Making It Count - July 2018

Putting it to Work: New Publications from the Gulf of Mexico

Figure 1 from Gruss et al's paper in Marine and Coastal Fisheries, showing the extent of the study area in the Gulf of Mexico.
Red Grouper, one of the species evaluated for hotspots in the Marine and Coastal Fisheries paper. Photo by Carol Cox.

REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project dataset was one of 73 fish and invertebrate monitoring programs that were systematically cataloged and evaluated as part of a mulit-year study funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) RESTORE Act Science Program. The effort was led by Arnaud Gruss from the University of Miami, and involved dozens of collaborators, including REEF's Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens. The authors conducted a gap analysis of the programs, provided recommendations for improving current monitoring programs and designing new programs, and guidance for more comprehensive use and sharing of monitoring data. The compiled data were also used to map the spatial distributions of 61 fish and invertebrate functional groups, species, and life stages. The results were published last month in the scientific journal Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries. A second paper was published from this program earlier in 2018 in the journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries, which used the compiled monitoring data to run statistical habitat models to assist in Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management (EBFM) efforts. The analysis mapped hotspots of juveniles and adults of three economically important species (Red Snapper, Gag, and Red Grouper) in the West Florida Shelf for informing future marine protected area (MPA) planning.

The full citations of the two papers are:

Gruss, A, et al. 2018. Monitoring Programs of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico: Inventory, development and use of a large monitoring database to map fish and invertebrate spatial distributions. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries. 28 June 2018


Gruss, A, DD Chagaris, EA Babcock, and JH Tarnecki. 2018. Assisting Ecosystem‐Based Fisheries Management Efforts Using a Comprehensive Survey Database, a Large Environmental Database, and Generalized Additive Models. Marine and Coastal Fisheries. 10(1): 40-70

To access these papers, and the other 60+ scientific papers that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data and other REEF programs, visit

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The Faces of REEF: Mark and Penny Hooper

Penny underwater.
Mark and Penny (far left) on the Cayman Brac trip in 2014.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. More than 70,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission. 

This month we highlight Mark and Penny Hooper, REEF members since 2012, and important partners in our expansion to the South Atlantic States (SAS) region in 2013. Collectively, they have conducted 144 REEF surveys, many in their home state of North Carolina. They are both Level 3 TWA surveyors, and they have their sights on achieving Expert Level status soon. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

What got you interested in the ocean?

We met at the marine station on Catalina Island off California in 1970, while diving as part of class field work. Penny completed her Master's degree working in Hyperbaric Physiology studying the effects of saturation on the body. After moving to North Carolina, Mark worked as a commercial fisherman specializing in hard crabs, soft shell crabs, and farm raised clams. We both served as Diving Safety Officer (DSO) at Johns Hopkins University, and Mark was DSO at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort for 10 years after Hopkins. It was during time at Duke that we were introduced to REEF.

How did you get involved with REEF?

While at the marine lab in Beaufort, Mark got actively involved with expansion of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project to North Carolina. He advised on the development of survey materials and helped bring together interest groups. Mark started surveying a local jetty dive site to document the influx of juvenile tropical fish in the summer. A highlight of this program was recording 100+ juvenile Spotfin Butterflyfish on one dive, with only 5' of visibility.

Have you ever been on a REEF Field Survey Trip?

Yes, we have gone on several REEF Trips, including Dominica, Cayman Brac, Barbados, Turks and Caicos. We really enjoy diving with the other REEF volunteers and have learned a tremendous amount by interacting with them. We love to dive, and we have always tried to know the fish and invertebrates we see. But it was through the REEF trips that we really increased our knowledge base and total awareness of our underwater world. We survey now on every dive and snorkel we make.

What is your favorite thing about doing REEF surveys?

We feel our work with REEF as citizen scientists is of utmost importance. The ocean is a dynamic environment and climate change is accelerating change. In North Carolina, REEF divers are documenting range expansion of tropical species in our offshore waters. This is important work and could not be done solely by the scientific community.

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Double Your Donation This Summer

Double your impact with a gift to REEF this summer! Photo by Carol Cox.

We are in the midst of our annual summer fundraising campaign, and are excited to share that thanks to the generosity of three longtime supporters, all donations made this summer will be matched dollar for dollar! We are so grateful for everyone who has already contributed to our summer fundraising campaign, enabling us to continue our marine conservation work. If you have not yet made a donation, please today do so today by visiting, calling our office at (305) 852-0030, or mailing your donation to us at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL, 33037.

This year, we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of REEF’s cornerstone program, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Since the first surveys were conducted in Key Largo, Florida, in 1993, more than 15,000 citizen scientists have participated in this monumental program. REEF volunteers have helped create the world’s largest database of marine life sightings, containing more than 225,000 surveys collected in oceans all over the world. At the heart of REEF are our members, who make everything we do possible. Our community of 70,000 ocean stewards make a difference in the marine environment through conservation actions and financial support. We hope you will join us this summer in celebrating 25 years of citizen science, and from all of us at REEF, thank you for your support and dedication to marine conservation.

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Welcome New REEF Staff - Alli Candelmo as Invasive Species Program Coordinator

We are excited to welcome a new member of the REEF staff! Alli Candelmo joined the team this week as the Invasive Species Program Coordinator. She comes to REEF with a wealth of experience in field biology, education, and conservation.

Alli attended Rutgers University where she obtained a Ph. D. in Ecology and Evolution. She has studied the population dynamics and management strategies of invasive lionfish in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos, working with the local stakeholders and communities on both islands to help improve removal efforts and gain a better understanding of invasive lionfish. Her doctoral and postdoctoral research examined a number of anthropogenic impacts on coastal ecosystems and early life history finfish, including; toxicants, ocean acidification and increased temperatures. She had the opportunity to collaborate with REEF on the Grouper Moon project in 2016 and 2017, examining survivorship of early life stages of Nassau and Tiger Grouper. During her graduate career she was a National Science Foundation fellow, developing hands-on science activities for GK-12 classrooms and was a mentor for the Douglass Project. She worked as a NRC Post-Doctoral research associate with NOAA Fisheries and was a NIH post-doctoral research associate in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries and New York University Langone Medical School. Alli is a strong advocate for conservation of coastal and marine ecosystems, regularly volunteering for local community programs; for three years she led the Lionfish Community Culling program in Little Cayman and before that was co-chair of the Jersey Shore Surfrider Foundation chapter in New Jersey leading beach cleanups, storm recovery post Super Storm Sandy, plastic reduction campaigns, and ocean friendly garden campaigns.

In her free-time Alli enjoys cooking, gardening, traveling, and all outdoors adventures; hiking, paddleboarding, surfing, kayaking, snowboarding and scuba diving. She is happiest during her times spent in and around the oceans and will never turn down an opportunity to go breathing underwater; if she has a spear in hand and can catch some lionfish for dinner even better. She is very excited to join the REEF team and have the opportunity to combine quality research, outreach, and education to lead to tangible improvements in the management of coastal and marine ecosystems and improve our conservation efforts.

Welcome, Alli! To learn more about all of our amazing staff, visit the REEF Staff Bios webpage.

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25th Anniversary Key Largo Field Survey

25th anniversary REEF Trip to Key Largo, June 2018.

To commemorate 25 years of REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project, a group of volunteer citizen scientist divers joined REEF staff and interns, along with co-founder Paul Humann, for a special 25th anniversary Field Survey Trip in Key Largo, Florida, last month. Key Largo is home to REEF Headquarters and was also the location for the very first REEF Field Survey Trip, held in July 1993. The attendees on the 2018 trip surveyed the same sites visited by participants on the 1993 Field Survey, to observe how fish populations have changed over past 25 years. The diving conditions for the recent trip could not have been better, with flat calm seas and great visibility underwater. Many surveyors said that the Wreck of the Benwood was their favorite dive site of the week, due to its high diversity of species and variety of habitat types. While the survey results are still being entered, preliminary data shows that the group sighted approximately 190 fish species over the course of ten dives. The group on the first project in 1993 reported 160 species over eight dives. Curious about what the group on the first-ever REEF Trip reported? You can view a batch report of the sightings here.

One of the best parts of attending a REEF Field Survey Trip is expanding your fish identification knowledge with fellow fishwatchers. In the evenings, the Key Largo trip participants enjoyed fish ID classes held in REEF’s new Interpretive Center. Thank you to everyone who joined us in Key Largo for this trip, as well as to Horizon Divers and Marina del Mar for hosting our group on this trip. If you’re interested in joining an upcoming REEF Field Survey Trip, check out the schedule at, and keep an eye out for the full 2019 trip listing, coming very soon!

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Great Annual Fish Count is Here

Click to WatchClick to Watch

July is Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) month, an ideal time for you to try doing your very first REEF scuba or snorkel fish survey (you can do it on your next dive or snorkel - just record only the things you can positively identify and leave off the rest). Click to watch a quick video showing how it works and how easy and fun it can be!

Also be sure to check out for much more info on the GAFC and participating groups, charters, shops, clubs, etc.

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Lionfish Derby Update

Last month, REEF kicked off our 2018 Lionfish Derby series at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami. Four teams competed on June 9 and 10 to bring in a total of 309 fish. The largest lionfish caught was 411mm (just over 16 inches) and the smallest was 112mm (about 4.5 inches.) We have two more derbies coming up this month - in Sarasota at Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium on July 6 - 8, and in Ft. Lauderdale at 15th St. Fisheries on July 13 - 14, and a few more later this summer and fall. Details are below, and at All of the scoring, awards, lionfish tastings, and festivities at both events will take place as teams start to come in with their catch. All festivities are free open to the public.

For all derbies in this year’s series, cash prizes will be given to 1st through 10th place for most lionfish and 1st through 3rd place for the biggest and smallest. We have also introduced several new prize categories, include a golden fish award with participating teams eligible to win $1,000 cash and a first timers category. A culinary competition will also be taking place on derby day at the Sarasota event. This is a people’s choice competition - participating chefs create a lionfish dish of their choosing and individuals who have purchased a ticket beforehand can vote for their favorite.

July Derby Details:

Sarasota Derby

Captain’s Meeting: Friday, July 6 @ Mote Marine Lab

Derby: Sunrise on July 6 until noon on July 7. $120 per team. 2-4 person teams.

For more information and registration:

Ft. Lauderdale Derby

Captain’s Meeting: Friday, July 13 @ 15th St. Fisheries

Derby: Sunrise on July 14 until 5:00pm. $120 per team. 2-4 person teams.

For more information and registration:

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REEF Facebook Groups - a place to talk fish

Want to 'talk fish' with other REEF fish ID enthusiasts? We've created eight regional groups on Facebook so you can connect with others, share your photos and observations, ask questions, etc. Whether you're brand new to the world of fishwatching, or have been doing it for years, all REEF members are welcome. Join as many as you like.

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