The Faces of REEF: Dottie Benjamin

Dottie with one of her underwater fishy friends, Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman. Photo by Mary Solomon.
A possible new species, "Dottie's Jawfish"! Photo by Dottie Benjamin.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Dottie Benjamin, a REEF member since 1996! After living on Little Cayman for years, Dottie moved to North Carolina a few years ago. During her time in the Cayman Islands, she was involved in REEF's Grouper Moon Project and she also found a possible new species of fish! Dottie has conducted 75 surveys and is a Level 5 Expert Surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA). Here's what Dottie had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first hear about REEF? I first learned about REEF while working in Belize as a Dive Instructor and a REEF Field Survey was taking place at my place of work. Ned & Anna DeLoach were the presenters and I became fascinated with the names and behavior of all the little critters that I was seeing on a daily basis. I learned all kinds of fun facts and the fishy bug bit. Moving to Little Cayman – I had the pleasure of getting to know Judie Clee (1000+ surveys) and she reinforced my love of fishes and shared in my excitement at finding a tiny Goby or Blenny. She helped me achieve my Level 5 TWA rating and got me interested in teaching others about all the incredible diversity under the waves.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? Living in Little Cayman for 18 years, I was honored to help with REEF's Grouper Moon Project and being able to swim with 3000+ groupers during their annual aggregate spawn is simply breath-taking. And your diving career is not complete until you have had the chance to rub the cheeks of a big old friendly Nassau Grouper. They are amazing creatures.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I now live in North Carolina and dive & work at Olympus Dive Center… the fish are a little different, but once you know your fish families… you can figure out what you are looking at. The diversity here is amazing and there is always something cool to find… whether it be a few dozen Sand Tiger Sharks cruising by or an Ocellated Frogfish or a bevy of juvenile Cubbyu… I am never disappointed.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Possibly discovering a new species of fish is my most memorable fish find. Swimming along the sheer wall of Little Cayman at about 90 feet and looking into a little alcove and seeing a jawfish (blue spotted at that!). I couldn’t find the fish in any ID book, and so I contacted REEF for some help… It's still being worked on, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that it is a new species that I will get to name. Dottie’s Jawfish has a nice ring…don’t you think? I have had the chance to meet some incredible people in my diving career and the fishy ones are the best!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub