REEF Volunteers of the Year 2010

Liz teaching fish ID at Kahekili Beach on Maui.

REEF proudly awards our 2010 Volunteer(s) of the Year award to Donna Brown and Liz Foote. Donna and Liz both live on Maui in Hawaii, where they have been active in REEF since 2001 when we expanded the Fish Survey Project to the Hawaiian Islands. Donna has been a REEF member since 1994 and Liz since 1999. Both are members of the Hawaiian Islands Advanced Assessment Team and collectively have conducted 361 surveys. Donna and Liz were instrumental during the expansion to Hawaii. They provided technical assistance in the development of the survey and training materials and supported a growing network of local REEF surveyors. Through the years, these volunteers served as incredible ambassadors of the program, generating a core group of dedicated REEFers, who have in turn have carried the REEF torch. The Fish Identification Network (FIN), a local REEF group, grew out of their efforts. 10 years and 10,000 Hawaii surveys later (as of January 2011), REEF is going strong on the islands. Donna and her husband George have also been a part of the South Pacific expansion team, and participated in two REEF training trips to American Samoa. Both Donna and Liz continue to be very active in many other regional marine environmental issues in addition to their REEF activities.

REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 14,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program.

The REEF Staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Liz and Donna and congratulate them on all of their marine conservation efforts and great work on behalf of our organization!

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Kenny Tidwell


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 Kenny Tidwell (REEF member since 1998). Kenny is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 291 surveys. Here's what Kenny had to say about REEF:

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

I had been scuba diving for many years and after several hundred dives, I was honestly getting a little bored with what seemed to me as basically the same stuff on every dive. Little did I know I had been blindly swimming by some pretty amazing stuff that I didn’t even realize was there! I was lucky enough to take a dive trip to Bonaire in 1993 where I first met Jerry Ligon who is a naturalist in the area and inspired me to become a fish watcher! I immediately bought Paul Humann’s Caribbean fish ID book and made it my mission to learn something new on every dive. Around that same time, I started reading about REEF in dive magazines and liked what I saw about the organization's mission and activities. I had long wanted to go on one of their field survey trips and finally signed up along with my wife, Vickie, to go on my first REEF Discovery field survey trip to Puerto Rico led by Paul Humann. After that first trip, I was hooked and would rather dive with other REEF divers than do any other dive activity. I had finally figured out why I was getting a little bored with scuba. REEF really breathed new life into my diving!

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

I have been on about one or two field survey trips each year since I started diving with REEF. In addition to my first Discovery trip to Puerto Rico, I have been to the Sea of Cortez, Lee Stocking Island, Bonaire, Little Cayman, a lionfish research trip to Bahamas, and several times to Cozumel. The highlight of each trip was the opportunity to meet and learn from other REEF divers who share a similar mission.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I strongly believe in the mission of the organization and sincerely want to contribute something from my diving efforts. It has been a real challenge to me to try and learn as much not only about fish ID, but also about fish behavior. I am just like a birder who wants to find that new species to add to their list. It is a real thrill to me to add something new to my list and to find something I have been looking at in the books, but haven’t yet seen in the ocean!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Going on field survey trips and interacting and learning from other divers. I have learned a lot and have met some wonderful REEF members who have really inspired me, including Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach, Sheryl Shea, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, Lad Akins, Brice and Christy Semmens, Judie Clee, and many many others! I actually enjoy the classroom time almost as much as the diving itself! I only wish I had hooked up with REEF sooner! I have also used the opportunity to invite other divers and snorkelers that I meet on trips outside of REEF to tell them about the organization and invite them to participate. Each time I am on a dive boat and have a survey slate in my hand, it always seems to invite an inquiry as to what I am doing? I use that window of opportunity to try and inspire new fish watchers. We have given away many of the waterproof underwater fish ID books to divers and snorkelers that we meet in order to get them more interested in learn the amazing variety of marine life around them that most seem to not even recognize that they are there, much less know what they are looking at.

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

All of the REEF field stations that I have visited are great, but if I had to pick one, I would choose Aqua Safari. I first dove with them in 2005 about 5 wks after Hurricane Wilma struck Cozumel. That is when I had the opportunity to meet Sheryl Shea and the rest of the staff at Aqua Safari. I have been back for every field survey there since that time with the exception of last year when I was in a severe accident that curtailed my diving for quite a while. Sheryl is a GREAT teacher and a real inspiration to dive with as is all of the staff at Aqua Safari. Tracy Griffin is also a great teacher and will be leading the trip this year. There are places in the Caribbean that you can count on finding more species to log on your survey, but the field survey trip to Cozumel always is a lot of fun.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

Increasing the awareness of the fragility or our marine environment I think is critical to REEF’s mission. The contribution of an enormous amount of data to document declining fish populations is valuable, which changes how people view the fragile nature of the environment and ultimately affects public policy to protect those resources. The lionfish project is extremely important in addressing an issue that is rapidly decimating fish populations on reefs where they have established themselves and in finding solutions to this problem is critical to protecting the reefs.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

Usually the last place that I have visited, but if I had to pick one it would probably be Bonaire or Little Cayman. You can’t beat the number of species and abundance of fish life in Bonaire, but I really like the island of Little Cayman for its beauty and lack of development and it also has some of the best diving in the Caribbean along Bloody Bay Wall. I have been to each location several times and would go back to either in a heartbeat.

2012 Field Survey Season Kicked Off In Nevis & St. Kitts

Nine REEF members joined REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, for a Field Survey week in Nevis last week, kicking off the 2012 REEF Trip season with a bang. The group stayed at Oualie Beach Resort on Nevis and dove with the on-site dive operator, Scuba Safaris. Over 120 surveys were conducted, which is a great addition to the REEF database for this region (prior to this trip, there were only 7 surveys from Nevis). Each afternoon, the group would gather for a few hours to discuss the day's sightings, review images and video, and enter survey data. Everyone really enjoyed the diving. Fish diversity and abundance was relatively high, and during the week the group documented just under 200 species of fish! Some of the more rare and exciting finds included bluestripe dartfish, mimic blenny, dwarf sand perch, flying gurnard, striped croaker, Atlantic spadefish, and nine line goby. Participants ranged from brand new REEF surveyors to a few of our most experienced, and a great time was had by all. Check out the online album posted here. To find out more about the Field Survey Trips program, visit

Support Marine Conservation With a Year-End Donation

Happy Holidays! On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff at REEF, I urge you to show your support of our crucial marine conservation programs, which resulted this year in important long term victories.

In a matter of minutes, you can contribute at, mail your donation to P.O. Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call REEF Headquarters (305-852-0030). For donations of $250 or more, you will receive the 2012 limited edition, signed print of a Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation. REEF is a registered 501(c)(3) US charity and your donation is tax-deductible.

In 2012, REEF program milestones included:

• Working with the Cayman government to pass a new Grouper Amendment Law granting Nassau Grouper permanent protection through complete closure of the fishery throughout the reproductive season.

• Co-authoring Invasive Lionfish – A Guide to Control and Management, which tackles the invasion on an international level and provides direction on how best to deal with this emerging lionfish risk to marine systems.

• Coordinating 34 online "Fishinars" through the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, which allow members worldwide to learn interactively about marine life from the comfort of their home.

Donate today so REEF can continue making these critical accomplishments! We sincerely appreciate your support and thank you for your dedication to healthy ocean ecosystems around the world. We hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season and have a great new year!

Test Your ID Skills Online

We recently updated our online quizzes to add several more regions, including the South Pacific, the Northeast, California Invertebrates, and the South Atlantic. If it's been a while since you have visited this resource on our website, check it out today. These fun quizzes are a great way to test your ID skills. You can take the quiz as many times as you want, and questions are randomly generated so it will always be a bit different. Have fun!

Looking for a Great Dive Vacation?

The MV Caribbean Pearl II
Photo by Carol Cox.

REEF Field Surveys are a great way to take a dive vacation that counts! We offer trips throughout our project regions. The 2014 trip schedule includes many sites in the Caribbean and Pacific Northwest, as well as several Lionfish Research Expeditions.

One of our featured destinations in 2014 -- Honduras aboard the MV Caribbean Pearl II Liveaboard, June 21-28, 2014. REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and her husband and reef fish scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, will lead a great week of diving, learning, and fun! We'll spend the week cruising around the Bay Islands of Honduras aboard the luxurious MV Caribbean Pearl II. We will begin our diving journey in Utila, then explore hidden sea mounts and search for whale sharks enroute to Roatan. After diving in Roatan we will head back to the home port on Utila. The week ends with a walk around the charming town of Utila. The trip costs $2,610 per diver double occupancy, and includes lodging for 7 nights in a Deluxe Cabin with private bathroom, unlimited diving, and all meals and drinks while on board. An additional REEF Program Fee of $300 is added to cover the program costs, seminars, and survey materials. Click here to find out more about this trip. Or visit the REEF Trips page at to see the complete schedule.

We hope to see you on our Honduras liveaboard trip, or one of our other Field Surveys in 2014! These trips are are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fish watchers. 

Upcoming Fishinars - Hawaii's Wrasse, East vs. West, and more

The initial phase Bird Wrasse, a common sight in Hawaii and throughout the tropical western Pacific. Photo by (c) Paul Humann.

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 Fishinars coming up include:

  • Hawaii's Wrascally Wrasses - Heather George, Liz Foote, and Donna Brown, May 13th
  • Coralinar! - Dr. Marilyn Brandt, May 29th
  • Eastside vs Westside: Lookalike Fish from the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, June 19th
  • Playing in the Sandbox: Top 12 Sand Dwellers of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, October 7th
  • That Face, That Face, That Wonderful Face! Top 12 Blennies of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, November 4th

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!

New REEF Ray Troll Shirt and Other New Store Additions

If you haven't checked out the online REEF Store recently, now is a great time to do some shopping. It's a great place to get field ID reference guides, REEF survey materials, REEF gear, and lionfish field gear. We have added several new items recently, including:

- Ray Troll's "Dive Bar" shirt with REEF logo, click here

- Lionfish 3-D Puzzle, Lionfish Plush, and Lionfish Phone Case, click here

- New Underwater Survey Paper, including an extended list version for the Caribbean and new paper for the Central Indo-Pacific, click here

- Expanded and Revised 4th Edition of Reef Fish Identification- Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, click here

The Faces of REEF: Phil Green

Too Close!! Phil snapped this up-close picture of a Sixgill mouth as the shark was swimming over the top of him. Photo by Phil Green.
Phil always has a smile on his face. Photo by Janna Nichols
Giant Pacific Octopus. 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 Phil Green, a REEF member since 2005. An active surveyor who lives on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Phil has conducted almost 400 surveys to date and is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Pacific region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

Joe Gaydos, director and chief scientist at SeaDoc Society, suggested I should be doing REEF surveys in the Yellow and Low Islands MPA where I live and work for The Nature Conservancy. I had never heard of REEF and hadn’t been diving in over 30 years. He told me there was a fish ID class in a month. I took Janna Nichols’ class, got hooked on REEF, and got recertified at Anacortes Diving, the best dive shop anywhere. So I took my first REEF class before I was even a certified diver.

Have you participated in any of the Advanced Assessment Team Projects?

I’ve been on the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) AAT project several times. The topside scenery is amazing and there is always the chance to see marine mammals (humpback whales and Steller sea lions). The diving there is amazing, both for fish and invertebrates. But the best part is diving with other AAT members. There is always so much to learn so to be diving with other level five surveyors is the ultimate learning experience.

What motivates you to conduct REEF surveys?

Even before joining REEF, I was a firm believer in citizen science. I turn in nearly daily bird lists to Cornell’s ebird website. Having done that for over ten years, it was second nature to turn in a dive survey following each dive. Not only is it a way to justify my hobbies, it just feels really good to know I’m helping supply data that cannot be gathered in any other way.

Do you have a memorable fish sighting to share?

I was diving with the Anacortes dive club out of Rendezvous Lodge in Barkley Sound where I had previously been on a REEF trip. REEF goes there in the fall but summer is the time to see Sixgill Sharks. Our group was swimming with a Sixgill and I was at the end of a line of divers. The shark did a 180 and swam straight at me. I laid flat on my back pressed against the bottom as it swam directly over me. I clicked a photo showing nothing but mouth. All I could think was WOW, a shark just swam over me inches away.

What is your favorite fish or invertebrate to see while diving in the Pacific Northwest?

My absolute favorite critter is the Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO). A couple years ago I was a bit burned out on diving the same site where I live. Then I discovered a GPO den, then another, and another, and finally a total of five den sites between two different dive sites. Octos move around between den sites and it became a game to try to find them, the underwater version of ‘Where’s Waldo.” Last year I named my dive boat Octopi.

The Faces of REEF: Alex Brett

Alex braving the snow to go diving!
The lovable Lumpfish. Photo by Jason Feick.

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 Alex Brett, a REEF member since 2014. Since joining last year, Alex has conducted 27 surveys, almost all in the Northeast (NE) region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I first heard about REEF at Boston Sea Rovers during a presentation where the invertebrate monitoring program was being unveiled for the New England area. I had been involved in a lot of benthic invertebrate survey work in college, so the idea of adding science to my normal dives was particularly appealing.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

I feel that the REEF programs are valuable for two equally important reasons. First off, the data that are produced are invaluable for understanding trends in ocean ecosystems. Recreational volunteer divers can collect far more data than most researchers could hope to achieve. Second, I believe that citizen science programs like REEF are invaluable because of how they engage people in marine science. By inspiring divers to become involved in marine science, REEF helps people form a stronger connection to the ocean and makes them more likely to speak up and take action on marine environmental issues.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

I live on the coast of Maine, and I dive there year-round. I’ve dove many places around the world and it’s still one of my favorite areas to dive. The rugged rocky coast makes for some wonderfully dramatic topography underwater and our high tidal currents bring an awesome diversity of invertebrate life. One of my favorite places to dive in Maine is a spot, about 20 miles offshore, called Mount Desert Rock. The visibility is usually spectacular and a breeding colony of grey seals make for some entertaining dive companions.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Too many possibilities! I definitely can’t pick just one. I love all nudibranchs, particularly those in the genus Flabellina, like the Red-gilled Nudibranch. Lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) are also pretty incredible, with their goofy face and fins modified into a suction disc.

Is there a fish or marine invertebrate you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?

I would love to see an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) while diving. I’ve seen them at the surface many times, but they are such a unique critter I can’t quite imagine encountering one underwater. One of the things I love about diving is that you never quite know what you’re going to run into while you’re out there.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub