Acclaimed marine artist and conservationist, Dr. Guy Harvey, joined the Grouper Moon Project team in 2011 to document the research being conducted on the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation on Little Cayman. Dr. Harvey and videographer, George Schellenger, spent 7 days in the field with scientists from REEF, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, and Oregon State University. The culmination of their work came together in a documentary called "The Mystery of the Grouper Moon", which was premiered to a packed house at the Harquail Theatre on Grand Cayman in September. Since that time, Dr. Harvey has been busy showing the documentary to local schools and promoting grouper conservation to generations of future Caymanians. The film will soon be available online for REEF members to watch, stay tuned. Inpsired by his time underwater with the grouper, Dr. Harvey created a painting of the aggregation that is featured on the documentary promotional poster. The original artwork will soon be available for purchase, with all proceeds going to REEF to support the Grouper Moon Project. To read more about the documentary, check out this article in the Cayman Compass. We are excited to have Dr. Harvey as a collaborator on this important REEF program.
REEF is proud to announce the next generation of our website - www.REEF.org. The redesigned page was launched earlier this month. The website still features the wealth of information, tools, and resources you expect from REEF.org, but now they are highlighted with a new design and user friendly navigation. Aside from the new look, you may notice that the site is much faster due to an upgrade in our server equipment. Whether you're quizzing yourself on fish ID, looking to book a REEF Trip, or learning the latest research on the lionfish invasion, REEF.org keeps you up to date with all of our latest activities and programs. The Discussion Forum is a perfect place to post your ID questions, dive trip highlights, and more. Our website is also the central hub for the almost 160,000 fish surveys that have been submitted by our volunteer members over the last 19 years. Exploring the REEF Database is now even easier with significantly faster reporting. If you are a REEF surveyor, be sure to create a REEF.org login account (if you don't have one already) so that you can generate your personal survey log and species lifelist. The Top Stats page now shows the 25 surveyors in each region with the most surveys, so that even more of our members can track their progress.
This is the fourth major revision to the REEF website. REEF's online home was originally launched fifteen years ago in 1997. REEF would like to extend a huge thank you to longtime IT volunteer extraordinaire, Ben Weintraub, for making this new site possible. Please take a moment to explore the new website. Let us know what you think - send an email to webmaster@REEF.org. Your feedback is important to us as we continue to improve the site. We hope you enjoy it!
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:
- A National Research Council post-doctoral fellow is using REEF sightings data on manta and mobula to evaluate global populations of these at-risk species.
- A researcher is evaluating fish distribution and abundance data from south Florida to be included in a NOAA document used to respond to oil spills.
- A University of Washington researcher is using data on Red Sea Urchin to evaluate population trends in this important echinoderm that is increasingly harvested.
- A graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is using population data on Nassau Grouper to document populations trends of this endangered Caribbean reef fish.
Do you know a young adult who is interested in ocean conservation, research, education, and diving? Applications are currently being accepted for the Fall REEF Marine Conservation Internship positions. Every four months, REEF invites hundreds of applicants to compete for four internship positions. The chosen interns implement community outreach and education programs focused on reef fish identification and lionfish handling and collection. Interns also dive and volunteer with partner organizations in the Florida Keys. Examples of some average daily intern activities include computer data entry, helping to write and layout newsletters and flyers, packaging orders, answering phone calls and e-mails, greeting visitors at REEF Headquarters, biological assessment fieldwork and data analysis, and community education and outreach.
For more information on this program or if you know someone who would like to apply, please visit the Internship Webpage or email General Manager, Martha Klitzkie, at Martha@reef.org. Applications for the Fall internship are due June 30th.
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.
This past summer, REEF completed its 5-year monitoring and assessment of the ex-Navy Landing Ship Dock, U.S.S. Spiegel Grove, intentionally deployed in 130' deep water as an artificial reef off Key Largo in June of 2002. At the time of its sinking, the Spiegel, at 510' in length, was the largest vessel intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. More recently, REEF completed its final report on the data collected, largely through members' efforts in the water these last few years, so a multus gratia (big thank you) from all of us at REEF to those of you who participated on the Advanced Assessment Team monitoring of the Spiegel. This was every bit your project as much as ours. I am asked quite often in the field how REEF surveyor efforts contribute to science, conservation, and education so I want to share with you some of our findings as the Spiegel assessment serves as a great example of the power of concerned and active citizen scientists to effect positive changes in our communities. For a full viewing of our final report, please visit our website at 5 Year Spiegel Grove Monitoring .
Before I highlight a few of our findings, let's go over what our methods were for conducting our Spiegel assessment. Surveys were conducted using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT), a non-point visual survey method that serves as the mainstay for most REEF efforts in the water. The purpose of this method is to gather a comprehensive species list with sighting frequency and relative abundance estimates, for fish species only in the case of this study. Staff and REEF volunteers all had to be members of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) for REEF (learn more about how to become an AAT member http://www.reef.org/programs/volunteersurvey/aat). Each monitoring event consisted of 4 days of two-tank monitoring dives at the Spiegel Grove and 7 surrounding reference sites.
The overall objective of the study was to assess any changes in fish community structure over time with the addition of the newly deployed artificial reef, changes not just to the Spiegel site, but changes to the surrounding natural reef sites as well. A central biological question as to the merits of vessel type artificial reef deployments is whether or not they add fish species in terms of both numbers of fish (biomass) and numbers of fish species (biodiversity) to the artificial reef and the surrounding natural reef sites. In other words, in the Field of Dreams metaphor, if you build it will they come and where will they come from? Ultimately, resource managers and other stakeholders hope that the addition of the artificial reef adds fish not only to the targeted site, but seeds surrounding reefs with the reproductive output from the resident fish population. The scale of these questions cannot be adequately addressed in a 5-year pilot study such as the one REEF just completed and that was not our charge but it is important to understand the concept behind sinking ships as artificial reefs. And we should commend Monroe County, the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF), and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) for funding this initial pilot study. A second socioeconomic question not addressed in REEF's work asks the important question of how much SCUBA diving pressure is decreased on natural reefs by the addition of a top recreational dive site such as the Spiegel and how much additional tourist revenue is gained? Finding answers to both the biological and economic questions above are critical in providing guidance for future marine resource management decisions on whether or not to deploy artificial reefs of this type and when and where the sinking of these large retired vessels is appropriate.
Okay, some quick highlights but again for the full report, please visit our website. Over the 5-year study, REEF conducted 76 RDT surveys on the Spiegel itself and another 445 survey dives on the surrounding 7 reference sites. 191 fish species were documented on the Spiegel Grove for all surveys combined. 46 species of fish were observed on the Spiegel just one month after deployment with the average number of species climbing to 76 per monitoring event thereafter. Approximately 3 years after deployment (Aug 2005), persistence in species composition at the Spiegel Grove site through time had increased to levels closer to those of the surrounding reefs. Striped grunts and Tomtates were immediate arrivals on the newly deployed site. Currently, 5 years post deployment, fish species composition on the Spiegel site is more akin to what you would expect on a deeper reef site including schools of Blackfin Snapper, Creole Wrasses, Bluehead Wrasses, Purple Reeffish, Sunshinefish, Bluerunners, Yellowtail Reeffish, Greenblotch Parrotfish, Tomtates, Spotfin Hogfish, Yellowmouth Grouper, Black Grouper, and the Federally protected Golilath Grouper (for a complete list of species sighted and statistical comparisons between study sites take a peak at the report). Blackcap and Fairy Basslets rarely occur in the Keys but interestingly, on several occasions, both have been surveyed on the Spiegel, most notably after hurricane storm surges from offshore. Of course, the Spiegel originally sunk on its starboard side was righted during Hurricane Dennis in July of 2005, confounding results of our survey shortly thereafter. And large, deeply sunk vessels such as this one certainly offer numerous hiding places to groupers in particular, making full visual assessments difficult. We have included in our report suggestions for future studies as well.
REEF would like to thank Mike Ryan of Horizon Divers for supplying important anectodal information about the Spiegel. He was one of the first divers on the newly deployed vessel and has logged more than 240 dives on site since then, meticulously recording fish and invertebrate sightings in the true naturalist vein. Also, REEF thanks Quiesscence Divers and Horizon Divers and Scott Fowler for providing boat and logistical support for all of our diving efforts over the past 5 years. This spring (2008), the Hoyt Vandenberg is scheduled for deployment a few miles off the coast of Key West. REEF will be leading the monitoring efforts over a similar 5-year time period and we'll keep you posted on our efforts. Two suggested readings are referenced in our report, one by Arena et al (2007) and the other by Leeworthy et al (2006) assessing biological and economic impacts of artificial reefs, respectively.
Happy Holidays everyone and if you are visiting Key Largo next year, visit the wreck and see for yourself how things are coming along.
REEF recently completed our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II on Saturday, April 26. We had a tremendous effort by a stellar group of 20 REEF surveyors. Although we have not yet processed the data, I can give a few hints at what we saw during the week-long trip.
Overall, the group surveyed at least 213 fish species over 12 dive sites and 26 survey dives, 5 dives on most days. We surveyed many habitat types including hard and soft coral areas, patch reefs and grass beds but most of our efforts were concentrated along the famed walls along the islands. Some notable fish sightings included: Black snapper (Apsilus dentatus), Golden hamlet (Hypoplectrus gummigutta), Dwarf blenny (Starksia nanodes), Papillose blenny (Acanthemblemaria chaplini), Cardinal soldierfish (Plectrypops retrospinis), Lofty triplefin (Enneanectes altivelis), Almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana), Fringed filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus), Wall goby (Gobiosoma pallens), Black brotula (Stygnobrotula latebricola), Goldline blenny (Malacoctenus aurolineatus), and Punk blenny (Acanthemblemaria sp). We surveyed some large schools of Horse-Eye jacks and saw a number of Caribbean reef sharks. We also had two confirmed Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) sightings (see picture with article). Unfortunately, if there are two Lionfish surveyed, there are undoubtedly many more in the Turks and Caicos islands already.
We had a seasoned group of REEF members, many of whom had been on numbers of past survey trips and 60% of the group participants were expert surveyors. Consequently, our efforts were rewarded with lots of cryptic species sightings such as the ones listed above. The hospitality of the Aggressor crew was superb, gracious, and quite professional. One of the nice things about a live-aboard field survey is the camaraderie that develops between members who share a number of traits such as a love of diving, conservation-minded attitude towards our marine resources, a desire to make positive changes to said resources, and a general fish geekiness for lack of a better term, that rears it's head from time to time in visceral debates about whether someone really saw a Wall goby or not.
Fortunately for us, many members brought their cameras and we were able to verify most unusual sightings with pictures. The learning curve is leveled while on live-aboard with everyone sharing diving/surveying tips and helping each other find and verify common and rare sightings alike.
I would like to congratulate several participants on reaching new experience levels during the week: Barbara Anderson, Marty Levy, Larry Draper, and Kayla Serote all tested into level 5 surveyors. Suzanne Rose, Marie Robbins, and Kay Tiddmann are all new level 3 surveyors. Jerry Dickman is our newest level 2 surveyor. Congratulations to all the participants for a great survey effort for the week and all the good spirit shared. Also, thanks James Brook and Kristi Draper for taking Kay Tidemann under their wings and teaching her during the week, she was our most improved surveyor as a result and her enthusiasm spilled over to the group. I hope to see many of you in the water on surveys later this year. I am currently planning our 2009 Field Survey schedule and will have more details on that in our next Enews edition in May. There are still spaces available on two Field Survey trips for 2008, Paul Humann's Discovery Tour in Key Largo (June 21-28) and the Sea of Cortez with Don Jose (Oct 5-12). If interested in either of these trips, please contact Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030 for the Discovery Tour and Jeanne at Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 for the Sea of Cortez trip.
REEF staff recently returned from the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where nearly 3,000 scientists, conservationists, and government officials met to compare notes, network and identify problems and solutions for the ocean's most delicate ecosystem. This is the keystone scientific meeting on coral reef science. REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, gave a talk on the science and management applications of the REEF database and presented a research poster on the same topic. REEF Director of Field Operations, Joe Cavanaugh, presented a research poster on the 5-year monitoring project of the Wellwood Restoration Project in the Florida Keys. Additionally, REEF data were included in several talks and research posters by other scientists, including an analyses of Conch Reef status and trends by Dr. Steve Gittings, an evaluation of fish resources in Biscayne Bay by Dr. Todd Kellison, and the effect artisanal fisheries in developing nations have on predatory fishes by Dr. Chris Stallings. The Lionfish invasion was also a hot topic and REEF collaborators from Simon Fraser University presented a research poster on the effect of lionfish on cleanerfish in the Bahamas. Dr. Brice Semmens presented results from the Grouper Moon Project and how results from this cutting edge research being conducted by REEF and our collaborators can be used to inform marine reserve planning and evaluation.
REEF also participated in the ICRS Education Center. REEF staff and interns hosted an exhibit booth, which was a great success in spreading the word about REEF and our important conservation programs. The Grouper Moon Project was featured in the Solutions portion of the "Our Reefs: Caribbean Connections" traveling exhibit and the Grouper Moon documentary film was shown in the Coral Theater. Participating in scientific conferences such as ICRS is an important part of REEF's overall strategy of linking the diving community with scientists and resource managers.
REEF proudly awards our 2008 Volunteer of the Year award to Sheryl Shea, a dedicated REEF surveyor, teacher and ambassador. Sheryl became a REEF member in the very early days of the organization and has consistently been one of our most active surveyors. Her first survey was conducted in 1994 and to date Sheryl has conducted 954 REEF surveys. Sheryl became a member of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) in 1999 and her lifelist contains 351 fish species. After moving to Cozumel from Buffalo, NY, Sheryl facilitated REEF training programs for the Cozumel Marine Park and started leading an annual REEF Field Survey on the island in 2005. This popular REEF trip sells out every year. Sheryl has participated in several AAT projects including monitoring in the Florida Keys, the Grouper Moon Project and helped initiate REEF’s survey program in the Veracruz Marine Park.
Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. 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 12,000 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. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.
The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Sheryl and congratulate her on all of her efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation. Cheers to our Volunteer of the Year!