Herbivores play a critical role in balancing coral reef ecosystems. In the Caribbean, this role is mostly filled by parrotfish, surgeonfish, and sea urchins. Parrotfish take their important role one step further in that their constant scraping of algae growing on rock and dead coral results in a lot of poop, which is effectively the nice white sand found on beaches. A single parrotfish can generate up to 700 pounds of sand a year. Parrotfish are also a favorite food fish, and unfortunately their populations have been heavily depleted in many areas. In an effort to spread awareness of the importance of leaving parrotfish on the reef, The Nature Conservancy and partners have launched the #PassOnParrotfish campaign. Because of REEF’s 25-year history in the region, REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project database is a valuable resource in evaluating the status and trends of this important family of fishes.
As part of an independent undergraduate study, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) student, Mateusz Kramarz, is currently using the Volunteer Fish Survey Project database to evaluate trends in parrotfish populations over the last two decades (1998 - 2018) from four areas with high survey effort: the Florida Keys, Cozumel, Cayman Islands, and Bonaire. Species evaluated include: Stoplight, Redband, Princess, Striped, and Queen Parrotfish; all of which are key macroalgal grazers in Tropical Western Atlantic coral reef ecosystems. Mateusz recently presented preliminary findings of his analysis at the SIO Undergraduate Research symposium with support from his advisors, SIO Assistant Professor, Dr. Brice Semmens and REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens. Initial findings show that the five species tend to track a similar population trajectory within a given geographic area, but that those patterns are not consistent between areas. He will be continuing his work over the summer.
Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database for analysis. To see the 65+ scientific publications that have included REEF’s survey data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.
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 Kristi Draper, a REEF member who loves diving so much, she and her husband Larre (also a REEF surveyor) relocated to Mexico to dive there on a regular basis! She became a REEF member in 2004, and has submitted more than 380 surveys in both the Tropical Western Atlantic and the Pacific Coast regions. Kristi frequently attends REEF Field Survey Trips and even assists on our annual Cozumel Field Survey by working as a divemaster with Chili Charters. We loved hearing Kristi's incredible story of how she first become involved with REEF, and how conducting REEF surveys with her husband brought them even closer.
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
REEF saved my marriage - my “SCUBA marriage”! Not until after I became a grandmother did I muster the courage to conquer my fear of deep water and get SCUBA certified. Conversely, my husband idolized the 60’s action hero Mike Nelson (played by Lloyd Bridges) on the popular TV series Sea Hunt and, like many adventurous young teenage men of his generation, beat a path to the nearest dive shop in search of his own Sea Hunt-style exploits. He dove frequently until we married and then for most of the next 25 years his gear sat in the garage, covered in cobwebs. When I earned my certification card he enthusiastically got back into diving.
As the diving honeymoon waned, I realized we were not at all compatible dive partners. His idea of an enjoyable dive was born of months of military Special Forces scuba training: “shoot an azimuth”, swim briskly until reaching 1500 psi, then head directly back to the boat. “But I want to stop and look at fish!”, I’d protest. The result was learning to become a “same ocean, same day” dive buddy when he’d get bored with my slow pace or low on air and ditch me for the boat. I was unhappy that I had a dive buddy who didn’t stay with me. He was frustrated that I wouldn’t keep up with him. We were both miserable and diving with each other was no longer enjoyable.
Then I heard about REEF from a woman I met at our local dive shop as she was preparing for an upcoming REEF Field Survey Trip to Cozumel. A few months later, slates in hand and heads filled with memory clues for “button-on-the-mutton” snappers, “Black (rock) Beauties”, and “Bridal party Gobies”, hubby and I were giant-striding off a dive boat in Utila determined to survey every fish we could recognize from our REEF beginners’ classes at the end of each dive day.
That’s when the miracle happened. He slowed down. He searched for fish. His air consumption improved. We stayed together. My husband had a mission. Since that life-changing REEF Trip to Utila fifteen years ago, we’ve hardly seen a year without at least one REEF adventure. Even when giant-striding on our own, our slates come with us. And after 42 years of marriage, seventeen as dive buddies, thanks to REEF, we still enjoy diving -- and surveying – together.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey Trip, where and what was your trip highlight?
Little Cayman in 2006. I saw my first (and only!) Greenbanded Goby.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
REEF Field Survey Trips and the people who participate on these trips are my favorite part of being a REEF member. Many of the REEF regulars find themselves on trips with friends they’ve met on other REEF Trips. For me, every REEF trip is like a family reunion. I’ve also found REEF to be a great social equalizer and unifier. REEF folk, or “fish geeks” I call us, are generally oblivious to the normal socio-economic detritus that tends to stratify society and separate people from one another. On REEF Trips participants are so devoted to our love of the sport, the marine environment, and the quest for improving our fish ID skills no one much notices what anyone else does for a living, their religion, politics, or education. On Field Survey Trips, expert fish watchers are always happy to buddy up with novices to help them learn their fish. I’ve had the privilege of being on the receiving and giving end of mentoring. Both are hugely satisfying and make diving that much more fun.
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?
My husband and I moved to Mexico four years ago because I’m a cave diver and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – specifically the Maya Riviera – is the heart of world-class cave diving. The cenotes, the windows to these stunning caves, are everywhere. Two are less than 100 steps from my front door! When I need to flavor my diving with a little salt, I get on the ferry from Playa del Carmen and head over to Cozumel to dive with Chili Charters, my favorite dive operator. The travel time from my house to splashing on the Great Mesoamerican barrier reef is less than three hours – all without the hassle of TSA, flying after diving, or baggage weight limits!
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
During a wreck dive on the U-352 in North Carolina’s “Graveyard of the Atlantic” I was relaxing on the anchor line during a deep safety stop when I was cocooned by a school of hundreds of Atlantic Spadefish. For many minutes all I saw was an undulating wall of silver and black bars above, below and on every side, not a sliver of blue ocean anywhere. The fish came in incredibly close and just stayed there, yet always kept tantalizingly just beyond my outstretched fingers. A diver magic moment - I remember grinning behind my regulator and thinking, “THIS is why I dive!”
Registration is now open for REEF Fest 2019 sponsored by Capital Bank Foundation, on Oct. 17-20! REEF Fest is an annual four-day celebration to acknowledge the success of marine conservation and education initiatives in the Florida Keys. Events include educational ocean-themed seminars, social gatherings, diving, and eco-adventures alongside some of the most prestigious names in diving and marine conservation. All REEF Fest events are open to the public, but pre-registration is requested.
Diving and snorkeling trips are offered on the mornings of Oct. 18 and 19 with our REEF Fest dive partners: Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort, Quiescence Diving Services, Key Dives, and Horizon Divers. Space is limited, so make your reservations as soon as possible. There's no need to call a dive shop to book your space - you can register for REEF Fest diving online at www.REEF.org/REEFfest/diving.
Don’t forget to purchase your ticket to 'For the Love of the Sea' Banquet on Saturday, Oct. 19. Visit www.REEF.org/REEFfest/dinnerticket to purchase your ticket today. You can also view the other REEF Fest social events here: www.REEF.org/REEFfest/social.
We are especially excited about this year's lineup of seminar speakers, listed below. View all the details of our ocean-themed REEF Fest seminar series at www.REEF.org/REEFfest/seminars.
Thursday, Oct. 17, 7:30 pm: “The Future for Sea Turtles on a Warming Planet" presented by Selina Heppell, Ph.D., Professor, Oregon State University
Friday, Oct. 18, 2:30 pm: "Fishwatchers’ Notebook: Stories and images of great finds and fun adventures” presented by Jeff Haines and Carol Cox
3:30 pm: “The Power of Marine Citizen Science” presented by Ben Holt, Ph.D., Director of the Rock Pool Project
4:30 pm: “Reef Fish Behavior, 2nd Edition: Twenty joy-filled years in the making” presented by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Trustees, Co-founders, and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Videographer
Saturday, Oct. 19, 2:30 pm: “Blooms of Blue-green Algae in South Florida: Ecological causes and human health consequences” presented by Larry Brand, Ph.D., Professor, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami
3:30 pm: “Lionfish and Nassau Grouper: A tale of two fish and how stakeholder collaboration leads to conservation success” presented by Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., and Alli Candelmo, Ph.D., REEF Director of Science and REEF Invasive Species Program Manager
4:30 pm: “Marine Heatwaves: What 5,000 citizen scientists can tell us about 85,000 beached birds” presented by Julia Parrish, Ph.D., Professor, University of Washington and Executive Director of COASST
We hope to see you this October in Key Largo! If you have any questions, email events@REEF.org.
We have just added three new fish survey trips to our 2020 Field Survey Trips schedule, including St. Croix, Dominica, and Curacao. Visit the pages below for complete details. To register for a trip, email trips@REEF.org or call (305) 588-5869. We hope to see you on a REEF Trip soon!
April 18-25: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands -- St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures and The Company House Hotel -- More details here
June 20-27: Dominica -- Dive Dominica & Fort Young Hotel -- More details here
Aug. 22-29: Curacao -- Ocean Encounters and Lions Dive Resort -- More details here
View the full 2020 Field Survey Trips schedule here.
In addition, several 2019 trips still have some spaces remaining, including trips to the Cayman Islands, Solomon Islands, and Turks & Caicos Islands!
July is finally here, and that means so is the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC)! The GAFC is an initiative to encourage the public to become engaged with marine citizen science. Each July, divers and snorkelers all over the world join to learn about marine biodiversity and conduct fish surveys as a part of REEF’s ongoing Volunteer Fish Survey Project. You can join other fish watching enthusiasts, attend or host a fish identification class, or simply complete fish surveys as part of the GAFC. To help you get started, below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the GAFC and surveying in general:
How do you conduct fish surveys?
To collect Volunteer Fish Survey Project data, REEF divers and snorkelers use a fun and easy roving survey method specifically designed for volunteer data collection. Each recorded species is assigned an abundance category based on how many of each species were seen during the survey. The only materials you need to survey are an underwater slate and pencil, a good reference book, and access to the internet to submit the data online. To make the process even easier, you might consider using a camera to take photos of mystery fish. REEF also has pre-formatted underwater paper and waterproof ID guides. These supplies, as well as slates, pencils, and instructor-led and home study fish ID training courses are available through our online store.
I want to attend a GAFC event. How can I learn what is happening and get involved?
Check out REEF’s online calendar of events to find GAFC events near you. You may also host your own event! There are plenty of fun options, including teaching a fish identification class a REEF curriculum followed by a survey dive or snorkel. You can also get creative and turn your event into a potluck party or BBQ, or add raffles or auctions.
Who can participate in the GAFC?
Anyone can join in the fun, whether you are a diver or a snorkeler. It doesn’t matter if you have done surveys before or if this is your first time giving it a try.
Why participate in the GAFC?
Conducting marine life surveys is a great way to add more excitement to your dives while participating in a meaningful project. Your contributions provide valuable data to researchers as they monitor ocean changes. Volunteer divers conducting REEF surveys have discovered new species, helped establish the known range of certain species, tracked the spread of invasive species and tracked fish populations over time!
Can I only do this during the month of July?
REEF surveys aren’t only done in July; they can actually be done any time, year-round in any of REEF’s survey regions! July was chosen to be the month for the Great Annual Fish Count because it's a good time of year to dive, host events, and get others involved.
For more details on how to get started and to register your event, visit www.fishcount.org.
Calling all college students and recent graduates interested in ocean conservation: the application deadline for the Fall 2019 Marine Conservation Internship has been extended to July 22! This internship provides diverse experiences including non-profit operations, outreach and education, field work, data collection and management, public speaking, event planning and more. During the four month internship semester from September to December 2019, you will have opportunities to dive and volunteer with partner organizations in the Florida Keys and South Florida. Visit www.REEF.org/internship to learn more and apply.
Marine Conservation Internship Benefits
• Exposure to numerous non-profit educational and environmental organizations
• Experience in Florida and Caribbean fish identification and surveying
• Assist with events including Upper Keys Lionfish Derby and annual four-day REEF Fest celebration
• Practical field experience in monitoring protocols, procedures, and data management
• Experience with marketing, communications, and graphic design
• Opportunities to teach others about the marine environment during presentations and community outreach
• Gain hands-on experience with diverse tasks and responsibilities at a small non-profit organization
• Network with key figures in marine science, SCUBA diving, underwater photography, and conservation
• Have plentiful opportunities to dive
• Earn college credit, if appropriate
• Receive letters of recommendation upon successful completion of the internship
• Earn dive training certifications from local dive shops and instructors, when applicable
• Make long lasting friendships with like-minded individuals
• Live in the beautiful, sunny Florida Keys, where the ocean is your backyard
Caroly Shumway has left REEF after serving as its Executive Director to pursue opportunities related to addressing climate change. While at REEF, she helped advance our strategic partnerships, scientific applications of our programs, and our financial and regulatory procedures. We are grateful for her contributions to the organization. Caroly remains a committed conservationist, and we wish her well in her future endeavors.
This month, REEF members worldwide are invited to participate in our first underwater photography contest! Members may submit one photo in each of six different categories including fish portrait, macro, invertebrates, REEF surveyor, lionfish/invasive species, and reefscape/habitat/environment. Submissions will be judged by three separate panels including professional photographers, REEF staff and board, and popular vote. Each judging panel will select a winning photo from each of the six categories, for a total of 18 winning photographs. The professional photographers panel will also choose their overall favorite image to be honored as "Best in Show."
Entries will be accepted until 12am EST on July 29. The winning photos and photographers will be featured in REEF’s July 2020 - December 2021 calendar. The "Best in Show" winner will be featured on the calendar's front cover. In addition, winning photos will be displayed at REEF Fest 2019 in Key Largo.
Any and all REEF members are encouraged to submit photos. For complete details including rules and policies, visit www.REEF.org/photocontest. Questions and submissions may be emailed to photocontest@REEF.org.
We are proud of all of our members and look forward to seeing your photos!
For the past 11 years, REEF has organized lionfish derbies throughout Florida, and we recently kicked off another exciting derby season! During the weekend of June 29-30, thirty divers removed 417 invasive lionfish during REEF’s 8th Annual Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby, held at 15th Street Fisheries. Derby competitors dodged periodic thunderstorms while searching the reefs to bring in the smallest lionfish, largest lionfish, and most number of individual lionfish. Team Painkiller won first place in the most lionfish category, bringing in 180 fish. Team Proweb ZooKeeper took first place for the largest lionfish with a 392mm specimen (about 16 inches) and Team Chiefy Crew won the smallest lionfish category, bringing in a 119mm fish which is now on display in an educational aquarium at REEF Headquarters. More than $4,000 in cash and gift prizes were awarded to the winning teams.
Despite heavy rains at the start of the derby, the event was well-attended and participants and members of the public enjoyed a fun afternoon of education and outreach. REEF staff, interns, and volunteers demonstrated how to fillet lionfish while attendees enjoyed free samples of lionfish dip and ceviche.
During the same weekend, REEF staff led a Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshop in partnership with Sea Experience in Fort Lauderdale. Twenty one participants learned about the ecology and invasion of lionfish and best practices for collecting and handling techniques. Following the class, the group went diving to collect lionfish and then dissected and filleted the lionfish that were caught. Prizes were awarded to the teams who caught the smallest and largest lionfish captured during the workshop. Financial support for Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshops was provided by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Foundation (NOAA), through the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida (FWFF) and Whole Foods Market. Dive charters and spears are sponsored by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision (FWC).
Thank you to all of the staff, volunteers, and participants who helped make this year's Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby a success. This event would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors, including 15th Street Fisheries, Whole Foods Market, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and REEF Conservation Partners Sea Experience and Juliet Sailing and Diving.
The remaining events in REEF's 2019 Summer Lionfish Derby Series include the Upper Keys Derby on Sept.15, and the 6th Annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby and public tasting event on July 14, hosted by Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. To purchase tickets for the lionfish tasting event at Mote, visit www.mote.org/lionfish. For more information on the upcoming lionfish derbies, visit www.REEF.org/2019-lionfish-derby-series and to purchase tickets for the public tasting event visit Mote.org/lionfish
This month, REEF is proud to highlight one of our outstanding Conservation Partners: Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire. 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.
Buddy Dive Resort
Located in Bonaire - the shore diving capital of the world - Buddy Dive Resort has spacious rooms and apartments, a complete dive center, swimming pools, restaurants, vehicle rental and the famous drive-thru tank fill station. Come not only to enjoy the beautiful resort itself, but also because at Buddy Dive, there are ample ways to get involved with REEF! Throughout the year, Buddy Dive hosts weekly lionfish courses, fish ID classes, and even a month-long Marine Life Education program hosted by Ned and Anna DeLoach, marine life authors and REEF Board of Trustee members. All dive staff at Buddy Dive are at least Level 2 REEF surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic, and you can join in the fun and attend guided fish ID dives and fish ID classes. You can even try your luck at a century dive by attempting to record 100 or more species on a single tank dive!
Conservation Actions – How can you get involved?
• Join Marine Life Education week and learn from fish identification experts Ned & Anna DeLoach, attend guided fish ID dives, and work to complete fish surveys with like-minded fish enthusiasts!
• Join a REEF Field Survey Trip! As a Conservation Partner, REEF regularly books Field Survey Trips to Buddy Dive, including a two weeklong trips later this summer! The schedule includes daily diving and marine life seminars. Visit www.REEF.org/trips for more information.
• Join a weekly Lionfish Course to learn about the lionfish invasion, and how to safely remove lionfish with Buddy Dive’s staff.
• Join a guided dive with one of Buddy Dive’s Fish ID specialists to learn about the abundant marine life in Bonaire, and work towards becoming a REEF Experience Level 2 Surveyor. You can study and take the test with Buddy Dive staff!
Why is conserving marine environments important to Buddy Dive?
We see the importance of conserving marine environments through being in contact with the ocean every single day. We must take actions and educate people about the importance of preserving and protecting such a fragile environment. We won't make it without healthy ocean ecosystems. We have to use this knowledge to help educate guests and encourage the conservation of marine environments!
more information on how you can get involved, visit Buddy Dive’s website or Facebook page.