Take a Dive Vacation That Counts to the Tropical Western Pacific in 2015

A species-rich underwater scene from Fiji. Photo by Paul Humann.

With Jamie's arrival at REEF Headquarters, we have been busily working on an exciting lineup of Field Survey trip destinations for 2015. REEF 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. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

We will be announcing the full 2015 REEF Trip Schedule soon. But today, we are excited to share a few of the trips that we have planned to the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Kona Coast Big Island Hawaii, aboard the Kona Aggressor Liveaboard! Feb 28 - Mar 7, 2015 (12 spaces left)

Fiji's Bligh Waters, aboard the NAI'A Liveaboard! Two trips: May 2-12, 2015 (1 space left) and May 12-19, 2015 (14 spaces left)

We hope you will join us! Contact Jamie at trips@REEF.org or call her at 305-852-0030 to find out more, and to book your space. Full details are posted online at www.REEF.org/trips.

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!

Upcoming Fishinars - YOY Rockfish, Pesky Damselfish, and more!

Hey you! Want to learn tips and tricks for identifying the pesky Caribbean damsels. Sign up for the free Fishinar, September 1. Photo by Carol Cox.

Whether you've attended one of our famous Fishinars (REEF's version of an online webinar) before or not, you're sure to enjoy one of our upcoming free classes! From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device (using the Citrix GoToWebinar app), you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information.

  • Yo Yo YOYs! Pacific Northwest Young of Year Rockfish ID
  • Those Darn Damsels - REBOOT!
  • Invertebrates and Algae of REEF's California Survey Project
  • The Nightstalkers! Eels of the Caribbean
  • Islands in the Stream: Fish of the California Channel Islands
  • The Ones You Should Know - Top 25 Fishes of the Caribbean

From the Science Desk

Christy presenting at the Flower Garden Banks NMS offices in Galveston, Texas.

WASH Nearshore Symposium

REEF’s Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, was an
invited speaker at the Temperate Reef Resources Symposium held at the University of Washington in early June. Christy spoke on the role that volunteers play in generating needed data for managing temperate reefs, and used examples from REEF experiences and projects in three west coast National Marine Sanctuaries, the Olympic Coast, Monterey Bay, and
the Channel Islands. To date, over 10,000 REEF surveys have been conducted in coastal areas along the west coast of the US and Canada.

Channel Islands Shore to Sea Lecture Series

In early July, Christy was the featured speaker for the monthly Channel Islands Shore to Sea Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Park. Christy spoke on REEF surveying inside and outside of the marine reserve network that was
implemented around the Channel Islands in 2004. Much of these data are
collected using REEF’s Pacific Advanced Assessment Team aboard the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s Research Vessel Shearwater.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine
Sanctuary fisheries impact workshop

Christy also presented information on the REEF
Volunteer Survey Program at a recent priority issues workshop on fishing impacts for the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The workshop was used to discuss the possibility of Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary implementing experimental no-take zones within the Sanctuary. Christy presented information about REEF's volunteers 14 year long monitoring of reef fish at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, and how this data can provide a valuable baseline to be able to measure the effects of any future no-take zones that might be implemented in the Sanctuary.

Florida Biscayne National Park Monitoring Update

Biscayne AAT Team Oct. 2007
enews pic bis.jpg
BNP sites monitored by REEF

REEF recently completed our AAT monitoring of Biscayne National Park (BNP). Over the last two years, we have monitored fish assemblages inside the marine park at 6 separate locations twice each year (March and September) to correlate our results with historical data that BNP has collected. REEF’s future collaboration with BNP is yet to be determined but will likely involve assisting them with the potential establishment of a protected area somewhere within the Park’s boundaries. REEF is excited to have this opportunity to continue working with BNP this upcoming spring so please stay tuned for more information once our future project is defined.

Meanwhile, I would like to personally thank the monitoring team from our last event for their “above and beyond the call” efforts to get the job done. We had weather issues that delayed the project by a full week, followed by a tragic death in the Key Largo diving community in losing Mike Smith. All of us at REEF especially acknowledge Lad Akins for his efforts as our boat captain, Rob Bleser (owner of Quiescence Dive Shop where Mike worked) for pushing this project through under very difficult circumstances, and Steve Campbell for acting as boat captain on our last day. And thank you to the diving team for juggling your schedules to make sure we had enough divers each day:  Jesse Armacost, Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Mike Phelan, and Joyce Schulke. Everyone pulled together through the above challenges and I was proud to dive with each of you.

REEF to Host "For the Love of the Sea" Benefit Dinner and Auction

cropped diver.jpg

On Saturday, February 9, REEF will host an ocean-themed dinner and auction at Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort to raise awareness about REEF in the Florida Keys community and help conserve local coral reef ecosystems. Underwater photographers Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach will present new images of sea life taken on their worldwide dive travels. A silent and live auction will offer prizes from local businesses and travel to destinations including Bonaire and Papua New Guinea. Tickets are $75 each and include buffet dinner, open bar and dancing.

For more information, including how to purchase tickets, become an event sponsor or donate auction items, please visit www.REEF.org/loveofthesea. If you are in the area, please join REEF for this unique opportunity to celebrate the Valentines season and kick off 2008 as the International Year of the Reef.


REEF Survey Tips

Joe Cavanaugh searching wall for Cave Basslets
Check for the Witness Protection Program Fish, here - the Yellowtail amongst Horse-Eyes
Look closely at sharksuckers, 3 species seen on this one Nurse Shark
Look for Exotics amongst the native species, here a Red Lionfish
turtle survey.jpg
Report your Sea Turtle sightings on survey - linked to seaturtle.org
Surveyors conferring on a sighting ID
Large sponge "smoking," releasing gametes

Once again, it is that time of year when many of you are getting out on the water and conducting REEF Fish Surveys.  I have put together a few bullet points based on my experiences surveying with members and answering questions on techniques and things to watch out for when filling out your data sheets. Here are a few tips:


  • Roving Diver Surveys mean you are not restricted to a transect line while surveying and you can roam about within 100m of dive boat, mooring buoy, or shore during your survey, drift dives count, of course, and often cover a larger area. The area surveyed does not correlate to your fish sightings, in terms of sighting frequency and abundances, but rather,  your time surveying is directly correlated to your sightings data.  This is why it is important to fill in the time box on your scanform or on the dataentry page to reflect the time you actually spend surveying, not your total dive time.  If you spend 5 minutes prepping to survey and you stop surveying on your safety stop, for instance, than your survey time will not equal your total dive time.  Also, as you get better at identifying your fish, try and spend more time looking and searching for fish, and less time looking at your survey slate.
  • Set up your slate so that it is easy to get to but not necessarily in your hand throughout your dive.  I clip mine with a retractable clip to my BCD and use surgical tubing to hold a graphite pencil, the kind artists use.  You can get these at any art supply store and you'll get hundreds of surveys from one pencil providing someone doesn't smoosh it with their dive cylynder!  I typically census every couple of minutes or when I see something unique that I don't want to forget.  I periodically update my survey so that I really don't have much to add at the end of the dive and I can go through and make revisions while the dive is fresh in my mind.  I write in code such as LU (look up) for any fish I need to consult a book about later in the day.  I also carry a magnifying glass and a small flashlight to search under ledges and inside sponges for peppermint basslets and sponge cardinalfishes, for instance.


  • Use your time wisely when diving deeper profiles on wall dives.  As your dive profile changes depending on the site, you can adjust your survey strategy accordingly, to maximize your survey time and the scope of what you see.  For wall dives, I personally keep navigation simple, pick an unusual coral head or sponge and mark it in your mind and take a compass heading back to the boat.  Make your descent but while you do, search for the type of habitat you are likely to find the fish you are looking for.  On a recent trip to Turks I found that at around 100' depth, the Fairy basslets transitioned into Blackcap basslets, at this imaginary line I was likely to find some Cave basslets, or three-line basslets.   Then, knowing the dimensions of the cave openings they prefer, you can be choosy about which hiding spots you want to check out.  Checking the deeper tube sponges had rewards too in not just finding Sponge cardinals, but also Black brotulas (two for the trip).


  • Decide how much time you want to search for different species or families ahead of time.  Mike Phelan found with statistical analysis of his personal surveys that he would find 90% of his species in the first 10 minutes of his survey effort on coral reef dives.  If you have the luxury of diving a site twice, you can more easily survey the big picture and concentrate on finding cryptic species such as triplefins and other blennies and gobies on the second dive. Or you can focus on abundances for some of those cryptics, seeing how many of one species you can find, increasing Secretary blennies from Few on your first dive to Many on your second dive at the same site.


  • Can I count a fish I did not see in the water? The answer is no but here are a couple of examples where I or others have surveyed fish in an atypical manner.  Recently, on our Turks Field Survey, I was climbing onto the boat after a night dive when a flyingfish leapt from the water, bouncing off my knee onto the boat deck.  I picked him up, identified him as a Mirrorwing flyingfish and threw him back in the water.  Did I add him to my survey?  Yes, since he was in the water with me during the time of my dive and he was a new survey species for me.  I also added a Tripletail to a survey I did last year as I was gearing up on the boat, I saw this Tripletail and snorkeled over to it just before starting my dive.  One other quick example came two years ago with our Biscayne Bay AAT project where the group saw a Whale Shark but not on the survey site itself.  Some people filled out a species-only survey for this sighting as it was a first for many and a fortuitous sighting as the first time Biscayne Park recorded the species.  We created a dive site based on the coordinates.  But in general, you can only survey what you are seeing at the time you are actively engaged in your survey.  Feel free to email me at joe@reef.org with questions about this or any other questions you might have about surveying techniques.


  • Share what you're seeing with other divers, especially your buddy.  Surveying is not a competition and its good practice to corroborate your unusual and cryptic sightings with other divers, share your findings with them in the water when you can. This really becomes important when you are with a REEF group and you are trying to get the "lay of the land," sort of speak.  Are those Dusky Damselfish I'm seeing everywhere?  And are those Secretary or Roughhead blennies I'm seeing.  How do I find a Candy basslet, people keep seeing them, can you show me?"  Ask questions of your fellow surveyors and take advantage of the unique fish identification and fish finding akumen others have; I sure do on AAT projects.  And lastly, feel free to take notes on interesting events such as coral and sponge spawning, rarely seen or odd behaviors of fish, etc.  You can post these on one of our REEF forums accessible from our homepage. Photos for this article, courtesy Aggressor II, Turks and Caicos.

REEF News Tidbits for August

REEF Hats!  Just Added to the REEF Store.  Check them out and get yours today.

The 2009 Field Survey Schedule has been updated with several new trips, including a second trip to Cozumel this December and Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach in October 2009.

- REEF researchers and collaborators have been busy in the field this month on the Grouper Moon Project.  Watch for an update in next month's REEF-in-Brief.

- REEF's Lionfish Research was featured on the National Geographic News earlier this week.  This follows extensive coverage by the Associated Press earlier this month.  Also this month, Anna DeLoach produced this 5 minute video for Scuba Diving Magazine that looks at the the recent lionfish population explosion, the reasons lionfish are the perfect invader, how they got to the wrong sea, what REEF is doing about it, and how divers can help. Watch this informative video here. Read more about this project in this recent press release

REEF Fish and Friends Lecture Series

The invasive lionfish will be the topic of next month's Fish and Friends lecture, April 14th. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
REEF Executive Director, Lisa Mitchell, introduces Paul Humann, at the first Fish and Friends lecture in March.
Capt. Joanie Follmer and REEF Volunteers Jane Bixby, Nancy Perez and Julie Schneeberger attended Paul's Fish and Friends lecture earlier this month.

REEF has been around for over 15 years and we felt it was time to give back to the community that has housed and supported us since REEF’s inception. So we came up with REEF Fish & Friends, a monthly meeting/seminar in Key Largo that gathers snorkelers, divers and armchair naturalists to learn more about fish and have some fun. Our first REEF Fish & Friends was held March 10 at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters. Paul Humann, the opening night speaker, shared the history of REEF and highlighted milestones over the last decade and half.

Paul visited with guests and signed books and then spoke for about an hour. The room was packed and people were even standing in the hall to listen. As most of you know, Paul is the consummate story teller and we had some laughs, learned some new things about REEF and got to hear firsthand how the organization came to be.

REEF Fish & Friends will be held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar. We are planning a line-up of interesting guest speakers as well as REEF staff in the coming months.

In conjunction with the lecture series, we will also be working with local dive operators to arrange a monthly REEF survey dive/snorkel trip. No experience necessary. REEF Fish & Friends is all about learning how to survey and teaching others – its fun, easy and you will reap immediate results – making a dive that counts.

Upcoming Fish & Friends -- On Tuesday April 14, Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects and the recognized lionfish expert, will present Born in the Wrong Sea – a presentation about the invasion of the Pacific lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. He will present the latest information on sightings and the important marine conservation work that REEF is doing to manage this huge environmental problem.

Tuesday May 12, Lad will return to present Parrotfish and Wrasse. This will be a shortened version of the presentations that are done on REEF Field Surveys. Even if you think you know your Parrotfish and Wrasse come and listen as Lad presents ID techniques, habitat and behavior. These hermaphrodites are fascinating and are sure to provide fodder for an interesting presentation.

Keep an eye on our REEF Fish and Friends webpage (www.reef.org/fishandfriends) as we post info about presentations, trips, photos and more. So see you Tuesday April 14 at the James E Lockwood REEF House, MM 98.3 from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.

REEF Trips - Making Your Vacation Count

Participants on a Field Survey to Curacao in October 2009.
REEF trips are a great way to learn, both above and below water. Photo by Jesse Armacost.

Our t-shirt may say, “It’s all about the fish”, but if you’ve been on a REEF trip, you know it’s about the people too. Diving with like-minded enthusiasts who share your interest in learning more about our underwater world is one of the best ways to spend your dive vacation! Our recent trip to Curacao was no exception – a great group of surveyors of all levels came together to share their knowledge, fish encounters, and a lot of fun. Experts Doug Harder and Kay Tidemann showed us some of the unusuals, including the delicate Pale Cardinalfish and a rare reverse-pattern Goldentail Moray. We even taught our divemaster Elric about some of the various phases of wrasses and parrotfish. At the end of the week, our sister team of Helen and Sally Davies both passed their Level 3 tests, and beginning surveyors Amy Kramer and Norm Valor are now officially at Level 2.

If you are interested in taking a “dive (trip) that counts” and making new friends, there is no better way than to join us on a REEF trip next year. Our diverse schedule has something for everyone, and some trips are already starting to fill up…only a few spots are left on the Belize Lionfish trip for example. To see the full 2010 trip calendar, just click here and scroll down the page to find a trip that fits your schedule!

Please call 1-877-295-REEF (7333) to make your reservations or you can e-mail our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com.

REEF Trip Schedule 2010 -- Prices, package details and more available online.


  • Dominica with Dive Dominica and Ft. Young Hotel -- April 17-24, 2010. Led by Heather George.
  • Belize with Sun Dancer II Liveaboard -- May 1-8, 2010. Lionfish Research Expedition, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes.
  • Roatan with Turquoise Bay Resort -- July 17-24, 2010. Led by Paul Humann.
  • Cozumel with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn -- August 14-21, 2010. Led by Sheryl Shea.
  • Key Largo with Amoray Dive Center -- August 26 - September 2, 2010. Sea Critter Seminar, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Bonaire with Buddy Dive Resort -- September 26 - October 2, 2010. Field Survey and Coral Spawning Expedition, Led by Jessie Armacost.
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico with Rocio del Mar Liveaboard -- October 9-16, 2010. Led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens.
  • Grand Cayman with Dive Tech and Colbalt Coast -- November 6-13, 2010. Led by Lad Akins.


  • Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub