Researchers and volunteers from REEF, along with staff from the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, have just wrapped up another year of study on Nassau grouper spawning as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Our work this year focused on the spawning aggregation in Little Cayman, which is the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. Highlights from this year’s work include:
- REEF launched the Baby Grouper Adrift! webpage, which shows the results of state-of-the-art satellite drifter research being conducted. Working with scientists from Oregon State University, the Adrift project aims to better understand where Nassau grouper larvae end up after being spawned. Webpage visitors can follow the current drifters in real time as they complete a 45-day ocean journey (the amount of time Nassau grouper larvae spend floating in the currents), and even take a guess where the drifters will end up. Visit the webpage at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift
- In addition to copious amounts of Nassau grouper spawning documented in both January and February, several hundred tiger grouper were seen spawning over multiple evenings in February. Watch this video to see the tigers spawning! http://www.REEF.org/reef_files/REEF2011TigerGrouperSpawning.mov
Here's video of the Nassau grouper -- http://www.reef.org/reef_files/REEF2011NassauGrouperSpawning.mov
- World-famous marine life artist and conservationist, Guy Harvey, accompanied the Grouper Moon team this year to film a documentary on the project.
- The current Our World Underwater scholar, Josh Stewart, joined the project to help document our research. Josh will be working with REEF over the next several months to develop outreach materials that educate the public on the importance of spawning aggregations. To read more about Josh’s year as an OWU scholar, check out his blog – http://owussnorthamerica.org/
- Wayne Sullivan once again donated his time and his vessel, the Glen Ellen, along with her crew, to support tech diving operations. This year, they helped answer many unknowns at the Little Cayman site, including how deep the Nassau grouper are found during the day and during spawning (at least 150 feet), and whether the fish spawn after dark (yes!).
2011 is a critical year for the Nassau grouper of the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban on fishing at spawning aggregations is due to expire this year. Sometime in early spring, members of the Cayman Islands Marine Conservation Board and the CI Government will be deciding what, if any, protections will be enacted to replace the expiring ban. Based on research findings generated over the last 9 years, we know that Nassau grouper only reproduce during their spawning season (winter months around the full moons). The research has also shown that prohibiting fishing during the spawning season has resulted in higher numbers of this endangered species in Cayman waters, benefiting everyone, including future generations of Caymanians, divers and snorkelers, and fishermen. A healthy population of Nassau Grouper is also critical for healthy and productive coral reefs. The government is seeking input on extending protections. To provide feedback, send a letter to: Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Director, Department of the Environment, Cayman Islands Government, PO Box 486, Grand Cayman KY1-1106, Cayman Islands, Gina.Ebanks-Petrie@gov.ky
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. Visit our supporters page to see the full list.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Sally Davies (REEF member since 2004) and her sister Helen Davies (REEF member since 2006). Collectively they have conducted 100 surveys, and both participated in the recent inaugural South Pacific REEF Trip (more on that next month!). Here's what Helen had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
Sally was first introduced to REEF by a colleague of hers, Neil Ericsson. The combination of science and nature combined with a desire to contribute something of value made REEF an excellent fit. Sally took her first REEF trip to Bonaire in 2004. It was a true whirlwind trip since hurricane Ivan blasted through, taking with it the dive dock at Buddy Dive. After her first trip with REEF, Sally was “hooked” and she started lobbying me (Helen) to learn SCUBA diving. Her persistence paid off and in 2006 I took my first REEF trip to Belize.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
I think the most memorable moment for me was on a trip to St. Vincent diving with Bill Tewes. We were in about 20 ft of water and off in the distance I could see something dark near the sand. It was a group of about 7 flying gurnards digging through the sand with their pectoral fins, it was like something out of a science fiction movie, I’ll never forget it.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
When I started surveying I was a new scuba diver still learning how to dive so learning both diving and underwater surveying took some time. However, once I learned how to ID the fish and see my data on-line, I began to get excited about adding to a much larger mission. REEF survey data are used by scientists and others all over the world to help better understand our planet. Pretty cool! It's great being part of an organization of conservation minded folks who are keenly interested in our oceans. My favorite fish is the secretary blenny in those blenny condos! The cirri get me every time!!
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?
My local San Francisco dive shop is Bamboo Reef. They’ve been in business for 50 years and Sal Zimitti who started the business is still diving in California waters. They are incredibly professional and knowledgeable and fun!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Take a point and shoot camera, it will really help you learn the fish. Also, keep working at it, the surveying gets much easier with practice.
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 and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, to study this amazing natural phenomenon and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. It was a very exiting year - we documented significantly higher numbers of fish at the site than in previous years (we are estimating that the aggregation has surpassed 4,000 fish), there were a lot of small fish this year (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time), and there are hundreds of juvenile (young-of-the-year) Nassaus throughout the shallow habitats around Little Cayman (a result of 2011 spawning). Also this year, with support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we initiated an education program to introduce local children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum is being 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. We are working with educator, Todd Bohannon, and piloting this program with Cayman Prep school on Grand Cayman.
Other highlights from Grouper Moon 2012:
- To raise awareness about the importance of spawning aggregations and the iconic Nassau grouper, we hosted documentary crews and underwater photographers to help capture the magical scenes of spawning and document our research. Dr. Guy Harvey, famed marine artist, is putting the finishing touches on "Mystery of the Grouper Moon", an hour-long show that will air later this year. A crew from the PBS series "Changing Seas" is producing an episode about the conservation impacts of our research. Paul Humann, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, was on hand to document REEF's work in this important project. And Jim Hellemn brought his custom camera rig to generate wide-angle panorama images of the aggregation. These will be used to "immerse" the viewer into the aggregation at public displays.
- On spawning nights, samples of fertilized eggs were collected to use in future genetic work, to better understand spawning patterns and inter-conectedness between Nassau grouper populations throughout the Caribbean.
- Cynthia Shaw, author of the book "Grouper Moon", joined the REEF team both in the field and in the classroom this year. As a scientific illustrator, Cindy lent her expertise to helping document the details of juvenile Nassau gropuer habitat and led our Cayman Prep classrooms in drawning Nassau grouper. Cindy's book is now available in the REEF online store here.
- Research findings from the project, describing the timing and behavior of color phases on spawning in Nassau grouper, was published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Current Zoology. You can read this paper online here.
- A short compilation of underwater footage from the spawning aggregation is posted on YouTube here.
This year's effort came on the heals of the 11th hour extension of protections for the spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban that prohibits fishing at the aggregation sites during the reproductive season, originally implemented in 2003, was extended for eight more years in December 2011. The extension, enacted by the Marine Conservation Board, was in response to recommendations made by the CIDOE based on research findings of the Grouper Moon Project, showing that full protections during spawning season are critical to the long-term survival of this iconic species in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Ministry may soon review a package of more thorough legislation that would enact seasonal closures for Nassau grouper during reproductive time (rather than only protecting the few spots on the map of known spawning sites).
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. 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.
A new paper was just published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation documenting a key monitoring technique established by scientists from REEF and our Grouper Moon collaborators. The paper, "Documenting recovery of a spawning aggregation through size frequency analysis from underwater laser calipers measurements", describes a technique to monitor changes in fish size on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation through time that does not require the capture and handling of fish. Analysis of seven years of data show that length-distribution data can be collected by divers using a video-based system with parallel lasers calibrated to a specific distance apart. This novel technique is one of just several being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. View the paper online here. Find out more about our work on endangered Nassau Grouper by visiting the Grouper Moon Project webpage.
Over 100 REEF Sustainers, marine conservationists, scientists, and prominent figures in the diving industry gathered in South Florida earlier this month to commemorate REEF's successes at the biennial REEF Sustainers Event. REEF Sustainers are donors who contribute at least $1,000 a year to support REEF's programs. REEF Board of Trustees and Staff welcomed our Sustainers and other invited guests to Mango Manor, the home of esteemed underwater photographer and REEF President, Paul Humann, for a day of presentations and camaraderie. It was an honor to have so many of our donors as well as leaders from the scientific and diving communities show support for REEF’s ocean conservation projects. Their support is critical and provides the resources to continue running REEF’s key programs: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, Invasive Lionfish Program, and the Grouper Moon Project. If you would like to join REEF as a Sustainer, please contact Martha Klitzkie at martha@REEF.org or 305-852-0030. You can also make your donation through our secure online contribution portal. A special thanks to the event's sponsors and auction donors: Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, Rogest, Caradonna Dive Adventures, Carrow Foundation, Herdeg, du Pont & Dalle Pazze, LLP, New World Publications, and Cheeko Douglas.
Every year, more than 10,000 dive professionals from around the world attend DEMA, the flagship event of its namesake, the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association. This year, DEMA will be held October 31-November 3 in Orlando, Florida. REEF is proud to host a booth and present three environmental seminars on how dive operators can promote "fish watching" and the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project to recruit and retain their dive customers. Our audience includes dive shop owners, industry reps, instructors, underwater photographers, destination and travel companies, dive magazines and many other members of the international dive community who will convene to share best practices and learn about new products coming on the market.
Recognizing the important role of the dive community in marine conservation, an increasing number of environmental organizations will attend DEMA as well. Partners including The Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, and Project AWARE Foundation will also reach out to divers to enlist their support for important conservation issues. REEF will take this four-day opportunity to raise awareness about the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, recruit new Field Stations, connect with key partners and raise the profile of REEF programs as a way for the dive industry to give back to the underwater environment. We will also be launching a home-study DVD course for beginning fish watchers; stay tuned to REEF in Brief for more information.
REEF is looking for a few good volunteers to help at our DEMA booth this year. Since DEMA is only open to dive professionals, this is a great way to get in to see the show. If you can help out for a few hours each of the show, please contact REEF office manager Kim Sovia-Crandon to join the REEF DEMA 2007 team: Kim@reef.org or (305) 852-0030. For more information on DEMA Show 2007, please visit www.demashow.com .
Are you a REEF surveyor along the US and Canadian West coast or Hawaii? If so, did you know that you can now enter your data ONLINE! No more scanforms (unless you really want to use them - they'll still work – although note that there will be a fee to purchase scanforms beginning in 2008). No more scrounging around to find a pencil. No more stamps and trips to the post office. All you need to do is click on Submit Data Online under the Database menu and you're on your way. Entering data online is not only easy for you, it greatly eases the workload on the limited REEF staff, enhances the quality of the data and reduces typographical errors, and most importantly, it greatly decreases the processing time from 8 weeks or more for paper scanforms to typically within 2 weeks from the time of online submission.
REEF plans to add the Northeast (Virginia through Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja Mexico to the Galapagos Islands) regions to the online submission program over the next few months in order for all of our program regions to be covered by this convenient data management feature.
REEF is happy to announce our new partnership with Caradonna Dive Adventures as our travel provider, beginning with our 2009 Field Survey Season. As many of you already know, Caradonna brings years of dive travel acumen and great vendor partnerships, both of which will undoubtedly assist REEF in making our Field Survey Program once again our signature Citizen Science program.
After all, it is each of you that make all that REEF does in and out of the water possible. We are closing in on 120,000 Fish Surveys in our world-renowned fish sightings database. Christy Semmens (REEF Director of Science) and I individually review all of the 1,000 plus surveys entered into the database every month. We know all of you by name but it is only on our Field Programs that REEF Staff and Board members have the opportunity to put the names to the faces and share the fish surveying exhilaration with you.
Many of you who use dive travel services have probably used Caradonna in the past and know how good they are at setting up exhilarating dive trips. With Caradonna, you'll almost have a third dive buddy right there with you, wherever you might be! We are previewing our 2009 Season (below) and will be posting additional details and more trips to the website in the coming weeks. Doris Pfister at Caradonna will serve as our REEF liaison. Doris and I have worked hard these past couple of months to coordinate this exciting schedule.
So without further ado, a preview -
2009 Field Survey Schedule Preview
Additional destinations that we are working on include St. Vincent, Maui (Hawaii), Bermuda with Ned DeLoach, and Cancun. Stay tuned to the REEF Trips webpage.
For all bookings, please contact Doris Pfister, our REEF Dedicated Sales Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com or by phone at 1-877-295-REEF(7333). Details and more trips will be added in the next few weeks and months, so please check the REEF Trips webpage often.
Have you ever wondered how trip locations are decided? There is a suite of considerations for Field Survey locations, including REEF data needs, diving and tourist infrastructure, costs (evermore important with rising travel costs), partnership and outreach opportunities, fish abundance and diversity, invasive species, educational value, resource management needs, and yes, fun too! In 2009, REEF staff are planning improvements to our Field Survey program including increased capacity building while the REEF group is onsite and after the trip is over, and increasing the opportunities for resource managers to partner with REEF and utilize the valuable data you collect. By fostering regional capacity building efforts wherein local stakeholders begin to carry the surveying efforts beyond single events, there is increased likelihood these data will be used for ongoing management decisions.
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.
REEF continues our efforts as a leader in confronting the invasion of Indo-Pacific Lionfish into the eastern US, Caribbean and Bahamas. In November, we participated in a workshop to help craft a national response to the invasion in the Bahamas, conducted training in the Turks and Caicos where lionfish are just starting to show up and shared findings from our field work at an international conference (see GCFI article). Our work, both in the field conducting research with our academic and government partners as well as conducting education and outreach with the public, is making a big difference in this critical environmental problem. To get involved and help with control efforts in the Turks and Caicos, join on REEF's upcoming lionfish project with Dive Provo, January 17-24.
On November 6th and 7th, the Bahamas government hosted their National Lionfish Response Planning Workshop in Nassau, Bahamas with over 40 representatives from government agencies and NGOs. REEF’s Lad Akins was invited as a key presenter during the first day of lectures and lead instructor during the second day of collecting and dissections. Organized by Marine Resources’ Lakeshia Anderson, the workshop was designed to bring officials up to speed on the current state of knowledge and ongoing lionfish research, what potential solutions were available for addressing the invasion, proposed legal changes relating to lionfish collection, collecting and handling techniques, first aid, dissections and even a cooking demonstration. During the field operations with Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, participants were exposed to collecting and handling techniques and were able to collect over 60 lionfish on 2 short dives. Later that day, dissecting demonstrations were held then the remaining fish were battered and fried (to rave reviews) by local lionfish cooking expert Gregory Maillis. Attendees of the workshop were praised by director of Marine Resources, Michael Braynen, and were then charged with continuing education, outreach, and collecting efforts in their local communities and out-islands.
At the end of the month, Lad traveled to the Turks and Caicos Islands to conduct training and education workshops for staff at Dive Provo and for the Turks and Caicos Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR). The effort, funded by Dive Provo, included three days of training for Dive Provo staff and instructors including morning seminars and afternoon field work. In addition, local residents joined in on the third day to learn about the issue and help locate lionfish during afternoon dives. On day four, Lad met with DECR Scientific Officer Marlon Hibbert and Director of DECR Wesley Clerveaux. A two-hour seminar was presented to DECR fisheries officers followed by discussions about REEF’s return visit in January. The January effort will represent the first focused lionfish project in the Turks and Caicos and will also gather fish diversity information that will be compared to historical REEF data to assess changes to the local reef systems over the past 10 years. While lionfish are not as abundant in the Turks and Caicos as they are now in the Bahamas, the situation does provide the perfect opportunity to implement country-wide education and control efforts. REEF’s upcoming project with Dive Provo on January 17-24 will be critically important in getting a good start on these control efforts. To join in REEF’s Turks and Caicos Project, call REEF Reservations at 877-295-7333 or email REEF@caradonna.com.
To find out more about REEF's Lionfish Research Program, visit our lionfish webpage.