The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Mike Phelan

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Mike has been monitoring an aggregation of Goliath grouper in Florida for the last several years. Photo by Mike Phelan.
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Black brotula in St. Vincent - one of Mike's favorite finds. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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Goliath! Photo by Mike Phelan.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Mike Phelan (REEF member since 1998). Mike is a member of our Golden Hamlet Club, having conducted over 1,000 surveys (1,211 to be exact!), and he is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. In addition to being an active REEF surveyor, Mike has been documenting an annual aggregation of Goliath Grouper in Florida. Here's what Mike had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? I read an article in Skin Diver Magazine over 12 years ago. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for a REEF Field Survey trip to Saba and several other nearby islands on a live aboard. Since then, I have participated in seven REEF Field Surveys and several REEF Advanced Assessment Team surveys in the Florida Keys. The most memorable was my trip to St. Vincent. I was fortunate to add several fish to my species life list including the illusive Black Brotula. My favorite part of being a REEF member is interacting with fellow citizen scientists.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey? I believe that REEF members occupy a somewhat unique position to make a dive that really counts. I find that the focused experience of completing a survey opens up your eyes to the entire reef ecosystem including fish behaviors, the surrounding benthic community, and both species presence and absence. I have been a diver for over 44 years, and I can state with certainty that you need to enlarge your diving hobby beyond “blowing bubbles” to keep that inquisitiveness that attracted you to diving in the first place.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I live in SE Florida and most of my diving takes place on the off-shore reef system of Jupiter, Florida. Jupiter is a unique location. It is the only known aggregation and spawning site for the Goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) in the SE United States. In the late Summer, aggregations of 30-50 Goliath groupers can be seen. Since the species was almost fished to extinction in the late 1980s, it is a privilege to witness its repopulation on the reefs of Florida. Jupiter is also a major nesting site for three species of sea turtle (Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Green). In the Spring and Summer, the reefs abound in turtles. They are very cool animals. Lastly, there is a Winter aggregation of lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) and seeing them is quite a thrill.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? My favorite dive shop is the Jupiter Dive Center. They are very supportive of the Goliath grouper research.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? While bluewater drift diving in the Gulf Stream near Jupiter, I sighted a large Sailfish that turned sharply upon sensing me and thereby displayed its sail. Last year, I was able to see the Flashlightfish in a cave at night in the Solomon Islands. The flashing light was very disorienting since you were hovering in completely black water while the blinking lights of about 30 fish turned on and off. The number one fish that I would like to see is the Sawfish (Pristis pectinata).

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? My recommendation for all fish surveyors is to slow down and let nature emerge right in front of you. Carry a point and shoot type camera to aid in identification after the dive. This can be very helpful with the smaller gobies and blennies.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs? By far, the database containing the fish and sea turtle sightings gains ever more importance each year. There really is no other information source on the planet containing the number of reported survey dives with such a broad geographic scope.

Putting It to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, January 2012

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Photo by Ned DeLoach.

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:

- A researcher from the Seattle Aquarium is using REEF data on rockfish populations from Washington State to analyze with other long-term monitoring data.

- The Nature Conservancy in Washington State is using REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity in the Salish Sea and Oregon.

- A citizen group from the Florida Keys is using data from areas around Key Largo to evaluate the status of fish populations on reefs that are not currently protected within the existing network of Sanctuary Preservation Areas.

- A scientist from University of Connecticut is using REEF data collected in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia.

Take a Dive Trip That Counts

We are excited to announce our 2013 Field Survey Schedule. Spaces are already starting to fill up so reserve yours today. 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. Each trip features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Complete package details and prices can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Make a Dive Trip That Counts!

Dates and destinations for 2013 --

May 11 - 21, 2013 Fiji, aboard the Nai'a, Led by Paul Humann

May 18-25, 2013 Southern Bahamas, Lionfish Research Cruise aboard Explorer II, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes

July 13-20, 2013 Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

July 20-27, 2013 Utila, Deep Blue Utila, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers

September 25-28, 2013 Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

October 5-12, 2013 Grenada, with True Blue Bay Resort and Aquanauts Diving. Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science

December 3-12, 2013 Socorro Islands, aboard Rocio del Mar, led by Andy Dehart and Marty Snyderman, Shark Experts, Photographers, and REEF Board Members

December 7-14, 2013 Cozumel, Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin and Sheryl Shea, REEF Fish Experts and Cozumel Naturalists

2012 Trips with space available --

July 14-21, 2012 - Lionfish Research in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects

July 28 - August 4, 2012 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

September 22-29, 2012 - Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens, REEF Director of Science, REEF Researcher

October 6-13, 2012 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers

November 10-17, 2012 - British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert

Visit REEF at a Dive Show This Year

We have a full line-up of dive show appearances planned this year. If you are in the area of one of these shows, please stop by the REEF booth to find out what new and exciting things are happening. In 2013, we will be at: Our World Underwater (Chicago, February 15-17), Beneath the Sea (NJ/NY, March 22-23), Northwest Dive & Travel Expo (WA, April 20-21), and Northern California Dive & Travel Expo (Bay Area CA, May 11-12). We are always looking for volunteers to help at the booth. If you are interested in being a REEF ambassador, contact Martha at martha@REEF.org.

Putting It To Work: Two Papers Published Using REEF Data From Monterey Peninsula, California

A Young-of-theYear rockfish. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team conducting a REEF Survey in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Pete Naylor.

We are pleased to share the publication of two new scientific papers that utilize data collected by REEF volunteers in the Monterey Peninsula area of California. Co-authored by REEF Pacific Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) member, John Wolfe, and REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, the companion papers were published earlier this summer in the journal CalCOFI Reports. The first paper, Estimating Fish Populations From REEF Citizen Science Volunteer Diver Order-of-Magnitude Surveys, describes several mathematical models to convert order-of-magnitude count data (the type of data collected during REEF Roving Diver Technique surveys) to a numeric mean. The second paper, Fish Population Fluctuation Estimates Based on Fifteen Years of REEF Volunteer Diver Data For the Monterey Peninsula, California, used the best-performing model technique to evaluate population trends in rocky reef fish species along the Monterey Peninsula. Over 3,000 REEF surveys have been conducted in this region over the last 15 years. Many of these data were collected during an annual project within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary conducted with the help of members of the Pacific AAT. Changes in relative density over time were reported for 18 fish species, including several fisheries-targeted species. Strong concordance was also found between REEF data and those collected by Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), a consortium of academic institutions. Results showed that data collected by REEF have great potential to augment and strengthen professional research data and serve as a valuable baseline to evaluate marine reserves. Both of these papers can be found on the REEF Publications page here - www.REEF.org/db/publications (as well as downloadable from the CalCOFI Reports webpage).

Upcoming Fishinars Include Guest Instructors, Ray Troll and Dr. Milton Love

Marine life artist and author, Ray Troll, will be giving a REEF Fishinar on April 16th

Our 2014 Fishinar schedule is off to a great start! We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. Fishinars coming up include:

  • Top 25 Fish of Roatan - Special ScubaBoard Session - Jonathan Lavan, March 20th
  • Butterflies and Angels: Kings and Queens of the Reef - Jonathan Lavan, April 1st
  • A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - Ray Troll, April 16th
  • What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love, April 22nd

REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!

The Faces of REEF: Janet Eyre

Happy after doing a survey in Fiji.
Janet with fellow "fish nerds" Doug Harder and Kreg Martin.
Surveying in Hawaii.
The amazing Madarinfish. Photo by Luc Viatour.
Checking over her data after a dive.

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 Janet Eyre. Janet has been a REEF member since 2002, and has conducted 1,125 surveys. She is on the Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor in four of REEF’s regions! Janet happily describes herself as a true fish nerd, and she has taken a lead role in assisting with REEF’s expansions to the tropical western Pacific. Here's what Janet had to say about REEF:

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

A letter from REEF in 2001 was my first exposure to the organization. The letter mentioned the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) Expert Surveyor program and I remember thinking “wow, that would be cool to dive, count fish, AND do something good for the planet all at the same time.” So, on my next dive trips to the Caribbean in 2002 and 2003, with Reef Fish Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas in hand, I started doing REEF surveys. On my first REEF Field Survey Trip, to Belize in 2003, I tested into the Caribbean AAT. I also started doing surveys in Hawaii, and ended up as an Expert AAT surveyor there in 2004. I have conducted the majority of my surveys on the Kona Coast of the Big Island (Hawaii) where I am lucky to be able to dive with a group of like-minded friends and professionals at Jack’s Diving Locker. We all love diving deep as well as bobbing around in the surge zone in the search for as many species as possible on every dive.

Do you have a favorite REEF highlight or experience to share?

Even before REEF officially started the Survey Project in the South Pacific, I had been sending in the species lists from my Pacific trips. Now that the South Pacific is a “REEF Zone,” I have attained the top surveyor status in that region. The highlight of my REEF survey “career” came on the Field Survey Trip to Fiji in May 2013 when I counted 233 species on one dive! What a rush that was! It was also on that trip that I did my 1,000th REEF survey, so it was a double- milestone trip.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I come by my “fish nerdiness” honestly – my parents and grandparents were all birders. I never got into that, but once I started diving I was fascinated by identifying the fish, which I realize is basically underwater birding. I can (and do) spend hours just “reading” fish ID books.

Surveying for REEF is a passion for me because it satisfies me on several different fronts – (1) challenging me to find as many fish on a dive as I can, (2) giving me a reason and the means to learn to identify more fish, (3) doing something good for the planet, and (4) making each and every dive a new adventure (which gets harder and harder to do after 1,700 dives).

Do you have a favorite fish find or a fish quest?

One of my favorite fish is the Mandarinfish – its color pattern is just so incredible and gorgeous! I get a total charge out of seeing any “new-to-me” species but there are some fish I really would like to see – Psychedelic Frogfish, Gurnard Lionfish, Helfrich’s Dartfish, and Mola Mola (Sunfish) are at the top of that list.

St. Vincent Field Survey Breaks One-Week Species Record!

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The REEF St. Vincent Field Survey Team

To those who are in the know, St Vincent is considered the critter capital of the Caribbean. To those who watch fish, it is known that the rare is commonplace and that the fishwatching is unlike any other location in the Caribbean. REEF’s data from the June Field Survey supports those claims. With a team of 13 divers, the REEF group recorded an astounding 243 species, more than 65 of which were unlisted “write-ins” on the survey forms.

Diving with Bills Tewes at Dive St Vincent, long time REEF supporter and widely regarded “Caribbean Character”, the team split up on two boats and survey sites around the southwest end of the island. Long-time REEF expert Franklin Neal provided an extra special view from above and into shallow water as he snorkeled, while other team members spent hours on each dive exploring varied habitats and depths.

Special finds during the week would take an entire newsletter to list, but there were a few fish that stood out including the still undescribed Bluebar Jawfish on most sites, five frog fish on one dive, multiple black brotula, various pipefish commonly sighted and the largest spotfin gobies (10 inches?!) we’ve ever seen. The fish of the week may well have been the Golden Hamlet that Bill pointed out as his favorite fish and the species that adorns the cover of Reef Fish Identification.

The diving was bottom time unlimited and many dives exceeded two hours finishing in shallow water. Habitats were varied and visibility ranged from good to excellent on all of our dives. REEF is already planning our next Field Survey to dive St Vincent in August of 2008. The project will be led by Paul Humann and will be a must for any serious fishwatcher. For more details, contact Joe@reef.org

REEF Parts - Things to Know (Oct 07)

Here are a few notes and news bits we'd like you to know about:

  • Catch up with REEF at DEMA! The biggest annual dive and travel trade show is in Orlando again this year from Wed. October 31 - Sat. November 3. REEF is at booth 1133 and is running 2 seminars on the new home-study DVD for Florida, the Caribbean and Bahamas: Reef Fish Identification-A Beginning Course. We hope to see you there!
  • If you're lucky enough to be in the Dominican Republic this time of year, come say hi to REEF at the annual meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) held November 5-9. REEF will be presenting findings on two artificial reef monitoring projects and Nassau grouper research through the REEF Grouper Moon Project. 
  • Keep an eye on your mailbox for /REEF Notes/, our annual print newsletter, coming soon!
  • Field Survey Update (2007-2008): Thanks to all who have made our 2007 Field Survey year a successful year with just a few trips left!

REEF Benefit A Success

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Suzanne Holmquist, Amy Slate, Peter and Alice Hughes and Evelyn McGlone enjoy a photo op. Photo by Matt Standal, Keys Weekly.
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Ned DeLoach, Leda Cunningham and Paul Humann gave presentations on REEF and new underwater wildlife photography. Photo by Matt Standal, Keys Weekly.

On Saturday, February 9, REEF hosted the first annual For the Love of the Sea benefit dinner and auction at Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida. The event was a huge success! More than 150 guests attended a sold-out event, enjoying a picturesque sunset set to island music and the awe-inspriring underwater photography of authors and REEF founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. REEF raised more than $25,000 thanks to successful silent and live auctions and the generosity of event sponsors in the Keys and greater REEF community. Proceeds of the event will support ongoing citizen science projects to engage volunteers in marine conservation.

Many thanks to event sponsors for their support and to the local REEF "Fun Raisers" event planning committee. Please click here for more information on the event.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub