Between 2013 and 2015, the US Pacific Northwest and western Canada experienced a mass mortality of sea stars. The Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), a previously abundant predator, began to show signs of a wasting syndrome in early September 2013, and dense aggregations disappeared from many sites in a matter of weeks. REEF surveyors certainly noticed, and the decline was reflected in the REEF database. The authors of a new publication just out in the journal PeerJ used the REEF database to document the decline at a regional scale. In addition to the dramatic decline in Sunflower Stars, they found a four-fold increase in the number of Green Sea Urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis). The sea urchin increase also resulted in declines in kelp canopy coverage. This type of ecological change, where a change in one species impacts many others, is known as a trophic cascade. Because of the long-term and wide-spread nature of the REEF survey program, our data have proven invaluable in documenting the impacts of the seastar wasting disease. The study was conducted by Jessica Schultz, Ryan Cloutier, and Isabelle M. Côté from Simon Fraser University and the Vancouver Aquarium. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the 60+ scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.
If you haven't checked out the online REEF Store lately, you might want to head over and get a jump on your holiday shopping! We have added several new items, including Lionfish Jewelry Making Kits, pre-made Lionfish Jewelry Pieces, REEF Mask Straps, several new T-shirts, and a lionfish polespear. And be sure to check out our new Conservation Creatures plush series. Each plush comes with a Conservation Card that provides information about the critter's habitat, characteristics, potential threats, and global distribution in REEF's Survey Project regions. Visit www.REEF.org/store today!
We had a number of applicants for the Fall session and narrowing the intern pool to just two applicants was tough because everyone that applied were wonderful candidates. This month we're introducing you to Catherine Whitaker (aka Erin) who (thankfully) arrived early to cross train with our fabulous summer interns before they departedon August 17th. Next month we'll highlight our final recipient, Lauren Finan, who will arrive the week of August 20th.
Erin is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology. She's had a variety of jobs during her undergraduate career all of which honed her skills in preparation for a career in Marine Biology. She is well versed in the REEF methodology having completed juvenile fish, fish, and coral abundance and distribution surveys while working with Centro Ecologico de Akumal. As a Scuba Divemaster, Erin taught scuba to tourists and locals of all ages instilling a sense of excitement and pride for marine life to her students. During her time at Duke, she served as research assistant to many professors and non-profit organizations and volunteered as an assistant aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium.
While in Maine she was sampling algae and young lobsters for a census survey (we could use that here). At the Linney genetics laboratory Erin was responsible for feeding and cleaning tanks of 3000 zebra fish. At the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems branch of the Smithsonian, Erin assisted a PhD candidate on her research relating to the effect of parrotfish on corals as well as the coral-symbiont relationship in a stressful environment, the list goes on as does her travels. She has been to Ankarafantsika, Madagascar as a field assistant; Caye Caulker, Belize as an underwater tour guide; Manila, Philippines as a U.S. Embassy Protocol Office Assistant; Sofia, Bulgaria as a U.S. Embassy Consular Section Aide. REEF is very fortunate to have someone of Erin's caliber interning with us this fall. She feels working with REEF is an ideal opportunity for her to test her ability to integrate scientific investigation, conservation efforts and a flair for reaching out to people for the betterment of our environment, while working toward her masters.
On October 31, while many of you donned witch's hats and goofy masks, the REEF team suited up in Diving That Counts! t-shirts and made the annual pilgrimage to DEMA Show 2007, the largest dive industry trade show. DEMA was again held in Orlando, Florida, allowing local volunteers Mike Phelan, Tom Isgar, Dave Grenda, Lillian Kenney, and Nancy Eickelmann to generously donate their time in helping at the REEF booth. Fall interns Catherine Whitaker and Lauren Finan were rock stars as REEF ambassadors at the show by promoting the Volunteer Survey Project among attendees, helping recruit new Field Stations and selling REEF merchandise. Many thanks to Tom Isgar for donating four marine life prints to a daily raffle at the REEF booth.
One notable difference at DEMA this year was the undercurrent of environmental awareness among both exhibitors and attendees. REEF Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, co-led a workshop on using eco-activities (like the REEF Volunteer Survey Project) to increase diver acquisition with Project AWARE Director Jenny Miller-Garmendia. More than 12 organizations - non-profit, government, small business - have formed an alliance to serve as a resource for eco-activities and environmental education to the dive industry. We were honored to meet with White House representative, Gerhard Kuska, DEMA President, Tom Ingram and others with an interest in seeing this "Blue Diver Alliance" grow into active partnerships with the dive industry.
From the dive industry's perspective, the environment sells. Recent market research shows that the target dive consumer is the baby-boomer, for whom the environment is an important factor in their consumption decisions, including whether and where to go diving. Many exhibitor-sponsored seminars focused on practical strategies for marketing to the eco-conscious customer; one even demonstrated ways that a dive shop might "green" itself by, for example, using bio-diesel in its boats or installing energy efficient appliances. REEF continues to work with dive industry members in promoting the Volunteer Survey Project as a way to recruit and retain divers while helping collect important underwater information to help preserve the marine life that divers want to see. REEF survey materials like Starter Kits and the new home study DVD course (read the press release here) and the Field Station program (visit www.REEF.org for more info) are tools REEF uses to provide incentives to dive shops and other industry members to get involved with REEF.
REEF is excited to be working closely with the dive industry as DEMA launches its new "Be A Diver" campaign (January, 2008). We look forward to welcoming a new wave of environmentally engaged divers and training them to better understand and preserve marine life.
REEF had the opportunity to attend the 54th Annual Underwater Clinic of Boston Sea Rovers, March 8-9th in Boston, MA. The Boston Sea Rovers has sponsored the “Longest Continuously Running Dive Show in the World.” Each annual clinic attracts as speakers, educators, explorers, scientists, divers and underwater photographers. The purpose of the lectures is to help Sea Rovers achieve the club mission “to educate the general public about the underwater world.” Since 1954, Sea Rovers has held an annual clinic in Boston for the purpose of raising the level of knowledge of the underwater world. Early members of the club invented the first underwater film show or clinic as it was known then and is still called such today. In addition to over 40 speakers this year and many booths at the show, there was the Saturday evening film event which is a must-see showcase of underwater photos and videos from renowned leaders in the field.
Past speakers at the annual clinic include myriad famous names such as Jacques Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, Robert Ballard, George Bond, Peter Gimbel, Stan Waterman, Brian Skerry, Bob Talbot, David Doubilet, and many others. Really, the Sea Rovers history mirrors that of SCUBA diving and the presenters have always been those same individuals who have been pioneers and innovators in diving, underwater science, marine conservation, underwater archaeology and discovery, and photography/videography. I think if I were to describe the Sea Rovers in one sentence, it would be this: If every dive site in the world had 10' viz, 30 degree water temps, 1 fish and one moonsnail to see, it took the entire dive to find said fish and moonsnail, and you had to wear 40lbs in dive weight, there would still be an avid group of SCUBA enthusiasts in the Boston Sea Rovers! The annual event is really the last major dive show in America run solely by volunteers and proceeds from the event are used for scholarships, internships, in support of other non-profit organizations such as SeaMark and the Cotting School for Handicapped Children, and to continue to promote the goals of Sea Rovers.To learn more about the Sea Rovers, please visit http://www.bostonsearovers.com/BSRpublic/library
I also spoke at the New England Aquarium as part of their Lowell Lecture Series and to the Aquarium Dive Club while visiting Boston. The general motivation behind sending this native New Englander back home was to foster new and old liaisons in capacity building in the region. Most people who attended my talks did not know that REEF conducts surveys or has a presence in New England. Part of our goal in participating in the Clinic was to promote REEF programs such as the Great Annual Fish Count; increase our number of regional Field Stations; develop partnerships for utilizing the data that we hope to begin collecting in earnest in the coming year; create a regional list serve for interested individuals to connect on REEF programs; and develop a strategic plan for the region. For our part, REEF is committed to creating a separate New England online data entry interface for our website in the coming month, revamping the NE fish ID curriculum, and hopefully adding invertebrates to this curriculum, developing a NE Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) program, then utilizing this AAT team for regional monitoring and ad hoc conservation efforts. Encouraging regional dive clubs to conduct surveys while on their winter trips in the Caribbean offers another way for NE members to get involved. Stay tuned for more news from our NE partnerships and look to see the New England online data entry up and running very soon. Ultimately, nurturing REEF's survey efforts in New England will benefit many stakeholders just as these survey data currently inform marine management decisions in our other survey regions.
There are a few people I would like to thank here for making this trip possible: Vickie Cataldo (NEAQ Lowell Lecture Coordinator) for her generous travel support to REEF; Dan Laughlin and Sarah Taylor at NEAQ; David Caldwell (Exhibitor/Coordinator of Sea Rovers); David Morton (President Sea Rovers); Bob Michelson for ongoing support of REEF; Terri Rioux (WHOI DSO); Al Bozza (NEAQ Dive Club); and especially Holly Bourbon Martel for arranging my Sea Rovers talk, co-presenting with me, and for taking on the role of Volunteer NE Regional Coordinator for REEF. Also, thanks to The New England Aquarium in Boston and the Coastal Dive Center in Hingham, MA our regional REEF Field Stations. Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester and Divers Market in Plymouth also have recently assisted REEF.
As part of REEF's continuing work on non-native species, particulary the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish, a multi-agency technical workshop was hosted by REEF, NOAA and the USGS to develop early detection and rapid response plans for Southeast Florida. Over 20 different state, federal and organizational offices were represented at the 2-day workshop, which was held June 18th and 19th in Marathon, Florida. Breakout seesions addressing early warning and notification, jursidictions and permitting, and rapid response led to a coordinated response plan outlining detection and response efforts from intitial sighting through removal and final reporting.
The workshop featured presentations by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Scott Hardin, REEF's Lad Akins, the USGS's Pam Fuller and NOAA's James Morris. In addition, REEF partners from Bermuda (Chris Flook), the Bahamas (Nicola Smith), Canada (Stephanie Green) and the National Aquarium in Washington DC (Andrew Pulver) provided critical examples of their work addressing the lionfish invasion.
While lionfish are yet to be confirmed in the Southeast Florida region south of Miami, it is believed their arrival is eminent. Plans developed as part of this workshop will be critical in helping minimize impacts of this invasive species as well as helping to prevent the establishment of other non-ative fish and invertebrates in Southeast waters. The program, once groundtruthed, will provide an Early Detection/Rapid Response model for other areas of the US and Caribbean. Funding for the workshop was provided by REEF, the Mote Protect Our Reefs fund, NOAA's Aquatic Invasive Species Program, the USGS, NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System, and the Gulf and Atlantic States Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species.
Special thanks is due to USGS's Pam Schofield and NOAA's Tom Culliton for their work in organizing and conducting the workshop.
To report sightings of any non-native species, go to www.reef.org/programs/exotic or call (305) 852-0030.
As Lad reported in an earlier article, DEMA was eventful and exciting. Beyond the networking and outreach about the lionfish invasion, REEF was proud to attend the SSI Platinum Pro Award ceremony. On Thursday October 23, Lad Akins and Anna DeLoach joined Paul Humann (1993) REEF Board of Trustees, Ned Deloach (1993) REEF Board of Trustees and Lisa Mitchell (1993) REEF Executive Director as proud recipients of the SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver award. The SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver card is the calling card of the world’s most elite water explorers. The list of cardholders is a “who’s who” of diving, containing the world’s most prominent dive leaders, scientists, photographers, manufacturers, retailers, and resort operators.
What makes the SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver award so special is that it’s all about diving. The unsung dive master on any island and Jacques Cousteau earned their cards the same way—by diving 5,000 times. Let’s put 5,000 dives into perspective. It takes 500 dives a year for 10 years, or 100 dives a year for 50 years! That’s a lifetime of dedication and commitment to the sport.
Any other REEF Members out there that are SSI Platinum Pro5000 Diver, please e-mail us with your REEF number and the year you were inducted into this elite group.
The 18th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is now in full swing. There are GAFC events being held around the country. One of the largest and longest running is held in the Northeast US. Over 100 divers are expected to converge at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, MA, on July 25, for the 8th annual Northeast GAFC event. The celebration, hosted by The New England Aquarium Dive Club and REEF, will include survey dives, a picnic, free raffles and door prizes. GAFC dives are planned at seven shore locations around Cape Ann, along with dives at Nubble Light, York, ME. Every survey form submitted after each dive will count as an entry into the raffles for each diver.
Begun in 1975, the New England Aquarium Dive Club, Inc. is one of the world's oldest, largest and most active aquarium affiliated dive clubs. We share the fun of diving, a love of the sea, a concern for diving safety, and a desire to learn more about the aquatic realm and to share that knowledge with others. The REEF Fish Survey Project allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers. In 2001, the acclaimed REEF Fish Survey Project and the Great Annual Fish Count was introduced to New England's SCUBA-diving community.
During our 7th Annual GAFC event held on July 18, 2008, 98 divers conducted 123 fish surveys at 7 locations around Cape Ann and southern Maine, making this the largest single day GAFC event held in the United States for an unprecedented seventh year in a row! Join us as our celebration continues with the New England Aquarium Dive Club, REEF and the Great Annual Fish Count.
For more information, please contact: Bob Michelson, event coordinator for the New England Aquarium Dive Club at (781) 848-8870, or by e-mail, email@example.com.
Our 2009 Fall/Winter fundraising campaign has been a huge success! Despite these challenging economic times, loyal REEF members have donated over $59,000, just $3,000 less than the Winter 2008 campaign total. If you haven’t already donated, please consider donating today to help us exceed last year’s total. It’s not too late to get this limited edition, signed print of a beautiful South Pacific reef. There are only a few left! Click here to securely donate online (https://www.reef.org/contribute) or mail your donation to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037!
We are excited to kick off 2010 by continuing and expanding our core programs:
Thank you again for your dedication and support of REEF conservation programs.
As the lionfish invasion progresses throughout the Western Atlantic region, marine resource managers are struggling with lionfish control in protected areas. In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Sanctuary managers have come up with a special permit process to allow removal of lionfish within the Sanctuary Preservation Areas (no-take zones). A critical part of the permit process is participation in a training and handling workshop conducted by REEF. To date, over 15 workshops have been held in the Keys and over 230 on the water professionals have been trained and permitted. Of course the permit is only half the issue, the second half is getting the fish! In an effort to encourage and facilitate removals of lionfish, REEF recently provided dive operators who have been through the permitting workshops and are actively reporting or removing lionfish with a complete set of lionfish collecting gear at no cost. The kits, normally retailing for $138.00 and available through REEF's online store, each contain a pair of puncture resistant gloves, two vinyl collecting nets, and a clear dry bag used as a collection bag. The donation of the collecting kits to 27 dive operators throughout the Keys was facilitated through REEF, NOAA’s Aquatic Invasive Species program, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and a generous contribution by an upper Florida Keys resident.
REEF has also worked with local dive operators and conservation groups to establish 13 lionfish collection banks in the Keys. These locations have been equipped with storage supplies, including bags, labels, markers, etc., and promoted as drop-off locations for lionfish collected by the public. The lionfish at each location will be picked up on a regular basis and shipped from REEF to researchers at the NOAA lab in North Carolina and researchers at the USGS. Key research questions including predation, genetics, age and growth rates, among others will be addressed through acquisition of these samples. For a listing of lionfish collection banks in the Keys, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish and follow the links.