The first Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event was held in 1992 at Anacapa Island, California, with fifty participants. Dr. Gary Davis from the Channel Islands National Park came up with the idea as way to engage park visitors. REEF took over the coordination of the event in 1997 when the REEF Fish Survey Project expanded to the US West Coast. The event was initially called the Great American Fish Count, but the name was changed in 2002 to reflect the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia. During it's 19th year (2010), the GAFC continues strong, including several events held along the west coast.
On July 11, The Dive Club of Silicon Valley's annual GAFC event was held at Lover's Point in Pacific Grove, CA, organized by Kari Larson and Mike Davis. The day started as most summer days in the Pacific Grove - foggy and cool. About 40 divers participated, with a nice mix of new and experienced REEF surveyors. As dive teams came out of the water they commented on the abundance of fish this year at Lover's. Experienced REEF divers, Keith Rootsaert and Alex Matsumoto were on hand to help answer questions about critter ID and the survey method. Exciting finds included crevice kelpfish, a gaggle of reef surfperch, a couple large tubesnout laying/eating eggs on a piece of kelp, and a rare sighting of a Giant Pacific Octopus. Following the dive, the club hosted a BBQ to feed all the hungry divers and their families.
The SeaDoc Society and Naknek Dive Charters teamed up for a great GAFC event in the San Juan Islands in Washington on July 16. The day began with a free REEF fish and invertebrate identification class presented by Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society. Folks learned how to identify common species and how to conduct a REEF survey. In the afternoon, Peggy and Kurt Long of Naknek Charters, hosted a survey dive near Friday Harbor. The surveyors found Tiger Rockfish, schools of Pacific Sandlance, Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers, and many more astounding sea creatures.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Don Judy (REEF member since 2008). Don lives on Maui, Hawaii, and has conducted 365 REEF surveys. Here's what Don had to say about REEF:
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands in the world. Over 2000 miles separate them from the nearest continental land mass. I have been an avid snorkeler here for many years. When I heard about doing surveys for REEF, I knew I would truly enjoy my snorkeling even more doing surveys and reporting my sightings. I am fortunate to live near the ocean and my favorite reef snorkel site is five minutes from my home. When I enter the underwater world, I am always captivated by the dazzling array of tropical fish and their behaviors. Showing off their colors with darting and swirling motions, these beautiful creatures cause the reef to explode with life.
What are some of your favorite places to conduct REEF surveys? Do you have a favorite fish you see there?
The reef I most frequently survey is called Kahekili. I have done more than 300 surveys on this reef and feel like I have an ongoing personal relationship with all these wonderful fish. The water is crystal clear with an average temperature about 76 degrees. This reef always provides me with a chance to see 75 to 100 different species of fish. My favorite local fish on this reef is the Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum). When they raise their colorful dorsal fin, it looks like an elevated boat sail. Upon closer look, the colors in the elevated dorsal fin become an intricately woven spectrum of colors and patterns.
The island of Lanai (about 9 miles west) has another of my favorite reef beaches, Hulopoe. It is a protected marine reef featuring large schools of endemic fish found only in the Hawaiian Islands. Here my favorite fish is the Spectacled Parrotfish (Chlorurus perspicillatus). This spectacular parrotfish is the largest of the endemic parrotfish. Super (or terminal) males are deep blue green with a conspicuous dark band (the "spectacles") across the top of the snout.
What other ways do you help REEF besides being such an active surveyor?
Over the years, I have been able to recruit new REEF members. I do “outreach” stations for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary here on Maui and this puts me in constant contact with snorkelers and divers. Naturally, I talk about REEF and doing REEF surveys when people come to us for information. I like it that the REEF surveys that we do on Maui can help establish populations baselines in determining the direction of fish population.
What are some of your most memorable finds on a REEF survey?
The Commerson’s Frogfish, with their ability to disguise themselves while sitting right in front of your eyes on a piece of coral-mimicking the colors of the coral, and the Oriental Flying Gurnard, with their enormous wing like pectoral fins and wide square heads.
The REEF database topped 150,000 surveys this month! The lucky 150k survey was conducted by Ross Whiteside on June 13, 2011, at Mixing Bowl in Little Cayman. Ross and his wife Terri have been active REEF members since 2002 and are members of the Advanced Assessment Team. Congrats Ross and Terri, and thanks to all of our surveying members for helping us achieve this landmark!
I was conducting a snorkel survey at Kahekili Reef on West Maui when an unknown critter came slithering across the coral. My camera was clipped to a utility belt and it took me a few seconds to swing it up to my face. I've learned I may have only one chance to capture a photo, so I took a quick photo from the surface before free-diving down to get a closer look. I was only halfway down, at about 15 feet, when the critter dove head-first into the sand and quickly disappeared. Two photos -- from the surface, and a tail shot -- are the only evidence I have. My heart was pounding because it looked like a sea snake, but only the Yellow Bellied Sea Snake is rarely seen in the coastal waters of the main Hawaiian Islands. Upon close inspection later, the photos confirmed that it was not a sea snake -- the tail shot confirms a pointy ending, not a paddle-like tail that a sea snake would have. After some searching through FishBase and Keoki & Yuko Stender's Marine Life Photography websites, I was able to confirm that my mystery was the Saddled Snake Eel (Leiuranus semicinctus). It's not surprising that this incredible sighting happened at Kahekili Reef. It is the number one most species rich site in the REEF database for Hawaii (http://www.REEF.org/db/stats). Kahekili Reef (also sometimes known as Airport Beach) is an amazing low-profile reef in front of a West Maui development that we are trying to save by letting the fish and urchins "naturally" graze down the algae, and is now a Marine Protected Area.
In July 1993, REEF had the first Field Survey trip in Key Largo and welcomed our first members. Yesterday, on June 29, 2012, we were excited to welcome REEF Member #50,000. REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. The REEF staff and Board of Directors extend a big thank you to all of our members for making the last nineteen years a success.
On behalf of the REEF Staff and Trustees, I want to thank all the donors from our Winter Fundraising campaign who helped us reach our target goal. With your help, we can continue REEF's core conservation programs, such as fighting the Lionfish invasion in the Caribbean, protecting Grouper spawning aggregations, collecting data through our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, and providing free online "Fishinars" to the general public and fish experts worldwide.
If you haven't given already, there are a few days left in our campaign to receive my limited, signed print of a Grouper Moon aggregation for contributions of $250 and over. In addition to donating online, you can also call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Thank you again for your support!
Earlier this summer, we proudly released the next generation of REEF survey technology, the REEF Data Entry Program. When surveying began in 1993, divers and snorkelers wrote out each sighted fish species on a slate and submitted the surveys to the database using paper scantron forms. In 1994, we developed pre-printed underwater survey paper to make surveying easier, and in 2005 we said goodbye to bubble-filling and premiered online data entry using the Internet. The time had come to innovate yet again.
With our members in mind, we looked to develop a data entry tool that would meet the varied needs of our surveyors, including those who are traveling or live in areas with limited Internet access. The REEF Survey Data Entry Program allows our volunteers to enter REEF surveys without an Internet connection. When they have access to the web, the entered surveys are uploaded to the REEF online entry portal. Users then logon to the portal, complete error checking, and submit the surveys to REEF. The program operates on both Mac and PC computers, and is available for all of REEF’s survey regions. Our Beta-testers and early users agree it’s a great program, and many of them prefer the offline data entry program over online data entry.
The program is free to download at: www.REEF.org/dataentryprogram. Give it a try next time you survey! We hope you enjoy the program as much as we do. Feel free to send feedback to data@REEF.org. REEF extends a huge thank you to programmer, Chris MacGregor, for his work on this project, as well as REEF members who encouraged us to pursue this option and made contributions to support its development.
Data generated by the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project provide an unparalleled opportunity to examine patterns in reef fish diversity (the number and types of species) at the scales of reefs, regions, and even an entire ocean basin. Authors of one recent scientific study took advantage of the over 25,000 Expert REEF surveys conducted at 80 sites from 6 Caribbean ecoregions over 17 years. The authors of the paper, which was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, used the REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity across many spatial scales (from individual sites to ecoregions). They also incorporated factors such as fisheries impacts and how connected different regions are to each other through ocean currents. They compared levels of different types of diversity-- alpha diversity (α-diversity) that explains local diversity (the number of species found in a given place), and beta diversity (β-diversity) that explains the difference in diversity among sites. Their results showed that fish assemblages are more homogenous than expected, particularly at the ecoregion scale. Within each ecoregion, diversity was mainly attributed to alpha diversity, indicating that fishes within each ecoregion are a subsample of the same species pool. Studies like this one that examine regional patterns of diversity in coral reef systems are important because of declining biodiversity in many areas. The paper's citation is: Francisco-Ramos V, Arias-González JE . 2013. Additive Partitioning of Coral Reef Fish Diversity Across Hierarchical Spatial Scales Throughout the Caribbean. PLoS ONE. 8(10): e78761. To read the full paper, or any of the other 50+ scientific papers that have included REEF data and programs, visit the REEF Publications page.
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:
- Scientists from NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources are using REEF data to evaluate populations of seabass and grouper in the Caribbean.
- A scientist from the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs is using REEF data on fishes and invertebrates to evaluate MPAs in the Puget Sound.
- A professor from California State San Luis Obispo is using REEF data to evaluate populations of three large parrotfish species in the Caribbean (Blue, Midnight, Rainbow).