REEF Lionfish Study Trips

Lionfish Trip co-leaders, Peter Hughes and Lad Akins.
Lionfish Field Survey Team in Curacao

REEF’s 2016 REEF Trips schedule is well underway! Two trips have already happened (Dominica and Barbados), and a group of eager fishwatchers is heading to the Philippines in a few days for our inaugural Field Survey to the Indo-Pacific. Be sure to check out the Trips schedule at, if you haven’t already. In addition to the traditional fish identification and surveying trips, we also host several Lionfish Study Trips each year. There are still a few spaces left on lionfish trips to Honduras in May and Curacao in August, and we are looking for team members. These important projects provide valuable data, and result in the removal of hundreds of the invading fish during the week.

During the week-long projects, either liveaboard or land based, team members are presented with training and opportunities to remove lionfish through spearing or hand netting. All collected lionfish are measured and some dissected on site to get valuable biological and impact information and some fish are prepared for team and public tastings to help promote the market for lionfish as a food fish. Team members can get fully immersed in as much of the collecting and research activities as they would like. Divers not wanting to take part in removals, still provide valuable sighting information and conduct REEF fish surveys to augment the long-term data used to look at ecological changes.

One example of Lionfish Study Trip data includes a series of annual projects we held in Belize between 2009 and 2012 that documented the progression of the invasion. From zero fish seen or collected during the first year of the project, to over 500 fish removed in a single week during year three, divers were able to document the incredible explosion in numbers but also dramatic increases in sizes. Average size of lionfish collected in 2010 was 194mm, exploding to 270mm in 2012. Another example was from our lionfish recent trip to Dominica in February. This was our second lionfish trip there. In 2012, our team collected 45 lionfish. This year, in the same locations, the team collected 566. Click here to see other examples of findings from Lionfish Study Trips.

And keep an eye on your inbox because we will be sending out the full 2017 REEF Trips schedule next week!

REEF Fest 2016 is Coming Up

A group photo during the Sunset Social Hour during REEF Fest in 2014.

REEF Fest 2016 in Key Largo, Florida, is just one month away, Thursday, September 29 – Sunday, October 2. Events include ocean-themed seminars, scuba diving, and social gatherings alongside marine conservation and dive industry leaders. Attendees will enjoy opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard in the truly unique habitats of the Florida Keys. Diving and other eco-ventures are offered each morning. Each afternoon, sit back and enjoy our exciting and compelling ocean-themed seminar series. Finally, wrap up your evenings wining and dining, in good company alongside a breathtaking sunset. All REEF Fest events are open to the public.

Check out full event details at

We hope you will join us for an unforgettable event in the beautiful Florida Keys! Click here to register. Don't forget to purchase your ticket for the Saturday Celebration Dinner Party! Seating is limited, so reserve your space today. Click here to purchase your ticket.

On Facebook? Please join the REEF Fest 2016 Facebook event page for updates on dive opportunities, event locations, and seminar topics! Click here to connect to the Facebook event!

Putting It To Work: Special Issue on the Lionfish Invasion

Invasive Lionfish are now found throughout the Tropical Western Atlantic region. Photo by Carol Cox.

Earlier this year, a special issue of the scientific journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series, was published titled "Invasion of Atlantic Coastal Ecosystems by Pacific Lionfish". The issue is a compilation of papers presented at the 2015 special session of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute meeting, which was co-organized by REEF and partner organizations. New findings include mechanisms that enhance the success of the invader, the extremely broad and variable diet of invasive lionfish, the ecological effects of the invader on native fish populations in various environmental contexts, and non-consumptive interactions between invasive lionfish and native predators. REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is a co-author on the introductory paper. The entire issue is available open access online at

Great Annual Fish Count 2017 -25 Years of Fun!

Celebrating it's 25th year - the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) kicked off this weekend! During the entire month of July we encourage you to try your hand at conducting your first survey if you're new to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, or to do a few more if it's been a while.

The GAFC began in 1992 when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists conducted a visual fish count in California's Channel Islands National Park. The effort was modeled after the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and has now grown into an international event coordinated by REEF.

Check out the GAFC website ( to find everything you need to join in the fish counting fun as a participant or to organize your own local event. It can be as simple as hosting a survey dive (throw in a BBQ), or an ID class or presentation about your local fish. We especially encourage shops, dive clubs, marine science centers and others to organize a GAFC event.

Announcing REEF Ocean Explorers Summer Camp: Registration now open!

REEF Explorers enjoying fun camp activities in beautiful Key Largo.

Explore the marine habitats of the Florida Keys and discover the amazing animals found beneath the waves during our 2018 camp session! REEF will offer three weeks of camp at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida. Camp will include snorkeling trips, kayak tours, beach games, and conservation activities. Please share the amazing opportunity to snorkel, kayak, and explore this summer with your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. REEF welcomes campers ages 7-13. 

June 25 – 29 (Pair this week of camp with the REEF Field Survey Trip in Key Largo)

July 9 – 13 

July 16 – 20 

For more information, please visit or email

March Membership Madness

We are kicking off March with REEF's second annual Month of Membership Madness. We have tons of great benefits this month for new members and current members 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 2016 will be entered to win one of several great prizes including: a free wetsuit, a Volunteer Fish Survey Project starter basket (includes an underwater slate, survey paper, and color ID card), and a Lionfish basket (includes the new lionfish cookbook, t-shirt, derby registration, and plush stuffed animal)
  • And every REEF member who refers a new member will also be entered to win a free wetsuit. 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 click here.

Help grow REEF stronger and spread the word this March!

Counting Smallmouth Grunts in REEF's Backyard

Jessica 424.jpg
Smallmouth Grunts Key Largo, photo by Jessica Morris
Painted Buntings, Passerina ciris, at REEF HQ
Cardinalfish, oops, Cardinal at REEF HQ
Hawk (Probably Red Shouldered) visiting the REEF Birdbath

Okay, well not exactly. But now that I have your attention.  We ARE counting something in REEF HQ's backyard, not fish, but birds!  I have signed myself /REEF up for Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology Project FeederWatch, an annual survey of birds that visit bakcyard feeders in winter. I have known about this other great citizen science program for a couple of years and like many of you, my love for birds, equals my affinity for fishes.  Last week, 4 painted buntings visited REEF's feeder for a little over a week!  You can see my fuzzy picture of a couple of them at the feeder from afar in one of the attached photos. This prompted me to go online and investigate Cornell University's FeederWatch Program further.  From their homepage you will read, "FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each species they see at their feeders from November through early April. FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance."  Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it?  

Spend a little time on their website and you will see that FeederWatch parallels REEF programmatically in a few significant ways:  1. Anyone can participate in North America, all different levels from beginners to experts; 2. We both begin participation by purchasing a starter kit, FeederWatch calls theirs a Participant Kit and it costs $15; 3. Both organizations have online Dataentry and tracking of individual participant data; 4. Similar absence/presence data, abundances, and distribution for both groups in addition to viewing individuals' data; 5. Both of our organizations utilize citizen science data to inform and assist scientists in assessing population abundance indices of important avian and fish species, leading to peer-reviewed publications and ultimately influencing species and habitat management decistions; 6. You can check on their database to see what birds are rare in your area and if there are any other FeederWatch stations near you, just as REEF members can check for fish sighting frequencies and dive sites that have been surveyed in our areas of interest.

I'm sure there are many more parallels I could draw for you, but you get the point.  One important note and the reason I am submitting this article right now is that FeederWatch season runs from the the second Saturday in November through April and is a winter activity.  For all of our temperate REEF members who are looking for something to count when you're not underwater, this is it!  To learn more, check out their website at


Greetings from REEF HQ! Conservation science is in sharp focus here at REEF, from an expanded Grouper Moon Project to new uses of REEF data in the Channel Islands. REEF is making giant strides in the Florida Keys community with a successful For the Love of the Sea benefit event, upcoming citizen science panel discussions and the recognition of two invaluable volunteers by a prominent community foundation. If you're looking for travel opportunities, consider jumping on one of the 4 spots just released on the Turks and Caicos Field Survey, April 19-26, or joining the Sea of Cortez Field Survey October 5-12. Educators can apply to join these or other REEF Field Survey teams through a special scholarship. Please read on . . .

Best "fishes",

Please Help REEF Meet Our Summer Fundraising Goal!

Your donation will help ensure that the REEF Volunteer Survey Project keeps going strong. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

With just a few days left in the REEF Summer Drive, we are almost there.   Help REEF meet our goal of raising $25,000 by the Forth of July holiday.  Please do your part to make sure that REEF's important marine conservation programs continue to make a difference.  In appreciation, donations of $50 or more will get you a copy of the exclusive 2008 Album of the Sea Screensaver with amazing underwater photographs by Ned and Anna DeLoach.  Please donate online through our secure website or call the REEF office today (305-852-0030).

Fishwatching - The Thrill of the Hunt For New Species

Hogchoker, a tiny flatfish, was a great find by active REEF surveyors, Todd and Lynn Fulks. Photo by Todd Fulks.

It's one of the great things about fishwatching and doing REEF surveys - no matter how many surveys you have conducted, there is always an opportunity to find something new. These "mystery fish" are what keep folks who have done even 1,000+ surveys coming back for more. Finding a "lifer", a species new to your species life list, is always rewarding. A great part of submitting REEF surveys is that REEF keeps track of your lifelist for you.  

One of the many data summary reports that are available through the REEF Website is your personal Life List Report, which includes all of the species that you have reported during REEF surveys. REEF Surveyors also have access to "My Survey Log", which lists information about each survey dive, including date, time, location and the number of species seen. In order to access these reports, you need to be logged into If you haven't already done so, create a Website login account today.

Active surveyors, Todd and Lynn Fulks, found one such "lifer" recently during a survey dive in San Blas, Panama -- a hogchoker (Trinectes maculatus). This little flatfish was happy to pose on Todd's slate underwater while they snapped a photo. Great find! Do you have your own great lifelist story? Please post it to the REEF Forum Discussion Board.  And if you are looking for a great read this Fall, check out The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. It chronicles obsessed bird watchers participating in a contest known as the North American Big Year, hoping to be the one to spot the most bird species during the course of the year. If you are a fish fanatic, you will definitely see some similarities!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub