The holiday season is here, and that means cherished time with loved ones, plenty of celebrations, fun memories, and more. It can be tricky to choose the perfect holiday gift for your friends and family. We have the perfect solution!
Honor a friend or family member by making a tribute gift to REEF! Simply go to www.REEF.org/donate and select the "Memorial" or "Honorary" Giving Button. We'll send them a special note letting them know about your generous gesture in their honor. What better way to spread holiday cheer than by supporting marine conservation? When you make an honorary donation to REEF, you give a gift that impacts our future and our oceans, and honors your loved ones as well.
From using citizen science as a means to study biodiversity in our oceans, to combating invasive species like lionfish, to protecting endangered species like Nassau Grouper, we are proud to be making an impact on the marine environment. Our work is only possible through the support and dedication of people like you. If you haven't yet given this season, please consider donating to REEF today. We are so thankful for your support!
Earlier this fall, REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, attended the Biodiversity_Next conference in the Netherlands, joining over 700 other participants from 76 countries. The conference brought together major international organizations, research scientists, and policy makers to jointly identify "socio-technical bottlenecks and horizon-scan opportunities around data-intensive biodiversity and geodiversity research". Put more simply, building a global infrastructure for biodiversity data. Through REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project, our surveyors have generated the largest marine fish biodiversity dataset in the world, with over 15 million records and counting. By attending conferences such as this and being a part of the Biodiversity_Next community, Christy is exploring how to best curate and archive REEF’s data and leverage the data for broadest impact in the understanding and protection of biodiversity.
If you are interested in learning more about this conference, check out this aftermovie put together by the organizers - https://youtu.be/8tAy6SwbdEQ.
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 Frank Krasovec, a REEF member who lives and dives in North Carolina. Frank is an avid surveyor, having submitted nearly 200 surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic and South Atlantic States (SAS) regions. He is an expert level surveyor in both of these regions, and teaches SAS fish and invertebrate identification classes as well as Fishinars. He is also an underwater photographer and frequently shares his photos for fish id and educational purposes. We're thankful to have Frank as part of the REEF family!
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I was a volunteer diver at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Teams consisted of four divers on a bi-weekly schedule. As a comm diver, I talked back and forth with the audience during two daily shows. I was often asked to identify various fish. I’d been diving off the coast of North Carolina for 20+ years and was embarrassed many times as I did not know several of the 20+ species in the main tank. I started taking photos of each fish in the tank and worked through various ID books to learn each species. An opportunity arose at the aquarium to take a two-day course on marine life identification. REEF had teamed up with NOAA to create the South Atlantic States (SAS) survey region and related coursework. REEF staff members Janna and Christy traveled to NC to teach the course along with Lauren Heeseman of NOAA. It was a great two days of learning and I was hooked. I discussed my interest in getting more involved with Lauren, and she provided the course material for both SAS Fish and Invertebrate ID. I taught my first class on SAS fish ID later that year, and have since taught both classes several times in the greater Raleigh area.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
What is inspires me is being able to document what I see, especially first-time sightings, and knowing that what I record helps grow a database that can be used by anyone to research fish around the world. Several years ago, I documented a Yellowprow Goby exhibiting cleaning behavior on a Scamp. Later, I learned that Yellowprows are considered sponge gobies and were not supposed to be cleaners. I started paying special attention to where I saw them and documented cleaning behavior on several different species. I also noted that there were no tube sponges anywhere near these “cleaning” stations. A marine biologist picked up on my photos and comments and became interested. He published a “note” in a scientific journal to put this cleaning behavior on record and was gracious enough to list me as co-author. It was a good feeling to know that I was able to contribute to furthering science in the marine world.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? If you don’t dive nearby, where do you most often dive? Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
North Carolina has world class diving and is often noted as one of the top wreck diving sites. I started diving in the Midwest and made an annual trek to NC from the late 70's through the mid-90s. In 2005, I got the opportunity to transfer to a job in NC and jumped on it. Both my wife and I have since retired and take every opportunity to dive off the coast. My two favorite dives in NC are the Caribsea out of Beaufort, and the Hyde out of Wrightsville Beach. Both are at a depth that allows for decent bottom time and both attract a wide variety of marine life, including lots of Sand Tiger Sharks.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
One of my favorite dive destinations is Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach, FL. I’ve photographed over 200 fish species and there are lots more that I know others are seeing that I have yet to document. On one special dive, I came across a pair of sea horses that were exhibiting unusual behavior. The current was still flowing in and the sea horses struggled to hang on as they wrapped themselves together and moved along the sea floor in unison. Shortly after the tide went slack, the pair rose in the water column and formed a perfect heart shape as they swapped eggs/larvae. It is one of those moments that you want to watch as it unfolds – I managed to get off a few shots, but it was the experience that will remain with me always. One of the bridge trolls calls dives like this OILT – once in a lifetime. I’ve had many OILT dives at the bridge.
What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
Grand Cayman hold a special place in my memory as it was my first exotic dive destination. I’ve dove the Cayman Islands numerous times over the past 40+ years, but our latest trip ranks as one of the best. We stayed at Sunset House specifically to be close to a site where we’ve seen Masked Hamlets in the past. On our first dusk/night dive, we witnessed a Masked Hamlet pair mating. On subsequent nights we documented eight species of hamlets mating over a reef spur no more than 100 yards long. As a bonus, we caught a pair of Rock Beauties mating as well. It was a very special time to be in the water.
We are gearing up for our 2020 Field Survey Trip season, and it's bound to be a great year of REEF Trips to fantastic dive locations all over the world. We'll begin the year in Fiji aboard the fabulous NAI'A liveboard, followed by a trip to tiny Caribbean island of St. Eustatius in March. Both of these trips (as well as several others) are already sold out, but we still have limited space remaining on a handful of other Field Survey Trips next year. Spaces are filling fast, so if you'd like to join a Dive Vacation That Counts, we strongly suggest signing up as soon as possible. We hope you can join us on a REEF Trip in 2020, and keep an eye out for the 2021 schedule, which is coming soon!
Indonesia: April 10 - 21 -- 3 spaces remaining! More information here.
St. Croix: April 18-25 -- 7 spaces remaining! More information here.
Guanaja: May 2-9 -- 3 spaces remaining! More information here.
Red Sea: June 10-20 -- 3 spaces remaining! More information here.
Dominica: June 20-27 - 4 spaces remaining! More information here.
Yap: Sept. 13-22 -- 5 spaces remaining! More information here.
Grand Cayman: Oct. 10-17 -- 1 space remaining! More information here.
Cuba: Nov. 14-21 -- 4 spaces remaining! More information here.
Cozumel: Dec. 5-12 -- 8 spaces remaining! More information here.
This month, REEF is pleased to partner with MANG, an environmental apparel brand, to raise awareness for the Grouper Moon Project. MANG has created a special Grouper Moon shirt design, and 10% of the proceeds from the sale of this shirt during December will go towards supporting the Grouper Moon Project. As part of their commitment to conservation, MANG also plants one mangrove for every product sold. You can check out the MANG's website and purchase your own shirt to benefit the Grouper Moon Project here. You can also get involved by following MANG on Instagram and Facebook, and sharing their posts about REEF.
Top predators like the iconic Nassau Grouper are essential to a healthy balanced reef. Due to the timing and site fidelity of Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations and the ease with which these relative loners can be caught while congregating by the thousands to spawn, one-third to one-half of the known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive. Since 2001, REEF has successfully worked with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to conserve and restore populations of the iconic Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. REEF’s Grouper Moon research highlights the importance of protecting spawning aggregation sites to manage sustainable fish populations. Healthy nursery habitats including mangroves are also essential as shelter for juvenile grouper and support population growth, particular with increased degradation to coral reefs. This recent study highlighted the role nursery habitats play in supporting sustainable predator populations.
In November 2019, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) presented Grouper Education Program teacher workshops on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The workshops, led by Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, and Bradley Johnson from DOE, provided educators with a marine science curriculum based on the Grouper Moon Project for intermediate/elementary and high school students. Workshop participants received the materials and resources necessary to bring the Grouper Moon Project in to their classrooms, including lesson plans, interactive activities, and access to live-feed video sessions that the classrooms can use to connect with Grouper Moon scientists in the field.
Twelve Caymanian educators participated in the workshops, along with REEF’s Education and Outreach Program Manager, Madalyn Mussey, and Ocean Studies Charter School’s Marine Science teacher, Martha Loizeaux. Located in Tavernier, Florida, Ocean Studies Charter School is a free public school that offers traditional and alternative forms of education, with a specialty in marine science. Ms. Loizeaux will be incorporating the Grouper Education Program into her curriculum in the upcoming year. This year was the third time the Grouper Education Program workshop has taken place in the Cayman Islands.
The Grouper Education Program curriculum allows students and educators to obtain a well-rounded understanding of the critically endangered Nassau Grouper, the focal species of the Grouper Moon Project, which studies the grouper’s mass spawning aggregations each winter. A valuable keystone predator, Nassau Grouper play a fundamental and historical role in the health of local reefs, fisheries, and tourism throughout the Caribbean, Florida, and Cayman Islands. The Grouper Education Program was supported by several grants from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.
Blue Heron Bridge (BHB) is a popular shore diving site located in West Palm Beach, Florida, just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the REEF Campus in Key Largo. Voted one of the top dive sites in the world by Sport Diver in 2013, this area is well-known among divers for its abundance of unusual and interesting marine life. Because of the tidal currents in the area, one can only dive BHB at slack high tide when there is minimal current.
In late October, REEF interns Andrew, Maya, Kate, and I decided to visit Blue Heron Bridge to see how many unique species we could find. The timing of high tide made it possible for us to do a night dive on a Saturday evening and an early morning dive the following day. BHB is located in Phil Foster Park and special parking permits are required to be there after dark. Pura Vida Divers, a REEF Conservation Partner, is one of the dive shops in the area that can provide these permits to divers. The sun began to set as we arrived at the bridge, and the giant support pillars glowed orange as they cast long shadows over the water. It was the weekend before Halloween, and other divers decided to wear costumes for their dive. There were cats, fishes, and a woman disguised as a pink dinosaur. We donned our dive gear and waited in the shallows for the current to slow down enough to start our dive.
As the last beams of light shined through the surrounding buildings, the current slowed down. We switched our torches on and descended into the darkness. We arrived at a mighty depth of 10 feet and meandered slowly through the pillars, taking shelter behind each one as the current was still shifting. It did not take long for us to run into the night’s first attraction. A small, yellow-spotted head protruded out of the dark gray sand. Digging my hand in the sand to hold myself in place against the current, I was able to take a closer look. It was a Sharptail Eel! This was a quite peculiar find as I had only seen this eel free swimming along the bottom, but never completely buried. Trying to take a photo proved challenging, as every inch that I moved forward, the eel would inch its way back in the sand. It was almost like a dance between the eel and me, swaying back and forth. As the current died down we moved closer to the fishing pier on the far right side of the park. I had seen a Flying Gurnard in this area on previous dives and wondered if it might still be there. Instead we stumbled upon three species of Scorpionfish, including the common Whitespotted Scorpionfish, a few Plumed Scorpionfish, and my favorite of the night, a Mushroom Scorpionfish. Mushroom Scorpionfish are quite small, only about three inches long. They are named for the mushroom-shaped growths that extend downwards on their eyes. As I started swimming away, something very small moved in front of me. The tiniest Shortnose Batfish was making its way along the bottom. It was little enough to fit in the palm of a hand. After an amazing 120-minute dive, we surfaced and called it a night.
Early the next morning, we returned to the bridge. The sun peeked in between the buildings that surrounded the park. Excited for another dive, we took a different route and checked out the artificial coral bommies on the outer edge of the park. Visibility was about 20 feet and sun rays filtered through the water, illuminating the burrows of Orange-spotted Gobies and their snapping shrimps. We saw many juvenile grunts and snappers, young angelfish, and drums hiding in the cracks. Massive Hairy Blennies stood guard near the tops of the structures while the Arrow Crabs minded their business. We stumbled upon some Sergeant Majors, who ferociously protected their bright purple egg patches. A Green Turtle leisurely passed by and checked us out. As the current started to picked up again visibility dropped to several feet. The blue water turned dark green as particles of algae and sand began rushing by. While inspecting one last spot, I saw a striking color change of a Common Octopus hiding inside an old pipe. Changing from deep reds to pale whites, the octopus curiously extended its tentacles toward my camera as I took my final shots.
After stuffing our wet dive gear in the back of our car, we drove back to Key Largo; not saying “goodbye” to this incredible dive, but saying “see you later.” Since starting my internship at REEF, BHB has been one of my favorite dive sites in Florida and overall. I recommend this site to every diver and experience level. This is a great place to see some of the ocean’s more obscure species without having to travel to remote locations. I look forward to our next visit to the bridge and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.
Want to see what weird and interesting things REEF surveyors have reported at Blue Heron Bridge? You can check out the database report here.
Our Volunteer Fish Survey Project has some enthusiastic surveyors who have moved up a level this month. All REEF members are Level 1 by default, so Experience Level 2 is really the first step toward learning fish identification in our various regions. This month's advancements almost entirely consist of new Level 2 surveyors! Those advancing came from:
- Eckerd College
- Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation
- Herb Gruenhagen's monthly California Marine life classes in San Diego
- Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center on Utila
- The recent Field Survey Trip to the Solomon Islands
Level 5 is the highest level and we love seeing our surveyors consistently moving up the Experience Level ladder toward this goal.
Central Indo-Pacific (CIP):
- Bill Isbell - Level 2
- Kris Karlen - Level 2
- Kris Karlen - Level 3
- Dafna Bimstein - Level 2
- Paul Wake - Level 2
- Brian Sundberg - Level 2
Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA):
- Elisa LaFavor - Level 2
- Emma DePietro - Level 2
- Jonah Rondash - Level 2
- Steven Paul - Level 2
- Miranda Cottrell - Level 2
- Miranda Raimondi - Level 2
- Kayleigh Biegler - Level 2
- Julian Landin - Level 2
- Karsen Henwood - Level 2
- Seth Bullard - Level 2
- Ethan Hepburn - Level 2
- Carly Weber - Level 2
- Elizabeth Shearer - Level 2
- Moa Berglund - Level 2
- Melissa Remotti - Level 2
- Joanna Brown - Level 2
- Aleksey Ushkin - Level 2
- Sarah Patton - Level 2
A big congratulations to you all and we encourage you to continue advancing your skills!