The Faces of REEF: 2013 Volunteers of the Year, Carlos and Allison Estapé

Allison swimming with a Hawksbill Sea Turtle. Photo by Carlos Estapé.
A camera is a great fish watchers tool. Check out this photo that Allison took of a Colon Goby, only to later notice on the computer screen a Saddled Stargazer hiding in the sand. Photo by Allison Estapé.

We are proud to announce our 2013 Volunteers of the Year, Carlos and Allison Estapé. Carlos and Allison joined REEF in 2008, and collectively, they have conducted 108 surveys. They call the Florida Keys home. As Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team members, skilled lionfish hunters, expert underwater photographers, and PADI Open Water Scuba Instructors, this diving duo is instrumental to REEF’s fieldwork conducted in the Upper Florida Keys and they are avid REEF ambassadors. Most recently, they have raised interest in the 100 Fish ID Challenge, or "Century Dive", in the Keys, whereby a REEF surveyor finds at least 100 species of fish on one dive (their quest even ended up in the Miami Herald newspaper). Here's what Carlos and Allison had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?

In 2008, we moved to the Keys permanently and we were looking for people with similar interests. What a great find! We started attending the monthly REEF Fish and Friends lectures and participated in REEF Lionfish Derbies. From there, our participation continued to grow as we got involved with the interns and the 100 Fish Challenge.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

Carlos- "For me, surveys have evolved into an underwater treasure hunt. There is a great quote that says “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder” R.W. Sockman. And this directly applies to fish surveys. When all you know are 100 species you try to pigeonhole everything you see into that knowledge base, but as I have delved deeper into all the real possibilities I question even what appears to be obvious. A few days ago, Allison pointed out a solitary fish on a deep mooring line. It appeared to me to be an Orange filefish, a species I only see on rare occasions and needed a better photograph of. Only after seeing the image on the computer back at home did I realize I had just photographed the first and only Unicorn Filefish (Aluterus monoceros) I have ever seen!

Allison - "I completely agree with Carlos on the surveys being an underwater treasure hunt. It is always exciting when you identify a new fish and/or see a very rare fish. I’ve greatly enjoyed adding to the REEF database and expanding the number of species sighted on our favorite dive sites. When we realized that there was the possibility of seeing over 100 species of fish on one dive at Alligator Reef, that really motivated us to not only expand our ability to identify with certainty more fish species, but it also motivated us to get out and do 2 ½ hr dives to see just how many species we could identify on a dive. My personal best was 116 fish identified and we have had a great time taking the REEF Interns and other fish ID enthusiasts to Alligator Reef so they can attempt to identify over 100 species. So far, 12 divers have achieved the 100 Fish ID Challenge, and we are hoping that many more take up the challenge. Doing the 100 Fish ID Challenge has really taught me where to look for different species of fish, and has really re-invigorated my diving enthusiasm – I spend time in the grass flats, sand, and rubble areas looking for the small fish I never paid any attention to prior to doing the surveys.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

The camaraderie, hands down! We have especially enjoyed our time with the interns when we take them out on our boat and show them some of our favorite dive sites. The friendships we have made with the REEF team and members, the fun of diving with other fish enthusiasts, and the sense of excitement and accomplishment we achieve together when we do Field Surveys and attempt the 100 Fish ID Challenge, has made our participation in REEF one of our most satisfying experiences.

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

Carlos - "REEF is an organization of people driven by their passion of the sea with the goal to protect and document life in the oceans."

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

Carlos - "Education. You only love what you care about, only care about what you know and only know what you are taught.

Allison - "I also believe the scientific research and data that REEF volunteers collect is making a difference in the management of our marine ecosystems/fisheries. The Lionfish removal/derby data is enabling marine park managers to make scientific choices on how to manage the invasive species, and the REEF survey database allows non-scientists to participate in collecting data that scientists use.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

We have the Florida reefs thirty minutes away by boat by design. I was certified in 1978 and my first dive was on Pickles reef. Recently we have been on a quest to photograph as many species as possible listed on a survey done by Dr. W. Starck back in the 1960’s. Over a period of ten years he found over 500 species in our own backyard! Over 300 of those are within the safe diving limits and so far we have photographed 225 of them including a few he never found!

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

Islamorada Dive Center (IDC) out of Windley Key in Islamorada. Great attitude and service. They always put a dive guide in the water with you for no extra charge. We have become close friends with everyone there.

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

Carlos - "The one and only time I was in the water with a Whale shark in the Maldives. We had been motoring for hours looking for one without success and finally the crew gave up and put us in the water anyway. Within minutes a shadow blocked the sun and when I looked up there it was! A juvenile “only” about twenty-five feet long! We swam with it for a few minutes and then it was gone like it had never been there. When I dive I always try to remember to look up now and then."

Allison - "The time we found a 12ft sawfish while diving on the Eagle Wreck in the Florida Keys. The sawfish was laying on the sand in 110 ft of water and looked like a parked submarine. It was flanked by 2 large remora. When we approached it, it pushed up off the bottom in a big swirl of sand and slowly swam away. It was a spectacular sighting of a very rare animal. On that same dive we saw a spotted eagle ray, hawksbill turtle, and many schooling fish. That dive goes down in the memory books as one of our best."

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

Carlos - "Take a camera with you and if you can afford it add an external strobe even to the simplest of point-and-shoot cameras. I cannot tell you the “finds” I have made once I have downloaded and reviewed the day’s photos. A great example of this was reviewing some of Allison's photos that she had taken at Alligator ledge of a Colon Goby. Lying next to the goby is a three inch Saddled stargazer! She didn’t realize it was there when she snapped the photo."

Allison - "A camera, or a buddy with a camera is a must. The more I learn, the less I “know”. You have such a short amount of time to ID fish and so many species are similar that having a camera really makes a difference in identifying an Almaco Jack vs a Lesser Amberjack, and when it comes to the tiny triplefins – a photo is the only way I know whether I got the ID right.

The Faces of REEF: Naomi Wooten

The Blue Rockfish. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Naomi Wooten. Naomi has been a REEF member since 1999, and has conducted 143 surveys (all in her home state of California). She is a member of the Pacific Coast Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Naomi had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

My friend and I participated in a Great American Fish Count dive in Monterey in June 2005 led by John Wolfe and did my first REEF surveys. A local reporter wrote about the event and said that my buddy and I were excited to find an elusive fish and mistakenly named a very commonly sighted fish. I have had a REEF number since 1999. I think I signed up at a scuba show exhibit.

Have you participated in any REEF special projects or Field Surveys?

I was part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advanced Assessment Team Project in 2012. After the last dive, my tank went bouncing off the boat into the ocean on a rocky ride back to the dock, and I unwillingly contributed to the artificial reef of Monterey. The best part of the story is that several team members and REEF generously pitched in and helped me replace the tank. I put a REEF sticker on that tank!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I am motivated to complete surveys by an unexplainable interest in stats and a slightly competitive spirit. Doing surveys contributes to a growing database that others have used in scientific papers and debates. When I started, Kawika Chetron was the top surveyor in California with about 300 surveys. Three hundred surveys became my lifetime goal. I am almost halfway there.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

I love doing REEF surveys because they are so easy and surveys can be part of any dive. I am happy that I can contribute without being a scientist, fish expert, or copious surveyor.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Instead of being a rare fish, my favorite is the blue rockfish, which is very common in Monterey. I smile every time I see the first one on a dive. There is nothing like the peaceful awe I feel when I slowly move into a school of these beautiful fish and am temporarily allowed to be part of their group.

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

Well, this is my tip for myself. Don’t compare yourself to other REEF members you know and don’t feel bad that you cannot identify (or find) tons of fish and invertebrates like they can. Concentrate on ones you can identify for sure. Keep adding to your personal list and honing your critter-finding skills.

REEF Welcomes Two New Staff

Jonathan Lavan is REEF's new Volunteer Fish Survey Project Program Assistant.
Heather George is REEF's new Trips Program Manager.

We are very excited to welcome two new members of the REEF Staff team - Jonathan Lavan and Heather George. Both have been involved as volunteers in the organization for many years and collectively bring a wealth of experience and passion for REEF's mission.

Jonathan will serve as the Volunteer Fish Survey Project Program Assistant, and will be based in San Diego. Jonathan has been a REEF member since 2004 and has submitted almost 500 REEF surveys in 5 of the Survey Project's 8 survey regions. He is a REEF Trip Leader and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast. He was REEF’s 2012 Volunteer of the Year. Jonathan is also known to many as the voice of REEF’s Fishinars, and he teaches several of these popular webinars each year. Jonathan will be assisting with many aspects of our corner-stone citizen science program.

Heather will serve as the Trips Program Manager. Heather has been an active member of the REEF community since 2002. In addition to serving as a REEF Trip Leader, Heather is an expert-level surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii regions, and has conducted over 200 surveys. She also assisted with REEF's expansion to the South Pacific, participated in the Grouper Moon project, and served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010. In 2011, Heather was awarded the Volunteer of the Year award. Heather is based on the Garden Island of Kauai, where if you visit she welcomes the opportunity to survey with you!

Please help us extend a warm fishy welcome to Heather and Jonathan!

REEF Fest 2015 Coming Up This Month

Have you registered for REEF Fest 2015 yet? It’s not too late! Join REEF, September 24th-27th, for a celebration of marine conservation success in the Florida Keys!

  • Don’t miss out on our free series of educational seminars, beginning at 1:30 PM each day, Thursday - Saturday. Topics include Fish ID, Sharks, Invasive Lionfish, Coral Restoration, Grouper Moon, and more!
  • Dive spaces are still available, Friday - Sunday mornings, with our generous partnering dive shops. Please call the shop directly to book your spot on fish surveying, lionfish collection, and artificial reef dives! Check out the list of shops and dives available on the REEF Fest website.
  • Join us for our evening socials, Thursday at the Caribbean Club and Friday for the Open House at REEF Headquarters.
  • Tickets are still available for the Saturday Evening Celebration Dinner Party, a night that you won’t forget! Tickets include a 3-course meal, live music, and silent and live auctions.

Get full event details and register for REEF Fest at www.reef.org/REEFFest2015

Fishinars This Month: Grunts, the Gulf of Mexico, and more

Bluestriped Grunt, one of the many we will talk about in next week's Fishinar. Photo by Carol Cox.

Don't miss REEF's Fishinars scheduled for this month. We'll talk about Grunts in the Caribbean, and a two-part session to compare common fishes of northern and southern Gulf of Mexico. And then next month, we welcome back the fabulous Ray Troll, who will talk about cool sharks, both modern day and extinct. These free, online webinars offer the opportunity to learn from our experts on a multitude of topics. For the complete 2016 schedule and to register, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars. Upcoming Fishinars include:

The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm EST, with Jonathan Lavan

Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm EST, with Carol Cox

Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm EST, with Artist Ray Troll

Support Discoveries This Summer; Your Donation Will Be Matched

Make a donation today so that REEF staff can continue research and discovery on the impacts and solutions of the lionfish invasion in the western Atlantic. Photo by Rich Carey.

We have one week left in our summer matching campaign, and want to thank everyone who has given so far. This summer, we are highlighting all the amazing discoveries made possible by generous donations from members like you!

To make a contribution, please visit www.REEF.org/donate.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “To date, we have explored less than five percent of our oceans.” What does that mean for REEF and our members? It means that there is so much out there to discover! Every year, REEF members are finding new species, and REEF scientists are investigating the lifecycles and behaviors of critical marine species. We are constantly learning new things about ocean wildlife that contribute to their survival.

It also means that all these new discoveries can help regulatory agencies and policymakers to make more informed decisions on how to manage our fisheries. In cases like the threatened Nassau Grouper, seasonal protections during spawning seasons have been developed. In the case of invasive species, like lionfish, removal events are being encouraged because they have been proven effective at controlling lionfish populations.

Please take this opportunity to make a contribution this summer and help REEF continue to make these important discoveries that ultimately protect marine species around the world! Thank you again to all our members who support us in our mission, and have a great summer!

The Faces of REEF: Jet Long

Jet (second from the left) with fellow surveyors on the Micronesia Field Survey.
In addition to his volunteer work with REEF, Jet also helps with other causes like this 75-story climb for the YMCA.
A face-off between Black-saddled Toby. Photo by Jet Long.
Jet's underwater selfie!

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 Jet Long. Jet lives in California, and has been a REEF member since 2013. He has participated in several REEF Field Survey Trips and has conducted over 50 surveys. Here’s what Jet had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

I first heard about REEF from fellow REEF member Hideko Kawabata during a volunteering trip. Doing fish surveys all over the world sounded like an interesting idea to me. I spent more time learning about REEF when I got home and decided to join. My first REEF trip was in 2013 to Southern Bahamas on Turks and Caicos Explorer II. I learned a lot about lionfishes (e.g. anatomy, how to hunt and cook them). Since then, I try to do at least one REEF fish survey trip every year.

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

I have done a few REEF Field Surveys. The one I like the most so far is the Philippines Dumaguete Atlantis Resort trip. It might be because it was the first time I did muck diving. The fishes and creatures that you could find were amazing (e.g. many types of anemone fishes, bobtail squids, slingjaw wrasse, mantis shrimps). The highlight was no doubt swimming with the world’s largest fish – whale sharks!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

There are a lot of good reasons why you want to be a REEF member. You can help to establish a fish database which is used by different research projects. You will visit places that you may not think of visiting. But the best part is the expansion of your knowledge on fishes, sea creatures, and the ocean when you are on a field survey trip. You will see the underwater world differently once you learn more about it. You will learn the importance of protecting our ocean.

What is your favorite place to dive?

I would have to say the Coral Triangle. Its high concentration of fishes, corals, and other species is really amazing.

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

When I was in Dumaguete Philippines, I saw two Black-saddled Tobies facing off with each other. At first, they were in the middle of the water column. They then spiraled down towards the bottom. They eventually glided through each other’s body. I didn’t expect this to happen.

What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?

Ocean’s giant gentle Manta Ray is my favorite fish. It was absolutely beautiful to watch them swimming and hovering the cleaning station.

Do you have any surveying, fish watching or identification tips for the REEF members?

Do more! The more you do, the better you will be in identifying the fishes in a particular region. Before each field trip, one should spend some time watching the Fishinars to get familiar with the fishes. In addition, a fish ID book is a really useful tool to learn about the fishes before and during the trip.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

Seeing a Crocodile Flathead hiding in the sea grass during the Palau trip was really neat. Its camouflage body made it almost impossible to locate. I was just lucky to look at that specific patch of sea grass. The fish that I really want to sea underwater is Ocean Sunfish (aka Mola Mola), which is supposed to be the world’s heaviest bony fish.

Welcome New REEF Staff - Bonnie Barnes and Ellie Place

Bonnie Barnes, REEF's Development Manager.
Ellie Place, REEF's Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project

We are very excited to welcome two new staff to the REEF Team - Bonnie Barnes and Ellie Place. Both joined our staff based at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida, in April 2017. Bonnie will serve as REEF's Development Manager, bringing a wealth of experience and passion to our fundraising program. Ellie came to REEF originally as a Marine Conservation Intern in 2016, and we are so happy she has decided to stay. She will be REEF's Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Program. More about both of our new staff is below, and you can read about all of our staff here - Staff Bios Page. We feel so lucky to have such a dedicated team. Our staff, together with our amazing volunteers and supporters, ensure that our mission-oriented, marine conservation work can happen.

Bonnie Barnes joins REEF as our Development Manager. Bonnie’s heart is in conservation, whether scuba diving, traipsing through a forest, or swooshing down a mountain, she loves and cares about our environment. Having started her first business at 17 in her hometown of Las Vegas, she eventually found her way to Florida where she owned a marketing company for another 14 years. After earning her MBA in 2006, she jumped head-first into the nonprofit world, leading a conservation organization in Jacksonville, Florida. As an avid diver, she trained to be a member on the Jacksonville Reef Research Team, and, as their Communications Officer, organized the first Artificial Reef conference in the early 90’s at Jacksonville University, in which REEF also participated. For her work in the offshore marine environment, Bonnie was awarded Florida’s Sea Grant Volunteer of the Year Award in 1991. With over 10 years in nonprofit management and cultivation of donors, Bonnie has found her way to the Florida Keys, where she can combine her love of diving with protection of our ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public to become involved.

Ellie Place joins REEF as the Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. She attended Brown University where she earned two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Geological Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies. She first started at REEF as a Marine Conservation Intern in the fall of 2016, and enthusiastically joined the staff in the spring of 2017 after serving as an Education Leadership Intern. She grew up in Washington State, halfway between the Puget Sound and the North Cascades, where her passion for exploring and conserving the natural world lead her to REEF. Before moving to Key Largo, Ellie worked as a co-leader for kayaking expeditions in the San Juan Islands and as a lab assistant in an oceanography lab that studied sediment samples from the East China Sea to measure centennial scale climate change. Ellie’s passion for sharing conservation efforts support her role with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and in expanding its many components. Ellie is a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropical Western Atlantic, but has also enjoyed diving in the Pacific Northwest.

Welcome Bonnie and Ellie P!

Putting it to Work: New Publication Showing Link Between Land Impacts and Fish Populations

Figure 4a from Roberts et al 2017 paper in "Ocean & Coastal Management", showing a topographic map of Bonaire.

We are proud to share details on a recent scientific paper published using REEF data - "Terrestrial degradation impacts on coral reef health: Evidence from the Caribbean" by M. Roberts et al. This was the 7th scientific paper using REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data or other REEF projects published in 2017.

In this paper, published in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management, REEF fish survey data collected from Bonaire in 2015 were used to help evaluate the impact of terrestrial degradation on nearby coral reefs, specifically investigating the link between vegetation ground cover and tree biomass index to coral cover, fish communities, and visibility. The authors found a positive relationship between ground cover and coral cover below 10 m depth, and a negative relationship between tree biomass index and coral cover below 10 m. Greater ground cover is associated with sediment anchored through root systems, and higher surface complexity, slowing water flow, which would otherwise transport sediment. The negative relationship between tree biomass index and coral cover is unexpected, and may be a result of the deep roots associated with dry-forest trees, due to limited availability of water, which therefore do not anchor surface sediment, or contribute to surface complexity. The analysis provides evidence that coral reef managers could improve reef health through engaging in terrestrial ecosystem protection, for example by taking steps to reduce grazing pressures, or in restoring degraded forest ecosystems. 

To see all of the scientific papers featuring REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The Faces of REEF: Don Gordon

Don Gordon diving in the waters near Vancouver Island.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. More than 65,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission. 

This month we highlight Don Gordon, REEF member since 2011. Don recently achieved Golden Hamlet status, and has conducted 1007 surveys to date, mostly in the chilly waters of British Columbia, Canada. Don is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) and is active in several of REEF’s special monitoring projects. Here's what Don had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I met Lad Akins at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, BC. As a former manager of protected natural areas I had a good deal of experience with citizen science and I was really impressed by REEF. I knew this was a place that I could make a meaningful contribution to the marine environment. 

Have you ever been on a REEF Field Survey Trip?

Shortly after meeting Lad I had a chance to go on a REEF Field Survey Trip to Hornby Island, British Columbia, led by Janna Nichols. On that trip I discovered that REEF was also a community. I also learned so much about our local fish and invertebrates that in no time I was able to join the AAT for the PAC region. Through the AAT I’ve been privileged to participate in a couple of long-term scientific studies and to learn from experts at the very top of their field. 

Do you dive close to where you live?

I am very grateful to have moved to Victoria on Vancouver Island from the Great Lakes region. Here we can dive 12 months of the year and there are easily a dozen good shore dives within 40 minutes of my home, making weeknight diving a reality. Vancouver Island also has an extensive dive infrastructure and an active dive community. One local operator describes it as, “The best cold water diving in the known universe.”

In the last few years I’ve dived in the Philippines, Red Sea and Bahamas and can state that the best diving I’ve ever experienced is at the north end of Vancouver Island. Beneath cold seas you can encounter a diversity and abundance that defies belief.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub