This summer seemed to fly by, and along with it went REEF’s 2016 Summer Lionfish Derby Series! It was an exciting summer full of “firsts” for the derby program. We added a fourth derby to the series, which we hosted in Sarasota in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. We also hosted our first Lionfish Culinary Competition in conjunction with the Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby, held at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, with support from the NUISANCE Group and Chef Chris Sherrill. The Sarasota and Palm Beach County derbies were full weekend events rather than single day removals, which gave competitors more time to get to sites that aren’t fished as often and to maximize the amount of lionfish removed. To top it all off, the Fort Lauderdale Derby teams brought in an astounding 1,250 lionfish in a single day! In all, the teams removed 2,426 lionfish during the REEF Lionfish Derbies in 2016. A whopping 18,560 lionfish have been removed in all REEF Derbies since 2009. Way to go teams. More stats below.
2016 Summer Series Derby Stats
Total Lionfish Removed:
Sarasota (July 9th & 10th) = 429
Fort Lauderdale (July 16th) = 1,250
Palm Beach County (August 13th & 14th) = 337
Upper Keys (September 10th) = 323
Total Lionfish Removed During 2016 Derby Series = 2,426
Total Lionfish Removed from ALL REEF Derbies (since 2009) = 18,560
Largest Lionfish Caught = 427 mm (~16.8 inches)
Smallest Lionfish Caught = 24 mm (~.94 inches)
Thank you to all of our 2016 Derby sponsors who made this series possible, including Diver’s Direct, Evolve Diving, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries, the Florida State Park Service, Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, and ZooKeeper! The 2016 Summer Lionfish Derby Series was funded in part by a grant awarded from Mote Marine Laboratory’s Protect Our Reefs Grants Program, which is funded by proceeds from the sale of the Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate. To learn more, visit www.mote.org/4reef.
REEF members are at the heart of our marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Deb Hebblewhite, a REEF member since 1999. Deb lives in Denver, Colorado. She has conducted 129 surveys and has participated in several REEF Field Survey Trips. Here's what Deb had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
I was in Cozumel in the 90’s when I first discovered a copy of Paul and Ned’s early Caribbean Fish ID book. I was so very excited to be able to start identifying the creatures I was seeing underwater. It definitely made SCUBA so much more enjoyable for me. I don’t remember how I found out about it but my first REEF trip was an intro to surveying trip led by Lad in Key Largo in August of 2002. The main reason I signed up for that trip was the advertised chance to see the Coral Spawn. We ventured out late one night and the corals waited until we were almost out of bottom time before they finally started popping. It was a new and magical experience for my dive buddy and I. I hope to have the chance to see that again one day.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
As cool as the Coral Spawn was, my favorite experience on a REEF trip came in the Sea of Cortez in 2008. In the middle of the afternoon we came upon a huge bait ball. I don’t recall the type of fish but this bait ball was larger than anything I had ever seen. It remained in the same location for quite awhile so we were able to dive it twice. On the second dive I spent a good amount of time just sitting on the bottom looking up in awe at the amazing, swirling tangle of life above me.
Is there a fish you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
Surprisingly there were no large fish feeding on that bait ball I saw in the Sea of Cortez. The one fish I would really like to see while diving is any type of billfish. There is something about their speed and power that I find fascinating. I’m going back to the Sea of Cortez with REEF in August so maybe there will be another bait ball and I will get my chance to eye that billfish.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?
I love all kinds of rays, especially Manta Rays, mainly for their grace moving through the water. When I dove the Red Sea I encountered Bluespotted Ribbontail Rays and they are some of the most memorable animals for me. They are just so pretty and colorful.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I live in Colorado so don’t do much diving locally. I don’t really have an ultimate favorite place. I enjoy traveling to new destinations but since I’ve been to Dominica three times I would have to say it’s my favorite Caribbean location. Though I get a good amount of vacation time I have several other interests that I travel for so some years I only go on one dive trip. However, 2016 was unusual for me as I went to Dominica in February and then participated in two big firsts for REEF; the first REEF trip to Cuba and the first REEF trip to Micronesia.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Participating in REEF and completing REEF surveys increases my enjoyment of SCUBA exponentially, and gives me satisfaction and a sense of purpose. There are so many detrimental things happening to our oceans today. Adding to the REEF database by submitting surveys makes me feel like I’m doing some small part to help the underwater world I love. In the process I’ve learned so many fascinating things about fish and other sea creatures. It’s fun too to do something that’s a little bit off mainstream. The folks in my office think it’s fun to tell people that “Debbie is out counting fish” when I’m away on a REEF Trip. I feel privileged to be a REEF member and to have the opportunity to dive with so many amazing people who truly care about our seas. I believe it is incumbent upon those of us who experience it first hand to be the ambassadors for the oceans. Sharing what we know with those who never get the chance to experience that magical underwater world is an important way to engage people in the fight to protect our oceans.
Thanks to everyone who participated in a GAFC event this summer! This July, over twenty-three events were hosted throughout REEF's survey regions. We are still receiving data from these events and have processed a large amount already!
Since REEF's GAFC's inception in California in the early 90's, it has continued to grow and expand. More people are become involved in REEF by making a meaningful contribution to marine conservation by conducting REEF Fish Surveys. Previous events have generated over 2,000 surveys during the month of July. This year, the New England Aquarium Dive Club hosted an event in Gloucester, MA, with 103 surveyors!
GAFC is REEF's biggest annual signature event which mobilizes our wonderful partners, volunteers, and dive shops throughout much of our survey regions. All of whom coordinate their own local events which include offering free REEF Fish ID courses, organizing survey dives/snorkels, and other fun events tied into the theme of counting fish. The GAFC draws local, national (US), and international media attention each year. It reengages veteran REEF volunteers and also serves as a terrific mechanism to expose new ones to what REEF is all about. Though the GAFC takes place each July, it highlights nothing more than what we do year-round - engaging individuals to become active stewards of the marine environment. Volunteers learn by taking REEF Fish ID courses and conducting fish surveys as part of The Fish Survey Project.
Grant Gove, who attended the GAFC event hosted by the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop in Bonaire, Netherlands Atillies, sent REEF wonderful DVD's of their successful event for our public library! If you hosted an event this year, or participated in one, we encourage you to either mail a DVD to REEF HQ, Post Office Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037 or email your pictures to email@example.com.
Thank you to everyone who made GAFC successful this year and look forward to next years 17th annual GAFC event!
The long wait is finally over! REEF is proud to announce the launch of an expanded online data entry interface that now includes surveys conducted in the Pacific (California – British Columbia) and Hawaii regions. Surveyors in these regions can now enter data online and enjoy quicker processing time to view their data. With more than 2,000 survey forms coming in to REEF HQ each month, this expanded service will both improve efficiency and reduce rising costs of processing data. The program will eliminate many of the common clerical errors and will flag potential species misidentification based on existing REEF sightings data. REEF originally launched online data entry for surveys conducted in the Tropical Western Atlantic region (includes East and Gulf Coasts of US, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda) in February 2005. Here are answers to some of the most common questions
When and how?
Starting today, members can go online to http://www.reef.org/dataentry and enter data for surveys conducted anywhere in these Volunteer Survey Project regions. You will log in using your REEF member number and last name.
Will the data immediately be added to the REEF database?
No, similar to data submitted via paper scanform, REEF staff will run the data through error checking programs first. However, overall processing time will be greatly reduced.
Will I still be able to submit data using the paper scanforms?
Yes, REEF will continue to provide and process paper scanforms. However, beginning in 2008, REEF will charge a nominal fee per paper scanform to cover rising costs in processing these paper forms.
A very big thank you to Dr. Michael Coyne, REEF’s longtime database programmer and overall IT guru, for making this new program a reality, and to stellar REEF volunteers Janna Nichols, Liz Foote, Carl Gwinn, Herb Gruenhagen, and Janet Eyre for their help in beta testing the program.
To find out more, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/information.
The Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is an opportunity for divers and snorkelers to participate in a fun and educational program while contributing to marine conservation. During the month of July, REEF HQ, Field Stations and partners offer a variety of fish-counting activities. This will be the 17th year for the event.
Participation can be as simple as conducting as many survey dives in and around coastal waters as you like. Or, take a dive with your favorite dive operator or local dive club.
Field stations and REEF partners are encouraged to organize and schedule training sessions and survey dives. If you would like to get involved and host an event, please submit your event information to us by clicking here.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-852-0030.
It is hard to believe that I am already more than half way through my Marine Conservation Internship. The past two months have been full of exciting events that have really inspired me to continue on in the world of marine conservation and biology. After settling into the REEF office for just a few days, the REEF staff had me out and about, getting involved with the community. For a week in mid-June I assisted with Paul Humann’s “Discovery Tour,” diving along side an energetic and enthusiastic group of divers who were learning fish identification and practicing surveying techniques. I was also able to sit in on the Non-Native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida Technical Workshop, which helped introduce me to the growing problem of Lionfish and the efforts that REEF, along with other organizations, puts forth into researching this growing problem.
July has been just as busy, starting with the International Coral Reef Symposium from July 7-11. This conference happens only once every four years, and fortunately for me, was held in Ft. Lauderdale this year. I had never had the opportunity to attend a scientific conference like this before, but was a great experience due to the many presentations and massive amounts of information I was exposed to each day. It really helped to open my eyes to the different fields of research available. Following the symposium, I was able to participate in the REEF Field Trip associated with ICRS in Key Largo.
I have also been able to work with the Education and Outreach program during my time with REEF. As part of REEF’s Great Annual Fish Count, I participated in a Fish ID Seminar at Biscayne National Park. I also spoke to volunteers at the Dolphin Research Center about REEF and its programs while visiting the facility and learning about the center in June. After hearing many great stories about the infamous Seacamp from Lisa, I spent my first night on Big Pine Key just last week where Lisa and I were the Science Night speakers for a group of campers. The enthusiasm in the room from the kids was off the charts and great to see.
One last highlight of my time with REEF thus far was being able to meet with George Wozencraft, the Internship Coordinator for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society that sponsors my Marine Conservation Internship with REEF. I was able to dive with George one afternoon and discuss my internship and many of the opportunities I have had so far. I am looking forward to the upcoming weeks I have left with the REEF staff, and of course, getting out in the water to conduct more fish surveys!
While we all knew it was just a matter of time, the call still came with a bit of surprise and dread as the first confirmed lionfish sighting in the Florida Keys came in on January 6th, 2009. REEF member Becky Fowler, from Greenville, SC, was diving just offshore of the Benwood Wreck in Key Largo when she spotted the invasive lionfish near the base of a ledge at 66'. With all of the recent focus and outreach efforts that REEF has been forwarding to our members, she knew immediately that she needed to document the sighting and gather a detailed description of its location. Upon her return to shore, she called REEF HQ and delivered the report. This set into motion the Rapid Response plan
developed 7 months earlier in a REEF sponsored multi agency workshop (see REEFNotes article). Becky came by the REEF office, the images were verified, and her detailed site description was conveyed to Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects. The report was forwarded to the US Geological USGS alert system and Lad began response coordination with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) who has jurisdiction of resources at the sighting location.
The following morning, the response team made up of Lad Akins, Lisa Mitchell (REEF Exec. Dir.), John Halas (FKNMS), Frazier Nivens (Ocean Imaging) and Steve Campbell (Quiescence Diving Services) were assembled and on site at 10:30am. Following the excellent location description provided by Becky, the team was able to locate the fish, capture video footage, gather important data on site characteristics and the available nearby prey community, capture and bag the fish in under 14 minutes. The fish was captured live via hand nets, brought back to shore, euthanized and dissected. The 99mm immature male contained one 34mm prey fish in its stomach. Tissue samples, genetic material and other measurements were collected for further analysis by researchers at the NOAA Beaufort lab and Simon Fraser University. No other lionfish were found in the immediate vicinity.
While no one wanted to see lionfish show up in the Florida Keys, most knowledgeable sources believed it was inevitable and simply a matter of time. The one bright side of this story is that advanced planning and preparation initiated by REEF resulted in the awareness, accurate reporting, and successful rapid response effort that removed the fish less than 24 hours after its initial sighting. Hopes are that as lionfish show up in the Keys and other downstream areas, these rapid response efforts will help to control establishments and minimize impacts of this glutinous predator.
REEF continues to encourage divers to report their sightings of lionfish and other non-native fishes with as much detail as possible to www.reef.org/lionfish and to support lionfish research projects such as the January 17-24 project in the Turks and Caicos and the June 13-20 project in Belize. For more information, contact Lad Akins (Lad@REEF.org) (305) 852-0030.
If you are a REEF surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic, you are probably familiar with the Peacock Flounder (Bothus lunatus). And if you spend much time in the sand, you probably even know about the smaller Eyed Founder (Bothus ocellatus)? But how about the Spiny Flounder (Engyophrys senta)? Danielle Calini, an Our World Underwater Scholar who spent this summer as an intern at REEF HQ in Key Largo, was one of several REEF surveyors who recently came across this rarely seen species during a dive on Molasses Reef. And while this was the first record of the Spiny Flounder in the REEF Florida Keys database, it turns out this species might not be as rare as we think.
Spiny Flounder are very similar in appearance to the common Eyed Flounder, and it's likely that surveyors might not be looking closely enough when they see the small flatfish scurrying across the sand. It was previously thought that cirri extending from the eyes were a key feature distinguishing the two species but the cirri are very difficult to see. According to Paul Humann, Spiny Founder can be distinguished from Eyed Flounder by three key features:
REEF is proud to host an Our World Underwater Scholar each summer. In addition to tracking down rare species, OWU interns provide much needed help in the REEF HQ office and conduct outreach with the Florida Keys community. The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extends a big fish thank you to Danielle in appreciation for her service to REEF in the Summer 2009.Share on Facebook
Five years ago, with a group of volunteers, I produced the first DVD volume of Sensational Seas, an anthology of underwater images as seen through the eyes of 25 filmmakers and photographers. Each filmmaker generously donated his or her work, which enabled us to turn those contributions into a great fundraiser for REEF. The DVD was a big success and when REEF staff mentioned in late 2008 that their supply was nearly gone, we knew it was time to produce another volume. Thanks to the Carrow Foundation, who provided the production funding, REEF will be beneficiary of the sales of a new DVD, Sensational Seas Two. The DVD is available for purchase from REEF through the online store -- http://www.reef.org/store/sensationalseastwo.
In Sensational Seas Two, thirty divers from distinguished scientists and seasoned professionals to talented amateurs, take you on a grand tour of watery realms as far-flung as Antarctica, Australia, the Andaman Sea and Georgia Aquarium. Expect the unexpected, come face-to-face with the gentlest of giants, a rolling octopus, spawning frogfish, a snorkeling elephant, and tiny plankton that epitomize the grandeur of nature’s artistic flair. We like to say this collected work is a fitting way to express just why we love to dive.
A lot has changed since our first production in 2004. Online sites like YouTube provide venues for people to share their videos and social networking enables us to share links to myriad underwater images. What sets Sensational Seas Two apart is the cooperative effort between underwater filmmakers, photographers, musicians, graphic designers, writers and programmers - all divers – who donated their skills and art to produce this spectacular collection of underwater images, for the benefit of marine environmental causes.
All of the proceeds from every Sensational Seas Two DVD purchased from the REEF store will go directly to REEF. Your purchase will help REEF continue its important work. Thank you for your support and enjoy the show!
To learn about the DVD and the people who donated their time and images to Sensational Seas Two, visit www.SensationalSeas.com. For a preview of Sensational Seas Two, watch the trailer on YouTube here.
Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) with help from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) will host an inaugural series of lionfish derbies in the Keys starting this weekend. Divers who remove lionfish from Sanctuary waters will be eligible for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes. Awards will go to the top 3 teams in the following categories: most lionfish, biggest lionfish, and smallest lionfish.
REEF and Sanctuary managers have been working with the Florida Keys dive community to remove invasive lionfish since early 2009. Scientists are concerned about the rapid population growth of lionfish in Keys waters and their lack of a natural predator in the Atlantic. Lionfish are known to feed on ecologically and commercially important fish species — including snapper, grouper and shrimp — and can disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystem.
“Current research is beginning to show that, if left unchecked, the impacts of lionfish could be devastating to our native marine life and coral reefs,” said Lad Akins, REEF Director of Operations. “Providing training and incentives for the public to remove lionfish is one way to control populations and minimize those impacts.” Following detailed briefings by REEF staff on lionfish collecting and handling, divers will be allowed to collect fish on the day of the tournament using hand nets or spearfishing gear in areas of the sanctuary where fishing and spearfishing is allowed. A new rule was just passed July 27th, 2010 that enables divers to collect lionfish with hand nets throughout Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.
The $100 derby registration fee for a four-person team of divers or snorkelers provides participants with a pair of puncture resistant gloves and banquet tickets. Event banquets will feature a lionfish tasting for derby participants and guests. These derbies are not only a great way to reduce local lionfish populations, but also serve to educate and engage the public in lionfish control efforts.
“Eating lionfish is a conservation activity,” said Sean Morton, acting FKNMS Superintendent. “We are its only known predator in the Atlantic and through dedicated diver-based removal efforts, and consumption of lionfish as a food source, we can control its establishment.” NOAA has even developed an “Eat Lionfish” campaign that brings together fishing communities, wholesalers, and chefs in an effort to broaden U.S. consumers’ awareness of this delicious invader.
For more information on REEF's lionfish research program, the derbies, and to register online, visit www.reef.org/lionfish. Dates and locations for the derbies are: September 11 – Coconuts Restaurant, Key Largo • October 16 – Keys Fisheries Market and Marina, Marathon • November 13 — Hurricane Hole Marina, Key West. Florida Keys lionfish derbies are sponsored in part by: Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Divers Direct, Spree Expeditions, Inc., Dive Key West, Inc., and Scuba-Do Dive Company. To become an event sponsor, please contact Alecia@reef.org. REEF-coordinated lionfish derbies in the Bahamas have removed almost 2,500 lionfish since 2009. Thousands more fish have been captured in more than 30 REEF-organized lionfish collection trips across the Caribbean. Because of REEF’s vast experience with lionfish control programs, the Florida Keys Lionfish Derbies are destined for success!