Fishwatching - The Thrill of the Hunt For New Species

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Hogchoker, a tiny flatfish, was a great find by active REEF surveyors, Todd and Lynn Fulks. Photo by Todd Fulks.

It's one of the great things about fishwatching and doing REEF surveys - no matter how many surveys you have conducted, there is always an opportunity to find something new. These "mystery fish" are what keep folks who have done even 1,000+ surveys coming back for more. Finding a "lifer", a species new to your species life list, is always rewarding. A great part of submitting REEF surveys is that REEF keeps track of your lifelist for you.  

One of the many data summary reports that are available through the REEF Website is your personal Life List Report, which includes all of the species that you have reported during REEF surveys. REEF Surveyors also have access to "My Survey Log", which lists information about each survey dive, including date, time, location and the number of species seen. In order to access these reports, you need to be logged into REEF.org. If you haven't already done so, create a Website login account today.

Active surveyors, Todd and Lynn Fulks, found one such "lifer" recently during a survey dive in San Blas, Panama -- a hogchoker (Trinectes maculatus). This little flatfish was happy to pose on Todd's slate underwater while they snapped a photo. Great find! Do you have your own great lifelist story? Please post it to the REEF Forum Discussion Board.  And if you are looking for a great read this Fall, check out The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. It chronicles obsessed bird watchers participating in a contest known as the North American Big Year, hoping to be the one to spot the most bird species during the course of the year. If you are a fish fanatic, you will definitely see some similarities!

REEF News Tidbits

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Dr. Brice Semmens presented REEF's Grouper Moon Project results at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in May 2009.
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This is one of the new books added to the REEF Online Store.

REEF's Grouper Moon Project Featured as "Success Story in Marine Conservation" REEF's research program focused on studying one of the last remaining large spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Cayman Islands, the Grouper Moon Project, was included as one of 26 stories of good news in the typically grim news of marine conservation efforts. Dr. Brice Semmens, Grouper Moon Project lead scientist, presented results from the collaborative research efforts during the Beyond the Obituaries: Success Stories in Ocean Conservation symposium organized by Drs. Jeremy Jackson and Nancy Knowlton at the National Museum of Natural History last month. To watch Brice's talk archived online, click on this link and then navigate to about 52:45 on the time bar. The presentation is 10 minutes.

REEF Featured on NPR's Morning Edition REEF surveyor, Pacific NW diver, and NPR reporter Ann Dornfeld wrote and narrated a story that aired on National Public Radio on May 20th. The story covers a typical REEF survey, as well as discussing how the data is being used in Washington State to help understand the status of rockfish species. The story features interviews with REEF surveyors Janna Nichols and David Jennings, REEF's Director of Science - Christy Semmens, and WDFW's Greg Bargmann. Click here to listen to the story or visit KUOW webpage to read the transcript.

New Hawaii Field Guides Added to the REEF Online Store We have just added three new field guide books for critters and fish found on Hawaii's reefs. The new selection includes an updated and expanded fish guide by John Hoover, which is a must for any diver or snorkeler planning to do surveys in Hawaii. We also added Hoover's Hawaii's Sea Creatures, a guide to over 500 invertebrate species, and a waterproof booklet of 100 of the most common Hawaii fishes.  Visit the REEF Store today for all of your field guide needs, as well as your place for REEF survey materials and REEF gear!

REEF To Collaborate On Assessment of Coral Reefs REEF will be providing fish population data to Reefs at Risk Revisited, a global analysis of threats to coral reefs using high-resolution data and biological modeling. The Reefs at Risk project is led by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), and will serve as a landmark evaluation of coral reefs worldwide. Stay tuned for future issues of REEF-in-Brief for updates.

Great Annual Fish Count 2009 An exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners. Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event. And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.

Please Remember to Donate During REEF's Summer Fundraising Campaign Your support is needed to ensure the long-term success of REEF and our important marine conservation programs. Donate online today through this link. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and Staff -- Thank You!

Active REEF Surveyor in San Diego Honored by SD Oceans Foundation

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REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team member, Bob Hillis. Photo courtesy SDOF.

The San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF) is one of REEF's valued partner organizations. SDOF has been supporting its volunteers to participate in REEF surveying for the last several years and has sponsored dozens of survey training workshops. SDOF recently honored REEF member, Bob Hillis, who is a long-time SDOF Reef Monitoring Volunteer, as their 2009 top volunteer for his invaluable support of the oceans. Having completed 202 REEF Surveys, Bob has continued to strengthen his connection to the sea while providing indispensable information about the status of marine populations off the coast of California. 
Bob joined REEF in 2006 and is a member of the REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). In addition to being an active surveyor, he and his wife helped spread the REEF word last year at our SCUBA Show 2009 booth.

Bob says - “I started doing surveys when I saw a notice for an SDOF Fish ID class on the Divebums website. I had started fish watching a few years before when I reached the "been there, done that" point of diving in San Diego. I started diving here in the early '70's and did all the abalone, lobster, blue water spearfishing, divemaster, instructor, dive medtech and public safety diver things. I live in the mountains (about 60 miles from the coast), but the ocean is my favorite playground! I am also an avid surfer, body surfer and ocean swimmer. Doing REEF surveys with SDOF gives me an opportunity to enjoy my passions and give a little back to the ocean as well. These surveys actually force me to focus on and identify all of the species that I used to see (but not REALLY see). Always hoping to locate a new or rare species has added a new and exciting dimension to diving.”

Thanks for your efforts, Bob, and congratulations! And thanks to SDOF for their continued support of the REEF program.

Counting Fish on the Spike in Jacksonville

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Happy REEF surveyors after conducting GAFC surveys in Jacksonville.
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Polka-dot Batfish are one of the interesting critters found around the Spike. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Thirty miles offshore, in 100 feet of water, the Spike isn’t the most accessible dive site off North Florida’s coast but July 17th marked the first anniversary of the former Coast Guard tender’s deployment as an artificial reef so we were eager to see what had changed over the past year. The Spike had only been down 10 days when we surveyed it during last year’s Great Annual Fish Count. We weren’t expecting much then – the chance to dive a freshly minted reef was the main attraction, but it was interesting that it had already attracted a small crowd of nervous bottom fish, including the usual Black Sea Bass and Vermillion Snappers.

It was a very different site one year later. A large school of nosy barracudas followed the first diver down the line, clearing the way for hundreds of Atlantic Spadefish to move in and escort the rest of our group down. The Spike was surrounded by silversides that fled en masse as we moved through them, then streaked back to the structure for protection when gangs of Great Amberjack attacked. It’s difficult to describe the sound made by thousands of fleeing fish, but they are noisy. The superstructure is now covered with invertebrates – barnacles, tunicates, sponges, and anemones – that provide shelter and food for hundreds of tiny seaweed blennies. Jacksonville’s ubiquitous grunt, the Tomtate, was there in every phase from juvenile to adult. The Black Sea Bass and Vermillion snappers are now settled in under the bow with a group of small Red Snappers and waddling around in the sand was one of my favorites, a Polka-dot batfish! A year ago, I counted 6 species of fish. This year I counted 16 species.

Our group also dived the Gator Bowl Press Boxes, an artificial reef created years ago when the city’s stadium was renovated. Although it had about the same amount of biomass as the Spike, there were more species. One of the joys of offshore Jacksonville for fishwatchers is getting to see species like Dwarf Goatfish, Longspine Porgys, Bank Sea Bass and Oyster Toadfish that we see don’t tend to see in more tropical waters. Congratulations to Richard Salkin and T.C. Howe, who conducted their first REEF surveys.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Georgia Arrow

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Georgia (on the far right) and some of her fellow Pacific NW REEF surveyors.
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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 Georgia Arrow (REEF member since 2002). Georgia lives in Portland, Oregon, has conducted 686 REEF surveys in four different regions, and is a Level 5 Expert surveyor in the Pacific. She has the most surveys of anyone in the west coast Pacific region. Here's what Georgia had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

I was unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to get an ear infection during my Open Water certification weekend. I was not allowed to participate in this new and exciting experience for 2 months! I checked at the dive shop and found that there was to be a Fish ID class and immediately signed up thinking it would be a lot more fun to dive if I actually knew what I was looking at-I found this to be true when birdwatching so it made sense that fishwatching would be the same. At that class, I learned about REEF and surveying and I met Janna Nichols, one of my first scuba/fish ID mentors. I wasn’t able to do the dives with the rest of the class because of my ears but when I was healthy, Janna took me on my first surveying dives. It was very exciting to be putting names to all the fish I saw on those dives. The dives were quite memorable for many reasons but knowing the fish and being able to do a survey was certainly one of them. So I have been surveying since my first dive after certification in 2002.

Have you ever been on a REEF Field Survey, and if so where and what was your trip highlight?

I went on the Sea of Cortez Field Survey in 2003. It was a wonderful trip from beginning to end. It was my first experience in warm water! I was in heaven. The divers were fun, the water was amazing, learning warm water fish was overwhelming and exciting. The highlight was diving in the middle of a school of Big Eye Scads - they were just swirling all around us and I was mesmerized.

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

Although I’ve taken several warm water trips, most of my diving is in Puget Sound, a 3 hour drive from my home. I try to get up there 3-4 times and do 8-10 surveys a month. I love the green water, I love the critters we have here from the cute little Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker to the Giant Pacific Octopus. Usually by the time I’m home from a warm water trip I am ready to get back to surveying “my” critters. It’s harder and colder to dive here but that makes it challenging. It’s hard to find some of the critters but that makes it more rewarding when you actually find that elusive fish or nudibranch.

What are some of your most favorite or memorable finds on a survey?

There are so many to choose from it is hard to pick but I have to say the Spotted Ratfish is my favorite fish. I have a Spotted Ratfish tattoo on my shoulder. It is odd-looking but so graceful underwater - it “flies” rather than swims. And it can be as cute as a little puppy dog. One of my best rare sightings is the silver-spotted sculpin.

Take a Dive Trip That Counts

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We are pleased to announce the 2012 REEF Field Survey trip schedule - check it out online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. 2012 destinations include: Nevis, San Blas Islands in Panama, Dominica, Belize, San Salvador in the Bahamas, Sea of Cortez, Hornby Island in British Columbia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cozumel.

Fishinars Coming To Your Living Room

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Silverspotted sculpin. Photo by Georgia Arrow.

Some call them webinars. We call them Fishinars! These free online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are open to divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers alike. Anyone wanting to know more about underwater life is welcome to join in. Participation is free but 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. These short (one hour) webinars will teach you the finer points of identifying fish and invertebrates underwater. Upcoming webinars are given below. Visit the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to register for one or more sessions. Also check back often as more sessions are being added. We have also posted archives of past webinars on the Webinar webpage, so if you can't join in live, you can watch it anytime.

THE NORTHEAST'S DIRTY DOZEN -- Thirteen of most commonly seen fish swimming around those cold NE waters. Instructor: Jonathan Lavan, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, January 11th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

LOOKALIKES? LOOK AGAIN! -- We will walk you through some of the most similarly-appearing fish in the Caribbean. Instructor: Alecia Adamson, REEF Staff -- Tuesday, January 17th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

I WISH THEY ALL COULD BE CALIFORNIA FISH -- Through a series of 5 shorter classes, learn the most commonly seen fish in both Northern and Southern California. Instructor: Keith Rootsaert, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Monday, January 9th at 7pm PST: Rockin' Rockfish; Tuesday, January 10th at 7pm PST: Scalawag Sculpins; Monday January 16th 7pm PST: Wrasse, Bass - Nobody Rides for Free; Wednesday January 18th 7pm PST: Pesky Perch; Thursday January 19th 7pm PST: Odds 'n' Ends 'n' Fish without Feathers

CARIBBEAN CRYPTICS -- Those elusive cryptics! Some of the less obvious suspects that live on the reef. Instructor: Jonathan Lavan, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, February 15th at 6pm PST / 9pm EST

PACIFIC NW ADVANCED FISH ID -- Some of the least common suspects that are seen in the Pacific NW. Taught over three sessions. Instructor: Janna Nichols, REEF Staff, Instructor and fish geek -- Tuesday, February 21st at 7pm PST - Part 1; Wednesday, February 22nd at 7pm PST - Part 2; Thursday, February 23rd at 7pm PST - Part 3

NOT EXACTLY BUMS: FISH THAT LIVE UNDER FLORIDA'S BLUE HERON BRIDGE -- The Blue Heron Bridge in Florida might not seem at first glance like the most exotic dive spot in the world, but the fish that are found here can be quite unusual! Instructor: Lureen Ferretti, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, February 29th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

PERPLEXING PARROTFISH -- Those perplexing parrotfish! Wouldn't you like to know how to tell them apart? Instructor: Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert and fish geek -- Wednesday, March 14th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST

Double Your Donation and Make a Difference For Marine Conservation

Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

Earlier this month, for World Oceans Day, the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation celebrated by pledging to match contributions to REEF dollar for dollar, up to $30,000! Our campaign to raise funds for protecting Nassau Grouper, controlling invasive Lionfish, and inspiring citizen science through the Volunteer Fish Survey Project is off to a great start. But we still need your help to reach our goal in the next 30 days. If you haven't yet had a chance, please contribute today. You can double your donation in the upcoming month by contributing online through our secure web form. Or you can print the donation form and mail or fax your donation, or call our staff at REEF headquarters (305-852-0030).

Contributions from members like you fuel the success of our programs. With your donation, we can expand our new online "Fishinars," which are growing rapidly in popularity. We can continue to fund lionfish education and outreach efforts, such as the Lionfish Cookbook, training and handling workshops, and derbies. Our staff can also keep working with Cayman Islands officials after the recent victory that extended the ban on fishing in Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations. These are just some highlights of REEF accomplishments that are funded by individual contributions. With a chance to double your donation, no gift is too small!

Putting It To Work: New Publications on Lionfish

Photo by Carol Cox.

REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, has co-authored several recent scientific publications on the invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic, including:

-Diet richness of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish revealed by DNA barcoding. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Significant research by REEF researchers and others has been conducted looking at stomach contents of lionfish to identify prey. However, relatively few prey species have been identified because of the challenge of identifying partly digested prey. The authors of this study addressed this issue by DNA-barcoding unidentifiable fish items from the stomachs of 130 lionfish. They identified 37 prey species, half of which had previously not been recorded as lionfish prey.

-Rapid invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in the Florida Keys, USA: evidence from multiple pre- and post-invasion data sets. Bulletin of Marine Science. This paper uses data from the 20,000+ REEF surveys conducted in Florida since the early 1990s, along with other long-term data sources, to document the appearance and rapid spread of lionfishes in the Florida Keys. Between 2009 and 2011, lionfish frequency of occurrence, abundance, and biomass increased rapidly, increasing three- to six-fold between 2010 and 2011 alone.

- Habitat complexity and fish size affect the detection of Indo-Pacific lionfish on invaded coral reefs. Coral Reefs. This paper explores detectability rates of lionfish using underwater visual census methods such as belt transects and stationary visual census. Knowing the error in these methods specficially for lionfish is necessary to help study this invasive species in the western Atlantic. The authors found that the two census methods detect fewer than 30% of lionfish present in an area and, in more than 50% of the cases, fail to detect any lionfish when one or more indivudals are actually present.

For a complete list of publications featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Support REEF While Shopping on Amazon

Do you shop on Amazon? If so, we encourage you to use Amazon Smile. It's the same Amazon experience, same products, prices, and service. And a portion of your purchases will be donated to REEF.

Go to smile.amazon.com and select Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Inc. as your selected charity (or go directly to http://smile.amazon.com/ch/65-0270064). Thank you!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub