Making It Count - March 2018

Putting it to Work: New Publication Looks at Effects of Urbanization on Giant Pacific Octopus

Giant Pacific Octopus, photo by Janna Nichols

We are excited to share information on the newest publication that features data collected by REEF surveyors as part of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project - "Urbanization-related distribution patterns and habitat-use by the marine mesopredator, Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini)", published last month in the scientific journal Urban Ecosystems. The authors, Eliza Heery and colleagues at the Seattle Aquarium, NOAA, and the University of Washington, used REEF sightings data on Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State to evaluate patterns of occurrence with urbanization.

The species is the largest known octopus in the world, and they can reach over 20 feet in length from one tentacle tip to the other. The study objectives were to determine whether the distribution and habitat-use patterns of Giant Pacific Octopus were correlated with urbanization intensity on nearby shorelines in Puget Sound. REEF was instrumental in the study, providing data for a much larger spatial area and longer time period than would otherwise have been available. Heery et al. used REEF data in a series of statistical models and found that urban effects varied with depth. On deeper dives (> 24 m), REEF divers had a higher probability of encountering octopus in more urban locations.

Why might this be? The study's authors conducted additional field surveys to explore two potential explanations. To determine whether food resources played a role, Heery et al. collected middens – piles of shells leftover from past meals of octopus – from octopus dens throughout Puget Sound. Midden piles indicated there were no differences in the diets of urban octopus and rural octopus, suggesting that food resources were not the driver of urban-related distribution patterns. Secondly, they conducted a series of video surveys in sets of adjacent sites where there was a lot versus very little anthropogenic debris (junk). As many recreational divers might have predicted, they found more octopus in locations where there was a lot of junk.

How is this important for science? Past studies in urban ecology have suggested that mesopredators (mid-sized consumers) benefit from urbanization because of the food and shelter resources city environments provide, but those studies have focused exclusively on terrestrial mesopredators (like racoons and coyotes). This is the first study to examine whether marine mesopredators exhibit comparable patterns. It concludes that within certain habitats (deeper zones), octopus are indeed positively correlated with urbanization. Yet it is likely that shelter resources (from junk) rather than food are the driver.

To get a link to this paper, and to read about all of the scientific publications that have featured REEF data and projects, visit

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The Faces of REEF: Marjorie Davis

Marjorie (right) having fun topside.
Marjorie (left) having fun underwater in Palau.
Marjorie (right) with REEF Friends on the Micronesia REEF Field Survey in 2016.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Marjorie Davis, member since 2013. Marjorie has conducted 56 surveys. She lives and dives in Florida and she is a Level 3 Advanced surveyor in the TWA region. Here's what Marjorie had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF? My sister, Pam Slutz, found the REEF website and she and her husband, Ron Deutch, and I signed up for a REEF trip in Cozumel in Dec 2013. We had such a great time we became members and went back the following year, and Pam and I also did a REEF trip with Paul Humann in Key Largo in summer 2014. Carlos and Allison Estape gave a talk about the fish diversity at REEF HQ during that summer REEF trip, and that’s when I discovered Islamorada.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? My first REEF trip was a real eye-opener for me because I had never really studied the reefs or fish when I dove; I was just siteseeing and couldn’t tell you what fish I was seeing. After one week, I was so excited to actually know some of them! It forever changed the way I dive. My favorite diving is on a REEF trip, especially live aboards, because there are so many people that know the fish and everyone is so willing to help you figure out what you’re looking at! I also find fish surveyors move much more slowly through the water than typical “sightseeing” divers, so I don’t get left behind so much when trying to ID an elusive blenny or cardinalfish.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I’m an hour from Blue Heron Bridge/Phil Foster Park in West Palm and about four hours from Islamorada, and these are my favorite spots because of the diversity and relatively easy diving. Blue Heron gets bonus points because there are many interesting critters and because it’s a super easy 2+hr shore dive! My favorite dives in Islamorada are long 2+hr dives along the outside of the shallow reef and back on the shallower, rubbly side. The variation in habitat means I have a better chance of spotting more fish species, and someday I may actually be able to identify most of them! Add a Thursday night fish ID class at REEF HQ for a great 3-day weekend!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? I love blennies, any and all, though eels and cardinalfish are also favorites. They are all elusive and hide so spotting them isn’t easy, and even with a magnifying glass it can be hard to ID those blennies! I thought blennies were so cute until I saw a picture of one eating another one!! Oh well, they still LOOK cute. Identifying a cardinalfish in a deep, dark reef crevice is also challenging, and while eels aren’t exactly shy, it’s always a thrill to spot one swimming; I got to watch a huge green moray swim for quite a while on a REEF trip to Palau last year.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? My favorite dive operator is Key Dives in Islamorada. Friendly and professional, they know the reefs and probably most of the local REEF members. I especially like going out with other REEF members on one of their boats.

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REEF Undertakes Novel Study to Understand Invasive Lionfish Movement

REEF's lionfish tagging team in the USVI.
Acoustically tagging linofish in situ, underwater. Photo by Bonnie Barnes.

REEF, in collaboration with the University of Virgin Islands and Buck Island National Monument, took a major step last week in a novel study to better understand lionfish movement and factors that may influence that movement. The study, focusing on a 2km area of patch and continuous reef in St Croix, used innovative underwater tagging techniques pioneered by REEF to surgically implant transmitters into invasive lionfish within an array of receivers, allowing the team to pinpoint movement of the fish over the next year.

Working over a 7-day period, a team of volunteer divers searched 39 reef sites, locating 53 lionfish and using hand nets to live capture 50 of them (a 94% success rate!). Once captured, the surgical team of USVI graduate student, Elizabeth Smith, and REEF’s Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, conducted the surgical procedures underwater to insert the acoustic transmitters into the fish and mark them with additional visual tags. Click here to view an 8-minute long segment of Lad Akins and Elizabeth Smith conducting underwater tagging.

A total of 40 fish, averaging just over 20cm in length, were tagged within an array of receivers, allowing the unique signals from each fish to be recorded and triangulated to continuously determine its position. Prior to the tagging event, research teams conducted detailed surveys of the fish communities and other habitat characteristics to determine factors that may influence lionfish movement.

The goals of the program are to better understand lionfish movement and better inform removal and management efforts to reduce lionfish impacts. A total of 11 divers took part in this leg of the project including: Mike Funk, Mareike Duffing-Romero, Lad Akins, Richard Nemeth, Elizabeth Smith, Norm Gustafson, Kim Gillespie, Jack Downes, Gabby Magalski, Bonnie Barnes, Marcia Taylor, Bernard Castillo, and Kynoch Reale-Munroe. Funding for this work was provided by a grant through the EPSCOR program of the University of the Virgin Islands and housing support was generously provided by REEF members Bill Scurry and Janice Erlbaum.

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This Summer, Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project on REEF's Key Largo Field Survey

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is home to a wide diversity of fish species. Photo by Daryl Duda.
The hotel, Marina del Mar, is located on the Port Largo canal, a fun and centrally-located spot in Key Largo.

Twenty-five years ago, REEF began collecting data on the abundance of marine fish populations, and since then the Volunteer Fish Survey Project has grown to be the world's largest marine life sightings database, made up of more than 200,000 surveys conducted by over 15,000 volunteer divers and snorkelers worldwide. To celebrate 25 years of citizen science, REEF is hosting a 25th anniversary Field Survey this summer in Key Largo, Florida, where the very first REEF Trip was held in 1993. Key Largo is nicknamed the "dive capital of the world" and is also home to REEF Headquarters, making this a perfect location for REEF members to celebrate the success and future of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project.

Key Largo’s shallow reefs are perfect for both divers and snorkelers. Participants will visit some of the same sites visited by attendees on the first REEF trip, to observe how fish populations have changed over time and collect important data to help scientists and resource managers continue to protect and study ocean life and habitats. The trip is June 23-30, 2018, and will be led by REEF’s co-founder Paul Humann, in addition to providing the opportunity to dive with some of REEF’s staff and interns. For more information or to register for this trip, visit the Key Largo trip webpage here.

There is also a week of Ocean Explorers Summer Camp during the same week (June 25-29) as this trip, so plan to bring your entire family! Camp is recommended for children ages 7-13. For more information or to register for camp, visit our Ocean Explorers Camp page.


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Supporting REEF Through Planned Giving

Did You Know?

With the tax law changes for 2018, giving appreciated property (appreciated stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, etc.) still allows a donor to avoid capital gains taxes on these outright gifts, regardless of whether they itemize deductions. And there are financial benefits for donating through an IRA, or by combining charitable gifts to various organizations to be distributed through a Donor Advised Fund. Check with your financial advisor for details. 

REEF recently established a Legacy Society to recognize donors who have remembered REEF in their estate plan. Click here to download the form and become a member of REEF’s Legacy Society. Please contact us at to discuss your plans.

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Lionfish Happenings - Summer Derbies and 5% Day at Whole Foods Market®

REEF volunteers scoring lionfish collected in a derby.

Our Invasive Lionfish Research Program is keeping busy getting ready for the spring and summer. In addition to the tagging research in the USVI also reported in this month's E-News, we are also gearing up for a busy Lionfish Derby season. We have six derbies planned in Florida for REEF’s 2018 Lionfish Derby Series presented by Whole Foods Market®. These competitions encourage teams to collect and remove as many lionfish as possible. They are important education and outreach events, and have been shown to be quite effective in lowering local lionfish populations. In 2017, derby participants removed over 2,500 lionfish. More than 21,000 lionfish have been removed since the derbies began in 2010. To view the schedule and complete details, visit

And finally - if you live in Florida, be sure to mark your calendar for April 19 for 5% Day at Whole Foods Market®. Nine stores across South Florida will be supporting ocean conservation, donating 5% of their total sales from the day to REEF to support our South Florida conservation efforts. Participating stores are: Coral Springs, Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines, Pompano Beach, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, Wellington, and West Palm Beach.

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Announcing REEF’s 2018 Fishinar Schedule!

Powderblue Surgeonfish, often found in Thailand's Andaman Sea. Photo by Paul Humann.

Fishinars are REEF's brand of fun, live, interactive webinars, and anyone who wants to know more about ocean life is welcome to join in. These short, free webinars will teach you the finer points of identifying fish and invertebrates underwater. In addition to marine life identification sessions for all of REEF's worldwide project areas, we also feature guest speakers who present a variety of ocean topics.

Coming up soon:

  • Unique Fish of Thailand – April 2 at 8pm Eastern
  • Artificial Reefs and Rigs in the Northern Gulf of Mexico – April 24 at 8pm Eastern
  • Tropical Pacific Wrasse Part 2 – May 1 at 8pm Eastern 
  • Diving in the Florida Keys – May 10 at 8pm Eastern
  • Dwarf and Pygmy Gobies of Fiji – May 21 at 8pm Eastern

To view the full list of upcoming Fishinars, and to register, please click here:

Can’t make it to the live event? All of our Fishinars are recorded and available to watch here:

REEF arranges private Fishinars and virtual meetings with school groups, dive clubs, and other organizations. If you are interested please email

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Explorers Education Program Hosts Marine Science Trips for Two Colleges

Eckerd College students outside of REEF's Interpretive Center.
Georgia State University students preparing to conduct REEF surveys while snorkeling.

Last month, REEF’s Explorers Education Program had the pleasure of working with two collegiate groups in Key Largo, Florida. Each group of students spent one fun-filled week working alongside REEF staff and interns to learn about TWA (Tropical Western Atlantic) fish identification and the REEF survey method. The first group was nine students from Georgia State University, accompanied by their professor, Dr. Amy Reber. This weeklong education program has become an annual component of Georgia State's marine ecology course. The group conducted all of their field work while snorkeling, and remained dedicated even in rough ocean conditions. 

The other visiting group consisted of 12 divers from Eckerd College, who opted to spend their spring break volunteering with REEF to fulfill a community service graduation requirement. These relatively new divers did a fantastic job becoming engaged in citizen science, and Eckerd College is already planning another educational REEF program for 2019.

REEF organizes custom programs for college groups, with topics including fish identification and surveying, invasive species, and marine ecology lessons. Contact us at for more information.


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