The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carol Cox

Sawblade Arrow Shrimp. Carol was the first to capture this creature on film! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Carol Cox. Carol joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 159 surveys. Carol is a member of the Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has been an active volunteer and instructor in REEF's Fishinar series. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

After retiring from the Air Force, and returning to our home in Mexico Beach, Florida (20 miles east of Panama City), I became active as a volunteer research diver for the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA). To receive State grants for our program, we are required to monitor the condition of artificial reefs we deploy. MBARA decided to incorporate fish surveys with the monitoring program, and I found REEF when researching ways to do fish surveys. REEF serves as our model, but we tailor our survey forms for the local area because our fish population is very different than the fishes found further south.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

When I saw how REEF data are used by naturalists and scientists, I wanted to add fish count data from where I live, especially because there were only a few surveys for my community. I really saw the need after the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our community was lucky, barely escaping the oil slick when a storm blew the approaching oil slick back in the direction it came from. Although we suffered few effects, I realized we needed to catalogue what we had, otherwise, how would we know how our biodiversity was adapting to environmental changes? Since I started volunteering with REEF, I have had opportunity to interact with scientists and fish enthusiasts from around the world. The education REEF provides is phenomenal. I began my self-education by doing the fish quizzes. Then I attended many of the online Fishinars and they are all very educational and FUN! I also learn a lot from other fish watchers using the online fish identification forum.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

The data that are being captured by REEF fish surveys will be invaluable to scientists of the future. As the environment changes, the REEF database will be looked at more and more. We need to record what we have now if we are to know what is affected by global warming, red tide, or the next big oil spill. Who knows, the REEF database may eventually provide the knowledge on how to control the lionfish invasion.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

Most of my diving is where I live, in Mexico Beach, Florida. MBARA has deployed over 150 artificial reefs, everything from reef balls to a large shrimp boat, which is my favorite dive. We see everything from giant Goliath Groupers, to small arrow shrimp (a species that had never been photographed until I discovered them during a survey). Because the survey programs for MBARA and REEF are similar, I encouraged MBARA to become a local Field Station. We are always looking for divers interested in doing surveys on our artificial reefs and can now provide training. I use training gained from REEF, along with my local experience, to teach regional fish identification and throw in some local knowledge for enthusiasts that primarily dive in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

We were 20 miles offshore of Mexico Beach, when our boat was surrounded by small Mahi Mahi. I had a few shots left on my camera, so I slipped into the water to use up my film (am I dating myself?). Suddenly, a Mahi sped towards me, followed by a large, dark shadow in pursuit. In a matter of seconds, I could see fins, tails, and bubbles, as a large sailfish did a 360-degree turn right in front of me as it tried to capture the Mahi. In an effort to escape, the Mahi swam over my shoulder smacking me in the side of the head. The bill of the sailfish missed by chest by inches as it veered away. Having lost its prey, it swam around me three times before disappearing into the depths. The entire event lasted less than a minute, but the memory of it will last me a lifetime, especially because I got the photos.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? What is your most memorable fish find? What fish are you still waiting to find?

I love blennies! They are such a great photo subject—colorful and expressive. With a little patience, most will gladly pose for the camera exhibiting as many poses as a Vogue covergirl. Of course I am a big, big fan of Anna DeLoach’s Blennywatcher blog. My favorite find wasn’t a fish, but a sawblade arrow shrimp, Tozeuma serratum. I have REEF to thank for putting me in touch with Les Wilk who requested critter photos for the upcoming Reef Creature DVD to be published by ReefNet. I didn’t know what a rare find I had until I sent a photo of the unidentified shrimp to Les for the DVD. He sent the photo off to a marine biologist, who identified the shrimp after I collected one. It turns out this shrimp had never been photographed in its natural environment and scientists believed it only lived in deeper waters. The marine biologist was so excited she flew from Texas to our home so we could take out and show her some of “our” shrimp. The fish I would love to check off my life list is the whale shark. With all the diving we do in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure it is only a matter of time, but I am still waiting!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Doing surveys for both MBARA and REEF, I’ve learned it can be fun to get away from the big sites and spend time on something small that isn’t frequented by divers. I’ve spent 45 minutes looking at two 3-foot reefballs. If I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really look, I would never have seen the small juvenile jackknife-fish, or a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish.

Application Deadline For Fall Internships Approaching

Do you know a young adult who is interested in ocean conservation, research, education, and diving? Applications are currently being accepted for the Fall REEF Marine Conservation Internship positions. Every four months, REEF invites hundreds of applicants to compete for four internship positions. The chosen interns implement community outreach and education programs focused on reef fish identification and lionfish handling and collection. Interns also dive and volunteer with partner organizations in the Florida Keys. Examples of some average daily intern activities include computer data entry, helping to write and layout newsletters and flyers, packaging orders, answering phone calls and e-mails, greeting visitors at REEF Headquarters, biological assessment fieldwork and data analysis, and community education and outreach.

For more information on this program or if you know someone who would like to apply, please visit the Internship Webpage or email General Manager, Martha Klitzkie, at Martha@reef.org. Applications for the Fall internship are due June 30th.

Upcoming Fishinars -- Featuring a Great Line Up of Guest Speakers

Artwork by Ray Troll.

We have lined up a great Fishinar schedule for 2014, including marine fish icons Milton Love and Ray Troll! We also will see an east versus west fish face off between Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, a "Coralinar" and a "Crabinar", and more. Not sure what Fishinar is? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

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Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - Taught by Janna Nichols -- January 8, 9, 15, and 16th, including Sponges and Stingers, Gettin' Crabby, Marvelous Molluscs, and Stars and Squirts

Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - Taught by Jonathan Lavan -- January 21

California Lookalikes! - Taught by Janna Nichols -- February 5th

Top 25 Fish in the South Atlantic States - Taught by Christy Pattengill-Semmens -- February 25th

Crabinar! - Taught by Greg Jensen -- February 26th

What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - With Milton Love -- March 25th

A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - With Ray Troll -- April 16th

Coralinar! - Taught by Marilyn Brandt -- May 29th

East Coast vs. West Coast - With Andy Martinez and Andy Lamb -- June 19th

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

REEF "Springs" into Action for Education

A few weeks ago, in honor of Earth Day, REEF asked for your help in supporting our educational programs. Through classroom and field activities, these programs have inspired thousands of school children, young adults, divers, and researchers. If you haven't already made a donation, please consider making a difference in the life of a future ocean conservationist!

Contribute securely online today at www.REEF.org/contribute

Your donation will ensure that we can provide:

  • Educational materials, including slates and underwater paper
  • Craft supplies for elementary school students
  • Tools for lionfish dissections
  • Staff resources for educational programs

Because of generous donations from members like you, REEF is able to continue educating future generations about healthy ocean ecosystems, exciting new marine discoveries, fish identification, and invasive species.

We just have one week left in this campaign. Every dollar spent on ocean conservation education makes a huge impact in our ability to preserve our underwater world for the future. Please join us as we light up faces around the world in the joy of discovery and respect for marine life. Thank you for your support! Please donate today.

Fishinars in the New Year

Learn how to tell Black Rockfish from Blue Rockfish, and other lookalikes. Photo by Janna Nichols.

We have just the thing for after the holiday rush is over -- free, educational REEF Fishinars. These hour-long sessions let you learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we will be adding new ones for 2015 soon. On the schedule so far....

  • Swimming in the Deep End - Carlos and Allison Estape, January 20th
  • Pacific Northwest Lookalikes - Janna Nichols, January 28th
  • Cayman Fishes - Jonathan Lavan, February 11th
  • Cool Hawaii Finds - 15 Not-So-Common Fishes - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, February 18th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

REEF Fest 2015 -Don't Miss It!

REEF Fest fun!

Join us in Key Largo this fall for REEF Fest 2015, September 24 - 27. Celebrate the success and impact of REEF's marine conservation programs and education initiatives with diving, learning, and parties. Festivities begin Thursday with afternoon seminars and then a welcome party at the Caribbean Club. Friday and Saturday are full days, with diving in the mornings, seminars in the afternoons, and social events in the evenings (Friday Open House at REEFHQ and Saturday Celebration Dinner Party). The fun wraps up on Sunday with more organized dives. All REEF Fest events are open to the public. Complete details on the schedule, including the lineup of seminars, diving opportunities, and social gatherings, as well as travel logistics and hotel arrangements, are available online at www.REEF.org/REEFFest2015.

REEF Fest: Explore. Discover. Make a Difference. Celebrating Marine Conservation in the Florida Keys!

Planning For Grouper Moon

A spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman, the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our partners at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are gearing up for the annual Grouper Moon Project next month. Scientists will be on the ground and in the water during the full moon in January. Since 2002, the group has conducted ground-breaking research to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations, to help ensure recovery of the populations of this iconic species. This year, the team will be collaborating on new work using cutting-edge technology including underwater microscopes to evaluate larvae in-situ. We will also be hosting several live-feed videos through Google Hangouts as part of REEF’s Grouper Education Program. In 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched the education program to engage Caymanian students in the project. This exciting initiative brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and the Hangouts that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. We will post Hangout details on our Facebook page and www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject in a few weeks.

The Faces of REEF: Adam Nardelli

Adam and the lionfish research team.
The cryptic frogfish that Adam found in Cozumel.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Adam Nardelli. Adam has been a REEF member since 2009, and he served as a REEF Intern in 2014. He has conducted 54 surveys and has participated in several of REEF's programs. Here’s what Adam had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I first learned about REEF as a PADI dive master when I became involved in doing group fish surveys and held a Great Annual Fish Count event at a local dive shop in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I eventually became a PADI instructor and started teaching my own fish identification courses for many of the local dive shops. In 2009, the spread of invasive lionfish started to reach the shores of south Florida, and as a dive professional and passionate steward of the local reefs, I quickly saw this issue as an important threat that needed to be understood and treated for management. I started a research project on the lionfish invasion while I studied a graduate program at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, and partnered with REEF and Lad Akins as a REEF Intern.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

My involvement with REEF has influenced most of my diving career well into shaping my view as a marine conservation steward and professional educator today. As a REEF Intern, I was fortunate to assist with several field surveys, and I would have to say that among all of them the single highlight was the ability to dive and learn from the staff members. Of course, my most memorable surveys were conducting lionfish transects with Lad, Stephanie, and the other REEF volunteers. There were as many long, cold, wet days as there were warm, sunny ones where we spent hours in the water surveying many of the diverse reef habitats around the Florida Keys. There were so many dive stories that we came away with, but I would have to say the most memorable was when we were approached by a huge sailfish chasing bait.

I also had the extraordinary experience of assisting with the Grouper Moon project in Little Cayman with Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Brice Semmens. This was an opportunity to help conduct research and promote continued protection for the endangered Nassau Grouper. It was an honor to learn from the sharp set of fish identification skills that Christy and Brice possess as expert field researchers. Swimming with large schools of these charismatic fish was a memorable dive adventure.

Lastly, just this past summer in 2015, I participated in the Roatan Field Survey group, which was led by Anna and Ned DeLoach. It was wonderful to dive with these two fish “aficionados” as we explored every coral crevice and sand hole in search of rare, cryptic and elusive creatures. It’s hard not to have fun with them around, as diving with these two really makes one appreciate how remarkable life under the ocean can be.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I am inspired to continue to do REEF surveys because it adds value to every dive I make. Not only am I contributing data for scientific endeavor, but it also enables me to appreciate the reef in a very real, detailed way. During each dive, I can account for every creature that I observe and take the time to watch their behavior. Diving becomes more like a visit with a friend than just being a passerby.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

There are so many diverse and fascinating fish in the oceans that it would be hard to choose just one to top the list. However, during my most recent dives in Cozumel this year I encountered a perfectly cryptic Longlure Frogfish. When the dive master pointed to the coral head, I thought critically, “this guy thinks I’ve never seen a sponge before.” But then upon closer visual inspection, the pectoral fins and eyes began to take shape. With greater concealment than any octopus or scorpionfish I have encountered, this creature is truly unique.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

My best tip for fishwatching and being a good surveyor is to slow down and take your time to dive. Be still in the water and watch the fish school around you. Practice good buoyancy control as well. You will not only appreciate the reef more, but the fish will respond better towards your presence and allow you the close inspection you may need to get that positive key identification feature.

New Lionfish Reportings App Just Released

REEF is exctied to announce the launch of our new Lionfish Sightings App – a free app designed specifically to connect divers to remove lionfish from the Tropical Western Atlantic. Report lionfish you have collected or simply report lionfish sightings so other divers know where to look! Follow this link to download the app for iOS or follow this link to download the app for Android. Data on lionfish sightings and removal efforts are kept active on the app for 30 days and then archived for research and management purposes. Special thanks for contributions from Wild About Whales NSW, US Fish and Wildlife Service, REEF staff, interns, volunteers, and Jason Nocks.

Putting it to Work: New Publication on Method to Create Species Maps for Fisheries Management

Gag Grouper, one of the species mapped in the Gruss et al paper. Photo by Carol Cox.

We are excited to share the latest scientific paper to include REEF data, published this month in the journal ICES Journal of Marine Science. In this paper, authors use information on where REEF divers did or did not encounter three species of fisheries importance: red snapper, red grouper, and gag grouper. They then combined these data with 36 other data sets, each sampling different areas of the Gulf of Mexico, and created distribution maps for use in ecosystem models of the Gulf of Mexico. These distribution maps picked up fish hotspots that are not identifiable by any individual data set, highlighting the complementary nature of the REEF data.

The full citation of the paper is: Gruss, A., Thorson, J.T., Babcock, E.A., and Tarnecki, J.H. 2017. Producing distribution maps for informing ecosystem-based fisheries management using a comprehensive survey database and spatio-temporal models. ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsx120.

Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications for an entire list of publications that include REEF data and programs.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub