2013 Summer Lionfish Derby Series Announced

REEF Board Member, Peter Hughes, with a haul of lionfish at a Derby.

We are excited to announce the 2013 Summer Lionfish Derby Series! Five years ago, REEF began hosting lionfish derbies throughout Florida and the Caribbean to address the lionfish invasion. A lionfish derby is a single day team competition to collect as many lionfish as possible. Teams collect lionfish using nets or spears while SCUBA diving or free diving, and prizes are awarded to the teams with the most lionfish, biggest lionfish, and smallest lionfish caught. Not only do these events reduce lionfish populations, but they also increase education and awareness, provide samples for research, train divers in safe removal techniques, and help develop the market for lionfish as a food fish. To register or learn more, please visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies. 2013 Derby dates and locations are: June 22 - Green Turtle Cay Bahamas; July 27 - Fort Lauderdale, FL; August 17 - Palm Beach, FL; September 14 - Key Largo, FL.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, December 2013

REEF Data from Hawaii are being used to evaluate ecosystem services models for coral reefs. Photo by David Andrew.

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:

-Fisheries scientist are using data on Hogfish from Florida, Puerto Rico, and the USVI to evaluate population status and help set effective catch limits as part of the US Fisheries Management Council's stock assessment.

- A scientist from RSMAS at the University of Miami is evaluating the status of Caribbean predatory fish species, including Gray Snapper, Barracuda, and Goliath Grouper.

- An environmental researcher at University of Miami is assessing biodiversity indexes as a measure of effectiveness with ongoing septic tank replacement and canal improvement projects in the Florida Keys.

- A PhD student from University of Hawaii is using data from Maui Nui to conduct coral reef ecosystem services models.

- A researcher from University of Victoria is using data from Washington and British Columbia to evaluate community richness values for temperate rocky reefs.

The Faces of REEF: Herb Gruenhagen

REEF volunteer trainer, Herb Gruenhagen. Photo by Karen Morgan.
Herb with a jellyfish. Photo by Charles Tu.
Photo by Marc Pidcoe.
Sarcastic Fringehead. Photo courtesy New World Publications.
One of Herb's monthly ID classes, held at Ocean Enterprises in San Diego.
The rarely seen Specklefin Midshipman, found and photographed by Herb Gruenhagen.

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 Herb Gruenhagen. Herb has been a REEF member since 2001, and has conducted 208 surveys (all in his home state of California). He is a member of the Pacific Coast Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Herb had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

In July 2000, the San Diego Ocean Foundation sunk a Canadian Destroyer as an artificial reef. I was one of several divers who performed both fish and invertebrate surveys, using transects, quadrats, and REEF Roving Surveys. When the San Diego Oceans Foundation decided to become a REEF Field Station, I volunteered to become a volunteer REEF instructor. I have been teaching a REEF class each month in San Diego since that time.

What are some of the highlights of your local diving?

I dive the La Jolla Shores most of the time, and it is always changing. There are the resident species, the transients, and the seasonal ones. The resident species will always be there no matter what. The transients can be the many pelagic species that the currents bring in. For example, a while back, we are seeing several different species of jellyfish and the leopard sharks are returning to the warmer water shallows near the Marine Room. The seasonal species are really the special surprises. During the early spring the nudibranchs come out to start their mating, and in the winter, we have a ‘white’ Christmas with all the Market squid schooling, mating, and laying their white finger-like egg cases. Other special surprises can be molas, baby grey whales, midshipman, mantis shrimp, wolf-fishes, and even Finescale Triggerfishes.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?

Doing REEF surveys really highlights the many different variations that a given species can take on. Being a REEF surveyor gives you the ability to recognize new species from common species, and all the many variations within the same species. Paying attention to all the details is really important to getting a good ID. I try to get a good image of the fish and ask for help when I’m not sure.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

After all the years of teaching the courses, I’m just really glad to see local divers coming to my class to expand their knowledge of the local marine life, whether they do one survey or many surveys. I love watching the learning process and expanding the students minds of the many wonderful forms of marine life we have here to enjoy and need to perserve for future generations.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

The REEF Field station is the San Diego Oceans Foundation, but the facilities that we use is Ocean Enterprises in San Diego. Ocean Enterprises has been very supportive over the years and everyone really appreciates the use of their classrooms, computer and projector and its central location in the city. Thank you Ocean Enterprises for your many years of support.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite?

Well, of course photographing species new to science or that is rare or very uncommon is a highlight. I have photographed several fishes and nudibranchs that fall into one of those categories. My most fascinating fish that I have seen is the Specklefin Midshipman, Porichthys myriaste. We see many juvenile Plainfin Midshipman in the winter, but the Specklefin were quite a find! One of my favorite fishes is the Sarcastic Fringehead. They are one of the few fishes that see you as a threat and will interact with divers and their photo gear. They will charge out of their breeding holes (ok, we are talking about a 6” fish) at the camera lens, thinking they are seeing ‘another’ fringehead in the lens. They will bite all your cables and your finger and charge back into their hole. They will also interact with each other and fearlessly defend their breeding holes by opening their mouths at each other beyond the stretching point.

Herb teaches free Southern California Marine Life ID classes the third Wednesday of each month. Join him!

New Tropical Western Atlantic Survey Paper

Are you an experienced REEF surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA)? If so, you might want to check out our brand new underwater survey paper featuring an extended list of species. The double-sided list fits on the regular yellow slate. The longer list of species means less write-in species and more efficient data entry. When entering your data, just select the longer list in the "Species View" field at the top of the data entry field. You can find the new paper in REEF's online store here - http://www.reef.org/node/433. The store also includes new paper for our Central Indo-Pacific and South Pacific/Fiji regions, along with handy ID guides, and REEF gear!

Take a REEF Trip in 2016!

If you haven't checked out the 2016 REEF Trips schedule yet, now's the time. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned, and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life-list while interacting with fellow ocean enthusiasts. We are also offering three of the ever-popular Invasive Lionfish Research Studies trips. REEF staff, board members, and other marine life experts lead the trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Visit www.REEF.org/trips to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, and more. Book early - REEF trips often sell out! Also, keep an eye on the REEF Trips webpage because we will be adding a few more trips to the 2016 schedule (and beyond) in the coming months.

2016 REEF Field Survey Schedule

Feb 6 - 13 -- Dominica Invasive Lionfish Research Study -- Dive Dominica & Castle Comfort Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes

Feb 20 - 27 -- Barbados -- Dive Barbados Blue & Coconut Court Beach Hotel, Led by Lad Akins

April 9 - 16 -- Philippines Dumaguete -- Atlantis Resort Dumaguete, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, One male share space left

April 16 - 23 -- Philippines Tubbataha Reef -- Atlantis Azores Liveaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Sold Out

May 14 - 21 -- Honduras Bay Islands Invasive Lionfish Research Study -- M/V Caribbean Pearl II, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes

June 18 - 25 -- Florida Keys and Blue Heron Bridge -- Islamorada Dive Center & Postcard Inn, Led by Carlos and Allison Estape

Aug 13 - 20 -- Virgin Gorda -- Dive BVI & Guavaberry Spring Bay, Led by Janna Nichols

Aug 20 - 27 -- Curacao Invasive Lionfish Research Study -- GO WEST Diving & Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes

Oct 1 - 8 -- Bermuda -- Triangle Diving & Grotto Bay, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach

Oct 9 - 13 -- Barkley Sound, British Columbia -- Rendezvous Dive Adventures, Led by Janna Nichols

Oct 22 - 29 -- Saba Sea & Learn -- Sea Saba & Juliana's Hotel, Led by Paul Humann and Jonathan Lavan

Nov 7 - 10 -- Coronado Islands, MX and San Diego, CA -- Waterhorse Charters, Led by Jonathan Lavan

Dec 3 - 10 -- Belize Turneffe Atoll -- Blackbird Caye Resort, Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D.

Dec 3 - 10 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn or Casa Mexicana, Led by Tracey Griffin

Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used to Evaluate Species in the Northeast US

A Radiated Shanny, one of two species in the Northeast US whose populations are possibly being impacted by temperature changes. Photo by Jerry Shine.

We are proud to share a story from the East Coast that is a perfect example of how REEF data are put to work to address our changing seas. Dr. Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut and Mystic Aquarium, recently submitted a petition to add the Radiated Shanny and Atlantic Seasnail to the list of Species of Concern under the State of Connecticut's Endangered Species Act. Dr. Auster used REEF data as his primary source of information for the petition.

Both species are considered "cold-adapted," with their distribution largely north of Cape Cod with rare sightings in Long Island Sound. Data show that these species may be the first climate-change casualties in Connecticut waters as Long Island Sound continues to warm. These species occur in rocky habitats, and the best population data come from diver surveys, such as those from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. If you are a REEF surveyor in the northeast region, please keep an eye out and report these species on your surveys! Dr. Auster will continue to track their abundance through the REEF database and assess the effect of changing seas on their populations.

Take a Dive Vacation That Counts in 2016

Snorkel Jellyfish Lake in Palau this Fall. Photo courtesy PicCorrect.
Learn about the Lionfish Invasion in Curacao.
Dive with Sea Lions in the Coronado Islands.
Spend a week at the beautiful Blackbird Caye Resort.

We are looking for passionate ocean enthusiasts to join us later this year on a REEF Trip. There are still a few spaces left on the following trips in 2016:

Curacao Lionfish Research Trip, August 20 - 27 - led by REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF Board of Trustee Member, Peter Hughes. Learn all about the lionfish invasion while diving and helping with research. Visit the trip page for details.

Bermuda, October 1 - 8 - led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Renowned Underwater Photographers and Marine Life Authors. Ned and Anna will entertain participants with their fish id and behavior expertise. Pink sand beaches and fascinating historic sites help to make Bermuda a captivating destination for non-divers as well. Visit the trip page for details.

Palau and Yap, October 4 - 16 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. We will begin our trip at Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, and then board the Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard. We will explore rich coral walls and channels, documenting the biodiversity of the area. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for details.

Barkley Sound, BC, October 9 - 13led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. A must-dive destination for cold-water divers, Barkley Sound will treat participants to excellent diving and encounters with wildlife both above and below the water. Visit the trip page for details.

Saba, October 22 - 29 - led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer, and Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. A chance to dive this beautiful mountainous island in the Caribbean. In addition to the REEF seminars, participants can participate in "Sea and Learn", a month-long education program offered by Sea Saba. Visit the trip page for details.

Coronado Islands, California/Mexico, November 7 - 10 - led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. This West Coast trip offers the chance to encounter a diverse array of habitats and organisms, including kelp forests brimming with fish and invertebrates and playful sea lion pups. Visit the trip page for details.

Belize, December 3 - 10led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Decompress before the holidays with a week on Belize's Turneffe Atoll at the spectacular Blackbird Caye Resort, named one of Sport Diver Magazine's "2015 World's Best Diving Resorts." Divers will delight in the high diversity of fishes and endemic species. Non-diver companions will delight in the sandy beaches, pool side relaxing, and kayaking. Visit the trip page for details.

The complete 2016 and 2017 schedule is posted at: www.REEF.org/trips. Contact Amy Lee at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869 to book your space or to find out more.

Putting It To Work: New Study Documents Transboundary Impacts of Sea Star Wasting Disease

A healthy Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), an important predator in the kelp forests of the US and Canadian west coast. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A Sunflower Sea Star that has succumbed to wasting disease. Photo by Janna Nichols.
Green Sea Urchin populations have increased in areas where Sunflower Sea Stars have declined. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Sea star wasting disease has devastated sea star populations on the West coast from Mexico to Alaska. The disease broke out in 2013, causing massive death of several species of sea stars. Infected animals develop lesions that eat away tissue, with limbs dropping off as the animals die. The disease has been linked to a virus, although environmental factors may also be involved.

A new study, published last week in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE, presents an analysis of REEF survey data on several asteroid species collected by divers in the Salish Sea over the last 10 years. The Salish Sea is a Canadian / United States transboundary marine ecosystem, and world-wide hotspot for temperate asteroid species diversity with a high degree of endemism.

The results showed that some species were hit hard, while others increased in number. Populations of Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), an important keystone predator in the region, dropped dramatically after the beginning of the epidemic. Several other sea star species, including the Spiny Pink Star (Pisaster brevispinus) also declined. Numbers of the less-common Leather Star (Dermasterias imbricata) and two species of sea urchin, which are prey for sea stars, increased after 2013.

The virus outbreak continues, and will have lasting effects on the ecosystem. Sunflower Sea Stars have effectively disappeared from the Salish Sea, the study concludes. Likely as a result, numbers of urchins have increased, which in turn will lead to more browsing on kelp. As a result, study co-author, Dr. Joe Gaydos, and his colleagues are currently in discussions with the National Marine Fisheries Service to get the Sunflower Sea Star listed as a “species of concern.”

The paper, titled "Devastating Transboundary Impacts of Sea Star Wasting Disease on Subtidal Asteroids", is available online here. Another study published earlier this year in the journal, PeerJ, used the REEF data to evaluate the potential trophic impacts of the seastar decline, as seen in the increase in sea urchins. That paper is availble here. View the entire list of all scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

2018 REEF Trips Schedule Coming Soon!

Much fun was had on REEF's first ever Field Survey trip to the Solomon Islands last month.

We have been working hard the last few months on our 2018 REEF Field Survey Trips schedule, and it's almost ready! We have a great line-up of destinations in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Eastern Pacific, Tropical Western Pacific, and even the Indian Ocean. In addition to our usual fish ID trips and lionfish research trips, we are adding a new eco-adventure trip next year perfect for the entire family. Keep an eye on your inbox for our special announcement next week. If you haven't yet been on a REEF Trip, these are a great way to "Take a Dive Vacation That Counts". Each trip is led by an expert and the itinerary features daily diving, learning, and fun. Check out www.REEF.org/trips for more details.

5th Annual Nearshore Assessment Conducted in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

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The REEF OCNMS '07 Team: Kirby Johnson, Stan Kurowski, Reg Reisenbichler (l. to r. back row); Phil Green, Rhoda Green, Captain Mike Ferguson, Doug Biffard (l. to r. front row)
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A REEF surveyor returns from a dive to the Porthole Dive Charter's diving vessel Dash on a very calm day diving in the Olympic Coast NMS.

A team of Pacific REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) divers recently conducted a week-long project conducting surveys of fish and invertebrate communities along the rugged outer coast of Washington.  The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers over 3,300 square miles of ocean off Washington State's rugged and rocky Olympic Peninsula coastline.  Sanctuary waters host abundant marine life.  A small but important stretch of coastline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca features some of the best diving in Washington State, but is rarely visited because of the remote location and limited diving facilities. 

The team included 6 REEF AAT members and conducted 5 days of diving with Porthole Charters.  The weather, which is always a wild card out there, fully cooperated and the team was able to visit all of our priority sites within the Sanctuary, most of which have been surveyed annually since 2002.  A total of 72 surveys were conducted.  To find out more about REEF's work in the OCNMS, visit http://www.reef.org/programs/sanctuaries/OCNMS .

Funding and support for this year's project was generously provided by Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA), an anonymous private foundation, the Winter's Summer Inn in Seiku, and the REEF survey participants.  REEF encourages our Washington members to join WSA - it's free.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub