The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, John Wolfe

Male Kelp Greenling. Photo by Janna Nichols.
John with dive buddies, Dan Grolemund, Kate Chaitin, Deenie Clinton.
John is not only an ID nerd underwater, he enjoys birdwatching too.
John recently submitted a paper for publication that analyzes REEF data from Monterey Peninsula. John evaluated trends in species such as this Young-of-the-Year Canary Rockfish.
One of John's favorite finds, a Masked Prickleback. Photo by John Wolfe.
Rookie Revenge! An Acapulco Damselfish (correctly ID'ed). Photo by John Wolfe.

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 John Wolfe. John joined REEF in 1998 and has conducted 530 surveys. John is a member of the REEF Advanced Assessment Team in both the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. In addition to his active survying, he has delved into teaching about REEF and ID and has mentored several surveyors to become experts. He has also taken a keen interest in getting REEF data used by the scientific and management communities, serving on Marine Life Protection Act committees and has written several papers using REEF data. Here's what John had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I took my first REEF fish ID class in 1997. It was a Great American Fish Count kick-off event organized by Karen Grimmer of NOAA and taught by Dan Gotshall (author of Pacific Coast Inshore Fishes). My friend Rachid Feretti was the area’s most enthusiastic REEF surveyor at that time. Quite the raconteur, Rachid would pigeonhole anyone (including curious tourists) to describe the REEF diver survey program. In the late 1990’s I only did a handful of surveys every year, thinking of them as special dives with special equipment; I was also a volunteer diver for the sheriff’s department, diving black water and not getting to the ocean as much. In the new millennium I realized that it was more fun to conduct a REEF survey on EVERY ocean dive I did. That was the big break-through. When I realized I could simply put my slate on a retractable harness and tuck it under my BC belly strap, it became a standard piece of my diver gear, taken on every dive.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

Since 2003 I’ve participated in every annual REEF Advanced Assessment Team monitoring project in Monterey, my local dive area. It’s always a fabulous assemblage of skilled cold-water divers and enthusiastic fish nerds, with Captain Phil Sammet entertaining us with salty stories and Christy and Brice Semmens calmly and expertly leading the trips. I’ve been on the Sea of Cortez and Big Island of Hawai’i REEF trips once each, and totally enjoyed both experiences, learning a whole new ecosystem of species.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

REEF totally supports my chosen hobby. My father was a fanatic fly fisherman and my mother is a fanatic bird watcher. It’s only natural that I became a fanatic fish watcher. My REEF experience has also taken me beyond just carrying a slate. Between 2005 and 2007, I served as a diver stakeholder and REEF volunteer representative for the California Central Coast Region Marine Life Protection Act initiative. After three years of intense wrangling between conservation and fishing interests, that effort resulted in a network of Marine Protected Areas along the central coast. In the Monterey Peninsula area we fought so hard that the chairman of the Fish and Game Commission, witnessing the debate, called it the Balkans. Nevertheless, I think the contentiousness of that process led to a resulting network of MPAs that all sides now grudgingly admit is a good compromise.

I have also enjoyed teaching others about REEF and ID. Over the past decade I’ve also given several REEF fish ID classes and presentations about the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative to local divers. I’m always looking for that next special diver who will become an enthusiastic and dedicated REEF surveyor. I have found some special people, like Keith Rootsaert and Alex Matsumoto, who now teach REEF fish ID classes and carry on the tradition.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

It’s only now, with fifteen years of data in Monterey, and even more in the western Atlantic, that we’re starting to see the value of the REEF surveys as long term data. REEF scientific advisor, Dr. Brice Semmens, points out that such long-term data are quite rare and precious in ecological research. Furthermore, I think we’ve recently made a big breakthrough on how to statistically analyze the data; it’s a gold mine that we’ve only really started to dig into. I’m really excited about a paper I’m co-authoring with REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, about this topic.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Where is your favorite place to dive?

The Monterey Peninsula is a special place, with rocky reefs, protected coves, and amazing kelp forests. It’s a two-hour drive from my home in Berkeley, well worth the effort. My favorite dive spots along the Monterey Peninsula include North and South Monastery, now protected in the recently expanded Pt. Lobos marine reserve, as well as Point Lobos State Park itself, the longest running no-take marine reserve in the state. Butterfly House and Point Pinos are wild, spectacular shore dives. I also enjoy the mellower Coral Street and Otter Cove dive sites – and I’ve never had a dull dive at the most heavily dived site of our area, the Breakwater. My favorite local boat dive site is Dali’s Wall outside of Stillwater Cove – it’s always a highlight of our annual Monterey field survey.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Do I have to choose? Kelp Greenling, both male and female, are such handsome fish. Juvenile Canary Rockfish are tiny spectacular gold, black and white jewels. Enormous schools of tubesnout threading and weaving their way through a kelp forest is a spectacular sight!

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

Well, I have a few. I’ve only seen one Rockhead Poacher, years ago – it’s a bizarre tiny fish with a punctured pate (pit in the top of its head) that looks just like the orange cup coral it so successfully hides amidst. It's so bizarre, an exciting find! The second would be finding (and eventually photographing) the Masked Prickleback. It is a handsome fish with a tan back, white belly, and broad dark chocolate brown stripe running the length of the fish from eye to tail. This species was only discovered by science in the mid-1960’s, by a night diver at the Monterey Breakwater. That diver, David Powell, later became the Director of Live Exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He recounts his discovery of that species in his book “A Fascination for Fish”. Masked Pricklebacks are shy and nocturnal, relatively uncommon and very difficult to photograph. And finally -- an instance of fish ID rookie vindication! On my first Sea of Cortez REEF field survey, I’d made a couple of embarrassing and very public rookie ID goofs early in the week. So later in the week, after coming up from Swanee Reef and telling Brice I’d seen an Acapulco Damselfish, he was certain I’d seen the much more common Cortez Damselfish … until I showed him the photographic evidence. It was the first (and perhaps the only) Acapulco Damselfish the group saw that week.

Great Annual Fish Count 2013

The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.

The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at gafc@reef.org.

The Faces of REEF: Mike Delaney

Mike hitting the books during the 2012 REEF Trip to Hornby Island.
Mike (left) at The Edge Diving, a REEF Field Station.

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 Mike Delaney, one of REEF's earliest Pacific Northwest volunteers. Mike has been a REEF member since 1999, and has conducted 433 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and he has the distinction of conducting the 20,000th REEF survey in the Pacific region back in 2011 (see story). Here's what Mike had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?

I heard about REEF through the Living Oceans Society’s Living Reef Project. I began my training course with Susan Francis and Dana Haggarty in 1999 and I was part of the LOS’s pilot PNW Invertebrate Survey Project. To improve my identification skills of PNW species, I was mentored by Donna Gibbs and Andy Lamb of the Vancouver Aquarium. In an effort to gain more buddies to survey with, I began organizing Great Annual Fish Counts and teaching the REEF curriculum. Fish watching, conducting surveys, and REEF became a passion.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite dive destinations Hornby Island and take part in the 2012 Field Survey lead by Janna Nichols and hosted by Hornby Island Diving . I have been to Hornby Island numerous times, and it is always a treat because it offers a great variety of marine life. During the trip, the group was able to dive a site that is not visited frequently and was inhabited by large schools of rockfish, lingcod, cabezon and colourful invertebrate life that adorns the sandstone walls. Another great thing about REEF is the ability to learn and survey in other regions, whether it is a REEF trip or not. I have had the opportunity to complete surveys in the TWA and in the TEP!

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

The concept of scuba divers as citizen scientists is inspiring. As an individual we can contribute to a greater good: the understanding of the ocean and its inhabitants! As ocean explorers we can collect data and know that the information collected is being used to support science initiatives to protect the oceans.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? 

In Vancouver we are fortunate to have numerous local dive sites to visit and most of my surveys are completed in the rich emerald waters of British Columbia. One of my frequented dive sites is Whytecliff Park and I had the unexpected surprise of completing the 20.000th PNW survey at the same site in which I conducted my very first REEF survey! Whytecliff is a great site because you never know what critters you might come across. Whytecliff Park offers wall diving with lots of sponges and a sandy bay with eel grass beds for poking around on your safety stop.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

In 2006 I began working at The Edge Diving Centre, which was quickly registered as a REEF Field Station, one of the first in British Columbia! I have been able to introduce numerous new divers to the REEF survey project!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?

I have an affinity for our local PNW Rockfish! Ray Troll’s Rockfish poster adorns my wall as a tribute to my love of rockfish. Discovering something out of the ordinary always gets me excited. In 2008, I spotted a lone Black Rockfish at Whitecliff Park, which is notable because Black Rockfish have just about all been extirpated from Howe Sound. In 2009, also at Whytecliff Park, I confirmed a Blue Rockfish sighting, a species known mostly only from the outer coast. Sharks are my an all time favorite! I had the chance to visit and survey the Socorro Islands with it’s great number of shark species that inhabit the islands. Always awesome to dive with big sharks!

Upcoming Fishinars - Exploring the New Fish ID Book, and more

Topsail Chub is one of the almost 100 species that have been added to the new 4th edition of Reef Fish ID.

We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. Fishinars coming up include:

  • Digging Deeper in to Caribbean Fish ID - Exploring the 4th Edition of Reef Fish ID - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, June 16th (Part 1) and June 30th (Part 2)
  • Eastside vs Westside: Lookalike Fish from the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, June 19th
  • Playing in the Sandbox: Top 12 Sand Dwellers of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, October 7th
  • That Face, That Face, That Wonderful Face! Top 12 Blennies of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, November 4th

REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!

Make an Impact by Donating to REEF

Donors of $250 or more during our Winter Campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print of aggregating Goliath Grouper by Paul Humann.

Thank you to everyone who has donated during our winter solicitation! If you haven’t already given yet, there is still time to receive my limited-edition, signed print of a Goliath Grouper aggregation by making a contribution. You can find a description at www.REEF.org/impact of how I captured this magical moment. These particular fish in this image are as large as 7 feet and weigh over 500 lbs!

Even today, REEF data are being used to protect this iconic species. In January, an article in Fisheries Research was published to address pressures to reverse the harvest ban on Goliath Grouper (see earlier article). This highlights the importance of your donation in ensuring critical conservation protections stay in place.

Please support REEF today with a donation through our secure online form at https://www.REEF.org/contribute and make YOUR IMPACT on marine conservation worldwide!

The Faces of REEF: Doug Biffard

Doug checking out a Red Irish Lord during a survey. Photo by Pete Naylor.
Doug with a little Northern Abalone.
China Rockfish. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Doug Biffard, a REEF member since 2000. An active surveyor who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Doug has conducted 455 surveys to date and is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Pacific region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

Back in the 1990s I joined in on Vancouver Aquarium’s annual Lingcod Egg Mass Survey (still an active event). I learned through aquarium connections that REEF and Living Oceans Society were planning training sessions for the recently-developed Pacific Northwest protocol in 1999. I signed up for the Victoria session lead by Susan Francis, one of the first trainers for the Pacific Northwest region.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

The really great thing about REEF is the people involved. Dana Haggarty, the young scientist that designed the PNW species list was a real inspiration to me. Janna Nichols, who I met early on as part of the AAT, is the enthusiastic and creative outreach coordinator. And then there are the people who I meet when we travel to the Caribbean on REEF survey trips, like expert surveyor Kenny Tidwell, who has become a good friend with whom I share a passion for fish, nature, and getting outside.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

Most of my diving is around Victoria BC. We have a huge variety of diving here, from high current sites, walls, reefs, kelp beds, to sand flats. We often encounter seals and sea lions, which can be lots of fun and slightly intimidating.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why?

My favourite fish is the China Rockfish. When I started diving in the 70’s we would often see this fish in the Strait of Georgia, but now they are rarely observed. With increased marine conservation awareness through programs like REEF, I hope to see the China Rockfish return to my old dive sites. One of my favourite invertebrates to find is the Northern Abalone. In contrast, this invertebrate was over-exploited in the 70s and 80s. Harvest for this species was prohibited 20 years ago and now we are starting to see good numbers of juveniles at many dive sites. It is quite a joy to see a little abalone cruising along a reef of pink algae.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

My most cherished memory of a fish find happened while diving with my wife, Bev (also a REEF surveyor) at a local dive site. Bev spotted what she thought was a common Bay Pipefish, and quickly drew my attention to it. After the dive, Bev asked why I squealed underwater, I explained she had found a fish I have been looking for since I was a young boy -- a very rarely spotted Quillfish!

REEF Fest 2016 - Save the Date

Have you heard about REEF Fest? Mark your calendar for September 29 – October 2, 2016, and then plan to join us in Key Largo, Florida, for our annual celebration of marine conservation. Activities include diving, educational seminars, and social gatherings! Check out www.REEF.org/REEFFest for more information.

Putting It To Work: REEF Staff Attends International Coral Science Conference

Christy and Brice posing with a shark at ICRS2016 to raise awareness about the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands

In June, REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, attended the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium meeting held in Hawaii. This conference, held every four years, brings together several thousand scientists, policy makers, and managers to discuss coral reefs and share latest research. During the week, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, presented an analysis of REEF survey data collected by volunteers in Bonaire Marine Park over the last 20 years. This valuable citizen science dataset includes over 22,000 surveys and 26,000 hours of underwater time. The findings reveal precipitous declines in large-bodied fishes such as grouper, but steady increases in mid-sized parrotfish. Hundreds of other talks were given, on a range of topics from the severe bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, to the impacts of harmful fishing practices such as dynamite and cyanide, to discovering bright spots in some coral reef areas. Also at the conference, Dr. Jack Randall was awarded the Darwin Medal for his lifetime of achievements. All us fish watchers owe Dr. Randall a lot! Jack has described 815 reef fish species in his lifetime. He is 91 years old and has published 878 papers and dozens of fish ID guides.

Rapid Response To Non-native Onespot Rabbitfish

Onespot Rabbitfish, native to Asia Pacific. Photo by Florent Charpin.
REEF's rapid response team after removing the non-native rabbitfish from Dania Beach.

In October 2016, REEF's Rapid Response Team removed a non-native Onespot Rabbitfish from Florida waters within 24 hours of its reporting. The rabbitfish is the 36th non-native marine fish documented in Florida waters through REEF’s Exotic Species Sightings Program, and its removal is the 5th successful rapid response effort led by REEF.

The Onespot Rabbitfish was seen by a REEF member while diving offshore of Dania Beach, Florida, who then reported it through REEF’s Non-native Sightings Program. Within 24 hours of receiving the sighting report, REEF and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) coordinated a successful live-capture of the fish. The fish was placed at the new Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami and will be displayed as part of an educational exhibit on the dangers of non-native species.

Like the lionfish, the rabbitfish is a venomous fish with a voracious appetite. Rabbitfish eat marine vegetation like seaweeds, algae, and seagrasses, and could impact native fish habitat. They are native to the Asian Pacific region. It is probable that, like the lionfish, the Onespot Rabbitfish was introduced to the South Florida reef via an aquarium release. Please spread the word about the dangers of introducing exotic fish to local waters. Other options include reaching out to a local fish or pet shop, asking other fish owners to adopt, looking for a local fish club, or donating the fish to school or office. If you are a diver in Florida, please keep your eyes open for this species. If you see one, please fill out an exotic species reporting form at www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report.

Over the last several years, USGS and REEF have coordinated the removal of the rabbitfish and four other non-native marine fish species from Florida waters. All four species were captured alive, and three of the four are currently on display at educational institutions. The rabbitfish will be on display at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida, when it opens its doors in early 2017.

From the Science Desk

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Christy presenting at the Flower Garden Banks NMS offices in Galveston, Texas.

WASH Nearshore Symposium

REEF’s Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, was an
invited speaker at the Temperate Reef Resources Symposium held at the University of Washington in early June. Christy spoke on the role that volunteers play in generating needed data for managing temperate reefs, and used examples from REEF experiences and projects in three west coast National Marine Sanctuaries, the Olympic Coast, Monterey Bay, and
the Channel Islands. To date, over 10,000 REEF surveys have been conducted in coastal areas along the west coast of the US and Canada.

Channel Islands Shore to Sea Lecture Series

 
In early July, Christy was the featured speaker for the monthly Channel Islands Shore to Sea Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Park. Christy spoke on REEF surveying inside and outside of the marine reserve network that was
implemented around the Channel Islands in 2004. Much of these data are
collected using REEF’s Pacific Advanced Assessment Team aboard the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s Research Vessel Shearwater.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine
Sanctuary fisheries impact workshop

Christy also presented information on the REEF
Volunteer Survey Program at a recent priority issues workshop on fishing impacts for the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The workshop was used to discuss the possibility of Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary implementing experimental no-take zones within the Sanctuary. Christy presented information about REEF's volunteers 14 year long monitoring of reef fish at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, and how this data can provide a valuable baseline to be able to measure the effects of any future no-take zones that might be implemented in the Sanctuary.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub