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.
In addition to attending the 11th ICRS, REEF also hosted one of the conference Field Trips. REEF and Horizon Divers hosted 14 participants from various locations around the world including Australia, Japan, Kenya, and several U.S. institutions. Dr. Jim Bohnsack, NOAA Research Fisheries Biologist and Science Advisor to the REEF Board of Trustees, gave a workshop presentation on applying REEF fish survey data towards Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary management decisions and Paul Humann, renowned marine life photographer and author, taught fish and invertebrate identification classes. Lad Akins, REEF Special Projects Director, gave an overview of REEF and our programs along with a detailed update on what he and REEF partners are working on with the Lionfish (Pterois volitans) invasion in Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. Participants also had the opportunity to conduct 6 REEF survey SCUBA dives out on our local reefs to get a sense of how Roving Diver survey data are collected.
The survey data our members collect fall into two general categories.The first is the Volunteer Survey Project category that includes all of our Field Surveys and individual members surveying efforts conducted while diving or snorkeling wherever they live or travel to on vacation. The second type of data collected by our surveyors are from our monitoring and research programs in partnership with NOAA sanctuaries, the National Park service, and regional NGO’s and other non-profits as well as various universities. It was this second category of data that our ICRS Field Trip focused on for classroom discussions. REEF data are used by resource managers include artificial reef monitoring, restoration site monitoring, marine protected area assessments, and invasive species collections and fish surveys to name a few. One message that ICRS brought home to all attendees is that now more than ever, there is a critical need for coral reef related research, including studies addressing fish assemblages. There is also a critical need for scientists and policy makers to communicate their research and conservation strategies to the general public, conveying the message about just how vulnerable coral reefs are to anthropogenic disturbances and their importance to our collective well being. REEF will continue our efforts to engage our membership in worthwhile conservation projects that address tropical and temperate fish assemblages.
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 –
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
REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2009 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects (e.g. invasive lionfish and Grouper Moon), data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2009 such a success!
World-wide declines in shark and ray populations have prompted the need for a better understanding of their patterns of distribution and abundance. While much of the focus has been on the larger species of sharks, little attention had been paid to the most frequently sighted elasmobranch species in the greater-Caribbean, the yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). Despite being relatively common and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, little was known about the status of this species. Unfortunately, it has been quietly declining. Dr. Christine Ward-Paige and her colleagues at Dalhousie University worked with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to examine the status of yellow stingray. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes. Click here to read the paper.
The study used 83,940 surveys collected by REEF surveyors in the western Atlantic. In total, yellow stingrays were observed on 5,658 surveys (6.7% sighting frequency) with the highest occurrence in the regions surrounding Cuba. Overall, sighting frequency declined from 20.5% in 1994 to 4.7% in 2007. However, these trends were not consistent in all regions. The strongest decline occurred in the Florida Keys, the most sampled region, where trends were similar among all areas, habitats and depths. Possible explanations for these changes include habitat degradation, exploitation (this species is collected for medical research and the aquarium trade), and changes in trophic interactions. The results of the study suggest large-scale changes in yellow stingray abundance that have been unnoticed by the scientific community. This study also highlights the value of non-scientific divers for collecting data that can be used to understand population trends of otherwise poorly studied species.
To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.
Changing Seas, an original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of Alien Invaders, the series’ latest episode focusing on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Alien Invaders will be screened live on the Changing Seas website (www.changingseas.tv/webcast) on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. EST. During the screening, dive enthusiasts will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program. REEF's Lad Akins and researcher Stephanie Green will be be online to answer questions live during the event.
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 Patricia Broom (REEF member since 2004). Pat is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 277 surveys in three of REEF's regions, including some of the first in our newest region, the South Pacific. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
About ten years ago while reading a favorite dive magazine I noticed an announcement about an introductory fish identification trip sponsored by REEF and led by Paul Humann. The love of REEF was born!! I responded to the advertisement, encouraged my brother to join me and attended that Field Survey trip. We joined a group of equally dedicated divers eager as we to learn about fish and how to identify them. Paul was a great teacher, very patient and concerned that we not only learn about fish but care about them and the ocean we love.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was a trip highlight?
One of my most memorable surveying moments occurred that week on Paul's trip. On a night dive of a very old wreck with exposed wooden beams I saw my first queen parrotfish in their nighttime cocoons. Each parrot fish occupied a space between two beams framed by basket stars in full bloom. It was a magical sight. I try to take two or three REEF trips a year, they are a great way to learn more and dive with great people. In addition to the regular ID trips, I have really enjoyed the REEF Behavior Trips that are led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. It really completes the learning experience! It is a beautiful sight to watch damselfish guard their algae gardens from predation, observe cooperative hunting, or watch a three foot Midnight Parrotfish at a cleaning station with open mouth and flared gills.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
Prior to that introductory course, I had been diving the Caribbean for twenty plus years. I witnessed the decline in fish numbers and species as well as reef degradation and wondered how many more years I could dive before there was nothing to see! REEF offered me a reason to continue diving, now there was opportunity to give back and enjoy diving again.
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?
I have found great enjoyment in Cozumel at the REEF Field Station at Aqua Safari, led by Sheryl Shea. She is a gifted teacher determined to make advanced assessment divers of all of us! It just so happens a few of my favorite fish are in Cozumel, the Splendid Toadfish, Sargassum Triggerfish, and Cherubfish, to name a few.
If you haven't had a chance to attend one of our Fishinars yet, you should! New sessions are always being added, so check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to see the current schedule and to register for one or more sessions. These popular online training sessions (webinars) 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. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. Upcoming sessions include:
The Wrasse Class: The Top 12 Wrasse of the Greater Caribbean - Need help with those rascally wrasse? Come to this class and get the ID tips you seek! Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan. Thursday, Jun 21st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER
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