REEF Data Document Declines in Yellow Stingray

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The decline in yellow stingray sightings in the Florida Keys beteween 1994 and 2007. Source: Ward-Paige, et al. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 2010.

World-wide declines in shark and ray populations have prompted the need for a better understanding of their patterns of distribution and abundance. While much of the focus has been on the larger species of sharks, little attention had been paid to the most frequently sighted elasmobranch species in the greater-Caribbean, the yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). Despite being relatively common and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, little was known about the status of this species. Unfortunately, it has been quietly declining. Dr. Christine Ward-Paige and her colleagues at Dalhousie University worked with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to examine the status of yellow stingray. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes. Click here to read the paper.

The study used 83,940 surveys collected by REEF surveyors in the western Atlantic. In total, yellow stingrays were observed on 5,658 surveys (6.7% sighting frequency) with the highest occurrence in the regions surrounding Cuba. Overall, sighting frequency declined from 20.5% in 1994 to 4.7% in 2007. However, these trends were not consistent in all regions. The strongest decline occurred in the Florida Keys, the most sampled region, where trends were similar among all areas, habitats and depths. Possible explanations for these changes include habitat degradation, exploitation (this species is collected for medical research and the aquarium trade), and changes in trophic interactions. The results of the study suggest large-scale changes in yellow stingray abundance that have been unnoticed by the scientific community. This study also highlights the value of non-scientific divers for collecting data that can be used to understand population trends of otherwise poorly studied species.

To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.

Watch an Online Screening of Alien Invaders Tomorrow Night - June 2nd

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Changing Seas, an original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of Alien Invaders, the series’ latest episode focusing on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Alien Invaders will be screened live on the Changing Seas website (www.changingseas.tv/webcast) on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. EST. During the screening, dive enthusiasts will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program. REEF's Lad Akins and researcher Stephanie Green will be be online to answer questions live during the event.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Patricia Broom

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Pat with surveying dive buddy, Barbara Anderson (r), on the Baja Mexico Field Survey in 2010.
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Pat in Fiji.
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Pat in Turks and Caicos.

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 feature Patricia Broom (REEF member since 2004). Pat is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 277 surveys in three of REEF's regions, including some of the first in our newest region, the South Pacific. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:

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

About ten years ago while reading a favorite dive magazine I noticed an announcement about an introductory fish identification trip sponsored by REEF and led by Paul Humann. The love of REEF was born!! I responded to the advertisement, encouraged my brother to join me and attended that Field Survey trip. We joined a group of equally dedicated divers eager as we to learn about fish and how to identify them. Paul was a great teacher, very patient and concerned that we not only learn about fish but care about them and the ocean we love.

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

One of my most memorable surveying moments occurred that week on Paul's trip. On a night dive of a very old wreck with exposed wooden beams I saw my first queen parrotfish in their nighttime cocoons. Each parrot fish occupied a space between two beams framed by basket stars in full bloom. It was a magical sight. I try to take two or three REEF trips a year, they are a great way to learn more and dive with great people. In addition to the regular ID trips, I have really enjoyed the REEF Behavior Trips that are led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. It really completes the learning experience! It is a beautiful sight to watch damselfish guard their algae gardens from predation, observe cooperative hunting, or watch a three foot Midnight Parrotfish at a cleaning station with open mouth and flared gills.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

Prior to that introductory course, I had been diving the Caribbean for twenty plus years. I witnessed the decline in fish numbers and species as well as reef degradation and wondered how many more years I could dive before there was nothing to see! REEF offered me a reason to continue diving, now there was opportunity to give back and enjoy diving again.

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

I have found great enjoyment in Cozumel at the REEF Field Station at Aqua Safari, led by Sheryl Shea. She is a gifted teacher determined to make advanced assessment divers of all of us! It just so happens a few of my favorite fish are in Cozumel, the Splendid Toadfish, Sargassum Triggerfish, and Cherubfish, to name a few.

Upcoming Fishinars - Caribbean Wrasse, Pacific Sculpins, and Blennies!

Fighting Blennies. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

If you haven't had a chance to attend one of our Fishinars yet, you should! New sessions are always being added, so check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to see the current schedule and to register for one or more sessions. These popular online training sessions (webinars) provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. Upcoming sessions include:

The Wrasse Class: The Top 12 Wrasse of the Greater Caribbean  - Need help with those rascally wrasse? Come to this class and get the ID tips you seek! Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan. Thursday, Jun 21st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

Sculpins Under Scrutiny  - Sculpins have been called some pretty bad names through the years, because it's so difficult to tell them apart. Well, it's time to master the art of identifying the little buggers and Sculpin Master Guru, Dr. Greg Jensen, will be the one to help you along your journey to loving sculpins. Greg will cover some of the lesser-known and lookalike sculpins. Thursday, July 19th at 7pm PDT. REGISTER

The Blennywatcher!- Oooh, this is gonna be a good one! Videographer and blenny expert Anna DeLoach will walk us through some of her favorite Blennies and how to tell them apart. Tuesday, July 31st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

Scholarship Available For Educator To Participate in REEF Trip

REEF is once again partnering with CEDAM International to support an educator to participate in one of our REEF Trips. The selected Lloyd Bridges Scholar will join Paul Humann on the Little Cayman Field Survey in July 2013. The goal of the scholarship program is two-fold: One, to have educators experience the wonders of the underwater world and then be able to share these wonders with his or her students or constituents. Two, to have these inspired individuals go out and do what they can to help protect one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. To be eligible, applicants must be a certified scuba diver, a teacher (elementary or secondary level), or actively engaged in an education program at an institution or environmental organization, such as an aquarium, science center, or relevant non-profit organization. More information and application information is posted on the CEDAM website.

The 2013 REEF Trips Schedule includes destinations in the Caribbean, Canada, and tropical Pacific. 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.

2013 dates and destinations with space --

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

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 FULL, waiting list available

August 31-September 7, 2013 Curacao, with GO WEST Diving and Sandton Kura Hulanda Lodge, Lionfish Research Trip, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes

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

September 28-October 1, 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

 

2014 Field Survey Trip Schedule Coming Soon!

Looking for a week in paradise while learning fish ID? Join us for a REEF Field Survey!

We are busy putting the finishing touches on our 2014 Field Survey Trip schedule and full details will be posted soon. There is an exciting lineup of destinations planned, including: Key Largo with Paul Humann, Dominica with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Belize with Fishinar Instructor Jonathan Lavan, Cayman Brac, Bequia, Cozumel, and Hornby Island BC. We also have planned Lionfish Control Study trips to Curacao and the Bahamas with Lad Akins and Peter Hughes. We we hope you will join us. If you haven't been on a REEF Field Survey Trip before, they are not-to-be-missed! These dive vacations 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. More information can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. Make a Dive Trip That Counts!

Looking to getaway in 2013? These REEF Trips still have space --

July 13-20, 2013 - Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club. Led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author. Contact Caradonna to book your space: REEF@caradonna.com, 877-295-REEF (7333).

August 31 - September 7, 2013 - Lionfish Control Study trip, Curacao, with GO WEST Diving and Sandton Kura Hulanda Lodge. Led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and Peter Hughes, REEF Board of Trustee. Contact REEF HQ to book your space: trips@REEF.org, 305-852-0030.

September 25 - 28 or September 28 - October 1, 2013 - Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. Contact Rendezvous Dive Adventures to book your space: info@rendezvousdiving.com, 1-877-777-9994 (toll free US& Canada), or 250-735-5050. 

December 3-12, 2013 Socorro Islands, aboard Rocio del Mar. Led by Marty Snyderman, Renowned Shark Photographer and REEF Board Member. Contact Caradonna to book your space: REEF@caradonna.com, 877-295-REEF (7333).

See www.REEF.org/trips for complete information.

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.

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 Launches Training and Surveys Initiative in the Pacific Northwest

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Ten active REEF surveyors in the Pacific Northwest recently conducted a day of surveys around the San Juan Islands. Participants included: Kaia Turner, Pete Naylor, Mark Dixon, Mike Racine, Georgia Arrow, Mary Jo Adams, Sarah Hillebrand, Janna Nichols.
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Pete Naylor, one of REEF's newest Pacific AAT members, shortly after taking his test. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Thanks to a grant from The Russell Family Foundation, we are in the middle of a year-long initiative to actively engage new REEF surveyors in the region and to provide incentive to our existing surveyors to stay active and move up through the ranks of the REEF Experience Level system.  We have teamed up with PNW REEF instructor, Janna Nichols, to coordinate a series of free training workshops throughout Washington and Oregon. These seminars will cover the Introductory REEF Fish Identification training, the REEF Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Identification training, and a NEW Advanced Fish Identification training program. Visit the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers Webpage to see a complete list of classes.  The project will also support a series of REEF survey day trips on area dive charters that will be open free of charge to current REEF surveyors who are actively conducting surveys and interested in advancing their REEF experience level. Ten active REEF surveyors recently participated in the first such opportunity - survey dives at two new REEF sites in the San Juan Islands, Washington earlier this month.  In addition to conducting REEF surveys. The great news is that everyone on the trip who was eligible to move up one experience level did so! A big congratulations goes to Pete Naylor and Mary Jo Adamas, REEF's newest Pacific Advanced Assessment Team Level 5 members, and the rest of the gang who successfully passed the Level 2 or Level 3 exam.

We greatly appreciate the funding support of The Russell Family Foundation. This project will enable REEF to actively engage divers in marine conservation through support and enhancement of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project in the Pacific Northwest. Traditionally, divers and snorkelers have not received much more than a cursory introduction to underwater ecology or marine life identification. Even after years of experience in the water, most divers are able to identify only a handful of the marine life they see during their dives. REEF introduces marine enthusiasts to the incredible diversity of fishes and other wildlife found in local waters as well as the identification resources and survey methods needed to document these species. Active REEF surveyors advance through five experience levels (Novice: 1-3 and Expert: 4-5), based on the number of surveys completed and passing scores on comprehensive identification exams. While 536 volunteers have conducted surveys in the Pacific Northwest as part of the REEF Fish Survey Project, there are currently only twenty-eight members rated as Expert surveyors.  However, expert level volunteers have conducted approximately one-third of all surveys submitted to date. It is clear that as volunteers improve their skills, they are more likely to stay actively involved in data collection.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub