We are excited to share a conservation success story for the critically endangered Nassau Grouper. After nearly two decades of research and monitoring efforts, the Grouper Moon team published key results last month in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers used tagging and video survey data, collected by our team over the last 15 years at spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands, to estimate changes in the number of critically endangered Nassau Grouper. In both Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, Nassau Grouper aggregations have more than tripled in response to adaptive management by the Cayman Islands government. On Little Cayman, the aggregating population grew from around 1,200 fish in 2009 to over 7,000 in 2018. This study is the first to show sustained recovery of Nassau Grouper populations following fisheries-induced collapse. The paper was highlighted with the cover of the journal, showing a stunning photo of a Nassau Grouper (taken by Tiago Peixoto) and the byline "Conservation of Nassau grouper". To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project and to read the full article, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.
Since 1993, more than 16,000 volunteers have conducted at least one REEF survey as part of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Today, the survey database totals more than 248,000 surveys. A small group of highly dedicated surveyors known as the Golden Hamlet Club have contributed significantly to this total by conducting 1,000+ REEF surveys. Congratulations to Chuck Curry, the newest member of the Golden Hamlet Club! Read on to learn more about Chuck and his involvement with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. You can also read more about the Golden Hamlet Club here.
You did your first REEF survey on March 8, 2013, at Norranders Reef in Washington. What got you started?
I got started after hearing about REEF during a presentation at the Seattle Aquarium by a local marine wildlife and ecosystem research/conservation organization, the SeaDoc Society, proposing to use surveyors from REEF's Pacific Northwest Advanced Assessment Team to conduct monitoring in the San Juan Islands. I wanted to be involved with that, had recently started diving again after a long surface interval, and got started close to home (~7 minute drive) at Norranders Reef.
When and where did you do your 1,000th survey? Tell us anything memorable about your 1,000th survey.
I did my 1,000th survey in Indonesia and, while I knew I’d reach 1,000 at some point on the trip, I didn’t know which survey it had been until I’d submitted them. It happened on October 15, 2019, at a site named Terbang Utara NW Side. “Utara” means “North” in Indonesian and Terbang is the name shared by two small islands, one north and one south, located just south of Damar island in the southern Banda Sea. I reported a Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse on the dive, though I’m sure I didn’t spot it myself!
In which regions have you done surveys? What experience levels are you in those other regions? Do you have any favorite dive spots in those places?
I’ve been fortunate to survey in seven regions. After starting in the Pacific Northwest, I went on REEF trips to Hawaii, Bonaire and Dominica. I had wonderful and experienced dive buddies on each trip and my eyes opened to the delights of tropical diving. In the last few years I’ve surveyed in the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP), Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), South Pacific (SOP) and the Indian Ocean/Red Sea (IORS) regions. I’m a Level 5 Surveyor in the PNW, TWA, HAW, CIP and SOP; Level 4 in the IORS and Level 2 in the TEP.
What are some of your favorite fishes or invertebrates? What makes them your favorite?
Some of my favorite fishes are those in the Wrasse family. They’re often brightly colored and beautiful, their different phases make identifying them a fun challenge, they’re found in a wide array of habitats, and their life histories are interesting.Having started in the Pacific Northwest, where selected invertebrates are surveyed along with fishes, I certainly do make time for critters with no spine! The Giant Pacific Octopus is one of my favorite invertebrates and—back to fish!—like nearly every Pacific Northwest diver, I just love those Wolf-eels.
What is your favorite thing/memory about REEF and the Volunteer Fish Survey Project?
Though it’s difficult to single out a favorite thing or memory from all the positive experiences I’ve had participating in the VFSP: the fellow surveyors who’ve become good friends, the opportunity to contribute as a citizen scientist, the hours spent in the ocean intently tuned-in to what’s happening; I feel particularly grateful for the travel experiences that have come with surveying. The VFSP has taken me to places and introduced me to people I’m quite sure I’d have never visited or met otherwise.
What are your goals with REEF for the future?
I’d like to keep on surveying and exploring different parts of our World Ocean! My wife, Kara, is also an active surveyor and, while we love surveying on SCUBA together, we’ve recently begun surveying while snorkeling and free diving. We enjoy the different perspective of free diving, getting to sites and habitats more difficult to access on SCUBA, and finding new (to us) and interesting fishes there.
Thank you, Chuck, for being a part of REEF! We appreciate your efforts and dedication to furthering marine conservation through citizen science.
There are just two spaces remaining on our Field Survey Trip to Indonesia, coming up on April 10-21, 2020 and led by Christy Pattengill Semmens, Ph.D. We are excited to experience some of the most exotic and sought-after dive destinations in Indonesia on this one-way Banda Sea crossing trip from Sorong to Maumere. We'll be covering a lot of distance during this unique trip, and that means lots of places to explore! Locations we anticipate diving during this trip include Misool, Fiabacet, Boo, West Seram, Ring of Fire, Wetar and Alor. The trip will end with some fabulous muck diving in Maumere. This is sure to be the trip of a lifetime, so don't miss your opportunity to join us. We will be on the Blue Manta liveaboard, a spacious and luxurious vessel with a large dive deck and dedicated camera room. For more information, visit the trip webpage here. Contract trips@REEF.org today to sign up!
Fire up your computers and mobile devices! It's time for more of your favorite online REEF Fishinars, our special brand of free, interactive, live webinars. You can join us from your home, sitting in the car or coffeeshop, or anywhere you have an internet connection. More info about our Fishinars and how to register can be found here.
Sand and Silt in the Salish Sea - Feb. 12 at 7pm Pacific time: February's Fishinar focuses on the Salish Sea - that body of water inland from the Pacific coast that spans from Puget Sound in Washington up into British Columbia in Canada. Many divers avoid diving in sandy, silty areas because they're "boring" - but true fish geeks know that silty-bottomed habitats are home to many unique fish and invertebrates. Janna Nichols will be teaching this one. Click here to register.
Central Indo-Pacific Top 25 - March 16 at 8pm Eastern time: If you've ever been to the Central Indo-Pacific region, you know it's fish overload at first glance! Christy Semmens will help you narrow your focus down to the top 25 fish, which will eliminate those fishy anxiety attacks. (You know the ones - where there's colorful fish everywhere and you don't have a clue what they are!) Click here to register.
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 Mike Snow, a REEF member who lives in Washington. Mike has been a REEF member since 2006 and has conducted 193 REEF surveys, many of which have been submitted in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. As a Level 5 Surveyor in REEF’s Pacific Coast (PAC) region of the US and Canada, Mike is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team and joins in special monitoring projects for expert level REEF surveyors in this area. He also recently became a Level 2 Surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region!
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey Trip or participated in an Advanced Assessment Team monitoring project, where and what was your trip highlight?
Last September I participated in PAC Advanced Assessment Team project in Hornby Island, British Columbia. There were several highlights during this trip. Probably the single most amazing highlight was seeing Giant Nudibranchs hunting Tube-dwelling Anemones for the first time. Once we had found a Giant Nudibranch in proximity to a Tube-dwelling Anemone, it often took a few minutes for the scenario to unfold, but it was fascinating to watch: the head of the nudibranch which, at first, appeared differentiated very little from the rest of the animal, became akin to that of some mythical sea dragon as it slowly reared back and struck at the tentacles of the anemone in hopes of capturing it before the anemone could withdraw into its tube. I never did see a successful strike, but watching them try was truly spectacular. Other highlights of this trip included seeing my first Tiger Rockfish, first juvenile Yelloweye Rockfish, and the sea lions for which Hornby Island is famous.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
My inspiration for doing REEF surveys is the results. I'm a retired scientist and I love seeing the data and what people do with it. I usually read not only the summaries highlighted in "Making It Count" but also the underlying papers that have been published using REEF data. I found the paper written last year on Sunflower Stars and co-authored by Christy Pattengill-Semmens especially intriguing. It drew upon REEF surveys and other converging evidence (including deep oceanic trawls) to map the collapse of our local Sunflower Star population and provide evidence against the hypothesis that they may have found a haven in deeper, colder waters. It's one thing to dive and notice changes in the local marine wildlife, something many divers do. It's another to contribute, even in a small way, to the understanding of why those changes are occurring. I find the latter fundamentally interesting and useful. Just recently I assisted with analysis and visualization of data from this year's Advanced Assessment Team surveys at Saltwater State Park in Des Moines, Washington. Among the interesting findings from preliminary analyses of these data is the drop in sightings of Vermilion Rockfish in the park. I noticed that no one on the AAT, including myself, reported seeing a Vermilion Rockfish in 2019. Going further into the REEF data, I found that no one has reported a Vermilion Rockfish in the park this year. A species that was seen in the park 50% of the time by REEF surveyors from 2012 - 2015 dropped to 30% in 2016, 20% in 2017, 10% in 2018, and 0% in 2019. Curious! It's seeing those kinds of findings that keeps me motivated to continue contributing data.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I do dive close by to where I live. In fact, REEF has added a couple of my favorite local dive sites to the database at my request after I started doing surveys there; notably Bellingham/Fairhaven Marine Park and Larrabee State Park Boat Launch. My favorite dive site is about an hour away near Anacortes: Skyline Wall. I usually survey 30+ species at that site, including Giant Pacific Octopuses and Wolf Eels. I love diving here in the Pacific Northwest: we don't get the viz you see in the tropics, but we have the largest species of octopus in the world (the Giant Pacific Octopus), the largest barnacle (the Giant Barnacle), the largest anemone (the Giant Plumose Anemone), and the largest chiton (Gumboot Chiton). It's invertebrate heaven here!
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
I am a long-time "nerdibranch" (a nudibranch nerd). My favorite is the Hooded Nudibranch. Starting around November, they gather to mate by the hundreds in the eelgrass throughout the Salish Sea here locally. I could (and often do) sit motionless for minutes at a time at safety-stop depth to watch them feed: they open their hoods wide and then slowly close them once they've caught drifting bits of food. It's also interesting to watch them "swim" (really, flop back and forth) when they occasionally become detached from the eelgrass. They're translucent so you can literally see right through them: marvelous and beautiful creatures!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Go slowly! Some of the other local Level 5 Surveyors and I engage in a technique we call "underwater beachcombing" - meandering slowly and paying attention to everything along the way, rather than having a destination. It seems to me that the slower I go the more I see. I can't count the number of times I've gotten impatient and a buddy behind me has pointed out a Grunt Sculpin, a patch of Orange Zoanthids, a nudibranch, or something else I missed.
This month, REEF is proud to highlight one of our outstanding Conservation Partners: Pura Vida Divers in West Palm Beach, Florida. 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. With 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.
How does Pura Vida Divers engage with REEF programs?
Fish ID is always a favorite subject for our guests and our staff! We host fish and animal ID survey dives on West Palm Beach's offshore reefs, as well as at local shore diving sites like Blue Heron Bridge. South Florida is home to a plethora of wildlife not often found throughout most of the world. Our dive sites are a mating ground for endangered wildlife like Sea Turtles, Goliath Grouper and Sharks. You will occasionally find Sawfish, Manta Rays or even Whale Sharks swimming above the reefs. These large animal sightings in particular inspire a curiosity in divers to learn even more about the amazing animals they encounter every day. During our daily dive charters, guests are encouraged to participate in proactive efforts like invasive lionfish removal. When we host "crew dives" for our staff, you'll find many of us underwater with a short pole spear in hand, harvesting these invasive fish.
What other actions do you take to promote ocean conservation?
When you arrive at Pura Vida Divers, the next thing you'll see after you're greeted by the smiling faces of our staff, are a series of brochures and handouts from REEF and similar environmentally-focused organizations. In addition to leading REEF programs, we participate in other important conservation education programs, like BleachWatch workshops. Pura Vida Divers is also the Adopt-A-Park sponsor of Phil Foster Park, home to the world-renowned Blue Heron Bridge shore diving site. We host quarterly beach and reef cleanups at Blue Heron Bridge and offshore, usually removing over 1,000 lbs. of marine debris every year. Every month, guests are welcomed to Pura Vida for a "social night" where they learn about fascinating scientific research or conservation efforts that impact the oceans, waterways, and marine life.
We also offer travel opportunities throughout the year with environmentally conscious operators that create lasting personal interactions between our guests and wildlife or marine habitats that they would otherwise not encounter. We hope to inspire our followers through these travel opportunities to see the larger picture of the importance of marine conservation on a global scale.
The shop founders and our staff also play an important role working in conjunction with state and national government representatives and policymakers to ensure that the health of our ocean wildlife is taken into account when drafting new legislation. As a South Florida based business, we can help provide vital insight into the fiscal benefit of protecting and maintaining our beautiful natural ecosystems.
How can REEF members get involved with your projects?
The most exciting way for REEF members to get involved is to explore Palm Beach's reefs and dive alongside us! Fish ID experts will benefit from the keen eyes of our private Photo Guides. These skilled pros are in the water every day, and can point out the amazing macro life often overlooked by the average diver. They've got the experience to help you photograph a colorful nudibranch, find a seahorse clinging to sargassum, or observe an octopus peeking out of its shell-covered home.
If you're up for a fish identification challenge, join us for a blackwater dive charter, hosted every Monday, Thursday and Saturday. We head out in the darkness of night to drift in the Gulf Stream, and observe the fascinating creatures that appear during each night's diurnal migration. You'll encounter a cornicopia of marine life, often never before observed in their larval state. After the dive, hop onto an online blackwater discussion group to share your photos and finds with researchers and photographers around the world.
Volunteering during quarterly beach and reef cleanups are a great way to spend time with friends and family and help reduce our environmental impact. Monthly social nights introduce you to a community of local divers dedicated to environmental stewardship, and provide an evening of fun and education, with wine and beer!
We are pleased to partner with Pura Vida Divers to support marine conservation! For more information, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.
They say there are plenty of fish in the sea, and when you adopt one of REEF’s Conservation Creatures, you are helping to protect those species for the future. REEF Conservation Creatures are stuffed animals depicting iconic marine species from REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project regions. These marine creatures highlight the diversity of ocean ecosystems and encourage understanding and respect for marine life.
You can chose to simply purchase the plush ($10), or symbolically adopt a Conservation Creature ($40) and help further REEF's marine conservation mission. Your adoption comes complete with the plush, a personalized adoption certificate, sticker, and animal fact sheet that provides information about the critter's habitat, characteristics, potential threats, and global distribution in REEF's survey regions.
Conservation Creatures make a great gift for the special diver or marine enthusiast in your life. There's something for everyone - many of REEF's survey regions are represented in our Conservation Creature selection, so you can choose an animal found in in your favorite dive spot. Click here to adopt a Conservation Creature. Supplies are limited, so get yours today!
During my first week at REEF as a Marine Conservation Intern, I gained a plethora of fish identification knowledge. My previous dive experience has been in the Pacific Ocean, so I had not seen most Tropical Western Atlantic fish underwater before. To practice, I constantly reviewed presentations and underwater photographs. I was eager to get in the water and put my identification skills to the test! I recently had the opportunity to get out on the water in Key Largo, alongside three other REEF interns: Riley, Amelia, and Stacey. We ventured to Molasses Reef where I conducted my first REEF fish survey. It was incredible! Stacey and I dived while Riley and Amelia snorkeled at the surface, and even observed a sea turtle and a nurse shark that Stacey and I did not see.
A few fish really stood out to me, including two Porcupinefish and a juvenile Yellowtail Damselfish. The damselfish's vibrant yellow tail contrasted with its blue disco ball-like spots. I was fascinated watching this little guy swim close to the reef while his spots reflected the sunlight from the surface. It was such an invigorating experience to see so many new fish and understand what species I was observing. Seeing the fish in their natural habitat significantly helped to reinforce my knowledge. I paid close attention to the various distinctive characteristics of each family and species, but I think experiencing the different behaviors of the fish is what ultimately strengthened my fish identification skills. For instance, witnessing the territorial behavior of the Bicolor Damselfish and connecting it to my knowledge of their role as algae farmers made things click.
In a small way, I truly felt like I was making a difference on behalf of our marine world by participating in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. After this diving experience, I understand what they mean when they say, “Diving That Counts”!
These REEF members are moving up in the world! This past month we've had a number of Experience Level advancements by folks who have been busy conducting surveys and learning how to identify fish. This month's achievements are:
- Howard Rapp - Level 2
- Dan Velasquez - Level 2
- Cassandra Cannon - Level 2
- Graeme Ashford - Level 2
- Andrea Hedges - Level 2
Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA)
- Amelia Welch - Level 2 - Current REEF Intern!
- Riley Zoldi - Level 2 - Current REEF Intern!
- Maddi Piascik - Level 2 - Current REEF Intern!
- Evan Centanni - Level 2
- Mike Snow - Level 2
- Stacey Henderson - Level 5 - Current REEF Lead Intern!
When someone becomes a REEF member, they are automatically a Level 1 surveyor. Level 2 is where all the work starts! The highest level in a region is Level 5. Many of our members hold Experience Levels in more than one region. Not a Level 2 surveyor yet? It's easy to become one! Just pass a short fish ID quiz with 80% or better and submit 2 REEF surveys. Contact stacey.henderson@REEF.org for more information or to schedule a quiz. Click here to learn more about REEF Experience Levels.
Meet February's Fish of the Month, the Wolf-eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus)!
Survey Regions: Alaska to Southern California, throughout REEF's PAC survey region. Also found in the Sea of Japan.
Size: 2.5 to 5 feet, but can grow up to 8 feet!
Identifying Features: Bulbous head with a large mouth and dark ocellated spots on body and fins.
Fun Fact: Wolf-eels inhabit dens in rocky, boulder-strewn areas. Mating couples share the same den and are believed to mate for life! Despite their name, Wolf-eels are not actually eels; they are a member of the Wolffish family (Anarhichadidae) and are closely allied to Blennies.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the March issue of e-News to see our next Fish of the Month!