We are very proud to share that Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science, and Dr. Brice Semmens, Director of California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations and associate professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, have been named Scuba Diving magazine’s April 2019 Sea Heroes! Sponsored by the watch brand Seiko, this award honors the extraordinary work done by scuba divers making a difference for our world’s oceans, reefs and marine life.
Christy and Brice were two of REEF's first interns in the summer of 1993. Today, they are the lead scientists for REEF’s Grouper Moon Project. Christy and Brice play an integral role in this highly successful effort that has brought together government, science, and fisheries to study and protect critically endangered Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands.
“Through our work on Grouper Moon, we have demonstrated that progressive management, action-oriented research, and community outreach can foster rapid recovery for the species. The challenge now is to replicate these successes throughout the range of the species — as more and more countries take action to protect Nassau grouper (e.g. Bahamas, Turks and Caicos), the likelihood of a Caribbean-wide conservation success story grows,” Christy and Brice explain.
Christy and Brice are featured in the April issue of Scuba Diving magazine. Both of them will receive a Seiko Prospex SRPA21 watch. In December 2019, judges will select one recipient as the Sea Hero of the Year, who will receive a $5,000 cash award from Seiko to further his or her work.
Click here for information, including a Q&A and video. Congratulations, Christy and Brice!
A recent paper in Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation describes cleaning behavior that had previously not been documented in a particular species. The findings are the result of the keen eyes of two active REEF surveyors – Carol Cox and Frank Krasovec. Carol frequently surveys in the northern Gulf of Mexico and Frank surveys in his home state of North Carolina. Both photographed Yellowprow Goby, Elacatinus xanthiprora, cleaning other fishes, which is not typical for the species. Scientist and frequent REEF advisor, Dr. Ben Victor, noticed the photos, and started working with Carol and Frank to more fully document and publish the findings. Frank co-authored the paper with Ben.
There are several species in the western Atlantic genus Elacatinus, and they are broadly separated into two groups – cleaners and sponge-dwellers. The Yellowprow Goby is typically known to be a sponge-dwelling goby. In most locations within the region, several different Elacatinus species are present. However, in the northern temperate limits, along the northeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and along the east coast of the US in North Carolina (beyond the range of coral-reef development), the only Elacatinus species present is the Yellowprow Goby. It appears that the lack of other local cleaner species has allowed the evolution of facultative cleaning behavior in a species from a group characterized by the absence of that behavior.
This is a great example of the power of citizen scientists, and highlights their role in continuing the tradition of field naturalists. Way to go, Carol and Frank!
The full citation of the paper is Victor and Krasovec. 2018. Facultative cleaning behavior in a western Atlantic sponge goby, Elacatinus xanthiprora (Teleostei: Gobiidae). Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation, 31, 1–7. This paper, and the 60+ other scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects are available at www.REEF.org/db/publications.
We are very excited to share some great news from our Grouper Moon Project colleagues at Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) – on April 1, 2019, the Cabinet of the Cayman Islands approved the most significant expansion and enhancement to Cayman’s existing marine parks system since the areas were established in 1986. The “no take” zones, including marine parks/reserves, environmental zones, and wildlife interaction zones, will increase from a national average of approximately 14% to 48%.
DOE staff have been working on this law for almost 10 years, and its passage is a great accomplishment. As shown by their progressive management of Nassau Grouper in the passage of the National Conservation Law in 2016, the Cayman Islands are again leading the pack in the Caribbean for progressive, science-based protections. In addition to an extensive network of use zones, as part of the new law, all current and historical spawning aggregations will be completely closed to fishing for any species during spawning months of December through April. Not only will this help protect the Nassau Grouper, but also the 20+other species that our Grouper Moon team has documented using these special places to reproduce.
For more information on the new Marine Parks Law, visit the DOE webpage.
REEF members are the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. A diverse community of divers, snorkelers, and ocean enthusiasts support our mission to conserve marine environments worldwide.
This month we highlight Ed Gullekson, a REEF member who lives in Washington. Ed became a REEF member nearly 10 years ago, and since then he has submitted 474 REEF surveys. He is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) for the Pacific Coast (PAC) region and has participated in several special REEF projects as an AAT member. A dedicated surveyor, Ed has also been on several REEF Field Survey Trips. Just last summer, he attended a REEF Field Survey Trip in Key Largo, where he completed his 2,000th dive! When not traveling, Ed enjoys diving near his home in Washington.
We're so thankful to have a dedicated and enthusiastic member like Ed! You can read more about his experience with REEF below.
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I did my first survey for REEF in 2009. Over the following few years I did only a few more until early 2015, when I really got going. I took a REEF in-person seminar and moved from level 2 to level 3. That got me more excited about surveying. A year later I took the level 4/5 quiz and became level 5 for PAC region. Since then I have surveyed on almost every dive I make and have surveyed in Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) and Tropical Eastern Pacific regions. I even made level 3 for TWA. I’m on the hunt for different species on every dive.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Last summer, I participated in the 25th Anniversary Field Survey Trip in Key Largo. Doing repeat work is critical in scientific efforts and contributing to this data set was especially satisfying. I have also participated in two AAT projects in the San Juan Islands in Washington. Some of my favorite sightings have happened on these projects, including a three-foot long Yelloweye Rockfish and a huge field of Strawberry Anemones.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Actually, there are two things: getting to know and work with wonderful “fish nerds” who teach me about our amazing sea life, and getting exposed to diving different areas with a focus to learn and contribute to understanding in that area.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
The long term data set that will help scientists of the future to understand the workings and changes to the areas we are surveying today.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
For local diving, one of my favorite sites is also the closest site to my home. It has good variety and some of my favorite species, like Giant Pacific Octopus, which I saw there very recently. The San Juan Islands are also relatively local for me. I have multiple favorite sites there including Turn Point Wall that is nearly straight up and down from the surface to almost 400 feet (I’ve only been to 115 feet there but the depth sounder says 400). It is so covered with invertebrates so that no actual rock shows.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
My most fascinating fish encounter lasted a day and a half, in Bimini in The Bahamas. We were diving with Great Hammerhead Sharks. They are amazing animals. We had four of them, two pregnant 12-foot females and two smaller ones about 8 to 9 feet, one male and one female. Their hunting methods, body flexibility, and the way they glide across the sand floor, are captivating.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
My favorite marine invertebrate is the Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO). I got to help collect feeding data on GPOs one year as a support diver for a University of Washington study. We were on the hunt for GPOs on every dive to take samples of their “midden”, the collection of shells from the prey they had eaten. We found a lot of GPOs that year and I got really good at finding them. GPOs are intelligent, active, and will interact with divers.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
One great source for learning are the Facebook groups for each region. I have really fine-tuned my identification knowledge by both posting photos and reading comments from my fellow fishwatchers. They have given me insights to being able to identify fish that even the best books can’t cover.
This month, we are extending a warm goodbye (and congratulations!) to Ellie Splain Roberts, who served as Education Program Manager for the past four years. Ellie is relocating to the Washington, D.C. area, where she will soon begin a new job as the National External Affairs Coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
Ellie first came to REEF as a Marine Conservation Intern through Our World Underwater Scholarship Society in the summer of 2013. In February 2015, she was hired as the Education Program Manager. Under Ellie's leadership, the Explorers Education Program has grown to include Ocean Explorers Camp - a marine science summer camp for children ages 8-13, week-long field methodology courses for college students, and numerous classroom and field programs about fish identification and surveying, invasive lionfish, and marine ecology. The Explorers Education Program engages with primary and secondary schools, colleges, adult travel groups, scouts, and dive clubs, many of whom continue to schedule REEF programs each year. This is testament to the excellent quality of REEF's educational programming, made possible thanks largely to Ellie's efforts. A patient and understanding teacher and mentor, she also fostered professional and personal growth for many young adults as REEF's Marine Conservation Internship program supervisor.
Ellie played a vital role in the annual REEF Fest event, organizing every REEF Fest since 2016. Her attention to detail and aptitude for event planning were instrumental to the success of this annual event, as well as other outreach programs throughout South Florida and the Florida Keys. She coordinated REEF's campus expansion in 2017, including the addition of the Interpretive Center, Native Plants Trail, and ocean-focused educational signage. In addition to her education and outreach responsibilities, in 2018 Ellie stepped up to play a leadership role in supporting daily operations at REEF Headquarters. She leaves a lasting impact at REEF as a wonderful coworker, team member, fish surveyor, and friend.
We're thankful for Ellie's hard work, dedication, and passion for marine conservation. She will always be a part of the REEF family, and we wish her the best of luck as she starts her next chapter!
Earth Day is just a few days away. You can celebrate our environment by helping us reduce our carbon footprint at REEF Headquarters through a one-time, tax-deductible donation to support renewable energy.
Your generous contribution of $500 or $1,000 will go directly toward the installation of solar panels on the roof of REEF's Interpretive Center, reducing our monthly energy costs by an average of 55%!* Donors will be honored on a commemorative plaque at REEF Headquarters.
In addition to solar panels, the Sustainability Showcase also includes:
• Updates to our indoor Invasive Lionfish exhibit, including a new lionfish aquarium to educate the public about the impacts of invasive species and spark conversations about responsible pet ownership.
• Two additional electric car charging stations, allowing us to accommodate all types of electric vehicles and provide an accessible source of clean energy for Florida Keys residents and visitors.
• Interpretive signage describing the importance of renewable energy.
We have received $26,500 from Monroe County Tourist Development Council for this sustainability project, and several of our most generous supporters have already contributed as well. We need to raise an additional $3,000 by Earth Day on April 22. We are so close - will you help us reach our goal?
To contribute $500 or $1,000 to this sustainability initiative, visit www.REEF.org/donate, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030. If donating online, please indicate in the notes field that your contribution is for the “Solar Project at REEF,” and how you would like your name(s) to appear on the plaque. We are counting on your generosity to help us reach our goal of $5,500! On behalf of all of us at REEF, thank you for your support!
*Estimate provided by Wayfare Energy.
We are excited to announce that our 2020 REEF Field Survey Trips schedule is now available!
A diverse offering of destinations awaits REEF surveyors in 2020 - from exotic locales like Yap and Fiji, to Caribbean favorites like The Bahamas and Grand Cayman. Our ongoing survey region expansion continues with our inaugural trip to the Red Sea next summer. Other schedule highlights include a liveaboard trip to some of the most sought-after dive destinations in Indonesia, our second visit to Cuba's Gardens of the Queen, and a fun land and sea eco-tour in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.
Can't wait until next year? A few of our 2019 REEF Field Survey Trips have spaces available, including trips to Belize, Little Corn Island, Cayman Islands, Solomon Islands, and Turks & Caicos Islands! You can view all 2019 trips at www.REEF.org/trips/2019
2020 REEF Field Survey Trips
Feb. 19 - 29 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Liveaboard, with Amy Lee, Click here for trip details
March 21 - 28 -- St. Eustatius Scubaqua & The Old Gin House, with Ellie Place, Click here for trip details **Sold out - waitlist available
April 10 - 21 -- Indonesia - Raja Ampat, Ring of Fire, Alor and more! -- Blue Manta Explorer Liveaboard, with Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., Click here for trip details
April 18 - 25 -- St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Coming soon
May 2 - 9 -- Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras -- Villa on Dunbar Rock, with Janna Nichols, Click here for trip details
June 6 - 16 -- Red Sea, Eygpt-- Red Sea Aggressor I Liveaboard & Emperor Divers, with Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., Click here for trip details
June 20 - 27 -- Dominica -- Coming soon
July 18 - 25 -- Key Largo -- Coming soon
Aug. 1 - 8 -- Costa Rica - Diving/Snorkeling, Rainforests and Volcanoes!-- Rocket Frog Divers & Bosque del Mar/Bill Beard's Costa Rica, with Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., and Brice Semmens, Ph.D, Click here for trip details
Aug. 22 - 29 -- Curacao -- Coming soon
Sept. 13 - 22 -- Yap, Micronesia -- Manta Ray Bay Resort, with Amy Lee, Click here for trip details
Oct. 10 - 17 -- Grand Cayman -- Sunset House, with Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., Click here for trip details
Nov. 14 - 21 -- Cuba - Gardens of the Queen -- Avalon II Liveaboard, with Janna Nichols, Click here for trip details
Dec. 5 - 12 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn/Casa Mexicana, with Tracey Griffin, Click here for trip details
Dec. 5 - 12 -- San Salvador, The Bahamas -- Riding Rock Resort and Marina, with Ellie Place, Click here for trip details
2021 REEF Field Survey Trips
June 28 - July 5, 2021 -- Tonga -- NAI'A Liveaboard, Click here for trip details
Sept. 20 - 29, 2021 -- Indonesia - Misool -- Misool Eco Resort, Click here for trip details **Sold out - waitlist available
REEF Trips are led by our marine life experts, and include diving, seminars about fish identification, and plenty of fun with friends. We hope you will join us on an upcoming REEF Field Survey Trip. To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-852-0030.
On Saturday, March 30, ten teams of 34 divers removed 620 invasive lionfish during REEF’s 7th Annual Winter Lionfish Derby, held at Sharkey’s Pub and Galley Restaurant in Key Largo. Between sunrise and 6 p.m., competitors scoured Florida Keys reefs in an attempt to to bring in the smallest lionfish, largest lionfish, and most number of individual lionfish. Team Forever Young caught the most fish at 149 individual lionfish. Team Proweb Zookeeper took first place for the largest lionfish at 417mm (about 16 in.) and Team Bottle Buddies caught the smallest lionfish at 77mm (roughly 3 in.), which is now on display in an educational aquarium at REEF Headquarters. Prizes including cash, gift cards to local restaurants, and dive trips were awarded to the winning teams.
Derby attendees enjoyed the fun, festival-style atmosphere of the event. Games, music, and crafts organized by Ocean Studies Charter School created a family-friendly environment. REEF staff and volunteers demonstrated how to fillet lionfish, and free lionfish tastings were available for the public to sample, including fresh lionfish ceviche and fried lionfish bites. To encourage market development, more than 200 pounds of lionfish caught during the derby were sold to Halperns’ Steak and Seafood. The lionfish will be available at local Whole Foods Markets.
We would like to say a big thank you to Rainbow Reef Dive Center for donating a morning and afternoon charter to allow teams without boats to participate in the derby. This partnership helped to increase participation and make the derby more accessible to a wider range of divers and conservationists, and we are very thankful for Rainbow Reef's support!
Thank you to all of the staff and volunteers who helped make this year's Winter Lionfish Derby a success. This event would not have been possible without the generous support of Sharkey’s Pub and Galley Restaurant, Rainbow Reef Dive Center, Whole Foods Market, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In-kind donations in the form of derby prizes were provided by Amoray Dive Resort, Rock the Ocean Foundation, Divers Direct, Lukkar Realty Commercial Capital, Sea Tow, Sundowners, Skipper’s Dockside, Lazy Lobster Seafood Restaurant, The Fish House, The Catch Restaurant & Bar, Hobos Café, and Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen.
For the past 11 years, REEF has organized lionfish derbies throughout Florida. The 2019 Summer Lionfish Derby Series includes events in Fort Lauderdale (June 30), Sarasota (July 14), and the Upper Keys (Sept. 15.) For complete derby results and more information on upcoming lionfish derbies, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.
All activities occurred within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit number FKNMS-2019-023.
Students from two universities recently spent their spring breaks engaging with REEF's marine conservation and citizen science projects. Each group of students spent one fun-filled week working alongside REEF staff and interns to learn about Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) fish identification and the REEF survey method. We were thrilled to welcome students from Georgia State University and their professor, Dr. Amy Reber, back to Key Largo for their annual field course. This weeklong education program has become a component of Georgia State's marine ecology course. The group conducted all of their field work while snorkeling, and despite some adverse weather at the beginning of the week, they had a great time exploring the reefs, mangroves, and seagrass habitats of the Upper Keys. They finished off their trip by becoming Level 2 TWA surveyors!
During the same week, marine science students from Eckerd College traveled to Cozumel to learn about fish identification and surveying under the guidance of REEF staff. This is our third year partnering with Eckerd College to offer a spring break citizen science and fish id course, which fulfills the students' community service graduation requirement. The group had a blast enjoying the beautiful conditions in Cozumel, including nearly 100 feet of visibility on most of their dives! Several of the students on the Cozumel trip had previously attended REEF's Eckerd College program in Key Largo, so they already had a few surveys under their weight belts. A few of these students were able to achieve Level 3 surveyor status, and many others became Level 2 surveyors.
Thank you to Georgia State University and Eckerd College for partnering with us on these marine conservation trips! Did you know that we organize custom education programs for colleges that include topics such as fish identification and surveying, invasive species, and marine ecology? Contact us at explorers@REEF.org for more information.
This month, REEF is proud to highlight one of our outstanding Conservation Partners: Key Dives in Islamorada, FL. REEF Conservation Partners are active organizations and dive shops dedicated to protecting marine environments. As valued REEF ambassadors, they teach fish ID classes, host survey dives, organize volunteer events and more. Read on to find out how you can get involved with these centers of conservation action!
With more than 80 partners across the country and beyond, there are plenty of opportunities to engage! You can see the full listing of Conservation Partners or register your business or organization as a REEF Conservation Partner here: www.REEF.org/conservation-partners.
Key Dives – Islamorada, FL
Key Dives is a full-service dive facility located just 20 miles away from REEF Headquarters in the Florida Keys. Key Dives hosts REEF-sponsored lionfish workshops, regularly removes lionfish on dive trips, donates a portion of all dive revenue to REEF, and generously supports the REEF Marine Conservation Internship program. In addition to being an exceptional REEF supporter, Key Dives is also a NOAA Blue Star recognized charter, which means they are dedicated to education and habitat conservation in the Florida Keys. We encourage all of you to check them out and join in the fun as they work to conserve marine environments in the Florida Keys!
Conservation Actions – How can you get involved?
• Go on a dive or snorkel! 2% of all dive revenue gets donated to REEF, Mote Marine Laboratory, and Coral Restoration Foundation. Even if you just hop on the boat for a fun dive or snorkel, you are helping to support REEF and other marine conservation non-profits.
• Remove invasive lionfish! Key Dives staff and customers remove lionfish whenever possible, and you can take part in this as well. Key Dives also partners with REEF to host Lionfish Collection and Handling Workshops to educate local divers and snorkelers about the lionfish invasion in the Tropical Western Atlantic.
• If you are a college student or recent graduate, apply for REEF's Marine Conservation Internship and advance your scuba certifications with Key Dives! Key Dives supports the REEF Marine Conservation Internship program by providing dive instruction and dive charters for free or greatly reduced costs for REEF interns.
• Complete REEF surveys! If you complete the PADI Project Aware Fish ID Specialty with Key Dives, you will work with your instructor to learn basic fish identification, and complete a REEF survey on your dive.
Why is conserving marine environments important to Key Dives?
"There are so many reasons. Above all, I feel it is my responsibility because of the wonderful life the oceans have given me." – Mike Goldberg, Owner
For more information, visit Key Dive’s website, check them out on Facebook, send an email to email@example.com, or call 305-664-2211.
REEF Fishinars are fun, live, interactive webinars, open to anyone who wants to learn about ocean life. Our upcoming schedule includes a four-part beginner's course for the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) survey region, which includes Florida, the Caribbean, and The Bahamas. This series will cover the 60 most common fish species in this region and feature plenty of reviews and quizzes. This series will be an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in getting started as a surveyor, as well as provide a great review for advanced TWA surveyors. Join us for any or all of the upcoming sessions! Each Fishinar will be recorded, so if you miss one or want to watch them again, you can view them any time online, along with over 160 additional archived presentations.
Tropical Western Atlantic Beginner’s Course Fishinars
Part 1: April 30 at 8pm EST
Part 2: May 2 at 8pm EST
Part 3: May 7 at 8pm EST
Part 4: May 9 at 8pm EST
All you need to participate in a Fishinar is a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone and an internet connection – no microphones or webcams are needed. You may watch alone or as a group. Fishinars are great events for dive club meetings or in classroom settings! To register for upcoming Fishinars and view the full 2019 schedule, please visit www.REEF.org/fishinars.