The REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project enables divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations, plus invertebrate and algae species in temperate areas. Participants can measure their fish ID knowledge along with their surveying experience through REEF Experience Levels, which are categorized from beginner to expert. Experience Levels are achieved by submitting a certain number of surveys and passing a fish ID test. Surveyors who achieve Expert Level status (Levels 4 and 5) in a given REEF survey region are invited to become part of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). As an AAT member, these surveyors may have the chance to participate in special, regional monitoring and assessment projects. This year, REEF organized several AAT Projects in Florida, part of the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region, and collected data for an annual AAT monitoring project in the Salish Sea, part of the Pacific Northwest (PAC) survey region.
In the TWA region, we continued our ongoing Species Snapshot project. The goal of this project is to monitor Florida's coastline by taking a "biological snapshot" of each area, by gathering baseline data on under-surveyed areas and alternative habitats. These data will help us observe changes in fish populations over time and identify biodiversity hotspots. Over the past two years, REEF AAT surveyors have collected data in north Key Largo, Biscayne National Park, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. This summer, our TWA AAT surveyors participated in two more Species Snapshot sessions - one in Panama City Beach in June, and Pompano Beach in August. Surveyors who participated in the Panama City Beach project conducted 73 surveys and reported 119 species, including interesting and rarely seen species like Red Goatfish, Blackbar Drum, and Leopard Toadfish. Surveyors on the Pompano Beach project conducted 94 surveys and reported 207 species. The most commonly reported species during the Pompano Beach project were the Bluehead Wrasse, Masked/Glass Goby, and Porkfish. You can view the sightings reports from the Panama City Beach project here, and Pompano Beach here.
Moving across the US to the Pacific Coast and PAC survey region, last month, our Pacific Northwest AAT members monitored fish and invertebrate populations in the southern part of the Salish Sea. These inland waters near Seattle, Washington, are also known as Puget Sound. Five of the 17 surveyors who joined in this year's project are members of the REEF Golden Hamlet Club (aka Golden Lumpsucker Club for cold water surveyors) joined in this year's project, making this a highly experienced group of surveyors! Golden Hamlet Club members are those who have conducted 1,000+ REEF surveys.
During the Salish Sea monitoring project, the team conducted 48 surveys and recorded 82 species of fish, invertebrates and algae. The most commonly seen species were the Copper Rockfish, Brown Rockfish and Painted Greenling. The most common invertebrates seen were the Coonstripe Shrimp, California Sea Cucumber, and the Red Rock Crab. Meanwhile, the most unusual sighting was the Spotted Ratfish, a member of the Chimaera family. Although Spotted Ratfish make up about 30% of Puget Sound's biomass, they are not often seen by divers because they live in deep water. Click here to view the complete sightings report. The Salish Sea monitoring project is funded by the SeaDoc Society, part of UC Davis and based in the San Juan Islands. Special thanks to Bandito Charters for their support of this project.