News & Updates

REEF 2014 Summer Lionfish Derby Series Dates Released


In the summer of 2014, recreational divers in Florida and the Bahamas will once again assemble teams, scout out hundreds of sites, sharpen their spears, ready their nets, and hone their collecting skills to prepare for yet another REEF summer lionfish derby series. Their mission: remove lionfish. Their reward: more than $3,500 in cash prizes for bringing in lionfish and the knowledge that they are helping to save native fish populations.

Invasive lionfish are voracious predators from the Indo-Pacific that threaten Florida’s marine ecosystems by devouring more than seventy species of native fish and invertebrates. Defended from predators by 18 venomous spines, lionfish rule the reefs and reproduce as often as every four days, year round. Though lionfish may seem unstoppable, divers can significantly reduce local populations and allow native fish populations to recover. Lionfish derbies are single day removal events that serve to educate the public, train divers in removal techniques, provide samples for researchers, encourage market development and remove thousands of lionfish.


Although lionfish have no controlling predators in the invaded range, diver removals are an effective method of reducing lionfish populations. ©REEF


Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) has set the following dates for their 2014 derby series:

  •  June 28th—Sixth Annual Green Turtle Cay Derby on Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
  •  July 19th—Third Annual Teeples Memorial Derby in Fort Lauderdale, FL
  •  August 16th—Fourth Annual Palm Beach County Derby
  •  September 13th—Fifth Annual Key Largo Derby

Additional “Sanctioned Derbies” will take place throughout the year in various locations.

Current derby sponsors for this year’s series include Green Turtle Club, 15th Street Fisheries, Sailfish Marina, the Florida Park Service, Brendal’s Dive Center, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Michelle Nicole Lowe Art, Divers Direct and Zookeeper.

Hopes are high for the summer derby series, as divers removed 2,790 lionfish in these single day events in 2013. All are invited to compete and to participate in the derby festivities. Mandatory Captain’s meetings will be held the day before the derby. On derby day, spectators are encouraged to attend and taste free lionfish samples. Registration and further information are at


Derbies are capable of removing thousands of invasive lionfish in a single day.  



REEF is widely recognized as a leading authority in lionfish research, removal practices and educational outreach. REEF partners with scientists and government agencies to conduct lionfish research and engage stakeholders in removals. These activities are integral to local, national and international plans and strategies addressing the invasion. For more info visit

Florida becomes first state to propose ban on importation of lionfish


Last week, representatives from the Florida House and Senate took the first steps in banning the importation or aquaculture of invasive lionfish.  Representative Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) and Senator Greg Evers (R- Pensacola) have filed HB 1069 and SB 1336 to address the devastation being caused by lionfish in Florida’s coastal waters. The bills will prohibit importation, aquaculture and sale of illegally imported lionfish and they authorized FWC to adopt a rule to that effect. By stopping importation into Florida, it is anticipated that current demand for lionfish will be supplied by removal of invasive lionfish rather than increased importation from their native range. These bills, developed in close consultation with REEF and the FWC, mark one of the first legislative efforts to combat the invaders and comes on the heels of the first ever FWC Lionfish Summit. Comments and suggestions can be directed to Representative Holly Raschein’s office (phone: 850-717-5120).  The bill will be considered by the Legislature during the 2014 session, which runs March 4th-May 2nd. For more information on the bills visit or

BARE Makes In-Kind Donation to Reef Environmental Education Foundation


BARE Makes In-Kind Donation to REEF

REEF Marine Conservation Interns Catie and Colin sporting their new BARE wetsuits in the field while collecting lionfish data.REEF Marine Conservation Interns Catie and Colin sporting their new BARE wetsuits in the field while collecting lionfish data.

Divers at the marine conservation organization Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) are warm and toasty thanks to a generous donation of wetsuits from BARE. The company donated several dozen wetsuits to REEF to support the volunteer divers who collect marine science data, lead education and outreach programs, and protect oceans.

“We’re thrilled to receive these donations,” said Martha Klitzkie, general manager at REEF. “As you can imagine, ocean field research equipment can be very costly. BARE’s donation helps our volunteers stay active and benefits our marine conservation programs tremendously.”

The BARE wetsuits came flooding into REEF Headquarters right after the Thanksgiving holiday. REEF Communications Manager Keri Kenning said they were able to give the wetsuits to REEF’s volunteer divers as a thank you for all of their hard work. “There couldn’t have been better timing. With water temperatures dropping, lots of work to be done, and lots of people to thank, we were very grateful for the donations from BARE.”

Many of the wetsuits will be used by a cadre of scientists during REEF’s Grouper Moon Project in January in Little Cayman. During winter full moons, Nassau Grouper travel great distances to reproduce at spawning aggregation sites throughout the Caribbean. Unfortunately, fishing pressure has caused one-third to one-half of these aggregations to become inactive. The west end of Little Cayman is home to one of the last great reproductive populations of this iconic and endangered species. Scientists from REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment will monitor this aggregation site and the thousands of Nassau Grouper that congregate to spawn.

REEF Volunteer and Pennekamp Park Ranger Liz surveys lionfish sites in her new BARE wetsuit.REEF Volunteer and Pennekamp Park Ranger Liz surveys lionfish sites in her new BARE wetsuit.

Expert fish surveyors will also use the wetsuits in conjunction with REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project. These volunteer divers collect baseline data on marine fish and invertebrate populations that is used by researchers and policy makers to better understand and protect marine ecosystems. Members of the REEF Advanced Assessment Team monitor National Marine Sanctuaries, National Parks, and artificial reefs. The data is used to protect endangered species, track invasive species, and set fishing limits for commercially important species.

Scientists and volunteers associated with REEF’s Invasive Lionfish Program will also benefit from the wetsuits. Working in the Tropical Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, REEF and partners lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion. These divers conduct both research and removals to better understand the lionfish invasion and to create effective management plans.

Reef Environmental Education Founation is a grass-roots, non-profit organzation that seeks to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active Ocean stewards and citizen scientists. REEF's programs include the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, a citizen science fish monitoring program, as well as two marine conservation research programs, the Grouper Moon Project and the Invasive Lionfish Research Program.

REEF member Martha surveys in Bonaire in her new and toasty BARE wetsuit.REEF member Martha surveys in Bonaire in her new and toasty BARE wetsuit.

Now Hiring: REEF Trips Program and Communications Manager


REEF Trips Program and Communications Manager

Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit, marine conservation organization, is seeking to hire a REEF Trips Program and Communications Manager to manage its Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. REEF coordinates marine life education, field research, and one of the largest citizen science programs in the world. REEF programs engage with the public through unique partnerships with private, governmental, scientific, and educational sectors. The REEF Trips Program features a full schedule of eco-dive trips led by marine life experts each year that support REEF’s mission to engage and educate divers and snorkelers in citizen science activities.

Position Description and Responsibilities

Duties will include coordinating the REEF Field Survey Trip Program, including booking packages to 10-15 destinations each year for the REEF Trips program, and handing all correspondence and bookings for these trips. A comprehensive marketing plan will be developed to promote and increase participation in the trips. In addition, the successful candidate will assist with broader communication, outreach, and capacity building efforts to support REEF’s Volunteer Survey Project, and other related REEF activities.

The staff member will work collaboratively with other REEF staff and interns, and will be based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, FL. Priority tasks and duties will include, but may not be limited to:

• Organize, plan, promote, and sell REEF Field Survey trips. This includes researching destinations, contacting potential vendors (dive operators, lodging properties, live-aboard vessels), obtaining price quotes, building packages, developing trip descriptions and flyers, overseeing promotion of the trips, fielding questions from potential trip participants, and handing bookings.

• Develop strong knowledge of REEF programs and Field Survey Trip destinations in order to create an exciting and marketable trip schedule.

• Create a comprehensive REEF Trips marketing plan that will effectively promote the program and increase participation through time.

• Maintain accurate financial management of all client reservations and vendor contracts. Maintain accurate and complete records and forms for client and vendor communications and finances.

• Support the trip leaders in advance of each trip, coordinating communication with trip participants, and facilitating the leaders’ needs at the trip destination.

• Participate in REEF events and out-of-area consumer trade shows.

In addition to the primary tasks that fall under the Trip Program Manager responsibilities, the successful candidate will assist with REEF’s broader communication, outreach, and capacity building efforts, including:

• Increase local, national, and international awareness of REEF, with a focus on dive and environmental media outlets by working with REEF staff to create and distribute informational releases on a frequent and timely basis.

• Develop a strong coalition of support among a broad spectrum of promotional outlets, including print, radio, and electronic media. Develop and maintain a press contacts database and relationships with key media personnel. Track and record media coverage.

• Assist in the development of outreach and member correspondence, such as e-news, web content, and social media as well as the development of PSAs, brochures, and other public relation materials.


Bachelors or higher degree in relevant field, or equivalent work experience in travel, communications, and/or public relations. Proficiency with desktop computers and office software, as well as excellent written and oral communication skills are required. The successful candidate will be detail-oriented, with strong organizational skills and ability to work independently in a fast-paced, non-profit organization. Strong interest in ocean life, marine conservation, and citizen science a plus. Ability to work in a diverse and collaborate team across multiple disciplines. Experienced SCUBA diver is preferred but not required.

Position Term, Compensation, and Work Environment

This is a full time, permanent position. Starting salary $27,000-$30,000, depending on experience. Benefits include contribution towards health insurance, accrued paid time off (PTO), option for flex-time work weeks, and 7 holiday days per year. U.S. and international travel may be required, as well as some weekend, holiday, and after hours work.

The position will be based at REEF’s Key Largo, Florida, headquarters, a 1913 historic conch-style house converted into offices, a retail area, and classrooms. Headquarters staff includes the General Manger, Director of Special Projects, Store Manager, Lionfish Program Coordinator, interns and volunteers. Work environment is casual. Three additional staff – Director of Science, Membership Development Coordinator, and Outreach Coordinator – are located in Washington and California. The position will report to the General Manager.

How to Apply

Interested candidates should submit a cover letter, resume, and brief writing sample (no more than three pages) to Martha Klitzkie, General Manager, at Review of applications will begin starting January 30, 2014, and position will remain open until filled. Anticipated start date will be mid-February.

Organization Background

The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) was founded in 1990 as a way to educate scuba divers and snorkelers in marine life identification and to utilize their marine life sightings. Patterned after the successful Audubon and Cornell birding programs, REEF has grown into a 40,000 plus member organization with programs in place throughout the western hemisphere. Primary among these programs is the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, enabling marine enthusiasts to conduct surveys and submit sightings data from throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic, coastal North America, Tropical Eastern Pacific, Hawaii, and South Pacific. Data are managed by REEF staff and made available to researchers, scientists, managers, and the public free of charge via REEF’s on-line database at To date more than 175,000 marine life surveys have been submitted.

In addition to the Survey Project, REEF maintains a large and active diver education program with standardized course materials for each of its survey regions. Strong partnerships within the diving industry and effective outreach provide opportunities for thousands of divers to learn about marine life and take part in surveying activities throughout the year. REEF manages the July-long Great Annual Fish Count; the Grouper Moon Project – researching grouper spawning aggregations; the Exotic Species Program – tracking the impact and control of non-native marine fish species, particularly the human-induced invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into the Tropical West Atlantic; Special Projects – assessing fish population changes in and around marine reserves and on and around newly developed artificial reefs; printed and e-newsletter communications; and, several week-long field survey and data gathering expeditions. REEF maintains strong partnerships with federal, state, and local government agencies as well as other US based and international agencies, NGOs, and business entities.

REEF is an Equal Employment Opportunity Employer

Bringing the Nassau Grouper into Cayman Classrooms


On December 3rd and 5th, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) held free educator workshops on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. The professional development workshops presented the Grouper Education Program, a marine sciences curriculum for intermediate/elementary  (Year 4 & 5) and high school (Year 12 & 13) students.  Nineteen teachers from 12 schools participated, including 2 schools from the Bahamas. Participants received the materials and resources necessary for successfully implementing the Grouper Education Program in their classrooms. This exciting project focuses on bringing the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. 

Mr. Bradley Johnson, from Cayman Islands Department of Environment, presenting information to educators during the Grouper Education Workshop on Cayman Brac.

The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important fish.  Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations.

In addition to classroom lessons, the program includes live-feed video sessions that take place at the Grouper Moon Project research site on Little Cayman, bringing real-world field science into the classroom. These video discussions are supplemented with footage of solitary Nassau Grouper on their home reef, and the 4,000+ mass aggregation of Nassau Grouper that gather on the west end of Little Cayman during winter full moons. While the bulk of the lessons take place over the course of the two weeks in January and February, when REEF and DOE scientists are working at the spawning site, the curriculum includes a set of pre-activities to help build background knowledge as well as follow-up lessons to help deepen the students’ learning experience. 

The curriculum was developed to complement the research and scientific efforts of the Grouper Moon Project. Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, along with Grouper Moon scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. (REEF), and Mr. Bradley Johnson (DOE), have led the educational effort. Activities were developed in consultation with teachers at Cayman Prep on Grand Cayman, Verity Redrup and Brenda Bryce, and Cynthia Shaw, author of the youth fictional book, Grouper Moon.

During the hands-on workshop, educators were provided copies of the Grouper Education Project curriculum and associated teaching materials. They also learned:

  • How to effectively implement the Grouper Education Program in elementary and high school classrooms.
  • Working knowledge of key historical, scientific, and conservation concepts about Nassau Grouper.

The Grouper Education Program is a component of the Grouper Moon Project, and is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support for the workshops was provided by Cayman Airways, Brac Reef Beach Resort, and LIME.

Educators from 7 Grand Cayman schools and 2 schools in the Bahamas participated in the Grouper Education Program workshop sponsored by the Grouper Moon Project. A second workshop was held on Cayman Brac that was attended by educators from 3 local schools.


Bradley Johnson, Cayman Islands Dept. of Environment,
Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., REEF,

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation sponsors REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program


Thanks to the support of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF), Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) has announced that Adam Nardelli will be the 2014 Spring REEF Guy Harvey Intern. REEF chooses 12 individuals, out of hundreds of applicants, to intern at REEF. The goal is to give future marine scientists and leaders an in-depth look at marine conservation programs, and gain critical career skills.

Nardelli, a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, wears two hats as both a SCUBA instructor and a scientist. As a student in Dr. David Kerstetter’s fisheries research laboratory, Nardelli investigates population dynamics of lionfish and provides insight into cost-effective management plans. His career goal is to engage the public in ocean resource conservation and collaborate among stakeholder, government and non-government organizations to sustain the integrity of reef ecosystems.

The GHOF is making a tremendous impact on the future of aspiring marine conservationists by sponsoring a REEF intern. The long-standing Marine Conservation Internship Program, now 20 years old, has been influential for the next generation of ocean heroes. REEF interns build relationships with leaders in marine science and conservation, leaving the internship well rounded, experienced, and ready to begin successful, long-term careers in marine conservation.

“We congratulate Adam on his selection and look forward to working with him,” said Steve Stock, president of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. “We chose to support the REEF internship program because REEF and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation have similar interests in conserving our reefs, dealing with lionfish and educating the next generation of marine biologists.”

As the REEF Guy Harvey Intern, Nardelli will dive headfirst into marine conservation operations at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida, learning about conservation fieldwork, data management, marine biology laboratory techniques, non-profit management, and public speaking skills. Visit these webpages for more information on the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Marine Conservation Internship Program.







Reef Environmental Education Foundation is a grass-roots, non-profit organization that seeks to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. REEF’s programs include the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, a citizen science fish monitoring program, as well as two marine conservation research programs, the Grouper Moon Project and the Invasive Lionfish Research Program.

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is an organization of philanthropists, conservationists, scientists and educators that emphasizes sensible strategies for promoting ocean conservation and the development of the next generation of marine scientists. The foundation funds research and educational programs developed by universities, colleges, institutes and nonprofit organizations.

Fourth Annual Key Largo Derby nets a record number: 707 lionfish


Under sunny Florida skies, 27 teams of lionfish hunters took part in the Fourth Annual Key Largo Lionfish Derby on Saturday, September 14 at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Exceptional weather and growing awareness of the lionfish issue facilitated record catches of the invasive species.

Nearly 100 divers brought in 707 lionfish during the sunrise to 5:00pm event hosted by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). Vying for more than $3,500 in cash prizes, teams made history as new records were set for largest and smallest lionfish landed during an Upper Florida Keys derby. Team Her Lion Eyes, captained by Key Largo local Chris Rose, took first place by removing 192 lionfish, more than 25 percent of the haul. They were rewarded with $1,000 for their efforts.

Second and third place for most lionfish caught went to Key Lime Good Time and Full Circle, for removing 127 and 93 lionfish respectively. First place for largest lionfish caught was awarded to Islamorada Dive Center for catching a 426 mm (16.7 inch) lionfish, a new Key Largo record. Combining excellent free diving skills with keen eyesight, Chris Rose of Her Lion Eyes won the smallest lionfish category with a 42 mm (1.65 inch) lionfish. This record-small fish was tiny enough to fit inside a bottle cap.

The derby was made possible through sponsorship by the Ocean Reef Conservation Association, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (JPCRSP), the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Divers Direct, and Zookeeper. Recognizing the importance of removing lionfish from reefs, FKNMS, JPCRSP, and Florida FWC issued single-day permits to allow spearfishing in JPCRSP, the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary existing management areas, and state waters of the Upper Keys.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, are an invasive species in Florida and cause significant impacts to native marine life. Defended from predators by 18 venomous spines and eating more than 70 species of native fish and invertebrates, lionfish rule the reefs and reproduce as often as every four days, year round. Impacts to valuable food fish like grouper and snapper could damage the economy and ecology of Florida’s coastal waters. 

Despite the gloomy statistics, events like derbies can be very effective at reducing local lionfish populations and helping the environment. The Key Largo Lionfish Derby is one of the few lionfish events that combines research with removals. Using two published lionfish consumption models, REEF calculated that the 707 lionfish that were removed would have eaten between 1.1 and 4.3 million prey fish in the next year had they not been removed during the derby. Not bad for one day’s worth of fun on the water!

For complete derby results or more information on lionfish, visit

More pictures can be seen on Facebook in the 2013 Key Largo Lionfish Derby Album.

REEF Launches New Survey Region in Carolinas and Georgia: South Atlantic States


Divers aboard Discovery Diving's Boat

After several years of planning and collaborating with local marine scientists and divers, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) has expanded the Volunteer Fish Survey Project into another region: the South Atlantic States (SAS). Recreational and scientific divers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia now have a program specific to the local ecosystem.

Divers have been able to conduct REEF surveys in coastal waters off these three states since the early 1990s when REEF surveying began, but divers had to use survey materials and data entry tools designed for the entire Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean). Large differences in species between the TWA and SAS meant the survey materials were less than ideal for divers in this region.

To enhance the surveyor's experience and improve data quality, REEF recently launched a more location specific program. Like all of REEF's regions, all species of fish are reported, but in addition the SAS program also monitors fifty-one species of invertebrates and algae that are important indicator species.

It has never been easier to learn and survey fish and invertebrate species in the SAS region. Ultimately, more divers will get involved, more data will be collected, and more effective conservation strategies can be implemented where necessary.

Surveyors review the new underwater identification cards

REEF and partners at NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) created an entire suite of new program materials for the region. Materials include: waterproof identification cards with names and photos of dozens of fish and invertebrate species that divers can bring underwater; waterproof survey paper with names of the most common species listed to make data recoding simple for surveying divers; and fish and invertebrate teaching curricula to enable dive clubs, shops, and other educators to teach the diversity of marine life found in the SAS region. REEF also developed new sections of its database to facilitate divers to enter their SAS sightings data and generate reports of species diversity and abundance for the area.

To launch the new region, REEF and NOAA led two days of training workshops and survey dives during Bringing Shipwrecks to Life, a program for divers to appreciate shipwrecks as historical treasures loaded with divers and plentiful biological treasures. Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF Director of Science) and Janna Nichols (REEF Outreach Coordinator) led the programs.


Tube Anenome; Black Sea Bass; Purple Sea Urchin

The event was hosted by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary (MNMS) with support from NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), Discovery Diving, Eastern Carolina Artificial Reef Association (ECARA), and the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

Nearly 70 people attended the workshops and completed 40 survey dives over the weekend in early September. Many workshop attendees passed their REEF Level 2 exam. Semmens reports many people learned to really see underwater. “The divers had the usual buzz and excitement that you often hear on a boat full of REEF divers. One diver said, ‘I have dove on that wreck (the Indra) so many times before but I had never noticed that it was covered in coral.’ It's literally covered in Ivory Coral, Occulina spp, one of the invertebrates that we now monitor in the SAS region.”

Dr. Semmens reviewing sightings with one of the surveyors

Dr. Steve Gittings, science coordinator for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, recently commented, “REEF runs the single most productive volunteer-based marine data collection program I know. It would be impossible for marine resource managers to put an army of marine biologists in the water that could generate an equivalent amount of data to REEF.”

Managed by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1975 to protect the wreck of the famed Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, which sank during a storm 16 miles off Cape Hatteras, NC, in 1862.

To participate in this citizen science program or to learn more about the South Atlantic States ecosystem, visit or tune into one of REEF’s free online webinars, called “Fishinars.”


Janna and Christy; Oyster Toadfish; Tomtates


LEARN >> Pick up fish and invertebrate cards online

SURVEY >> Grab a starter kit (includes everything you need to survey) or survey paper online

ENTER DATA >> Ten minutes to record your sightings online

ADVANCE >> Take your experience level exams and work towards level five

TEACH >> Now that you know the fish and invertebrates, teach an identification class yourself!

Group shot in the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

Global Study Raises Concern about giant Manta and Devil Rays Being Wiped out by Fisheries



Christine Ward‐Paige; Halifax, NS;, www.eShark.orgBoris Worm; Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS;; (902) 494‐2478

Study is freely available here:

Manta rays feeding. Photo Credit: Manta Trust

Manta and devil rays are whale--‐like filter--‐feeding giants that predictably aggregate in a few areas of the world’s tropical oceans, creating a large tourist draw for scuba divers and an easy target for fisheries.

In this new study, researchers from Dalhousie University and used expert divers’ observations to describe global manta and devil ray abundance trends and human use patterns. The study, published today in the peer‐reviewed journal PLOS ONE, highlights the relative rarity of aggregation sites on a global scale and reveals that many populations appear to be declining. The authors warn that newly emerging fisheries for the rays gill‐rakers likely exceed their ability to recover.

The study also demonstrates the deficiency of official catch reports, as only four countries have ever reported landing manta or devil rays – Indonesia, Liberia, Spain and Ecuador. However, numerous diver reports compiled here, illustrate that many other countries are regularly landing and selling these rays without reporting.

“Biologically, mantas and devil rays can only tolerate very low levels of mortality and likely cannot keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand,” said co-author Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Just this spring, Mantas were listed under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which means that they can no longer be traded internationally. Yet, the new results show that trade in these species may be more widespread than previously thought. “We are deeply concerned that massive underreporting can result in serious mismanagement of species, and rapid population declines,” says Worm.

The study is innovative in creating an online ‘citizen science’ community that can rapidly track the status of endangered wildlife in the oceans. “In addition to describing important information on manta and devil ray populations, this study also highlights the value of the diving industry for providing essential biological data,” says Christine Ward‐Paige, lead author and director of “I am interested in combining the observations of divers, snorkelers, fishers, and other ‘eyes on the water’, to assess changes in vulnerable species and habitats. This is the first time such a global census has been conducted. This work could not be done without the countless divers that took the time to submit their observations.”

Editor notes:

  • 373 divers participated in our eManta (a subsidiary of survey, submitting data from 616,498 dives over 90 cells in all major ocean areas where mantas are expected to occur.
  • Divers submitted 135,181 dives to the REEF database, covering Hawaii, the tropical eastern Pacific and the tropical western Atlantic; these data were used to verify the eManta survey.
  • Even with the very large number of dives, mobulids were observed in only a small number of the world’s ocean cells (73/516), and where they were present, sighting frequency was generally very low (<0.01 mobulids per dive, on average).
  • While ecotourism and protective measures were scattered across the globe, fishing and marketing of mobulids appeared concentrated in the Indian Ocean.
  • In the CITES Bangkok meeting, March 2013, the two manta ray species were added to the  Appendix II list, with 5 other shark species, joining the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and sawfish. They were the first rays ever to be listed under the treaty, which protects iconic wildlife such as tigers, elephants and rhinos, among many others.
  • The study was funded by the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, with additional support by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

New Department of Environment Equipment Tracks Cayman’s Fish Species


George Town, Grand Cayman–The Department of Environment (DoE), the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the Darwin Initiative are collaborating on a project  that will help identify the different types of fish species that visit designated spawning sites in the Cayman Islands using specialised underwater devices.

The devices, commonly known as hydrophones, act like microphones to pick up sounds that fish make and convert them into audio signals that are translated into measurable data. Scientists at the DoE and REEF then use the findings to determine the species and number of fish, including Nassau Grouper, which are frequenting the sites. 

DoE Marine Research Officer, Bradley Johnson, explained why this new equipment was necessary. "We have been tracking fish species via in-water monitoring and acoustic tagging for many years now. However, aside from in-water monitoring, we could only track fish that we tagged when they passed by the monitoring stations. With these hydrophones, we can now record underwater sounds at the spawning sites every five minutes which allows us to collect more comprehensive data and ultimately, provide greater in-depth understanding of which species use the sites and their abundance."

The Hydrophones will be deployed for six months at a time, recording sound for 20 seconds every five minutes. Upon collection, the data is interpreted and analysed for species and number of each fish species present at each site. There are currently three hydrophones deployed on Little Cayman and one in Grand Cayman. A fifth will be installed in Cayman Brac within the next few months. 

The equipment was provided through funding from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Darwin Initiative Grant, which is funded through the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The DoE publically thanks those organisations for their support with continuing projects, and looks forward to working with them on future environmental programmes.


From Ministry of Financial Servies, Commerce and Environment; Cayman Islands Government

Contact: Ariana Rahamut



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