Last month we successfully conducted our 19th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Around the winter full moons each year, our field team joins forces in the Cayman Islands to study one of the last remaining, and largest currently known, spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau Grouper. Since 2001, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment have collaborated on this project. Along with our academic colleagues from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Oregon State University, the Grouper Moon Project includes research, monitoring, and outreach efforts aimed at understanding and protecting this iconic species.
The 2020 Grouper Moon Project took place from February 5-19. During the two weeks, our team conducted annual monitoring to estimate the number and sizes of grouper attending the aggregations on both Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, documenting spawning behavior in Nassau Grouper as well as other species that use the site for spawning, and researching fertilization and survival rates of eggs and larvae. We also piloted a new study to document the presence of fish DNA in water samples as a potential new means to monitor aggregation sites. This year we were joined by teams from NOAA and Konsberg Maritime for testing a sonar-like system for estimating fish populations. The Little Cayman Nassau Grouper aggregation provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the use of this technology, which if proven, will provide a valuable tool for harder-to-survey aggregation sites, like those on Grand Cayman and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
In addition to research and monitoring, the Grouper Education Program engaged students at several local Caymanian schools, as well as others abroad in schools and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. As part of the education program, our team participated in three live-from-the-field webchats to explain the work of the project and share the economic, ecologic, and cultural importance of Nassau Grouper as a top predator on Caribbean Coral Reefs. All live-feeds are archived and available to view on REEF’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/wespeakfish.
To find out more about the project, view videos, and read the latest scientific publications from the work, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. We greatly appreciate the support of local businesses in making the project possible, including the Southern Cross Club and Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef Divers.
We are happy to announce our 2019 Volunteers of the Year, Fred and Laura Hartner.
Several years ago, Fred and Laura moved to Key Largo, Florida, from New Jersey. Since then, they have been a vibrant and active part of the REEF community in the Florida Keys. They support REEF by attending local events including the monthly REEF Fish & Friends seminar and social - and Laura is known for always bringing a tasty snack to share! They have provided fun, ocean-themed items for silent auctions and raffles for REEF Fest and other events, and they also go above and beyond at Lionfish Derbies, where Fred conducts lionfish filleting demos and Laura helps to prepare and serve lionfish ceviche for attendees.
It never hurts to have a few extra sets of hands at the REEF Campus, and Fred and Laura are always willing to help out around the office. Last fall, their time and assistance was invaluable as we made updates to the Giving REEF, our donor recognition wall featuring hand-painted wooden fish displayed on fences surrounding the REEF Campus.
Since joining REEF in 1995, they have become extremely avid surveyors. Fred has conducted 514 fish surveys in five of REEF’s survey regions and Laura has conducted 184 surveys in four regions around the world. Fred is also a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic region. Together they have participated in numerous Field Survey Trips, including Hawaii (their very first REEF trip), Little Cayman, St. Vincent, Roatan, San Salvador, Curacao (where they caught, filleted, and ate Lionfish), Philippines, Solomon Islands, Eastern Caribbean, British Virgin Islands, Brazil, Oman, Turks & Caicos Islands, and Fiji. Additionally, we are excited to have their joining us on several upcoming REEF Trips later this year!
When they are not underwater, you’ll find them growing beautiful orchids, helping around the Keys with coral restoration, volunteering at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and participating in volunteer efforts throughout south Florida.
We are so grateful to have two dedicated, friendly, long-time volunteers who contribute to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, and congratulations, Fred and Laura!
To celebrate our sustaining donors and most active volunteer surveyors, we annually host REEF by the Sea during the first weekend in March. This year's celebration took place earlier this month in San Diego, California. This invitation-only event included three days of presentations, socials, and guided tours of facilities around the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus. Over 60 people attended the 2020 event. We were thrilled to host four wonderful speakers, including citizen science leader Rick Bonney from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, underwater photographer and film maker Michele Westmorland, rockfish guru Dr. Milton Love from UC Santa Barbara, and manta and mobula ray expert Dr. Joshua Stewart. Many of the REEF staff also gave program updates on our latest activities and plans for the future.
We also celebrated REEF's 30th anniversary with a fun timeline made by our interns, and attendees were asked to add in their own REEF memories. We presented our 2019 Volunteers of the Year, Fred and Laura Hartner, with their award and gave REEF's Citizen Science Program Manager, Janna Nichols, a photo book commemorating her 10 years as a staff member. It was a great weekend - and the perfect weather didn't hurt. The conservation impact and education that our programs have are made possible because of members, and we are honored to celebrate a small segment of that community each year.
A big thank you the following businesses who supported the silent auction at the event: NAI'A Liveaboard, Explorer Ventures, Jim Hellemn / Blue Ocean Art, ScubaPro, New World Publications, and Michele Westmorland / Headhunt Revisited. And thank you to Coronado Brewing for donating local craft beer for the event. To find out more about becoming a REEF Sustainer, contact us at giving@REEF.org.
A full photo album of the fun can be found on REEF's Flickr page here.
Take the challenge!
Conduct and submit 20 surveys this year and you'll have completed REEF's 20 in 2020 Challenge. You can do the surveys in any of REEF's worldwide regions, or combination thereof. Once you've submitted your surveys, you'll be sent a decal with the logo on it, and be entered into a grand prize drawing to be held at the end of the year. You'll also have the opportunity to purchase a limited-edition "20 in 2020 Challenge" rash guard.
If you complete more than 20 surveys, you'll get an additional entry and decal for each multiple of 20. For example, submitting 40 surveys gets you two decals and two entries, etc.
For more information, visit the 20 in 2020 webpage here: https://www.REEF.org/20in2020
Questions? Contact us at 202020@REEF.org
Those who have already stepped up to the challenge and submitted 20 or more surveys are:
- Ed Gullekson
- Cassandra Neal
- Mike Snow
- Mary Adams
- Peter Leahy
- Pam Wade
- Pieter Booth
- Sue Manning
- Marta Zahalak
- Nick Brilliande
- Molly Myers
- MJ Farr
- Don McCoy
- Richard Olson
- Doug Harder
- Dennis Bensen
- Lindsay Hurst
- Kara Curry
Over nearly three decades, REEF has welcomed more than 150 young adults to the REEF Campus to spend a semester immersed in marine conservation projects. This month, we highlight former Marine Conservation Intern Catie Alves. Read on to hear about Catie's time at REEF, and how her internship with REEF helped to shape her career.
When were you a REEF intern?
Summer and Fall 2013
What did you like the most about your internship?
I really liked all of the different projects we worked on, including the research, outreach events, and doing fish survey dives with different local shops. Through these projects, I met a lot of great people who inspired me to continue in marine conservation and who are lifelong friends.
Was there a goal or focus you had going into the internship?
I started the internship a week after graduating from college, so I was really looking forward to gaining experience working at a marine conservation non-profit, and to see where that took me.
Were there any big projects you worked on during the internship that had an impact on you?
I helped a lot with the lionfish research projects led by Dr. Stephanie Green, which gave me firsthand experience coordinating field research. I learned about the importance of data management, how to make decisions under pressure (including bad weather!), and how best to coordinate with dive operators and volunteers. From that experience, Dr. Green's mentorship, and working at REEF more broadly, I decided I wanted to become a leader in marine conservation research, ultimately pursuing my Ph.D.
What are you doing now (March 2020)?
I am currently finishing up my Ph.D. in ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with Dr. John Bruno. My research interests focus on coral reef ecology, fisheries management and interdisciplinary marine conservation efforts. I combine social science with ecology to inform improved management of tropical marine ecosystems. I am currently evaluating the effectiveness of community-based fisheries management in Belize from social and ecological perspectives, working closely with natural resource managers to build capacity and increase community engagement.
How has the REEF internship influenced or supported where you are now?
The REEF internship not only provided me with a variety of skills essential to success as a Ph.D. researcher, but with the exposure to a variety of career opportunities in marine conservation. Being a REEF intern solidified my goals of working in marine conservation science, particularly at the intersection of science, policy and communities. When I picture my future, I envision myself working closely with organizations like REEF to conduct research, develop new natural resource management plans, and educate the public. Thank you, REEF!
REEF Ocean Explorers Summer Camp will immerse campers into an ocean of learning and fun! Explorers will be exposed to the natural world of the Florida Keys and all of its amazing creatures during a week filled with creative activities and adventures. Each week of camp will include snorkeling, kayaking, science-based activities, special visits, and other outdoor adventures!
Camp sessions are Monday - Friday, 9am - 3pm. Four days of each week are hosted at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and one day is hosted at Island Dolphin Care, both located in Key Largo, Florida.
2020 Summer Camp Dates:
• June 22-26, ages 7-10
• July 6-10, ages 10-13
• July 20-24, ages 7-10
For more information or to register click here or email explorers@REEF.org.
Exploring new dive sites has always fascinated me. Even if it’s a site that I’ve dived a hundred times, the idea of finding something new always intrigues me. Since joining REEF, I have also become interested in fish identification and it has completely changed how I explore a new site. Now I think, “what species of fish could I find diving here?” I always have an eye out for new potential dives sites or places I could find a species of fish I have never seen. I think this mindset fits well with the “explore” and “discover” parts of REEF’s tagline - “Explore. Discover. Make a Difference.”
Some of the REEF team recently met up at a park to watch the sunset. While there, we noticed an old abandoned boat basin that had been converted into a swimming area. The basin had been dredged and concrete walls were put in place, forming a big rectangle. Mangroves had started to creep in on one side and algae had completely taken over the rest of the basin. Jumping on the opportunity, I enlisted the help of fellow o-fishy-anados David Ehlert, our Campus Coordinator, and Amy Lee, our Engagement and Communications Manager, with surface support from my fellow lead intern Maya Ganapathy. Together we explored this new dive site that we decided to call “The Square.”
As I walked down the ladder I felt cold water seep into my wetsuit through holes in my boots and the zipper down my back. I slowly sunk deep enough to look into the water, and all I could see was green. Visibility was close to five feet, but we descended and set off to see what treasures lurked in “The Square.” The bottom consisted of a fine silt covered in puffs of green and red algae. If you put your hand down to steady yourself the mixture would easily consume your entire hand. I planned to spend some time looking over the concrete walls surrounding the basin, and also visit the mangroves and the deeper portions of the area.
First we discovered an abundance of Lettuce Slugs and Upside-down Jellyfish populating the entire basin. Some of the Jellyfish were as big as dinner plates while others were as small as thimbles. Crested Gobies were abundant; poking their heads out of their burrows seeing who had invaded their tranquil paradise. The larger males posed as if they were trying to intimidate me, but as soon as I moved closer to get a better look, they sheepishly darted back into their holes. I spotted a Fringeback Dondice nudibranch feeding on one of the Upside-Down Jellyfish and a couple of Bandtail Puffers passing by. I flashed my light into a hole on the concrete wall and noticed a Tiger Goby, which was the highlight of my dive. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a photo as it dashed away quickly. We did not last long in the 68-degree water, even with full hooded wetsuits, however we were able to make a whole loop around “The Square” and got a good idea of what to look for on future dives.
Despite the adverse conditions, having a place where we can go shore diving locally to find interesting and new things made this dive a success in my book. One of the most interesting discoveries was not in “The Square” itself but in a small pool bordering the basin. It was no more than a foot deep and was completely covered in a carpet of Upside-down Jellies, making a mosaic of color. In this small, shallow pool, were Sailfin Mollies - a fish I never expected to find. The males had a red hue to them with blue iridescent tail fins. I plan to continue my exploration of the Florida Keys and hope to find many more places to dive and survey. Check out your own backyard; there may be some interesting sites that have yet to be discovered.
Did you explore a new dive site? REEF uses a hierarchical 8-digit code system for survey site locations. Each geographic area has its own set of codes. After completing a survey, you can look up the 8-digit code for any site by searching the site name in REEF's data entry portal. If you surveyed a new location that is not in REEF's database, email to zonecode@REEF.org so that we can create a zone code for the site. Please provide the site name, general location, and ideally the latitude and longitude.
REEF Experience Levels are a way for divers and snorkelers to measure their fish ID knowledge along with their surveying experience. With 5 levels in each of REEF's survey regions, divers are able to look forward to the next step and continually improve their skills. From brand new beginners up to the top Level 5 experience level, you'll find plenty of resources and friends to help you along the way.
Let's hear it for these REEF members who have improved and moved up a level this month!
- Sue Langston - Level 4
- Bill Skaggs - Level 2
- Susanne Otero - Level 2
Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA):
- Diane Person - Level 3
- Kalie Taylor - Level 2
- Deanna Davies - Level 2
- Olivia Kabat - Level 2
- James Smith - Level 2
- Katya Ignatiev - Level 2
- Greg Appleyard - Level 2
- Sachiko Scott - Level 2
Pacific Northwest (PNW)
- Derek Coffman - Level 2
- Edgar Graudins - Level 5
South Pacific (SOP)
- Howard Rapp - Level 2
- Siena McKim - Level 2
Central Indo Pacific (CIP)
Congratulations to all those who advanced and we look forward to your data contributions to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project!
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, meet March's Fish of the Month, the Horseshoe-tailed Dottyback (Pseudochromis tapeinosoma)!
Survey Regions: Found throughout the Asian Pacific, in areas such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Micronesia, and Solomon Islands, as well as the Coral Sea and New Caledonia. This includes REEF's Central Indo-Pacific (CIP) and South Pacific (SOP) regions.
Size: Up to 3 inches.
Identifying Features: Its most distinctive marking is a blue, horseshoe-shaped border on the tail. It also has a bright yellow or tan body with a broad, greenish-blue stripe that runs from the top of the head along the back, and scattered blue specks on its sides.
Fun Fact: You'll need a sharp eye (and perhaps a flashlight) to locate this one! Horseshoe-tailed Dottybacks are shy crevice dwellers that only venture out into the open periodically. These small, brightly colored fish can usually be found darting between caves and small holes on coral reefs. They are believed to eat small crustaceans, zooplankton, and worms.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the April issue of e-News to see our next Fish of the Month!