The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Sally Davies and Helen Davies

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One of Helen's favorite finds -- a Secretary Blenny. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.
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The sister duo aboard the Nai'a in Fiji, during the first REEF Field Survey to the South Pacific earlier this month.

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 Sally Davies (REEF member since 2004) and her sister Helen Davies (REEF member since 2006). Collectively they have conducted 100 surveys, and both participated in the recent inaugural South Pacific REEF Trip (more on that next month!). Here's what Helen 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?

Sally was first introduced to REEF by a colleague of hers, Neil Ericsson. The combination of science and nature combined with a desire to contribute something of value made REEF an excellent fit. Sally took her first REEF trip to Bonaire in 2004. It was a true whirlwind trip since hurricane Ivan blasted through, taking with it the dive dock at Buddy Dive. After her first trip with REEF, Sally was “hooked” and she started lobbying me (Helen) to learn SCUBA diving. Her persistence paid off and in 2006 I took my first REEF trip to Belize.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

I think the most memorable moment for me was on a trip to St. Vincent diving with Bill Tewes. We were in about 20 ft of water and off in the distance I could see something dark near the sand. It was a group of about 7 flying gurnards digging through the sand with their pectoral fins, it was like something out of a science fiction movie, I’ll never forget it.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?

When I started surveying I was a new scuba diver still learning how to dive so learning both diving and underwater surveying took some time. However, once I learned how to ID the fish and see my data on-line, I began to get excited about adding to a much larger mission. REEF survey data are used by scientists and others all over the world to help better understand our planet. Pretty cool! It's great being part of an organization of conservation minded folks who are keenly interested in our oceans. My favorite fish is the secretary blenny in those blenny condos! The cirri get me every time!!

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

My local San Francisco dive shop is Bamboo Reef. They’ve been in business for 50 years and Sal Zimitti who started the business is still diving in California waters. They are incredibly professional and knowledgeable and fun!

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

Take a point and shoot camera, it will really help you learn the fish. Also, keep working at it, the surveying gets much easier with practice.

Grouper Moon Project - Protecting a Caribbean Icon

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REEF volunteer, Heather George, swims amongst thousands of Nassau grouper, collecting information for the Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Cayman Prep 4th year students working through a lesson on Nassau grouper as part of a new education initiative that REEF is leading in the Cayman Islands. Photo by Todd Bohannon.
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A juvenile Nassau grouper finds cover in shallow seagrass and rubble off Little Cayman. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
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Dr. Steve Gittings (REEF scientific advisor, center) with Dr. Guy Harvey (left) and Dr. Brice Semmens (right), after collecting eggs on spawning night. Photo by REEF.

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). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has 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. Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, to study this amazing natural phenomenon and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. It was a very exiting year - we documented significantly higher numbers of fish at the site than in previous years (we are estimating that the aggregation has surpassed 4,000 fish), there were a lot of small fish this year (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time), and there are hundreds of juvenile (young-of-the-year) Nassaus throughout the shallow habitats around Little Cayman (a result of 2011 spawning). Also this year, with support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we initiated an education program to introduce local children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum is being developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. We are working with educator, Todd Bohannon, and piloting this program with Cayman Prep school on Grand Cayman.

Other highlights from Grouper Moon 2012:

- To raise awareness about the importance of spawning aggregations and the iconic Nassau grouper, we hosted documentary crews and underwater photographers to help capture the magical scenes of spawning and document our research. Dr. Guy Harvey, famed marine artist, is putting the finishing touches on "Mystery of the Grouper Moon", an hour-long show that will air later this year. A crew from the PBS series "Changing Seas" is producing an episode about the conservation impacts of our research. Paul Humann, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, was on hand to document REEF's work in this important project. And Jim Hellemn brought his custom camera rig to generate wide-angle panorama images of the aggregation. These will be used to "immerse" the viewer into the aggregation at public displays.

- On spawning nights, samples of fertilized eggs were collected to use in future genetic work, to better understand spawning patterns and inter-conectedness between Nassau grouper populations throughout the Caribbean.

- Cynthia Shaw, author of the book "Grouper Moon", joined the REEF team both in the field and in the classroom this year. As a scientific illustrator, Cindy lent her expertise to helping document the details of juvenile Nassau gropuer habitat and led our Cayman Prep classrooms in drawning Nassau grouper. Cindy's book is now available in the REEF online store here.

- Research findings from the project, describing the timing and behavior of color phases on spawning in Nassau grouper, was published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Current Zoology. You can read this paper online here.

- A short compilation of underwater footage from the spawning aggregation is posted on YouTube here.

This year's effort came on the heals of the 11th hour extension of protections for the spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban that prohibits fishing at the aggregation sites during the reproductive season, originally implemented in 2003, was extended for eight more years in December 2011. The extension, enacted by the Marine Conservation Board, was in response to recommendations made by the CIDOE based on research findings of the Grouper Moon Project, showing that full protections during spawning season are critical to the long-term survival of this iconic species in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Ministry may soon review a package of more thorough legislation that would enact seasonal closures for Nassau grouper during reproductive time (rather than only protecting the few spots on the map of known spawning sites).

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. Visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Putting It to Work: New Publication From the Grouper Moon Project

Parallel mounted lasers projected on the side of a Nassau grouper at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation.

A new paper was just published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation documenting a key monitoring technique established by scientists from REEF and our Grouper Moon collaborators. The paper, "Documenting recovery of a spawning aggregation through size frequency analysis from underwater laser calipers measurements", describes a technique to monitor changes in fish size on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation through time that does not require the capture and handling of fish. Analysis of seven years of data show that length-distribution data can be collected by divers using a video-based system with parallel lasers calibrated to a specific distance apart. This novel technique is one of just several being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. View the paper online here. Find out more about our work on endangered Nassau Grouper by visiting the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

REEF Celebrates Our Supporters at Sustainers Event

Over 100 REEF Sustainers, marine conservationists, scientists, and prominent figures in the diving industry gathered in South Florida earlier this month to commemorate REEF's successes at the biennial REEF Sustainers Event. REEF Sustainers are donors who contribute at least $1,000 a year to support REEF's programs. REEF Board of Trustees and Staff welcomed our Sustainers and other invited guests to Mango Manor, the home of esteemed underwater photographer and REEF President, Paul Humann, for a day of presentations and camaraderie. It was an honor to have so many of our donors as well as leaders from the scientific and diving communities show support for REEF’s ocean conservation projects. Their support is critical and provides the resources to continue running REEF’s key programs: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, Invasive Lionfish Program, and the Grouper Moon Project. If you would like to join REEF as a Sustainer, please contact Martha Klitzkie at martha@REEF.org or 305-852-0030. You can also make your donation through our secure online contribution portal. A special thanks to the event's sponsors and auction donors: Rocio del Mar LiveaboardRogestCaradonna Dive Adventures, Carrow Foundation, Herdeg, du Pont & Dalle Pazze, LLP, New World Publications, and Cheeko Douglas. 

REEF Database Tops 175,000!

Two of the 14,000+ REEF volunteers conducting a survey! Photo by Tom Collier.

A few weeks ago, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database topped 175,000 surveys! We are exicted and proud to have reached this milestone. Together with our 14,000+ volunteers, we have created the largest fish sightings database in the world! This vital dataset is used by marine scientists, researchers, and government agencies to better understand and protect marine resources. The number of scientific publications, requests for data, and policy decisions resulting from REEF data continue to increase. Visit our Publications page to see the citations list of scientific papers that feature REEF data. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors.

The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is the cornerstone program that supports REEF's mission to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting, and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, and the tropical West Pacific, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada and the South Atlantic States. The data are collected using an easy and standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. The first surveys were conducted 20 years ago in Key Largo, in July 1993.

Explore the REEF database online at www.REEF.org/db/reports.

Upcoming Fishinars

Our 2014 Fishinar schedule is off to a great start! We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. Fishinars coming up include:

  • Butterflies and Angels: Kings and Queens of the Reef - Jonathan Lavan, April 1st, tonight!
  • A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - Ray Troll, April 16th
  • What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love, April 22nd
  • Hawaii's Wrascally Wrasses - Heather George, Liz Foote, and Donna Brown, May 13th
  • Coralinar! - Dr. Marilyn Brandt, May 29th
  • Eastside vs Westside: Lookalike Fish from the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, June 19

REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!

Book Your Space on a 2015 REEF Trip Before It's Too Late

REEF Trip to Dominica in 2014.
Happy surveyors in Fiji 2013.
Dive the Bahamas aboard the Aqua Cat in 2015!

If you haven't yet had a chance to check out REEF's 2015 Field Survey Trip Schedule, we encourage you to take a look. Visit www.REEF.org/trips to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, trip policies, and more. We hope you will join us!. Spaces are starting to fill up, and we want to make sure you don't miss this chance to take a "Dive Vacation that Counts". 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 fish watchers.

2015 REEF Field Survey Schedule

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

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

May 2 - 12 and May 12 - 19 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Chrisy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Wk 1 Details, Wk 2 Details

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 19 - 26 -- Bahamas -- Aqua Cat Liveaboard, Led by Heather George, 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, Details

A Few Spaces Remain on 2015 REEF Trips - Fiji, Curacao, Catalina, and St. Lucia

Our 2015 REEF Trips are off to a great start, with fun, successful trips to Kona and Grand Cayman so far. Most of the remaining trips are sold out, but a few spaces remain. We would love to have you join us in Fiji (May 2-12, one male space left), Curacao (Aug 22 - 29, one male space left), Catalina Island (Nov 1 - 5, 4 spaces left), or St. Lucia (Dec 5-12, 6 spaces left). For trips that are sold out, we are happy to add your name on a wait list, as sometimes traveler's plans do change. We are working hard to get the 2016 trips organized. Our Philippines trip next April is already half full, so act soon on this one if you are interested. The rest of the 2016 schedule will be ready soon. To find out details on all of these trips, visit www.REEF.org/trips.

New Items Added to REEF Store

If you haven't checked out REEF's online store recently, now is a perfect time to get a jump on your holiday shopping! We have added several new items, including a newly-designed REEF shirt that features our logo with all your favorite ocean creatures intertwined and a brand new Nudibranchs of the Indo-Pacific book. Visit www.REEF.org/store to check out these items and more.

Putting It To Work: New Study Documents Decline in Sunflower Stars and Resulting Impacts in the Ecosystem

Sunflower Star and Green Sea Urchin abundance, as recorded in REEF surveys from January 2010 to November 2014 in Washington and British Columbia (n = 1568 surveys).

Between 2013 and 2015, the US Pacific Northwest and western Canada experienced a mass mortality of sea stars. The Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), a previously abundant predator, began to show signs of a wasting syndrome in early September 2013, and dense aggregations disappeared from many sites in a matter of weeks. REEF surveyors certainly noticed, and the decline was reflected in the REEF database. The authors of a new publication just out in the journal PeerJ used the REEF database to document the decline at a regional scale. In addition to the dramatic decline in Sunflower Stars, they found a four-fold increase in the number of Green Sea Urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis). The sea urchin increase also resulted in declines in kelp canopy coverage. This type of ecological change, where a change in one species impacts many others, is known as a trophic cascade. Because of the long-term and wide-spread nature of the REEF survey program, our data have proven invaluable in documenting the impacts of the seastar wasting disease. The study was conducted by Jessica Schultz, Ryan Cloutier, and Isabelle M. Côté from Simon Fraser University and the Vancouver Aquarium. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the 60+ scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub