REEF Staff Bios

Our staff members represent a wide array of backgrounds and experiences. But we all share a passion for ocean conservation, education, and citizen science. Learn more about us below.

Lad Akins |Martha Klitzkie |Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D.

Bonnie BarnesJane BixbyAmy Lee | Sasha Medlen |Jessica MorrisJanna Nichols |
Ellie PlaceEllie Splain| Emily Stokes

Lad Akins is the Director of Special Projects for REEF. He started with REEF as our first Executive Director in 1990, and held that position until 2006 when he shifted gears to focus on Special Projects such as REEF’s artificial reef assessments and exotic species programs including work on the invasive lionfish issue. Lad has helped develop many of REEF’s long standing programs including the fish survey project and continues to lead a number of field expeditions each year. He has served as a US Delegate on the Bi-national Commission on Marine Protected Areas with South Africa, piloted Deepworker submersibles to assess fish assemblages at depths over 500’ and discovered and described new species of fish from the Gulf of Mexico. As a US Coast Guard licensed Captain and a dive instructor with over 10,000 dives, Lad has been recognized as NOAA Environmental Hero and an Oris Sea Hero. Lad’s current focus on invasive lionfish includes serving on numerous federal and international panels and working groups, working with major media, and co-authoring over 20 peer reviewed papers on the issue. Lad lives on his 54’ motor sailor and dives in his spare time.

Martha Klitzkie is the Director of Operations for REEF. She joined the REEF team in 2011 and is responsible for overseeing a wide range of administrative functions. Her primary responsibilities are finance, office/facilities management, long-term planning, public relations, advancing conservation partnerships, and development for program expansion. She also oversees many of REEF’s extension programs based at Headquarters including Field Survey Trips, the REEF store, the Marine Conservation Internship Program, and the Explorers Education Program. Before settling down in the Florida Keys, she graduated from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina with a degree in Environmental Education, then went on to complete her Master’s in Educational Leadership and Administration at Argosy University in San Francisco. A diver at heart, her passion for the ocean is now mostly land based. She enjoys living vicariously through the amazing underwater adventures and research her position makes possible for REEF staff and members.

Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. is the Director of Science for REEF. Christy joined the REEF staff in 1998 and has been involved with REEF since its beginnings in Key Largo in 1993. Christy attended University of Southern California, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Marine Sciences. She then conducted her dissertation research on fish assemblages at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico, and received her Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. She is located in the West Coast REEF Office in San Diego, CA, where she also serves as a Visiting Scholar at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Christy’s primary responsibilities at REEF are to coordinate with research and management communities on the use of REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project data, manage the REEF.org website, and coordinate REEF's data management team. Christy has overseen REEF's survey project expansion through the years, moving the project from its roots in the tropical western Atlantic to all coastal areas in North and Central America, Hawaii, to the South and Indo-Pacific, and and most recently the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. Christy has led dozens of REEF Field Survey Trips. Christy and her husband, Brice Semmens, Ph.D., are the lead scientists for REEF’s Grouper Moon Project, studying one of the last and largest known spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau Grouper.

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Bonnie Barnes is REEF's Development Manager. Bonnie’s heart is in conservation, whether scuba diving, traipsing through a forest, or swooshing down a mountain, she loves and cares about our environment. Having started her first business at 17 in her hometown of Las Vegas, she eventually found her way to Florida where she owned a marketing company for another 14 years. After earning her MBA in 2006, she jumped head-first into the nonprofit world, leading a conservation organization in Jacksonville, Florida. As an avid diver, she trained to be a member on the Jacksonville Reef Research Team, and, as their Communications Officer, organized the first Artificial Reef conference in the early 90’s at Jacksonville University, in which REEF also participated. For her work in the offshore marine environment, Bonnie was awarded Florida’s Sea Grant Volunteer of the Year Award in 1991. With over 10 years in nonprofit management and cultivation of donors, Bonnie has found her way to the Florida Keys, where she can combine her love of diving with protection of our ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public to become involved.

Jane Bixby is REEF's Office Assistant. She is a long time REEF surveyor, and she began volunteering full time at REEF Headquarters in 2008. Jane summarized her feelings for being part of the staff team to say, “I love REEF, all its people and what they do. REEF has added a whole new chapter to my life and I’m enjoying every minute of it.” Jane has a graduate degree from Florida International University in Criminal Justice and worked for many years as a police lieutenant for Miami-Dade County Police. She has been diving for 20 years, and after retiring from the police force Jane moved to Key Largo where she enjoys spending time with her son and four grandchildren.

Amy Lee is REEF’s Trips Program Manager. She attended the University of South Carolina where she earned two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science. She came to REEF as an Marine Conservation Intern in the fall of 2014, and was ecstatic to join the staff in April 2015. Before moving to Key Largo, Amy worked in the communications department at the South Carolina Bar, served as Student Public Relations Coordinator for the University of South Carolina’s Marine Science Program and studied coral reef ecology as a research assistant in Indonesia. She has also written and edited numerous articles and publications for a variety of non-profit organizations. Managing REEF’s Field Survey Trips Program allows Amy to merge her passions for diving, communication, science and travel. She organizes, plans and promotes trips to dive destinations throughout REEF’s nine survey regions and is also in charge of marketing for the program. In addition, she supports REEF’s other projects and events through communications, outreach and capacity building efforts. Amy has experience diving and conducting surveys throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic and Indo-Pacific.

 




Sasha Medlen is REEF's Membership and Development Coordinator, a position she has held since 2009. Sasha attended the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with a Bachelors degree in Science and Technology in Science. She responds to all membership inquires and is responsible for donor acknowledgements. Based out of Huntington Beach, CA, Sasha loves being in the water, from scuba diving to surfing to the playing in the rivers that feed our oceans. She works for REEF as a consultant through her business, Good Deed Ghostwriting. Her other current client is MAR3INE, which supports marine mammal rehabilitation in Los Angeles. Past clients include the San Diego Coastkeeper and Clallam Bay/Sekiu Chamber of Commerce. She has various skills in strategic planning, marketing, public relations, membership, grant writing, non-profit formation, and board development. She has also worked for a variety of agencies, businesses, and non-profits, such as: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Olympic Coast Sanctuary, Surfrider Foundation, Electronic Evidence Discovery, Southern California Waterkeepers, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Jessica Morris is REEF’s Store Manager. She is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer who moved to the Keys from Kansas in 2003 to teach diving. Jessica has certified hundreds of people from around the world and she has logged over 2,500 dives in Florida and the Caribbean. She has volunteered with REEF since 2007, and she joined the team in February 2016 as part time Store Manager. Jessica is also a local Realtor and enjoys sharing her love of the Florida Keys and surrounding waters and fish while helping people find their dream home. She has Bachelor's degrees from Florida International University in Mass Communication and Hospitality & Tourism Management.

 





Janna Nichols is REEF's Citizen Science Program Manager, working extensively with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project database, training programs, and volunteer teams. She coordinates REEF's social media and was also the creator of the popular REEF Fishinar (webinar) program. Although Janna officially joined REEF staff in 2010, she has been conducting surveys, teaching Fish ID classes and giving REEF presentations as a volunteer since 2000, and is based in Vancouver, Washington. Janna is passionate about underwater photography and marine life identification, and many of her photos appear in west coast marine life ID guides, publications, and online resources. Her efforts were integral to the design and photography on REEF's many laminated fish identification cards. She has personally completed over 1000 REEF surveys and is an expert level REEF surveyor in the Pacific Coast and Tropical Western Atlantic regions. Janna is a PADI certified SCUBA instructor (retired), a past AAUS Scientific Diver and DSO, and the leader of REEF's Pacific Coast Advanced Assessment Team. In 2003, she received REEF's Volunteer of the Year award, in 2013 she received Dive News Network's Diver of the Year Award, and in 2015 she received the Golden Hamlet award from REEF.

Ellie Place is REEF's REEF’s Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. She attended Brown University where she earned two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Geological Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies. She first started at REEF as a Marine Conservation Intern in the fall of 2016, and enthusiastically joined the staff in the spring of 2017 after serving as an Education Leadership Intern. She grew up in Washington State, halfway between the Puget Sound and the North Cascades, where her passion for exploring and conserving the natural world lead her to REEF. Before moving to Key Largo, Ellie worked as a co-leader for kayaking expeditions in the San Juan Islands and as a lab assistant in an oceanography lab that studied sediment samples from the East China Sea to measure centennial scale climate change. Ellie’s passion for sharing conservation efforts support her role with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and in expanding its many components. Ellie is a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropical Western Atlantic, but has also enjoyed diving in the Pacific Northwest.

Ellie Splain is REEF's Education Program Manager. She first came to REEF as a Marine Conservation Intern in the summer of 2013. Following the internship she returned back to the University of Illinois, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Fish and Wildlife Conservation. After finishing her degree, Ellie returned to the Florida Keys and continued to play an active role in REEF, conducting fish surveys and assisting with invasive lionfish research. Ellie enthusiastically joined REEF as a full time staff member in February 2015. Years of experience teaching at summer camps, parks, and educational facilities support her role as REEF’s Education Program Manager. Ellie is responsible for the Explorers Education Program at REEF Headquarters, where she is expanding the program to reach more student and adult groups. Ellie also launched the Ocean Explorers Summer Camp, a program that inspires young marine enthusiasts and enlists the next generation of citizen scientists and REEF members. Ellie is also a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropical Western Atlantic and is an active volunteer with many other conservation organization’s in the Florida Keys.

Emily Stokes is REEF’s Invasive Species Specialist. As the invasive lionfish population continues to spread in the Atlantic, Emily conducts educational talks and workshops to inform the public on the issue. She also assists with ongoing research projects aimed at understanding and managing the invasive population. She has been a REEF member since 2014 and joined the REEF team as a staff member in 2015. Emily grew up in Seattle, Washington and attended Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University. During this time, Emily worked with several non-profits restoring salmon habitat and protecting other fragile marine ecosystems. After graduating with a degree in Natural Resource Management and Geography, she spent a year as a research assistant in the Turks and Caicos Islands studying coral and benthic community health and fisheries management. Emily is a divemaster and has experience diving in the Tropical Western Atlantic and the North Pacific.

 
Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub