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.

REEF News Tidbits for August

REEF Hats!  Just Added to the REEF Store.  Check them out and get yours today.

The 2009 Field Survey Schedule has been updated with several new trips, including a second trip to Cozumel this December and Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach in October 2009.

- REEF researchers and collaborators have been busy in the field this month on the Grouper Moon Project.  Watch for an update in next month's REEF-in-Brief.

- REEF's Lionfish Research was featured on the National Geographic News earlier this week.  This follows extensive coverage by the Associated Press earlier this month.  Also this month, Anna DeLoach produced this 5 minute video for Scuba Diving Magazine that looks at the the recent lionfish population explosion, the reasons lionfish are the perfect invader, how they got to the wrong sea, what REEF is doing about it, and how divers can help. Watch this informative video here. Read more about this project in this recent press release

REEF Fish and Friends Lecture Series

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The invasive lionfish will be the topic of next month's Fish and Friends lecture, April 14th. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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REEF Executive Director, Lisa Mitchell, introduces Paul Humann, at the first Fish and Friends lecture in March.
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Capt. Joanie Follmer and REEF Volunteers Jane Bixby, Nancy Perez and Julie Schneeberger attended Paul's Fish and Friends lecture earlier this month.

REEF has been around for over 15 years and we felt it was time to give back to the community that has housed and supported us since REEF’s inception. So we came up with REEF Fish & Friends, a monthly meeting/seminar in Key Largo that gathers snorkelers, divers and armchair naturalists to learn more about fish and have some fun. Our first REEF Fish & Friends was held March 10 at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters. Paul Humann, the opening night speaker, shared the history of REEF and highlighted milestones over the last decade and half.

Paul visited with guests and signed books and then spoke for about an hour. The room was packed and people were even standing in the hall to listen. As most of you know, Paul is the consummate story teller and we had some laughs, learned some new things about REEF and got to hear firsthand how the organization came to be.

REEF Fish & Friends will be held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar. We are planning a line-up of interesting guest speakers as well as REEF staff in the coming months.

In conjunction with the lecture series, we will also be working with local dive operators to arrange a monthly REEF survey dive/snorkel trip. No experience necessary. REEF Fish & Friends is all about learning how to survey and teaching others – its fun, easy and you will reap immediate results – making a dive that counts.

Upcoming Fish & Friends -- On Tuesday April 14, Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects and the recognized lionfish expert, will present Born in the Wrong Sea – a presentation about the invasion of the Pacific lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. He will present the latest information on sightings and the important marine conservation work that REEF is doing to manage this huge environmental problem.

Tuesday May 12, Lad will return to present Parrotfish and Wrasse. This will be a shortened version of the presentations that are done on REEF Field Surveys. Even if you think you know your Parrotfish and Wrasse come and listen as Lad presents ID techniques, habitat and behavior. These hermaphrodites are fascinating and are sure to provide fodder for an interesting presentation.

Keep an eye on our REEF Fish and Friends webpage (www.reef.org/fishandfriends) as we post info about presentations, trips, photos and more. So see you Tuesday April 14 at the James E Lockwood REEF House, MM 98.3 from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.

REEF Trips - Making Your Vacation Count

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Participants on a Field Survey to Curacao in October 2009.
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REEF trips are a great way to learn, both above and below water. Photo by Jesse Armacost.

Our t-shirt may say, “It’s all about the fish”, but if you’ve been on a REEF trip, you know it’s about the people too. Diving with like-minded enthusiasts who share your interest in learning more about our underwater world is one of the best ways to spend your dive vacation! Our recent trip to Curacao was no exception – a great group of surveyors of all levels came together to share their knowledge, fish encounters, and a lot of fun. Experts Doug Harder and Kay Tidemann showed us some of the unusuals, including the delicate Pale Cardinalfish and a rare reverse-pattern Goldentail Moray. We even taught our divemaster Elric about some of the various phases of wrasses and parrotfish. At the end of the week, our sister team of Helen and Sally Davies both passed their Level 3 tests, and beginning surveyors Amy Kramer and Norm Valor are now officially at Level 2.

If you are interested in taking a “dive (trip) that counts” and making new friends, there is no better way than to join us on a REEF trip next year. Our diverse schedule has something for everyone, and some trips are already starting to fill up…only a few spots are left on the Belize Lionfish trip for example. To see the full 2010 trip calendar, just click here and scroll down the page to find a trip that fits your schedule!

Please call 1-877-295-REEF (7333) to make your reservations or you can e-mail our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com.

REEF Trip Schedule 2010 -- Prices, package details and more available online.

 

  • Dominica with Dive Dominica and Ft. Young Hotel -- April 17-24, 2010. Led by Heather George.
  • Belize with Sun Dancer II Liveaboard -- May 1-8, 2010. Lionfish Research Expedition, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes.
  • Roatan with Turquoise Bay Resort -- July 17-24, 2010. Led by Paul Humann.
  • Cozumel with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn -- August 14-21, 2010. Led by Sheryl Shea.
  • Key Largo with Amoray Dive Center -- August 26 - September 2, 2010. Sea Critter Seminar, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Bonaire with Buddy Dive Resort -- September 26 - October 2, 2010. Field Survey and Coral Spawning Expedition, Led by Jessie Armacost.
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico with Rocio del Mar Liveaboard -- October 9-16, 2010. Led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens.
  • Grand Cayman with Dive Tech and Colbalt Coast -- November 6-13, 2010. Led by Lad Akins.

     

  • REEF Hosts Booths at Two West Coast Dive Shows

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    REEF volunteers spreading the word at the NW Dive and Travel Expo.
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    Annie Crawley and REEF AAT member, Matt Dowell, at the Long Beach dive show.

    REEF has been on the road this past month, and was well-represented at two prominent West coast dive shows – the Scuba Show held in Long Beach, CA, and the NW Dive and Travel Expo, in Tacoma, WA. Volunteers - composed of active surveyors and members of the Advanced Assessment Team in California, Oregon and Washington - helped staff the booths. Show-goers seemed to get a kick out of the ‘pop quiz’ (a few common local fish) they were given as they walked by the booth – demonstrating the fact that even if divers only know the ID of one fish, they can get started doing REEF surveys in the Volunteer Survey Project. “Friend of REEF” stickers were freely handed out and put on shirts.

    While our main objective was to spread the word about REEF's programs, connect with current REEF supporters, and engage new volunteers, we also sold REEF gear – hats, books, slates, T-Shirts and the new Sensational Seas 2 DVD. Particularly popular were the new REEF water bottles. As always, these items are always available through REEF’s online store if you missed a chance to pick them up at the shows.

    Special thanks to Heather George, Sasha Medlen, Matt Dowell, Gerald Winkel, Todd Cliff, Jeanne Luce, Georgia Arrow, Michael Johnstone, Carol McLagan, and Rhoda Green for helping with the booths. We couldn't do it without these REEF ambassadors. REEF also appreciates the support of the show organizers, including Kim and Dale Sheckler and Rick and Kathy Stratton.

    REEF Organizes Regional Lionfish Strategy Workshop

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    Lionfish populations in the Florida Keys, like many other places in the region, have rapidly increased over the last 12 months. Photo by Matt Hoelscher.

    As the spread and impact of the invasive Indo-Pacific red lionfish explodes in the western Atlantic region, REEF continues to take a lead in addressing this complex environmental issue. In addition to extensive outreach and education efforts, REEF staff is involved in several field research projects to study the ecological impact of this voracious predator. REEF is also coordinating regional response efforts. In partnership with the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), NOAA, Mexico and France, REEF helped fund and organize the first Regional Lionfish Strategy Workshop in August. The two day workshop brought together more than 40 key Marine Protected Area and fisheries managers from 17 countries and territories in the Caribbean to discuss control strategies, initiate cooperative efforts to address the invasion, and begin development of a best practices document. Participants shared stories on successes, challenges, and needs for responding to this highly invasive species. Many of those participating have worked with REEF over the last two years to initiate training and lionfish culling programs. A report from the workshop and initial steps on developing the lionfish best practices manual will be presented at the annual conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute this Fall.

    Key Largo Community Volunteer Award

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    Paul Humann presents Nancy Perez with the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award.

    REEF recently awarded Nancy Perez the 2010 Key Largo Community Volunteer Award. Nancy joined during REEF's inaugural year in 1993! She lives in the Florida Keys and has become an instrumental volunteer at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo. Nancy helps connect REEF with the local community through planning special events, including holiday parties, the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters dedication, and participation at local festivals. Nancy has also encouraged other locals to volunteer at REEF HQ and is always available to assist REEF staff on projects. Nancy's biggest impact has been through her role coordinating the Fish and Friends gatherings at REEF HQ. During these popular monthly meetings, which started in 2009, REEF supporters come together to socialize with fellow fish followers and listen to presentations about various marine species and habitats. The success of this event would not be possible without the hard work and time that Nancy puts in to finding speakers, getting volunteer hosts, coordinating the snacks and beverages, and always wearing a smile. Her tireless dedication to the REEF Fish and Friends event is admired by all. In her spare time, Nancy is out diving and completing REEF surveys! On behalf of the REEF Staff and Board of Trustees, we extend Nancy our deepest appreciation.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Dave Grenda

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    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 Dave Grenda (REEF member since 1998). After retiring from the military, he became a volunteer, divemaster, and an American Academy Of Underwater Sciences Scientific Diver at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Dave has conducted over 1,800 REEF surveys and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor. In addition to his own diving activities, Dave has participated in numerous research projects, including numerous REEF Advanced Assessment Team trips, Nassau grouper tagging in the Caymans, mutton snapper spawning in the Dry Tortugas, piscivore cooperative hunting research off Georgia (see "Putting it to Work"), queen conch population surveys in St. Croix, Aquarius undersea laboratory support in Key Largo, Tampa Bay Civil War shipwreck archeology, Paleolithic Indian archeology in North Port Florida, coral spawning in the Flower Gardens and Key Largo, Gulf Red Tide recovery, reef health assessments with the Living Oceans Foundation in the Caribbean, point/transect fish surveys throughout the Keys, and collecting exhibit animals for aquaria educational displays. Here's what Dave had to say about REEF:

    When and how did you first hear about REEF? What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? I became involved with REEF after attending a fish ID lecture at the Florida Aquarium given by John Pitcarin - a founding REEF staff member. Being a REEF member has opened an entirely new world to me. The fish identification skills I've acquired through REEF has opened many doors for me as a citizen scientist. I'm extremely grateful for the many opportunities I've been provided through my association with REEF. Attaining Expert survey level has enabled me to join numerous research efforts with NOAA, National Park Service, Universities, Aquaria, and of course REEF itself. Working with marine scientists has been very interesting and those scientists have relied extensively on my fish identification skills that I've acquired during my REEF survey diving. While these scientists knew their particular specialty very well, they were often rusty in general fish identification. I quickly became a valued member of their team, treated as an equal colleague, and sought after for future projects.

    In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEFís projects and programs? Doing REEF surveys not only provides valuable data, it's a great way of "giving back" (helping the aquatic environment), but it also greatly enhances your diving enjoyment. What I like about the REEF survey method is that it can adapt to any type of dive site - regardless of visibility, current, depth, etc. While other divers might be disappointed at the visibility, or the failure to see certain animals (like sharks, turtles, eels, etc.), I will have had a great dive doing a REEF survey. I see more during my dives by doing surveys and I get excited at a rare sighting and adding a new species to my lifelist.

    Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? What new fish ID'ers need to do is SLOW down. It's much easier to see the movement of a cryptic fish, or just about any fish, when you aren't moving. If conditions allow, I'll start my dive by hovering in the water column. I'll write down every species I see as I slowly make a complete turn - looking in the water column as well as on the bottom below. To get the most species from each dive site, I'll try to hit as many different environments as possible (sand, rubble, top/middle/bottom of the reef, shallow/deep, etc.). Bring a flashlight to look into crevices and every tube sponge. It also helps to use the REEF database to know what species have been previously sighted at your dive destination. Before the dive you can acquaint yourself with the descriptions of new fish you might see there, so if you do come across that new fish, you'll already know how to identify it. Chance favors the prepared mind. You should also jump at the chance to dive with other fish watching experts. I've learned so much and so quickly by diving with other REEF folks - gaining confidence, learning new techniques, and just sharing wonderful fish stories.

    REEF Trips - Handful of Spaces Remain in 2012, 2013 Schedule Coming Soon

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    REEF Field Surveys trips that are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF coordinates Field Surveys to locations throughout our project regions each year. These projects are led by REEF staff and other REEF instructors and feature daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Many of the 2012 REEF Field Survey trips are sold out, but there are still a few spots on the lionfish research expedition to Dominica, the fish behavior trip to Bermuda, and a liveaboard through the British Virgin Islands. We are also working on an exciting lineup for the 2013 schedule. We will announce the full lineup and details soon. Destinations include Fiji, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Utila, and the Soccoro Islands. 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. The full schedule and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips.

    REEF's Volunteer Survey Project is Turning 20! Save the Date.

    To celebrate 20 years of ocean conservation and education through the Volunteer Survey Project, and to honor our members for making these successes possible, REEF will be hosting a fun-filled weekend of diving, learning, and parties -- August 8-11, 2013, in Key Largo. Please mark your calendar and save the date! More details will be announced in the coming months. The first REEF surveys were conducted during a Field Survey trip in Key Largo, Florida, in the summer of 1993. Led by co-Founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, as well as founding Executive Director, Lad Akins, a total of thirteen volunteers conducted 102 surveys. Almost 20 years later, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project has grown to become the largest ocean citizen science program. Approximately 14,000 volunteer divers and snorkelers have conducted over 165,000 surveys at 12,000 sites throughout the world. These data have been used by scientists, government agencies, and other conservation groups, and have been featured in dozens of scientific publications. Our marine conservation programs, education initiatives, and research efforts are backed by over 50,000 REEF members. We hope you will join us next August to celebrate 20 years of education, surveys, fish stories, and friendships!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub