REEF Ocean Explorers Summer Camp

We are very excited to introduce REEF’s Ocean Explorers Camp: a summer day camp designed for the ocean-minded and adventurous! REEF Ocean Explorers Camp immerses campers in an ocean of learning and fun! Based at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida, REEF will introduce campers to the underwater world and all the amazing things found beneath the sea. Each camp session includes:

  • Snorkel trips to the first underwater state park in the US
  • Kayak ventures into winding mangrove trails
  • Stand up paddle board excursions over seagrass beds
  • Glass bottom boat rides offering a view from the surface
  • Marine science lessons, experiments, and crafts
  • Opportunity to connect with nature and make new friends

Join REEF’s Ocean Explorers Camp to make a splash this summer. We welcome campers ages 8 – 14. Sibling discount available. A $275 camp tuition includes park entry fees, activity expenses, equipment rentals, and souvenir REEF gear including a T-shirt and water bottle! Camp sessions are offered June 15-19, July 13-17, and August 10-14. For more information please visit or call (305) 852-0030.

GivingTuesday - a Global Day of Giving

#GivingTuesday is coming up! Are you ready to pledge your support for REEF's vital marine science and education programs? On December 1, watch your inbox for an important message from our co-founder, Paul Humann, describing how REEF is taking action to address our changing seas.

GivingTuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. We hope you will include REEF in your GivingTuesday giving plans.

The Faces of REEF: Mary Korte

Mary surveying in Kauai.
Mary and Don snorkeling and surveying!
Mary getting ready.
A rare dry moment for Mary.
Butterflyfish, often found in pairs, like Mary and Don! Photo by Carol Cox.
It's always great to have a buddy to point stuff out to.

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 Mary Korte. Mary, and her husband Don, have been REEF members since 2001. Both are active surveyors, and Mary is a Level 3 surveyor in the TWA who has completed 284 surveys (all on snorkel!). Here’s what Mary had to say about REEF:

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Everything! I especially love the Fishinars because they are a great way to improve my fish identification skills, and they boost my confidence in my ability to record species accurately. Fishinars also inspire me to read about the species and learn more about the fish behaviors I observe. I’d love to dive, but I can’t SCUBA dive due to my cardiac history. However, even as a snorkeler, I can contribute to the REEF database. I used to feel bad that I couldn’t dive, but REEF staff members have been wonderful and have told me that reporting data from the top 10-15 feet is important—I’m thankful for their encouragement. I also love that the REEF staff will help me identify “mystery fish” in photos I take while surveying.

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

My husband and I went on the first lionfish survey REEF organized in Curacao. Curacao is a special place for us because we’ve spent our wedding anniversary there every year for almost 15 years. It’s a wonderful island, and the fish life is amazing. It meant a lot to be able to help gather data on the lionfish invasion and hopefully make a difference in the future of the reef fish populations. Without a doubt, eating those pesky fish was the highlight. As our t-shirts say, “Wanted Dead and Grilled: Lionfish, Pirate of the Caribbean.” They make very tasty ceviche, too! We also loved the wonderful sunset sail the last night.

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

You’ve probably known birdwatchers who keep a life list of bird species they’ve seen. They may collect data, e.g. by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. REEF volunteers are “fishwatchers” who keep a life list of fish and collect data on fish abundance and biodiversity for a global database used by marine biologists to monitor the health of coral reefs worldwide. Over 60 scientific papers have been written using REEF data which is really amazing.

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

I think the most important aspect is that REEF’s professional staff and volunteer “citizen scientists” are enhancing our understanding of coral reef ecosystems and fish populations. REEF’s database is an invaluable resource for marine scientists, and it is a privilege to help gather information that is useful for their work. I believe humans have a unique responsibility to care for the environment and our fellow creatures. Hopefully we can collectively make a difference in preserving these special living organisms and places for future generations.

What is your favorite fish?

My favorite fish are the butterflyfish because we almost always find them swimming in pairs. My husband and I have been married 46 years and we always snorkel together so the butterflyfish remind me of all the wonderful years we’ve had together. Surveying for REEF is one of the things we most enjoy doing as a couple because we are both biology teachers and love the ocean.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

We’ve lived in Wisconsin for the last 20 years, but I really love being near the sea. I’ve completed most of my surveys in the tropical Western Atlantic although I’ve also surveyed in Hawaii and the Galapagos. This summer I’ll be in French Polynesia for a week, and I’m looking forward to adding new fish to my life list. We were there almost 30 years ago, and that is where my husband and I fell in love with snorkeling although we didn’t know about REEF back then. It’s really hard to pick one favorite place, but I especially like the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Curacao because of the species diversity and beautiful water. Curacao probably tops my list because there are so many great places that are easily accessible from shore, and Playa Lagun is probably my favorite place to spend an afternoon there because I almost always see eels and interesting fish.

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

Slow down and take time to enjoy really watching the fish—don’t be in a hurry to move on to a new spot too quickly. Linger in one place and try to figure out what the fish are doing. It’s not just about identifying and counting fish—it’s also about relaxing and savoring the privilege to be in this environment. If you slow down, you’ll use more of your senses, notice more details, and begin to feel that you are a part of the ecosystem even if only briefly as a guest. Absorb the tranquility and drift with the fish—breathe slowly, feel the water, and go with the flow. Always, always carry a camera because you never know what you’ll find.

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, September 2016

REEF population data on Goliath Grouper are currently being used by several different researchers and government agencies to help support the recovery of this threatened species. Photo by Lureen Ferretti.

Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

- Data on three large Caribbean parrotfish species were provided to a scientist at California State San Luis Obispo to evaluate status and trends in these declining species.

- Data to evaluate population densities of herbivores in Bahamas and Belize were provided to researchers from Georgia State University.

- Goliath Grouper data were provided to researchers from University of Florida to build a spatial model to look at grouper management options and to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to develop a Population Learning Model.

- Data on sea stars and sea urchins from the Pacific Northwest were provided to a researcher working with the Coastal Ocean Research Institute to report on the health of Howe Sound in British Columbia.

Field Methodology Course This Summer

REEF's Summer Field Course is a great way to get experience out on the water.

This summer, REEF will host our second Reef Fish Field Methodology Course in Key Largo, Florida. This one week hands-on course is designed for college undergraduates and recent graduates aspiring towards a career in marine biology or a related field. The course covers commonly used tools and techniques for visual assessments of reef fishes. Through classroom and field experiences, the course will expose students to Tropical Western Atlantic fish identification, size estimations underwater, surveying reef fishes using transect, roving and stationary visual techniques, benthic assessments, and management of survey data.

Prospective participants must be at least 18 years of age, enrolled in or a recent graduate of a college level program, and hold a scuba certification. To get more details on REEF’s Fish Field Methodology Course and to apply visit or contact Amy Lee at (305) 588-5869 or .

Visit the REEF Store For Your Holiday Shopping!

Have you checked out REEF's online store recently? It's the perfect place to get gifts for the ocean lovers in your life. In addition to a great selection of marine life books and REEF survey supplies and gear, we have a ton a fun gift items -- Holiday Ornaments, Preservation Creature Puzzles, Hammerhead Bottle Openers, Swell Style Bags from Bungalow360, and Conservation Creature Plushes! Visit to see all of our great inventory.

Great Annual Fish Count Summary (GAFC)

New England Aquarium Dive Club GAFC event in Gloucester, MA
GAFC 2007 - Dive Friends at Yellow Submarine, Bonaire

Thanks to everyone who participated in a GAFC event this summer! This July, over twenty-three events were hosted throughout REEF's survey regions. We are still receiving data from these events and have processed a large amount already!

Since REEF's GAFC's inception in California in the early 90's, it has continued to grow and expand. More people are become involved in REEF by making a meaningful contribution to marine conservation by conducting REEF Fish Surveys. Previous events have generated over 2,000 surveys during the month of July. This year, the New England Aquarium Dive Club hosted an event in Gloucester, MA, with 103 surveyors! 

GAFC is REEF's biggest annual signature event which mobilizes our wonderful partners, volunteers, and dive shops throughout much of our survey regions.  All of whom coordinate their own local events which include offering free REEF Fish ID courses, organizing survey dives/snorkels, and other fun events tied into the theme of counting fish. The GAFC draws local, national (US), and international media attention each year. It reengages veteran REEF volunteers and also serves as a terrific mechanism to expose new ones to what REEF is all about. Though the GAFC takes place each July, it highlights nothing more than what we do year-round - engaging individuals to become active stewards of the marine environment. Volunteers learn by taking REEF Fish ID courses and conducting fish surveys as part of The Fish Survey Project. 

Grant Gove, who attended the GAFC event hosted by the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop in Bonaire, Netherlands Atillies, sent REEF wonderful DVD's of their successful event for our public library! If you hosted an event this year, or participated in one, we encourage you to either mail a DVD to REEF HQ, Post Office Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037 or email your pictures to 

Thank you to everyone who made GAFC successful this year and look forward to next years 17th annual GAFC event!

REEF Participates in Annual Caribbean Fisheries Conference

Grouper Moon researcher and OSU Professor, Dr. Scott Heppell, reviews findings from cleaning station research conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation site at the recent GCFI conference.

REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Grouper Moon Scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University), participated in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. This annual meeting brings together scientists, fishermen, resource agency managers, and marine conservation organizations to present and discuss current topics and emerging findings on coral reef resources of the tropical western Atlantic waters. Christy presented a summary of 5 years of fish monitoring on two modified reef areas off Key Largo, Florida: the Spiegel Grove artificial reef and the Wellwood grounding restoration (see next month’s edition of REEF-in-Brief for more information on these projects). Brice was an invited speaker in the special session on Nassau grouper, presenting an overview of the conservation status of the species. During the Spawning Aggregation session, Brice also presented changes in the average size of Nassau grouper that are visiting the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site since it was protected from fishing in 2003. Scott presented a poster summarizing cleaning station research that the Grouper Moon team has been conducting on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation site. Other presentations that included REEF data included a talk by Dr. Todd Kellison from NOAA Fisheries on trends in commercial species abundances in Biscayne National Park and a talk by Nicole Cushion from University of Miami on patterns of abundance in grouper species in the Bahamas.


Happy St. Patrick's Day! We show our "green" spirit here at REEF by continuing important conservation initiatives. In this edition, learn about REEF's participation in the 54th annual Boston Sea Rovers international underwater clinic, a visit with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and a citizen science discussion series recently hosted by REEF in the Florida Keys. Two valuable REEF members learn bi-coastal fish ID and there is one spot left on the Turks and Caicos field survey next month. Last chance to sign up for this amazing conservation diving opportunity!

With best wishes and best fishes,


Dr. Jim Bohnsac Discusses No-Take Zones for the Dry Tortugas National Park

REEF Diver, Marah Hardt, on Riley's Hump, Dry Tortugas National Park
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Coral Reef at Dry Tortugas, Photo by Tim Taylor
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Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park
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View from inside Fort Jefferson of the mote surrounding the Fort

Dr. Jim Bohnsac is our Science Liaison to the Board of Directors and a Fisheries Biologist with NOAA.  Recently, Jim has been  interviewed several times about the effectiveness of the Dry Tortugas National Park in protecting fish species inside and outside of the protected areas.  The Dry Tortugas lie approximately 70 miles SW of Key West and are an integral part of the greater Keys coral reef ecosystem.
 No-fishing zones studied, Protective areas aim to increase size, number of fish
Wednesday, July 2, 2008

DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK - Reeling in a 45-pound grouper used to be just an average day on the water in the Florida Keys. The abundance of behemoth fish attracted anglers from around the world in the early 1900s, including adventurers such as Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey, who pulled in monsters from the clear, warm depths off Key West. But as Florida's population boomed, the attraction that drew them began to vanish. Anglers were snapping up the larger fish by the thousands. An average grouper caught in the Keys now is about 8 pounds. "We were starting to look like a Third World nation in regards to having blitzed our resources," said University of Miami marine biologist Jerald Ault.

Mr. Ault and others are studying whether putting large tracts of ocean off-limits to fishing in the Keys can help species rebound - and prove a way to help reverse the effects of overfishing worldwide. Federal and state scientists, along with University of Miami researchers, wrapped up a 20-day study on June 9 after 1,710 dives in the region, surveying fish sizes and abundance, in an effort to determine whether it's working. Critics assert that it isn't. They say limiting size and catch quantities, not fencing off the seas, will help restore ocean life.

 The fierce debate has raged between scientists and anglers for years. Some studies suggest the outcome could mean life or death for not only commercial and sport fishing, but for mass seafood consumption as it exists today. Florida has the largest contiguous "no-take" zone in the continental U.S. - about 140 square miles are off limits to fishing in and around Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of seven sandy islands about 70 miles west off Key West amid the sparkling blue-green waters that teem with tropical marine life. Nearby, another 60 square miles are also off limits.The region is home to some 300 fish species and lies within a crucial coral reef habitat at the convergence of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  To see the rest of this story, please visit -

More recent interviews with Jim Bohnsac - 

Are artificial reefs good for the environment?

Proponents say they replenish the ecosystem. Some scientists aren't so
Jeneen Interlandi
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 8:49 PM ET Jun 20, 2008


Off the Hook? Scientists, anglers debate if 'no-take' zones are helping endangered fish to rebound

Jim also did an impromptu interview for the Keynoter newspaper here in the Keys with Kevin Wadslow.  Paul Humann and others participated in this interview as wel. The focus was on the post International Coral Reef Symposium Field Trip discussed in this Enews edition.  The story link is not yet posted but will be within the next few days from here -

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