REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Phil Green, a REEF member since 2005. An active surveyor who lives on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Phil has conducted almost 400 surveys to date and is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Pacific region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:
How did you become involved with REEF?
Joe Gaydos, director and chief scientist at SeaDoc Society, suggested I should be doing REEF surveys in the Yellow and Low Islands MPA where I live and work for The Nature Conservancy. I had never heard of REEF and hadn’t been diving in over 30 years. He told me there was a fish ID class in a month. I took Janna Nichols’ class, got hooked on REEF, and got recertified at Anacortes Diving, the best dive shop anywhere. So I took my first REEF class before I was even a certified diver.
Have you participated in any of the Advanced Assessment Team Projects?
I’ve been on the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) AAT project several times. The topside scenery is amazing and there is always the chance to see marine mammals (humpback whales and Steller sea lions). The diving there is amazing, both for fish and invertebrates. But the best part is diving with other AAT members. There is always so much to learn so to be diving with other level five surveyors is the ultimate learning experience.
What motivates you to conduct REEF surveys?
Even before joining REEF, I was a firm believer in citizen science. I turn in nearly daily bird lists to Cornell’s ebird website. Having done that for over ten years, it was second nature to turn in a dive survey following each dive. Not only is it a way to justify my hobbies, it just feels really good to know I’m helping supply data that cannot be gathered in any other way.
Do you have a memorable fish sighting to share?
I was diving with the Anacortes dive club out of Rendezvous Lodge in Barkley Sound where I had previously been on a REEF trip. REEF goes there in the fall but summer is the time to see Sixgill Sharks. Our group was swimming with a Sixgill and I was at the end of a line of divers. The shark did a 180 and swam straight at me. I laid flat on my back pressed against the bottom as it swam directly over me. I clicked a photo showing nothing but mouth. All I could think was WOW, a shark just swam over me inches away.
What is your favorite fish or invertebrate to see while diving in the Pacific Northwest?
My absolute favorite critter is the Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO). A couple years ago I was a bit burned out on diving the same site where I live. Then I discovered a GPO den, then another, and another, and finally a total of five den sites between two different dive sites. Octos move around between den sites and it became a game to try to find them, the underwater version of ‘Where’s Waldo.” Last year I named my dive boat Octopi.
Mangroves provide important nursery habitat for coral reef fishes, such as grunts, snappers, and others. While this has been shown locally in some studies, a new paper by scientists from NOAA Fisheries and University of Miami RSMAS used REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data to evaluate mangrove-reef connectivity at the Caribbean regional scale. Their findings, recently published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, showed that the size of nearby mangrove forests directly influences reef fish densities of at least 6 species.This study is a great example of the power and impact that long-term, wide-spread citizen science programs such as the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project can have on addressing important ecological and management questions that would otherwise be near impossible to evaluate. Way to go REEF surveyors! Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the 50+ scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.
We are excited to share our 2017 REEF Trips Schedule, with a fantastic lineup of destinations planned. These Field Survey Trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice surveyors, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow marine life enthusiasts. We also offer several Lionfish Research Trips each year. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each trip features daily educational seminars and a full diving schedule. To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Visit www.REEF.org/trips for full package details. Trips fill up fast so don't delay. And be sure to check out the remaining 2016 trips that still have space, including: Lionfish trips to Honduras and Curacao, Bermuda, Palau & Yap, Barkley Sound BC, Saba, Coronado Island CA, Belize, and Cozumel.
2017 REEF Field Survey Schedule
February 18 - 25 -- Dominica -- Dive Dominica & Castle Comfort Lodge, Led by Lad Akins
April 4 - 14 -- Solomon Islands -- M/V Bilikiki, Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens
April 22 - 29 -- Turks and Caicos Islands -- Dive Provo and Port of Call Resort, Led by Jonathan Lavan
May 14 - 21 -- Galapagos Islands -- M/V Galapagos Sky Liveaboard, Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens
June 10 - 16 -- Alaska Wilderness Expedition - Port Fidalgo Inlet, Alaska -- Ravencroft Lodge, Led by Andy Dehart
June 24 - July 1 -- Bahamas -- Lionfish Research Trip Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes
June 24 - July 1 -- Roatan -- CoCo View Resort, Led by Janna Nichols and Scott & Patti Chandler
August 19 - 26 -- Curacao -- Lionfish Research and Fish ID Trip Combo GO WEST Diving and Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins, Peter Hughes, and Ellie Splain
August 19 - 26 -- Sea of Cortez -- Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, Led by Christy and Brice Semmens, SOLD OUT
September 2 - 9 -- Bequia -- Bequia Dive Adventures and Village Apartments, Led by Paul Humann
October 1 - 8 -- Grand Cayman -- Sunset House, Led by Paul Humann
October 14 - 25 -- Indonesia Lembeh Strait -- Eco Divers, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, SOLD OUT
October 15 - 19 -- Hornby Island British Columbia -- Hornby Island Diving, Led by Janna Nichols
November 4 - 11 -- Bonaire -- Captain Don's Habitat, Led by Amy Lee and Janna Nichols
December 2 - 9 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters and Casa Mexicana/Safari Inn, Led by Tracey Griffin
December 3 - 9 -- British Virgin Islands -- Cuan Law Liveaboard, Led by Ellie Splain
Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:
- Data on three large Caribbean parrotfish species were provided to a scientist at California State San Luis Obispo to evaluate status and trends in these declining species.
- Data to evaluate population densities of herbivores in Bahamas and Belize were provided to researchers from Georgia State University.
- Goliath Grouper data were provided to researchers from University of Florida to build a spatial model to look at grouper management options and to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to develop a Population Learning Model.
- Data on sea stars and sea urchins from the Pacific Northwest were provided to a researcher working with the Coastal Ocean Research Institute to report on the health of Howe Sound in British Columbia.
We say it often - REEF is what it is because of our fantastic members. The grassroots nature of the organization is reflected in all aspects of our work, including the amazing volunteers like Audrey Smith who help with daily operating tasks at REEF HQ, the networks of regional REEF partners who enlist new REEF members and provide continuing education and survey opportunities for active surveyors, our members who generously support REEF with financial donations, and of course the thousands of survey volunteers who submit marine life surveys each year.
As the corps of active and experienced REEF surveyors has grown, we have been fortunate to have some of those members take their support and interest in REEF to the next level by forming local REEF groups. Two such REEF "clubs" are FIN (the Fish Identification Network) and the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers. FIN is a REEF club based in Maui, and is touted as an opportunity to join friends and fellow fish lovers in exploring the coral reefs of Maui. The club is for all interested divers and snorklers, and promotes marine conservation and the objectives of REEF. FIN was founded by Terri and Mike Fausnaugh (Mike is also a member of the REEF Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team (AAT)) and is supported by the cadre of REEFers that REEF partner, Liz Foote of Project S.E.A.-Link, has generated in Hawaii through the years. There are monthly (sometimes weekly) FIN dives at various beaches on Maui and at every event FIN folks set up a REEF station on the beach with survey materials and identification reference guides in an attempt to lure in new afishianados! The PNW Critter Watchers encourages all divers in Washington and Oregon to become underwater naturalists. Through training and quarterly REEF survey dives, Critter Watcher founders and REEF Pacific AAT members, Janna Nichols and Wes Nicholson, aim to put the fun in critter watching and promote REEF surveying in the Pacific Northwest. Janna also maintains a Critter Watchers website that includes a fish of the month feature, an events listing, unusual sightings reported by fellow Critter Watchers, and congratulations to REEF surveyors who have advanced through the REEF experience level system.
These home-grown REEF clubs are a great way to help spread the fun and enjoyment of REEF surveying to a local dive community. We are grateful that we have such enthusiastic and supportive volunteers who are willing to help spread the REEF word. These on-the-ground activities could never be accomplished without your help!
Last Summer during a dive with Pacific Adventure Charters in Hood Canal, Washington, a group of REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyors came across something unexpected. As part of REEF’s funded project with The Russell Family Foundation, the team’s goal was to look for invasive tunicates and do REEF marine life surveys on several previously unsurveyed sites. While they found the invasive tunicates they were looking for, they also found a derelict fishing net that was damaging fragile habitat and ensnaring marine life.
AAT members, Pete Naylor, Steve Rubin and Janna Nichols found the abandoned gill net on a wall, amid large growths of Cloud Sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus), one of Puget Sound’s rarest and longest lived animals and an invertebrate species monitored in the REEF Pacific Northwest Volunteer Survey Project program. As the name implies, cloud sponges form pale, irregular cloud-shaped colonies, which can be more than ten feet across and seven feet high. These colonies attach to rocky surfaces and provide complex habitat for a variety of marine species. The nearly invisible monofilament derelict gill net was draped over and around the cloud sponge colonies, clearly causing damage. Dungeness crab and other invertebrates lay dead and entangled in the net’s folds.
Concerned by what she saw that day, Janna contacted the Northwest Straits Commission, a regional marine conservation initiative that runs a derelict gear removal program. Given the net’s direct threat to the safety of divers and that it was causing clear harm to marine life and habitat, the Commission made removing the gill net in Dewatto Bay a high priority. After an initial search in the Fall 2007 that failed to locate the net, the net was successfully located with the help of REEF members Keith Clements and Rob Holman. Trained commercial divers removed the net from the fragile cloud sponge reef earlier this month. It was clear during the removal operation that the net had swung in the current and scraped much of the rocky outcrop clean of marine life. But cloud sponge colonies were still present on either side. The initial REEF survey conducted last summer will now serve as a baseline for future monitoring. A REEF team, including Janna, Pete and Steve are planning to revisit the site in May to note any signs of recovery.
Jeff June, the Initiative’s derelict gear program lead commented about the collaborative effort: “This particular net removal effort shows the importance of the REEF divers participation in these types of projects. We would have probably never known there was a gillnet in the vicinity of these amazing sponges had the REEF folks not been monitoring the site.”
Janna made this observation about encountering the net: “From a diver's point of view, it's really shocking to see firsthand just how much marine life a derelict net can snare and kill. We spend hours underwater all around the waters of Washington State, and are specifically attracted to viewing and protecting all the amazing wildlife we can on each dive. Seeing trapped and dead or dying fish and invertebrates is a real shame. Derelict gear not only poses hazards to all the marine life they continue to snare and kill, but to divers as well, because of the entanglement hazards.”
If you are a Pacific Northwest diver, you can report derelict fishing gear in Washington through the WDFW Sighting Form. Other states have similar programs.
REEF scientists, volunteers and collaborators will be in the Cayman Islands next month for the 8th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded last year by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF has greatly expanded the critical conservation research conducted as part of this study of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations. We will have teams on all three of the Cayman Islands conducting field research as part of the project, “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”. The Little Cayman team will continue the long-term visual monitoring of the large aggregation located there. Work on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will focus on studying the remnant aggregations that remain on these islands after years of fishing. There is currently a harvest ban in effect for all aggregations in the islands. This ban is set to be lifted in 2011 unless the extension of the protections are warranted.
Despite logistical complications, weather anomalies and difficulties locating fish, the Grouper Moon Project had a successful year of field-work in 2008. The team conducted preliminary work on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, tagging Nassau grouper with pinger acoustic tags and then installing hydrophone arrays to track the movements of those tagged individuals. Studies were also conducted to better understand the patterns of recruitment by larval and juvenile Nassau grouper to the islands. In addition, members of our team attended major scientific conferences both nationally and internationally, and presented aspects of our research and findings to date.
In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched the Grouper Moon Project with a ground breaking expedition to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. This work is a collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and researchers from Oregon State University.
To find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage.
As part of REEF's efforts to increase awareness about the invasive lionfish, train removal teams and develop regional response plans, REEF recently conducted a series of workshops, talks and lionfish removals in partnership with the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) in Georgia and the Cozumel Marine Park in Mexico. Combined the two projects held in July 2009 included 15 talks to more than 370 people.
The Gray's Reef project included a meeting of Sanctuary personnel from the Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks and Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuaries, working to develop a regional coordinated response plan. Sanctuary and REEF staff also conducted two days of lionfish collecting and handling dives, including the removal of 54 lionfish averaging almost 30 cm from sites just outside the GRNMS boundaries. Talks to the general public, Sanctuary Advisory Council and Georgia Law Enforcement working groups also helped increase awareness of the lionfish issue and conveyed removal plans for the region.
Immediately following the Gray's Reef project, a week-long series of workshops and talks were held in Mexico to initiate development of the Mexican regional lionfish response plan focusing on the Yucatan. An initial day-long meeting included over 40 representatives, including national environmental regulators, regional marine park directors, conservation and science groups, academia and the Mexican Navy. Presentations and discussions resulted in the development of an early detection/rapid response plan. The plan was then unveiled in numerous public and key user group talks including those to dive operators, fishermen, medical/first responders and university groups. Training dives with Marine Park staff also resulted in the removal of 3 juvenile lionfish from local Cozumel reefs.
To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program and to report a lionfish or other non-native fish sighting, visit the REEF Lionfish Webpage.Share on Facebook