The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, John Wolfe

Male Kelp Greenling. Photo by Janna Nichols.
John with dive buddies, Dan Grolemund, Kate Chaitin, Deenie Clinton.
John is not only an ID nerd underwater, he enjoys birdwatching too.
John recently submitted a paper for publication that analyzes REEF data from Monterey Peninsula. John evaluated trends in species such as this Young-of-the-Year Canary Rockfish.
One of John's favorite finds, a Masked Prickleback. Photo by John Wolfe.
Rookie Revenge! An Acapulco Damselfish (correctly ID'ed). Photo by John Wolfe.

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 highlight John Wolfe. John joined REEF in 1998 and has conducted 530 surveys. John is a member of the REEF Advanced Assessment Team in both the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. In addition to his active survying, he has delved into teaching about REEF and ID and has mentored several surveyors to become experts. He has also taken a keen interest in getting REEF data used by the scientific and management communities, serving on Marine Life Protection Act committees and has written several papers using REEF data. Here's what John had to say about REEF:

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

I took my first REEF fish ID class in 1997. It was a Great American Fish Count kick-off event organized by Karen Grimmer of NOAA and taught by Dan Gotshall (author of Pacific Coast Inshore Fishes). My friend Rachid Feretti was the area’s most enthusiastic REEF surveyor at that time. Quite the raconteur, Rachid would pigeonhole anyone (including curious tourists) to describe the REEF diver survey program. In the late 1990’s I only did a handful of surveys every year, thinking of them as special dives with special equipment; I was also a volunteer diver for the sheriff’s department, diving black water and not getting to the ocean as much. In the new millennium I realized that it was more fun to conduct a REEF survey on EVERY ocean dive I did. That was the big break-through. When I realized I could simply put my slate on a retractable harness and tuck it under my BC belly strap, it became a standard piece of my diver gear, taken on every dive.

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

Since 2003 I’ve participated in every annual REEF Advanced Assessment Team monitoring project in Monterey, my local dive area. It’s always a fabulous assemblage of skilled cold-water divers and enthusiastic fish nerds, with Captain Phil Sammet entertaining us with salty stories and Christy and Brice Semmens calmly and expertly leading the trips. I’ve been on the Sea of Cortez and Big Island of Hawai’i REEF trips once each, and totally enjoyed both experiences, learning a whole new ecosystem of species.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

REEF totally supports my chosen hobby. My father was a fanatic fly fisherman and my mother is a fanatic bird watcher. It’s only natural that I became a fanatic fish watcher. My REEF experience has also taken me beyond just carrying a slate. Between 2005 and 2007, I served as a diver stakeholder and REEF volunteer representative for the California Central Coast Region Marine Life Protection Act initiative. After three years of intense wrangling between conservation and fishing interests, that effort resulted in a network of Marine Protected Areas along the central coast. In the Monterey Peninsula area we fought so hard that the chairman of the Fish and Game Commission, witnessing the debate, called it the Balkans. Nevertheless, I think the contentiousness of that process led to a resulting network of MPAs that all sides now grudgingly admit is a good compromise.

I have also enjoyed teaching others about REEF and ID. Over the past decade I’ve also given several REEF fish ID classes and presentations about the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative to local divers. I’m always looking for that next special diver who will become an enthusiastic and dedicated REEF surveyor. I have found some special people, like Keith Rootsaert and Alex Matsumoto, who now teach REEF fish ID classes and carry on the tradition.

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

It’s only now, with fifteen years of data in Monterey, and even more in the western Atlantic, that we’re starting to see the value of the REEF surveys as long term data. REEF scientific advisor, Dr. Brice Semmens, points out that such long-term data are quite rare and precious in ecological research. Furthermore, I think we’ve recently made a big breakthrough on how to statistically analyze the data; it’s a gold mine that we’ve only really started to dig into. I’m really excited about a paper I’m co-authoring with REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, about this topic.

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

The Monterey Peninsula is a special place, with rocky reefs, protected coves, and amazing kelp forests. It’s a two-hour drive from my home in Berkeley, well worth the effort. My favorite dive spots along the Monterey Peninsula include North and South Monastery, now protected in the recently expanded Pt. Lobos marine reserve, as well as Point Lobos State Park itself, the longest running no-take marine reserve in the state. Butterfly House and Point Pinos are wild, spectacular shore dives. I also enjoy the mellower Coral Street and Otter Cove dive sites – and I’ve never had a dull dive at the most heavily dived site of our area, the Breakwater. My favorite local boat dive site is Dali’s Wall outside of Stillwater Cove – it’s always a highlight of our annual Monterey field survey.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Do I have to choose? Kelp Greenling, both male and female, are such handsome fish. Juvenile Canary Rockfish are tiny spectacular gold, black and white jewels. Enormous schools of tubesnout threading and weaving their way through a kelp forest is a spectacular sight!

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

Well, I have a few. I’ve only seen one Rockhead Poacher, years ago – it’s a bizarre tiny fish with a punctured pate (pit in the top of its head) that looks just like the orange cup coral it so successfully hides amidst. It's so bizarre, an exciting find! The second would be finding (and eventually photographing) the Masked Prickleback. It is a handsome fish with a tan back, white belly, and broad dark chocolate brown stripe running the length of the fish from eye to tail. This species was only discovered by science in the mid-1960’s, by a night diver at the Monterey Breakwater. That diver, David Powell, later became the Director of Live Exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He recounts his discovery of that species in his book “A Fascination for Fish”. Masked Pricklebacks are shy and nocturnal, relatively uncommon and very difficult to photograph. And finally -- an instance of fish ID rookie vindication! On my first Sea of Cortez REEF field survey, I’d made a couple of embarrassing and very public rookie ID goofs early in the week. So later in the week, after coming up from Swanee Reef and telling Brice I’d seen an Acapulco Damselfish, he was certain I’d seen the much more common Cortez Damselfish … until I showed him the photographic evidence. It was the first (and perhaps the only) Acapulco Damselfish the group saw that week.

Great Annual Fish Count 2013

The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting

The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Efforts to Control Invsive Lionfish

Ground-breaking invasive lionfish findings were featured in a paper published earlier this month in the scientific journal, Ecological Applications. The research was conducted as a collaboration between REEF, Oregon State University, Simon Fraser University, and the Cape Eleuthera Institute. The new study, conducted by Dr. Stephanie Green (OSU/REEF), Lad Akins (REEF), and others, confirms for the first time that controlling lionfish populations in the western Atlantic Ocean can pave the way for a recovery of native fish. Even if it's one speared fish at a time, data are showing that removals can be effective. And not every lionfish need be removed…the research findings document that reducing lionfish numbers by specified amounts will allow a rapid recovery of native fish biomass. Over 18 months, the biomass of native prey fishes increased an average 50-70% on reefs where lionfish numbers were suppressed below target levels predicted to cause prey depletion. On reefs where lionfish numbers remained higher than target levels, the biomass of prey fishes decreased by a further 50%. While complete eradication of lionfish from the Caribbean is not likely, groups are actively removing them from coastal areas (mostly via spear and net). This study is a first step in showing that strategic local efforts that suppress the invasion to low levels can help protect and recover native fish communities affected by lionfish. Click here to view the paper, “Linking removal targets to the ecological effects of invaders: a predictive model and field test.” To view a complete list of publications that have come from REEF programs, visit our Publications page.

"Grouper Moon" Documentary Wins Best of Show

Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation on Little Cayman. Photo by Paul Humann.

The documentary "Grouper Moon", produced by Miami public television station WPBT2's Changing Seas, recently wowed audiences and judges at the Reef Renaissance Film Festival in the US Virgin Islands. "Grouper Moon" was awarded the Neptune Award for Best in Show, and a 1st Place Black Coral award in the Documentary Short category. The episode focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish. You can view the documentary online here. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit

The Faces of REEF: 2014 Volunteer of the Year, Dawn Vigo

Dawn Vigo, REEF's 2014 Volunteer of the Year
Dawn underwater. Photo by Janna Nichols.

REEF is delighted to announce our 2014 Volunteer of the Year, Dawn Vigo. As an enthusiastic member for the past 12 years, she has done over 75 fish surveys on Field Survey trips, and is a Level 3 surveyor in the TWA region. In addition, she’s participated in and helped with many other facets of REEF’s programs and outreach efforts.

Dawn has gone to great lengths to help at many dive shows including the DEMA show in Las Vegas and is a big factor in REEF’s success at Our World Underwater show in Dawn’s hometown of Chicago. She enthusiastically explains about REEF’s programs to show-goers and has a never-ending supply of energy.

If you are a regular attendee of our online webinars (Fishinars) within the past two years, you’ll recognize Dawn as a regular behind-the-scenes staff person helping with technical details or answering your questions.

Dawn has also helped administer Experience Level tests to others, furthering the success of REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project. We are lucky and thankful to have a super volunteer who contributes to REEF in so many ways. Thank you, Dawn!

Adding to Your Life List - Horned Blenny!

Horned Blenny. Photo by (C) Patricia Chandler.

One of the most rewarding and fun aspects of being a REEF surveyor is finding a new species to add to your "Life List" (a lifetime compilation of all fish species seen). Even the most experienced surveyors, after hundreds of surveys, occasionally add new species to this list. Expert Caribbean surveyor, Patti Chandler, recently emailed us about one such find. Despite having over 900 REEF surveys under her (weight) belt, she and her husband Scott recently came across a little mystery while diving in front of CocoView Resort on Roatan - a brilliant blenny with BIG cirri on its head. After emailing the photo to a few experts, they discovered that they had captured what is likely the first in situ photos of the species, and also documented the first record of the species in the Western Caribbean. Not only does their sighting of a Horned Blenny (Paraclinus grandicomis) represent a "lifer" for their lists, it was also a new record for the TWA REEF database. Great find, Patti and Scott!

If you have a First Sighting story to share, email us at And did you know? - If you are a REEF surveyor, your Life List can be accessed under the 'My REEF' menu when you are logged in to the REEF website.

Fish Tales from Our Members

"Did you ever have a fish experience that both excited and sadden you?"

That feeling recently happened to me at the dive site Kalli's Korner in Bonaire. My husband, Chile, and I were having a great day of diving with our friends Bryan and Phyllis McCauley in their boat, Pufferfish. Towards the end of our second dive that day, I noticed a pair of eyes peeping out of some coral rubble. As I watched suddenly a small eel darted out and raced few feet before hiding again. I was immediately intrigued and, using my rattle, got my buddy Phyllis' attention. Pointing out the location, we watched as once again the little conger eel slipped out of his cover and moved away. We slowly began to approach in hope of a better look. The process continued as we sought to identify him and he continued his trek. Each time we were able to get a bit closer and look for characteristics. Finally he seem comfortable enough to look at us, as we looked at him. Suddenly, a barred hamlet appeared above him and scooped him up. Imagine our shock and horror!!! Anger raced through my body and instinctually I reached for my dive knife and took off after that (blank blank) hamlet. The chase continued as the hamlet, with his full tummy, eluded me and viewed me as if to say 'why are you after me?' What was my plan I thought later? Well, I only know if I had caught the sucker, oops fish, he would have been disemboweled in the search for the little conger eel. The sound of laughter underwater reaches me. By this time, my dive buddy is in stitches as I sheepishly return. Later research found a margaintail conger that matched our descriptions. 

Now as I continue my search for what I hope are his companions, I will be keeping a wary eye out for hamlets in the surrounding area. So that’s my fish tale and now for the question: Should you report to REEF a fish, found, identified but not longer living in the underwater world?

You can bet I did.


Weeding the Good from the Bad: Deciphering “YOUR” Scanform . . .

TWA scanform

A few reminders to our surveyors:

  • Always write your member number, your name, AND your email legibly on your survey form. It's not necessary to fill in the other contact information unless your information has changed or if you are a new member and do not yet have a REEF member number.
  • Please fill in the full 8-digit Geographic Zone Code for the site where your survey was conducted. You can find a list of these hierarchical codes online [Click here]. If the site is currently not on our list, contact our Field Operations Coordinator, Joe Cavanaugh, to have a site code assigned (please provide as much information as possible, including as many digits as you can pinpoint for your location. A site code should never end in two zeros.
  • The temperature fields on the survey form (Surface and Bottom) are both water temperature. Please do not report air temperature for the surface value.
  • Remember to use a pencil, but do not to use the pencil that was underwater to fill out your scanform. The residual water can cause the paper to rip and it's almost impossible to erase.
  • We graciously ask, moving forward, that team leaders handling a Field Trip survey, review the forms before your trip is over to make sure the participants have indeed filled all the necessary fields correctly, that also goes for current members that mail them in independently as well. Only send us your original form, not a copy and always use a pencil. NOW, to avoid all this, for non members, you can join REEF online, this way you fill out the information we need, thus eliminating the mind reading on our end.
  • And finally - for surveyors in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) or Northeast (NE) regions, please consider using our online data entry interface. This will save you time and postage as well as grant you the eternal gratitude of our small staff. Your surveys will also be processed quicker, and it's better for the environment!

Visit a REEF Discussion Forum Today

Hairy Blenny Pair in Courtship Behavior, Photo by Todd Fulks
Mutton Hamlet in Bonaire, Photo by Todd Fulks
Greenbanded Goby, Photo by Todd Fulks
Glass Blenny in Bonaire, Photo by Todd Fulks

A couple of months ago, REEF launched our new website. Along with the new website, REEF launched some new membership Discussion Forums that will become more valuable as the survey season ramps up this spring/summer. There are 3 forums: ID Central for posting mystery fish and invert pics for other members to help identify and to post interesting fish behavioral observations; Trip Reports, where members can post trip reports for Field Surveys, Exotic Species, AAT, and any REEF or other group efforts; and the General Discussion forum where you can post stories and links about marine conservation concerns, ideas for REEF programs, and myriad other things. These forums are for our 35,000+ members to interact and create a synergistic connection around our conservation diving and snorkel efforts worldwide. Below is a post from long-time member, Todd Fulks, who recently witnessed Hairy Blenny (Labrisomus nuchipinnis) courtship/mating and took a really great picture of the mating pair. I have pasted it here so you can get an example of what could be posted in the ID Central Forum. To post to the forums you have to be a registered website user which you can do easily from our homepage in the top left corner under the heading, "Register for an account on our new site." Once registered, you can visit our forums by going up to the menu bar at the top of the homepage and moving your cursor over the Resources option, then clicking on Discussion Forums which is the second item down.

Dive Encounter by Todd Fulks -

"There I was at the end of our dive in just a few inches of water near shore, when I noticed a brilliant bright green fish with red hues on its lower jaw and streaking down its belly. It was sitting near a textbook example of a hairy blenny. I’d been told the males can have brilliant colors when mating so I knew I’d stumbled upon something interesting. As I looked around, I found two more drab olive green females. The girls were just blah-looking in comparison to the clownish colorations of the male hairy blenny. I lurched in the surf a bit as I watched a female slip up against a rock next to the brightly colored male. She jittered and shook violently. Then the male convulsed a few times and shook his body as he finned the underside of the rock. The female flitted a few feet away and the male convulsed again and then jolted to a new perch. The surge was such that I wasn’t able to look under the rock without causing damage so I’m not sure exactly what I witnessed. I’ll have to defer to the experts. Perhaps this was a courtship dance, perhaps they were actually breeding, or maybe egg care by proud parents. Or it could have been something else entirely… I mean it is Carnival time here in Bonaire and I’ve seen some guys wearing strange colorful costumes recently. None of the blennies left the two foot area the entire time and I was able to show all of them to two giddy divers that barely had room on their slates for the 100+ species we saw on the dive. I was determined to catch a good photo of the male, but it was tricky. He was more elusive and shy than the females and moved around frequently. Finally he settled between some rocks and one of his partners nuzzled in close and they posed. ‘Click.’"

REEF News Tidbits

A Big Win-Win: Have a Great Dive Trip in Key Largo and Support REEFFor REEF Members: Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort will donate 20% of the cost of your Key Largo dive vacation to REEF. This offer of support has no time or package restrictions. Contact the folks at Amoray for more information.

Very Few Spaces Left on 2008 REEF Field Survey TripsStill to come in 2008 are REEF Field Survey trips to Key Largo, St. Vincent, Sea of Cortez, and Cozumel. Very few spaces are left and several trips are sold out, book today. Coming soon -- the 2009 Trip Schedule!

Don't Just Blow Bubbles This Summer!  Participate in the 17th Great Annual Fish CountAn exciting lineup of free identification seminars and survey dives are being organized around the country by REEF partners.  Check out the GAFC Website for more details and to find out how to organize your own GAFC event.  And be sure to watch the GAFC calendar of events to see what's being planned in your area.  

Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry For the Northeast and Tropical Eastern PacificFollowing the successful expansion of our Online Data Entry interface for surveys in Hawaii and the Pacific West Coast regions last year, REEF is currently adding the capability for the Northeast (Virginia - Newfoundland) and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Baja - Galapagos Islands). We hope that this will facilitate an increase in surveying in these important regions. To log your data online, visit

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