Making It Count - February 2017

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, February 2017

Tiger Grouper are one of several species being evaluated by the IUCN Red List group, with the assistance of REEF data. Photo by Jeff Haines.

Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Recent examples of data requests and uses include:

- Data on several species of grouper species world-wide were requested for use in the IUCN Red List Assessments.

- Survey effort data from Veracruz, Mexico, are being used as part of a monitoring gap analysis being conducted by The Nature Conservancy.

- Data from Florida and the Bahamas were requested by researchers from Rutgers University to understand bio-cultural homogenization on reefs.

- Data on fish assemblages on rocky reefs around British Columbia are being evaluated for status and trends by scientists at the University of Victoria.

Back to top

The Faces of REEF: Deb Hebblewhite

Deb working hard on the Micronesia REEF Trip in 2016.
Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray. Photo courtesy WikiCommons, by Jens Petersen.

REEF members are at the heart of our marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Deb Hebblewhite, a REEF member since 1999. Deb lives in Denver, Colorado. She has conducted 129 surveys and has participated in several REEF Field Survey Trips. Here's what Deb had to say about REEF:

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

I was in Cozumel in the 90’s when I first discovered a copy of Paul and Ned’s early Caribbean Fish ID book. I was so very excited to be able to start identifying the creatures I was seeing underwater. It definitely made SCUBA so much more enjoyable for me. I don’t remember how I found out about it but my first REEF trip was an intro to surveying trip led by Lad in Key Largo in August of 2002. The main reason I signed up for that trip was the advertised chance to see the Coral Spawn. We ventured out late one night and the corals waited until we were almost out of bottom time before they finally started popping. It was a new and magical experience for my dive buddy and I. I hope to have the chance to see that again one day.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

As cool as the Coral Spawn was, my favorite experience on a REEF trip came in the Sea of Cortez in 2008. In the middle of the afternoon we came upon a huge bait ball. I don’t recall the type of fish but this bait ball was larger than anything I had ever seen. It remained in the same location for quite awhile so we were able to dive it twice. On the second dive I spent a good amount of time just sitting on the bottom looking up in awe at the amazing, swirling tangle of life above me.

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

Surprisingly there were no large fish feeding on that bait ball I saw in the Sea of Cortez. The one fish I would really like to see while diving is any type of billfish. There is something about their speed and power that I find fascinating. I’m going back to the Sea of Cortez with REEF in August so maybe there will be another bait ball and I will get my chance to eye that billfish.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

I love all kinds of rays, especially Manta Rays, mainly for their grace moving through the water. When I dove the Red Sea I encountered Bluespotted Ribbontail Rays and they are some of the most memorable animals for me. They are just so pretty and colorful.

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

I live in Colorado so don’t do much diving locally. I don’t really have an ultimate favorite place. I enjoy traveling to new destinations but since I’ve been to Dominica three times I would have to say it’s my favorite Caribbean location. Though I get a good amount of vacation time I have several other interests that I travel for so some years I only go on one dive trip. However, 2016 was unusual for me as I went to Dominica in February and then participated in two big firsts for REEF; the first REEF trip to Cuba and the first REEF trip to Micronesia.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Participating in REEF and completing REEF surveys increases my enjoyment of SCUBA exponentially, and gives me satisfaction and a sense of purpose. There are so many detrimental things happening to our oceans today. Adding to the REEF database by submitting surveys makes me feel like I’m doing some small part to help the underwater world I love. In the process I’ve learned so many fascinating things about fish and other sea creatures. It’s fun too to do something that’s a little bit off mainstream. The folks in my office think it’s fun to tell people that “Debbie is out counting fish” when I’m away on a REEF Trip. I feel privileged to be a REEF member and to have the opportunity to dive with so many amazing people who truly care about our seas. I believe it is incumbent upon those of us who experience it first hand to be the ambassadors for the oceans. Sharing what we know with those who never get the chance to experience that magical underwater world is an important way to engage people in the fight to protect our oceans.

Back to top

March Membership Drive

We are kicking off March with REEF's third annual Month of Membership Madness. We have tons of great benefits this month for new members and for those who help us reach our goal of 500 new members in March. So help us spread the word - get your friends and family to join REEF today.

Every new member who joins in March 2017 will be entered to win one of several great prizes, including a Volunteer Fish Survey Project starter basket (includes an underwater slate, survey paper, color ID card, stuffed plush animal, REEF mask strap, REEF drink koozie, and more), and a Lionfish basket (includes the new lionfish cookbook, t-shirt, plush stuffed animal, lionfish puzzle, and more!) And every REEF member who refers a new member will also be entered to win. Just have the new member enter your name when they join by choosing "Other" under “How did you hear about REEF?”

For complete details and official rules, please visit www.REEF.org/membershipmadness.

Help grow REEF stronger and spread the word this March!

Back to top

Announcing Third Summer of REEF Ocean Explorers Camp

Children having a blast at the 2016 REEF Ocean Explorers Summer Camp.

Explorers will be exposed to the underwater world, all of its amazing creatures, and a week filled with creative activities and adventures. Discover all that the ocean has to offer and experience conservation actions in the sunny, salty, and wonderful Florida Keys. REEF will offer four sessions of summer camp - two weeks at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo and two weeks at Postcard Inn in Islamorada. Please tell the young explorer in your life about this amazing opportunity to snorkel, kayak, and explore this summer. REEF welcomes campers ages 7-13. For more information, please visit www.REEF.org/Explorers/Camp or email Explorers@REEF.org.

Back to top

Field Methodology Course This Summer

REEF's Summer Field Course is a great way to get experience out on the water.

This summer, REEF will host our second Reef Fish Field Methodology Course in Key Largo, Florida. This one week hands-on course is designed for college undergraduates and recent graduates aspiring towards a career in marine biology or a related field. The course covers commonly used tools and techniques for visual assessments of reef fishes. Through classroom and field experiences, the course will expose students to Tropical Western Atlantic fish identification, size estimations underwater, surveying reef fishes using transect, roving and stationary visual techniques, benthic assessments, and management of survey data.

Prospective participants must be at least 18 years of age, enrolled in or a recent graduate of a college level program, and hold a scuba certification. To get more details on REEF’s Fish Field Methodology Course and to apply visit www.REEF.org/fieldcourse or contact Amy Lee at (305) 588-5869 or trips@REEF.org .

Back to top

Playing Virtual Darts With Fish ID

A group of REEF surveyors in Mexico have set up a study group on “WhatsApp” (a mobile device chat app) to prepare themselves for REEF Level 2 tests in the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) region. The group is coordinated by Itziar Aretxaga, who recently passed level 3 in that region and is a Level 5 expert in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA). Members of the group live throughout Mexico, but stay connected and learn together through a game of virtual darts on their mobile phones. Every day they are presented with a problem fish they have to solve, and at the end of the day the recognition card for the fish of day is sent with instructions of names in English and Spanish and features to look for.

Along with the daily mystery fish, the participants are playing a rolling game over the course of two months in which one participant “throws a dart” with a photograph to another participant to recognize. The recipient has a maximum of 24 hours to reply. If the recipient identifies the species, he/she receives 1 point. If the reply is incorrect, the recipient receives -1 point. If the sender misidentifies the species for one that is not in the study cards already seen, he/she receives -2 points. If anybody other than the recipient replies within the 24 hr period, he/she receives -2 points. If the recipient does not reply within 24 hours or replies incorrectly, the dart can be picked up by any participant, and points are assigned to the one that first replies with the correct answer. The score is normalized by the number of darts aimed at each participant and the final prize is a round of beers paid by the participant who scores less points.

The group has been playing fish-darts for three weeks now, and is having quite a blast with 35 cards already studied and almost 40 darts sent in the game. Negative points have been assigned mainly for misidentifications of photographs found with Google on the internet. In two weeks, when they complete the 50 species they have set for themselves to study, they will declare a winner and the person in charge of beers for all. ¡Salud!

Back to top
Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub