As 2020 gets underway, here are a few 2019 highlights from the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, REEF's citizen science marine life monitoring program, as of Jan 5, 2020.*
698 volunteer surveyors conducted and submitted 11,065 surveys in 2019. This number will definitely rise as members catch up on their backlog of data entry.
An additional 1,329 surveys were submitted in 2019 that were conducted in previous years.
19 members conducted and submitted at least 100 REEF surveys in 2019. Janet Eyre was once again our most prolific surveyor, conducting and submitting 298 surveys in the year. The others who submitted over 100 are: Chuck Curry, Kara Curry, Don Gordon, Dave Grenda, Marilyn Bentley, Robert Bentley, Doug Harder, Tracey Griffin, Cassandra Neal, MJ Farr, Kreg Martin, Peter Leahy, Marta Zahalak, Ron Wolfe, Laurie Fulton, Kim White, Janna Nichols, and Ed Gullekson.
2019 saw an expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project in to the Indian Ocean and Red Sea (IORS). The survey program is now in ten regions. The most surveyed regions last year were:
Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) - 5,848
Pacific Coast of US and Canada (PAC) - 1,641
Central Indo-Pacific (CIP) - 1,052
Indian Ocean Red Sea (IORS) - 1,002
REEF surveys are conducted under a variety of circumstances, including individuals surveying on their own (both locally and farther afield on vacation), during organized group dives (such as during the Great Annual Fish Count each July and Advanced Assessment Team projects), as part of school groups participating in REEF Explorers Education programs, and during REEF Field Survey Trips.
In 2019, we coordinated 15 REEF Trips to destinations in several of our survey regions. Data collected during these intensive survey trips represent about one-quarter of the annual surveys submitted. A team of Expert-level surveyors also conducted a week of surveys around Hornby Island in British Columbia as part of an annual effort to montior significant areas in the Salish Sea in collaboration with the Sea-Doc Society.
Sixteen scientists requested raw data files from the REEF database in 2019, in order to evaluate status and trends of species populations. Three scientific papers were published during the year that included REEF data and projects.
We are so appreciative of everyone who submitted surveys, went on REEF Trips, and donated to REEF to make all of this possible!
This year marks 30 years since the founding of REEF. The cornerstone of our programs is the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. It started as an idea among a few concerned divers, and has blossomed into one of the most effective ocean citizen science efforts. The very first surveys were conducted in the summer of 1993 in Florida. Since then, the program has expanded to oceans around the world. These data are used by scientists, resource agencies, and the public so we can better understand and protect our oceans. Since it started in July 1993, 16,207 volunteers have submitted at least one survey. A total of 247,527 surveys are in the database, conducted at 14,830 sites world-wide. It’s astonishing to think about how far we have come.
To explore the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database, visit www.REEF.org/db/reports. To find out more about the effort, visit www.REEF.org/vfsp. To see scientific papers that have included REEF data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.
*A note about all of the numbers above: because REEF surveys are conducted continuously, often surveyors do not enter the data right away, and all submitted data are error checked before going in to the database, these number for 2019 will continue to increase, and only represent a snapshot as of January 5, 2019.
A new year is here, and we have already started planning for our annual REEF events:
REEF Fest: Oct 1-4, 2020 in Key Largo, Florida: Don't miss this four-day celebration of marine conservation! Events include diving, snorkeling, ocean-themed seminars, and parties. We are still working on the details for this year's event, and anticipate that registration will be available in a couple months. For now, please save the date - more information will be available soon!
REEF by the Sea: March 6-8, in La Jolla, California: REEF Sustainers receive an invitation to this exclusive event, held each spring in either California or Florida. The weekend features a great lineup of engaging guest speakers including noted scientists and photographers, plus seaside parties. For more information about donor recognition levels, visit this page.
This year, divers in Florida will once again sharpen their spears, hone their lionfish hunting skills, and map out their fishing grounds to compete in REEF’s 2020 Lionfish Derby Series. Their mission: remove as many lionfish as possible to compete for cash and prizes, plus the satisfaction of protecting native fish species. Since 2010, more than 40,000 lionfish have been removed through REEF supported derbies. Lionfish removals are reducing population densities locally; let’s keep the pressure on and protect our fragile reefs.
The following dates and locations have been set for REEF’s 2020 Lionfish Derby Series:
- April 3-4: Key Largo - 8th Annual “Winter” Derby at Sharkey’s Pub and Galley
- July 17-19: Fort Lauderdale - 9th Annual Lionfish Derby at 15th Street Fisheries
- Sept. 11-13: Islamorada - 11th Annual Upper Keys Lionfish Derby and Festival at Postcard Inn Resort and Marina
Prize categories this year include cash awards for the most, largest and smallest lionfish, plus the Golden Fish Award, a $500 cash raffle for all competing teams regardless of catch. Teams will also be encouraged to sell the majority of their catch after the scoring. Mandatory Captain’s Meetings will be held the Friday before each derby; teams may attend this meeting remotely. The derby festivals will include lionfish tastings, demonstrations, and family-friendly activities. REEF will be hosting Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshops and lionfish charter dives during each derby weekend. Stay tuned for more details and registration.
The 11th Annual Upper Keys Lionfish Derby will again be at the picturesque Postcard Inn Resort and Marina. The event is an outdoor festival with more than 20 environmentally conscious vendors. Local nonprofits, government agencies and environmentally-minded artisans may register for a booth. On derby day, spectators are encouraged to attend the festivities and taste lionfish samples. For more information and registration, visit this page. Click here to view a video from the 2019 Upper Keys Lionfish Derby and Festival.
Get involved: Volunteers are always welcome at our events. We are also seeking sponsors for our 2020 Lionfish Derbies and Collecting and Handling Workshops. As a sponsor, you can help us continue to encourage and train divers to sustain removal efforts. For more information about sponsorship, click here or email lionfish@REEF.org.
There are just a few spaces remaining the REEF Field Survey Trip to St. Croix on April 18-25, 2020. St. Croix is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands and is known for amazing wall diving. Running along the northern side of the island, the wall begins in 25-40 feet of water and plunges to 13,000 feet below the surface. This weeklong trip includes 10 total boat dives, on the wall and surrounding reef sites. St. Croix is also home to the the Fredericksted Pier, located across the island. This shore diving site is known for unusual finds like frogfish, batfish and more. This quaint Caribbean island is rich with culture and history that divers and non-divers will enjoy. Christiansted has tours, national parks and monuments, historic churches, charming courtyards, boutique shopping, independent restaurants and cafes as well as beautiful spots along its streets and boardwalk. Click here for more information about this trip, or email trips@REEF.org to register. You can also check out the entire 2020 Field Survey Trip schedule here.
We’re excited to introduce our Spring 2020 Marine Conservation Interns. These individuals will support the REEF team in mission-oriented tasks and daily office operations at REEF Headquarters, as well as play an integral role in many education and outreach opportunities, including the first Lionfish Derby of the year. This semester’s interns bring a unique set of skills and interests to REEF. They include:
Maddi Piascik from Richmond, Virginia: Maddi graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.S. in Marine Science. While in college, she conducted an independent research study on phytoplankton and served as the design director for USC Dance Marathon. She also collaborated with USC's student government to plan and execute a week of sustainability to highlight environmental issues. She has volunteered in South Africa and recently spent a semester studying abroad at in Australia. This spring, Maddi is excited to use her creative communication skills and underwater experience to support REEF's mission.
Amelia Welch from Lino Lakes, Minnesota: Amelia received her B.S. in Sustainable Management from the University of Wisconsin system. Amelia studied abroad in Costa Rica, where she finessed her Spanish lanaguge and photography skills, and learned about environmental issues. She served for the Conservation Corps of Minnesota, where she learned how to effectively manage and maintain natural resources, combat invasive species, and restore prairies. She looks forward to learning more about marine conservation through her internship with REEF.
Riley Zoldi from Hamilton, New Jersey: Riley graduated from North Carolina State University with dual majors in Environmental Science and Marine Science. While in college, Riley interned at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, conducted research in a plankton ecology lab, and spent a summer in Australia participating in beach cleanups and studying the Great Barrier Reef. She has also worked for New Logic Marine Science Camp, where she lead outdoor environmental education programs. At REEF, Riley is excited to learn about nonprofit management and engage with the public through education, outreach, and citizen science.
Our interns are a vital part of REEF and we couldn’t accomplish our mission without them! For more information about the Marine Conservation Internship or to apply for an upcoming semester, visit www.REEF.org/internship.
This month, REEF is proud to highlight one of our outstanding Conservation Partners: Villa on Dunbar Rock and Cabanas on Clark's Cay, sister resorts located in Guanaja, part of the Bay Islands of Honduras. 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 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.
How does Villa on Dunbar Rock & Cabanas on Clark's Cay engage with REEF programs?
Lee Gano, Resort Operations: "We offer fish identification classes at both resorts. Our instructors and dive guides are very familiar with the local marine life and have fish, invertebrate, and coral identification books on hand for our guests to use. We promote REEF fish survey dives by having student packets in the gift shop, as well as a few extra that we can take on the boat if people are interested. As a level 3 surveyor, I try to dive with groups whenever possible and always have my survey slate with me, which always gets peoples' attention. Cabanas on Clark's Cay is also beginning to offer a REEF orientation night to introduce our guests to REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project.
We also conduct lionfish removals at both properties. Our dive guides carry pole spears and ZooKeepers on almost every dive, and teach our guests how to effectively remove lionfish without damaging the corals and other marine life. The best part is we bring them back to our chef who then serves many fantastic dishes like ceviche, grilled lionfish or breaded fish sticks. We have also worked with local fisherman to educate them about lionfish and helped create a bounty of two times the going rate per pound for lionfish. Guanaja has an annual Lionfish Tournament and each year we help sponsor and participate. We received 1st place in 2018! This year we will be organizing some special events in for the 3rd annual Lionfish Tournament during the week of Sept. 5-12, 2020.
What other actions do you take to promote ocean conservation?
Lee: "We are involved in many different ocean conservation initiatives. In 2015, we reestablished the mooring buoy system on the island by locating and installing around 40 moorings on the dive sites around the island. For the last four years, we have maintained and repaired the moorings.With the help and persistence of the Guanaja Municipality, we then established a marine park, which is funded by a marine park fee for all diving and snorkeling tourist of the island. We also print and distribute the marine park tokens. Currently, we are working with the local municipality on an expansion of the marine park, which has been submitted to the Honduran government and is pending approval.
In 2017, we purchased and donated a hyperbaric chamber and clinic to the island to help with treating the local fishers who dive for lobster. This indirectly established a positive relationship and better communication between the commercial fishing industry, tourism industry, and environmental organizations. We are working with the local government on the efforts to clean up and sink several derelict fishing boats that were destroyed during Hurricane Mitch, as an artificial reef system throughout the island. This project has been in the works for several years and we have spearheaded the project and will hopefully be sinking the first of many wrecks in 2020."
We are pleased to partner with Villa on Dunbar Rock and Cabanas on Clark's Cay to support marine conservation! For more information, visit their websites: Villa on Dunbar Rock and Cabanas on Clark's Cay, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter: @clarkscay and @dunbarrock.
It's a New Year and along with it come new Fishinars in our popular and free Fishinar program series. These online webinars are open to anyone, taught by experts and are mostly focused around fish ID with occasional other topics of interest for the waterlogged-at-heart. You can log in live from your laptop, desktop or even mobile device with the GoToWebinar app. All are recorded and free viewing after-the-fact is available to all REEF members as a benefit of REEF membership.
What they're saying about Fishinars:
- "I thought it was just excellent, articulate speaker, held my attention and promotes citizen science. Thank you."
- "Keep up the great work. I will be joining the REEF group as member soon and can't wait to get involved!"
- "Thanks for this great program. I thought it was very valuable, and I learned new information."
Fishinars to Start the New Year:
Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020: Walls and Piers of St. Croix - Amy Lee, instructor
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020: Sand and Silt in the Salish Sea - Janna Nichols, instructor
Click here for the full 2020 schedule.
See you online in 2020!
Before coming to REEF, I thought I was fairly good at fish id in the Tropical Western Atlantic. I used to work as a dive instructor on the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras, and could always find the interesting species that guests enjoyed seeing like Moray Eels, Groupers, and Rays. When I started as a Marine Conservation Intern, I was very excited to see how much I actually knew. I was eager to go diving and check off all of the species on my survey slate. Soon I discovered that I really only knew the fish families, and definitely did not recognize any of the smaller fish species.
To improve my fish id skills during my initial internship last summer, I went diving as much as I could and conducted as many surveys as possible. I recently became a Level 4 Surveyor in the TWA, and am working towards Level 5. Before the holidays, all of the surveys I had done were in the Florida Keys. As diverse as the Keys are, there are many species that one cannot find here, including the Fairy Basslet, which is common everywhere else in the Tropical Western Atlantic, but does not occur in Florida. Luckily this past holiday, I was able to travel back to my old stomping grounds in Roatan and do some surveying.
Before my trip I took a look at all the species that I could potentially see while on the island. I also looked at my “Lifelist” on the REEF webpage, which is a list of all the species I have already seen, and how often I reported them on a survey. With this information I created a “Hit list” of all the species I wanted to find during my stay. This included some of the more common species like the Fairy Basslet, Blackcap Basslet, and Black Durgon, as well as some harder-to-find species like the Arrow Blenny, Oddscale Cardinalfish, and Redcheek Goby. I kept my list short but set an overall goal of increasing my “Lifelist”. My starting count was 152 species.
After a bit of a travel snafu, I finally arrived in Roatan. It was the rainy season and I was greeted by thick clouds and washed out roads. The island was a lush dark green with mountains towering over the ocean. I expected visibility underwater to be poor because of all the rain, but I was surprised by the incredible visibility of over 100 feet. On my first dive I was able to immediately cross the two Basslets and Black Durgon off my list. While swimming along the wall and looking in every nook and cranny, I noticed a strange looking fish among a small school of Masked/Glass Gobies. Upon closer inspection I realized it was an Arrow Blenny - another fish I could cross off my list. Arrow Blennies can be distinguished by their curved tail, which is loaded like a spring ready to jolt at its unsuspecting prey. After my first day I was able to check off a multitude of fish from my “Hit list” and add a lot of other species to my count. It was a great start to my trip.
Throughout my trip I was able to find a wide variety of species in several different habitats. I did deep wall dives, checked out sandy bottoms, and dived in shallow seagrass beds. There were a couple species that really stood out to me as highlights. Roatan has an abundance of Hamlet species. I noticed immediately that the Indigo and Black Hamlets are everywhere. I saw a few Barred Hamlets as well, but my favorite one that I found was a Shy Hamlet. It is very similar to the Golden Hamlet but has a black area on its back. I also got to see one of my all-time favorite fish, the Bearded Toadfish. This fish lives in a den and makes a loud croaking noise that can be heard all over the reef. They have a face only a mother could love, with big eyes and large branching barbels. Having seen this fish before, I knew to look for their dens at the bottom of a shallow walls and knock outside to see if anyone was home. When I eventually found one it was a very interesting interaction. As I got closer, he came further out of his den to meet me, letting me get some great close-up photos.
Lastly, in my hunt for the Bay Islands endemic Redcheek Goby, I came across a fish that I was very surprised to see. I had spent a great deal of time looking under every urchin I could find in the shallows as Redcheek Gobies are found hiding underneath them. Instead I was able to find an abundance of Nineline Gobies hanging out underneath the urchins. They are very small, only about half an inch in length and they have nine neon blue lines along the body. This was a very cool find and made up for the lack of Recheek Gobies.
All in all, it was a very successful trip. I was able to cross off almost all of the species I wanted to see off my “Hit list”. The only exception was the Redcheek Goby. It was a great experience to do fish id not only in a new location, but also in a place where I have done the majority of my diving. Diving there has completely changed as there is so much more for me to see while conducting surveys. It makes the diving that much better because I now actually know what one can see. I was able to add over 40 new species to my “Lifelist” including the Harlequin Pipefish, Orangesided Goby, Spotted Soapfish, and many more. I am very excited for my next trip and hope to add more species to my Lifelist.
If you are interested in checking out your own “Lifelist”, simply log in to your REEF account and visit https://www.REEF.org/db/reports/my-lifelist to see what species you have reported on your surveys.
Let's put our pectoral fins together for the following REEF members who have recently moved up an Experience Level in our Volunteer Fish Survey Project!
Volunteers have the opportunity to advance through 5 levels (Novice through Expert) within each of our survey project regions. Experience Levels are obtained by a combination of fish/invertebrate ID tests and numbers of submitted surveys. As they advance, their data is categorized in our online sightings database accordingly.
More about our experience levels can be found here:
Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region:
- Stacey Henderson - Level 4 (REEF Lead Intern)
- Madalyn Mussey - Level 4 (REEF Staff)
- Andrew Ibarra - Levels 3 and 4 (REEF Intern)
- Mark Moeser - Level 3
- Mary Adams - Level 3
- Tom Schneider - Level 3
- Sarah Hartung - Level 2
- Anne- Joseé Chicoine - Level 2
- Michelé Doucet - Level 2
California (CAL) region:
- Paul Wake - Level 2
- Brian Sundberg - Level 2
- Benjamin Yute - Level 2
- Charlotte Seid - Level 2
- Jackie Beach - Level 2
Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) region:
We're excited to see these surveyors increase their knowledge of marine life, move up a level, and look forward to the data they'll be contributing to our online database!
Meet January's Fish of the Month, the Potter's Angelfish (Centropyge potteri)!
Survey Regions: Endemic to Hawaii - found only in REEF's HAW (Hawaiian Islands) region!
Size: Up to 5 inches.
Identifying Features: Rusty orange head and back, darkening to bluish black on the lower sides. The entire body is covered with irregular gray-blue lines.
Fun Fact: The Potter's Angelfish is named for Frederick A. Potter, director of the Waikiki Aquarium from its founding in 1903 until 1940.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next issue of e-News to see our February Fish of the Month!