REEF Welcomes New Staff

Elizabeth Underwood, REEF's new Lionfish Program Coordinator.

We are excited to welcome the newest member of the REEF Team - Elizabeth Underwood, who joined our staff this month as Lionfish Program Coordinator. Elizabeth has been an active REEF member, avid fish counter, dedicated lionfish hunter, and all-round marine science enthusiast for quite some time. Elizabeth was first introduced to REEF in the Spring 2011 when she studied abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands and conducted her first of many REEF fish surveys and lionfish studies. After graduating from Davidson College in 2012 with a BS in Biology, Elizabeth joined Lad Akins and Peter Hughes on REEF’s Belize Lionfish Survey. After a week full of lionfish spearing, dissecting, and filleting she was hooked. Becoming a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in the Fall of 2012 was a no-brainer for her!

After her internship with REEF, Elizabeth took a 5 month position at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas as their Lionfish Research and Education intern. But as great as the Bahamas were, Elizabeth was ready to move back to Key Largo to continue her work with REEF’s Invasive Lionfish Program. Elizabeth’s work at REEF will focus on coordinating REEF’s various lionfish research projects, organizing derbies, conducting public talks and workshops, and developing teaching tools. She’ll also be managing REEF’s lionfish social media and working with other staff on ongoing organizational duties.

We are very happy to have Elizabeth on board. This month, we also want to extend our thanks and best of luck wishes to Keri Kenning, who will be starting dental school later this year. Keri served as REEF's Communications and Affiliate Program Coordinator for the last year. She was a valued member of our team and a great REEF ambassador.

The Faces of REEF: Roger and Tricia Grimes

Roger and Patricia doing their part in the lionfish invasion. Photo by Leslie Adams.
The Mola mola, one of the oddest fish in the sea. And a great find! Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

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 Roger and Tricia Grimes. They have been REEF members since 2012, shortly after moving to the Florida Keys. They are active with REEF's lionfish research efforts, and they also lend their technology talents around REEF Headquarters. Roger is eligible to have his volunteer hours matched by his employer (Microsoft), resulting in generous financial support to REEF. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? 

We first heard about REEF when we were taking one of the first lionfish harvesting classes in Morehead City, NC. We liked REEF so much it was partially responsible for us moving to Key Largo a few years ago.

What ways are you involved with REEF?

Our main participation with REEF is with the Lionfish project. We also work to keep the REEF office computers up and running. Our highlights are all the lionfish dives we’ve done with REEF interns, Lad Akins, and the many great volunteers. Really great people! We haven’t done an official REEF survey dive yet. We’ve taken a few of the online REEF Fishinars, and they have really improved our ability to identify fish. Every new fish we see gets recorded in our copy of Reef Fish Identification. One of our life goals is to see every fish in the book!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

REEF is a special group of people with big hearts and scientific minds who dedicate a big part of their lives protecting parts of the ocean. REEF makes a big impact through its educational outreach, sharing science, and identifying ways to make the oceans better for everyone. Everything we do for REEF makes us feel like a more complete one human family! 

Do you dive close to where you live? What is the best part about diving there?

We moved to Key Largo three years ago and purposely bought a house on an ocean canal and bought a boat. We go diving every chance we get.

Do you have any fishwatching tips for REEF members?

We’ve noticed that wary fish watch your eyes. If you want to get close to a wary fish, be patient, don’t chase them directly, and advert your eyes until the last possible second.

What is your most memorable fish find?

Seeing a mola mola out in the clear bluewater. I (Roger) was a relatively new diver and I thought I was seeing the closest thing to a dinosaur. I thought I was bent. How could a fish be shaped like a hand? And I’ve never seen one since then, so I now know what a special treat it was.

REEF Fest 2015 -Don't Miss It!

REEF Fest fun!

Join us in Key Largo this fall for REEF Fest 2015, September 24 - 27. Celebrate the success and impact of REEF's marine conservation programs and education initiatives with diving, learning, and parties. Festivities begin Thursday with afternoon seminars and then a welcome party at the Caribbean Club. Friday and Saturday are full days, with diving in the mornings, seminars in the afternoons, and social events in the evenings (Friday Open House at REEFHQ and Saturday Celebration Dinner Party). The fun wraps up on Sunday with more organized dives. All REEF Fest events are open to the public. Complete details on the schedule, including the lineup of seminars, diving opportunities, and social gatherings, as well as travel logistics and hotel arrangements, are available online at

REEF Fest: Explore. Discover. Make a Difference. Celebrating Marine Conservation in the Florida Keys!

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

REEF Team Aquarius 2007: The Life Support Buoy, which provides power and communications to Aquarius, tethered 60 feet below, appears in the background. Courtesy of Lillian Kenney.
Volunteer Dave Grenda surveys the northeast site off Aquarius. Courtesy of NMSP.

 Six volunteer divers from the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyed two sites off the Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, to assist the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) with the science component of the Aquarius 2007 Mission: If Reefs Could Talk. Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory, is part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and sits seven miles off shore at Conch Reef. A valuable resource and good neighbor to REEF HQ, Aquarius hosts scientists from around the world, from sponge chemists to astronauts, in innovative research and education.

The team included REEF Special Projects Manager Lad Akins and AAT members Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Mike Phelan. Twelve fish surveys were conducted at each of two research sites near Aquarius using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT). This year's data will be compared to surveys collected during a 2001 mission to assess change in resident fish populations. The team also assisted NMSP in documenting the occurrence of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) at each site. Once abundant on Florida Keys coral reefs, herbivorous Diadema play an important role in keeping coral-stifling algae from overtaking the reef structure. 

Click here to read more about the 2007 mission and the Aquarius habitat, including daily broadcasts and interviews with the REEF survey team. 

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 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
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 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 ( 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 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.


  • REEF Hosts Booths at Two West Coast Dive Shows

    REEF volunteers spreading the word at the NW Dive and Travel Expo.
    Annie Crawley and REEF AAT member, Matt Dowell, at the Long Beach dive show.

    REEF has been on the road this past month, and was well-represented at two prominent West coast dive shows – the Scuba Show held in Long Beach, CA, and the NW Dive and Travel Expo, in Tacoma, WA. Volunteers - composed of active surveyors and members of the Advanced Assessment Team in California, Oregon and Washington - helped staff the booths. Show-goers seemed to get a kick out of the ‘pop quiz’ (a few common local fish) they were given as they walked by the booth – demonstrating the fact that even if divers only know the ID of one fish, they can get started doing REEF surveys in the Volunteer Survey Project. “Friend of REEF” stickers were freely handed out and put on shirts.

    While our main objective was to spread the word about REEF's programs, connect with current REEF supporters, and engage new volunteers, we also sold REEF gear – hats, books, slates, T-Shirts and the new Sensational Seas 2 DVD. Particularly popular were the new REEF water bottles. As always, these items are always available through REEF’s online store if you missed a chance to pick them up at the shows.

    Special thanks to Heather George, Sasha Medlen, Matt Dowell, Gerald Winkel, Todd Cliff, Jeanne Luce, Georgia Arrow, Michael Johnstone, Carol McLagan, and Rhoda Green for helping with the booths. We couldn't do it without these REEF ambassadors. REEF also appreciates the support of the show organizers, including Kim and Dale Sheckler and Rick and Kathy Stratton.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub