REEF Fish and Friends - A Monthly Gathering in Key Largo

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Lad Akins discusses the Great Annual Fish Count during this month's Fish & Friends event in Key Largo.
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Zach Bamman, REEF's Summer Intern, dissected one of the freshly caught lionfish that was brought in to REEF HQ.

In April 2009, REEF started a monthly seminar series to give back to the community that has housed and supported REEF since our inception. REEF Fish & Friends gathers snorkelers, divers, and armchair naturalists at REEF HQ in Key Largo to learn more about fish and have some fun. The July seminar for REEF, Fish & Friends was all about the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). Lad Akins, REEF Director of Operations, presented a brief overview of the event and its’ 18 year history.His enthusiasm and humor encouraged participants to get involved in the annual event with the hope they will continue to conduct fish surveys and contribute to REEF’s database year-round. The How, When, and Where of conducting a survey was explained and the materials needed were shown.

Several of the people attending the seminar brought in Lionfish along with the data regarding their capture. Lad briefly updated the audience on the status of the Lionfish in the Florida Keys and thanked the local dive community for their ongoing efforts in controlling this invasive species. Zach Bamman, REEF’s summer intern, offered to dissect one of the freshly caught Lionfish and this generated a lot of interest. He is a Senior at the University of Central Florida, majoring in Environmental Sciences.

The August REEF Fish & Friends will feature Lauri MacLaughlin from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Her presentation entitled “SPAWN-TANEOUS Corals Catch the Corals in The Act" , will document the annual spawning event over the last 14 years through lecture and video presentation. This is big summer event and Lauri will educate divers prior to their night dive so they will fully appreciate what they are about to see.

REEF Fish & Friends is held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation, and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar.

REEF Releases Lionfish Cookbook

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REEF announces the release of "The Lionfish Cookbook", available for $16.95 online at http://www.reef.org/catalog/cookbook. The book is a unique blend of 45 tantalizing recipes, background on the lionfish invasion and its impacts, as well as information on how to safely catch handle and prepare the fish. Invasive lionfish are a new threat to western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters. Lionfish densities in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the East Coast of the United States are on the rise due to their lack of predators and prolific, year-round reproduction. Thriving lionfish populations pose a serious risk to marine ecosystems through their predation on native marinelife including both commercially and ecologically important species. That lionfish are delicious table fare with a delicate buttery flavor may be our best hope for helping to remove the fish and minimize its impacts. As Bermuda has so aptly coined, we need to “Eat ‘em to Beat ‘em”! Proceeds from the sale of this book will support REEF’s marine conservation and lionfish research and removal programs.

Grouper's Last Stand

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We are happy to share with you a short (3-minute) Public Service Announcement (PSA) from the REEF Grouper Moon Project, featuring spectacular underwater footage and the hopeful story of the Nassau grouper in the Cayman Islands. The video discusses the importance of protections for spawning aggregations and the work that REEF and our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University have done on this important conservation issue. The PSA is on REEF's We Speak Fish YouTube channel -- http://www.youtube.com/user/WeSpeakFish

Cayman Island spawning aggregations have been seasonally protected from fishing for the last 8 years at all current and historic aggregation sites. This protection expires at the end of 2011. The status of future protections for the aggregations is still uncertain. Based on the research and findings of the Grouper Moon Project, the CIDOE has recommended a permanent seasonal closure during the spawning season (Nov-Mar) for Nassau grouper.

Visit REEF at a Dive Show Near You!

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We have a full line-up of dive show appearances planned this year. If you are in the area of one of these shows, please stop by the REEF booth to find out what new and exciting things are happening. In 2012, we will be at: Our World Underwater (Chicago, February 17-19), Beneath the Sea (NJ/NY, March 23-25), Northwest Dive & Travel Expo (WA, April 21-22), SCUBA Show 2012 (Long Beach CA, May 5-6), and Northern California Dive & Travel Expo (Bay Area CA, May 12-13). We are always looking for volunteers to help at the booth. If you are interested in being a REEF ambassador, contact Martha at martha@REEF.org.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Douglas and Jane Rorex

Yellowtail Damselfish. Photo by Alex Griffin.

As we celebrate REEF Member #50,000, it is exciting to also look back to the beginning. This month we feature two of our charter members, Douglas and Jane Rorex (REEF Members #25 and #26). Nineteen years ago this month they were diving in the Florida Keys and happened upon information about what was to be the first REEF Survey Project class in July 1993. They couldn't attend that one, but they did attend a class a few months later. Since then, Douglas and Jane have conducted over 400 surveys combined. Here's what they 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?

We still have the letter from Laddie Akins confirming our being a part of this second class, that took place starting 17 October 1993. The week-long project included 12 dives and surveys along with the daily lessons. It was a blast. It was the best course we had ever had in Scuba in that it enabled us to enjoy our diving ever so much more as we came to recognize what we were actually seeing. Ned DeLoach, Paul Humann, Gloria Teague, and Laddie Akins were all wonderful. Laddie was our primary teacher and has been a mentor, friend, and teacher ever since. Over the years, REEF has continued to provide educational materials, and those combined with books by Ned and Paul have expanded our enjoyment from not only identifying fish, but also watching their behavior. We really enjoyed diving with Ned and Anna DeLoach this past year, where we kept an eye on a pair of courting Frogfish.

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

Most of our Midwest diving involves quarries, lakes, cowponds, caves (springs), and/or rivers. I (Doug) have done all of the former, but presently do most of my local diving in Missouri caves. There is a sense of adventure and exploration and accomplishment in cave diving that is somewhat missing from most cowponds, plus you don't have to run the cattle out of the cave before you dive. The fish life is not as abundant, but there is plenty to see. Cannonball Cave in Missouri is the cave I have explored most thoroughly. I have explored back more than a 1/4 mile and to a depth of 365 feet. The cave is stunning and has beautiful clay formations that are breath-taking.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

The juvenile Yellowtail Damsel. We called it by the name "Jewel" fish when we first started diving. Our signal to each other identifying the fish is to hold out one hand and peck on it with the forefinger of the other hand indicating the bright, jewel like dots that adorn the juvenile. We usually spend time at the end of each dive in the shallows among the fire coral on Bonaire looking at interesting fish and creatures, but the tiny Yellowtail Damsels is our favorite. I suppose its our favorite because of its stunning beauty and its also nice getting to see your favorite fish every dive.

What is your most memorable fish find? Is there a fish (or Marine invertebrate) you haven't seen yet diving, but would like to?

Diving Bonaire in the middle 1990's we kept seeing this tiny goby. I drew it and sent the drawing along with a description to Laddie Akins. Laddie had previously identified dozens of fish for us in this manner, (for example, the Cave Bass and the Black Brotula), and, that he could do it was amazing. This fish he eventually identified as an "Island Goby." It was eventually recognized as the same fish by a previous name: "the Semi-scale Goby." I have drawings of it in log pages from those early days and still think of it as an Island Goby, though, on survey sheets I list it otherwise.

We have not seen either a Whale Shark or a Shortnose Batfish. But we're keeping the dream alive...and they are out there awaiting us.

Spaces Available on REEF Trips in 2013, Including Last Minute Opening on Fiji Trip

Snag the last spot on the Fiji REEF Trip and you'll spend a lovely 10 days aboard the Nai'a.

If you haven't yet booked your space on one of our 2013 REEF Field Surveys, don't delay. They are filling up fast. A last minute opening is available on the Fiji trip aboard the Nai'a liveaboard, May 11-21 - we just had a cancellation, so if you want to join REEF Founder Paul Humann, REEF Director of Science Christy Semmens, and a boat full of enthusiastic South Pacific fishwatchers, get in touch with our travel agent at Caradonna right away - 1-877-295-REEF (7333) or REEF@caradonna.com. Final payment and paperwork are due by the end of next week so don't delay, this space won't last long. Space is for male or female, single room accommodations. All the Fiji details are here, we hope you can join us!

Other trips that still have a few spaces include: Southern Bahamas Lionfish Trip (May 18-25), Little Cayman with Paul Humann (July 13-20), Curacao Lionfish Trip (Aug 31-Sept 7), Grenada (Oct 5-12), Socorro Islands (Dec 3-12), and Cozumel (Dec 7-14). We have also added two new trips in British Columbia, one along the Sunshine Coast and a second trip to Barkley Sound. Visit www.REEF.org/trips for information and details on all of these great trips.

Honoring Our Golden Hamlet Club Members

No, it's not a club of Shakespearean enthusiasts! Rather it's a club of citizen scientist superstars - those REEF members who have conducted 1,000+ surveys in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The very first Golden Hamlet member was Linda Baker, achieving the status in 2005. Today, there are are sixteen members of the Golden Hamlet Club. We recently created a plaque, now hanging at REEF HQ in Key Largo, with the names of our honored volunteer surveyors -- Lad Akins, Linda Baker, Judie Clee, Janet Eyre, Dave Grenda, Doug Harder, Lillian Kenney, Peter Leahy, Rob McCall, Franklin Neal, Mike Phelan, Bruce Purdy, Linda Ridley, Dee Scarr, Linda Schillinger, and Sheryl Shea. Congratulations to you all. Thanks to their dedication, and those of the 14,000 other volunteers who have participated in the Survey Project since its inception in 1993, we have generated the largest marine fish sightings database in the world. Who's going to be the next Golden Hamlet surveyor?

Grouper Moon Scientists Talk Live with School Children From Under the Waves

Grouper Moon researchers, Brice Semmens, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Steve Gittings, join educator, Todd Bohannon, for a live-from-the-field chat with Caymanian classrooms. They explained a typical research day and showed much of the research equipment used.
Grouper Moon Educator, Todd Bohannon, goes through a coral reef food web exercise that is part of the Grouper Education Project curriculum with school children at Little Cayman Primary School.
Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, conducting a live-from-the-field chat from the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation site on Little Cayman to Caymanian classrooms. Brice answered questions from the students about grouper biology, spawning aggregations, and diving. Photo by Joshua Stewart.

It was a science lesson with a difference, broadcast live from beneath the waves with thousands of endangered fish in attendance. Earlier this month, Grouper Moon Project scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens from REEF, hosted three live-from-the-field web chats with students from 18 classrooms at 13 schools in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Washington State (US). The first of the three web chats was broadcast from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, and featured scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project. The other two featured Brice diving and answering questions from the students, first on the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation and then on the famous Blood Bay Wall. The webcasts are archived online here.

Now in its third year, the Grouper Education Program presents students with a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important species. Key curricular concepts include: the historical role of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean, its role as a top predator and its positive impact on local reef health, and the conservation challenges facing the species.

Brice Semmens, who presented the underwater webcasts, said students were excited to witness science in action. “As they explore the aggregation with me, the immediacy and reality of the experience really touches them. We are giving students their first diving experience – and it happens to be with thousands of huge, endangered reef fish.”

The work of the Grouper Moon research project – a collaboration between REEF and the Cayman Island Department of Environment has led to fishing restrictions at the aggregation sites and an increase in numbers of the endangered fish. To find out more, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support is provided by Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef DiversCayman Airways, and LIME.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Effectiveness of Lionfish Culling

A bag of culled lionfish in the Bahamas. Photo by Leah Neal.

REEF staff co-authored a new publication in the scientific journal PeerJ that features research findings from our Invasive Lionfish Research Program. The paper, titled "Setting the record straight on invasive lionfish control: Culling works", evaluates the effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts. Frequent culling of the invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish throughout the Caribbean has been shown to cause a shift towards more wary and reclusive behavior by lionfish, which has prompted calls for halting culls. The paper addresses those concerns and reviews research conducted by REEF and other efforts. Culling successfully lowers lionfish numbers and has been shown to stabilize or even reverse declines in native prey fish. Partial culling is often as effective as complete local eradication, yet requires significantly less time and effort. Abandoning culling altogether would therefore be seriously misguided and a hindrance to conservation. The authors also offer suggestions for how to design removal programs that minimize behavioural changes and maximize culling success. The paper is available for online viewing here. You can find a complete listing of all publications that feature REEF's programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

REEF Joins Leading Volunteer Organizations to Develop Citizen Science Toolkit

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Leda Cunningham test drives an online bird ID portal with other conference participants.
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REEF volunteer (and family member) Brice Semmens takes in the REEF display during the poster session.

In late June, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) hosted the first ever Citizen Science Toolkit Conference in Ithaca, New York. Widely known for projects like FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the CLO is a pioneer in bringing people closer to nature through cooperative research, cutting edge technology and innovative science programs across many natural science fields. Leda Cunningham and Dr. Christy Semmens represented REEF at the 3-day meeting, where fifty leaders of citizen science organizations around the world – from worm watchers to bird counters to star gazers – came together to build a toolkit for citizen science practitioners and others seeking to engage volunteers in meaningful science activities.

There is some debate about what citizen science is, not to mention what it does. Many participants noted that “volunteer monitoring” more accurately captures the nature of their programs (much like the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project) while others thought that volunteers fill more of a role than just data collectors and should be involved in all parts of the scientific process, beginning with posing the research question. The group periodically split into five focus groups and reconvened at the end to present a model based on each group’s focus area: Education, Evaluation and Impact, Community Building, Technology and Cyberinfrastructure, and Research and Monitoring. The resulting Toolkit will include resources, recommendations, and case studies from each of these areas, as well as a key to existing citizen science programs. Christy participated in a panel on the impacts of citizen science and presented examples of how REEF data are used by resource agencies and scientists. She presented details of how REEF volunteers helped identify a hotspot of non-native fishes along the south Florida coast and the resulting management actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the important role that REEF data can play as a fisheries-independent source of data for the development of stock assessments and fisheries management plans, the discovery of new species by several REEF members, and the value of using our most experienced divers (the Advanced Assessment Team) to conduct annual monitoring of selected sites inside and around no-take marine reserves.

REEF was proud to contribute its fourteen years of experience building the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the group discussion. Many citizen science organizations deal with the same issues of volunteer recruitment, recognition and retention, engaging the “real” science community, standardizing data collection methods and measuring success. REEF has addressed many of these issues with innovative strategies that may be adopted by other citizen science initiatives: engaging the private retail sector (dive shops) to recruit volunteers within a target audience (scuba divers and snorkelers), developing strong partnerships with science and resource management agencies (such as university-based researchers and the National Marine Sanctuary Program), 5-level expertise testing (in fish identification) to assist with quality control, a published standardized data collection method and the Advanced Assessment Team as an incentive for volunteers to become more proficient surveyors and a measuring stick for training programs.

For more information on the conference or Citizen Science Central, the CLO’s initiative to provide information for practitioners and volunteers, click here. Look for the Citizen Science Toolkit, a robust and practical framework for citizen science program development, implementation, and evaluation, in the fall 2007.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub