Belize Lionfish Project - Last few remaining spots

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Lionfish are rapidly invading Belize and other Central American countries. Help do something about the problem on a special benefit trip aboard the Sun Dancer. Photo by Rich Carey.

Needed -- a few more volunteers for this critical marine conservation project in Belize! Peter Hughes and REEF’s Lad Akins will lead this great project aboard the livaboard dive vessel Sun Dancer II, June 13-20. I am sure that most of you have been following the news about the lionfish invasion and the recent updates on fish beginning to show up in Belize. We are really concerned about this. The Central American coast is going to be the most likely pathway for introduction of the fish into the Gulf of Mexico and the extremely valuable fish and shrimp industry there.

What can we do? One of the first things that can be done is early detection and rapid response to remove these fish as they show up. To that end Peter Hughes Diving has worked with REEF to organize the first lionfish assessment and removal project in Belize (or anywhere in Central America for that matter!). This is going to be a great first effort on detecting fish, removing what we see and training local staff on how to collect and handle the fish so they can remove them year-round.

What do we need? We need more of you! We need your interest, expertise and involvement to make this project a success. We know that times are tight and there is concern over travel to some areas, but this project is not to be missed. We will be offshore on the Sun Dancer II, one of the most highly regarded liveaboards in the region. First class service, first class diving and a very important mission!

We hope you can make this project! For more information and to sign up, call Peter Hughes Diving at 1-800 9 DANCER (800-932-6237). You can also contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, with any of your lionfish questions and to find out more about this trip (lad@reef.org, 305-852-0030).

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sevengill Shark Sightings on the Rise in Southern California

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The majestic broadnose sevengill shark. Photo by Scott McGee - underpressurephoto.com

Active REEF surveyor, Mike Bear, and other San Diego area divers started noticing something unexpected earlier this year -- increasing numbers of encounters with the Bluntnose Sevengill Shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark. Knowing first hand the impact that divers and snorkelers can have as citizen scientists, Mike set up a website - http://sevengillsharksightings.org -- to serve as a central repository for photographic, videographic and written data on these magnificent creatures. Submissions on the site will allow REEF surveyors who are lucky enough to encounter this prehistoric species to provide additional information and images beyond the sighting and abundance information recorded as part of their REEF survey. It will also enable divers who were not doing a REEF survey to report their encounter. One of the most interesting parts of the website will be the development of an informal photographic database of Sevengill sightings that will facilitate the comparison of photographs and the potential identification of individual sharks using the unique pattern of dark "freckles" on the backs of each shark, similar to the patterns seen on whale sharks. To date, six REEF surveys in San Diego have reported a Sevengill (click here to see the sightings report).

Second Annual Bahamas Lionfish Derby Brings in 941 Lionfish

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Zane Carney, from Team Meander, captured the largest lionfish of the day - a whopping 43.4cm in length (approx. 19 in) and weighing about 4 pounds!
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Preparing the lionfish for the cookout.
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Derby First Place Team, White Roach.

The second annual Abaco Lionfish Derby, held at Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, on Saturday June 19th, was a huge success. Teams on twenty-one boats from Florida and the Bahamas enjoyed perfect weather and conditions while collecting a grand total of 941 lionfish. Over $5,000 in cash was awarded to the winning teams for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. This event, held in the Bahamas and sanctioned by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, is one of many REEF efforts to cull invasive lionfish populations and raise awareness about the issue.

The award for most lionfish collected in the one-day event went to team White Roach from Abaco. Repeat winners, the trio of skilled lionfish collectors significantly exceeded their tally from 289 lionfish last year to a whopping 345 this year. This number is both astonishing and alarming when you consider how dense lionfish populations must be for three people to have the ability to collect over 300 lionfish in the span of a single day.

Team Meander from Jacksonville, FL, clenched 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for largest lionfish collected. Zane Carney captured the largest lionfish ever recorded in the Abacos, which measured just 2cm short of the national record. Zane told Derby organizers that he found a hole outside the main barrier reef off of No Name Cay in 45 feet of water that was full of very large lionfish. He used a pole spear to bag the winning fish, which was 43.4 cm in length (roughly 19 inches long) and weighed approximately 4 pounds.

Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Operations, and Stephanie Green, a collaborative research partner from Simon Fraser University, recorded valuable data during the event, including lionfish sizes, stomach contents, and sex for many of the lionfish before they were filleted and cooked by the Green Turtle Club. Observers and participants, many of whom had never tried lionfish, found the fish quite tasty, resembling hogfish or grouper. This year, Tropic Seafood Limited of Nassau also arranged to purchase some of the larger fillets of lionfish for distribution in local markets. According to Derby organizer, Bobbie Lindsay, “Tropic’s offer to purchase lionfish is an exciting development, because creating a market for lionfish is the best way to control the population of this invasive fish.”

Thanks to the Derby co-sponsors, Green Turtle Club, and Brendal’s Dive Center, who offered special discounts for Derby participants. REEF also extends sincere gratitude to all of the participants, and especially Bobbie Lindsay, an active REEF member and volunteer who took the lead in organizing the Derby making it a successful event again this year. Next year’s Derby is set for June 24-25, 2011. For full results and pictures go to www.lionfishderby.com.

Summary of Team Results -

  • Most Lionfish: 1st Place: White Roach 2nd Place: Goofin’ Off 3rd Place: Cajun Bahamas
  • Largest Lionfish: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place: Meander
  • Smallest Lionfish: 1st and 2nd Place: Goofin’ Off 3rd Place: All Play
  • Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Horizon Divers

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    REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

    This month we feature Horizon Divers in Key Largo, FL. Just down the street from REEF Headquarters, they have been a long-time supporter of REEF’s efforts. One of their hallmark efforts is supporting the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program by allowing REEF Interns to come out on the boat for free and conduct fish surveys. Horizon dive instructor, Mike Ryan, says, “It’s a lot of fun having them out on the boat regularly and getting to know them. When other divers see their slates and see them tallying fish underwater, they become curious and often ask the interns what they are doing and why count fish. The interns are great because they have the ability to inspire divers to learn fish names and start surveying which, in turn, brings us more business!” Mike also gets into REEF surveying himself. When asked about his best lifetime sightings, he quickly said they were a Manta Ray at one of their popular dive sites and a resident Longlure Frogfish that was regularly surveyed on the Speigel Grove for nearly a two-year timespan.

    Horizon Divers regularly teaches fish identification specialty courses and always encourages their students to become REEF surveyors. The shop is also very active in REEF’s Lionfish Control Program in the Keys. Most of their staff have been through REEF’s Lionfish Collection and Handling Workshop and they hold current permits to collect lionfish in the no-take Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs). The dive shop also serves as a Lionfish Collection Bank, collecting, labeling, and storing collected lionfish until they pass them to REEF for research purposes. Mike recently developed a “Lionfish Safari” PADI specialty course. Mike says, “Although lionfish are an ecological nightmare, we are trying to make the best of it by engaging divers in lionfish control efforts and drumming up business at the same time.”

    REEF and Florida Keys Sanctuary to Host Second Annual Lionfish Derby Series

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    Divers will return to Florida Keys waters next month on a mission: net thousands of dollars in cash and prizes while protecting the environment from invasive lionfish. REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are hosting the second annual lionfish derby series starting May 14, in Long Key, Fla. In 2010, the inaugural series of lionfish derbies removed 664 of the Pacific invaders from sanctuary waters. “Anyone who appreciates the diversity of the Keys coral reef should be concerned about these invasive fish,” said Sean Morton, Sanctuary Superintendent. “Divers have been actively engaged in lionfish removal in the Keys since 2009 and these tournaments are a way to reward them for their dedication to the reef.” Researchers will collect samples from lionfish caught at the derbies to learn more about lionfish genetics, growth, and impacts to native marine life. Each tournament also includes a detailed awareness and training briefing and lionfish tasting. In addition to the derby on May 14, two other events will be held later this year -- August 20 at Coconuts Restaurant in Key Largo and November 5 at Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West. To find out more about the Derby Series, visit the Derby Webpage.

    Lionfish Derbies in the Florida Keys Removes Over 1,000 of the Invasive Fish

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    Jen Russell shows off her catch, which netted the largest lionfish award in the Key West derby this year.

    Divers and snorkelers removed 1,518 invasive lionfish from Florida Keys waters during three Lionfish Derby events in 2011. Organized by REEF in partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby series began in 2010 to engage local communities in addressing the invasive lionfish issue. Goals of the lionfish derby series include raising awareness, educating collectors in safe collecting and handling procedures, providing samples for research, conducting lionfish cooking demonstrations and tastings for the general public, and encouraging ongoing removal efforts throughout the region. Teams of registered divers competed for cash and prizes in the categories of most, largest, and smallest lionfish. Dive teams traveled from as far as Chicago, IL.; Austin, TX; and Sunapee, NH to compete in the derbies. Participants and attendees observed filleting demonstrations and enjoyed tastings of lionfish caught during the event. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Salisbury University, University of Florida, Loyola University, international researchers from the UK, the State of Florida, and NOAA all utilized samples and data from the derbies to aid in their lionfish research. Growing populations of lionfish off the southeast U.S., Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico are impacting native marine life commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species. Derbies are just one of several strategies being employed to help control the lionfish invasion. Thanks to derby sponsors, including Ocean Reef Conservation Association, City of Layton, Divers Direct, Dive Key West, Spree Expeditions, Markey Marine Services, and The Weekly Newspapers. Visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies for derby results and updates on future derbies. Visit the REEF Lionfish webpage to find out more about REEF's Lionfish program.

    REEF Trips - Handful of Spaces Remain in 2012, 2013 Schedule Coming Soon

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    REEF Field Surveys trips that are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF coordinates Field Surveys to locations throughout our project regions each year. These projects are led by REEF staff and other REEF instructors and feature daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Many of the 2012 REEF Field Survey trips are sold out, but there are still a few spots on the lionfish research expedition to Dominica, the fish behavior trip to Bermuda, and a liveaboard through the British Virgin Islands. We are also working on an exciting lineup for the 2013 schedule. We will announce the full lineup and details soon. Destinations include Fiji, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Utila, and the Soccoro Islands. Get in touch with our travel experts at Caradonna to find out more and to book your space - 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. The full schedule and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips.

    REEF's Volunteer Survey Project is Turning 20! Save the Date.

    To celebrate 20 years of ocean conservation and education through the Volunteer Survey Project, and to honor our members for making these successes possible, REEF will be hosting a fun-filled weekend of diving, learning, and parties -- August 8-11, 2013, in Key Largo. Please mark your calendar and save the date! More details will be announced in the coming months. The first REEF surveys were conducted during a Field Survey trip in Key Largo, Florida, in the summer of 1993. Led by co-Founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, as well as founding Executive Director, Lad Akins, a total of thirteen volunteers conducted 102 surveys. Almost 20 years later, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project has grown to become the largest ocean citizen science program. Approximately 14,000 volunteer divers and snorkelers have conducted over 165,000 surveys at 12,000 sites throughout the world. These data have been used by scientists, government agencies, and other conservation groups, and have been featured in dozens of scientific publications. Our marine conservation programs, education initiatives, and research efforts are backed by over 50,000 REEF members. We hope you will join us next August to celebrate 20 years of education, surveys, fish stories, and friendships!

    Thank You For Helping Us Reach Our Goal

    On behalf of our current, past, and future REEF Marine Conservation Interns, we would like to thank all those who donated during our Spring fundraising campaign to support our internship program. Thanks to the generous contributions of many members, we reached (and surpassed) our goal, raising $10,196! These funds will help ensure that we can continue this important program and support these enthusiastic young professionals as they gain critical career skills. Although less known, the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program is one of our most successful endeavors. Our interns are a key part of ensuring smooth operations at REEF Headquarters, as they contribute in so many ways to the daily tasks and activities required to manage REEF’s important programs. Through experiences gained and connections made during their internship, many of our interns have gone on to work at government agencies or other non-profit organizations. Others have gone on to complete graduate programs focused on ocean issues. And several of them have come back to work at REEF!

    REEF Sponsors Grouper Education Workshop

    Educators learned a Food Web Game classroom activity that is part of the Grouper Education Program curriculum. REEF Educator, Todd Bohannon, demonstrates how the food web connections are represented by yarn strung between different members of the coral reef community.
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    Two students participating in the Grouper Education Program.

    On December 3rd and 5th, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) held free educator workshops on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The professional development workshops presented the Grouper Education Program, a marine sciences curriculum for intermediate/elementary and high school students that was developed as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Nineteen teachers from 12 schools participated, including 2 schools from the Bahamas. Participants received the materials and resources necessary for successfully implementing the Grouper Education Program in their classrooms. This exciting project focuses on bringing the Nassau Grouper into classrooms through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect classrooms with Grouper Moon scientists in the field.

    The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important fish. Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations. In addition to classroom lessons, the program includes live-feed video sessions that take place at the Grouper Moon Project research site on Little Cayman, bringing real-world field science into the classroom.

    The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support for the workshops was provided by Cayman Airways, Brac Reef Beach Resort, and LIME. The program curriculum was developed to complement the research and scientific efforts of the Grouper Moon Project. Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, along with Grouper Moon scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. (REEF), and Mr. Bradley Johnson (DOE), have led the educational effort. Activities were developed in consultation with teachers at Cayman Prep on Grand Cayman, Verity Redrup and Brenda Bryce, and Cynthia Shaw, author of the youth fictional book, Grouper Moon. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub