The first Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event was held in 1992 at Anacapa Island, California, with fifty participants. Dr. Gary Davis from the Channel Islands National Park came up with the idea as way to engage park visitors. REEF took over the coordination of the event in 1997 when the REEF Fish Survey Project expanded to the US West Coast. The event was initially called the Great American Fish Count, but the name was changed in 2002 to reflect the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia. During it's 19th year (2010), the GAFC continues strong, including several events held along the west coast.
On July 11, The Dive Club of Silicon Valley's annual GAFC event was held at Lover's Point in Pacific Grove, CA, organized by Kari Larson and Mike Davis. The day started as most summer days in the Pacific Grove - foggy and cool. About 40 divers participated, with a nice mix of new and experienced REEF surveyors. As dive teams came out of the water they commented on the abundance of fish this year at Lover's. Experienced REEF divers, Keith Rootsaert and Alex Matsumoto were on hand to help answer questions about critter ID and the survey method. Exciting finds included crevice kelpfish, a gaggle of reef surfperch, a couple large tubesnout laying/eating eggs on a piece of kelp, and a rare sighting of a Giant Pacific Octopus. Following the dive, the club hosted a BBQ to feed all the hungry divers and their families.
The SeaDoc Society and Naknek Dive Charters teamed up for a great GAFC event in the San Juan Islands in Washington on July 16. The day began with a free REEF fish and invertebrate identification class presented by Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society. Folks learned how to identify common species and how to conduct a REEF survey. In the afternoon, Peggy and Kurt Long of Naknek Charters, hosted a survey dive near Friday Harbor. The surveyors found Tiger Rockfish, schools of Pacific Sandlance, Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers, and many more astounding sea creatures.
On July 17th, Maui celebrated its tenth year as part of the the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) with a great event at the Honolua Bay Marine Life Conservation District. As part of the event, several community groups combined to hold a REEF fish count, reef and shoreline clean-up, coral disease survey, and water quality testing. Long-time REEF partners, Donna Brown and Liz Foote, conducted a fish identification class at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary the week before, and the Sanctuary furnished a van and organized a car pool to travel to the remote location. Trilogy Excursions donated a 64 foot sailing catamaran and crew to carry volunteers into the bay, and later invited the shore-based fish counters aboard for a free lunch. REEF surveyors saw and photographed over 70 fish species, including sea horses, oriental helmet gurnard, spotted eagle ray, and a cute baby frogfish. The GAFC is one of the monthly events hosted by the Maui-based Fish Identification Network (FIN). Visitors and new comers are welcome to attend monthly fish counts by contacting: Maui.FIN@gmail.com
Thirty miles offshore, in 100 feet of water, the Spike isn’t the most accessible dive site off North Florida’s coast but July 17th marked the first anniversary of the former Coast Guard tender’s deployment as an artificial reef so we were eager to see what had changed over the past year. The Spike had only been down 10 days when we surveyed it during last year’s Great Annual Fish Count. We weren’t expecting much then – the chance to dive a freshly minted reef was the main attraction, but it was interesting that it had already attracted a small crowd of nervous bottom fish, including the usual Black Sea Bass and Vermillion Snappers.
It was a very different site one year later. A large school of nosy barracudas followed the first diver down the line, clearing the way for hundreds of Atlantic Spadefish to move in and escort the rest of our group down. The Spike was surrounded by silversides that fled en masse as we moved through them, then streaked back to the structure for protection when gangs of Great Amberjack attacked. It’s difficult to describe the sound made by thousands of fleeing fish, but they are noisy. The superstructure is now covered with invertebrates – barnacles, tunicates, sponges, and anemones – that provide shelter and food for hundreds of tiny seaweed blennies. Jacksonville’s ubiquitous grunt, the Tomtate, was there in every phase from juvenile to adult. The Black Sea Bass and Vermillion snappers are now settled in under the bow with a group of small Red Snappers and waddling around in the sand was one of my favorites, a Polka-dot batfish! A year ago, I counted 6 species of fish. This year I counted 16 species.
Our group also dived the Gator Bowl Press Boxes, an artificial reef created years ago when the city’s stadium was renovated. Although it had about the same amount of biomass as the Spike, there were more species. One of the joys of offshore Jacksonville for fishwatchers is getting to see species like Dwarf Goatfish, Longspine Porgys, Bank Sea Bass and Oyster Toadfish that we see don’t tend to see in more tropical waters. Congratulations to Richard Salkin and T.C. Howe, who conducted their first REEF surveys.
For the ninth year in a row, New England's SCUBA-diving community hosted the largest single-day Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event. On July 24, 2010, a stunning 104 divers conducted 114 fish surveys at 13 locations around Cape Ann and southern Maine. After conducting their surveys, divers gathered at Stage Fort Park in Glouster, MA, for fun, food, and prizes (over $8,000 in prizes were donated for the event). The event was coordinated by active REEF volunteers, Holly Martel Bourbon and Bob Michelson, and was sponsored by the New England Aquarium Dive Club. With support from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, REEF expanded the Fish Survey Project to the Northeast in 2001 and participation has been slowly growing ever since. We are currently working to increase the frequency that divers conduct surveys, taking it beyond the one-day GAFC event. Regional survey and training materials are currently being revised, and a companion invertebrate monitoring program for the area is also now in development.
REEF recently completed a Field Survey trip to Roatan, Honduras, led by REEF co-founder, Paul Humann. Over six days, the group completed 17 survey dives including one night dive. Both novice and highly experienced REEF surveyors enjoyed the near perfect weather and dive conditions. Shortfin pipehorses, wrasse blennies, linesnout gobies, peppermint basslets, orangesided gobies, dash gobies, and blue dartfish are a sample of the cryptic fishes that were observed. Spotted Eagle Rays and Southern Stingrays graced us with their presence on a number of dives.
The group stayed on the east end of the island at Turquoise Bay Resort and dove with Subway Scuba. The highpoint of the trip was the Aguila Wreck and surrounding reef where there were numerous species of large grouper and snapper. There was a dog snapper displaying body bars similar to those sometimes on Cubera Snappers and Schoolmasters. Also, there was a Yellowmouth Grouper with an unusual pattern of dense brown dots covering the body. Paul remarked that he had never seen either species with these unusual markings.
A not so welcome sighting was the invasive red lionfish; one or more were sighted on nearly every dive. Alecia Adamson, REEF’s new Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator, collected 15 lionfish over the course of the week ranging in size from 2 to 14 inches. The local divemasters were also collecting lionfish but were not aware that lionfish filets are delectable. Alecia gave them a demonstration on how to safely filet lionfish. Now the dive staff captures lionfish for both control and culinary purposes!
Congratulations to those who attained a higher surveyor experience level during the week - Bobbi Kerridge and Peter Rae are now Level 3 surveyors and Pat Lommel is a new Level 5 Expert surveyor!
Field Surveys are a great way to take a dive vacation that counts! If you would like to join in one of our future Field Surveys, there are a few spots available for the upcoming trips to Cozumel, Key Largo, Bonaire, and Grand Cayman. Please visit the Field Survey Trip Schedule online to find more information.
As the lionfish invasion progresses throughout the Western Atlantic region, marine resource managers are struggling with lionfish control in protected areas. In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Sanctuary managers have come up with a special permit process to allow removal of lionfish within the Sanctuary Preservation Areas (no-take zones). A critical part of the permit process is participation in a training and handling workshop conducted by REEF. To date, over 15 workshops have been held in the Keys and over 230 on the water professionals have been trained and permitted. Of course the permit is only half the issue, the second half is getting the fish! In an effort to encourage and facilitate removals of lionfish, REEF recently provided dive operators who have been through the permitting workshops and are actively reporting or removing lionfish with a complete set of lionfish collecting gear at no cost. The kits, normally retailing for $138.00 and available through REEF's online store, each contain a pair of puncture resistant gloves, two vinyl collecting nets, and a clear dry bag used as a collection bag. The donation of the collecting kits to 27 dive operators throughout the Keys was facilitated through REEF, NOAA’s Aquatic Invasive Species program, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and a generous contribution by an upper Florida Keys resident.
REEF has also worked with local dive operators and conservation groups to establish 13 lionfish collection banks in the Keys. These locations have been equipped with storage supplies, including bags, labels, markers, etc., and promoted as drop-off locations for lionfish collected by the public. The lionfish at each location will be picked up on a regular basis and shipped from REEF to researchers at the NOAA lab in North Carolina and researchers at the USGS. Key research questions including predation, genetics, age and growth rates, among others will be addressed through acquisition of these samples. For a listing of lionfish collection banks in the Keys, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish and follow the links.
In April 2009, REEF started a monthly seminar series to give back to the community that has housed and supported REEF since our inception. REEF Fish & Friends gathers snorkelers, divers, and armchair naturalists at REEF HQ in Key Largo to learn more about fish and have some fun. The July seminar for REEF, Fish & Friends was all about the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). Lad Akins, REEF Director of Operations, presented a brief overview of the event and its’ 18 year history.His enthusiasm and humor encouraged participants to get involved in the annual event with the hope they will continue to conduct fish surveys and contribute to REEF’s database year-round. The How, When, and Where of conducting a survey was explained and the materials needed were shown.
Several of the people attending the seminar brought in Lionfish along with the data regarding their capture. Lad briefly updated the audience on the status of the Lionfish in the Florida Keys and thanked the local dive community for their ongoing efforts in controlling this invasive species. Zach Bamman, REEF’s summer intern, offered to dissect one of the freshly caught Lionfish and this generated a lot of interest. He is a Senior at the University of Central Florida, majoring in Environmental Sciences.
The August REEF Fish & Friends will feature Lauri MacLaughlin from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Her presentation entitled “SPAWN-TANEOUS Corals Catch the Corals in The Act" , will document the annual spawning event over the last 14 years through lecture and video presentation. This is big summer event and Lauri will educate divers prior to their night dive so they will fully appreciate what they are about to see.
REEF Fish & Friends is held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation, and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar.
Nassau Grouper Shirts Back in the Online Store - After selling out, "Grumpy" shirts are now back in stock in the REEF online store. These short and long-sleeve shirts features the face of a Nassau Grouper. "Grumpy" is the artwork of Rogest, who created the piece to celebrate REEF's Grouper Moon Project and our work to conserve this Caribbean icon. The shirts feature the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". Get yours today, they won't last long.
New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club in Jamaica to our growing list of Field Stations. They join the almost 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.
Did You Know -- REEF Online Data Entry Available in All Regions - REEF surveyors in ALL regions can now submit their data online. We greatly encourage everyone to enter their surveys online rather than use the paper scanforms, if possible. And remember -- if you conduct a survey at a site that is not yet in REEF's Zone Code database, send us an email (email@example.com) with the site name and latitude/longitude of the site and we will create the code for you. The 8-digit zone code must be in the system before you can enter data from the site.
Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook - The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!