The Faces of REEF: 2011 Volunteer of the Year, Heather George

REEF proudly names Heather George as our 2011 Volunteer of the Year. Since becoming a member nearly a decade ago, Heather has conducted 192 REEF surveys throughout the world and is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii. In 2010, Heather joined the volunteer research team for the Grouper Moon Project. Through the years, she has conducted fish identification trainings for dive shops and aquaria and has led several REEF Field Survey Trips. Heather also served on the REEF Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010 and brought a wealth of knowledge about fundraising and membership development to the organization. In 2011, Heather assisted with the expansion of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the South Pacific as part of the field team to American Samoa. When Heather is not underwater looking at fishes or teaching others about the joys of fish watching, she is helping other ocean-related organizations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Waterkeeper Alliance. We are so grateful to have a wonderful volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Heather!

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Scuba Obsession

REEF is proud to partner with over 270 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. For more information on how to find one near you, or to become a Field Station in your area, visit the Field Station Directory.

This month we feature Scuba Obsession, Al Audet's independent instruction business located in Melbourne Florida. Al was introduced to the wonderful world of fish identification through a class through He attended as many classes as he could, and through the help of outstanding instructors and guides, he was hooked. He decided to incorporate fish ID into his teaching repertoire, and signed up as a REEF Field Station in November 2009.

Instructors have a lot of influence on their new open water students, and Al steers them toward fish ID all along the way. During the last Open Water dive, he normally takes his waterproof Fish-In-A-Pocket guide and points the fish they see on their dive out to the students. As his students move on to their Advanced Open Water courses (of which they can choose some that match their interests), he always encourages them to select Fish ID as one of their Adventure Dives. During the class, they learn about fish ID, do REEF survey dives together, and then are encouraged to join REEF and enter their data.

Al feels that the east coast of Florida is a great place to engage divers in fish ID. "The east coast of Florida has some of the best diving in the world. You never know what you're going to see. We also have the most popular muck dive in the world - the Blue Heron Bridge. You'll find fish under the bridge that you won't see any place else in Florida."

Al employs several different teaching techniques for his students. He offers Fish ID classes regularly and also attends REEF Fishinars, which he touted as one of REEF's best programs. He has also put together a video for his Fish ID students, online and available for viewing here:

One of Al's most exciting moments during a dive was when he was teaching a Fish ID Adventure dive for an Advanced Open Water class off Jupiter, FL. The boat captain gave them a sand drop, so after a few minutes of looking for the reef, the dive guide decided to ascend. On the way up... they looked up, and realized they were ascending into a whale shark! One of Al's students described it best, "I looked up, and I thought I saw the boat. Then I saw the fins." Thanks Al and Scuba Obsession for serving as a REEF Field Station!

Putting It to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, June 2013

Goliath Grouper and a REEF Surveyor. REEF sightings data for Goliath Grouper are critical to scientists and government agencies working to protect and manage this important species. Photo by Armando Jenik.

Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

- A researcher from University of British Columbia is using REEF data to evaluate the efficacy of marine reserves in Canadian waters.

- A researcher from Florida State University has requested REEF data to study Goliath Grouper populations in Florida.

- A student at Coastal Carolina University is using data to study fish populations at Discovery Bay in Jamaica.

- Scientists from NOAA Fisheries and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are using data from multiple monitoring programs, including REEF, to evaluate new methods of evaluating population trends in fisheries.

Support REEF While Shopping on Amazon

Do you shop on Amazon? If so, we encourage you to use Amazon Smile. It's the same Amazon experience, same products, prices, and service. And a portion of your purchases will be donated to REEF.

Go to and select Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Inc. as your selected charity (or go directly to Thank you!

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Nassau Grouper Populations in the Caribbean

A Nassau Grouper at the spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, which is the focus of research in REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Christy Pattengill-Semmens.

REEF Grouper Moon scientists co-authored a recent groundbreaking paper in the journal PLoS One that highlights the importance of regional conservation efforts aimed at spawning aggregations in the Caribbean. This study evaluated genetic connectedness between Nassau Grouper populations throughout the Caribbean using DNA markers. The authors obtained genetic tissue samples from 620 Nassau Grouper from 19 sites across 9 countries, including the Cayman Islands. They found evidence for strong genetic differentiation among Nassau Grouper subpopulations throughout the Caribbean. These results suggest that, despite a lack of physical barriers, Nassau Grouper form multiple distinct sub-populations in the Caribbean Sea. Oceanography (regional currents, eddies) likely plays an important role in retaining larvae close to spawning sites at both local and regional spatial scales. These findings highlight the importance of conservation initiatives such at REEF's Grouper Moon program in the Cayman Islands. A PDF of the paper is available online here. You can see a complete list of all scientific papers that have included data from REEF programs at

The full citation of the paper is: Jackson AM, Semmens BX, Sadovy de Mitcheson Y, Nemeth RS, Heppell SA, et al. (2014) Population Structure and Phylogeography in Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a Mass-Aggregating Marine Fish. PLoS ONE 9(5): e97508. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097508

New Tropical Western Atlantic Survey Paper

Are you an experienced REEF surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA)? If so, you might want to check out our brand new underwater survey paper featuring an extended list of species. The double-sided list fits on the regular yellow slate. The longer list of species means less write-in species and more efficient data entry. When entering your data, just select the longer list in the "Species View" field at the top of the data entry field. You can find the new paper in REEF's online store here - The store also includes new paper for our Central Indo-Pacific and South Pacific/Fiji regions, along with handy ID guides, and REEF gear!

The Faces of REEF: Doug Biffard

Doug checking out a Red Irish Lord during a survey. Photo by Pete Naylor.
Doug with a little Northern Abalone.
China 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 Doug Biffard, a REEF member since 2000. An active surveyor who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Doug has conducted 455 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?

Back in the 1990s I joined in on Vancouver Aquarium’s annual Lingcod Egg Mass Survey (still an active event). I learned through aquarium connections that REEF and Living Oceans Society were planning training sessions for the recently-developed Pacific Northwest protocol in 1999. I signed up for the Victoria session lead by Susan Francis, one of the first trainers for the Pacific Northwest region.

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

The really great thing about REEF is the people involved. Dana Haggarty, the young scientist that designed the PNW species list was a real inspiration to me. Janna Nichols, who I met early on as part of the AAT, is the enthusiastic and creative outreach coordinator. And then there are the people who I meet when we travel to the Caribbean on REEF survey trips, like expert surveyor Kenny Tidwell, who has become a good friend with whom I share a passion for fish, nature, and getting outside.

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

Most of my diving is around Victoria BC. We have a huge variety of diving here, from high current sites, walls, reefs, kelp beds, to sand flats. We often encounter seals and sea lions, which can be lots of fun and slightly intimidating.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why?

My favourite fish is the China Rockfish. When I started diving in the 70’s we would often see this fish in the Strait of Georgia, but now they are rarely observed. With increased marine conservation awareness through programs like REEF, I hope to see the China Rockfish return to my old dive sites. One of my favourite invertebrates to find is the Northern Abalone. In contrast, this invertebrate was over-exploited in the 70s and 80s. Harvest for this species was prohibited 20 years ago and now we are starting to see good numbers of juveniles at many dive sites. It is quite a joy to see a little abalone cruising along a reef of pink algae.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

My most cherished memory of a fish find happened while diving with my wife, Bev (also a REEF surveyor) at a local dive site. Bev spotted what she thought was a common Bay Pipefish, and quickly drew my attention to it. After the dive, Bev asked why I squealed underwater, I explained she had found a fish I have been looking for since I was a young boy -- a very rarely spotted Quillfish!

Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used to Evaluate Species in the Northeast US

A Radiated Shanny, one of two species in the Northeast US whose populations are possibly being impacted by temperature changes. Photo by Jerry Shine.

We are proud to share a story from the East Coast that is a perfect example of how REEF data are put to work to address our changing seas. Dr. Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut and Mystic Aquarium, recently submitted a petition to add the Radiated Shanny and Atlantic Seasnail to the list of Species of Concern under the State of Connecticut's Endangered Species Act. Dr. Auster used REEF data as his primary source of information for the petition.

Both species are considered "cold-adapted," with their distribution largely north of Cape Cod with rare sightings in Long Island Sound. Data show that these species may be the first climate-change casualties in Connecticut waters as Long Island Sound continues to warm. These species occur in rocky habitats, and the best population data come from diver surveys, such as those from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. If you are a REEF surveyor in the northeast region, please keep an eye out and report these species on your surveys! Dr. Auster will continue to track their abundance through the REEF database and assess the effect of changing seas on their populations.

Take a Dive Vacation That Counts in 2016

Snorkel Jellyfish Lake in Palau this Fall. Photo courtesy PicCorrect.
Learn about the Lionfish Invasion in Curacao.
Dive with Sea Lions in the Coronado Islands.
Spend a week at the beautiful Blackbird Caye Resort.

We are looking for passionate ocean enthusiasts to join us later this year on a REEF Trip. There are still a few spaces left on the following trips in 2016:

Curacao Lionfish Research Trip, August 20 - 27 - led by REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF Board of Trustee Member, Peter Hughes. Learn all about the lionfish invasion while diving and helping with research. Visit the trip page for details.

Bermuda, October 1 - 8 - led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Renowned Underwater Photographers and Marine Life Authors. Ned and Anna will entertain participants with their fish id and behavior expertise. Pink sand beaches and fascinating historic sites help to make Bermuda a captivating destination for non-divers as well. Visit the trip page for details.

Palau and Yap, October 4 - 16 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. We will begin our trip at Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, and then board the Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard. We will explore rich coral walls and channels, documenting the biodiversity of the area. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for details.

Barkley Sound, BC, October 9 - 13led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. A must-dive destination for cold-water divers, Barkley Sound will treat participants to excellent diving and encounters with wildlife both above and below the water. Visit the trip page for details.

Saba, October 22 - 29 - led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer, and Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. A chance to dive this beautiful mountainous island in the Caribbean. In addition to the REEF seminars, participants can participate in "Sea and Learn", a month-long education program offered by Sea Saba. Visit the trip page for details.

Coronado Islands, California/Mexico, November 7 - 10 - led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. This West Coast trip offers the chance to encounter a diverse array of habitats and organisms, including kelp forests brimming with fish and invertebrates and playful sea lion pups. Visit the trip page for details.

Belize, December 3 - 10led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Decompress before the holidays with a week on Belize's Turneffe Atoll at the spectacular Blackbird Caye Resort, named one of Sport Diver Magazine's "2015 World's Best Diving Resorts." Divers will delight in the high diversity of fishes and endemic species. Non-diver companions will delight in the sandy beaches, pool side relaxing, and kayaking. Visit the trip page for details.

The complete 2016 and 2017 schedule is posted at: Contact Amy Lee at or call 305-588-5869 to book your space or to find out more.

The Faces of REEF: Laura Tesler

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 Laura Tesler. Laura lives in Oregon, and has been a REEF member since 2007. She is a member of the Pacific Northwest Advanced Assessment Team (a Level 5 Expert surveyor). She has also conducted surveys in the TWA region and is a Level 3 Advanced surveyor there. To date, Laura has completed 239 surveys. Here’s what Laura had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I have been a PNW REEF volunteer for 8 years and 44 weeks. In 2008 I heard from another diving friend about the surveys they were doing to assess marine health while diving. I was intrigued, and signed up for a REEF training taught by Janna Nichols. The rest is history.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

For me it is like being on a biological treasure hunt underwater. I have a list of species I would love to see and I am always hoping to see something off that list! REEF Trips and gatherings are really fun and educational, as you get to dive with really good divers and get into arguments about how many cirri the Scalyhead Sculpin you saw had for identification purposes. Who else do you know that gets excited about seeing a Red Brotula?

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

For me it is a 3-hour drive to a good diving site, usually in Puget Sound, Washington. Diving in Oregon is not very easy due to lack of protected areas for diving and shoreline access is limited. I’m used to the drive though!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

I will openly admit I have a fascination with nudibranchs. They have perfectly evolved to capitalize on the marine environment in so many fascinating ways (external lungs, habitats, rhinophore shapes, etc). They also come in so many shapes, sizes and colors!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

I have my own personal fish ID book library now and I am a member of a Facebook site called REEF Pacific Northwest Critterwatchers that is active with ID discussion, informational tidbits, upcoming dives, etc. When I dive I really go slow and take the time to look under, behind, and in things and I associate habitat with species when I do survey. I also try and watch REEF fishinars as they are produced. Of course the more surveying you do the better!

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