The Faces of REEF: Roger Skillman

A great find, especially for a first dive - the Striated Frogfish. Photo (c) Ned DeLoach.
Roger with some students at the Blue Heron Bridge.
The majestic Sand Tiger Shark. Photo by Jeff Haines.

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 Roger Skillman. Roger has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 45 surveys. Despite being landlocked in the Smoky Mountains, he is an active surveyor in the Carolinas and Florida. He also teaches SCUBA and incorporates REEF in to his classes! Here's what Roger had to say about REEF:

What’s your favorite part of REEF surveying?

I like completing REEF surveys to document what was seen on any given day at a particular dive site. Completing surveys helps establish baseline data for a site. REEF members are “Citizen Scientists” with their eyes in the water and we provide valuable data for researchers that can’t be everywhere. The most interesting thing I have found about completing surveys is the importance of an underwater camera and a variety of good fish ID books to help with identification after the dive.

Do you have a favorite place to do surveys?

I have two favorite places that I like to dive. Most of my 34 years of diving have been on the shipwrecks offshore of Beaufort, North Carolina. The historical shipwrecks and abundant marine life that can be found rivals diving anywhere around the world! During the last 5 years, I have discovered the great diving around Jupiter, Florida, to include the world famous Blue Heron Bridge. BHB, with its unusual creatures and the ledges offshore, provide as many different species of fish as many tropical locales.

What is your favorite fish find?

My most fascinating fish encounter has to be diving with the Sand Tiger Sharks on the shipwreck “Caribsea” offshore Cape Lookout, NC. Diving while surrounded by 50 of these magnificent creatures was a marvelous experience. A most memorable fish find occurred at Blue Heron Bridge in 2013. I was completing open water evaluations with two of my students when we found not one, but two, Striated Frogfish. I had never seen a frogfish and these “neophyte” divers saw TWO on their first ever open water dives! Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair!

What advice do you have for other REEF members?

The best way to benefit from REEF is to get INVOLVED! I belong to inland-based REEF Field Station (Smoky Mountain Divers-Carolinas) but that doesn’t stop us from conducting surveys. Contact our field station or a field station near you and participate in their fish ID programs. Sign up and participate in the numerous webinars and classes offered by REEF to expand your knowledge. It’s not hard, just FUN!

Be On The Lookout - Indo-Pacific Damsel Reported in Gulf of Mexico

Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.

We are encouraging all REEF surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic region to be on the lookout for a new non-native fish! Researchers from the University of Veracruz have documented a new non-native species in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico with the potential to spread throughout the region. Sightings of the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos) have recently come from the nearshore reef systems south of Veracruz, Mexico. The species is native to a broad region of the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. The damselfish was documented at depths from 2-21 meters, though it was more common on deeper reefs. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel can reach sizes of up to 9 cm (3.5 inches) in length and is distinguished by a yellow or white spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin, a dark spot behind the gill, and yellow rear margins of the tail, dorsal and anal fins. In contrast, the native Brown Chromis is identified by dark margins on the tail and a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin. Observations from Dr. Ross Robertson indicate the Regal Demoiselle can be a bit more cryptic than the native Chromis, tending to hide under ledges and in crevices between corals, rather than swimming in the open. Experts in Mexico believe that this damsel has the potential to disrupt natural systems around Caribbean reefs, as they have witnessed displacement of the native Brown Chromis on heavily-invaded sites.

If you see this fish while doing a REEF survey, be sure to report it on your form in the unlisted fish section. Please also report detailed information on the sighting to REEF through the invasive species reporting page.

The Faces of REEF: Alice Ribbens

Alice, with husband Will, in Indonesia.
The spectacular Pajama Cardinalfish. Photo courtesy WikiMedia.

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 Alice Ribbens, a REEF member since 2010. Despite being based in snowy Minnesota, MN (USA), Alice is an active surveying member who has conducted over 70 surveys in four of REEF's regions (TWA, PAC, TEP, and CIP). She is a member of Advanced Assessment Team in the TWA, and she is a SCUBA instructor who enjoys sharing her love of fish ID. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I had always been interested in identifying creatures seen on my dives. My husband bought me the ReefNet fish ID software for my birthday in 2010. Through that, I found out about REEF. I joined right away and was hooked on Fishinars from our very first one!

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

My first REEF trip was to the Sea of Cortez in 2012 aboard the Rocio del Mar. Diving with such an experienced group of divers and surveyors was incredible. Also very exciting to see my first whale shark (with Christy and Brice reminding us to put down “whale shark” and “remora” on our surveys)!

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

I am an instructor at Scuba Center in Eagan, MN. They became a REEF Field Station in 2014. I have been running “Fish Nights”: we use a combination of REEF materials and fish photos to teach about fish ID. When a Fishinar is on a night that our classroom is free, we try to participate live. Otherwise, we pick recorded fishinars based on an upcoming trip or people’s interests. Although we don’t have a lot of active surveyors yet, the Fish Nights are very popular, a number of our instructors and divers have joined REEF, and everyone is learning a lot.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Diving in Minnesota is not too exciting in terms of fish, so I love to travel to dive. I always look in nooks and crannies for fish and critters. I’m a little obsessed with cardinalfish right now, probably because they are generally so shy. I was so happy to find pajama cardinalfish in Raja Ampat. I know they are not unusual, but they are so cute! (I loved anemonefish until one bit me—I had a fish hickey on my forehead for several days.)

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

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you first start. Fishinars are great to get the basics. With surveys, start slow, learn a few new fish every day, and write down what you know. (Photos are great, but work on your buoyancy skills before adding a camera.) Dive with a likeminded buddy so you can help each other with mystery fish. REEF Trips are like fish boot camp so if you can join one, do it. I thought I knew my TWA fish before my first REEF trip there, but was amazed at how much I learned!

Upcoming Fishinars: Hawaii, Wrasses, the US Northeast, and Blue Heron Bridge

Join us Wednesday night for a Hawaii Fishinar. Arc-eye Hawkfish photo by Jim Spears.

Check out the great Fishinars we have planned for May! We invite everyone to join in the fun of learning in the convenience of your home, with these energetic and informative online webinars. Our Fishinars are free to REEF members, interactive (so you don't fall asleep), and chock full of tips and tricks to help you learn fish ID in many areas of the world.

In May and June, we have several great sessions in store:

  • Wednesday, May 4th - Hawaii Fishes: Life on a Coral Head, with Christy Semmens
  • Tuesday, May 17th - The Wrasse Class: Back in School, with Jonathan Lavan
  • Thursday, May 26th - The Northeast's Less Frequently Seen Fish, with Janna Nichols and Jason Feick
  • Wednesday, June 1st and Tuesday June 7th - Blue Heron Bridge: Life in the Muck, a two part class, with Carlos and Allison Estape
  • Wednesday, June 22nd - Super Duper Groupers, with Jonathan Lavan

Register and get more details here: www.REEF.org/fishinars. We hope to 'see' you online!

The Faces of REEF: Kat Fenner

The Y-prickleback, one of Kat's favorite finds. Photo by Wendy Carey.

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 Kathleen Fenner. Kat has been a REEF member since 1999. She lives in British Columbia, Canada, and she is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (a Level 5 Expert surveyor). She has also conducted surveys in the TWA and is a Level 3 Advanced surveyor there. To date, Kat has completed 178 surveys. Here’s what Kat had to say about REEF:

How did you find out about REEF?

I read about REEF years ago in a dive magazine and signed up. They shared my values of the ocean environment and citizen science. Over 10 years later I began doing surveys. At the Salish Sea Conference in 2011, employed by a NGO, I was able to dive with REEF and met Janna Nichols (REEF Outreach Coordinator). I was walked through my first survey. It helped that I had moved from the interior of British Columbia to Vancouver Island! I have completed many surveys since then. I’m so glad I met Janna who assisted me in getting started.

What inspires you to do REEF surveys?

I’m inspired to complete REEF surveys for personal benefit and for the future. I enjoy recording what I see, knowing I’ll be able to access that data at any time. It’s like having a super detailed log book always available. My awareness and knowledge base is increasing by doing surveys. Without thinking about it, I’m watching fish behavior and checking out fins and noticing many details. It’s exciting being able to see more when you are over 40! The future to me is my four grandchildren. I want them to have a beautiful ocean environment to enjoy and share with their children someday. I believe in what REEF does. The information in their data base can assist in better understanding and protection of our aquatic environment. Accurate information gathered by many is more beneficial than information gathered by a few.

What do you enjoy most about being a REEF member?

My favorite part of being a REEF member is access to free educational material. REEF gives you such great opportunities to learn. I love the fishinars, flash cards, quizzes and the great people that work for REEF that answer fishy questions. I’ve always been a bit of a fish geek but now I have an ongoing opportunity to learn and constantly increase my knowledge base.

Do you have any critter watching tips for others?

My tips for REEF members is to get an underwater camera, doesn’t have to be a great camera and get as many fishy ID books as you can. Having multiple resource books helps a lot with ID. More information assists in making a positive ID. A camera will let you look at the detail of a fish without it swimming away. Often I’ve made positive ID from a poor quality picture, but a picture that captured defining features.

What has been your favorite fish-find or underwater encounter?

Almost every dive is a fascinating fish encounter for me. I’m always seeing something new to me, whether it is a species or the species with eggs, or large schools, or juveniles but I almost always find something new. One fascinating encounter was the Y-Prickleback, positively identified from our low quality picture. It felt good to be able to report something that little information exists on.

Announcing Third Summer of REEF Ocean Explorers Camp

Children having a blast at the 2016 REEF Ocean Explorers Summer Camp.

Explorers will be exposed to the underwater world, all of its amazing creatures, and a week filled with creative activities and adventures. Discover all that the ocean has to offer and experience conservation actions in the sunny, salty, and wonderful Florida Keys. REEF will offer four sessions of summer camp - two weeks at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo and two weeks at Postcard Inn in Islamorada. Please tell the young explorer in your life about this amazing opportunity to snorkel, kayak, and explore this summer. REEF welcomes campers ages 7-13. For more information, please visit www.REEF.org/Explorers/Camp or email Explorers@REEF.org.

Home Grown REEF Clubs! FIN and Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers

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FIN members gathered at Maluaka Beach in July for a Great Annual Fish Count dive.
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FIN members, Liz Foote and Josh Wittmer (who is also a previous REEF Marine Conservation Intern and now works for the Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui), getting ready for a FIN-organized REEF dive at Honolua Bay earlier this month.

We say it often - REEF is what it is because of our fantastic members.  The grassroots nature of the organization is reflected in all aspects of our work, including the amazing volunteers like Audrey Smith who help with daily operating tasks at REEF HQ, the networks of regional REEF partners who enlist new REEF members and provide continuing education and survey opportunities for active surveyors, our members who generously support REEF with financial donations, and of course the thousands of survey volunteers who submit marine life surveys each year. 

As the corps of active and experienced REEF surveyors has grown, we have been fortunate to have some of those members take their support and interest in REEF to the next level by forming local REEF groups.  Two such REEF "clubs" are FIN (the Fish Identification Network)  and the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers.  FIN is a REEF club based in Maui, and is touted as an opportunity to join friends and fellow fish lovers in exploring the coral reefs of Maui.  The club is for all interested divers and snorklers, and promotes marine conservation and the objectives of REEF.  FIN was founded by Terri and Mike Fausnaugh (Mike is also a member of the REEF Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team (AAT)) and is supported by the cadre of REEFers that REEF partner, Liz Foote of Project S.E.A.-Link, has generated in Hawaii through the years.  There are monthly (sometimes weekly) FIN dives at various beaches on Maui and at every event FIN folks set up a REEF station on the beach with survey materials and identification reference guides in an attempt to lure in new afishianados!  The PNW Critter Watchers encourages all divers in Washington and Oregon to become underwater naturalists.  Through training and quarterly REEF survey dives, Critter Watcher founders and REEF Pacific AAT members, Janna Nichols and Wes Nicholson, aim to put the fun in critter watching and promote REEF surveying in the Pacific Northwest.  Janna also maintains a Critter Watchers website that includes a fish of the month feature, an events listing, unusual sightings reported by fellow Critter Watchers, and congratulations to REEF surveyors who have advanced through the REEF experience level system.

These home-grown REEF clubs are a great way to help spread the fun and enjoyment of REEF surveying to a local dive community.  We are grateful that we have such enthusiastic and supportive volunteers who are willing to help spread the REEF word.  These on-the-ground activities could never be accomplished without your help!

Enter Your REEF Survey Data Online

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Are you a REEF surveyor along the US & Canadian West Coast or Hawaii? If so, you can now enter your survey data online.

Are you a REEF surveyor along the US and Canadian West coast or Hawaii? If so, did you know that you can now enter your data ONLINE! No more scanforms (unless you really want to use them - they'll still work – although note that there will be a fee to purchase scanforms beginning in 2008). No more scrounging around to find a pencil. No more stamps and trips to the post office. All you need to do is click on Submit Data Online under the Database menu and you're on your way. Entering data online is not only easy for you, it greatly eases the workload on the limited REEF staff, enhances the quality of the data and reduces typographical errors, and most importantly, it greatly decreases the processing time from 8 weeks or more for paper scanforms to typically within 2 weeks from the time of online submission.

REEF plans to add the Northeast (Virginia through Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja Mexico to the Galapagos Islands) regions to the online submission program over the next few months in order for all of our program regions to be covered by this convenient data management feature.

REEF Partners with Caradonna Dive Adventures and Previews 2009 Field Survey Season

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REEF Partners with Caradonna Dive Adventures
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Kayla Serotte Conducting REEF Survey
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Linda Schillinger Surveying in Turks and Caicos Islands
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Joe Cavanaugh Surveying Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

REEF is happy to announce our new partnership with Caradonna Dive Adventures as our travel provider, beginning with our 2009 Field Survey Season.  As many of you already know, Caradonna brings years of dive travel acumen and great vendor partnerships, both of which will undoubtedly assist REEF in making our Field Survey Program once again our signature Citizen Science program.  

After all, it is each of you that make all that REEF does in and out of the water possible.  We are closing in on 120,000 Fish Surveys in our world-renowned fish sightings database.  Christy Semmens (REEF Director of Science) and I individually review all of the 1,000 plus surveys entered into the database every month.  We know all of you by name but it is only on our Field Programs that REEF Staff and Board members have the opportunity to put the names to the faces and share the fish surveying exhilaration with you. 

Many of you who use dive travel services have probably used Caradonna in the past and know how good they are at setting up exhilarating dive trips. With Caradonna, you'll almost have a third dive buddy right there with you, wherever you might be! We are previewing our 2009 Season (below) and will be posting additional details and more trips to the website in the coming weeks.   Doris Pfister at Caradonna will serve as our REEF liaison. Doris and I have worked hard these past couple of months to coordinate this exciting schedule.

So without further ado, a preview -

2009 Field Survey Schedule Preview

  • St. Lucia - February 21-28, 2009 with Anse Chastanet Resort, 12-dive all-inclusive package, led by Lisa Mitchell, REEF Executive Director
  • Grenada - July 11-18, 2009 aboard Peter Hughes Wind Dancer, led by Paul Humann
  • St. Croix May 9-16, 2009, with Cane Bay Dive Shop and Carambola Resorts
  • Curacao - October 17-24, 2009 with Sunset Waters Beach Resort
  • Cozumel - December 5-12, 2009 with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn, led by Sheryl Shea

Additional destinations that we are working on include St. Vincent, Maui (Hawaii), Bermuda with Ned DeLoach, and Cancun.  Stay tuned to the REEF Trips webpage.

For all bookings, please contact Doris Pfister, our REEF Dedicated Sales Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com or by phone at 1-877-295-REEF(7333). Details and more trips will be added in the next few weeks and months, so please check the REEF Trips webpage often.

Have you ever wondered how trip locations are decided?  There is a suite of considerations for Field Survey locations, including REEF data needs, diving and tourist infrastructure, costs (evermore important with rising travel costs), partnership and outreach opportunities, fish abundance and diversity, invasive species, educational value, resource management needs, and yes, fun too!  In 2009, REEF staff are planning improvements to our Field Survey program including increased capacity building while the REEF group is onsite and after the trip is over, and increasing the opportunities for resource managers to partner with REEF and utilize the valuable data you collect.  By fostering regional capacity building efforts wherein local stakeholders begin to carry the surveying efforts beyond single events, there is increased likelihood these data will be used for ongoing management decisions. 

120,000! And Counting

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A REEF surveyor records a school of grunts. Photo by Paul Humann.
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REEF volunteer, Dana Haggarty, reviews her data after a survey dive in Monterey Bay.
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REEF data have been used in the stock assessment of Goliath grouper. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF eclipsed a milestone this week when the REEF Volunteer Survey Project Database passed the 120,000 survey mark.  This represents over 150,000 hours of underwater survey time from our volunteers.  The achievement comes almost 15 years to the day when the first REEF fish survey was conducted off Key Largo, Florida, on July 17, 1993.  Today, the program is going strong throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Galapagos Islands and Hawaii. In the tropical western Atlantic region alone, 96,469 surveys have been conducted at 6,085 sites and 795 fish species have been recorded.  Of course, improving your marine life identification skills, building your lifelist of sighted species, and conducting surveys are a lot of fun.  But have you ever wondered what good are all of these data?  

Volunteer data collection, or citizen science, provides a valuable alternative for scientists and resource agencies needing information but lacking sufficient resources to gather it. In addition, involvement in data collection leads to greater awareness about marine resources and creates a stewardship ethic among key user groups.

In addition to providing data summaries on the REEF Website, REEF staff provide raw data to scientists and resource agencies.  REEF data have been used in the development of stock assessments (Kingsley 2004), in the evaluation of trends of fish species (Semmens et al. 2000), to measure the effect of marine protected areas on kelp forest fish communities (Semmens et al. in prep) and coral reefs (REEF 2003), as an indicator of population pressure on natural resources (Burke and Maidens 2004), to evaluate interactions between species and species-habitat relationships (Auster et al. 2005), to asses the effect of restoration efforts in areas of damaged reef (REEF 2008), and to asses the status of a group of reef fish species that is experiencing significant declines (Ward-Paige et al., in prep A and B).  REEF volunteers have been instrumental in the identification and removal of exotic species (Semmens et al. 2004), in the identification of new species (Taylor and Akins 2007; Weaver and Rocha 2007) and morphological variants of known species (Pattengill-Semmens 1999), and in the documentation of previously unrecorded range extensions (M. Taylor and J. Van Tassel, Pers. Comm.). PDFs of most of these articles and a full listing of scientific papers and reports that have used REEF data are included in the Publications section of the REEF Website.

REEF extends a big thank you to the 10,000+ volunteers who have contributed to this database over the years and we are looking forward to the next 120,000 surveys!  Be sure to visit the Top 10 Stats page to see a quick rundown  of REEF survey activity.  You can also explore the data more in-depth by visiting the Database section of the REEF.org Website.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub