Okay, well not exactly. But now that I have your attention. We ARE counting something in REEF HQ's backyard, not fish, but birds! I have signed myself /REEF up for Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology Project FeederWatch, an annual survey of birds that visit bakcyard feeders in winter. I have known about this other great citizen science program for a couple of years and like many of you, my love for birds, equals my affinity for fishes. Last week, 4 painted buntings visited REEF's feeder for a little over a week! You can see my fuzzy picture of a couple of them at the feeder from afar in one of the attached photos. This prompted me to go online and investigate Cornell University's FeederWatch Program further. From their homepage you will read, "FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each species they see at their feeders from November through early April. FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance." Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it?
Spend a little time on their website and you will see that FeederWatch parallels REEF programmatically in a few significant ways: 1. Anyone can participate in North America, all different levels from beginners to experts; 2. We both begin participation by purchasing a starter kit, FeederWatch calls theirs a Participant Kit and it costs $15; 3. Both organizations have online Dataentry and tracking of individual participant data; 4. Similar absence/presence data, abundances, and distribution for both groups in addition to viewing individuals' data http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/PFW/ExploreData; 5. Both of our organizations utilize citizen science data to inform and assist scientists in assessing population abundance indices of important avian and fish species, leading to peer-reviewed publications and ultimately influencing species and habitat management decistions; 6. You can check on their database to see what birds are rare in your area and if there are any other FeederWatch stations near you, just as REEF members can check for fish sighting frequencies and dive sites that have been surveyed in our areas of interest.
I'm sure there are many more parallels I could draw for you, but you get the point. One important note and the reason I am submitting this article right now is that FeederWatch season runs from the the second Saturday in November through April and is a winter activity. For all of our temperate REEF members who are looking for something to count when you're not underwater, this is it! To learn more, check out their website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/Overview/over_index.html.
Greetings from REEF HQ! Conservation science is in sharp focus here at REEF, from an expanded Grouper Moon Project to new uses of REEF data in the Channel Islands. REEF is making giant strides in the Florida Keys community with a successful For the Love of the Sea benefit event, upcoming citizen science panel discussions and the recognition of two invaluable volunteers by a prominent community foundation. If you're looking for travel opportunities, consider jumping on one of the 4 spots just released on the Turks and Caicos Field Survey, April 19-26, or joining the Sea of Cortez Field Survey October 5-12. Educators can apply to join these or other REEF Field Survey teams through a special scholarship. Please read on . . .
As many of you are aware, the recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into Atlantic waters has been causing great concern among researchers, marine park and fisheries managers, and divers. REEF, in partnership with Bahamian dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy, NOAA, the USGS, the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem.
Our most recent field project at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in May 2008, involving over 20 volunteers and researchers, found that the problem continues to get worse. The team gathered data on nearly 200 specimens of lionfish to determine relative abundance, size increases, reproductive status, growth rates, predator prey relationships and movement. To wit:
To date, dive operators and the contributions of participating volunteers have funded the bulk of this work. REEF’s future field-work will concentrate on lionfish movement, trap design, habitat preference, and local control measures. Our next project is scheduled to take place at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau from September 14-20. If you would like to help with our ongoing work please consider joining us as a field volunteer and/or making a contribution to REEF’s Exotic Species Program. For additional information, please contact Lad Akins at (305) 852-0030 x-2# or e-mail Lad@reef.org
As Fall is upon us, we look ahead to 2009 and a great lineup of REEF travel opportunities. Our partners at Caradonna Dive Adventure have helped us put together an exciting Field Survey schedule, including St. Croix, Bermuda (with Ned and Anna DeLoach), and Grenada on the Peter Hughes Winddancer (with Paul Humann). These week-long projects are led by experts in fish identification and include great diving, learning, and camaraderie with like-minded divers and snorkelers. Your non-diving companions are welcome on all of the land-based projects. There will also be several Lionfish Research Project expeditions, which allow participants to get first hand experience in this exploding invasive species issue. Be sure to check out all of these trips, posted online at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. And remember that it's not just on REEF Trips that you can Make Dives That Count! You are encouraged to conduct surveys during your personal dive vacations farther afield and on local weekend dives in your own backyard. Be sure to order survey materials through the REEF Online Store before you leave and check out what species you are likely to see with the Geographic Summary Reports. And while you are waiting for your tank to be filled, it's fun to tell the folks at the dive shop what you are doing. Being a REEF ambassador helps spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project and the value that fishwatching adds to your experience in the water. We hope that you will join us in making dives that count in 2009. We are kicking off the year with a Field Survey to St. Lucia led by new REEF Executive Director, Lisa Mitchell. To find out more or to book your space, please contact our dedicated travel specialist at 877-295-7333 (REEF), REEF@caradonna.com. And be sure to download our 2009 Trip Flyer!
Don't Just Blow Bubbles This Summer! Participate in the 18th Great Annual Fish Count. 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.
Summer Fundraising. Be sure to watch your inbox in a few weeks for an important message from REEF co-founder Paul Humann about our semi-annual fundraising drive.
A Big Win-Win: Have a Great Dive Trip and Support REEF. There are still some spaces left on 2009 REEF Field Survey Trips. Still to come in 2009 are REEF Field Survey trips to Key Largo with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bermuda (again with Ned and Anna), Curacao and Cozumel.
Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry 2.0. An updated version of our Online Data Entry interface will be debuted in a few weeks. This version incorporates many of the suggestions that have been submitted over the years by our members, as well as the capability to submit surveys from the Northeast (Virginia - Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja - Galapagos Islands). We hope that this will facilitate an increase in surveying in these important regions. To log your data online, visit http://www.reef.org/dataentry/login.php.
Once again, REEF participated in the dive industry show, DEMA. We showed off all of the cool REEF gear, including our new lionfish t-shirts, which were a hit, as well as all of the REEF survey essentials. We also spoke with many dive instructors who were looking for new types of classes to teach. The REEF Fish ID curricula certainly fit the bill. A lot of networking was done and new friends made. And lots of people signed up for a free REEF membership. Thanks to generous sponsorship by Sherwood Scuba, we were able to host visitors and spread the word about REEF in a large double booth. As always, we couldn’t have done it without the help of several REEF volunteers. A big thank you goes to Jim and Mary Jo Davis, Robyn Churchill, Tom and Kay Wells, Lureen Ferretti, Deb Deavers, Beth Olsen, Andy Dehart and Park Chapman for all of their help at the REEF booth. Paul Humann and Anna DeLoach also spent a considerable time in the booth, to the delight of the dive community that happened to pass by! All in all, a truly enjoyable experience!
REEF is excited to introduce three new members of our staff team – Alecia Adamson, Sasha Medlen, and Janna Nichols. Their expertise and passion will help REEF continue our long-standing marine conservation programs and community outreach. They join REEF's other program staff, Lad Akins (Director of Operations) and Christy Pattengill-Semmens (Director of Science), our administrative staff, Jane Bixby (Office Manager) and Janet Bartnicki (Accounts Manager), and our volunteer Fish & Friends coordinator Nancy Perez.
Alecia Adamson joined the REEF staff earlier this month as Field Operations Coordinator, after completing her Masters Degree in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida. Her research focused on hogfish populations in Florida Keys reserves, and Alecia also assisted with lionfish field work, gag grouper research, and water quality monitoring. Alecia is returning to REEF; she served as a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the Fall of 2006 and we are thrilled to have her back. Alecia’s duties will include supporting work on the Invasive Lionfish Program, overseeing our artificial reef monitoring program on the Vandenberg, coordinating the Great Annual Fish Count, and working with dive industry partners to more fully develop fishwatching programs. Alecia is based in the Key Largo Headquarters office.
Sasha Medlen joined the REEF staff this winter as Membership Development Coordinator. Sasha graduated from UC Berkley and has worked for a variety of ocean agencies and organizations, including California Coastkeeper, Santa Monica Baykeeper, and NOAA. Most recently, Sasha worked on the outer Washington coast, overseeing rural economic development plans, invasive weed response, and outreach on the impacts of derelict fishing gear. Sasha’s duties include membership services and donor relations, fundraising appeals, and special events. Sasha is based in Huntington Beach, California.
Janna Nichols joined the REEF staff earlier this year as Outreach Coordinator. Janna has been involved with REEF as an instructor and Advanced Assessment Team member since 2000. Janna co-founded the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers and has taught over 1000 divers in the Pacific Northwest and California the fun of critter watching and REEF surveying. She developed the invasive tunicate training materials that REEF and other organizations use and she serves on a tunicate response advisory panel in Washington State. Janna’s duties include survey training material development, outreach in the west coast region through training seminars and dive shows, and building capacity in REEF’s Field Station Program. Janna is based in Vancouver, Washington.
Field Surveys – Eighteen REEF members joined Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens earlier this month on a Field Survey to the Sea of Cortez aboard the Rocio del Mar live-aboard. The team conducted over 300 surveys in 20 locations around the Midriff Islands, many of which were new to the REEF database. It was a great trip, with 130 species of fish found, beautiful topside scenery, and pods of sperm and pilot whales! Find out more about REEF Trips.
Lionfish Derby – The second of three lionfish round-ups in the Florida Keys was held last week off Marathon (FL). During this one-day event, several teams participated to collect this voracious predator off local reefs. The third derby is scheduled for November 13 in Key West. Find out more about REEF’s Lionfish Program.
REEF proudly awards our 2010 Volunteer(s) of the Year award to Donna Brown and Liz Foote. Donna and Liz both live on Maui in Hawaii, where they have been active in REEF since 2001 when we expanded the Fish Survey Project to the Hawaiian Islands. Donna has been a REEF member since 1994 and Liz since 1999. Both are members of the Hawaiian Islands Advanced Assessment Team and collectively have conducted 361 surveys. Donna and Liz were instrumental during the expansion to Hawaii. They provided technical assistance in the development of the survey and training materials and supported a growing network of local REEF surveyors. Through the years, these volunteers served as incredible ambassadors of the program, generating a core group of dedicated REEFers, who have in turn have carried the REEF torch. The Fish Identification Network (FIN), a local REEF group, grew out of their efforts. 10 years and 10,000 Hawaii surveys later (as of January 2011), REEF is going strong on the islands. Donna and her husband George have also been a part of the South Pacific expansion team, and participated in two REEF training trips to American Samoa. Both Donna and Liz continue to be very active in many other regional marine environmental issues in addition to their REEF activities.
REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 14,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program.
The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Liz and Donna and congratulate them on all of their marine conservation efforts and great work on behalf of our organization!
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 feature Kenny Tidwell (REEF member since 1998). Kenny is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 291 surveys. Here's what Kenny had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
I had been scuba diving for many years and after several hundred dives, I was honestly getting a little bored with what seemed to me as basically the same stuff on every dive. Little did I know I had been blindly swimming by some pretty amazing stuff that I didn’t even realize was there! I was lucky enough to take a dive trip to Bonaire in 1993 where I first met Jerry Ligon who is a naturalist in the area and inspired me to become a fish watcher! I immediately bought Paul Humann’s Caribbean fish ID book and made it my mission to learn something new on every dive. Around that same time, I started reading about REEF in dive magazines and liked what I saw about the organization's mission and activities. I had long wanted to go on one of their field survey trips and finally signed up along with my wife, Vickie, to go on my first REEF Discovery field survey trip to Puerto Rico led by Paul Humann. After that first trip, I was hooked and would rather dive with other REEF divers than do any other dive activity. I had finally figured out why I was getting a little bored with scuba. REEF really breathed new life into my diving!
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
I have been on about one or two field survey trips each year since I started diving with REEF. In addition to my first Discovery trip to Puerto Rico, I have been to the Sea of Cortez, Lee Stocking Island, Bonaire, Little Cayman, a lionfish research trip to Bahamas, and several times to Cozumel. The highlight of each trip was the opportunity to meet and learn from other REEF divers who share a similar mission.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I strongly believe in the mission of the organization and sincerely want to contribute something from my diving efforts. It has been a real challenge to me to try and learn as much not only about fish ID, but also about fish behavior. I am just like a birder who wants to find that new species to add to their list. It is a real thrill to me to add something new to my list and to find something I have been looking at in the books, but haven’t yet seen in the ocean!
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Going on field survey trips and interacting and learning from other divers. I have learned a lot and have met some wonderful REEF members who have really inspired me, including Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach, Sheryl Shea, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, Lad Akins, Brice and Christy Semmens, Judie Clee, and many many others! I actually enjoy the classroom time almost as much as the diving itself! I only wish I had hooked up with REEF sooner! I have also used the opportunity to invite other divers and snorkelers that I meet on trips outside of REEF to tell them about the organization and invite them to participate. Each time I am on a dive boat and have a survey slate in my hand, it always seems to invite an inquiry as to what I am doing? I use that window of opportunity to try and inspire new fish watchers. We have given away many of the waterproof underwater fish ID books to divers and snorkelers that we meet in order to get them more interested in learn the amazing variety of marine life around them that most seem to not even recognize that they are there, much less know what they are looking at.
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?
All of the REEF field stations that I have visited are great, but if I had to pick one, I would choose Aqua Safari. I first dove with them in 2005 about 5 wks after Hurricane Wilma struck Cozumel. That is when I had the opportunity to meet Sheryl Shea and the rest of the staff at Aqua Safari. I have been back for every field survey there since that time with the exception of last year when I was in a severe accident that curtailed my diving for quite a while. Sheryl is a GREAT teacher and a real inspiration to dive with as is all of the staff at Aqua Safari. Tracy Griffin is also a great teacher and will be leading the trip this year. There are places in the Caribbean that you can count on finding more species to log on your survey, but the field survey trip to Cozumel always is a lot of fun.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Increasing the awareness of the fragility or our marine environment I think is critical to REEF’s mission. The contribution of an enormous amount of data to document declining fish populations is valuable, which changes how people view the fragile nature of the environment and ultimately affects public policy to protect those resources. The lionfish project is extremely important in addressing an issue that is rapidly decimating fish populations on reefs where they have established themselves and in finding solutions to this problem is critical to protecting the reefs.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
Usually the last place that I have visited, but if I had to pick one it would probably be Bonaire or Little Cayman. You can’t beat the number of species and abundance of fish life in Bonaire, but I really like the island of Little Cayman for its beauty and lack of development and it also has some of the best diving in the Caribbean along Bloody Bay Wall. I have been to each location several times and would go back to either in a heartbeat.