Since last week, our partners at the Cayman Islands Department of Environment have been busy in the field, conducting multiple dives each day on the Nassau Grouper spawning site on the west end of Little Cayman. Since 2002, this site has been the focus of our collaborative conservation effort, the Grouper Moon Project. The team has been performing visual assessments, collecting size estimates through stereo-video, and capturing images of individual fishes for our "Fish Faces" project, which uses artificial intelligence to measure population size.
Because of COVID restrictions, our research team from the US was not able to take part in the field effort this year - but fortunately the science still continues! One of the most interesting reports from the field this year has been the increasing presence of sharks at the aggregation site. While this is not always great news for a few unlucky grouper (and can get a diver's heart pumping while swimming through a cloud of fish eggs) it is a very positive sign for the conservation efforts in the Cayman Islands. Healthy apex predator populations like sharks and larger grouper are essential to a balanced, stable ecosystem and to control mesopredator (middle level predator) populations, including lionfish. Protection of these multi-species spawning aggregations is vital to maintaining coral reefs for the future. You can watch a video of some of the shark action at the spawning site here. To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.
We are excited to announce our new Ocean Explorers Virtual Field Trips Program! These interactive field trip simulations bring marine science to life with engaging lesson plans and activities to connect students to the ocean, without leaving the classroom.
Through REEF's Virtual Field Trips students explore what life is like as a marine scientist. They’ll perform exploration tasks, create research trials, and complete field journals as they become citizen scientists.
Sessions are designed to easily supplement a teacher's existing curriculum. The Virtual Field Trips Program follows school standards and the 5E lesson structure: Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, Evaluation. Programs are able to be taught in person or online. REEF Scientists will guide students through the field trip with pre-recorded videos and presentation slides that accompany the student's field journal tasks. Each program also includes a live “Ask a Scientist” Q&A session.
Virtual Field Trip modules include:
- Becoming Citizen Scientists
- Protecting Endangered Species
- Reducing the Impact of Invasive Species
Modules are available for grades 3-5, 6-8, or 9-12
Thanks to the generosity of REEF members and donors, at this time, groups can participate in the program at no cost. While the Virtual Field Trips Program is designed for teachers and schools, any group is welcome to participate, and we encourage you to share this opportunity with friends who are educators.
Want to learn more? Join us for a REEF Virtual Field Trips Open House on Tuesday, March 9 at 8pm EST via Zoom. Click here to register. Parents, students, teachers, and all ocean enthusiasts are welcome to participate in the Open House to experience the Virtual Field Trip Program.
Check out the Virtual Field Trips webpage for more information or to sign up for a Virtual Field Trip with REEF.
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 REEF member Byron Bishop from Seattle. He enjoys traveling and attending REEF Trips, and has conducted surveys in multiple regions. He is a Level 3 surveyor in the Central Indo-Pacific (CIP) and Indian Ocean-Red Sea (IORS) regions, and a Level 2 surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) and Pacific Coast of the US and Canada (PAC) regions. Thank you, Byron, for being a dedicated member of REEF!
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
In 2016, I had an opportunity to join a joint project between The Nature Conservancy and the University of Guam which combined a traditional scientific survey of Chuuk’s reefs with a ‘rapid reef resilience assessment’ that could be carried out by citizen scientists and local communities. The idea was to see how lower cost and wide spread assessments could be used to supplement the more rigorous and focused studies of which characteristics of the reef suggested great resilience in the face of climate change, and thus demanded more concerted conservation efforts.
I instantly became hooked on being a ‘clipboard’ diver. I had heard about REEF during my daughter’s PADI training a few years earlier and even attended a fish ID seminar, but it hadn’t quite clicked then. But soon after returning from Chuuk, I booked my first REEF Trip and have been off and running (or should I say surveying) since then.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
While there are many high-minded reasons for joining REEF, it is also an opportunity to hang out having fun with a bunch of other fish nerds. I have learned so much from my fellow travelers and REEF Trip Leaders during the trips.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
One of the things I love about REEF and the Volunteer Fish Survey Project is that it is such a tangible example of collective action. While doing a survey I know that my survey by itself is nearly worthless, but throw it in with thousands of other people’s “worthless” surveys and you wind up with something worthwhile and useful. It is a nice reminder that collective action can and does work.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
Living in Seattle I have an opportunity to dive our colder waters as well as travel to warmer waters. This year, for obvious reasons, there has been no travel and even opportunities to join our local club dives have been limited. Thus over the last year most of my dives have been as a volunteer diver for the Seattle Aquarium. Admittedly, diving in a 400,000 gallon tank lacks the glamour of a south seas tropical diving, even when you throw in the opportunities to scrape windows, vacuum up fish poop, and to try to hand feed a reluctant halibut its anti-biotic hidden inside a squid. However, what it lacks in glamour it makes up for in other ways.
I enjoy the opportunity to visit the same small area over and over all year long and observe the changes as the seasons progress. For example, during the summer one of the male kelp greenlings is content to just give me the watchful eye as I work my way by the area in which he likes to hang out. By fall with his nesting urges kicking in he gets more agitated. Come winter, and I can count on him trying to bite my hand a couple of times every dive even when giving him a wider berth. With me in thick cold water gloves and he having no teeth, there is no risk, but still I am startled when he manages a successful sneak attack.
Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
I would love to see a Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish). Despite the scientific evidence to the contrary, I have a hard time believing they actually exist.
Daydreaming of your next dive trip? The following 2021 REEF Trips have space available: June 6-16: Palau, June 19-26: San Salvador, The Bahamas, July 3-10: St. Eustatius, July 24-31: Gardens of the Queen, Cuba, October 2-9: Cayman Brac, November 6-13 : St. Croix, and December 4-11: Cozumel. REEF Field Surveys Trips help you grow your knowledge of marine life while interacting with others who share the same interests. Trips include a full dive schedule and educational fish ID classes. Some trips may be suitable for snorkelers as well. To register, contact trips@REEF.org or visit www.REEF.org/trips to learn more. We hope to see you on a REEF Trip this year!
REEF’s in-person events are on hold until further notice, but you can still join us for marine conservation fun from home.
Fishy Hour – Fish Face-to-Face
Wednesday, February 17 at 8PM EST via Zoom
Enjoy a casual, fun, face-to-face chat time with your fellow REEF fish geeks. Webcams encouraged. We'll each get a chance to say hello, and see each other's smiling faces.
Virtual Field Trips Program - Open House and Program Introduction
Thursday, March 9 at 8PM EST via Zoom
The new Virtual Field Trips Program will bring marine science to life with engaging lesson plans and activities to connect students to the ocean without leaving the classroom. Parents, students, teachers, and all ocean enthusiasts are welcome to participate in the Open House to experience the Virtual Field Trip Program.
Into The Blue Book Club Meeting
Thursday, March 11 at 8PM EST via Zoom
We will be discussing The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. The author will be joining us during this month’s meeting!
Instead of flowers and chocolate on Valentine's Day, why not give your loved one a Whale Shark instead? REEF Conservation Creatures allow gift givers to symbolically adopt an ocean animal in honor of a special person in their life. Conservation Creatures are iconic species that highlight the diversity of ocean ecosystems and encourage understanding and respect for marine life. There are plenty of animals to choose from, including Sea Otters, Flame Angelfish, Manatees, and more. When you symbolically adopt a Conservation Creature, we'll send your receipent the plush, along with a personalized adoption certificate, sticker, and fact sheet with information about the animal's habitat, characteristics, potential threats, and global distribution in REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project regions. You can choose to simply purchase the plush, or symbolically adopt the Conservation Creature and support REEF's marine conservation mission. Symbolic adoptions are $40 each, or you can adopt any three Conservation Creatures for $100. You can purchase a symbolic adoption through REEF's online store here.
Introducing our February 2021 Fish of the Month, the Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus), also known as Gill from Finding Nemo.
Survey Regions: The Moorish Idol has a wide distribution throughout the tropical Pacific and is even in the top 10 most frequently reported species in four REEF regions - Hawaii, South Pacific, Central Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean-Red Sea. Check out the Moorish Idol's distribution reports for each of the five survey regions where it is found: Hawaii (HAW) , South Pacific (SOP), Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), Indian Ocean-Red Sea (IORS), and Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP).
Size: They grow to about 8 inches.
Identifying Features: Moorish Idols have alternating black and yellow bands, and a pointed snout with a yellow-orange saddle. They are easily recognizable due to their unique body shape and long, trailing dorsal fin.
Fun Facts: The Moorish Idol is the sole member of the Zanclidae family. Its family and genus name come from the Greek word "zanclus" which means sickle - a tribute to their long, trailing sickle-shaped dorsal filament. They can be seen alone on in large schools and feed primarily on sponges.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for our next Fish of the Month!
[Photo by Jeff Haines]