As any veteran fish surveyor is well aware, dive travel is the spice of fishwatching. No matter how many dives you’ve made, or how many species you’ve recorded a visit to a new destination will send you scurrying for your ID books. That was certainly the case during back-to-back REEF Field Surveys held in St. Vincent during early August. During the two weeks, 40 sets of eyes ferreted out 261 different fish species, many rare, many first-time sightings, and a few that still have the trip leaders Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach scratching their heads.
Tucked away in the distant reaches of the southeastern Caribbean, the towering volcanic island is not only home to a hearty population of Caribbean fishes, but also harbors a scattering of novel species that ride the currents north from Brazil. Add to this, pumice sand and freshwater runoff (a combination that tends to attract exotic creatures), a variety of underwater habitats ranging from bold boulder and coral seascapes, to thick sea grass meadows, and protected bays bottomed with fine sediment and scattered algae patches, fondly known as muck. Oh yeah, add one more dynamic to the amazing mix, the group’s host Bill Tewes, owner of Dive St. Vincent, and his eagle-eyed dive guides. In dive parlance, Bill is a critter hunter extraordinaire. After exploring the island’s undersea riches for 25 years, his infectious enthusiasm for the hunt won’t allow him to miss a dive, and the man certainly loves to show off his animals.
So what were some of the highlights of the week? For starters: a single dive to a clearwater site, known as the Pinnacle, revealed not one, not two, but six cryptic Black Brotula. A plunge to 110 feet on the Wall, uncovered Yellowcheek Basslet, Three-lined Basslet and Cave Bass hiding under a ledge. On their way up the surveyors spotted a Golden Hamlet, Bridled Burrfish, and during their safety stop a flashy red fin of a perky little Red Banner Blenny caught their eyes.
But as good as the reefs and wall are the majority of the team’s treasures were discovered in the muck – the seldom-dived otherworldly realm where Bill’s fishwatching prowess shines. Let’s begin in the shallows where the team found, along with a long list of more common species, clingfishes, Longsnout and Lined Seahorses, a Striated Frogfish, Shortnose Batfish, an assortment of pipefish, seldom-seen pipehorses, and about every species of snake eel you’ve ever heard of, and some you haven’t. As the seemingly barren bottom angled down Jackknifefish, Spotfin Goby, Dwarf Sand Perch and tiny Blackear Bass appeared. If you continued to 90 feet an uncommon sighting of a juvenile Snowy Bass could be made.
One would be remiss without mentioning a few spectacular St. Vincent invertebrates including, the Atlantic Longarm Octopus, the rare Brownstripe Octopus, skeleton shrimp, and a spectacular Red Banded Lobster.
Did we mention Blackfin Cardinalfish, Whitemouth Croaker, Snakefish, Cornetfish, Cardinal Soilderfish, Flying Gurnard, and pikeblennies? Whew, have to stop somewhere, this is REEF-in-Brief you know. You’ll just have to contact one of the lucky participants for more details.
A gallery of all images linked from this article can be found here.
With the rapid expansion of lionfish into the Caribbean, downstream and recently invaded countries are starting to gear up for early detection and rapid response efforts. REEF is leading the way with in-country workshops focused on increasing awareness and training both fisheries and dive operators in collecting and handling techniques. The week of January 25th-31st was spent working with the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Starting in Grand Turk, we hit the ground running and less than an hour after landing, DECR officer Jodi Johnson and I had covered collecting and handling techniques and had our first 2 lionfish in the bag. Things did not slow down. Two days in Grand Turk followed by two days in Provo and a day in South Caicos resulted in 7 seminars to well over 150 people, 6 collecting training dives, over 40 lionfish collected and an evening lionfish tasting at Smokey’s on the Beach in Provo. Media coverage of the effort was also prominent with local TCI Channel 4 running a feature segment on the issue. The workshop was a huge success with both dive operators and government officials now moving forward in combined efforts to control and minimize impacts of lionfish.
In separate upcoming events, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Cozumel and Belize are also bringing REEF in to conduct lionfish workshops this spring and early summer. The goals of these programs are to build capacity for local communities and governments to be able to enact early detection and rapid response measures and increase public awareness of the issue.
This is YOUR chance to turn a donation of $10 into much more for REEF. America's Giving Challenge is a 30-day competition (ends November 6th) that allows causes such as REEF to compete for cash awards by inspiring the most people to donate to their cause. We are asking all of our members to donate $10 (or more) online here sometime before the Challenge ends -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. If REEF is a challenge winner (meaning we receive the highest number, not amount, of donations) on any given day, we will be awarded $1,000.
The Challenge is administered through Causes on Facebook. However, anyone can donate -- you do not have to be on Facebook to donate. Click here to visit REEF's Cause. If you are on Facebook, we encourage you to invite your friends to support and donate to the cause as well. The objective of the Challenge is to enable passionate individuals and nonprofit organizations to easily leverage their social networks to increase awareness about their causes and attract people to get and stay involved with causes they care about. By encouraging people to give what they can-no matter how big or small, the Challenge seeks to demonstrate the potential of social networks to bring real people together to make a significant impact.
Participants in the Challenge will compete for daily and overall cash awards of up to $50,000 for the nonprofit organizations they care most about. Awards will be distributed based on the number of qualifying donations generated for a cause, not the total dollars raised. A unique daily donation is defined as one single donation per individual per day in the amount of $10 USD or more. Individuals can donate to the same cause once a day everyday during the Challenge and this would count 30 times towards helping the cause receive an Overall Award. This would also count towards the Daily Award for that cause every day. To find out more about America's Giving Challenge and Causes, visit the Causes website.
If even 10% of REEF's members donated to our Cause before the end of the Challenge, we would most certainly make it in the award category. So please go online and show your support for REEF's marine conservation work. We hope we can count on you!
Please go to REEF's Cause page -- donate $10 (or more) -- ideally on one of two target dates, Friday October 16th or Saturday October 24. Thank You!
West Coast Dive Shows - Visit REEF next month at SCUBA 2010 show in Long Beach (CA) on May 15-16 and the Dive & Travel Expo in Tacoma (WA) on May 22-23. REEF staff and volunteers will be there to tell you about our latest activities, have REEF gear and supplies for sale, and sign up new members.
New Field Stations - Welcome to our newest Field Stations who have joined us in the last month. Field Stations are shops, charters, instructors and organizations that support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out the other 170+ REEF Field Stations, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.
Check out the REEF Online Store - This is the place to get all of your REEF gear, survey supplies, lionfish collection kits, and field guidebooks. The REEF Store is online here.
Approximately 100 divers collected 534 Indo-Pacific red lionfish during the first tournament dedicated to reducing the population of the invasive species in the Florida Keys waters. The September 11 tournament in Key Largo, organized by REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is the first of three Keys-based lionfish roundups. The event attracted 27 teams that competed for cash and prizes to collect the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The winning team captured 111 lionfish during the single day event. The largest lionfish caught measured in at just under 11 inches, and the smallest at less than two inches. Lionfish can grow to lengths of over 18 inches in western Atlantic waters where they are not native.
“The sanctuary is thrilled by the response from the dive community,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton. “The volume of fish caught during this single day event demonstrates that dedicated diver removal efforts can be effective at helping keep this invasive at bay.”
Team “Raaw Talent,” from the Upper Keys and led by Captain Al Wilson, captured 111 lionfish and the grand prize of $1,000 for most lionfish. The “Lion Killers” of Islamorada and Marathon netted the largest lionfish, along with $500. And with the capture of the smallest lionfish, team “Full Circle from Key Dives” also caught themselves $500. Both teams “Raaw Talent” and “Full Circle” had been through REEF’s educational workshops on lionfish safety and handling and have been very active in reporting sightings to REEF and capturing lionfish for research purposes. These lionfish derbies are great events to reward those already involved in REEF’s lionfish control programs and to recruit more people to become active in lionfish control.
“The community participation in this event surpassed even our most generous expectations”, said REEF Director of Operations, Lad Akins. “Everyone came together for a great event, including sponsors, volunteers, organizers, and of course, the lionfish hunters. Even those who brought in a single fish contributed to the protection of our native marine life and deserve our thanks.”
Divers and snorkelers interested in participating for the remaining 2010 Keys lionfish tournaments may register online at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies. The second lionfish derby will be held October 16 at Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in Marathon, FL. The third derby will be held November 13 at Hurricane Hole Marina, in Key West, FL. A $100 registration fee provides each team with a pair of puncture resistant gloves — important protection from lionfish spines — and two tickets to the tournament banquet. For more information on REEF's programs to study the lionfish invasion, go to www.REEF.org/lionfish
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Eco-Dives in Key West, Florida, which has been a Field Station since 2010. Eco-Dives owner, Rob McCall, is fascinated by learning and finding new species and enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Rob has been a REEF surveyor since 2001 so it was a natural to incorporate REEF into his business. Eco-Dives primarily teaches advanced open-water scuba certifications because it enables them to focus on fun courses such as underwater photography and the REEF Fish ID specialty. Eco-dives was also one of the first dive operators to offer a Lionfish Diver specialty that teaches divers the basics of the lionfish invasion, why it is so detrimental to our reefs, and how to report sightings.
“Out of 775 REEF survey dives and countless other dives with students, the most unusual fish we have found on our dives has been a pugjaw wormfish.” says Rob. Fortunately Rob was able to snap a couple pictures of it to confirm the identification of such a unique fish. Rob's sighting was only the sixth time that species had ever been reported on a REEF survey.
Although Key West is not known for its pristine reefs, Rob says the dive sites are convenient, the reefs are well-populated with small-to-medium size fish, and they have mature wrecks with plenty of big fish. The newest addition to the armada of artificial reefs in the Keys, the Vandenberg, is a great dive and a fish magnet. REEF has been monitoring the Vandenberg since it was sunk and Rob has been a great help on a number of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveys documenting reef fish recruitment over time.
Rob says that he "really enjoys working with REEF surveyors; they are always so enthusiastic. Doing surveys has made me look much harder at fish, looking for distinguishing features so I can identify them. This results in you seeing so much more during a dive."
Thanks to everyone who donated during our Summer Campaign, you helped us reach our goal. REEF members contributed over $34,770, with a generous match of $30,000 from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, for a grand total of $64,770. REEF will use these donations to maintain our current programs and expand our special projects, the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Research Program. Donations from our members make it possible for REEF to carry out our mission of conserving marine ecosystems. Thank you!
Don't forget to check out the 2012 REEF Field Survey Trips! The schedule and more details are posted online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. Many are starting to fill up so don't delay.
Have you checked out our new innovative online Fish Identification "Fishinars"(aka webinars)? These fun and short (45 minute) sessions are a great way to learn marine life ID from the comfort of your home. And they are free. The schedule is available at www.reef.org/resources/webinars. We are always adding more sessions, so check back often.
The 21st annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) took place in July, with many dive shops, dive clubs, and other groups organizing fish ID classes, dive /snorkel days, BBQs and more fun gatherings. The concept behind the GAFC is not only to accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers/snorkelers to fishwatching and get them started doing REEF surveys. Groups from California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and new to the event in 2012 - New Brunswick, all participated! Once again, this year's largest one day event was held in the Northeast, coordinated by the New England Dive Club. Thank you to ALL participants, and we hope you'll continue conducting REEF surveys on your dives year round!
A new scientific paper published earlier this month in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution reports that REEF surveys conducted by citizen scientists compare well with traditional scientific methods when it comes to monitoring species biodiversity. The findings of the research, conducted by Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Angila in the UK, give weight to the growing phenomenon of citizen science programs such as REEF's Volunteer Survey Project. The field study compared methods used by REEF volunteer divers with those used by professional scientists to measure the variety of fish species in three Caribbean sites in the Turks and Caicos. The divers surveyed the sites using two methods – the 'belt transect', used in peer reviewed fish diversity studies, and the 'roving diver technique', used by REEF volunteers. Two teams of 12 divers made 144 separate underwater surveys across the sites over four weeks. While the traditional scientific survey revealed sightings of 106 different types of fish, the volunteer technique detected greater marine diversity with a total of 137 in the same waters. Dr Holt led the research in partnership with the Centre for Marine Resource Studies in the Caribbean and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He said: "The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs. Very few, if any, scientific groups can collect data on the scale that volunteer groups can, so our proof that both methods return consistent results is very encouraging for citizen science in general. We're living in a world that's changing very significantly. Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists." Click here to read the full paper, entitled "Comparing Diversity Data Collected Using a Protocol Designed for Volunteers with Results from a Professional Alternative".
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 Nick Brown. A US Pacific Northwest native, Nick is currently living in St. Kitts. Nick has been a REEF member since 2004 and has since conducted 138 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Nick had to say about REEF:
How did you first volunteer with REEF?
I first became involved with REEF in 2004 while working as a research intern for the SeaDoc Society, a marine ecosystem health program based in Washington State. The SeaDoc Society and REEF frequently collaborate to offer free fish and invertebrate identification courses to the public. Although I was still completing my open water certification at the time, the enthusiasm of SeaDoc’s chief scientist Joe Gaydos and REEF’s Janna Nichols was contagious. Within a month of finishing my certification, I completed my first REEF survey and haven’t stopped since.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I take great satisfaction in knowing that every survey I submit contributes to an ever growing database that can be used by the public, researchers and policy makers around the world. Not only am I adding more purpose to my dives by contributing to something useful, I’m able to reference my submitted data later on which functions as my own personal invertebrate (in the PAC region) and fish sighting logbook.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I’ve been very fortunate in being able to dive very close to where I live. Until about a year and a half ago, the vast majority of my dives were in the cold but beautiful waters of my home state of Washington and nearby British Columbia, an area known locally as the Salish Sea. My favorite part about diving in the Pacific Northwest is the large diversity of marine invertebrates. Recently though, I’ve hung up my drysuit and slipped into a wetsuit for the warm Caribbean waters of St. Kitts and Nevis where I’m currently attending veterinary school. My favorite part of Caribbean diving is the great visibility and large variety of ornately colored fish.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
For better surveying and fish watching move slowly; not only will your dive last longer, but you’ll notice more and the marine life tends not to be as shy. For identification, I recommend investing in a few fish and invertebrate ID books; often the subtleties between different species are hard to appreciate without a detailed reference.