The Faces of REEF: 2012 Volunteer of the Year, Jonathan Lavan

We proudly announce our Volunteer of the Year for 2012, Jonathan Lavan. Jonathan joined REEF in 2004 and since then, he has logged 324 REEF fish surveys and become a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Teams for both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Pacific Coast survey regions. He has submitted surveys in five of REEF's six regions. Jonathan's involvement with REEF has been instrumental in spreading the word about REEF and its programs. In 2012, he helped to expand the Volunteer Fish Survey project by instructing for REEF's online webinars, called Fishinars. His background in theatre, sense of humor and teaching style quickly made his Fishinars popular with both new and experienced fishwatchers. He has also assisted by serving as an administrator for REEF's experience level tests. To learn more about Jonathan and his involvment with REEF, check out his Member Profile featured in a previous issue of Making It Count.

As a former diver and staff member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and a current diver at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Lavan actively seeks opportunities to educate others about marine life, conservation and REEF. He is often a guest speaker at dive clubs and shows, and especially enjoys educating youth. An avid underwater photographer, Jonathan uses his images gathered over the past 10 years to educate others about marine life, and many of his photos appear in art shows as well as online resources. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Jonathan!

New REEF Program for South Atlantic States - North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia

SAS Launch attendees dove on the artificial reef, the Indra, with Discovery Diving.
Oyster Toadfish, a fun find on the Indra Wreck off North Carolina. Photo by Janna Nichols.
Two days of workshops were held at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll to kick off the new SAS region.

After several years of planning and collaborating with local marine scientists and divers, REEF has expanded the Volunteer Fish Survey Project into another region: the South Atlantic States (SAS). Recreational and scientific divers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia now have survey materials specific to the local ecosystem, including waterproof color ID cards, waterproof survey paper, teaching curriculum, data entry, and online data summaries. Like all of REEF's regions, all species of fish are reported, but in addition the SAS program also monitors fifty-one species of invertebrates and algae that are important indicator species.

Divers have been able to conduct REEF surveys in coastal waters off these three states since the early 1990s when REEF surveying began, but divers had to use survey materials and data entry tools designed for the entire Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean). Large differences in species between the TWA and SAS meant the survey materials were less than ideal for divers in this region.

To launch the new region, REEF and our partners at NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) led two days of training workshops and survey dives during "Bringing Shipwrecks to Life", a NOAA program for divers to appreciate shipwrecks as historical treasures loaded with divers and plentiful biological treasures. Nearly 70 people attended the workshops and completed 40 survey dives over the weekend in early September. Many workshop attendees passed their REEF Level 2 exam.

REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, reported many people learned to really see underwater. “The divers had the usual buzz and excitement that you often hear on a boat full of REEF divers. One diver said, ‘I have dove on that wreck (the Indra) so many times before but I had never noticed that it was covered in coral.’ It's literally covered in Ivory Coral, Occulina spp, one of the invertebrates that we now monitor in the SAS region.

If you live or dive in the SAS region, please contact us to find out more about how you can get involved in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. And please encourage your local dive clubs, dive shop, or education center to teach the new fish and invertebrate curricula.

The Faces of REEF: Randall Tyle

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 Randall Tyle. Randall has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 539 surveys (many in his home state of Oregon). He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and has participated in several of REEF's west coast special projects. Here's what Randy had to say about REEF:

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

At one of my very First Eugene Dive Club meetings, Janna Nichols (REEF Outreach Coordinator) did an "Introduction to REEF" presentation. From that point forward, I have been doing surveys on almost every dive!

Have you been on any REEF Trips?

I have participated in two of the AAT projects to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, in 2011 and 2012. These trips, in addition to surveys I do in the Channel Islands, have been some of my most rewarding dive adventures.

What's your favorite thing about conducting REEF surveys?

I am inspired by the possibility of spotting something unknown, rare or even just something I personally have not seen before. In addition to keeping track of all the cool marine life you have seen on your dives, the REEF website allows you to go back and look at your dive history.

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

During my most recent trip to the Channel Islands NMS, I witnessed a flying formation of over 20 Bat Rays. From my first encounter with a California Giant Sea Bass to past encounters with the tiny Spiny Lumpsucker, I would have to say, I enjoy all of my fish encounters. I am especially fond of our resident (Pacific Northwest) Giant Pacific Octo’s and Wolf Eels.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on the Role of Citizens in Detecting and Responding to a Rapid Marine Invasion

An invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Carol Cox.

A recent publication in the scientific journal, Conservation Letters, examined the invasion of lionfish in to the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters. The authors compared traditional reef fish monitoring efforts to less traditional data including the observations of divers through REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and spearfishers. They found that citizen observations documented lionfish 1-2 years earlier and more frequently than the more traditional monitoring efforts. The authors also explored the willingness of spearfishers to help minimize impacts of the invasion by harvesting lionfish. They found that spearfishers who had encountered more lionfish while diving perceived them as more harmful to the habitat than less experienced divers and were also more likely to participate in harvesting initiatives. The authors also report that encouragement from scientists and managers was a far better motivator than the desire to harvest lionfish for personal consumption. This study demonstrates the value of engaging citizens for assessing and responding to large-scale and time-sensitive conservation problems.

The full citation of the paper is: Scyphers, SB, SP Powers, JL Akins, JM Drymon, CW Martin, ZH Schobernd, PJ Schofield, RL Shipp, and TS Switzer. 2014. The Role of Citizens in Detecting and Responding to a Rapid Marine Invasion. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12127

Visit to see this and all of the scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

Upcoming Fishinars - Fiji, Snappers, New England, and more!

Checkerboard Wrasse, one of the most frequent fishes seen in Fiji. Learn about it and more during the Fiji Fishinars next week. Photo by Paul Humann.

If you haven't participated in one of our free, educational webinars yet, you don't know what you are missing! Known as Fishinars, these hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. Upcoming sessions include:

  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • New England's Finest - Janna Nichols, July 16th
  • More to come!

Palau/Yap and Sea of Cortez Added to the REEF Trip Schedule

The islands of Palau await 18 lucky divers.
Squarespot Anthias are one of the hundreds of species that we'll see while diving in Micronesia. Photo courtesy Palau Aggressor.
REEF members will be on the lookout for whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. Photo by Christy Semmens.
The Rocio del Mar liveaboard, against a backdrop of beautiful topside scenery in the Sea of Cortez.

We are excited to announce two new trips that have been added to the REEF Field Survey schedule -- Micronesia by Land and Sea in October 2016 and the Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez in August 2017! Details on these trips are below, and the full schedule of REEF Trips can be found at REEF Field Survey trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their lifelist while interacting with fellow ocean enthusiasts. Book early - REEF trips often sell out! Also, keep an eye on the REEF Trips webpage and your inbox- we'll be announcing the full 2017 schedule soon.

Micronesia by Land and by Sea - Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap and Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard, October 4 - 16, 2016. REEF members and enthusiastic fish surveyors will not want to miss our first-ever Field Survey Trip to Micronesia, alongside REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens! This exciting 12-day adventure begins land-based at the world-renowned Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, featuring three days of diving Yap's rich coral walls, channels, and lagoon sites, all while observing creatures including manta rays, reef sharks, and maybe even mating mandarinfish. After diving Yap, recharge with a night at the Palau Royal Resort, within walking distance of the yacht marina. Then the excursion continues with a 7-night charter aboard the Palau Aggressor II, with the opportunity for up to 5 dives per day in warm, tropical water. Surveyors can look forward to discovering Napoleon wrasses, titan triggerfish, crocodile fish, and many different species of gobies tucked among an abundance of hard and soft corals. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for all the details.

Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez, August aboard the Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, August 19 - 26, 2017. Join Christy and Brice for an unforgettable week of diving and citizen science in the diverse and dynamic Sea of Cortez, home to a wide range of creatures including nudibranchs, blennies, jawfish, rays, guitarfish, sharks, eels, octopuses, seahorses, and much more! In addition to numerous fish and invertebrate families, participants may also get to observe pilot and sperm whales while in transit. The plankton-rich currents of the Pacific along the coast of California and Mexico, along with the sheltered waters of the Sea of Cortez, also create a great opportunity to encounter whale sharks and manta rays. In fact, Jacques Cousteau once called this region, "the aquarium of the world." And top-side scenery is as spectacular as below the water. Participants will spend 7 nights aboard the magnificent Rocio Del Mar liveaboard, a spacious 110-foot vessel complete with a fantastic crew. Visit the trip page for all the details.

March Membership Madness - Help Us Reach Our Goal

Thank you to everyone who spread the word about marine conservation this month… 554 new members signed up. Let’s try to make it 600 by March 31st, which is the last day to enter to win a free wetsuit.

Have a friend join REEF, and you will both be entered to win. If you are already a member, have your friend enter your name when they join by choosing "Other" under “How did you hear about REEF?” Good luck to everyone!

Review REEF on GreatNonprofits

Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the website at:

Thanks to such great feedback by our members in 2015, REEF once again achieved "Top-Rated" status on the GreatNonprofits webpage. We need at least ten new reviews in 2016 to maintain this honored status. Please help us.

Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member: "My daughter and I have been volunteer members of REEF for almost twenty years. She was seven when we joined, and became a certified junior diver at ten- In great part due to the fun we had together as REEF members & volunteers. Avid snorkelers, and divers, we love diving with a purpose. Our favorite "self-challenge" is to see how many species we can identify on outing; always trying to better ourselves!" Thank you!

The Grouper Moon Project - Protecting An Endangered Icon

Over 4,000 Nassau Grouper amass at a spawning aggregation during winter full moons off Little Cayman Island. Photo by Paul Humann.
A lone Nassau Grouper at the Little Cayman aggregation. Photo by Joshua Stuart.
REEF's Grouper Education Program works with Caymanian students to educate and inspire.

REEF scientists and volunteers are heading down to the Cayman Islands next week for another season of the Grouper Moon Project (, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). In its 16th year, this important project focuses on one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper, an endangered Caribbean reef fish. Over 4,000 grouper will amass in one location for 7-10 days following the full moon.

Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. On August 15, 2016, the Cayman Islands government enacted a comprehensive set of regulations aimed at recovering Nassau Grouper. The new rules are based on the more than a decade of collaborative fisheries research carried out by the Grouper Moon Project (click here for more information about the legislation).

In addition to the research, in 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched an education program to engage students in the Grouper Moon Project. This exciting project brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and live-feed videos that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. Three live-feed webcasts are planned for our 2017 work. Anyone can watch the feeds live or archived. The live-feed schedule is:

  • Wednesday February 15th and Friday February 17 (11:45am - 12:30pm EST), from the Grouper Moon base of operations on Little Cayman, featuring scientists explaining the research objectives, day-to-day activities, and research equipment used during the project.
  • Thursday February 16 (1:00pm - 1:45pm EST), from underwater on Cayman’s famous Bloody Bay Wall.

The live feeds stream through the REEF Grouper Moon Project YouTube channel.

Do you want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Watch this short PBS documentary about our efforts. And if you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF -

Make a Difference for the Ocean: Join a REEF Field Survey!

The idyllic island of South Water Caye in Belize.
There are great birdwatching opportunities in Costa Rica.
Join a REEF Field Survey today to meet fellow ocean enthusiasts!

As climate change and tropical storms have increasingly drastic impacts on our blue planet, the marine conservation work we do at REEF is more important now than ever. The future of our ocean depends on each of us.

Are you a diver or snorkeler looking to make a difference in the health of our oceans? Join us on a REEF Trip and participate in our citizen science programs, which provide meaningful information about marine life. Scientists and resource managers use REEF survey data to better understand the changes happening in the marine environment. We have a great line-up of REEF Trips in 2018. Here are two unique opportunities planned for next summer to "Take a Trip That Counts": ecosystem studies in a remote and vulnerable reef system in Belize and a land and sea ecoventure in the cloud forests and reefs of Costa Rica.

REEF Expedition to South Water Caye, Belize - Aug. 18-25, 2018. Now taking signups! Click here for details

South Water Caye, Belize, is home to several endemic species, including the Social Wrasse and the Maya Hamlet. The goal of this exploratory trip is to study the effects of stressors such as invasive species and habitat loss on this remote area of the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, with a special focus on how these impacts are affecting species that are not found anywhere else in the Caribbean. Participants will conduct fish surveys as well as lionfish research and removals. In addition, other underwater survey methods will be utilized to gather data on this infrequently-studied area to determine how to best protect this unique marine ecosystem.

REEF Expedition to Costa Rica - July 14-21, 2018. Click here for details

This eco-adventure will give REEF members a chance to experience many alluring facets of Costa Rica, including abundant marine life, vibrant tropical rainforests and active volancoes. The trip includes a unique itinerary featuring diving or snorkeling to conduct REEF surveys, as well as land tours in two diverse regions of the country - Guanacaste and Arenal. This weeklong family-friendly excursion also includes a wildlife boat tour, volcano hike, Hanging Bridges guided walk, and even a chocolate tour and tortilla making lesson! Divers and non-divers of all ages are welcome on this trip.

Join REEF on one of these trips today! To view full our full Field Survey Trips schedule, visit For more information, e-mail or call (305) 588-5869.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub