The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Lillian Kenney

Striated Frogfish. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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 Lillian Kenney, one of REEF's earliest members. Lillian lives in Florida and joined REEF in our inaugural year of 1993. Lillian conducted her first survey in 1994, and has since conducted 1,250 surveys, making her a member of the Golden Hamlet Club (see article in this issue for more on this achievement). She has conducted surveys in all of REEF's tropical regions (TWA, TEP, and SOP), and is a member of the TWA Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Lillian had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF? In what ways are you involved?

I joined REEF in 1993, when it was first started. I saw an ad in a diving magazine and it sounded like the very thing I wanted to get involved in. I missed the first classes in Key Largo, but started doing fish surveys right away. Before this, I had concentrated on photography when diving, but I always tried to ID the fish. At first I did surveys on my own, but then I heard about the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) and I took the tests and started doing Expert-level surveys. I really enjoy the camaraderie and discussing fish ID with other avid surveyors. I have done many REEF Field Survey trips over the last 20 years, including the recent ones to Fiji. The soft corals and fish in Fiji are definitely a highlight for me.

Do you dive close to where you live?

In the summer I dive regularly and do surveys in Florida. I live near the Gulf of Mexico and enjoy diving the same sites year after year to see what stays the same and note any changes. I also dive on the East Coast of Florida and in the Keys. One of my favorite sites is Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach, Florida. I always see interesting critters there.

What is your favorite fish find?

I have many favorite fish and invertebrates. If I had to pick one I guess it would be the frogfish. It is so cute and reminds me of children's bathtub toys. It is very interesting to watch as it 'walks' on the bottom. I see Striated Frogfish at Blue Heron Bridge. I have also seen the same species in Indonesia. In the Gulf I sometimes see Ocellated Frogfish.

The Faces of REEF: Susan Hieter

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 Susan Hieter. Susan has been a REEF member since 2001, and has conducted 38 surveys. She recently moved to Aruba and is enjoying getting back in the water as a REEF surveyor. Here's what Susan 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?

I became a member 12 years ago when I designed a marine biology/oceanography class for my high school in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. We decided to become members of various marine organizations and donate money that we did fund raisers for. I did my first REEF volunteer survey at the Flower Garden National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006 through a teacher program called Down Under, Out Yonder (DUOY).

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

I really enjoy visiting the same reefs to see what new fish have arrived. It also leads me to think about why some fish are there sometimes and other times not due to various stressors. The most interesting thing I have learned from doing REEF fish surveys is seeing the abundance of fish on the island of Aruba, where I am currently working and living.

Do you have a favorite local REEF field station or dive shop?

My favorite REEF field station is JADS Dive Center in Aruba. The dive staff is very friendly and will make sure you enjoy your dives. The shop is well equipped with rental gear that is in good working condition. They will go out of their way to help you.

What is your favorite fish?

I would have to say the Goliath Grouper (somewhat small compared to the ones in Florida) that I meet on the Jane Sea wreck in Aruba was the most fascinating fish encounter because it was not afraid of me and was about to give me a kiss but on second thought, maybe it was going to take a bite out of me.

Announcing the 2015 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule

The Fiji Field Survey in 2013
Happy surveyors!
The giant kelpfish, a great find in Catalina. Photo by Janna Nichols.
The Kona Aggressor -- join us in February 2015!
Learn about REEF's lionfish research on a special Lionfish Expedition.

We are pleased to announce the 2015 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. We are also offering two of the ever-popular Invasive Lionfish Research Expeditions. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

To find out more or to book your space, contact us at or call 305-588-5869. Please note the new email and phone number - beginning with these 2015 trips, we are handling all Field Survey inquiries and bookings through REEF Headquarters. Visit to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, trip policies, and more. We hope you will join us!

2015 REEF Field Survey Schedule

Feb 28 - Mar 7 -- Hawaii -- Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Details

Mar 14 - 21 -- Grand Cayman -- Wall to Wall Diving and Comfort Suites, Led by Jonathan Lavan, Details

May 2 - 12 and May 12 - 19 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Chrisy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Wk 1 Details, Wk 2 Details

May 9 - 16 -- Bahamas Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Jun 13 - 20 -- Roatan -- Anthony's Key Resort, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Details

Jul 11 - 18 -- Grand Turk -- Oasis Divers & Osprey Beach Hotel, Led by Paul Humann, Details

Aug 1 - 8 -- Bonaire -- Buddy Dive, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Details

Aug 22 - 29 -- Curacao Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- GO WEST Diving & Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Sep 19 - 26 -- Bahamas -- Aqua Cat Liveaboard, Led by Heather George, Details

Nov 1 - 5 -- Catalina Island -- Scuba Luv & Pavilion Hotel, Led by Janna Nichols, Details

Dec 5 - 12 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn or Casa Mexicana, Led by Tracey Griffin, Details

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, March 2015

Identifying YOY rockfish habitat is one recent use of REEF data. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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:

- Scientists from NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center are using REEF data on juvenile (YOY, young-of-year) rockfishes to evaluate potential YOY habitat for development of a monitoring program in the Puget Sound.

- A scientist from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) is using REEF data to evaluate the spread of invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico.

- Another scientist from Florida FWCC is using REEF data to evaluate populations of Goliath Grouper in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico as part of the species' protected status review.

- Graduate students from Coastal Carolina University are assessing biodiversity, status, and trends of fishes and invertebrates in the South Atlantic States (SAS) region (the Carolinas and Georgia).

A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at

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.

Fish Tales from Our Members

"Did you ever have a fish experience that both excited and sadden you?"

That feeling recently happened to me at the dive site Kalli's Korner in Bonaire. My husband, Chile, and I were having a great day of diving with our friends Bryan and Phyllis McCauley in their boat, Pufferfish. Towards the end of our second dive that day, I noticed a pair of eyes peeping out of some coral rubble. As I watched suddenly a small eel darted out and raced few feet before hiding again. I was immediately intrigued and, using my rattle, got my buddy Phyllis' attention. Pointing out the location, we watched as once again the little conger eel slipped out of his cover and moved away. We slowly began to approach in hope of a better look. The process continued as we sought to identify him and he continued his trek. Each time we were able to get a bit closer and look for characteristics. Finally he seem comfortable enough to look at us, as we looked at him. Suddenly, a barred hamlet appeared above him and scooped him up. Imagine our shock and horror!!! Anger raced through my body and instinctually I reached for my dive knife and took off after that (blank blank) hamlet. The chase continued as the hamlet, with his full tummy, eluded me and viewed me as if to say 'why are you after me?' What was my plan I thought later? Well, I only know if I had caught the sucker, oops fish, he would have been disemboweled in the search for the little conger eel. The sound of laughter underwater reaches me. By this time, my dive buddy is in stitches as I sheepishly return. Later research found a margaintail conger that matched our descriptions. 

Now as I continue my search for what I hope are his companions, I will be keeping a wary eye out for hamlets in the surrounding area. So that’s my fish tale and now for the question: Should you report to REEF a fish, found, identified but not longer living in the underwater world?

You can bet I did.


Three "REEF" Non-Profits Team Up to Protect Akumal Reefs

Eric Engler, Gabriela Nava Martinez, Joe Cavanaugh - ReefAid, Reefcheck, and REEF
Aerial View of Protected Area
Mayan Ruins Near Resort at Tulum
Protected Area from Beach.jpg
Shore View from Bahia Principe
Large Elkhorn Coral Stand Near Protected Area

In an Enews article last May, I wrote about a collaborative effort between REEF and the Bahia Principe Resort in Akumal, Mexico.  The Resort has been working with ReefAid ever since Hurricane Wilma (2005) did major damage to the reefs just in front of the resort, in an effort to study, protect, and restore these reefs. I was originally invited down to conduct a fish census on a large patch reef area off the beach from the property.   The destruction to the inshore reef during Wilma was severe and ever since, Bahia Principe has worked with ReefAid to restore this patch reef area, establishing a protected zone around the most hard-hit areas.  Part of Bahia Principe's long-term plan is to create a mitigation plan for future storms and to educate guests about ways they, too, can help protect the reefs.  The Hotel Gran Bahia Principe is the Yucatan's largest resort complex, and there are currently 14 such resorts worldwide.  After our last visit, ReefAid's Founder, Eric Engler and I co-wrote a protection and monitoring plan for the Resort that included periodic roving diver surey assessments, special signs and enforcement of no-swim areas, a coral nursery, and coral and invertebrate monitoring using another non-profit's methodology (ReefCheck). 

On our last trip a few weeks ago, Eric and I received Reefcheck training over two days with Gabriela Georgina Nava Martinez, learning their survey methodology.  Gaby also taught a Reefcheck class to the Bahia Principe dive staff , their onsite turtle rescue non-rpfit, Ecologica Bahia, and some of the Resort public relations personnel..   Bahia Principe is now a REEF Field Station and is close to becoming an educational center for REEF, teaching fish ID classes and training Resort guests in how to conduct fish surveys.   Resort staff will soon routinely conduct Roving Diver Surveys of both the protected area and the offshore reefs frequented by multiple dive operators. Additionally, Reefcheck will train the dive staff to conduct 3-4 surveys per year at first to form a baseline assessment of the inshore protected reef.   And finally, this year REEF is running a Field Survey to Bahia Principe (May 17-24, 2008).  Please see our Field Survey page on our website at  to learn more about our upcoming survey and how to participate.

The collaborative efforts between our three non-profits in Akumal represent a proactive involvement among multiple stakeholders to protect a critical resource, one that is very susceptible to damage from development and excessive tourist pressures.   The ultimate goal of this synergistic, cooperative effort is to protect a large inshore reef area (see images) and improve the reef integrity with the addition of well-placed coral recruitment modules.  To be candid, much of the Mexican Riviera is slated to be developed by an increasing number of resorts, most with requisite golf courses.  And there are other environmental concerns in addition to the coral reefs offshore that form part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef such as all the cenotes (sink-holes) with their endemic terrestrial and aquatic species; the crucial watershed provided by the cenotes; loss of mangroves; the regional rainforest cover that is in jeopardy; excessive nutrient loading from all the resorts and urban development; not to mention the cultural world heritage significance of the Mayan communities and archaeological sites.  However, the good news is that if Gran Bahia Principe is voluntarily willing to adopt special protection measures for their resort, these may serve as a "eco-friendly" archetype for other resorts in the region.   This partnership building between organizations at the regional and international level bodes well for the adoption of some conservation plans for the area.  Whether the proposed regional development can be slowed to a sustainable level is another story that time will tell. 

If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent summary article on some of the initiatives between resorts and non-profits working to preserve the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from the NY Times last week.

REEF to Host Two Citizen Science Panel Discussions in Florida Keys

Judie Clee GMP by Ron Lucas 2008.jpg
REEF volunteers are citizen scientists, collecting underwater data to expand knowledge about marine life populations. Photo by Ron Lucas.

On Tuesday, February 26, REEF will host a community panel discussion to raise awareness about how volunteers contribute to scientific understanding of the Florida Keys environment. Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York will lead the discussion. Florida Keys-based citizen science practitioners will present on local projects and ways for volunteers to get involved. Topics include fish and bird surveying, native plants and coral restoration. A reception with the speakers will begin at 6:30, followed by presentations at 7 PM. This event will be held at the Key Largo Public Library and is free and open to the public.

Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Bryant and Nancy Diersing, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (volunteers)
  • Janice Duquesnel, Florida State Parks
  • Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation

A second panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West and will focus on citizen science projects in the lower Florida Keys. Speakers include:

  • Leda Cunningham, REEF
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Alison Higgins, The Nature Conservancy
  • Cory Walter, Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service

Please join REEF staff and community partners for at least one of these educational evenings.

17th Great Annual Fish Count is Here

REEF Member Judie Clee Surveying. Photo by Ron Lucas.
REEF Member Brian Hufford Surveying.

The 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) has arrived! GAFC is a month long event coordinated by REEF Field Stations that encourages volunteer divers and snorkelers to participate in recreational trips to raise awareness regarding marine habitats and trends in fish populations. REEF partners and Field Stations have organized everything from group dives and snorkels to photo contests, BBQs, and aquarium tours. This is a great opportunity to take a free REEF Fish ID class and connect with other individuals as well as groups, such as local dive operations and non-profit organizations, who are also interested in doing the same objectives. Numerous activities have been scheduled for the Pacific Coast, Hawaii, California, Washington, Florida, Maine, British Columbia, and many other regions- and still more are being added! Details for scheduled events can be found on the GAFC website. Each year GAFC events generate approximately 2,000 surveys in July alone and increase the interest and involvement of hundreds of surveyors worldwide. Participating in a GAFC event is a great way to make an active contribution to marine conservation and get involved with what REEF does year round- engage volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect critical, valid, and cost-effective data. We hope you get involved!

Travel Trips and Tips - October

Cozumel is one of the very few places that REEF surveyors can find the endemic Splendid Toadfish. A few spaces just opened up on the REEF Trip to Cozumel in December. Photo by Doug Biffard.
In addition to fish, REEF surveyors report sea turtles, such as this one seen by Bev Biffard last year in Cozumel. Photo by Doug Biffard.

Looking for a special gift for that certain someone. A 2009 REEF Trip makes a perfect gift. REEF Trips are not only fun, have diving and fish watching involved (which makes it perfect by my standards) but these trips are educational, green and are scheduled to some of the most beautiful Caribbean dive destinations. Also as an added bonus - all divers need a buddy so you get a good reason to give yourself a trip too!

REEF Trips are filling up fast. One trip that has been sold out for almost a year, Cozumel in December, just had a few spaces open up. This is your opportunity to join REEF Expert and Cozumel local, Sheryl Shea, on an excellent dive vacation. Sheryl is an a-fishy-a-nado extraordinaire and will be sure to infuse great fish watching, interesting local history and lots of fun on these trips. There are 3 spaces available during Week 1, December 6 – 14, including an opportunity for a double occupancy room – 1 male looking for a roommate and 1 female looking for a roommate. So if you are flying solo and don’t want to pay single occupancy we will put you in touch with a potential roommate. Please give us a call for more information and to reserve your space 305-852-0030. There are also a few spaces still available during the second trip, December 13 – 18. Please call the REEF Travel Desk for booking this trip – 877-295-7333.

So remember give the gift of Fish Watching for the holidays – we can prepare you a beautiful gift certificate and even arrange for it to be presented in an autographed fish ID book (or creature or coral) wrapped in Bottom Crawlers Holiday gift wrap. REEF Trips are a great way to enjoy yourself while making a valuable contribution to REEF on several different levels. Remember make this holiday season one that is All About The Fish!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub