This past Columbus Day, I attended a special event in Norfolk, Virginia, where the ex-USAFS Vandenberg is in its final preparatory stages for deployment next spring, 6 miles off the coast of Key West. REEF will monitor the Vandenberg over the next 5 years in a similar monitoring and assessment project to the just completed 5-year Spiegel Grove assessment in Key Largo. The sinking of the Vandenberg is expected to add millions of dollars in diving/tourist related revenue to Monroe County. The hope is that the Vandenberg will not only add tourist revenue but also will reduce the diving pressure on the natural reefs in the area, “loving our reefs to death.”
REEF’s role will be assessing the biological impact the Vandenberg has on the fish community in the vicinity of this new addition. We fully anticipate that the Vandenberg will add to the fish species richness of the area as fish pass through and eventually settle onto the site as residents; provide protected areas for protected IUCN listed species such as Goliath and Nassau groupers; and increase the fish biomass in the area as the fishes on the Vandenberg mature and then reproduce, in effect seeding the surrounding reefs. The Vandenberg will be deployed in approximately 140-ft of water, close to 540’ in length (just 30-ft longer than the Spiegel), but weighs almost 3 times as much as the Spiegel Grove at around 15,000 tons! REEFMAKERS™ is currently reducing the height of the ship and taking some of the towers and satellite dishes and strategically placing these structures onto the deck, adding a lot of complex structure that should be very attractive habitats for fishes. The aim is to sink the Vandenberg in less than 3 minutes, adding a dramatic crescendo onto a multi-year project in the making!
We are currently working out the final monitoring plan but we anticipate a pre-deployment event in the spring of 2008, followed by 3 additional monitoring events next year using our Advanced Assessment Team members. Similar to the Spiegel, REEF will monitor not only the Vandenberg itself but 7 surrounding reference sites over several days per event. REEF’s data analysis from our 5-year Spiegel project, once complete, will assist us in the Vandenberg project expectations. The sinking of the Vandenberg has been in the planning stages for several years and REEF will be working directly or indirectly with several partners on this project including:
REEFMAKERS™ in New Jersey and Artificial Reefs of the Keys (ARK) based in Key West will be responsible for sinking the Vandenberg, along with the direct support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. REEF is excited to be a part of this project with all its intrinsic biological, socioeconomic and educational value.
REEF will be making changes to the REEF Store over the next few months in an effort to streamline order processing and provide REEF members with the highest quality merchandise. We will keep you posted as these changes occur. A few highlights:
1. The apparel section of the store is temporarily unavailable. Please look for unique REEF apparel in January.
2. Starting January 1, 2008, REEF data scanforms will cost $0.50 each plus shipping in survey regions where online data entry is available (Tropical Western Atlantic, Pacific, Hawaii). Online data entry allows volunteers to more efficiently submit and view their data and allows REEF to focus its resources on improving the Volunteer Survey Project. Paper scanforms will still be available at no cost to volunteers without internet access and participants in REEF-led activities including AAT projects and Field Surveys.
3. We will be moving towards shipping all orders via USPS flat rate, Priority Mail unless faster shipping is required (extra charge).
Please keep an eye on the REEF Store for more information.
On Saturday, February 9, REEF hosted the first annual For the Love of the Sea benefit dinner and auction at Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida. The event was a huge success! More than 150 guests attended a sold-out event, enjoying a picturesque sunset set to island music and the awe-inspriring underwater photography of authors and REEF founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. REEF raised more than $25,000 thanks to successful silent and live auctions and the generosity of event sponsors in the Keys and greater REEF community. Proceeds of the event will support ongoing citizen science projects to engage volunteers in marine conservation.
Many thanks to event sponsors for their support and to the local REEF "Fun Raisers" event planning committee. Please click here for more information on the event.
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 United States Geological Service (USGS), the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem. As part of REEF’s Lionfish Research Program, over the last two years REEF has coordinated 12 research projects that have involved over 175 REEF volunteers. This research has generated a wealth of in-situ observations and over 1,000 lionfish specimens, which have led to great advances in the understanding of the biology and potential impacts of this most unwanted invader.
REEF’s 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. Findings included:
Lionfish continue to grow in size: Tagging data show growth rates exceeding 190mm/year, far larger than necessary to reach sexual maturity.
Site Fidelity: All 12 previously-tagged specimens that have been recaptured indicate strong site fidelity even after 6 months.
Prey: Lionfish continue to amaze us during stomach content studies. The recent effort turned up new records including two entire spotted goatfish, a large brown chromis, a small reef octopus, and even a small mollusk in its shell. Lionfishare eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.
Reproduction: Lionfish reproduction occurs throughout the year – many gravid females and a small recently settled juveniles have been found.
REEF’s future fieldwork 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 more information on REEF’s Exotic Species Program, to volunteer on a future research project or to discuss funding opportunities, contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, Lad@reef.org.
The USS Hoyt Vandenberg is the most recent ship to be placed as an artificial reef in the waters off Key West, Florida. The ship was sunk on May 27, 2009, but three weeks prior to the sinking the REEF team was in action conducting surveys of the sinking site and 7 other adjacent sites for comparison. The data will be used by the State of Florida to document fish recruitment onto the wreck and response of nearby reef sites to the new structure. In addition to regular REEF fish surveys, the team is also gathering important fish biomass data at two sites and recording any observations of non-native titan acorn barnacles, orange cup corals or non-native fish including lionfish.
The pre-deployment surveys at the sinking site did not document any fish present at the sandy bottom site though one barracuda was seen swimming through the area shortly after. Combined data from the 7 reference sites documented 159 species including rare sightings of pugjaw wormfish and cherubfish (rare for the Keys). The summary of data can be found here.
REEF will continue regular monitoring of the Vandenberg and reference sites through next summer, with a final report due by the end of 2010. A huge thank you to all of the REEF experts joining in on the effort including Rob McCall, Tracy Harris, Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Jamie Giganti, Lisa Canty and Pat Zuloaga.
Earlier this month, on World Oceans Day, we kicked off REEF's Summer Fundraising Campaign with a goal of raising $60,000 by July 31. Thanks to the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, who has generously offered to match your donations, we are over one-third of the way to our goal with $10,345 donated and matched so far. To all of our members who have already donated, we extend our sincere gratitude. If you haven't yet had a chance, please contribute today. You can double your donation in the upcoming month by contributing online, https://www.REEF.org/contribute, through our secure web form. Or you can print the donation form and mail or fax your donation, or call our staff at REEF headquarters (305-852-0030).
Your donation will help support REEF services, which are increasingly in high demand. As the lionfish invasion continues to grow, so does our research and response. Legislation to ensure long-term protections of Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations are set to expire in 2011. And after the devastation in the Gulf, REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Program data can be invaluable in evaluating the impact of the oil spill to fish populations. Twenty years of support from members like you has made it possible for REEF to build and maintain this valuable history of fish populations throughout our program regions. We could not do this vitally important work without you. We are doubling our efforts now, and we hope you will double your contribution this summer.
World-wide declines in shark and ray populations have prompted the need for a better understanding of their patterns of distribution and abundance. While much of the focus has been on the larger species of sharks, little attention had been paid to the most frequently sighted elasmobranch species in the greater-Caribbean, the yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). Despite being relatively common and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, little was known about the status of this species. Unfortunately, it has been quietly declining. Dr. Christine Ward-Paige and her colleagues at Dalhousie University worked with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to examine the status of yellow stingray. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes. Click here to read the paper.
The study used 83,940 surveys collected by REEF surveyors in the western Atlantic. In total, yellow stingrays were observed on 5,658 surveys (6.7% sighting frequency) with the highest occurrence in the regions surrounding Cuba. Overall, sighting frequency declined from 20.5% in 1994 to 4.7% in 2007. However, these trends were not consistent in all regions. The strongest decline occurred in the Florida Keys, the most sampled region, where trends were similar among all areas, habitats and depths. Possible explanations for these changes include habitat degradation, exploitation (this species is collected for medical research and the aquarium trade), and changes in trophic interactions. The results of the study suggest large-scale changes in yellow stingray abundance that have been unnoticed by the scientific community. This study also highlights the value of non-scientific divers for collecting data that can be used to understand population trends of otherwise poorly studied species.
To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.
Changing Seas, an original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of Alien Invaders, the series’ latest episode focusing on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Alien Invaders will be screened live on the Changing Seas website (www.changingseas.tv/webcast) on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. EST. During the screening, dive enthusiasts will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program. REEF's Lad Akins and researcher Stephanie Green will be be online to answer questions live during the event.