We are excited to share details of two recent scientific publications that leverage the long time-series of species composition information that our citizen science surveys provide. The first study looked at how reef fish community assemblages have changed over time at several sites in Florida. In particular, the researchers looked for evidence of biological homogenization (increasing species similarity between sites.) Homogenization can alter the ecological function of systems as well as the economic value associated with ecosystems. Dr. Alexandrea Safiq, and colleagues, used REEF survey data to measure biological homogenization by tracking taxonomic changes over a decade across 13 nearshore sites off the Atlantic coast of Florida. Their results were published as a chapter in the book, “From Biocultural Homogenization to Biocultural Conservation” titled Homogenization of Fish Assemblages Off the Coast of Florida. The study found that sites that were closer to populated coastlines, or have been subject to substantial disturbance events, were more likely to show homogenization. Protected reef sites showed little evidence of homogenization. The authors proposed feedback mechanisms between societal values, diver practices, diver experience, and the severity of homogenization. The authors also discussed how baseline knowledge of the ecosystem could influence whether or not people are inspired to take action when reef community structures change.
The other recent scientific paper to be published using REEF data, titled Coral Reefs in Crisis: The Reliability of Deep-Time Food Web Reconstructions as Analogs for the Present, was published in the 2018 book, "Marine Conservation Paleobiology." To conduct the study, Dr. Peter Roopnarine from the California Academy of Sciences and his colleagues used REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project database to make detailed food webs of coral reef ecosystems in several Caribbean locations. That information was used to assess the reliability of historical reconstructions of ocean life from fossilized areas by simulating the fossilization of a highly threatened and disturbed modern ecosystem - a Caribbean coral reef. The study's results indicated that the overall guild diversity, structure, and modularity of the reef ecosystem remained intact, showing that fossil reef communities can be used to understand reef community dynamics during past periods of environmental change.
To read either of these papers, or any of the other 60+ scientific publications that have used REEF citizen science data from the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, 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 Kara Hall, a REEF member who grew up in the Midwest and now lives in California. Kara became a REEF member in 2013, while attending college at Indiana University. In 2015, she was a REEF Marine Conservation Intern through Our World Underwater Scholarship Society. Although she started surveying in the Tropical Western Atlantic, Kara now regularly dives and surveys in the chillier waters of central California. She has submitted 58 REEF surveys and counting!
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I first found REEF when I first began scuba diving my freshman year at Indiana University. I was searching for resources in marine conservation and began watching Fishinars. I hadn’t yet dove in the ocean but I studied fish identification and then completed my first surveys on a field school to the Dominican Republic. After those first few surveys, I was hooked! I was a REEF Marine Conservation Intern during the summer of 2015. I continue to complete REEF surveys in Monterey Bay, which is now my backyard. I attended my first REEF Field Survey trip to Cozumel in December 2018!
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
Filling out the survey sheets while diving gives me a sense of purpose while underwater. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt and the dives are much more engaging as you are searching for both the common but also the unusual species. Furthermore, not only have I learned the basic identification of species, but I also have begun to understand the behavior of different species and how they tend to interact with each other.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
I am a huge advocate for citizen scientist programs, whether that be with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project or through lionfish removals. I really appreciate the continual education that REEF provides to keep engaging volunteers and encouraging their participation. Any way that we can educate the public and get them involved with a marine conservation project is essential to protecting the oceans.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
One of the best fishwatching (or invertebrate-watching) tips that I learned during my internship with REEF is to carry a magnifying glass while diving. I love getting that magnified view of corals or a closer look at the intricate invertebrates in California. Diving with a magnifying glass and my surveying paper has made me a much slower and more attentive diver. When you spend some time in just one spot, you may notice a lot more detail in the life that many people may just swim past.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I live in Monterey, California, and love diving in both Monterey Bay and Carmel Bay. Although it can be quite chilly, there is nothing quite like diving through a dense kelp forest with all of the rich invertebrate life. There is an incredible amount of diversity along the Central Coast and a variety of different dive environments. I also really enjoy seeing some of the larger animals, like harbor seals and sea lions while diving.
REEF was recently awarded a $3,900 grant from Ocean Reef Community Foundation (ORCF) to fund Nature Days, an educational program for abused, abandoned, and neglected children. Organized in partnership with the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter (FKCS) and Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services, Nature Days will give children ages 11-17 from Key Largo, Homestead, and Florida City the opportunity to engage in outdoor activities like kayaking and snorkeling, while learning about nature and ocean life.
Six Nature Days programs, open to 15 students each, will be offered during the 2019-2020 school year. Nature Days will provide a supervised, structured program while encouraging positive self-esteem, self-reliance, problem solving, and positive social behaviors. The children will participate in kayaking, snorkeling, and a glass bottom boat ride at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, touch tank lessons and dolphin viewings at Island Dolphin Care, visits to Everglades National Park and the Everglades Outpost, and hands-on projects like lionfish jewelry-making at REEF Headquarters.
Nature Days participants may include children living at the FKCS Tavernier residential facility, as well as the dozens of non-residential children and teens in Key Largo and Islamorada being served by the organization's community-based counselors. Participants may also include children living at the Miami-Dade emergency shelters in Homestead and Miami Central.
ORCF generously funded the inaugural Nature Days program, held in the summer of 2018. Twenty-two children from FKCS and Miami Bridge attended the program. Some children were so impacted by their Nature Days experience that they were inspired to pursue a career in an ocean-oriented field. According to FKCS CEO Ben Kemmer, “the majority of the children we serve don’t get the opportunity to swim, snorkel, and learn about the beautiful place they live. It made a huge difference to have REEF educators as their tour guides, curating a packed and exciting daily schedule of activities and sharing in-depth knowledge of marine life.”
We are excited to partner with FKCS and Miami Bridge to offer the second year of Nature Days, and wish to extend our gratitude to ORCF for their continued financial support. Thanks to ORCF, Nature Days will change the lives of up to 90 children in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties who have experienced abuse, homelessness, and other traumatic situations.
Each year, REEF volunteer citizen scientists embark on dive trips all over the world to conduct fish surveys as part of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Two places we are particularly excited about visiting this year are Little Corn Island, Nicaragua, and Uepi Island in the Solomon Islands. Despite being on opposite sides of the world, these two locations are both tropical paradises known for excellent diving. Both areas are very remote, but the incredible marine life is worth the travel! It's not too late to join us on one (or both!) of these fantastic trips. Contact us at trips@REEF.org to sign up today!
Little Corn Island, Nicaragua: Aug. 24-31: REEF's inaugural Field Survey to Little Corn Island is an ideal trip for adventurous travelers and surveyors in search of a unique experience. Only two miles long by one mile wide, this island off the coast of Nicaragua is a tiny, Caribbean paradise known for calm seas and shallow reefs. There are more than 20 dive sites located around the island, and most sites are a short boat ride away. Weather permitting, the group will also have the chance to dive Little Corn's premier dive site, Blowing Rock, a volcanic rock pinnacle that has been known to attract jacks, barracuda, and the occasional mahi-mahi. Participants will be accommodated in oceanfront or garden view cabins at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow, an eco-conscious resort with an onsite restaurant.
Solomon Islands: Oct. 30-Nov. 8: This will be REEF's second Field Survey to the the Solomon Islands, which comprise one of the most intact and biologically rich oceanic archipelagos on Earth. In fact, the region was identified as a “Bright Spot” in a 2016 study published in the scientific journal Nature. In the study, the Solomon Islands were designated as a location where coral reefs are flourishing despite environmental pressures. This land-based trip to Uepi Island Resort will feature plenty of opportunities for diving Marovo Lagoon, the longest saltwater lagoon in the world. With its many complex terrestrial and marine habitats, the diversity of Marovo Lagoon is outstanding. In 2017, REEF surveyors in the Solomon Islands documented 786 species over 10 days, and we will try to increase that number on this trip!
Last summer, we launched a brand-new version of the REEF website! There are many improved features on this new interface that we'd like to share with you. This month, we'll show you how to sort your REEF Survey Log.
Step 1: After logging into your REEF account, go to My REEF > My Survey Log
Step 2: Notice that you can click on any of the headers to sort in ascending or descending order.
• Want to know the highest (or lowest) number of species you saw on a dive? Click on Species.
• Want to know the longest (or shortest) dive you had? Click on Bottom Time.
• Want to see how many dives you have done at a particular site? Click on Site or Code.
• Want to see the exact species you saw on a particular dive? Click on the "Form ID" number.
• Want to get fancier? Click on + Click for Report Options and play with the choices there.
• You can even download your entire log by clicking on the "Download as .csv" button.
• Want to print out your log summary? Click on the + button in the lower right corner.
We hope you'll give some of these new features a try! Please email janna@REEF.org with any comments or questions.
Did you know you can contribute to REEF's conservation and education efforts while shopping for everyday items, through our newly launched Shop to Support program? We are pleased to announce that Divers Alert Network (DAN) is our newest Shop to Support partner! DAN will donate a percentage of the proceeds back to REEF for each travel insurance policy you purchase using our affiliate link. Click here to purchase your DAN travel insurance and support REEF’s conservation efforts worldwide. If you're not yet a DAN member, consider joining today. DAN will also donate a portion of the proceeds from all new DAN memberships back to REEF if you click here to sign up using this affiliate link.
By partnering with companies who care about the marine environment, we are able to spend more time on programs and less time fundraising! We sincerely appreciate the generosity of DAN and our other Shop to Support partners. Visit the Shop to Support page to view all participating businesses, and click on the links provided by our partners to shop online. When you make a purchase from one of these companies, a portion of the proceeds is donated to REEF.
Also, please don't forget to use AmazonSmile! AmazonSmile has the same products, prices and shopping features as Amazon, but when you purchase items through www.smile.amazon.com the AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5% of eligible purchases to a charity of your choice. You can designate "Reef Environmental Education Foundation" as your preferred organization.
REEF Fishinars are fun, live, interactive webinars, open to anyone who wants to learn about ocean life. At the beginning of May, we presented a beginner's course covering 60 most commonly seen fish species in the Tropical Western Atlantic (the survey region including Florida, the Caribbean and the Bahamas). Each session of this four-part series was recorded, so if you missed them or want to watch them again, you can view them any time online. There are more than 160 additional archived presentations available at www.REEF.org/fishinararchives.
Our next Fishinar, Gobies and Blennies of the Sea of Cortez, is coming up on Wednesday, June 19 at 8pm EST. This session is perfect for surveyors heading to the Sea of Cortez on the upcoming REEF Field Survey Trip in July, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about the smaller species found in Baja California!
All you need to participate in a Fishinar is a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone and an internet connection – no microphones or webcams are needed. You may watch alone or as a group. Fishinars are great events for dive club meetings or in classroom settings! To register for upcoming Fishinars and view the full 2019 schedule, please visit www.REEF.org/fishinars.
This month, REEF is proud to highlight one of our outstanding Conservation Partners: Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center in Utila, 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. 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.Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center
Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center (WSORC) is a marine conservation organization located on the island of Utila, with ample ways for divers and snorkelers to get involved with REEF and other marine conservation initiatives. WSORC actively engages interns and volunteers with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project through fish identification courses, conducting fish surveys and working to become Level 2 REEF Surveyors. In addition to REEF surveys, interns and volunteers also monitor the local whale shark population, conduct invasive lionfish removal dives and research, conduct surveys to monitor reef health, outplant coral and mangroves, and participate in weekly conservation activities like beach cleanups. We encourage all of you to check them out and join in the fun as they work to conserve marine environments in Utila!Conservation Actions – How can you get involved?
• Become an intern with WSORC!
Interns have the opportunity to get involved with REEF through studying Caribbean fish identification and conducting REEF surveys. Interns also get hands-on experience with coral and invertebrate identification, invasive species containment and lionfish removal, and more! Those interested in pursuing a career in marine conservation can also complete their open water up to instructor courses throughout their internship. WSORC offers week-long, month-long, and two month programs for anyone interested in learning how an NGO operates, expanding their knowledge on conservation techniques, or being able to identify marine organisms!
• Volunteer with WSORC
to get involved with their ongoing monitoring and research projects, invasive species containment program, and coral and mangrove restoration programs.
• Join an Ocean Safari Eco-tour
to search for and respectfully encounter marine wildlife around Utila, including whale sharks, dolphins, tuna, manta rays, and more.Why is conserving marine environments important to WSORC?
Our philosophy is based around education, that in order to make a difference in this world and inspire others to do the same, first you must teach people why changes need to happen and how they can actively contribute to the solution. You need to protect what you love, otherwise our reefs will become a fictional fairy-tale that we will one day read to our grandchildren.
For more information, visit WSORC’s website
or check them out on Facebook or Instagram at @wsorc_life.
Since 2010, more than 45,000 invasive lionfish have been removed through REEF Lionfish Derbies. We are excited to announce that the following dates and locations have been set for REEF’s 2019 Summer Lionfish Derby Series:
• June 28 – 30: 8th Annual Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby at 15th Street Fisheries
• July 12 – 14: 6th Annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
• Sept.13 – 15: 10th Annual Upper Keys Lionfish Derby and Festival at Postcard Inn Resort and Marina
This year, participating derby teams will be permitted to sell a portion of their lionfish after the scoring has concluded. Prize categories will include cash awards for most lionfish, largest and smallest lionfish, as well as a special Golden Fish Award. Divers and snorkelers are welcome to compete in removal events, and all derby festivities are open to the public. Mandatory Captain’s Meetings will be held the evening before the competition begins. These meetings are able to be attended remotely. For registration and further information, go to: www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.
On derby day, spectators are invited to attend the festivities and sample some lionfish for free! This summer's three derbies will include plenty of fun activities, including lionfish tastings as well as educational fillet and dissection demonstrations. REEF will be hosting a free Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshop with Sea Experience on June 29, in conjunction with the Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby. Click here to register for the workshop. The Sarasota Derby will feature a public tasting event with local chefs preparing their best lionfish dishes. Tickets for this event will be on sale soon! The 10th Annual Upper Keys Derby will include an outdoor environmental festival. Local nonprofits, government agencies and environmentally-minded artisans may register to have a booth at this event. Click here for more information.
Thank you to our derby host venues as well as the following supporters of REEF Lionfish Derbies: Whole Foods Market, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Rainbow Reef Dive Center, Florida Keys Brewing Company, Juliet Sailing and Diving, and Forever Young Charter Company.
We hope to see you at a Lionfish Derby this summer!
Although the Volunteer Fish Survey Project operates worldwide, REEF Headquarters is based in Key Largo, Florida, and we organize plenty of public programs and events that are held at our Interpretive Center. Earlier this year, we launched Citizen Science Saturday, a new monthly program created to engage Florida Keys residents and visitors in diverse, hands-on citizen science projects while providing a way for the public to connect with nature. Each Citizen Science Saturday event starts with a presentation from a guest speaker. Afterwards, participants can join a hands-on field experience to collect data as citizen scientists.
The goals of Citizen Science Saturday are to increase environmental awareness and stewardship, protect and study fragile Florida Keys habitats, and foster a sense of community. Each month, REEF will collaborate with a different non-profit organization, recreational outfitter, or government agency to offer a wide variety of citizen science projects, either in the water and on land. By working with a new partner each month, REEF will give community members the chance to learn about and assist a variety of organizations in collecting information to assess the health of marine and land habitats of the Keys.
Our first two Citizen Science Saturday programs were very well-attended, and we are excited to continue engaging the public with future programs. In February, we partnered with Florida Public Archaeology Network to host a Submerged Heritage Monitoring Scouts workshop and dive to assess at-risk underwater archaeological sites. More recently, we teamed up with University of Florida IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant to offer a stony coral tissue loss disease training and dive to conduct coral disease surveys. Our next program, to be held on June 22, is a seagrass monitoring workshop and snorkel, organized in partnership with another Key Largo-based non-profit, MarineLab Environmental Education Center.
Whether you're visiting the Florida Keys or happen to live nearby, we'd love to have you join us for a public program! You can check out our upcoming Interpretive Center events here.
On April 23, we welcomed nearly 200 guests to REEF Headquarters for our first Susainability Fair, held in honor of Earth Day. Many local nonprofits and environmentally-minded businesses set up booths along our Native Plants Trail, and engaged attendees with a variety of fun activities. Guests learned about ways to be more sustainable in their everyday lives, and what they can do to make a positive difference for the environment. Many of the guests in attendance went along with the event's themes of conservation and sustainability by riding their bikes or walking to the event, or bringing their own reusable cup to receive a free beer courtesy of Islamorada Beer Company. Some of the lucky attendees even won raffle prizes including paddleboard lessons, dive trips, and restaurant gift cards! We are so thankful to the many local businesses who donated raffle prizes or set up booths during the event.
We wrapped up the evening with a presentation about sustainability by Dr. Lucia Speroni from Debris Free Oceans. Overall, guests and vendors alike had a fantastic time learning and educating about eco-friendly living. We are so proud to be a part of a community rooted in environmental conservation and appreciation! Thank you to everyone who attended or contributed to the success of this event. We hope to see you all next year!