The Faces of REEF: Naomi Wooten

The Blue 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 Naomi Wooten. Naomi has been a REEF member since 1999, and has conducted 143 surveys (all in her home state of California). She is a member of the Pacific Coast Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Naomi had to say about REEF:

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

My friend and I participated in a Great American Fish Count dive in Monterey in June 2005 led by John Wolfe and did my first REEF surveys. A local reporter wrote about the event and said that my buddy and I were excited to find an elusive fish and mistakenly named a very commonly sighted fish. I have had a REEF number since 1999. I think I signed up at a scuba show exhibit.

Have you participated in any REEF special projects or Field Surveys?

I was part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advanced Assessment Team Project in 2012. After the last dive, my tank went bouncing off the boat into the ocean on a rocky ride back to the dock, and I unwillingly contributed to the artificial reef of Monterey. The best part of the story is that several team members and REEF generously pitched in and helped me replace the tank. I put a REEF sticker on that tank!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I am motivated to complete surveys by an unexplainable interest in stats and a slightly competitive spirit. Doing surveys contributes to a growing database that others have used in scientific papers and debates. When I started, Kawika Chetron was the top surveyor in California with about 300 surveys. Three hundred surveys became my lifetime goal. I am almost halfway there.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

I love doing REEF surveys because they are so easy and surveys can be part of any dive. I am happy that I can contribute without being a scientist, fish expert, or copious surveyor.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Instead of being a rare fish, my favorite is the blue rockfish, which is very common in Monterey. I smile every time I see the first one on a dive. There is nothing like the peaceful awe I feel when I slowly move into a school of these beautiful fish and am temporarily allowed to be part of their group.

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

Well, this is my tip for myself. Don’t compare yourself to other REEF members you know and don’t feel bad that you cannot identify (or find) tons of fish and invertebrates like they can. Concentrate on ones you can identify for sure. Keep adding to your personal list and honing your critter-finding skills.

Join REEF in Fiji, Grand Cayman, Roatan, and more

The reefs of Fiji! Join us in May to see this firsthand. Photo by Paul Humann.

If you haven’t yet booked a REEF trip, or if you are considering another, please take a look below. There are still a few spaces left, especially in the first half of the year when colder temperatures at home may make a tropical dive vacation look especially inviting. In particular, be sure to check out our trips to Fiji aboard the luxurious NAI'A liveaboard. We have 3 spaces available (1 double cabin and one share female space), May 2-12, and 1 male share space left on our second trip, May 12-19. We have also just added a trip to St. Lucia in December. To find out more information or to secure your space on the Fiji trip or any of our other 2015 trips, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Visit www.REEF.org/trips for complete trip details.

2015 REEF Field Survey Schedule

Feb 28 - Mar 7 -- Hawaii -- Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, SOLD OUT, Details

Mar 14 - 21 -- Grand Cayman -- Wall to Wall Diving and Comfort Suites, Led by Jonathan Lavan, 4 spaces left, Details

May 2 - 12 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, 3 spaces left, Details

May 12 - 19 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, 1 space left, Details

May 9 - 16 -- Bahamas Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, SOLD OUT, Details

Jun 13 - 20 -- Roatan -- Anthony's Key Resort, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, 3 spaces left, Details

Jul 11 - 18 -- Grand Turk -- Oasis Divers & Osprey Beach Hotel, Led by Paul Humann, SOLD OUT, Details

Aug 1 - 8 -- Bonaire -- Buddy Dive, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, SOLD OUT, Details

Aug 22 - 29 -- Curacao Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- GO WEST Diving & Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, 3 spaces left, Details

Nov 1 - 5 -- Catalina Island -- Scuba Luv & Pavilion Hotel, Led by Janna Nichols, Details

Dec 5 - 12 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn or Casa Mexicana, Led by Tracey Griffin, SOLD OUT, Details

Dec 5 - 12 (just added) -- St. Lucia -- Anse Chastanet Resort, Led by Heather George, details coming soon

Remembering Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas at the helm of his boat.

On August 24, 2015, a beloved member of our Key Largo community unexpectedly passed away. Joe Thomas of Ocean Divers was a brilliant captain, a caring mentor, and a wonderful friend, known for his softspoken demeanor and sharp sense of humor. Joe loved to share his passion for the sea, whether it was through educating young divers or imparting his knowledge of the local dive sites and Key Largo history to the many who looked up to him. Joe was a member of the REEF family for more than 20 years. He selflessly dedicated his time to helping many generations of Marine Conservation Interns advance their diving skills by offering training and certifications for courses such as Nitrox, Advanced Open Water, and Rescue Diver. Joe also provided support for and participated in numerous REEF monitoring and research projects throughout the Florida Keys. He was a valued member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team and made a significant contribution to citizen science by submitting more than 500 fish surveys. He will be greatly missed.

At the request of Joe's close friends throughout the Key Largo community, The Joe Thomas Memorial Fund has been created as a legacy to remember the ideals by which Joe lived and worked, and to support educating future generations of marine conservationists and divers to protect the ocean that Joe loved so much. Proceeds from the fund will be used to aid young people beginning careers in marine conservation and diving by providing intern scholarships and dive certifications. To contribute to the fund, click here to donate securely online. Be sure to type "Joe Thomas" in the comment section on the donation page. You can also make a donation over the phone by calling REEF at 305-852-0030, or by sending a check to REEF HQ, PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037.

A celebration of life will be held in Key Largo later this month. If you have a memory of Joe to share, please visit www.REEF.org/joethomas.

St. Vincent Field Survey Breaks One-Week Species Record!

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The REEF St. Vincent Field Survey Team

To those who are in the know, St Vincent is considered the critter capital of the Caribbean. To those who watch fish, it is known that the rare is commonplace and that the fishwatching is unlike any other location in the Caribbean. REEF’s data from the June Field Survey supports those claims. With a team of 13 divers, the REEF group recorded an astounding 243 species, more than 65 of which were unlisted “write-ins” on the survey forms.

Diving with Bills Tewes at Dive St Vincent, long time REEF supporter and widely regarded “Caribbean Character”, the team split up on two boats and survey sites around the southwest end of the island. Long-time REEF expert Franklin Neal provided an extra special view from above and into shallow water as he snorkeled, while other team members spent hours on each dive exploring varied habitats and depths.

Special finds during the week would take an entire newsletter to list, but there were a few fish that stood out including the still undescribed Bluebar Jawfish on most sites, five frog fish on one dive, multiple black brotula, various pipefish commonly sighted and the largest spotfin gobies (10 inches?!) we’ve ever seen. The fish of the week may well have been the Golden Hamlet that Bill pointed out as his favorite fish and the species that adorns the cover of Reef Fish Identification.

The diving was bottom time unlimited and many dives exceeded two hours finishing in shallow water. Habitats were varied and visibility ranged from good to excellent on all of our dives. REEF is already planning our next Field Survey to dive St Vincent in August of 2008. The project will be led by Paul Humann and will be a must for any serious fishwatcher. For more details, contact Joe@reef.org

REEF Parts - Things to Know (Oct 07)

Here are a few notes and news bits we'd like you to know about:

  • Catch up with REEF at DEMA! The biggest annual dive and travel trade show is in Orlando again this year from Wed. October 31 - Sat. November 3. REEF is at booth 1133 and is running 2 seminars on the new home-study DVD for Florida, the Caribbean and Bahamas: Reef Fish Identification-A Beginning Course. We hope to see you there!
  • If you're lucky enough to be in the Dominican Republic this time of year, come say hi to REEF at the annual meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) held November 5-9. REEF will be presenting findings on two artificial reef monitoring projects and Nassau grouper research through the REEF Grouper Moon Project. 
  • Keep an eye on your mailbox for /REEF Notes/, our annual print newsletter, coming soon!
  • Field Survey Update (2007-2008): Thanks to all who have made our 2007 Field Survey year a successful year with just a few trips left!

REEF Benefit A Success

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Suzanne Holmquist, Amy Slate, Peter and Alice Hughes and Evelyn McGlone enjoy a photo op. Photo by Matt Standal, Keys Weekly.
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Ned DeLoach, Leda Cunningham and Paul Humann gave presentations on REEF and new underwater wildlife photography. Photo by Matt Standal, Keys Weekly.

On Saturday, February 9, REEF hosted the first annual For the Love of the Sea benefit dinner and auction at Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida. The event was a huge success! More than 150 guests attended a sold-out event, enjoying a picturesque sunset set to island music and the awe-inspriring underwater photography of authors and REEF founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. REEF raised more than $25,000 thanks to successful silent and live auctions and the generosity of event sponsors in the Keys and greater REEF community. Proceeds of the event will support ongoing citizen science projects to engage volunteers in marine conservation.

Many thanks to event sponsors for their support and to the local REEF "Fun Raisers" event planning committee. Please click here for more information on the event.

Bigger Than Ever – Lionfish Research Continues

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Lad Akins and Andy Dehart capture a lionfish during a recent REEF Lionfish Research Project. The lionfish was measured, tagged, and released. A team subsequently recaptured the lionfish to learn more about site fidelity and growth in this species.
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A juvenile lionfish recently found in Little Cayman by Dottie Benjamin, a local divemaster and avid REEF surveyor. REEF's program serves as an early warning program for the arrival of exotic species. Photo by Matt Lewis.
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REEF volunteers give the lionfish sign at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in May

The recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into Atlantic waters has been causing great concern among researchers, marine park and fisheries managers, and divers. REEF, in partnership with Bahamian dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy, NOAA, the United States Geological Service (USGS), the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem. As part of REEF’s Lionfish Research Program, over the last two years REEF has coordinated 12 research projects that have involved over 175 REEF volunteers. This research has generated a wealth of in-situ observations and over 1,000 lionfish specimens, which have led to great advances in the understanding of the biology and potential impacts of this most unwanted invader.

REEF’s most recent field project at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in May 2008, involving over 20 volunteers and researchers, found that the problem continues to get worse. The team gathered data on nearly 200 specimens of lionfish to determine relative abundance, size increases, reproductive status, growth rates, predator prey relationships and movement.  Findings included:

Lionfish continue to grow in size: Tagging data show growth rates exceeding 190mm/year, far larger than necessary to reach sexual maturity.

Site Fidelity: All 12 previously-tagged specimens that have been recaptured indicate strong site fidelity even after 6 months.

Prey: Lionfish continue to amaze us during stomach content studies. The recent effort turned up new records including two entire spotted goatfish, a large brown chromis, a small reef octopus, and even a small mollusk in its shell. Lionfishare eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.

Reproduction: Lionfish reproduction occurs throughout the year – many gravid females and a small recently settled juveniles have been found.

REEF’s future fieldwork will concentrate on lionfish movement, trap design, habitat preference, and local control measures. Our next project is scheduled to take place at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau from September 14-20. If you would like to help with our ongoing work please consider joining us as a field volunteer and/or making a contribution to REEF’s Exotic Species Program.

For more information on REEF’s Exotic Species Program, to volunteer on a future research project or to discuss funding opportunities, contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, Lad@reef.org.

REEF Team Completes Sixth Year of Monitoring on Washington's Outer Coast

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Pacific Northwest surveyors spent a week in the Olympic Coast NMS.
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Advanced Assessment Team member, Dave Jennings, shows his REEF spirit! Photo by Janna Nichols.
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A scalyhead sculpin is a common find on Pacific surveys. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Members of the REEF Pacific Northwest Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) recently conducted the 6th annual survey of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) near Neah Bay, Washington. Porthole Dive Charters transported the 8 member dive team to ten sites over the course of a week. A total of 89 surveys were completed and the team documented 85 species of fish and invertebrates, including many unusual sightings such as the tubenose poacher, lobefin snailfish, and rosylip sculpin.

The OCNMS covers over 3,300 square miles of ocean off Washington State's rugged and rocky Olympic Peninsula coastline. Sanctuary waters host abundant marine life. A small but important stretch of coastline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca features some of the best diving in Washington State, yet is rarely visited because of the remote location and limited diving facilities. In 2003, REEF started conducting annual assessments at a set of key sites in the northern portion of the OCNMS in order to generate a baseline of data that can be used to evaluate the status and trends of marine communities.

To date, REEF volunteers have conducted 353 surveys in the OCNMS (290 hours of observation time!) and have documented 61 species of fish and 31 invertebrates. The 2008 project summary data is posted here. REEF staff are currently preparing a summary report for the Sanctuary based on the data collected to date.

Funding and support for this year's OCNMS project was generously provided by the National Marine Sanctuary Program, the Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation, the Winter's Summer Inn in Seiku, and the REEF survey participants. A bunch of spectacular photos have been posted (from both above and below the water) by the team participants. Online galleries include: Janna NicholsPete NaylorApril TheodRon Theod, and David Jennings.

Cozumel 2008 Double REEF Week a Smashing Success!

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The dwarf surfperch, a rare find, was added to the Cozumel species list by REEF surveyors during the 2008 Field Survey. Photo by Alex Griffin.
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Some of the Cozumel trip participants.
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Even more Cozumel trip participants.
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Another rare find -- the dwarf frogfish, was found by Tracey Griffin a few days after all of the REEF trip was over. Photo by Don Moden.

The annual REEF Cozumel Field Survey started out like all the rest, but there were so many folks anxiously waiting for a spot on the team that a second week was added. Then, several divers from the first week just couldn't tear themselves away and stayed over for the second week. So we ended up as just one big two-week team. So (whew!) we turned out around 225 surveys and our species list FINALLY topped 200!

We had a lovely mix, once again, of Cozumel Field Survey regulars and some new faces. It's always so good to welcome back old REEF friends, meet new ones and together do our bit to help the ocean that we all love so much. For the first time, we missed a dive day due to sea conditions but those extraordinary REEFers were not about to daunted by a gale or two. Most made up their survey dives on other days and even did extra dives.

Debby Bollag and Jamie Gigante made the giant leap from novice to expert fishwatchers. Welcome to the Advanced Assessment Team! A helpful addition to our classroom setup was a projector donated to REEF by Ray Bailey at Camcor.com.

The reefs are really looking beautiful again after the double whammy of Hurricanes Emily & Wilma of 2005 - multicolored sponges, lettuce & finger corals which are home to juvenile and tiny fish are coming back strong. On some sites the Cherubfish have bounced back big-time, 75 were counted on Dalila Wall site. Bluelip & Greenblotch parrotfish are once again everywhere. Some Yellowline gobies were found, which had disappeared along with the tube sponges during hurricane Emily.

A highlight of the week was the Dwarf Sand Perch - never previously reported in Cozumel. This fish hovers over the sand where you might find Harlequin Bass, and since they are both black and white, it would be easy to confuse them. They were later found at other dive sites since the initial sighting at Paradise Reef by Doug Harder. As usual we couldn't get Kenny Tidwell out of the water, so he added quite a few of those shore-loving species to the list like Reef Squirrelfish & Reef Scorpionfish. You never know what you might see diving in Cozumel - and of course as luck would have it, a week after the trip ended REEF member Tracey Griffin spotted a Dwarf Frogfish!

As always, this trip is already filling up for 2009, so if you're interested it would be best to get your name on the list, and airfare to the area is really good right now. To find out more, visit the REEF Field Survey 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. Hope to see you all in Cozumel in December!

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and Conservation Foundations Support REEF/SFU Lionfish Research Efforts

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REEF's work in Puerto Rico and USVI aims to prevent reefs there from becoming infested with lionfish like this one in the Bahamas. Photo by Rich Carey.

REEF is continuing our ground-breaking research and outreach on the lionfish invasion with projects in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The project is supported with funding from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Grant and the Buck Island REEF National Park and long-time supporters Henry Foundation, Oceans Foundation and Munson Foundation. REEF researchers have teamed with Simon Fraser University (SFU) and will be collaborating with the St Croix Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to implement an 18 month project aimed at increasing awareness, conducting hands-on training and determining effectiveness of removal strategies to deal with the recent lionfish invasion.

In August and October of this year project teams joined up with local dive operators, NGOs, and state and federal agencies to conduct numerous lionfish workshops and seminars as well as initiate studies of local reef areas. REEF volunteers and researchers from the National Aquarium, National Park Service, and SFU spent more than 24,000 minutes underwater conducting detailed surveys of 16 sites in each area. In addition, the team initiated meetings to develop response plans and increase awareness of local communities about the lionfish issue. REEF is looking for funding to continue this effort beyond the current December 2010 project endline. For more information or to contribute to this or other lionfish research efforts, contact lad Akins at Lad@reef.org or call (305) 852-0030.

If you see a lionfish on a survey while in the western Atlantic, or any non-native species, please report it through REEF's Exotic Species Sightings form here -- http://www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub