The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Jonathan Lavan

Secretary Blenny. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

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 Jonathan Lavan (REEF member since 2004). Jonathan has conducted 195 REEF surveys in four REEF regions, and he is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Jonathan 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?

I got certified at age twenty in the cold waters of Maine. I dove there and in Florida for a number of years but then, like so many of us, life got in the way for several years. When I got back into diving I quickly realized that I really knew very little about what I was looking at. I started buying some ID books and eventually stumbled upon the Caribbean Fish ID Guide by Humann and DeLoach. Sometime after that I found the REEF website and saw that REEF had trips. My wife and I signed up for the Bahamas trip in ’04 with Paul Humann and after that I was hooked. I usually go on a couple REEF trips a year and any other trip I go on I always do REEF surveys whenever possible.

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

Last April I went to Dominica with trip leader Heather George. On one dive I got a little separated from the group (as usual) as I was taking photos. I found a small cave and managed to hunker down to get a good look inside despite all my gear. Tucked way back in the cave I saw something quite small undulating like a piece of ribbon in the wind. It was a Black Brotula! Well I started shaking my rattle like crazy to try and get someone’s attention. Finally, Heather and another diver came over and after much gesturing and changing of places they both, finally saw it. I must say there was nothing more satisfying then when Heather looked around that last corner way back in the cave, saw the elusive fish and then I heard her say clearly through her regulator: “OOOooohh!”

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

I have many favorites but I have to say that I never get tired of watching or taking pictures of Secretary Blennies. They are so easy to personify with all their goofy expressions and fussy behavior.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

As a photographer and surveyor, the key (as many know) is to go as slowly as possible. Let the divemaster race on ahead or make it very clear to them that you are going to be going “SLOOOW”. Not looking under that last ledge could be the difference between a great dive and really great dive.

REEF Notes


Thanks to everyone who donated during our Summer Campaign, you helped us reach our goal. REEF members contributed over $34,770, with a generous match of $30,000 from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, for a grand total of $64,770. REEF will use these donations to maintain our current programs and expand our special projects, the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Research Program. Donations from our members make it possible for REEF to carry out our mission of conserving marine ecosystems. Thank you!

Don't forget to check out the 2012 REEF Field Survey Trips! The schedule and more details are posted online at We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. Many are starting to fill up so don't delay.

Have you checked out our new innovative online Fish Identification "Fishinars"(aka webinars)? These fun and short (45 minute) sessions are a great way to learn marine life ID from the comfort of your home. And they are free. The schedule is available at We are always adding more sessions, so check back often.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Maui FIN


REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our fintastically outstanding field station this month is the Maui FIN (Fish Identification Network) group in Hawaii. This enthusiastic group of divers and snorkelers has been going strong for years. They meet on the 2nd Saturday of each month to conduct surveys at different spots around Maui. After introducing REEF to the Hawaiian Islands 10 years ago, Donna Brown and Liz Foote (who taught our online Hawaiian Fishinar last week), started building a team of enthusiastic fish surveyors. It was out of that enthusiasm that surveyor Mike Fausnaugh started the FIN group. Flo Bahr and Rick Long have been longtime active leaders of the group. When snorkeling, they all put orange duct tape at the tops of their snorkels. This helps the group find each other while in the water, as well as make them easy to spot from the beach. Tourists also ask about what they're doing and this helps show how many are out there doing REEF surveys. In addition to the monthly FIN survey dives, they maintain a Facebook page for the group that serves as a great communication tool. Through the Facebook page, they organize their next survey spots, share zone codes, spread announcements, and post photos and mystery fish questions. Keep up the enthusiastic surveying, FINsters!

2012 REEF Lionfish Derby Series Remove 2,694 Invasive Fish

Members of Team Frapper with REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins (center), holding a huge lionfish that the team captured during the Key Largo Derby.

This summer REEF, in partnership with Divers Direct and SeaGrant Florida, hosted its third annual Lionfish Derby Series. The series included four derbies in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Key Largo) and one in Green Turtle Key, Bahamas. The event series was a huge success—in total, 219 participants in 60 teams brought in a total of 2,694 lionfish! Lionfish are invasive predators capable of consuming prey in excess of half their body size and have become a hazard to Caribbean reefs by consuming commercially, recreationally and ecologically important fish and crustaceans. Using published estimates of lionfish consumption, the removal of the 1,923 lionfish collected in the Florida derbies corresponds to preventing between approximately 3.5 million to 14.8 million prey fish from being eaten by these lionfish over the next year.

Lionfish derbies serve as a way to engage the public and media, enhance awareness, encourage removals and provide samples for researchers. During each the derby over $3,500 in cash prizes sponsored by Divers Direct were awarded to first, second, and third place winners in three categories: Most, Largest, and Smallest.

Since their introduction in the 1980’s, invasive lionfish have become the first marine predator to successfully establish in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Unfortunately, complete eradication of lionfish is unlikely, but where removal efforts are sustained, population numbers and impacts can be reduced. REEF and Simon Fraser University partnered throughout the 2012 Derby Series to conduct research on the effectiveness of derbies in controlling local populations. Preliminary data analysis from the 2012 Green Turtle Key, Bahamas, Derby shows that lionfish derbies are effective at removing 65% of lionfish off of local reefs. The Derby Series is one of the many ways REEF is promoting lionfish control. A big thank you goes out to the derby sponsors, hosts, teams and everyone who came out to support the events. To find out more about the REEF Invasive Lionfish Program, including the derby series, visit You can also follow all of our lionfish news through our Lionfish Facebook page.

Lionfish Food and Wine Event Held In Key Largo

Lad Akins shows the audience which spines contain venom. Photo by: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
Four course lionfish dinner at Fish House Encore. Photo by: Donna Dietrich.
The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's Website.

More than sixty people gathered earlier this month at the Fish House Encore in Key Largo, Florida, for Lionfish Food and Wine Night. Before dining, event attendees learned about the lionfish invasion and the importance of removing lionfish from marine environments. Peter Tselikis, chef at Fish House Encore, showed the audience how to cook two popular lionfish dishes. Lad Akins, a renowned lionfish expert and REEF Director of Special Projects, taught the audience how to fillet lionfish, avoiding the venomous spines.

The invasive species, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction, was prepared four different ways with a creative medley of ingredients and wine selections. Entrées included bacon-wrapped barbeque lionfish, sea salt-cured lionfish ceviche, and poached lionfish. Many guests said their favorite dish was Lionfish Bermuda, a lionfish fillet encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked and served with a sweet and sour sauce atop baby arugula salad.

“It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Akins. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have now invaded the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. In the invaded range, they have been documented to be gluttonous predators of native fish and invertebrates. One published study co-authored by Akins (Green et al. 2012) shows lionfish reduced the native fish prey community at some sites in the Bahamas by an average of 65% in just two years. Some sites had a 95% decline. Despite the dismal outlook, there is good news. Published studies show local control by divers and fishers can be effective, Akins notes. “Removing lionfish from local reefs is like weeding a garden. Remove weeds and the garden is healthier. Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round.”

For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit Creative lionfish recipes, as well as information on catching, cleaning, and cooking lionfish, can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook available on the REEF Store.

Upcoming Fishinars -- Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Series and more

Photo by Janna Nichols.
Photo by Janna Nichols.

Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - While Pacific Northwest waters are not known for their schools of colorful fish, the amazing invertebrate life will blow you away! In these four sessions we'll cover a select group of invertebrates from 8 phyla, all of which are monitored by REEF volunteer divers.

Sponges and Stingers - January 8th, 2014

Gettin' Crabby - January 9th, 2014

Marvelous Molluscs - January 15th, 2014

Stars and Squirts - January 16th, 2014


Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - January 21, 2014

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page ( for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

The Faces of REEF: Judith Cucco

Cooperative hunting is always a great find for a REEF surveyor. Here, Blueifn Trevally, Blue Goatfish, and a moray eel (not shown) are hunting together. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A badly damaged sea turtle flipper, the result of entangled fishing line. Photo by Judith Cucco.

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

This month we highlight Juddith Cucco. Judith has been a REEF member since 2010, and has conducted 555 surveys (all in her home state of Hawaii, and all as a snorkeler!). She is a member of the Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Judith had to say about REEF:

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

I first heard about REEF through Reef Watch Waikiki while taking a fish identification course with them in February 2010. I immediately started doing surveys as I felt it was a fun way for me to share my enthusiasm for all the fish I see while snorkeling in Hawaii, where I live...and I wanted a record of the many species I've encountered.

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

Even though I've seen it many times, it still fascinates me to see cooperative hunting, for example jacks following a moray eel or blue goatfish. My favorite fish is the juvenile rockmover wrasse. They look like drifting seaweed in the ocean when they move and I enjoy watching them turn over rocks with their snout. My favorite discovery is a semi-circle angelfish (not native to Hawaii) that Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF Director of Science ) helped my swimming buddies and me identify from some very poor photos.

Where do you do most of your surveying?

I used to do most of my surveys at the outer reef in Hanauma Bay and still go there occasionally, however my favorite place to survey on Oahu is Kaiona Beach Park. You really need to look to find the fish and if one has the patience, there are ample rewards. I've seen so many species that one does not see at Hanauma Bay (knifefish, bigeyes and several types of scorpionfish). Because I snorkel, the fish are also much closer at Kaiona as it's more shallow.

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

The most exciting thing for me when doing surveys is when I encounter a species I haven't seen before. After my snorkel, I go home and look it up in one of my fish books or online and enjoy learning about it. My biggest challenge is staying warm as I like to stay in the ocean until my fingers get numb (not recommended), which is usually around three hours even with a full wet suit.

Do you have a memorable story from a survey?

Just the other day, I had gone out for a snorkel survey (which ended up not happening). A little while into our swim, my buddy and I found an entangled green sea turtle. I saw it on the bottom in about ten feet of water. We first asked its permission, then dove down to bring it to the surface. We saw that it had fishing line wrapped around its neck and two front flippers. We were really far out on the reef and swam it in to shore. We recruited two fishermen to cut off the line and they also built a pen out of rocks for the turtle. I went to my car and called our local NOAA turtle stranding office. When NOAA staff arrived, we loaded the turtle in a carrier and the turtle was taken to a surgeon. It needs to have the front right flipper amputated, but it is going to survive and should eventually be released back in the wild. What an amazing and cooperative experience!!!!

Upcoming Fishinars - Life on Oil Platforms, Lionfish Research, and more!

REEF Lionfish Coordinator, Liz Underwood, will review all of our latest work on combating this invader during a special Fishinar on December 3.

As the year winds down, we still have a few educational REEF Fishinars remaining. Check out the full schedule at And keep an eye on that space because we will be adding new ones for 2015 soon. Fishinars coming up include:

  • That Face, That Face, That Wonderful Face! Top 12 Blennies of the Caribbean - Jonathan Lavan, November 4th
  • What I Did on My Fall Vacation - Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil and Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love, UC Santa Barbara, November 10th
  • Lionfish Myth Busters, Liz Underwood, December 3rd

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Join Us in September for REEF Fest in Key Largo

We are excited to announce REEF Fest 2015, a celebration to be held this fall in Key Largo (September 24 - 27, 2015). We hope you will join us for diving, seminars, and parties! Come celebrate the success and impact of REEF's marine conservation programs and education initiatives.

Festivities begin Thursday with afternoon seminars and then a welcome party at the Caribbean Club. Friday and Saturday are full days, with diving in the mornings, seminars in the afternoons, and social events in the evenings (Friday Open House at REEFHQ and Saturday Celebration Dinner Party). The fun wraps up on Sunday with a few more organized dives. Seminar topics include: Introduction and Advanced Florida Keys Fish ID, The Best of Blennies, Fish Behavior, Keys Habitats and Ecosystems, Amazing Sharks, Restoring Coral Reefs, and program updates from REEF Staff.

All REEF Fest events are open to the public. Complete details on the schedule, including the lineup of seminars, diving opportunities, and social gatherings, as well as travel logistics and hotel arrangements, are available online at

Why are we celebrating? In the summer of 1993, a group of pioneering volunteers conducted the first REEF fish surveys. Twenty-two years later, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. REEF Fest is a semi-annual event that celebrates our work and the volunteers that make it possible.

Questions? Check out the REEF Fest website, send us an email at, or call us at 305-852-0030. We look forward to seeing you all in September!

2016 Fishinar Lineup

Don't miss the Manta-nar on January 12th! Photo by Carol Cox.

We are very excited to announce our 2016 Fishinar schedule. We have a great lineup of free and fun webinars, covering a wide array of ocean topics. In addition to many fish and invertebrate ID classes, we also have a Manta-nar on the schedule, as well as sessions with dynamic guest speakers including Ned and Anna DeLoach, Ray Troll, and Val Kells. In total, we have 23 Fishinars planned for next year!

If you haven't yet attended a Fishinar, add it to your list of resolutions to do in the new year. From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out for more information, a complete list of classes, registration information, access to archives, and more. And keep checking back because more sessions are always being added.

2016 Fishinars (all times listed are EST)

Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel, Wednesday Jan 6th at 8pm, with Tracey Griffin & Jonathan Lavan

Manta-nar, Tuesday Jan 12th at 9pm, with Joshua Stewart from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Pacific Northwest Invertebrates and Algae, Tuesday Jan 19th at 10pm, with Janna Nichols

The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm, with Carol Cox

Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm, with Artist Ray Troll

Common Reef Fishes of Tubbataha Reef Philippines, Monday Mar 21st at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

Fishes of the Philippines Muck, Wednesday Mar 23rd at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

The Lionfish Invasion: Current Findings and Control Efforts, Wednesday Apr 6th at 8pm, with Emily Stokes

More Holy Moly Gobies, Wednesday Apr 13th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Fishes and Invertebrates of the Carolinas, Tuesday Apr 19th and Thursday Apr 21st at 8pm, with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec

You Do WHAT For a Living?: The next chapter, Tuesday Apr 26th at 8pm, with Scientific Illustrator and Author Val Kells

Hawaii Life on a Coral Head: Hawkfishes and more, Wednesday May 4th, at 10pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

The Wrasse Class- Back in School, Tuesday May 17th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Northeast's Less Frequently Seen Fish, Thursday May 26th at 8pm, with Janna Nichols and Jason Feick

Life in the Muck: Blue Heron Bridge, Wednesday Jun 1st at 8pm, with Carlos & Allison Estape

Super Duper Groupers, Part Deux, Wednesday Jun 22nd at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Less Frequently Seen Fish of Virgin Gorda BVI, Thursday Jul 14th at 8pm, with Janna Nichols

Fishes of Bermuda, Tuesday Aug 30th at 8pm, with Ned and Anna DeLoach

Underwater Residents of Barkley Sound BC, Thursday, Sep 8th at 10pm, with Janna Nichols

Common Fishes of Micronesia, Wednesday Sep 21st at 8pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

Sea Saba Underwater, Tuesday Oct 4th at 8pm, with Jonathan Lavan

Hawaii Life in the Sand, Monday Nov 14th at 10pm, with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

**All times Eastern Time**

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