Author: Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., Co-Executive Director: Science & Engagement
We are excited to share a new scientific paper published last month in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. This study, conducted by our Grouper Moon Project team, reports on the movement patterns and spawning behavior of Tiger Grouper during their reproductive season, helping to shed light on an important, but poorly studied, member of Caribbean coral reef ecosystems.
Tiger Grouper feed mostly on other fishes, and play an essential ecological role in structuring coral reef food webs. They reach sexual maturity around two years of age, and live at least nine years. They are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they start life as female and then change to male as they get larger. They are also one of more than 20 species of reef fish that are known to use the western tip of Little Cayman in the Cayman Islands as a spawning ground. This multi-species aggregation site is best known for being home to the largest and one of the last known spawning aggregations of endangered Nassau Grouper. Tiger Grouper spawn during winter full moons, typically a few days after the Nassau Grouper. Unlike the mass spawning behavior seen with Nassau Grouper, male Tiger Grouper defend territories to attract mates, using a reproductive strategy known as "lekking." Often seen in birds, a lek is an aggregation of males that gather to engage in competitive displays and courtship rituals.
To better understand their movement and behaviors while spawning, the Grouper Moon research team acoustically tagged ten spawning male Tiger Grouper at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation. Using a hydrophone array surrounding the island, the researchers tracked the movements of the tagged fish for 13 months. The authors observed three migratory strategies: resident fish that live at the aggregation site, neighboring fish that live within four km of the site, and commuter fish that travel over four km for spawning. Fish began aggregating two days before the full moon and left the aggregation site 10–12 days after the full moon, from January to May.
The full citation of the paper is Sleugh, T., CM McCoy, CV Pattengill-Semmens, BC Johnson, SA Heppell, L Waterhouse, BC Stock, and BX Semmens. 2023. Migratory Behavior of Aggregating Male Tiger Grouper (Mycteroperca tigris) in Little Cayman, Cayman Islands. Environmental Biology of Fishes. doi.org/10.1007/s10641-023-01399-w. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. To see all scientific publications that have resulted from REEF's projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.
Author: Katie Barnes, Communications and Engagement Fellow
When diverse experiences are brought together and amplified, they become a movement and a force for change. Join the conversation and be part of this movement as we share and learn together about the importance of listening, understanding, and amplifying the voices and experiences of equity-deserving groups in marine conservation.
You're invited to join us Wednesday, May 24 at 8pm EDT for a special webinar, Oceans for All: Exploring Diverse Experiences in Marine Conservation. You can register for the webinar at www.REEF.org/fishinars.
We are excited to welcome the following amazing panelists:
Allison Payne is a Ph.D student in the Beltran Lab at UC Santa Cruz, where she does field research focused on elephant seals and ocean acoustics. On her path to her Ph.D., Allison worked as a whale watching naturalist (earning her captain's license) and as a research associate for The Marine Mammal Center, before studying humpback whale entanglement in fishing gear for her Master's degree at San Francisco State University. She is the Program Coordinator for FieldFutures, an organization that promotes safety for marginalized field scientists, as well as an instructor and mentor for undergraduate students interested in marine science. This spring, she is leading a seminar course for UCSC students called Queer Ecologies focused on the diversity of nature and the ways the dominant culture informs and limits the scientific investigation.
Chun Wright is the owner of the Law Office of Chun T. Wright, a Washington, DC-based boutique law firm, which focuses on intellectual property (trademark and copyright), emerging technologies, and adventure travel law. Chunnie has been a litigator at major law firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, a federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, and vice president of anti-piracy legal affairs at a DC-based trade association. Chunnie has been a REEF member since 2008. She also serves on other boards that focus on conservation, nature, and adventure travel. Chunnie received her BBA from the University of Texas at Austin and her JD from the University of California Berkeley School of Law. She is an avid diver and traveler.
Andrea Williams is a huge advocate for introducing children to the world of diving at a young age. While Andrea has been familiar with diving since she was young, she recognized that most children, especially children of color, are not exposed to the sport and do not realize the career paths available within scuba diving. During school programs, Andrea uses her own experiences diving around the world to inspire curiosity for the scuba field. The main goal of these programs is to diversify the field, and while Williams is certainly doing her part, she knows that there is still work to do that will require grants, scholarships and sponsorships.
Leslie Nguyen received her degree in marine biology from San Jose State University and now works as an Animal Care Specialist at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA. She is part of a team that works on the daily health care and training of marine mammals and birds, but also assists in caring for various reptiles and amphibians. In addition to husbandry, Leslie takes pride in being an active advocate for diversity in marine science by supporting and promoting minority let organizations and events within the field. Further in her career, she hopes to be able to provide direct mentorship and support for early career minorities in marine science. Leslie is also a former REEF Marine Conservation Intern!
Rosemary Ciotti co-founded the only Marine Science and Adaptive Scuba Camp for children with disabilities, held every summer in Key Largo, Florida. Earlier in her life, Rosemary experienced an MS-like inflammatory disease that left her with quadriplegic-like symptoms. She then moved to Virginia and refocused her life on advocating for the rights of those with disabilities by founding Accessible Living, INC in 1999. Through her advocacy, she became chair of the Arlington County Disability Advisory Committee. In 2013, she was able to reengage with sport thanks to Diveheart SCUBA, and in 2019 she was a DEMA Wave Maker Award nominee. Every day, Rosemary continues to fight for the rights of disabled people all over the world.
This webinar is part of a series of educational opportunities focused on supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in marine conservation throughout the REEF Oceans for All initiative. Check out our Oceans for All page for more information.
Author: Stacey Henderson, Program Services Coordinator
If you've dreamed of diving the Red Sea, this summer is the perfect time to plan a trip! There are just a few spaces left on our Red Sea Field Survey Trip happening on July 6-16, 2023. This ten-day liveaboard trip offers the chance to explore the shipwrecks, reefs, and pinnacles of the Egyptian Red Sea. REEF Trips are a great way to meet fellow marine life lovers and learn more about the fish you see on your dives. Trips are open to all surveyor experience levels, from beginner to expert! Here are even more reasons to sign up today:
Endemic Species: The Red Sea is home to many species that you cannot see anywhere else in the world, including the Broomtail Wrasse, Red Sea Anemonefish, Red Sea Soapfish, and even the Red Sea Flasher Wrasse! If you are a fish surveyor, you'll love the diversity and the chance to add so many species to your life list.
Shipwrecks: We'll dive some of the most famous (and fishiest) wrecks in the northern Red Sea, including the SS Thistlegorm, a freighter that was carrying military equipment during the 1940s when it was sunk off the coast of Egypt. The cargo included everything from boots, rifles, trucks and motorcycles. Divers can explore these large cargo holds and see an amazing piece of history amongst schools of squirrelfish and fusiliers.
Stunning Underwater Scenery: We'll visit a variety of sites throughout the trip, including pinnacles covered with soft coral and colorful schools of anthias. The pinnacles offer the chance to see pelagic species like jacks and tuna, and since many of the sites reach very close to the water's surface, they are perfect spots to conduct fish surveys!
Seeing Rare Marine Life: The Red Sea is one of the few places in the world that divers have the opportunity to see Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. Normally an open ocean species, they can be seen near the surface with schools of Pilotfish at Brothers Islands, Elphinstone, and Daedalus reefs.
For more info, visit www.REEF.org/trips or email us at trips@REEF.org to book your space!
Author: Madalyn Mussey, Education and Outreach Program Manager and Hilary Penner, Conservation and Education Programs Manager
REEF Ocean Explorers Education Programs engage and inspire learners of all ages to protect and conserve our oceans. Our programs topics include biology, ecology, citizen science, and invasive species, and are designed to help participate understand the importance of marine conservation and how they can make a difference. To reach new audiences and connect even more people with ocean conservation, we're also highlighting connections between arts, humanities, and science. By incorporating arts and humanities into REEF education programs, participants will learn how the ocean is linked to human culture and identity. This helps people form a connection to the ocean and inspires them to become environmental stewards.
To show the links between science and the arts, we recently hosted our first REEF Arts & Science Festival at the REEF Campus in Key Largo, Florida. This event, held in partnership with Florida Keys nonprofits, environmental organizations, and artisanal vendors, was hit with with both Monroe County residents and visitors. More than 200 people attended and participated in games and eco-friendly crafts, including creating their own marine life ornaments out of recycled cereal boxes and designing necklaces with recycled paper beads to take home. Click here to read more about the Arts & Science Festival and see our vendors who attended. To see all upcoming events at the REEF Campus, visit this page.
Author: Katie Barnes, Communications and Engagement Fellow
The fourth annual Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K is coming up on June 5-11. Have you registered to join us yet? You can participate from anywhere in the world, and pick your favorite way to get active - run, walk, hike, bike, or swim - anything goes! When you sign up, you will choose to join one of five Fish Teams. Read on to learn more about this year's Fish Teams, and click here to read about each fish's race personality!
Tiger Rockfish: These shy, solitary fish are found in the Pacific Northwest. They get their name from the five dark bars on their body, similar to a tiger. As members of the scorpionfish family, they have venomous spines.
Hammerhead Shark: These sharks use their hammer-shaped heads to find prey and There are 9 species of hammerhead shark worldwide. The Great Hammerhead is the largest, reaching an average of 14 feet!
Emperor Angelfish: These ornate fish are found in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans. They eat small invertebrates and sponges, and they have the ability to make a loud drumming sound when they are startled.
Spotted Eagle Ray: They can be found worldwide in warm, nearshore waters. They have dark bodies covered in white spots and rings. They are capable of leaping completely out of the water!
Clownfish: These small fish live symbiotically with a host anemone. In exchange for food and protection from predators, clownfish (also called anemonefish) help drive off intruders and keep their anemone host clean and healthy.
All 5K participants will receive a limited edition race shirt, downloadable race bib, and a set of Fish Team stickers! Proceeds from the 5K will support the REEF Oceans for All Fund, a pooled scholarship fund dedicated to supporting the core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in marine conservation. By participating in the race, you're making a difference in the lives of individuals and the health of the oceans. Ready, set, register!
Author: Amy Lee, Communications and Engagement Manager
We're gearing up for summer, and that means Lionfish Derby season is here! We're excited to share that registration is now open for the 2023 REEF Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival on Sept. 7-10. The event includes two full days of lionfish hunting, followed by a lionfish festival at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina in Islamorada, Florida. The family-friendly festival takes place on Sunday, Sept. 10 and includes lionfish scoring, tastings, educational demos, games, crafts, raffles, and activity booths from arts and conservation vendors. Everyone is invited to attend the festival, and teams of 2-4 people may register to compete in the derby. For more information or to register a team, visit www.REEF.org/derby.
Lionfish Derbies are effective at removing many lionfish in a short period of time, however regularly removing lionfish from local reefs can also help protect native fish species and maintain a balanced ecosystem. To support ongoing lionfish removals we recently kicked off the Florida Keys Lionfish Sweeps. During the months of the Lionfish Sweeps (April 1-June 30), divers and snorkelers can remove invasive lionfish from Florida Keys waters for a chance to win cash and raffle prizes. Participants may drop off lionfish at the REEF Campus during business hours, and all donated lionfish will be used for REEF Ocean Explorers Education Programs. We're updating our Lionfish Sweeps leaderboard periodically, so be sure to follow along on Facebook (REEF Invasive Lionfish Program) to see who's in the lead! Final results will be announced at the annual Rockin' the Dock event held at Sharkey's Sharkbite Grille this July in Key Largo, Florida. For more info, visit this page.
New to Lionfish Derbies? A REEF Lionfish Derby is a competition where teams of divers and snorkelers compete to collect as many invasive lionfish as possible. Teams collect lionfish by netting or spearing while SCUBA diving, free diving, or snorkeling. Each fish is measured, and prizes are awarded to teams who collect the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. The public is invited to watch scoring, taste free lionfish samples, watch filleting and dissection demonstrations, and ask questions about lionfish. REEF Lionfish Derbies educate the public about invasive species, gather important scientific information on lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market for lionfish. 2023 marks the 14th year of REEF Lionfish Derbies in the Upper Florida Keys.
Author: Sierra Barkdoll, Citizen Science Coordinator
We are encouraging Tropical Western Atlantic REEF surveyors to be on the lookout for a skin condition that is affecting reef fish in the Caribbean. Black Spot Syndrome (BSS) affects many reef fish but can easily be observed on Ocean Surgeonfish, especially when they are pale in color. The black spots are usually on the fins and skin of the affected fish. In many cases, Black Spot Syndrome is caused by a trematode parasite, Scaphanocephalus spp., which moves from marine snails to reef fish and ultimately into osprey, which consume the infected fish. Infections seem to be especially common in Bonaire and Curacao, although other areas with reported cases include St. Kitts and South Caicos, Turks & Caicos Islands. Divers and snorkelers who see surgeonfish affected by BSS are encouraged to take underwater photos or video to document and record the location. Observations and questions may be sent to Dr. Pieter Johnson at the University of Colorado at email@example.com.
For additional information, see: Kohl, Z. F., Calhoun, D. M., Elmer, F., Peachey, R. B. J., Leslie, K. L., Tkach, V. V., Kinsella, J. M. and P. T. J. Johnson (2019). Black-spot syndrome in Caribbean fishes linked to trematode parasite infection (Scaphanocephalus expansus). Coral Reefs 38: 917-930 (https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-019-01819-3).
Photos by Cheyenna de Witt.
Author: Amy Lee, Communications and Engagement Manager
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 Ellie and Mel Briscoe, longtime REEF members from Northern Virginia. Ellie is an avid REEF surveyor, and has conducted more than 400 surveys in six different regions! She is an Expert Level surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Meanwhile, Mel loves to photograph and observe marine life, and he has conducted 58 REEF surveys in four different regions. Mel and Ellie are both wonderful advocates for REEF's marine conservation work, and we're proud to have them as REEF members!
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
Ellie: I joined in 2004, but my first surveys were in 2003, when I took the PADI Aware Fish ID course.
Mel: I became a PADI instructor in February 2001, and joined REEF in April of that year so I could teach Fish ID as a PADI specialty and use the REEF materials. I finally reported two surveys in 2003 so I could be an official Level 2 surveyor in the TWA!
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey Trip, where and what was your trip highlight?
Ellie: We’ve been on several trips. I was thrilled to find a Black Brotula on the trip to St. Lucia, AND to be able to show it to Christy Semmens! But the highest point for me was when our luggage didn’t arrive on the Bequia trip, and the generous surveyors on the trip all banded together to lend us bathing suits, sandals, shampoo, whatever we needed. It meant I got to dive, and I saw my first ever Yellowcheek Wrasse. REEF experts are generous with their time and knowledge, too. As a Level 5 surveyor, I love “giving back” by helping my friends identify the fish they’ve photographed.
Mel: I’m more of a fish photographer. I’m intrigued by the technically difficult shots, and by those that show an interesting fish behavior. “Fish Portraits” are not as interesting to me as those pictures that capture a fleeting moment worth looking at twice. A great thing about REEF Field Survey Trips is that the people on them appreciate my pictures, and occasionally I can get to show them something that helps them do a difficult ID.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
Mel: I don’t send in all my surveys because I’m more interested in photography than the names and numbers. My memory for names is not so good; I will often see a fish and know I’ve seen that species before, but do not remember the name. I’m the same with people; I remember faces, not names, so I think it is the way my brain is wired, not something specific to diving and fish. Nevertheless, getting down to the detail of abundance on a survey is really interesting, for example how one site can be dominated by something like Brown Chromis and the next site they are mostly blue.
If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
Ellie: I say it’s like Cornell’s Feederwatch: Citizen Science in action, and that the more you do it, the more you learn.
Mel: When you start being able to ID fish, you actually see more fish, and more interesting fish behavior. You can begin to “see through and past” the clouds of grunts and surgeonfish, and spot more things happening on the reef. Every dive becomes more interesting.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Mel: REEF’s methodology makes the complexities of fish identification and behavior accessible to the average diver, and fun to do. It is citizen science at its best: allowing anyone to contribute to a useful scientific database, while implicitly generating enthusiasm for fish and marine environment protection.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
Ellie: I love diving in front of Buddy Dive in Bonaire. You can do the whole fish ID course right under the dock. In fact, I have taught it there. I also volunteer as a diver at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and it’s been really helpful to already know what all the fish in the Atlantic Coral Reef habitat are. I can’t say that about the Blacktip Reef Indonesian habitat, but I’m working on it.
Do you have a favorite REEF Conservation Partner or dive shop?
Mel: I’m a big fan of Buddy Dive in Bonaire; been going there at least annually since 2000. Danny Hattink is a first-rate fish surveyor, and wonderful to dive with. Francesca Virdis is the reef restoration guru, who along with Tina and others makes it inspiring and fun.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
Ellie: I was turning over broken coral on the bottom in front of Buddy Dive, and a Spanish Hogfish ducked under my arm and nibbled on it, then turned and looked at me as if to say, "OK, what’s my next snack?"
Do you have any surveying, fish watching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Ellie: Take pictures. Take lots of pictures.
Mel: Stop swimming around, slow down and just start looking at things. The slower you go, the more you see. Be still near a coral head and just watch - it might take a minute or two for the critters on the coral head to get used to you, but then they begin feeding and interacting. You can’t really see movement very well if you are moving and your eyes are moving, so just stop and stare and use your peripheral vision. It helps to have a “search image” of something you are looking for, if only the size.
Author: Katie Barnes, Communications and Engagement Fellow
REEF online programs are free and open to everyone! Here's what's coming up this month:
Fishinar: Red Sea Fishes, Part 3
Wednesday, May 10, 8pm EDT
Click here to register.
The Red Sea is full of fascinating fishes. In this session, we'll teach you how to recognize some of the species you may see there. For even more Red Sea fishes, check out Parts 1 and 2 in our Fishinar Archives.
Oceans for All: Exploring Diverse Experiences in Marine Conservation
Wednesday, May 24, 8pm EDT
Click here to register.
When diverse experiences are brought together and amplified, they become a movement, a force for change. You are invited to be a part of this movement and join the conversation, as we share and learn together about the importance of listening, understanding, and amplifying the voices and experiences of equity-deserving groups in marine conservation.
Photo by Carol Cox.
Author: The REEF Team
Introducing our May Fish of the Month, the Red Sea Anemonefish, Amphiprion bicinctus!
Survey Regions: Red Sea Anemonefish are found only in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, part of REEF's Indian Ocean & Red Sea (IORS) survey region. Click here to see the REEF database report for this species.
Size: They grow to be about 6 inches long.
Identifying Features: Red Sea Anemonefish have two broad white body bars, and can vary in color from yellow to dark brown.
Fun Facts: Red Sea Anemonefish are one of 29 species of anemonefish (also known as clownfish) worldwide. Like other anemonefish, they live symbiotically with a host anemone. In exchange for food and protection from predators, the anemonefish help drive off intruders and keep their anemone host clean and healthy. The symbiotic partnership between clownfish and anemones is called mutualism because it benefits both animals.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for our next Fish of the Month.
Photo by Carol Cox.