Earlier this week, on March 3rd, 2009, the number of REEF surveys conducted by volunteers in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (incl. the US East Coast, Caribbean, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico) topped 100,000! The REEF Volunteer Survey Project database as a whole (including all regions) reached this benchmark in October 2006. The 100k surveys have been conducted by 8,582 volunteers at 6,203 sites in the TWA region. Other remarkable project milestones reached this week -- there are now two TWA surveyors who have conducted over 2,000 surveys each(!), many of our surveyors in the Pacific and Hawaii regions are about to surpass the 500 survey mark, and the number of surveys conducted in the Pacific region will soon exceed 15,000. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations and our most active surveyors.
REEF's mission, to educate and enlist divers in the conservation of marine habitats, is accomplished primarily through the Volunteer Survey Project. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers. To find out more about who is using the data, visit the Publications page on the REEF website. The first surveys were conducted in 1993. As of February 2009, 125,717 surveys have been submitted to the REEF Survey Project database. Visit the About REEF page to find out more and to see where our volunteers are conducting surveys.
Just when you thought you had it all figured out, you realize there is more to learn. A few years ago, scientists working on Blue Rockfish genetics discovered that there were actually two species of Blues. After fishermen bagged both types off Eureka, California, and were able to correctly separate them by appearance, Drs. Tom Laidig and Milton Love wondered if they could be correctly identified by divers underwater, and in what range and depth they are found. What a perfect project for our west coast REEF surveyors.
Using photos taken by Pacific NW AAT members (Pete Naylor, Janna Nichols) in both Monterey and the Neah Bay area (on our annual REEF survey projects of these areas), they were able to determine that yes indeed, the two species of Blue Rockfish could be correctly ID’d underwater. Both species are being found along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts by fishermen. REEF surveyor Taylor Frierson has seen both species (in the same school!) while diving near Newport, Oregon. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has both species of Blue Rockfish on display in Halibut Flats – a good way to compare them.
Although the species has yet to be officially described, REEF is asking Pacific surveyors, whenever possible, to start separating the two into what for now will be called, “Blue Blotched” and “Blue Sided”. These new species are listed in the Unlisted Species section on the online data entry form. A general “Blue Rockfish” category will still exist if you’re unsure (the one listed on the Listed Species list). We are also asking surveyors who have photos from previous survey dives, to go through and if they can positively ID the species seen based on the photos, to submit the change to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the survey number (if know), date, and location.
To help you ID the two species, here are some tips:
Comparison photos may be seen here.
Each month, we get questions from our surveying members about the ins and outs of conducting REEF surveys, submitting their data online, and accessing those data. Here's a compilation of some of the most frequently asked questions. The survey scoop -- all in one place!
I’ve submitted my survey online – why can’t I see my data? Your data goes into a batch, which gets processed every few weeks. Not only does it go through computer error checks, but a live human checks it as well, and we may send an email to verify your sightings. Data submitted on paper forms take much longer (months, sorry!). So be extra patient on those.
Once my data are processed, how can I see them? You can generate reports of your survey activity ("My Survey Log") and your species lifelist ("My Data") through the REEF website. You need to be logged in to REEF.org and then look on the left hand side of the page under your User Name. If you haven't yet created a REEF.org login, start here.
Some fish I saw don’t appear in the Listed Species section on the online survey form. Now what? Only the most common fish in a region are listed on the online form to save space – but if you click on Unlisted Species link on the left side of the submission page, you can search the complete list that will most probably contain your species, and you can record it there. If you can't find it, email us at email@example.com.
I don’t see the invertebrate/algae I saw on the online survey form – now what? Remember that the REEF protocol only includes specific set of Invertebrates (PacNW, CAL) and algae (CAL) and they are listed both on the underwater survey paper, as well as the online submission form. If you don’t see it there, it isn’t monitored by REEF.
What if the place I dove/snorkeled doesn’t have a geographic zone code assigned? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of the site, lats/longs (preferably in degrees/decimal minutes form) and most likely 4 digit zone code area it falls in, and it will get created for you. After confirmation, you’ll be able to submit your survey. To see a list of current Geographic Zone Codes, check here.
Do I have to submit the lats/longs on each survey I do? No way! You can leave that section blank. You can also leave water temperature blank, but all other fields are required.
I dove a site that was composed of many different habitat types. Which one do I mark? It’s a judgment call for this one – I usually just mark the habitat where I found the most species on my survey.
I made a mistake on a survey I already submitted. Is it too late? Nope, it’s not too late. While you should try to avoid mistakes (because it’s a lot harder to change once it’s in the system), it is possible to correct and accuracy is always a good thing. Email us details.
I forgot to turn in a few surveys from last year (or longer). Is it still OK to do so? Yes. Old data can still be submitted, but do try to keep current on your surveys so that those accessing the data are getting the most recent and accurate information available.
Where can I take REEF Experience level tests? Find a Field Station near you – or email us at email@example.com and we’ll find a way to make it possible.
Last month, the launch of our 6th REEF survey region was a big success due to the combined efforts of our newest partners in American Samoa, and numerous volunteers and partners in the scientific community. Thanks to support from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and other donors, we were able to bring fish ID training workshops and surveying opportunities to over two dozen local participants on the main island of Tutuila. The launch included distributing locally oriented underwater fish ID cards, underwater paper, and a number of Tropical Pacific Fish ID books to an enthusiastic group of local residents. Through meetings and trainings with staff at the Fagatelle Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, the National Park Service, the Coral Reef Advisory Group, local residents and business owners, we established a network of snorkelers and divers who will continue surveying at sites such as Alofau, Faga`alu, and Tisa’s Barefoot Bar at Alega Beach.
At over 1,500 known reef fish species, the fish diversity of South Pacific coral reefs is higher than in the Caribbean. Our survey team definitely had our work cut out for us, but with the help of cameras, video, and the REEF training materials, we managed to positively identify over 200 species in a total of 60 surveys throughout the week. A few of the highlights included charismatic emperor angelfish (including a juvenile), saddled butterflyfish, mimic surgeonfish, longnose filefish, and Leslie’s cardinalfish - named after former REEF employee Leslie Whaylen Clift, who first discovered it in 2004 while living in American Samoa.
Originally scheduled for last fall, this launch was delayed by the devastating tsunami that hit American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga in September 2009, and evidence of the disaster was apparent with numerous toppled plate and branching corals at some of the sites. REEF surveys will provide important information about fish populations as the local reefs rebuild over the coming years.
In the coming months, REEF will continue to grow the Samoa program with the help of local coordinators as our pilot region in the South Pacific, and has developed a curriculum that will be available soon on our website. Our next step in expanding into this vast region will be our first survey trip to the South Pacific in May 2011 to Fiji, where surveyors and will use a new set of survey materials designed for broad use throughout the South Pacific region. Click here for more information about this exciting field survey into our newest region, which will be led by Paul Humann.
REEF’s Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, along with REEF Board of Trustee member Heather George, and longtime REEF science advisor, Dr. Brice Semmens, led the expedition. A big thank you to frequent Hawaii surveyors Donna and George Brown, and Pat Richardson, who also participated in this expedition. Thank you also to New World Publications, Leslie Whaylen Clift, Neil Ericcson, Dr. Jack Randall, and Doug Fenner, whose contributions to the development of these new materials has been invaluable. And we greatly appreciate the support of the many photographers who generously donated the use of their underwater images for use in our training materials: Donna Brown, Paul Brown, Joyce Burek, Bob Fenner, John Hoover, Paul Humann, Josh Jensen, Ed Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Keoki Stedner, and Marty Snyderman.
If you would like to make a contribution specifically to support the South Pacific regional expansion, you can donate online here, or mail your donation to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Include “South Pacific Expansion” with your donation information.
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 collaborator from the Global Underwater Explorers Project Baseline initiative is using REEF data to document environmental conditions in the Florida Keys.
- NOAA scientists requested data to help develop biogeographic assessment products for the Florida Reef Tract from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), a marine research facility, is located at the south end of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Much like REEF, CEI realizes the importance of collaboration and encourages students, visitors, and community members alike to partake in ongoing scientific research with the overarching goal of marine conservation.
CEI works closely and shares facilities with the Island School, a semester abroad program for high-school students. All of the research programs that operate out of CEI teach a project-specific research class each semester to the students. REEF surveys have been successfully incorporated into a number of these projects. Most notably, the Patch Reef Ecology project uses REEF surveys for long-term monitoring of fish communities that are resident to the network of patch reefs in Rock Sound, the vast, watery, “backyard” of CEI. REEF surveys have been used to collect reef fish species and abundance data for this project for nearly a decade now! Students assisting with the data collection learn Caribbean reef fish ID skills and become well versed in the REEF Roving Diver Method. All data collected by students are contributed to the REEF database and available for use by others.
Most of the reefs that are surveyed by students are located in shallow waters adjacent to mangrove creek habitat. These reefs are small, isolated coral heads that provide important transitional habitat for many reef species that begin their life in mangroves and eventually head to deep water to reproduce. Due to their location and abundance, these reefs are easy to access and make great project sites for conducting research. In fact, Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, and Stephanie Green of Simon Frasier University, are conducting a long-term research project monitoring lionfish impacts on reef fish communities using a network of these shallow scattered patch reefs. Skylar Miller, employed by both REEF and CEI and based in Eleuthera, is responsible for monthly data collection for this important project.
Want to get the latest news and updates from REEF? Then be sure to check our the REEF Facebook Page. You don't have to be on Facebook to view the page, but if you do have a Facebook profile, be sure to "like" us so that all of the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories will go straight to your feed. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories, and whatever is on their mind. We also maintain the REEF Invasive ionfish Program Facebook Page to keep you up-to-date on our current lionfish programs.
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 Valerie Lyttle. Valerie joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 437 surveys. She is a member of REEF's Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? How did you first hear about REEF?
I started doing REEF surveys in 2004 after taking Janna Nichols' PacNW Fish & Invertebrate ID courses. I was learning on my own and trying to remember at least one new fish/critter each dive, but the course really helped solidify things. The idea of being able to contribute my observations to the greater good really appealed to me.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I like knowing that I’m contributing to a large database and that others may benefit as a result. Seeing how dive sites and critters change from times of day, seasons of the year, etc. keep me going. Even surveys from winter dives where few species are noted have value, as it helps illustrate trends. I love being able to “speak fish” & be a critter geek with like-minded people.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I dive locally because otherwise I’d only get to dive once a year or two otherwise! I think it’s important to practice stewardship of your local waters and sites on whatever level you are able; every bit counts. My favorite local site is Redondo (Highline MaST Pier) for several reasons; it’s close, it never disappoints, and it’s diveable just about any time. Many of my “firsts” were there; my first Six Gill shark, my first Big Skate, the only Pacific Electric Ray and Mola Mola sightings I’ve ever had, my first Grunt Sculpin, my first Giant Pacific Octopus (or GPO, as we call it here), my first Stubby Squid. This is a site for all abilities and there are interesting things to see at every depth.
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?
There are two favorite local REEF fields stations, both of them dive charters. Bandito Charters know the Puget Sound waters and its critters solidly, and always provide a great experience. Pacific Adventures, based in Hood Canal, Washington, are also heavily involved in local REEF and other projects that promote the health of Hood Canal waters. Both organizations promote stewardship and love talking critters!
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?
The first time my buddy and I encountered courtship behaviors of Painted Greenlings at a local dive site. The male was sporting full mating colors and clearly had only one thing on his mind. Even though it was winter and the water was very cold, we stopped and watched the dancing and flirting for a good 10 minutes. My favorite critters hands down are jellies, in particular Lion’s Mane, aka Sea Blubber jellies. Their vibrant reds, oranges and yellows make them look like an underwater fireball that I find simply mesmerizing.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Go slow, don’t be in a hurry. Get to know your local critters and their behaviors. Carry a magnifying glass. Dive at different times of day and different seasons so you can appreciate the entire spectrum.
We proudly announce our Volunteer of the Year for 2012, Jonathan Lavan. Jonathan joined REEF in 2004 and since then, he has logged 324 REEF fish surveys and become a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast survey regions. He has submitted surveys in five of REEF's six regions. Jonathan's involvement with REEF has been instrumental in spreading the word about REEF and its programs. In 2012, he helped to expand the Volunteer Fish Survey project by instructing for REEF's online webinars, called Fishinars. His background in theatre, sense of humor and teaching style quickly made his Fishinars popular with both new and experienced fishwatchers. He has also assisted by serving as an administrator for REEF's experience level tests. To learn more about Jonathan and his involvment with REEF, check out his Member Profile featured in a previous issue of Making It Count.
As a former diver and staff member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and a current diver at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Lavan actively seeks opportunities to educate others about marine life, conservation and REEF. He is often a guest speaker at dive clubs and shows, and especially enjoys educating youth. An avid underwater photographer, Jonathan uses his images gathered over the past 10 years to educate others about marine life, and many of his photos appear in art shows as well as online resources. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Jonathan!