Putting It To Work: New Publication on Nassau Grouper Populations in the Caribbean

A Nassau Grouper at the spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, which is the focus of research in REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Christy Pattengill-Semmens.

REEF Grouper Moon scientists co-authored a recent groundbreaking paper in the journal PLoS One that highlights the importance of regional conservation efforts aimed at spawning aggregations in the Caribbean. This study evaluated genetic connectedness between Nassau Grouper populations throughout the Caribbean using DNA markers. The authors obtained genetic tissue samples from 620 Nassau Grouper from 19 sites across 9 countries, including the Cayman Islands. They found evidence for strong genetic differentiation among Nassau Grouper subpopulations throughout the Caribbean. These results suggest that, despite a lack of physical barriers, Nassau Grouper form multiple distinct sub-populations in the Caribbean Sea. Oceanography (regional currents, eddies) likely plays an important role in retaining larvae close to spawning sites at both local and regional spatial scales. These findings highlight the importance of conservation initiatives such at REEF's Grouper Moon program in the Cayman Islands. A PDF of the paper is available online here. You can see a complete list of all scientific papers that have included data from REEF programs at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The full citation of the paper is: Jackson AM, Semmens BX, Sadovy de Mitcheson Y, Nemeth RS, Heppell SA, et al. (2014) Population Structure and Phylogeography in Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a Mass-Aggregating Marine Fish. PLoS ONE 9(5): e97508. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097508

The Faces of REEF: Nick Brilliande

A Whitetip Reef Shark - one of Nick's memorable finds on a recent survey. Photo by Jim Spears.

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 Brilliande. He has been a REEF member since 2011. An active surveyor who lives on Oahu, Hawaii, Nick has conducted 50 surveys to date and is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Hawaii region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

The first time I heard about REEF was through a group called Reef Watch Waikiki. I attended some talks by REEF members Cassidy Lum and Jennifer Barrett describing what REEF does and how to survey fish. I answered a few questions and made some comments on fish, which impressed both Cassidy and Jen. Then came the time to try it out and I did. I had fun doing it, but it was also an excuse to look at fish, which I always find fascinating. After that, I became a member, went out to survey when I could, and slowly made my way up to an Expert Level 4/5 surveyor.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I am always curious as to how the environment changes over time and how those changes affects the species that live there. The ocean is always different every day in some way or another; you never have the same type of conditions or species.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

When doing a fish survey, having an extra pair of eyes does help, but you want to be patient. The fish initially view you as a threat, but wait a little and eventually they will get used to you enough to come out and be able to see them. Let the animals make the first moves.

When learning fish for the first time, do not jump around families. The only thing that will accomplish is a huge headache. Take one family, learn the different species of fish one at a time, then quiz yourself to see if you actually know one species from another. Rinse and repeat. As long as you are out and about, you will never forget a fish's face. As mentioned, patience is key. Let them come out on their terms and let them make the first moves. One thing that seems to work for me is keeping my hands and arms to my side while snorkeling or diving - fish seem to view this as less threatening than flailing arms back and forth or having arms wide out.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish you would really like to see?

There are a few finds I remember. One was in Pokai Bay on O'ahu. Here, I witnessed a female Whitley's Boxfish picking at a turtle with a large tumor beside his mouth. This fish was picking at the tumor, but I still have no idea as to the purpose of this. At this same location on the same day I found my first lobster molt, a Slipper Lobster molt. Another encounter I still remember is in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. There were three notable encounters on the same day: two Longnose Butterflyfish, one of which was in a rare dark coloration alongside the other, which was in it's typical yellow coloration, a partial albino Yellow Tang in very shallow water, and a very sleepy Whitetip Reef Shark, which I was able to get very close to without disturbing him.

As far as animals I would like to see, that list would be almost half a page long. A few notable ones would include a Whale Shark, a Dragon Moray Eel, a Hawaiian Monk Seal underwater (I've seen them numerous times on beaches or them swimming around viewed from a boat or shore), and a Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

One Week Left in Summer Matching Campaign

REEF’s Summer Donation Matching Campaign is winding down, but we still need your support to reach our goal! Please consider making your donation today - click here to donate online! We are $12,000 from our goal of $60,000, and we know we can count on the support of our members. Thanks to a generous matching pledge from three of our supporting foundations, your donation will be doubled. Your support helps ensure that we can continue the critical work to protect our world oceans through education and research. Please consider donating today to help us reach our fundraising goal. Every donation, no matter how small, makes double the difference!

A highlight of the summer for us has been our new REEF's Ocean Explorers Camp. From studying mangroves to completing mock health surveys on sea turtles and investigating ocean creatures, these young REEF Explorers had a blast! Just like you, we are committed to educating the public so marine conservation continues well into the future. Education is a component that runs through all of REEF's programs and is essential to ensuring the success of our core citizen science projects. Don't forget that every dollar given is matched by our generous supporters this summer. Please make a today donation at www.REEF.org/contribute!

And a big fishy thank you to all of our members who have already donated this summer.

REEF Fest 2016 - Save the Date

Have you heard about REEF Fest? Mark your calendar for September 29 – October 2, 2016, and then plan to join us in Key Largo, Florida, for our annual celebration of marine conservation. Activities include diving, educational seminars, and social gatherings! Check out www.REEF.org/REEFFest for more information.

The Faces of REEF: Lad Akins Awarded DEMA's Reaching Out Award

Lad teaching a lionfish handling workshop.

We are excited to announce that Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, is a 2016 recipient of Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA)’s Reaching Out Award! First presented in 1989, this award honors leaders in the diving community whose significant contributions to the sport have elevated the industry on all levels. Lad will join distinguished past recipients including Jacques Cousteau, Dr. Sylvia Earle and Dr. Eugenie Clark, as well as REEF Co-Founder Paul Humann, and Board of Trustees Members Peter Hughes and Marty Snyderman.

Lad has worked tirelessly since REEF’s founding in 1990 to educate divers around the world about the marine environment and how to actively engage in conservation efforts through citizen science. Due to Lad’s efforts and dedication over the past 26 years, REEF is one of the largest citizen science organizations in the world with more than 60,000 members and over 200,000 fish surveys submitted to REEF’s online marine sightings database.

Lad spearheaded REEF’s efforts to combat the lionfish invasion over a decade ago. Lad has worked with scientists, government officials, the dive industry and the public to spread awareness and to facilitate the management and effective removal of these prolific invaders. His contributions to this issue have been numerous, widespread, and inventive. He pioneered the concept of lionfish derbies, and has authored or co-authored 30 scientific publications, as well as other publications, including “Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management” and “The Lionfish Cookbook: The Caribbean’s New Delicacy”, now in its second edition.

Without Lad, REEF would not be where it is today. We are happy that he is receiving the recognition for his work to conserve our oceans and his impacts on countless divers and citizen scientists.

Congratulations, Lad!

The Faces of REEF: Laurie Fulton

Laurie with one of the dive masters from our Philippines Field Survey in 2016.
Laurie surveying in Tubbataha Reef. Photo by Ron Lucas.
Showing off her 600th dive while on the Fiji Field Survey in 2015.

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 Laurie Fulton. Laurie lives in Colorado, and has been a REEF member since 2012. She is an Advanced Surveyor (Level 3) in four of REEF's regions. She participated in the REEF Expedition to the Azores last summer as part of REEF's expansion to the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. To date, Laurie has completed 197 surveys. Here’s what Laurie had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

My first REEF trip was in 2012 to the Sea of Cortez on the Rocio del Mar. I had done volunteer trips with other non-profit groups, and was looking to combine my love of diving with volunteer work. REEF provides the perfect combination of both passions.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

Since 2012 I have been hooked on REEF trips and try to do a few each year. Every trip is filled with remarkable experiences, and I consider every new fish added to my life list as a highlight. That being said, it’s hard to beat the extraordinary experience of having whale sharks swim by in the Philippines!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

I really enjoy expanding my knowledge and appreciation of the undersea world combined with the opportunity to dive with like-minded people and contribute to research data. I compare it to birdwatching. In addition to observing, identifying and counting, we get to add our data to a vast online database that is available to researchers around the world. It is citizen science at its best!

Where is your favorite place to dive?

Living in Colorado I don’t get to do much local diving, so I love having the great variety of REEF trips available to me. One of my favorite destinations has been Fiji for the calm warm waters and huge diversity of fish to count!

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

A stand out for me was in Hawaii watching a Peacock Grouper coax a Whitemouth Moray out of its hole for a session of cooperative hunting. The grouper kept rubbing up against the eels head until the moray plunged down into jumbled coral and rocks while 5 groupers raced along above it. Just like using a dog to hunt.

What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?

One of my favorite marine creatures has to be the octopus. I have had many encounters with these intelligent animals over the years and am always thrilled to see them on dives. Just watch Hank on ‘Finding Dory’!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Before each REEF trip I spend time watching the Fishinars for the region. I also take the survey paper and mark the page number from the book for each species next to it. That way I look at each fish and become familiar with the layout of the survey paper.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? What fish do you really want to see underwater?

Last year in the Bahamas I found a Golden Hamlet, which is pictured on the cover of the Humann and DeLoach book. It is my only sighting after years of diving in the Caribbean, so it was very exciting. It was not a REEF trip so no one on the boat quite got it. I would love to swim with a Mola Mola, it’s just such an odd fish.

The Faces of REEF: 2016 Volunteer of the Year, Janet Eyre

Janet Eyre, REEF's 2016 Volunteer of the Year.
Janet receiving her award from Christy Semmens.
Janet with two fellow fish nerds, Doug Harder (l) and Kreg Martin (r).

REEF is proud to announce Janet Eyre as our 2016 Volunteer for the Year. Janet has been a REEF member since 2002, and she is one of REEF’s most active surveyors. She is a Golden Hamlet member and to date has conducted 1,612 surveys (and counting!).

Janet spent her early years with REEF climbing the ranks of surveying in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. In recent years, she has been instrumental in REEF’s expansion efforts to the tropical Pacific, including the South Pacific and Central Indo-Pacific regions. She is a Level 5 Expert Surveyor in all four of those regions. She has also conducted surveys in our Tropical Eastern Pacific region, and Janet participated in our REEF Expedition to the Azores Islands last summer to assist with our expansion to the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. She has participated in 18 REEF Trips and several Advanced Assessment Team projects.

Janet’s expertise in tropical Pacific fish taxonomy rivals any academically-trained scientist. She has documented over 2,000 fish species in her REEF surveys, and 1,478 of those species have been in the tropical Pacific regions. She holds the record for the most fish seen on one REEF survey: 260 species in 73 minutes at the dive site “Edy's Black Forest” near Waigeo in Indonesia.

Janet volunteers countless hours helping REEF staff create new survey and training materials, and she assists with the error checking and quality control of topical Pacific surveys. She is looking forward to working with our staff on developing the next region for the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Janet loves to find new-to-her species, which, after all the surveys in the different regions of the world, is getting harder and harder. She gets particular satisfaction finding undescribed species. In 2015 her quest for getting a fish named after her finally became a reality when she found an unidentified goby in Fiji. It was later described as Eviota eyreae, Eyre's Dwarfgoby.

Janet spends about 100 days a year diving (or traveling to dive). When she is home, she splits her time between San Francisco and Nantucket. We are so grateful for Janet’s enthusiasm and dedication to REEF and our mission. Janet - thank you and congratulations!

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

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REEF Team Aquarius 2007: The Life Support Buoy, which provides power and communications to Aquarius, tethered 60 feet below, appears in the background. Courtesy of Lillian Kenney.
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Volunteer Dave Grenda surveys the northeast site off Aquarius. Courtesy of NMSP.

 Six volunteer divers from the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyed two sites off the Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, to assist the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) with the science component of the Aquarius 2007 Mission: If Reefs Could Talk. Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory, is part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and sits seven miles off shore at Conch Reef. A valuable resource and good neighbor to REEF HQ, Aquarius hosts scientists from around the world, from sponge chemists to astronauts, in innovative research and education.

The team included REEF Special Projects Manager Lad Akins and AAT members Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Mike Phelan. Twelve fish surveys were conducted at each of two research sites near Aquarius using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT). This year's data will be compared to surveys collected during a 2001 mission to assess change in resident fish populations. The team also assisted NMSP in documenting the occurrence of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) at each site. Once abundant on Florida Keys coral reefs, herbivorous Diadema play an important role in keeping coral-stifling algae from overtaking the reef structure. 

Click here to read more about the 2007 mission and the Aquarius habitat, including daily broadcasts and interviews with the REEF survey team. 

Gray's Reef Proposed Research Area

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Black Seabasses on Grays Reef, photo by Greg McFall, Resarch Coord. GRNMS
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Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, photo by Greg McFall
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Tomtate, Scad, Porgy on Gray's Reef, photo by Greg McFall
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Marine Managed Areas, Georgia State Waters, courtesy NOAA

Just prior to the holidays, Lad Akins and I had the pleasure of joining the Gray's Reef Research Area Working Group (RAWG) in Savannah, Georgia. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) is one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries, perhaps less well known to many of you than Stellwagon Bank or Monterey Bay Sanctuaries, and is located some 32 kilometers off the coast of Georgia. Remember that there has recently been an addition to our sanctuaries by George W. Bush (2006) in establishing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, including and extending beyond the Hawaiian archipelago. GRNMS is rectangular in its defined borders and is roughly 6.5 km N to S by 9 km E to W (17nm2) and is a popular site for recreational fishing and boating. Previous mapping and assessment studies have shown there to be 4 main benthic habitats within GRNMS that include flat sand, rippled sand, sparsely colonized live bottom, and densely colonized live bottom (ledges). 

The workshop I attended was the latest iteration of several previous meetings that had the intention of exploring the concept of placing a research area (RA) inside the boundaries of GRNMS. The focus of the latest workshop was to specifically address what scientific data would be collected inside the proposed RA. The RA would be an area specifically designated for conducting controlled scientific studies in the absence of confounding factors such as recreational or commercial fishing. Previous workshops had convened to decide on biological, ecological, and socioeconomic variables that all would contribute to deciding on where to place the RA inside GRNMS borders. Deciding on the optimal RA configuration (square, hexagon, etc.), location within the sanctuary, and size (area) of the RA for biological questions alone led to some 35,000 options after detailed matrices were created to quantify a best fit design for the RA. "Best fit" in this case is a site that would minimize impact on bottom and recreational fishermen, have a high species richness and biomass, and would have strong research and educational value. And the research and public comment phase of this project has been ongoing for almost 10 years in a collaboration between a number of multidisciplinary groups. The magnitude of the previous work to date on establishing this RA along with the talented group assembled at this past workdshop really impressed me. Furthermore, the dedication and commitment of numerous individuals and agencies in developing management tools that consider multiple stakeholders such as recreational and commercial fishing interests, scuba divers and spear fishermen, and boaters, were equally impressive. If the general public had insight into how complicated decisions such as the one this group convened are to make, they would have more empathy for the folks making these decisions.

REEF's direct interest in establishing an RA within GRNMS is that we will likely be leading the fish monitoring component of the ongoing studies for the newly established RA. Of course, there will be many studies occurring within the RA involving benthic ecology, discarded gear assessments, and numerous studies quantifying the effects of a no-take, exclusionary zone within a sanctuary. The location,boundary, and definition of the RA still need to be decided as do the types and number of research projects that will take place inside the RA. More meetings and public discourse are scheduled before research gets going and REEF becomes involved. But I know that our REEF AAT will be excited at the prospect of doing more work at GRNMS in the future, so stay tuned. For more information on GRNMS, please visit http://graysreef.noaa.gov/. Incidentally, Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) have been found inside the sanctuary and Lad Akins, REEF's exotic species director, will be collaborating with GRNMS on future assessments. If you're wondering what fishes you might see in GRNMS, Belted sandfish, Black sea bass, and Slippery Dicks dominate the landscape, for a full report from previous projects there see our website http://www.reef.org/db/reports/geo/TWA/9302.

Please look for more information in future Enews editions on the progress of selecting the RA in the future and REEF's collaboration on monitoring fish at GRNMS.

 

How to Organize a Dive

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Photo by Kirby Johnson

This year we would like to get more volunteers into the water conducting fish surveys. The fun part of the GAFC is not just the talks, but afterward getting into the water to do the surveys. You can help by organizing a GAFC dive. It's easy to do:

  • Pick a date date and location during June or July to conduct a Fish ID Seminar

  • Pick a date in July for a GAFC Dive

  • Register your GAFC event with REEF 

Start thinking about when you want to schedule a seminar or dive in your area, then let us know what you have planned!  

Please let us know how REEF can support you with your GAFC activities. Teaching modules for your Fish ID seminars are available online at the REEF store.

Together, we can make the 17th Great Annual Fish Count a huge success.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub