REEF Fest Seminars


  Due to the impact from Hurricane Irma, REEF Fest will be rescheduled. We want to allow time for the Florida Keys community to recover before the event. Please check back here for more information. New dates to be announced as soon as possible. 

Come learn about the amazing marine environment and the drastic changes that threaten our oceans! All seminars take place at Murray Nelson Government Center, 102050 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, Florida. All seminars are free, but pre-registration is requested

Click here to register 


 Welcome to REEF Fest

6:00 - 8:00 PM

Join us at the Murray Nelson Government Center to kick off REEF Fest! REEF will serve beer, wine, sandwiches, and snacks, followed by opening announcements at 7:30pm. Enjoy the stunning sunset from the Murray Nelson Government Center lawn or check out the REEF Fest silent auction and raffle items. 

 Diving Deep: Linking the Effects of Climate Change on Fishes to Future Fisheries Management and Conservation

Dr. Stephanie Green, Banting Fellow, Stanford University and Affiliate Scientist, REEF

8:00 - 9:00 pm

Dr. Green will share new research on the effects of climate change on fish communities in our future coastal oceans, and their management and conservation. 

 Stephanie Green is a Banting Fellow at Stanford University, where she leads international research in to the ecology and conservation of marine ecosystems. She is also an affiliate Scientist with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, where she designs and leads training in marine science and management with international government agencies and conservation groups. Dr. Green's research and teaching has taken her to more than 20 countries bordering the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans. Recent projects include studying the effects of energy development in Pacific Northwest coastal ecosystems and invasive species in deep sea fish communities off South Florida and the impact of fisheries, coastal development, and invasion on endemic marine species in Belize. 



Ocean Conservation through the Eyes of a Whale

Natalie Barefoot, Executive Director of Cet Law

2:30 - 3:30 PM

The ocean and its inhabitants are under increasing stress from human activities. Beyond being charismatic megafauna, cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) spend the totality of thier life in the ocean and provide a unique glimpse into the practical effects humans are having on ocean ecosystems. Through the experiences of cetaceans, we will explore what is happening in our ocean and the latest efforts around the world to change the current trajectories. 

Natalie Barefoot is the Executive Director of Cet Law, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to furthering the conservation and welfare of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and their ocean and freshwater habitats through law, policies, processes, and legal education around the world. Prior to Cet Law, Natalie worked with the United Nations Environment Protection in Geneva, Switzerland; as a corporate attorney with Hogan Lovells, LLP in their Miami office; and in international development with Pact, Inc., based in DC and Harare, Zimbabwe. Natalie lives in the Florida Keys, is a PADI dive master, an AIDA2 Freediver, and a lover of everything animal and ocean.

How Red Grouper Transform their Environment, Creating Homes for Many

Dr. Scott Heppell, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University

3:30 - 4:30 PM

Beneath the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Red Grouper have a job to do. Hard at work day in and day out, these fish actively transform their environment. By excavating with their mouths and fanning with their fins, these ecosystem engineers clear away sediment, which provides clean rocky substrate for the attachment of sessile invertebrates. This behavior creates complex three-dimensional habitat in an otherwise two-dimensional world, providing refuge for a whole community of fishes and mobile invertebrates. This talk will cover our research into this fascinating behavior and discuss the role that Red Grouper play in the ecosystem as well as in local fisheries.

Scott Heppell is an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. His research interests include the physiological ecology and conservation of fishes, in particular how physiology, behavior, and life history traits affect the interactions between fish populations, their respective fisheries, and the environment. He has worked on bluefin tuna on the Atlantic high seas, Mediterranean, east coast of the United States, on groupers throughout the southeast Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, on rockfish in Oregon and Alaska, on sharks in the Adriatic, on forage fishes in the eastern Bering Sea, and on trout, steelhead, and salmon in Japan and the high deserts of eastern Oregon and Northern Nevada. Basically he loves working with fish wherever they can be found and where interesting scientific questions can be asked and conservation issues solved. He teaches classes in Fishery Biology, the Biology of Marine Fishes, Salmon Management in the Pacific Northwest, Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills for Fisheries Wildlife, and Fish Physiology. He earned a B.S. in Biology from the University of Washington and a MS and PhD at North Carolina State University. He has worked on the REEF Grouper Moon project for 13 years.

Recreating Pelagic Habitats in an Aquarium

Andy Dehart, Vice President of Animal Husbandry, Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

4:30 - 5:30 PM

Andy Dehart is the Vice President of animal husbandry at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. Prior to joining the Frost Museum of Science, Andy helped build and open the new Ripley's Aquarium of Canada as the Director of Husbandry. Before moving to Canada he spent much of his career working for the National Aquarium in both their Baltimore and Washington, D.C. locations. Throughout his tenure there her worked in many capacities and left as the Director of Fishes and Aquatic Invertebrates. In addition, he was part of the opening team as an aquarist at the Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. Andy's knowledge of sharks has led him to serve as Shark Advisor for Discovery Channel, and has made a number of high-profile media appearances. Andy has been a REEF Board of Trustees member since 2007.


Caribbean Coral: Is there any Hope for the Future?

 Dr. Margaret Miller, NOAA-NMFS, Southeast Fisheries Science Center (Miami)

2:30 PM - 3:30 PM

The fate of corals in the Western Atlantic region in general, and the Florida Keys in particular, has been a sad one over the past four decades. Repeated mass mortality events, combined with recruitmen levels inadequate for replacement, have yielded severe declines and US Endangered Species Act listings for seven species. However, the development and investment in new models of proactive enhancement of coral populations in the past 10 years,especially for elkhorn and staghorn corals, have produced hundreds of thousands of new coral fragments in Florida alone. Skeptics may inquire, however, as to the long term, reef scale benefits if these new corals are subject to the same ongoing environmental stressors that have degraded the natural population. In fact, research is demonstrating that, though background elkhorn and staghorn coral populations continue to decline, coral outplanting efforts are successfully offsetting these losses. More importantly, the research and monitoring platform provided by coral nursery and outplanting efforts is revealing that some corals show inherent resistance to both coral bleaching and disease, the primary responses to warm thermal stress and drivers of coral loss. These inherent resistance traits in cultured coral stocks may provide tools to foster improved resilience in restored coral populations even as environmental conditions continue to worsen.

Margaret Miller is a Research Ecologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center. She received an undergraduate degree from Indiana University and a doctorate in marine ecology from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill).  She then moved to south Florida and began studying coral in the Florida Keys under a three years post-doctoral position with the University of Miami.  She began work for NOAA in 1997 as the lead benthic ecologist at the Miami Lab and has served as a foundation for its coral reef program.  She is an active field researcher and diver.  Her current research addresses coral early life history, coral restoration, population studies of threatened elkhorn and staghorn corals and their threats. She resides with her husband and 13-yr old son in Miami, FL.

Diver Photos and Reef Biodiversity Changes: Citizen Science on Bahamian Coral Reefs

Dr. Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, Department of Biology, University of Miami

 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Recreational divers go to more dive sites and reefs than most coral researchers. Recreational divers were the first citizen scientists keeping careful records of where, when, and what they saw on reefs, and documenting reefs through the emerging technologies in underwater photography. One private collection of photographs dating back to the 1970's was used to evaluate changes in coral reef biodiversity in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas. Recreational diver photos provide additional information to researchers on trends and changes in reef diversity. 

Kathleen Sullivan Sealey is a marine biologist, and researcher focused on island conservation for the past 35 years. She spends most of her time thinking about how people have managed to make such a mess on the planet; it seems there are plenty of ways that people can alter the natural beauty and ecology of islands, coral reefs, and fishes. She is a faculty member in Biology at the University of Miami, and works on coastal restoration and water quality projects throughout the Bahamian archipelago. She completed her PhD in Marine Biology in 1982 at the University of California- San Diego at Scripps Institure of Oceanography. Kathleen has a diverse background in science and technology. 

 Conservation Successes: New Findings and Future Efforts to Enhance our Marine Environments

Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects

 4:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Join in this interactive discussion of research, legislation, and outreach efforts that are having positive effects on marine life throughout the world. See how citizen-based efforts are having major influeces and where new efforts are leading us.

Lad Akins, REEF's Director of Special Projects, is renowned as a leading expert on invasive lionfish and reef fish identification. Lad helped develop REEF's acclaimed Volunteer Fish Survey Program and has led field research projects around the world. He has discovered and described new species of reef fish, authored more than 20 journal publications and conducted thousands of fish surveys throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic.




Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub