The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Itziar Aretxaga

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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 Itziar Aretxaga (REEF member since 2003). Itziar has conducted 263 REEF surveys in three REEF regions, and she is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Itziar had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

Shortly after I got my C-card I started looking for a good reference book on fish. I was fortunate to find Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach´s reef guides, and there I read about the REEF program and how one could volunteer. I joined and started identifying species and reporting them to REEF on my own. A year later I met Lad Akins in a course he gave to volunteers in the Veracruz National Park, and he taught me a few tricks that improved my identification skills. He has been a great mentor in all my fish watching activities ever since.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I often look at the online database to check what I might be missing, and the only way of improving it is for each of us to submit our surveys, even if that means clicking on the box for Yellowtail Snappers over and over again. I keep telling myself that I hope I will never see the day when I miss them because they are no longer there. I also take special pride when our data are used in scientific publications or management reports. It might be a mere dot in a plot, but collectively we contribute to the growth of knowledge on marine life and conservation.

Do you dive close to where you live? What is the best part about diving there?

I have done over 200 surveys in Veracruz and I know it well enough now that I can recognize changes. I enjoy noticing the unusual species, species off-season, and it is really thrilling when I get to report a new species. There is also the challenge of spotting fish that others have reported that I have yet to see, so the fun continues.

What is your most memorable fish find?

The first Smooth Trunkfish in golden variation I saw in Veracruz, and the first time it was reported outside the Northern Gulf of Mexico by REEF members. I was so excited when I saw it that I started dancing underwater, quite literally. The staff in our local diving shop told me afterwards they were not that unusual in the area. It was just that nobody had reported them before.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

I like sharing with others the fun of it. I usually take surveys during commercial diving boat trips, and people are curious about those slates that I take underwater and keep scribbling on. It is great to see some of them then turn to my book, and start calling each other to show what they themselves have seen.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub