The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Paul and Marta Bonatz

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 Paul and Marta Bonatz. Marta joined REEF in 1998 and she drew Paul in 2005. They have become active surveyors, and each has conducted 240 surveys. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Our favorite part of being REEF members is working with a network of other “citizen scientists” to make a difference. Interacting with like-minded divers in an organization that is focused on saving the marine environment is fulfilling. It’s also gratifying to see the change in newly recruited “fish geeks” as they learn more about the underwater world.

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

We’ve been on two REEF field survey trips and plan to do more! The first, which hooked us on fish watching, was to Culebra, Puerto Rico. The highlight was the abundant staghorn coral. Unfortunately, it was totally devoid of adult fish. Our second trip was a lionfish control study in Belize. Spending a week focused on spotting and capturing 506 lionfish in the Belize Atolls with Peter Hughes and Lad Akins was exhilarating. We learned about the hazard this invasive species poses to the indigenous Caribbean fish population, and we now work to educate others about this urgent problem.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

Avid divers are frequently asked to name their favorite vacation destination. When we are asked this question our honest response is “Wherever we are currently diving”. REEF surveying teaches you to appreciate interesting finds on every dive. We sometimes spend an entire dive in a few square yards watching small critters in their habitat. Although every location is unique, the place we visit most frequently is Little Cayman. The sheerness of Bloody Bay wall, the healthy marine environment, and the stunning Nassau Grouper make for an incomparable mixture.

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

We have to include two favorite underwater encounters – we couldn’t agree on just one! The first was on a Manta Ray research trip to the Maldives. At a break in the action while monitoring Mantas on 5 x 1 hour shifts at North Male Atoll, we discovered an octopus positioned on a rock quietly observing us from the distance of a few feet. He welcomed us back every shift! The second was an encounter with a dolphin named “Spot" on Cayman Brac. Spot arrived on Cayman Brac after Hurricane Mitch, and he swam and played with divers on many of the Brac dive sites. Spot disappeared one day and everyone feared the worst. Two years later while diving in Cayman Brac we noticed a pod of dolphins near the boat. Spot edged up to the boat to show off his new family. He wouldn’t let us interact with him anymore, but he wanted everyone to know he was healthy and happy in his new life. It was an electric moment.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub