Author: Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science
REEF eclipsed a milestone this week when the REEF Volunteer Survey Project Database passed the 120,000 survey mark. This represents over 150,000 hours of underwater survey time from our volunteers. The achievement comes almost 15 years to the day when the first REEF fish survey was conducted off Key Largo, Florida, on July 17, 1993. Today, the program is going strong throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Galapagos Islands and Hawaii. In the tropical western Atlantic region alone, 96,469 surveys have been conducted at 6,085 sites and 795 fish species have been recorded. Of course, improving your marine life identification skills, building your lifelist of sighted species, and conducting surveys are a lot of fun. But have you ever wondered what good are all of these data?
Volunteer data collection, or citizen science, provides a valuable alternative for scientists and resource agencies needing information but lacking sufficient resources to gather it. In addition, involvement in data collection leads to greater awareness about marine resources and creates a stewardship ethic among key user groups.
In addition to providing data summaries on the REEF Website, REEF staff provide raw data to scientists and resource agencies. REEF data have been used in the development of stock assessments (Kingsley 2004), in the evaluation of trends of fish species (Semmens et al. 2000), to measure the effect of marine protected areas on kelp forest fish communities (Semmens et al. in prep) and coral reefs (REEF 2003), as an indicator of population pressure on natural resources (Burke and Maidens 2004), to evaluate interactions between species and species-habitat relationships (Auster et al. 2005), to asses the effect of restoration efforts in areas of damaged reef (REEF 2008), and to asses the status of a group of reef fish species that is experiencing significant declines (Ward-Paige et al., in prep A and B). REEF volunteers have been instrumental in the identification and removal of exotic species (Semmens et al. 2004), in the identification of new species (Taylor and Akins 2007; Weaver and Rocha 2007) and morphological variants of known species (Pattengill-Semmens 1999), and in the documentation of previously unrecorded range extensions (M. Taylor and J. Van Tassel, Pers. Comm.). PDFs of most of these articles and a full listing of scientific papers and reports that have used REEF data are included in the Publications section of the REEF Website.
REEF extends a big thank you to the 10,000+ volunteers who have contributed to this database over the years and we are looking forward to the next 120,000 surveys! Be sure to visit the Top 10 Stats page to see a quick rundown of REEF survey activity. You can also explore the data more in-depth by visiting the Database section of the REEF.org Website.
Author: Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects
Nassau, Bahamas - July 30, 2008 -- Up early this morning and readying for another big day on the lionfish front. As part of an Associated Press story on the lionfish, I am joined by Andy Dehart and Lisa Mitchell here in Nassau to shoot footage of our lionfish work and do interviews for an AP television segment. We'll be live collecting fish, tagging a few and talking about the current research being conducted by REEF, NOAA, Simon Fraser University and Oregon State University - research showing that the lionfish appear to be having severe impacts on our native fish populations. To summarize, stomach contents show over 50 species of prey items including fish and invertebrates; lionfish are eating the prey faster than they can naturally recover and they can reduce recruitment of juveniles to reefs by 80%! It is a scary picture.
While the research efforts are being conducted to better understand lionfish and their impacts, REEF is also leading the way in working on control. Our recent workshop in Florida paved the way for early detection/rapid response in South Florida and will serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean. Tagging studies, removal (culling) efforts, activity and movement documentation, trap design and other control measures are being implemented to direct our efforts both in the US and Bahamas where the fish are established as well as in downstream countries in the path of the invasion. REEF's next project will take place September 14-20 at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with a few spaces left. (Call Pam Christman at 800-879-9832 to participate).
If you see a lionfish, or any other non-native fish, please be sure to report your sightings to the REEF website.
In addition to using your sightings to direct research and rapid response on non-native species in coastal areas, REEF provides data to our partners at the US Geological Survey (USGS). REEF recently contributed a significant number of records to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. These records included information submitted by volunteers through the REEF Exotic Species Sighting Program, and included 311 records of lionfish sightings from approximately 160 sites along the US East Coast, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as information on 29 other fish species from 54 locations (mostly in South Florida). Approximately half of the species were new records for the USGS NAS database. The lionfish data contributed to the generation of an on-line display of current lionfish distribution.
If you have questions about the lionfish or other non-native species, feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail. We are also looking for funding for these critically important programs and any ideas or contributions are welcome. Look for the AP coverage early next week!
Author: Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science
REEF staff recently returned from the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where nearly 3,000 scientists, conservationists, and government officials met to compare notes, network and identify problems and solutions for the ocean's most delicate ecosystem. This is the keystone scientific meeting on coral reef science. REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, gave a talk on the science and management applications of the REEF database and presented a research poster on the same topic. REEF Director of Field Operations, Joe Cavanaugh, presented a research poster on the 5-year monitoring project of the Wellwood Restoration Project in the Florida Keys. Additionally, REEF data were included in several talks and research posters by other scientists, including an analyses of Conch Reef status and trends by Dr. Steve Gittings, an evaluation of fish resources in Biscayne Bay by Dr. Todd Kellison, and the effect artisanal fisheries in developing nations have on predatory fishes by Dr. Chris Stallings. The Lionfish invasion was also a hot topic and REEF collaborators from Simon Fraser University presented a research poster on the effect of lionfish on cleanerfish in the Bahamas. Dr. Brice Semmens presented results from the Grouper Moon Project and how results from this cutting edge research being conducted by REEF and our collaborators can be used to inform marine reserve planning and evaluation.
REEF also participated in the ICRS Education Center. REEF staff and interns hosted an exhibit booth, which was a great success in spreading the word about REEF and our important conservation programs. The Grouper Moon Project was featured in the Solutions portion of the "Our Reefs: Caribbean Connections" traveling exhibit and the Grouper Moon documentary film was shown in the Coral Theater. Participating in scientific conferences such as ICRS is an important part of REEF's overall strategy of linking the diving community with scientists and resource managers.
Author: Joe Cavanaugh, Director of Field Operations
In addition to attending the 11th ICRS, REEF also hosted one of the conference Field Trips. REEF and Horizon Divers hosted 14 participants from various locations around the world including Australia, Japan, Kenya, and several U.S. institutions. Dr. Jim Bohnsack, NOAA Research Fisheries Biologist and Science Advisor to the REEF Board of Trustees, gave a workshop presentation on applying REEF fish survey data towards Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary management decisions and Paul Humann, renowned marine life photographer and author, taught fish and invertebrate identification classes. Lad Akins, REEF Special Projects Director, gave an overview of REEF and our programs along with a detailed update on what he and REEF partners are working on with the Lionfish (Pterois volitans) invasion in Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. Participants also had the opportunity to conduct 6 REEF survey SCUBA dives out on our local reefs to get a sense of how Roving Diver survey data are collected.
The survey data our members collect fall into two general categories.The first is the Volunteer Survey Project category that includes all of our Field Surveys and individual members surveying efforts conducted while diving or snorkeling wherever they live or travel to on vacation. The second type of data collected by our surveyors are from our monitoring and research programs in partnership with NOAA sanctuaries, the National Park service, and regional NGO’s and other non-profits as well as various universities. It was this second category of data that our ICRS Field Trip focused on for classroom discussions. REEF data are used by resource managers include artificial reef monitoring, restoration site monitoring, marine protected area assessments, and invasive species collections and fish surveys to name a few. One message that ICRS brought home to all attendees is that now more than ever, there is a critical need for coral reef related research, including studies addressing fish assemblages. There is also a critical need for scientists and policy makers to communicate their research and conservation strategies to the general public, conveying the message about just how vulnerable coral reefs are to anthropogenic disturbances and their importance to our collective well being. REEF will continue our efforts to engage our membership in worthwhile conservation projects that address tropical and temperate fish assemblages.
Author: Audrey Smith, REEF HQ Volunteer
My husband and I recently joined 10 other REEF volunteers on a Field Survey to Akumal, Mexico. Akumal is located on the Mayan Riviera, quite near the Mayan ruins at Tulum, and about 60+ miles from Cancun, Mexico. Our time was filled with diving and conducting REEF surveys, fish identification seminars, exploring cenotes, and learning about sea turtle nesting research.
We stayed at Gran Bahia Principe Resorts, part of an international resort group, which is really 3 resorts in one and covers an enormous acreage on the ocean. The area was so large that one had to catch one of the resort’s trams to travel from one place to another. Sunny weather is the norm that time of year and we had no rain the entire week.
One of the interesting geographic features in this part of Mexico is the cenote, a type of sinkhole which connects to subterranean bodies of water and sometimes cave systems. The rainwater which fills the cenote is crystal-clear because it has been filtered through rock substrata and contains very little particulate matter. The REEF group had the opportunity to dive and snorkel several of these cenotes when ocean conditions turned too rough for dives on the reef, and it proved to be an amazing and unique experience! Since freshwater and salt water are both found in some cenotes, REEF divers surveyed some unusual fish, and experienced the sensation of diving through a halocline, a region below the surface of a body of water where there is a significant change in density due, in the case of cenotes, to increased salinity. Many of the divers described the experience of ascending from salt water into fresh as akin to a dream state. –“The fresh water was so clear, it was hard to believe I was still underwater!" Strange and unusual formations in the caves accentuated the dreamlike atmosphere. Illuminated only by divers’ lights, stalagmites, stalactites and columns stirred the imagination. Fish, bats and birds find a sanctuary in these caves.
Another unique element of Bahia Principe was a local environmental group, Eco-Bahia, whose members work with the resort to help preserve the stands of coral and other sealife found off the beaches. Eco Bahia’s representative, Diana Garcia Urrutia, explained to REEF members all the goals of their program, including the preservation of sea turtle nests. Many sea turtles, mostly Loggerheads and Hawksbills, return to Bahia Principe’s beaches each summer to dig their nests and deposit their eggs. Members of Eco Bahia along with community volunteers protect the turtles as they nest, then collect the eggs and rebury them in a safe, fenced environment just off the beach. When the baby turtles begin to dig out, Eco Bahia volunteers gather them up and bring in local school children who name each baby and send it safely out to sea with a kiss and a blessing. What an excellent way to assure that younger generations will have an emotional connection to the wildlife of their area!
The Akumal Field Survey was certainly a pleasurable and enlightening experience! To find out more about the REEF Field Survey Program and to book your space on a dive vacation that counts, visit the REEF Trips section of our webpage. To view photo albums from the Akumal Field Survey, click on these links: Akumal album 1, Akumal album 2, Akumal album 3, Akumal album 4. The Akumal Field Survey Data Summary is also available online.
Author: Lisa Mitchell, REEF Executive Director
As Audrey reported in the previous article, REEF Field Surveys are more than just your average dive vacation. Not only are you joined by like-minded divers and led by dynamic experts in marine life, but the trips often include opportunities to learn more about a local culture and even participate in conservation activities or research. We already have several great destinations lined up for 2009 and are finalizing several more trips for the calendar. These trips run the gambit from traditional Field Surveys with fish ID seminars straight through to scientific research projects and they are all located at some of the best dive destinations with some of the best resorts and dive operators. Visit the REEF Trips Schedule page for details. In addition, here is a sneak peak at two special projects that REEF staff and Board members will be offering in 2009.
First is a Lionfish Trip to the Turks and Caicos next Spring with REEF Director of Special Projects Lad Akins. A lot has been happening with this pivotal environmental situation, and REEF has been at the forefront, gathering data, coordinating research and educating the public on the issues. We hope all of you saw the NBC Nightly News segment featuring the important work that is being done by REEF on the invasion of Indo-Pacific Lionfish in Atlantic waters. The REEF Lionfish Trip will have participants working as part of a team, to search for, collect and tag lionfish specimens, document abundance of native reef fish at lionfish sites, help collect samples of lionfish for dissection to determine prey and reproduction, and learn about invasive species issues. This is cutting edge research and your help is needed to aid in gathering information to learn more about the problem and to work towards finding a solution.
Next, how about a Shark Diving Week with our very own REEF Board of Trustees Member, Director of Biological Programs for the National Aquarium and now the Discovery Channel Shark Week Consultant, Andy Dehart? Andy is becoming quite well known for his expertise and passion for sharks and our REEF Shark Week will certainly be a trip that fills quickly. Destination and program details coming soon so stay tuned.
So, the REEF Travel Tip for this month is - start planing now! The 2009 REEF Trips will fill up quickly and once they are filled that ship has sailed. By booking early and planning ahead you will be able to participate in exactly which REEF Trip you want for 2009 and take a Dive Vacation that Counts! REEF’s partnership with Caradonna allows you the ability to book your airfare at the same time you book your trip for (as we like to call it) one-stoplight-parrotfish shopping.
Please check out the REEF Trips section of our website for details. And keep checking back as we will have the rest of the trips up in the next couple of weeks with more details on all of our 2009 REEF Trips being posted.
Call 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com for trip availability and information – some trips are already starting to fill up. Don’t let the 2009 REEF Trip Ship sail without you!!!
Author: Steph Roach, Marine Conservation Intern
It is hard to believe that I am already more than half way through my Marine Conservation Internship. The past two months have been full of exciting events that have really inspired me to continue on in the world of marine conservation and biology. After settling into the REEF office for just a few days, the REEF staff had me out and about, getting involved with the community. For a week in mid-June I assisted with Paul Humann’s “Discovery Tour,” diving along side an energetic and enthusiastic group of divers who were learning fish identification and practicing surveying techniques. I was also able to sit in on the Non-Native Marine Fish Introductions of South Florida Technical Workshop, which helped introduce me to the growing problem of Lionfish and the efforts that REEF, along with other organizations, puts forth into researching this growing problem.
July has been just as busy, starting with the International Coral Reef Symposium from July 7-11. This conference happens only once every four years, and fortunately for me, was held in Ft. Lauderdale this year. I had never had the opportunity to attend a scientific conference like this before, but was a great experience due to the many presentations and massive amounts of information I was exposed to each day. It really helped to open my eyes to the different fields of research available. Following the symposium, I was able to participate in the REEF Field Trip associated with ICRS in Key Largo.
I have also been able to work with the Education and Outreach program during my time with REEF. As part of REEF’s Great Annual Fish Count, I participated in a Fish ID Seminar at Biscayne National Park. I also spoke to volunteers at the Dolphin Research Center about REEF and its programs while visiting the facility and learning about the center in June. After hearing many great stories about the infamous Seacamp from Lisa, I spent my first night on Big Pine Key just last week where Lisa and I were the Science Night speakers for a group of campers. The enthusiasm in the room from the kids was off the charts and great to see.
One last highlight of my time with REEF thus far was being able to meet with George Wozencraft, the Internship Coordinator for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society that sponsors my Marine Conservation Internship with REEF. I was able to dive with George one afternoon and discuss my internship and many of the opportunities I have had so far. I am looking forward to the upcoming weeks I have left with the REEF staff, and of course, getting out in the water to conduct more fish surveys!
Author: Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science
The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter, ran aground in 1984 on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. Eighteen years after the grounding, the area resembled nearby hard ground habitat with little structure and the benthic community was dominated by gorgonians. Natural recovery to a state similar to the pre-grounding condition failed to occur within a reasonable time frame and therefore, habitat restoration was initiated in May 2002. In the Fall of 2007, REEF completed a five-year monitoring project on the fish assemblages at the Wellwood grounding site and two nearby reference areas. A Summary Report, which summarizes the results of the monitoring effort, has been completed and is available for download from the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage.
Baseline surveys were conducted just prior to and immediately following restoration, quarterly monitoring took place through Year 1 and semi-annual monitoring in Years 2 through 5. The primary goals of this project were to aid in the assessment of restoration efforts and provide a benchmark for long-term evaluation of the fish communities at the grounding site. Teams of REEF Advanced Assessment Team divers conducted 558 roving fish surveys and 559 belt transect surveys during the five year monitoring project.
After initial colonization, Restoration site fish assemblage diversity, density and biomass have leveled off and remain lower than that at nearby reference areas. A total of 165 fish species were recorded at the Restoration Site during the 5-year project. In comparison, 189 were documented at the North Reference site and 207 were documented at the South Reference Site. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding quickest to the restoration efforts, with densities and biomass values similar to that of the reference sites. Grunt and snapper species are primarily absent from the Restoration Site. The relatively short duration of this study makes it difficult for results to be teased out from natural population variability. Similarly, definitive conclusions cannot be achieved from these data due to the limited amount of time that has passed since restoration and the well-known decadal processes that are required for coral reef development. However, these data will serve as a critical baseline for assessing future changes and the effect of any future restoration efforts at the site.
For more information about the 5-year project and to read the full report, visit the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage. There was also a longer story about the project in the January 2008 REEF-in-Brief.
Author: REEF Staff
- One female space just opened up on the upcoming Baja Mexico Field Survey aboard the Don Jose Liveaboard. This trip has been sold out for a while and we don't expect the space to last long. The trip begins and ends in La Paz and runs October 5-12. Check out the trip flyer to find out more. Contact Jeanne from Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 or email@example.com.
- Get your limited edition "It's All About the Fish" t-shirt today. Available in 4 tropical colors. Order yours today from the REEF Store. Also available from the REEF Store is the brand new 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification field guide by Paul Humann. This book covers species found from California to Alaska and the new edition includes more than 30 new species and over 70 new photographs. Click here to order your copy.