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.
Would you like to help spread the word about REEF to your dive club, dive shop, local nature center, etc.? We now have a presentation about the REEF Volunteer Survey program in your area, complete with speaker notes. It takes about 30-45 minutes, and goes over how simple it is to conduct a survey, and how to get started. PERFECT for groups wanting to get involved with REEF but weren't quite sure how to go about it! Let us know if you'd be interested in showing it to your group - email email@example.com
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature the Eugene Dive Club, an active club in Oregon with over 100 members. The club serves as the go-to arm of the official REEF Field Station at Eugene Skin Divers Supply. The club's involvement was spearheaded by two active northwest REEF surveyors and Eugene locals, Christine and Jim Pendergrass. Chris and Jim took the PADI Habitat class through Eugene Skin Divers Supply, which fed them into the volunteer dive program at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. That sparked their interest in fish ID and led them to REEF. Since then, Jim and Chris have been teaching REEF fish and invertebrate ID classes, sponsoring monthly REEF dives along the Oregon coast, and helping with REEF’s online training webinars. They have also created a fun ID game called ‘Cash Boat’, a fish/invert ID contest modeled after TV’s ‘Cash Cab’. Their efforts have paid off, and we have seen an increase in Oregon divers involved in the REEF survey program. They are now planning to expand their REEF class schedule, planning more REEF Blitz Weekends, and continuing to introduce folks from other dive clubs to the wonders of Oregon diving and critterwatching. When asked about what they like best about being involved with REEF, Jim and Chris say "It’s a great way to learn more about the marine environment and meet like-minded people. And you get to share exciting underwater finds, like the Monkeyface Prickleback!" Thanks to Jim, Chris, and the folks at the Eugene Skin Divers Supply for helping invigorate the REEF program in Oregon.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our featured Field Station this month, Paradise Watersports, is based at Peter Island Resort and Spa in the British Virgin Islands. Their team is led by Randy Keil, an active REEF surveyor and member of the Advanced Assessment Team. Randy was first introduced to REEF over 10 years ago by Lad Akins. Since then, he has built a great program at Paradise Watersports. All of their instructors dive with slates and pencils, and fish and creature identification is done on every dive. Randy notes that “it has been our experience that our divers and snorkelers enjoy the experience of looking at marine life and immediately having it identified. It also gives them a basis on which we can talk about the dive when we’re back on the boat. Instead of ‘what was that big fish with all the colors?’ we get ‘now you called that fish a grasby, I thought it was a grouper?’ It serves as a springboard for discussion and an understanding of the relationships of the reef community.”
Paradise Watersports is also involved in helping track the invasive lionfish. Randy sees this as just one advantage of having the REEF survey program in place locally. With over 1500 surveys in the BVI and over 100,000 in the Caribbean region, the REEF database is a valuable tool in tracking the lionfish invasion and better understanding the impact the lionfish is having on the various areas. In the BVI, the dive operators, including Paradise Watersports, are making a determined effort to keep lionfish off of the moored reefs. Conservation and Fisheries has issued exemptions to the strict no spearfishing laws that allow each dive operation and several of the crewed charterboats to take lionfish. Thanks to Randy and his crew at Paradise Watersports for all you do to support REEF's programs!
'Changing Seas', an Emmy award-winning original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, premiered their newest episode, "Grouper Moon", earlier this month. The episode is now available to view online here. The episode focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project last winter, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish.
REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for the species in the Cayman Islands. 2013 was a very exiting year - we continued to document increases in the number of fish at the site and there were many "teenagers" (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time). The number of spawning bursts and the number of nights spawning occured has increased. Watch this short video to see the action. We continued our education efforts. With support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we were able to expand the program to more classrooms at Cayman Prep and High School on Grand Cayman and initiated the program at Spot Bay Primary School on Cayman Brac. The Grouper Education Project introduces children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau Grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum has been developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. Seattle-based educator, Todd Bohannon, leads up this effort.
To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, watch the Changing Seas episode online here.
To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.
Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2013, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Pegasus Thrusters supported the project in 2013 through the donation of Diver Propulsion Vehicles. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.
REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project. Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program - http://www.reef.org/member/aat.htm. Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff. To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here - http://www.reef.org/member/experience.htm.
Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments. The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework. In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.
The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002. Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef. Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented. The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites. Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.
I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks. In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight! Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.
Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled). Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year. Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA. It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854. We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event. You will hear more about this project in the coming months.
Hope to see you in the water soon.
On October 31, while many of you donned witch's hats and goofy masks, the REEF team suited up in Diving That Counts! t-shirts and made the annual pilgrimage to DEMA Show 2007, the largest dive industry trade show. DEMA was again held in Orlando, Florida, allowing local volunteers Mike Phelan, Tom Isgar, Dave Grenda, Lillian Kenney, and Nancy Eickelmann to generously donate their time in helping at the REEF booth. Fall interns Catherine Whitaker and Lauren Finan were rock stars as REEF ambassadors at the show by promoting the Volunteer Survey Project among attendees, helping recruit new Field Stations and selling REEF merchandise. Many thanks to Tom Isgar for donating four marine life prints to a daily raffle at the REEF booth.
One notable difference at DEMA this year was the undercurrent of environmental awareness among both exhibitors and attendees. REEF Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, co-led a workshop on using eco-activities (like the REEF Volunteer Survey Project) to increase diver acquisition with Project AWARE Director Jenny Miller-Garmendia. More than 12 organizations - non-profit, government, small business - have formed an alliance to serve as a resource for eco-activities and environmental education to the dive industry. We were honored to meet with White House representative, Gerhard Kuska, DEMA President, Tom Ingram and others with an interest in seeing this "Blue Diver Alliance" grow into active partnerships with the dive industry.
From the dive industry's perspective, the environment sells. Recent market research shows that the target dive consumer is the baby-boomer, for whom the environment is an important factor in their consumption decisions, including whether and where to go diving. Many exhibitor-sponsored seminars focused on practical strategies for marketing to the eco-conscious customer; one even demonstrated ways that a dive shop might "green" itself by, for example, using bio-diesel in its boats or installing energy efficient appliances. REEF continues to work with dive industry members in promoting the Volunteer Survey Project as a way to recruit and retain divers while helping collect important underwater information to help preserve the marine life that divers want to see. REEF survey materials like Starter Kits and the new home study DVD course (read the press release here) and the Field Station program (visit www.REEF.org for more info) are tools REEF uses to provide incentives to dive shops and other industry members to get involved with REEF.
REEF is excited to be working closely with the dive industry as DEMA launches its new "Be A Diver" campaign (January, 2008). We look forward to welcoming a new wave of environmentally engaged divers and training them to better understand and preserve marine life.
REEF had the opportunity to attend the 54th Annual Underwater Clinic of Boston Sea Rovers, March 8-9th in Boston, MA. The Boston Sea Rovers has sponsored the “Longest Continuously Running Dive Show in the World.” Each annual clinic attracts as speakers, educators, explorers, scientists, divers and underwater photographers. The purpose of the lectures is to help Sea Rovers achieve the club mission “to educate the general public about the underwater world.” Since 1954, Sea Rovers has held an annual clinic in Boston for the purpose of raising the level of knowledge of the underwater world. Early members of the club invented the first underwater film show or clinic as it was known then and is still called such today. In addition to over 40 speakers this year and many booths at the show, there was the Saturday evening film event which is a must-see showcase of underwater photos and videos from renowned leaders in the field.
Past speakers at the annual clinic include myriad famous names such as Jacques Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, Robert Ballard, George Bond, Peter Gimbel, Stan Waterman, Brian Skerry, Bob Talbot, David Doubilet, and many others. Really, the Sea Rovers history mirrors that of SCUBA diving and the presenters have always been those same individuals who have been pioneers and innovators in diving, underwater science, marine conservation, underwater archaeology and discovery, and photography/videography. I think if I were to describe the Sea Rovers in one sentence, it would be this: If every dive site in the world had 10' viz, 30 degree water temps, 1 fish and one moonsnail to see, it took the entire dive to find said fish and moonsnail, and you had to wear 40lbs in dive weight, there would still be an avid group of SCUBA enthusiasts in the Boston Sea Rovers! The annual event is really the last major dive show in America run solely by volunteers and proceeds from the event are used for scholarships, internships, in support of other non-profit organizations such as SeaMark and the Cotting School for Handicapped Children, and to continue to promote the goals of Sea Rovers.To learn more about the Sea Rovers, please visit http://www.bostonsearovers.com/BSRpublic/library
I also spoke at the New England Aquarium as part of their Lowell Lecture Series and to the Aquarium Dive Club while visiting Boston. The general motivation behind sending this native New Englander back home was to foster new and old liaisons in capacity building in the region. Most people who attended my talks did not know that REEF conducts surveys or has a presence in New England. Part of our goal in participating in the Clinic was to promote REEF programs such as the Great Annual Fish Count; increase our number of regional Field Stations; develop partnerships for utilizing the data that we hope to begin collecting in earnest in the coming year; create a regional list serve for interested individuals to connect on REEF programs; and develop a strategic plan for the region. For our part, REEF is committed to creating a separate New England online data entry interface for our website in the coming month, revamping the NE fish ID curriculum, and hopefully adding invertebrates to this curriculum, developing a NE Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) program, then utilizing this AAT team for regional monitoring and ad hoc conservation efforts. Encouraging regional dive clubs to conduct surveys while on their winter trips in the Caribbean offers another way for NE members to get involved. Stay tuned for more news from our NE partnerships and look to see the New England online data entry up and running very soon. Ultimately, nurturing REEF's survey efforts in New England will benefit many stakeholders just as these survey data currently inform marine management decisions in our other survey regions.
There are a few people I would like to thank here for making this trip possible: Vickie Cataldo (NEAQ Lowell Lecture Coordinator) for her generous travel support to REEF; Dan Laughlin and Sarah Taylor at NEAQ; David Caldwell (Exhibitor/Coordinator of Sea Rovers); David Morton (President Sea Rovers); Bob Michelson for ongoing support of REEF; Terri Rioux (WHOI DSO); Al Bozza (NEAQ Dive Club); and especially Holly Bourbon Martel for arranging my Sea Rovers talk, co-presenting with me, and for taking on the role of Volunteer NE Regional Coordinator for REEF. Also, thanks to The New England Aquarium in Boston and the Coastal Dive Center in Hingham, MA our regional REEF Field Stations. Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester and Divers Market in Plymouth also have recently assisted REEF.
As part of REEF's continuing work on non-native species, particulary the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish, a multi-agency technical workshop was hosted by REEF, NOAA and the USGS to develop early detection and rapid response plans for Southeast Florida. Over 20 different state, federal and organizational offices were represented at the 2-day workshop, which was held June 18th and 19th in Marathon, Florida. Breakout seesions addressing early warning and notification, jursidictions and permitting, and rapid response led to a coordinated response plan outlining detection and response efforts from intitial sighting through removal and final reporting.
The workshop featured presentations by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Scott Hardin, REEF's Lad Akins, the USGS's Pam Fuller and NOAA's James Morris. In addition, REEF partners from Bermuda (Chris Flook), the Bahamas (Nicola Smith), Canada (Stephanie Green) and the National Aquarium in Washington DC (Andrew Pulver) provided critical examples of their work addressing the lionfish invasion.
While lionfish are yet to be confirmed in the Southeast Florida region south of Miami, it is believed their arrival is eminent. Plans developed as part of this workshop will be critical in helping minimize impacts of this invasive species as well as helping to prevent the establishment of other non-ative fish and invertebrates in Southeast waters. The program, once groundtruthed, will provide an Early Detection/Rapid Response model for other areas of the US and Caribbean. Funding for the workshop was provided by REEF, the Mote Protect Our Reefs fund, NOAA's Aquatic Invasive Species Program, the USGS, NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System, and the Gulf and Atlantic States Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species.
Special thanks is due to USGS's Pam Schofield and NOAA's Tom Culliton for their work in organizing and conducting the workshop.
To report sightings of any non-native species, go to www.reef.org/programs/exotic or call (305) 852-0030.