Announcing REEF's Inaugural Trip to the Central-Indo Pacific

An incredible table coral in Tubbataha Marine Park in the Philippines. Photo by Q Phia.
Atlantis Azores Liveaboard, host of our REEF trip April 16-23, 2016.
Atlantis Resort in Dumaguete.

We are excited to announce the first of our 2016 REEF Trips -- a land and sea adventure in the Philippines. On this inagaural REEF trip to the Central Indo-Pacific, we will explore this diverse region by land and by see during two weeks of adventure -- by land, based at the Atlantis Resort in Dumaguete, April 9-16, 2016, and then by sea, aboard the Atlantis Azores Liveaboard, April 16-23, 2016. Join us for either week or both! The area is known for some of the most interesting and beautiful fish and critters to add to your life list, including ghost pipefish, mandarinfish, pygmy seahorses, flamboyant cuttlefish, and much more. Visit the REEF Trips page to see all the details.

During the first week, we'll dive and stay at the all-inclusive Atlantis Resort, featuring first class accommodations and an on-site restaurant, spa, camera room, and five star PADI dive operation. On April 16th, we will transfer to Puerto Princesa, where we will board Atlantis Azores. Our at-sea itinerary includes the isolated Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park, which features dramatic underwater terrain, incredible biodiversity, and megafauna such as sharks and manta rays. The liveaboard package includes double occupancy twin share accommodations, all diving (up to 4 dives a day), all meals and snacks on board, local soft drinks, beer and wine.

The Philippines archipelago is home to more than 3,000 species of fish, and the dive sites combine unbelievable muck-diving with pristine coral reefs and shoals of schooling fish. The diving, accommodations, and amenities are all sure to make for a once in a lifetime adventure - sign up early to secure your space! Both weeks will be led by our Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens.

We have a few special offers: REEF members who sign up for both weeks will only pay one REEF Program Fee of $300 (a $300 savings), and discounted early bird prices for booking before June 1st. Visit the Philippines Land and Sea Package page to view all of the details. We'll be announcing more 2016 trips soon. Keep an eye on www.REEF.org/trips for more details.

The Faces of REEF: Peyton Williams

Peyton doing a buddy check with his favorite dive buddy, grandson, Andrew.
The stunning male Bird Wrasse. Photo by David Andrew.

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 Peyton Williams, a REEF member since 2012. An active member based in Hawaii, Peyton teaches SCUBA and passes on the fun of doing REEF surveys to others. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I had been diving for about 30 years when I decided to become an instructor. With my increase in diving on trips, I grew bored with blowing bubbles, and decided it was time to learn more of the ecology of the dive sites (mostly in the Caribbean) I visited. My mentor was Marty Rayman, who had worked as a volunteer at the National Aquarium. Marty offered an outstanding Fish ID course that was based on the REEF program. I have been teaching Fish ID for both the TWA and Hawaii ever since using the REEF program, requiring my students to perform at least the two survey dives to become a Level 2 surveyor. Unfortunately, as an instructor, I do not get to do as many surveys as I would like, but I do get to point out many interesting critters to students and others as we dive that I would not have learned as easily without the REEF programs.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Being able to learn more about the ecology of areas I am diving in. I am a regular with the Fishinars, even for regions I do not survey in regularly. It also gives purpose to my observing fish by completing the surveys and entering them into the database.

What is the most memorable fish encounter you’ve experienced?

While taking a Venturing scout on her 4th open water dive while on a live-aboard in Bimini, I saw a large hammerhead come up on our left. I decided not to tell her, but when the hammerhead passed us and curved about 20 feet in front, I changed my mind and pointed him out. Her excitement was palpable. And she had no fear. When we returned to the boat she yelled, “I saw a hammerhead!” My wife, helping at the ladder, said, “You saw what! He never takes me where I see the big fish.” Oh, well.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

I always try to carry at least a small camera when doing surveys. On a recent trip to St. Lucia where I was teaching fish ID, I saw several fish that I had not known which I photographed and identified at leisure and added to my surveys.

What is your favorite fish?

In Hawaii, it is the Bird Wrasse. It is a very interesting fish. My favorite invertebrate (other than the blue crab that I love to eat) is the banded shrimp. They are fun to play with.

REEF Lionfish Study Trips

Lionfish Trip co-leaders, Peter Hughes and Lad Akins.
Lionfish Field Survey Team in Curacao

REEF’s 2016 REEF Trips schedule is well underway! Two trips have already happened (Dominica and Barbados), and a group of eager fishwatchers is heading to the Philippines in a few days for our inaugural Field Survey to the Indo-Pacific. Be sure to check out the Trips schedule at www.REEF.org/trips, if you haven’t already. In addition to the traditional fish identification and surveying trips, we also host several Lionfish Study Trips each year. There are still a few spaces left on lionfish trips to Honduras in May and Curacao in August, and we are looking for team members. These important projects provide valuable data, and result in the removal of hundreds of the invading fish during the week.

During the week-long projects, either liveaboard or land based, team members are presented with training and opportunities to remove lionfish through spearing or hand netting. All collected lionfish are measured and some dissected on site to get valuable biological and impact information and some fish are prepared for team and public tastings to help promote the market for lionfish as a food fish. Team members can get fully immersed in as much of the collecting and research activities as they would like. Divers not wanting to take part in removals, still provide valuable sighting information and conduct REEF fish surveys to augment the long-term data used to look at ecological changes.

One example of Lionfish Study Trip data includes a series of annual projects we held in Belize between 2009 and 2012 that documented the progression of the invasion. From zero fish seen or collected during the first year of the project, to over 500 fish removed in a single week during year three, divers were able to document the incredible explosion in numbers but also dramatic increases in sizes. Average size of lionfish collected in 2010 was 194mm, exploding to 270mm in 2012. Another example was from our lionfish recent trip to Dominica in February. This was our second lionfish trip there. In 2012, our team collected 45 lionfish. This year, in the same locations, the team collected 566. Click here to see other examples of findings from Lionfish Study Trips.

And keep an eye on your inbox because we will be sending out the full 2017 REEF Trips schedule next week!

REEF Participates in Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas Monitoring Data Workshop

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CINMS Superintendant, Chris Mobley, gets ready to conduct a REEF survey during a recent monitoring cruise at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Carl Gwinn.
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Channel Islands MPA Monitoring Data Workshop Participants

Earlier this month, REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, participated in the first of a series of workshops to be held this Fall to analyze REEF and other data gathered from the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Originally established in 2003 (and then expanded to include Federal waters earlier this year), this network of no-take marine reserves protects 318 square miles around the northern five Channel Islands off the coast of California. In 2008, the California Fish and Game Commission will conduct a 5-year review of the MPAs to evaluate the effectiveness of the reserve network. The results from the evaluation will inform future decisions made by the Commission under California's Marine Life Protection Act. The data group workshops, held at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, will culminate in a series of publications summarizing the cumulative efforts of dozens of monitoring programs within the Channel Islands MPAs, with an emphasis on analyses that can best address key management questions concerning the reserves. These results will be presented during a special symposium associated with the California Islands Symposium.

Coincident with the establishment of the marine reserves in 2003, REEF initiated a coordinated monitoring program at specific sites inside and outside of the reserves to complement the ongoing survey activities in the area by REEF members. Surveyors on REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team participate in annual REEF cruises aboard the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) vessel R/V Shearwater, and this project has generated over 800 surveys to date. These data, along with an additional 750 REEF surveys that had been conducted around the islands prior to 2003, will provide information on the fish assemblages (and more recently key invertebrate and algae species) of the Channel Islands.

To find out more about our work in the CINMS, visit the REEF in Sanctuaries page.

REEF to Host Holiday Open House in Key Largo, FL

If you plan to be in the Keys at the end of the month, please join us!

 

What: REEF Holiday Open House

When: Friday, November 30 at 5 PM

Who: Friends, family, members of REEF

Where: REEF HQ: 98300 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL (yellow conch house on the median)

Why: Educate the community about REEF conservation programs

 

Renowned photographers and authors Ned and Anna DeLoach will be on hand to sign books and CDs-perfect for holiday gift-giving! There will also be food, drink, raffle prizes and survey materials for sale. This holiday season, give a gift that counts!

Panel Discussions Bring Citizen Scientists Together in the Florida Keys

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REEF hosted a variety of speakers, including partners from these organizations.
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On Tuesday, February 26 and Wednesday, March 12, REEF hosted two citizen science panel discussions about how volunteers contribute to understanding and preserving the Florida Keys environment. The first discussion, held in Key Largo, featured speakers from the Breeding Bird Survey project, Coral Restoration Foundation, and John Pennekamp State Park native plant nursery. The second event, held in Key West, featured speakers from The Nature Conservancy, Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Weather Service. Both discussions were led by guest speaker Rick Bonney, a pioneer in the citizen science field from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY. Leda Cunningham presented on the REEF Volunteer Survey Project.

Forty-two people participated in the discussions, most of whom were themselves volunteers in a local or national citizen science project. "Most scientists usually only get to attend 'niche' meetings, where everyone in the room is talking about variations of the same subject matter," said Alison Higgins of The Nature Conservancy. "What was amazing about REEF's Citizen Science symposium is that the approach was the same (engaging the public in collecting important observations), but the subjects were varied.  I specialize in land conservation issues, but got to brainstorm and engage with fish, bird and weather scientists - It was a really great and necessary experience"

Each discussion group brainstormed next steps for the citizen science movement in the Florida Keys. Ideas included forming an informal coalition of citizen science projects, doing integrated data analysis across project taxa (effect of weather on fish or bird population trends, e.g.), starting a regular citizen science column in a local newspaper and developing a citizen science booklet for residents and visitors to learn about local projects. For more information, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@REEF.org.

 

Two REEFers Survey the Galapagos Islands

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Whale Shark encounter
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True poetry in motion, squadron of Spotted Eagle Rays

My dive partner and I, both celebrating significant birthdays this year, decided to give ourselves the best gift of all, a dive trip to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, one of the world's largest, covers approximately 138,000 square kilometers (53,282 square miles). On May 8, 2008, supplied with Paul Humann's Galapagos Fish Identification book and REEF fish survey forms, we set off aboard the Aggressor II for an eleven-day adventure. Our itinerary included diving seven islands (among them Wolf and Darwin), as well as four land excursions, one of them a visit to the famed Darwin Research Station.  Fifty-three surveys later, we had identified well over a hundred species, will have to wait for the data report to know just how many species we surveyed. We were lucky enough to see four whale sharks, and an Ocean sunfish.  Appearing almost daily were schools of Hammerhead sharks, as well as Galapagos, White-tip, Silky and Reef sharks. Green turtles, three to four feet in diameter often accompanied us and allowed the divers to swim alongside them. In addition, Manta Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, Mobula, Devil and Golden Cowrays, would suddenly appear from the deep blue below us. We had to be careful when holding onto the rocks in the strong currents not to grab onto one of the well-camouflaged Stone Scorpionfish. A special 110-feet deep dive was made to a cave to find three Red Lipped Batfish, thought to be endemic to the area. Schools of Bottlenose dolphins followed our boat and dove with us often, as did the playful Fur Sealions which would pull on the fins, swim circles around us and come right up to our masks to say “hello!” Flightless cormorants, penguins or marine iguanas would occasionally startle us when least expected under water. We were surprised by the abundances and larger sizes of several fish species. At times, it seemed like we were behind a moving curtain of fish.

Since both of us were fairly new to Pacific diving, we were thrilled even to watch commonly seen fish, such as King Angelfish, Leather Bass, Moorish Idols, Giant Damselfish, Barberfish, Burrito Grunts and the most common of all, the ubiquitous Pacific Creole Fish. The parrotfish and wrasses were also a treat to see; Blue-chins and Bicolor Parrotfish were common and the Harlequin Wrasses, with their distinctive bump on the forehead, seemed to compete for the award in the most original in “pattern and color” combination category. Even though Galapagos diving is best suited for large fish observation, it is also home to many smaller species, among them the endemic Galapagos Triplefin Blennies, Marbled Gobies and Galapagos Pike Blennies, as well as Blue-banded Gobies, Bravo Clinids. Nooks and crannies in the rock walls hid colorful seahorses and even a frogfish. Yellowfin tuna, while not abundant, were seen on many dives and averaged about 3-4 feet long. Unfortunately, their size and market value encourage illegal fishing, since they fetch a high price on some Pacific Rim markets. The land and sea environment of Galapagos is unique, consisting of volcanic islands of varying sizes; consequently, the ocean floor is made up of lava boulders with very little coral. Black coral (golden green in color) was found on some sites. Near shore, most islands had a good amount of green algae, a good source of food for the marine iguanas and green turtles. Galapagos diving is truly unique; its strong, converging currents bring abundant and rich nutrients, providing a perfect environment for the pelagics. We urge you to go see this wonder for yourselves!  The Galapagos Islands are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Located approximately 1,000 kilometres off the Ecuadorian coast, within the confluence of three ocean currents, most of the marine and terrestrial fauna is truly unique. Recent efforts at education and outreach to the Ecuadorian community are in direct response to increased illegal poaching within the Marine Reserve that has included shark finning, increased squatting from migrants from the mainland, and an increase in non-indigenous species. such as goats.   A recent response from the Ecuadorian Government has enacted a Special Law for protection of the Galapagos Islands.  This Special Law provides stricter control over immigration, a quarantine system for combating invasive species, extending the boundary of protection around the islands, limiting property rights and economic activity, and increased national funding for conservation and enforcement - all of which are needed to maintain this unique biosphere for our collective future.  Photo credits for this article -  Dusan Richtarik and Barbara Anderson

REEF Fish Academy

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Participants of the first ever REEF Fish Academy.

Where people get fish smarts! Over the weekend of October 12, six REEF Level 1 & 2 surveyors got a chance to become Level 3 Advanced surveyors and increase our fish smarts with Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach and Lad Akins. I personally became a REEF customer for this event and participated in the classroom, the fun, hanging out with Paul, Ned and Anna at the cookout, diving with Lad as he found new (for us) exciting additions to our life list and took the 100 Fish - Level 3 test (good thing I passed).

As part of the event, the first of its kind, we invited surveyors who had submitted 25 or more surveys but were still rated Introductory/Novice. Linda Crouse, Kelly Drinnen, Lureen Ferretti, Karen Hausheer and Dawn Vigo were the very fist participants in REEF Fish Academy. The weekend included classroom sessions, survey dives, and evening socials. Anna DeLoach shared REEF’s vision for this new training program with our participants, “We are looking to provide our enthusiastic REEF members with a way to share their passion and knowledge for Fish Watching. REEF Fish Academy is designed to tap into this enthusiasm and provide our members a way to become mentors for others, spreading the word about fish watching and surveying. REEF Fish Academy graduates are ready share the fun and excitement of fish ID and show people what fish surveying and contributing to REEF’s database is all about - making dives that count”.

The diving and a cookout were provided by Horizon Divers, one of REEF’s valued partners here in the local community. We had two great days of diving and over 80 species of fish sighted during the intensively fish orientated weekend. We are already planning for our next REEF Fish Academy, so keep an eye out for your invitation – coming soon.

Congratulation to Lureen Ferretti – who even passed her Level 4 Fish Test during the weekend and is now an Expert Surveyor. Special thanks to the participants for their support, coming to Key Largo to dive with us, their enthusiasm and all the great feedback and suggestions. It was a fantastic weekend.  Click here to find out more about REEF's Experience Levels.

First Bahamas Lionfish Derby Huge Success: 1,408 lionfish in 1 day!

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Thomas Roberts (left), with his family, Lad Akins, and Bobbie Lindsay (right, event organizer), won first place in the derby. Mr. Roberts brought in 289 lionfish during the one day event.
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Lionfish have proven to be a dangerous invader to Bahamian and Caribbean reefs. Photo by Lenny Zwik.

The first Bahamas Lionfish Derby, held on June 6 at the Green Turtle Club in Abaco, was a great success on many fronts. This test case for the Bahamas government was the first to allow (by special permit) the use of compressed air and spearing to remove lionfish in a derby type event. Organized by Abaco and Palm Beach resident Bobbie Lindsay and REEF, the one-day event drew 26 registered teams and brought in 1, 408 lionfish. Over $5,000 in prize money was awarded including $2,000 for the most fish by any team – 289 by team White Roach from Abaco. The largest fish award went to Team Panga with a 349mm fish and the smallest fish was brought in by Big T with a 57mm juvenile. Pre-event talks, including a school wide talk to the Amy Roberts elementary school, were well attended and generated significant awareness of the lionfish issue. Over 200 participants, residents and visitors attended the scoring and awards banquet and were treated to a lionfish tasting as well.

This is the first large scale event aimed at controlling lionfish populations in the Caribbean. More events are currently being organized in other areas and dates are being set for next year’s 2nd annual Abaco Derby. Special thanks goes out to the Green Turtle Club, Brendal’s Dive Shop and all of the great teams and volunteers who participated in the event. A great time was had by all and the lionfish population around Abaco was dramatically reduced.

Derby results –

  • Most Lionfish – White Roach (289), Little Big Fish (234), Sweet Thing (173)
  • Largest Lionfish – Team Panga (349mm), White Roach (344mm), Team Pineapple (341)
  • Smallest Lionfish – Big T (57mm), Bolo Boys (81mm), Sweet Thing (82mm)
  • Special Dreamy Timber award for most frozen lionfish – Team Panga
  • Grouper Spawning Aggregation Research Continues in 2010

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    The Grouper Moon Project studies the spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau grouper. Photo by Selina Heppell.
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    Over 3,000 Nassau grouper aggregate at a site off Little Cayman Island during winter full moons. Photo by Scott Heppell.

    Scientists and project volunteers from REEF and our partner institutions, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and Oregon State University, are getting ready for another year of the Grouper Moon Project. The team will be in the field for two weeks beginning on the full moon, January 30. Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species.

    In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. This followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.

    The broad goals for the 2010 spawning season are to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman. Watch future issues of REEF-in-Brief for field season results and what's next for the protection of spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands as the current harvest ban is due to expire. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit the webpage http://www.reef.org/programs/grouper_moon

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub