REEF Joins in Submersible Expedition to Assess the Lionfish Invasion Beyond Diving Depths

REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green inside the Antipodes sub.
Several dozen invasive lionfish call an artificial reef in South florida, the Bill Boyd, home off.

REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.

During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.

The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.

As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.

Please Support REEF and Our Important Marine Conservation Work

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.

We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

Great Annual Fish Count is Coming

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.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on the Role of Citizens in Detecting and Responding to a Rapid Marine Invasion

An invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Carol Cox.

A recent publication in the scientific journal, Conservation Letters, examined the invasion of lionfish in to the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters. The authors compared traditional reef fish monitoring efforts to less traditional data including the observations of divers through REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and spearfishers. They found that citizen observations documented lionfish 1-2 years earlier and more frequently than the more traditional monitoring efforts. The authors also explored the willingness of spearfishers to help minimize impacts of the invasion by harvesting lionfish. They found that spearfishers who had encountered more lionfish while diving perceived them as more harmful to the habitat than less experienced divers and were also more likely to participate in harvesting initiatives. The authors also report that encouragement from scientists and managers was a far better motivator than the desire to harvest lionfish for personal consumption. This study demonstrates the value of engaging citizens for assessing and responding to large-scale and time-sensitive conservation problems. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

California Fishinars

Opalescent Nudibranch is one of the species monitored by REEF divers in California, and one that will be covered in the upcoming series. Photo by Elaine Jobin.

Are you a California diver? Or perhaps simply an ocean enthusiast wanting to learn more about critters that call the California kelp forests home? Then be sure to check out the upcoming Fishinar schedule. Whether you've attended one of our famous Fishinars (REEF's version of an online webinar) before or not, you're sure to enjoy one of our upcoming free classes! From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information. 

Upcoming California Fishinars include:

  • Invertebrates and Algae of REEF's California Survey Project - This four class series (September 8, 10, 14, 16) will cover all 63 of the invertebrates and algae included in REEF's California survey program.
  • Islands in the Stream: Fish of the California Channel Islands - October 20

A few other Caribbean Fishinars are scheduled this Fall as well, including:

  • The Nightstalkers! Eels of the Caribbean - September 30
  • The Ones You Should Know: Top 25 Fishes of the Caribbean - November 16

Grouper Moon Project - 15th Year of Conservation Science in the Cayman Islands

Protecting a Caribbean Icon - Over 4000 Nassau Grouper gather at the spawning aggregation on Little Cayman. The site is protected during the winter months. Photo by Paul Humann.
REEF Grouper Moon team member, Dr. Scott Heppell, swimming in the aggregation. Numbers, sizes, behaviors are all documented. Photo by Josh Stewart.
Starting a few nights after full moon, the fish change colors to almost all bicolor and spawn. Spawning happens right at dusk, and occurs over several evenings. Then the fish all leave the site and go back to their home reefs for another year. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). In it's 15th year, this important project focuses on one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon.

Several interesting video clips and stories from the field were posted on REEF's Facebook page. Be sure to check it out and like our page to keep updated on all REEF's programs.

Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands.

In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.

Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Watch this short PBS documentary about our efforts. 

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2016, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, and local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club. Funding from the Disney Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. FLOW Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, REEF volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Double Your Donation and Support REEF Discoveries

Alfian's Flasherwrasse, discovered by REEF's own Anna DeLoach in Indonesia. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

On World Oceans Day, REEF kicked off our annual summer matching campaign. Every donation that comes in through August 8, up to $40,000, will be matched dollar for dollar! We are highlighting all the exciting new discoveries REEF staff and members are making through our core programs. With your help this summer, REEF can continue to study the vast underwater world that remains largely unexplored and encompasses more than 70% of our blue planet.

To make a contribution, please visit www.REEF.org/donate.

If you are a regular reader of Making It Count, you may have already heard of these exciting discoveries. They are significant steps forward in marine conservation efforts, and it is only possible through donor support, citizen science, and the help of our members, that we uncovered:

  • Previously undescribed species, including a Coralblenny from the Philippines, Eyre’s Dwarfgoby, from Fiji, and Alfian’s Flasherwrasse from Indonesia 
  • Nassau Grouper can travel up to 275 km during their reproductive season (with this finding, the Cayman Government recommended seasonal protections rather than fishing closures only at reproductive locations) 
  • Ongoing lionfish removals can suppress the invasion to a low enough level to allow for the protection and recovery of native fish populations on Caribbean reefs

From all of us at REEF, we sincerely thank all our donors who make this work possible! Please have a safe and fun-filled 4th of July!

Last Chance to Donate in 2016

Donors giving $250 or more will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered Paul Humann print featuring two Mandarinfish.

Thank you to all our members who have donated during our winter fundraising campaign! If you haven’t yet made a donation, we still need your help. Tomorrow is the last day to make a 2016 tax deductible donation. Please take a moment to contribute online at www.REEF.org/donate, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030. Donors giving $250 or more will receive a limited edition, signed and numbered Paul Humann print featuring two Mandarinfish.

Over the last month, we have highlighted how REEF continues to inspire people around the world to cherish and protect our marine resources. From providing hands-on learning experiences for future generations to protecting important species like Nassau Grouper and fighting invasive species like lionfish, REEF remains dedicated to marine conservation. It has never been more important to ensure that we protect our oceans by promoting citizen science and environmental education.

From all of us at REEF, thank you for your support in 2016! We wish you a very happy new year, and hope you continue to join us on our adventures in 2017.

REEF Sustainers Weekend: A Gathering of Friends in the Florida Keys

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Clara Taylor, Ned DeLoach, Joe Glenn, Anna DeLoach, Paul Humann and Amy Slate share a moment together.
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Lad Akins presents newest Golden Hamlet Club member, Linda Schillinger, with award for completing 1,000 REEF surveys
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Joe Cavanaugh presents 10-year office volunteer Audrey Smith with award and free spot on the 2008 Turks and Caicos REEF Field Survey

On Saturday, July 14th, seventy members of the REEF Sustainers Club (annual donors of $1,000 or more), key partners and long-time REEF friends convened in Key Largo, Florida to celebrate fourteen years of REEF accomplishments over some diving and a sunset dinner. Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach and other Board, staff and Advisory Panel members were on hand to lead guests on some spectacular morning REEF survey dives while Amy Slate and her stand-up staff at the Amoray Dive Resort generously hosted the lodging and dinner party. “The event was just beautiful.” Said long-time REEF surveyor Elaine Morden, of Homestead, Florida. “It was great to connect with old REEF friends and see some new faces.”

The bi-annual Sustainers Event is a chance for REEF to bring together important members of the REEF family to thank them for their contributions and share successes of the organization over the years. This year, REEF was proud to recognize Linda Schillinger for achieving one of the highest REEF honors: admission into the Golden Hamlet club for those who have conducted 1,000 or more REEF surveys. We were also proud to recognize Key Largo resident and REEF office volunteer Audrey Smith for nearly ten years of regular service to the organization by quality-checking survey scanforms before they are uploaded to the REEF database. REEF was itself bestowed with an honor by Sanctuary Friends of the Florida Keys Director Glenn Patton: SFFFK generously gave a gift of support for the Great Annual Fish Count this year to help underwrite the costs of public outreach and education events.

By virtue of a Paul presentation and applause vote, the group answered the perennial question “What is the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean?” Out of thirty possibilities ranging from the spotfin hogfish to the fairy basslet, the spotted eagle ray won a narrow victory over close rivals the queen angelfish and queen triggerfish. Ned enthralled the group with fish behavior anecdotes from as far afield as Indonesia and gave updates on valuable REEF programs ranging from the Grouper Moon Project to the Exotics Species Sightings Project.

All agreed that the only thing hotter than the event itself was the Florida sun in July. With the heat index topping 100 degrees, no one needed a better excuse to indulge in a new REEF-inspired cocktail, the Indigo Hamlet, a unique and diversified alcoholic concoction for our wonderful sustainers to imbibe in while enjoying the sunset! Many thanks to all who made this a Sustainers Weekend to remember. See you at the next one . . .

For information about joining the Sustainers Club, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@reef.org or (305) 852-0030.

REEF Parts - Things to Know (10/07)

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

  • 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!
  • Going on a trip? Order Scan forms, underwater survey paper, books, and other items at the REEF online store
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