As part of the Grouper Moon Project, REEF launched the Baby Grouper Adrift! webpage in late February. We developed this outreach tool to display in real time the results of state-of-the-art satellite drifter research being conducted by researchers from REEF, the Cayman Island Department of Environment, and 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. It's been about 35 days since the drifters were released. Check out where those drifters are now -- visit the webpage at http://www.REEF.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift. Funding for the Baby Grouper Adrift project was provided by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
Our outstanding Field Station this month is the New England Aquarium, and their affiliated dive club, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Begun in 1975, the New England Aquarium Dive Club (NEADC) is one of the world's oldest, largest, and most active dive clubs. They host an annual event for Northeast divers in conjunction with REEF's Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). This past July, they hosted their 10th annual GAFC event, and over 90 divers submitted 100+ surveys. The event took place simultaneously at 8 dive sites in Massachusetts and Maine. After the morning surveys, divers gathered for a feast and to distribute over $8,000 in prizes at Stage Fort Park. The event not only gathers important data, but it also introduces divers to REEF surveying and encourages them to continue surveying on their dives throughout the year. Local REEF volunteers, Bob Michelson and Holly Martel Bourbon, help ramp up the event by offering fish ID classes in the preceding months.
The Northeast is a cold water dive location, with REEF surveyors commonly finding Cunner, Winter Flounder, Striped Bass and Rock Gunnel. However, they have the added bonus of having some tropical fish find their way into the area as waters warm up in the summer. REEF staff are currently working with Bob and Holly to implement an invertebrate monitoring program into the Northeast REEF program. Thank you New England Aquarium Dive Club for promoting REEF and the volunteer survey project in the NE!
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 Randy Keil. Randy joined REEF in 1996 and has conducted 279 surveys. He is a member of REEF's TWA Advanced Assessment Team and teaches REEF surveying and fish ID through his dive shop, Paradise Watersports in the British Virgin Islands (see REEF Field Station profile here). Here's what he had to say about REEF:
What do you feel is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
I feel as if REEF surveys are the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs for the simple reason that this data would not be available otherwise. To have scientists survey all the areas REEF covers would be an impossible undertaking. The lionfish invasion is a good example. To see what effect the lionfish are having on our reef communities all we need to do is look at past surveys and compare them to present surveys. Without past historical data we would have no way to of knowing which species are most effected by the lionfish or what kind of time scale it takes for the effects to become noticeable. Are the areas where the lionfish appeared first the most effected? Is there any effect noticed on the surveys? These questions can only be answered by comparison of data.
Do you have any surveying tips for REEF members?
One tip I would give other surveyors is to watch the coneys. Coneys seem to have an interesting relationship with goldentail morays. Anytime you see a coney staring intently, stop and see if you can make out what he/she is staring at. Often there will be a tiny goldentail in the vicinity.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I do most of my diving in the British Virgin Islands where I have both a home and a dive shop/REEF Field Station. The best thing about diving in the BVI is the diversity of dive sites. Our sites are all moored and this allows us to build up an intimate knowledge of the underwater terrain. This means that if we find a juvenile queen angel or juvenile spotted drum we can follow it as it grows until it is eaten or moves on. Fish such as frogfish and creatures such as seahorses often will stay in the same area for months at a time.
What is your favorite place to dive outside of where you live?
My favourite place to dive is the Galapagos. If schooling hammerheads, hundreds of Galapagos sharks, dozens of white-tipped reef sharks, whale sharks, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins and abundant creatures and fish life are not enough then there are species of fish that exist nowhere else in the world. The land excursions are almost as exciting as the diving and the guides the most knowledgeable I’ve ever encountered in almost 30 years of traveling the globe seeking out underwater phenomena.
My last trip to the Galapagos was the first one after Paul Humman had published his Galapagos Fish Identification book and I poured over the book to find species seen nowhere else. Being a confirmed “fish nerd”, the Meyer’s butterflyfish really caught my imagination. So here we are in the far reaches of the northern islands and I have my slate with a list of what we might see and a blank slate for messages.. I moved closer to the guide and wrote on my slate” Meyer’s Butterfly” with a question mark. He took my slate and wrote hammerheads and pointed to the hundreds of sharks passing in front of us. I erased the hammerheads message and again wrote” Meyer’s butterfly?” and this time pointed to the sloping reef wall that was packed with fish. The guide once again pointed out the schooling sharks. As a 30 foot whale shark came into sight I realized that not only was this not going to be the dive where I sighted my first Meyers butterfly but also that no one was going to be the least sympathetic to my plight.
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.
As REEF heads into the 20th year of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, we will be looking back at some of the milestones that got us here. In this month's Faces of REEF, we feature one of our earliest members, Ken Marks. Ken was instrumental in helping guide REEF in our early years, building the first data processing and storage tools. Ken first met REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann, on a dive trip in 1992. Paul soon realized Ken's computer background and mentioned the idea that he and Ned DeLoach were working on for a diver-led fish survey program. The unsolved problem was the logistics of collecting data. They had thought of mailing out 3.5" floppies (remember them?!) that would be mailed back by the volunteer diver to REEF HQ (which didn’t even exist at this time). Because this was back in the days before smart phones, tablets, and ubiquitous laptops, Ken suggested a more low-tech approach. After several rounds of prototypes, Ken produced what would become REEF's very first survey scanform. Today, Ken remains an important part of our IT volunteer team, and has conducted 311 REEF surveys. Here's what Ken had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
After meeting Paul on a liveaboard dive boat, we got to talking about ways divers could report fish sightings. I suggested a computer scannable form as a solution and upon my return to Chicago researched the specifications for creating such a form. Over the next couple of months I wasted lots of Paul’s fax paper sending him 17 evolving versions of what came to be the first version of the REEF survey form, which was first printed in 1993. The creation of the REEF underwater survey sheets, guides such as Fish-in-a-Pocket and waterproof ID cards, training DVDs and courses, and the web-based online data entry are all indications that REEF has matured from its humble beginnings.
Do you dive close to where you live? Where is your favorite place to dive?
Though my involvement with REEF I have been fortunate to be able to work with scientists and various organizations surveying and teaching fish identification. This has allowed me to dive in many places throughout the Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean area but one of my favorites is just a 45-minute ride from my home – the Blue Heron Blvd Bridge near West Palm Beach. Experienced fish surveyors sooner or later start diving in “alternative habitats” in order to see species that they haven’t seen before. The shore dive under the BHB is a great way to experiencing muck diving without a passport and a 24-hour flight to Indonesia. There are all sorts of things to see “under the bridge” from octopus and bobbit worms to frogfish, stargazers, seahorses, and sea robins.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
First – slow down; it’s not a race. The mooring buoy at a dive site is usually placed in the middle of the best area. Let the others burn their air swimming around for hundreds of yards searching for turtles, sharks, dolphins (or whatever “big ticket” species will make their dive). Spend your time slowly searching over the reef (and alternative habitats near the reef) for the odd and unusual that will help you expand your list of species seen. Use the REEF forums, database, and field stations to plan your trip so you can extend your lifelist and see something you’ve never seen before on a dive.
It also helps to really know your fishes. Study your ID books or take one of the REEF courses or webinars to increase your knowledge. When you are very proficient at identifying the common species that are encountered on most dives, the unusual species will be much easier to spot when you come across one. You might even spot a species new to science – several REEF surveyors have made such discoveries over the years.
What is your most memorable fish find and why?
My most memorable fish find would have to be the Yellow Garden Eel (Heteroconger luteolus). Back in 1997, a coworker had mentioned diving on a wreck where a Goliath grouper (then known as Jewfish) had taken up residence for several weeks. At the time I had not yet added this species to my lifelist and was eager to get a photo. The following weekend we dived the site and I was ready with my Nikonos and my wide-angle 15mm lens. Of course the fish had cleared out and I never got the picture. This wreck, a tug boat, was part of a cluster of three closely spaced wrecks so we took a compass bearing and headed across the sand at 70 feet heading for the larger wreck for the rest of the dive. Along the way I noticed a colony of unusual garden eels out feeding in the Gulf Stream current.
About two weeks prior to this dive I had been helping Paul on a new printing of the Reef Fish ID book. I had purchased a reference book from the American Fisheries Society and was using it to verify that Paul’s book was using the AFS accepted common and scientific names. In that reference book, I noticed that the species previously just known as Garden Eel had been renamed to Brown Garden Eel due to a recently described second species of garden eel from the Florida area. The new species name “luteolus” implied that the species was yellow. And bright yellow was the color that I saw while crossing that sand plain at 70 feet between wrecks. I knew in an instant that this must be the newer species of garden eel. I had a friend pull the scientific paper containing its description and it matched exactly what I saw (bright yellow dorsally with a white belly). The paper mentioned that the species was described from a few partial specimens that had been dredged from deep water off Tampa as well as a few larvae that appeared different from the “standard” Brown Garden Eel. I contacted the paper's author and he suggested I try to capture one and send it to him. A short time later Ned & Anna DeLoach, Eric Riesch, and John Pitcairn joined me on a dive to photograph this species and collect a specimen. The fish we collected now sits in the Smithsonian’s collection and is, to this date, the only whole adult specimen of this species in any collection. The photo taken on the collection dive can be found in the latest edition of Reef Fish ID.
Though this was not a new species to science we were able to provide an important specimen and REEF data has subsequently found this species on other sites throughout Florida expanding our knowledge of this colorful little species. Citizen science for the win!
If you are looking for a Dive Vacation that Counts for the
New Year, there is still room on many of our trips for 2008. For a
condensed view of our upcoming Field Survey season, see below or visit
our Field Survey page at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. A couple of quick notes, only one spot left on Turks and Caicos trip so hurry! If interested, please call Travel For You, Inc. at 1-888-363-3345 for the Turks trip only.
If the cold weather is getting you down? There's no better place to be
at the end of January than the Cayman Islands. Join REEF Grouper Moon
researchers on an exciting expedition to Little Cayman
January 22-29. The all-inclusive package includes 5 days of diving in
Little Cayman, lodging and meals at the exclusive Southern Cross Club,
and daily lectures on a broad range of subjects including reef fish
identification and the Nassau grouper aggregation research that REEF
has been invovled with. This project coincides with the annual mass
aggregation of this endangered fish species on the west end of the
island. To find out more, view the project flyer http://www.reef.org/fieldsurvey or contact the Southern Cross Club office at 1-800-899-2582.
Also REEF's St. Vincent cryptic survey is selling out
quickly. This trip has two optional back-to-back weeks of surveying,
the first week (July 26-Aug2) will be led by world-renowned
photgrapher, Paul Humann and REEF co-founder. The second week (Aug 2-9,
2008) will be led by Ned Deloach, award-winning marine life author and
his wife Anna Deloach. Contact Dive St. Vincent at 784-457-4928 or email@example.com for information on how to register for either week or both!
For an all-inclusive REEF trip on the beautiful Mexican Riviera, check out our Field Survey to Akumal at Bahia Principe Resort
(below) from May 17-24, 2008. I will be leading this trip and there
will be a lot of conservation education to go along with our fish
surveys for this trip. This is a best-value trip, especially
considering the 5-star resort, at $802pp/double occ. for diving,
accomodations, food, and drinks.
2008 Field Survey Schedule
REEF Grouper Moon Field Survey Expedition - Little Cayman Island, January 20-27, 2008, led by Dr. Christy Semmens (spaces available)
Turks & Caicos aboard Aggressor II - Turks and Caicos Islands, April 19-26, 2008, led by Joe Cavanaugh (1 space available)
Bahia Principe Resort, Akumal, Mexico - May 17-24, 2008, led by
Joe Cavanaugh (spaces available). REEF is working with ReefAid and
Reefcheck to ensure protection of the reefs along this part of the
MesoAmerican Barrier Reef. This trip provides a great opportunity to
witness how private sector cooperation with non-profits can enable
successful marine conservation and you will have the opportunity to
participate directly by collecting valuable fish community data for
Paul Humann's Key Largo Reef Discovery Tour, Key Largo, Florida,
June 21-28, 2008 (spaces available). Hands down a perennial
favorite for first-time surveyors and experts alike.
St. Vincent Island (Grenadines) Cryptic Species Tour, led by Ned and Anna Deloach and Paul Humann, July 26-Aug 2 (1st week), Aug 2-9 (2nd week) (selling out quickly)
Sea of Cortez aboard the Don Jose', Oct 5-12, 2008, led by Dr. Brice Semmens (spaces available)
Cozumel, Mexico with Aqua Safari Divers, Dec 6-13, 2008, led by long-time REEF Volunteer, Sheryl Shea (space available)
Dollars to Help Develop Rapid Response Plan
In April of this year, REEF received notice our proposal to develop a Marine Exotic Species Action Plan was partially funded through the Mote Marine Protect Our Reefs Fund, which is funded through the Florida coral reef license plate. The project funding will go towards a SE Florida workshop with key federal, state and local agencies to develop a coordinated response plan for dealing with non-native marine fish. To date there have been more than 20 species of non-native fishes documented in a four-county area in Southeast Florida. Of these, the indo-pacific lionfish has become established in the US and Bahamas and is rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean. To help address this issue and prevent other non-native fish invasions, coordinated early detection and notification, and rapid response plans are needed.
REEF will be working in partnership with the USGS and NOAA to lead the early summer workshop focusing on drafting these coordinated action plans. Funding for outreach and to establish and train response teams later this summer is still being sought as part of this effort.
Stay tuned for an update on the workshop and for future plans for development of local response teams. Be sure to report any sightings of non-native marine organisms to the REEF exotic species website at www.reef.org/programs/exotic
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.
Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. The 2009 spawning season was the most ambitious to date for the project. For the first time, we had teams of researchers and volunteers stationed on each of the three Cayman Islands--Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. The field season was certainly a success; among many interesting results and accomplishments, our most exciting find was that the teams on all three islands witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on the same night (Valentine’s Day, of all days! – which happened to be 5 nights after the full moon).
In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. This followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.
The broad goals for the 2009 spawning season were to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman; aggregations on both of these islands were fished to exhaustion in the recent past. In addition to the island specific objectives, the Grouper Moon research program expanded satellite drifter work this season. These drifters, which track current patterns associated with the body of water the grouper eggs were spawned in, will continue to report positions for 45 days after spawning; this length of time is the approximate larval duration for Nassau grouper. REEF also continued education and outreach efforts through public talks about spawning aggregations and the Grouper Moon research. Talks were held at the Little Cayman National Trust and Dive Tech/Cobalt Coast Resort.
2009 Aggregation Season Results Summary
The Little Cayman team continued the long-term monitoring of this aggregation, which includes counting the number of fish that show up, estimating the size of the fish, and recording the timing and amount of spawning observed. The Cayman Brac team’s goal was to document whether or not aggregating Nassau grouper were spawning-- evidence of spawning would refute the theory that Nassau grouper fail to recover once overfished because fish on small aggregations no longer release gametes. In the 2008 spawning season, the Grouper Moon research team discovered the location of an aggregation of Nassau grouper on Cayman Brac. This year, armed with this information, REEF and CIDOE researchers spent the full 2009 spawning season observing, videoing and documenting the Cayman Brac spawning aggregation. In addition, the team was able to accomplish the primary goal of this season’s work on the island—team members both observed and videoed spawning. Objectives for the Grand Cayman team were similar, except that they first had the task of discovering where Nassau grouper on that island go (if anywhere) during the spawning season. Using the acoutic tag pinger signal of just ONE Nassau grouper (of 6 total individuals tagged on Grand Cayman in 2008), divers confirmed the presence of aggregating grouper near the historic East End aggregation site and a dusk dive on February 14th yielded this season’s biggest accomplishment– team members witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on Grand Cayman!
The findings stemming from this work are unquestionably novel, and are certainly good news —protections on aggregation sites that have been fished to exhaustion will protect those few individuals that remain, and will protect stocks of fishes that are contributing to the next generation of this endangered reef fish. Put simply, our research demonstrates that overfished aggregations are down, but not out.
Why Does This Matter?
Nassau grouper are not just icons of the Caribbean; they are a social and ecological cornerstone of the region’s coral reefs. Historically, Nassau grouper represented one of the region’s most economically important fisheries. Unfortunately, due to intense harvest on spawning aggregations, their populations have dwindled to a fraction of their historic numbers. The species became the first Caribbean reef fish to be listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the species is candidate listed under the US Endangered Species Act. The precipitous decline in mass spawning aggregations of Caribbean grouper species has been well documented. The majority of known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive due to the ease with which aggregating species are caught. And those that are still active contain significantly fewer fish than the 10s of thousands that historically gathered at these special places.
As part of our work on the Grouper Moon Project, REEF will continue to develop a comprehensive assessment of the status of the Cayman Island’s Nassau grouper spawning population as a guide for future Nassau grouper restoration and conservation policy.
Collaborators and Supporters Who Make This Project Possible
REEF would like to thank our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, specifically Phil Bush, Bradley Johnson, Croy McCoy, James Gibb, Tim Austin, Gina Ebanks-Pietre, Chris Dixon, Keith Neale, Delwin McLaughlin and Robert Walton, as well as Drs. Scott and Selina Heppell from Oregon State University. REEF Volunteers have always been at the core of our Grouper Moon field work and 2009 was no exception – heartfelt thanks to Judie Clee, Thor Dunmire, Tracey Griffin, Doug Harder, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell and Sheryl Shea. The Grouper Moon Project has continued through the years empowered by the first year’s success and the passion of early project leader Leslie Whaylen Clift. Assistance from OSU graduate students, Stephanie Kraft and Heather Reiff, is much appreciated. Principal financial support is from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the CIDOE. Additional funding is from Mr. Wayne Panton, Mr. Dan Scott, Clive and Stella Wood, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and hundreds of REEF members. Continued in-kind logistical support from island businesses and residents, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers, the Southern Cross Club and Peter Hillenbrand, is also much appreciated. And finally, our ground-breaking achievements on Cayman Brac would not have been possible without the generous support of Wayne Sullivan, who donated his vessel the Glen Ellen, his time (and patience), his equipment and technical diving expertise, and his crew, Brady Booton and Jules James.
For more information on the project, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.
Planning is underway for REEF's annual research on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands for the 2010 spawning season - the Grouper Moon Project. This collaborative conservation program between REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment is entering its 8th year. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the research team is conducting innovative research that is critical to the long-term survival of this iconic Caribbean species. Grouper Moon scientists will be in the field January 30 - February 12, 2010. If you are looking for a winter getaway and are considering the Cayman Islands, this is a great time to visit Little Cayman.
While there are not opportunities for recreational divers to visit the aggregation, researchers will be giving several public talks and divers on Bloody Bay Wall will witness the mass migrations of the normally solitary Nassau grouper from their home reefs out to the aggregation site. Another good reason -- the acclaimed Southern Cross Club has offered to donate a percentage of any package booked by REEF members during that time to support REEF's Grouper Moon Project. To take a vacation and make a positive impact for the grouper, contact the Southern Cross Club reservation office directly at 1-800-899-2582 or info@SouthernCrossClub.com -- be sure to mention that you are a REEF member!
More information about the 2010 research and program objectives for the Grouper Moon Project will be included in future issues of REEF-in-Brief. you can also find out more about the Project on the Grouper Moon Project Webpage.