh searching wall for Cave Basslets
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Check for the Witness Protection Program Fish, here - the Yellowtail amongst Horse-Eyes
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Look closely at sharksuckers, 3 species seen on this one Nurse Shark
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Look for Exotics amongst the native species, here a Red Lionfish
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Report your Sea Turtle sightings on survey - linked to seaturtle.org
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Surveyors conferring on a sighting ID
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Large sponge "smoking," releasing gametes

Once again, it is that time of year when many of you are getting out on the water and conducting REEF Fish Surveys.  I have put together a few bullet points based on my experiences surveying with members and answering questions on techniques and things to watch out for when filling out your data sheets. Here are a few tips:

 

  • Roving Diver Surveys mean you are not restricted to a transect line while surveying and you can roam about within 100m of dive boat, mooring buoy, or shore during your survey, drift dives count, of course, and often cover a larger area. The area surveyed does not correlate to your fish sightings, in terms of sighting frequency and abundances, but rather,  your time surveying is directly correlated to your sightings data.  This is why it is important to fill in the time box on your scanform or on the dataentry page to reflect the time you actually spend surveying, not your total dive time.  If you spend 5 minutes prepping to survey and you stop surveying on your safety stop, for instance, than your survey time will not equal your total dive time.  Also, as you get better at identifying your fish, try and spend more time looking and searching for fish, and less time looking at your survey slate.
  • Set up your slate so that it is easy to get to but not necessarily in your hand throughout your dive.  I clip mine with a retractable clip to my BCD and use surgical tubing to hold a graphite pencil, the kind artists use.  You can get these at any art supply store and you'll get hundreds of surveys from one pencil providing someone doesn't smoosh it with their dive cylynder!  I typically census every couple of minutes or when I see something unique that I don't want to forget.  I periodically update my survey so that I really don't have much to add at the end of the dive and I can go through and make revisions while the dive is fresh in my mind.  I write in code such as LU (look up) for any fish I need to consult a book about later in the day.  I also carry a magnifying glass and a small flashlight to search under ledges and inside sponges for peppermint basslets and sponge cardinalfishes, for instance.

 

  • Use your time wisely when diving deeper profiles on wall dives.  As your dive profile changes depending on the site, you can adjust your survey strategy accordingly, to maximize your survey time and the scope of what you see.  For wall dives, I personally keep navigation simple, pick an unusual coral head or sponge and mark it in your mind and take a compass heading back to the boat.  Make your descent but while you do, search for the type of habitat you are likely to find the fish you are looking for.  On a recent trip to Turks I found that at around 100' depth, the Fairy basslets transitioned into Blackcap basslets, at this imaginary line I was likely to find some Cave basslets, or three-line basslets.   Then, knowing the dimensions of the cave openings they prefer, you can be choosy about which hiding spots you want to check out.  Checking the deeper tube sponges had rewards too in not just finding Sponge cardinals, but also Black brotulas (two for the trip).

 

  • Decide how much time you want to search for different species or families ahead of time.  Mike Phelan found with statistical analysis of his personal surveys that he would find 90% of his species in the first 10 minutes of his survey effort on coral reef dives.  If you have the luxury of diving a site twice, you can more easily survey the big picture and concentrate on finding cryptic species such as triplefins and other blennies and gobies on the second dive. Or you can focus on abundances for some of those cryptics, seeing how many of one species you can find, increasing Secretary blennies from Few on your first dive to Many on your second dive at the same site.

 

  • Can I count a fish I did not see in the water? The answer is no but here are a couple of examples where I or others have surveyed fish in an atypical manner.  Recently, on our Turks Field Survey, I was climbing onto the boat after a night dive when a flyingfish leapt from the water, bouncing off my knee onto the boat deck.  I picked him up, identified him as a Mirrorwing flyingfish and threw him back in the water.  Did I add him to my survey?  Yes, since he was in the water with me during the time of my dive and he was a new survey species for me.  I also added a Tripletail to a survey I did last year as I was gearing up on the boat, I saw this Tripletail and snorkeled over to it just before starting my dive.  One other quick example came two years ago with our Biscayne Bay AAT project where the group saw a Whale Shark but not on the survey site itself.  Some people filled out a species-only survey for this sighting as it was a first for many and a fortuitous sighting as the first time Biscayne Park recorded the species.  We created a dive site based on the coordinates.  But in general, you can only survey what you are seeing at the time you are actively engaged in your survey.  Feel free to email me at joe@reef.org with questions about this or any other questions you might have about surveying techniques.

 

  • Share what you're seeing with other divers, especially your buddy.  Surveying is not a competition and its good practice to corroborate your unusual and cryptic sightings with other divers, share your findings with them in the water when you can. This really becomes important when you are with a REEF group and you are trying to get the "lay of the land," sort of speak.  Are those Dusky Damselfish I'm seeing everywhere?  And are those Secretary or Roughhead blennies I'm seeing.  How do I find a Candy basslet, people keep seeing them, can you show me?"  Ask questions of your fellow surveyors and take advantage of the unique fish identification and fish finding akumen others have; I sure do on AAT projects.  And lastly, feel free to take notes on interesting events such as coral and sponge spawning, rarely seen or odd behaviors of fish, etc.  You can post these on one of our REEF forums accessible from our homepage. Photos for this article, courtesy Aggressor II, Turks and Caicos.
Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub