The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Randy Keil

Coney. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Randy Keil. Randy joined REEF in 1996 and has conducted 279 surveys. He is a member of REEF's TWA Advanced Assessment Team and teaches REEF surveying and fish ID through his dive shop, Paradise Watersports in the British Virgin Islands (see REEF Field Station profile here). Here's what he had to say about REEF:

What do you feel is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

I feel as if REEF surveys are the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs for the simple reason that this data would not be available otherwise. To have scientists survey all the areas REEF covers would be an impossible undertaking. The lionfish invasion is a good example. To see what effect the lionfish are having on our reef communities all we need to do is look at past surveys and compare them to present surveys. Without past historical data we would have no way to of knowing which species are most effected by the lionfish or what kind of time scale it takes for the effects to become noticeable. Are the areas where the lionfish appeared first the most effected? Is there any effect noticed on the surveys? These questions can only be answered by comparison of data.

Do you have any surveying tips for REEF members?

One tip I would give other surveyors is to watch the coneys. Coneys seem to have an interesting relationship with goldentail morays. Anytime you see a coney staring intently, stop and see if you can make out what he/she is staring at. Often there will be a tiny goldentail in the vicinity.

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

I do most of my diving in the British Virgin Islands where I have both a home and a dive shop/REEF Field Station. The best thing about diving in the BVI is the diversity of dive sites. Our sites are all moored and this allows us to build up an intimate knowledge of the underwater terrain. This means that if we find a juvenile queen angel or juvenile spotted drum we can follow it as it grows until it is eaten or moves on. Fish such as frogfish and creatures such as seahorses often will stay in the same area for months at a time.

What is your favorite place to dive outside of where you live?

My favourite place to dive is the Galapagos. If schooling hammerheads, hundreds of Galapagos sharks, dozens of white-tipped reef sharks, whale sharks, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins and abundant creatures and fish life are not enough then there are species of fish that exist nowhere else in the world. The land excursions are almost as exciting as the diving and the guides the most knowledgeable I’ve ever encountered in almost 30 years of traveling the globe seeking out underwater phenomena.

My last trip to the Galapagos was the first one after Paul Humman had published his Galapagos Fish Identification book and I poured over the book to find species seen nowhere else. Being a confirmed “fish nerd”, the Meyer’s butterflyfish really caught my imagination. So here we are in the far reaches of the northern islands and I have my slate with a list of what we might see and a blank slate for messages.. I moved closer to the guide and wrote on my slate” Meyer’s Butterfly” with a question mark. He took my slate and wrote hammerheads and pointed to the hundreds of sharks passing in front of us. I erased the hammerheads message and again wrote” Meyer’s butterfly?” and this time pointed to the sloping reef wall that was packed with fish. The guide once again pointed out the schooling sharks. As a 30 foot whale shark came into sight I realized that not only was this not going to be the dive where I sighted my first Meyers butterfly but also that no one was going to be the least sympathetic to my plight.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Ken Marks

Ken working with the Living Ocean Foundation's Global Reef Expedition.
Yellow Garden Eels at the Blue Heron Bridge in Florida. Photo by Mike Phelan.

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.

As REEF heads into the 20th year of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, we will be looking back at some of the milestones that got us here. In this month's Faces of REEF, we feature one of our earliest members, Ken Marks. Ken was instrumental in helping guide REEF in our early years, building the first data processing and storage tools. Ken first met REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann, on a dive trip in 1992. Paul soon realized Ken's computer background and mentioned the idea that he and Ned DeLoach were working on for a diver-led fish survey program. The unsolved problem was the logistics of collecting data. They had thought of mailing out 3.5" floppies (remember them?!) that would be mailed back by the volunteer diver to REEF HQ (which didn’t even exist at this time). Because this was back in the days before smart phones, tablets, and ubiquitous laptops, Ken suggested a more low-tech approach. After several rounds of prototypes, Ken produced what would become REEF's very first survey scanform. Today, Ken remains an important part of our IT volunteer team, and has conducted 311 REEF surveys. Here's what Ken had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

After meeting Paul on a liveaboard dive boat, we got to talking about ways divers could report fish sightings. I suggested a computer scannable form as a solution and upon my return to Chicago researched the specifications for creating such a form. Over the next couple of months I wasted lots of Paul’s fax paper sending him 17 evolving versions of what came to be the first version of the REEF survey form, which was first printed in 1993. The creation of the REEF underwater survey sheets, guides such as Fish-in-a-Pocket and waterproof ID cards, training DVDs and courses, and the web-based online data entry are all indications that REEF has matured from its humble beginnings.

Do you dive close to where you live? Where is your favorite place to dive?

Though my involvement with REEF I have been fortunate to be able to work with scientists and various organizations surveying and teaching fish identification. This has allowed me to dive in many places throughout the Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean area but one of my favorites is just a 45-minute ride from my home – the Blue Heron Blvd Bridge near West Palm Beach. Experienced fish surveyors sooner or later start diving in “alternative habitats” in order to see species that they haven’t seen before. The shore dive under the BHB is a great way to experiencing muck diving without a passport and a 24-hour flight to Indonesia. There are all sorts of things to see “under the bridge” from octopus and bobbit worms to frogfish, stargazers, seahorses, and sea robins.

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

First – slow down; it’s not a race. The mooring buoy at a dive site is usually placed in the middle of the best area. Let the others burn their air swimming around for hundreds of yards searching for turtles, sharks, dolphins (or whatever “big ticket” species will make their dive). Spend your time slowly searching over the reef (and alternative habitats near the reef) for the odd and unusual that will help you expand your list of species seen. Use the REEF forums, database, and field stations to plan your trip so you can extend your lifelist and see something you’ve never seen before on a dive.

It also helps to really know your fishes. Study your ID books or take one of the REEF courses or webinars to increase your knowledge. When you are very proficient at identifying the common species that are encountered on most dives, the unusual species will be much easier to spot when you come across one. You might even spot a species new to science – several REEF surveyors have made such discoveries over the years.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

My most memorable fish find would have to be the Yellow Garden Eel (Heteroconger luteolus). Back in 1997, a coworker had mentioned diving on a wreck where a Goliath grouper (then known as Jewfish) had taken up residence for several weeks. At the time I had not yet added this species to my lifelist and was eager to get a photo. The following weekend we dived the site and I was ready with my Nikonos and my wide-angle 15mm lens. Of course the fish had cleared out and I never got the picture. This wreck, a tug boat, was part of a cluster of three closely spaced wrecks so we took a compass bearing and headed across the sand at 70 feet heading for the larger wreck for the rest of the dive. Along the way I noticed a colony of unusual garden eels out feeding in the Gulf Stream current.

About two weeks prior to this dive I had been helping Paul on a new printing of the Reef Fish ID book. I had purchased a reference book from the American Fisheries Society and was using it to verify that Paul’s book was using the AFS accepted common and scientific names. In that reference book, I noticed that the species previously just known as Garden Eel had been renamed to Brown Garden Eel due to a recently described second species of garden eel from the Florida area. The new species name “luteolus” implied that the species was yellow. And bright yellow was the color that I saw while crossing that sand plain at 70 feet between wrecks. I knew in an instant that this must be the newer species of garden eel. I had a friend pull the scientific paper containing its description and it matched exactly what I saw (bright yellow dorsally with a white belly). The paper mentioned that the species was described from a few partial specimens that had been dredged from deep water off Tampa as well as a few larvae that appeared different from the “standard” Brown Garden Eel. I contacted the paper's author and he suggested I try to capture one and send it to him. A short time later Ned & Anna DeLoach, Eric Riesch, and John Pitcairn joined me on a dive to photograph this species and collect a specimen. The fish we collected now sits in the Smithsonian’s collection and is, to this date, the only whole adult specimen of this species in any collection. The photo taken on the collection dive can be found in the latest edition of Reef Fish ID.

Though this was not a new species to science we were able to provide an important specimen and REEF data has subsequently found this species on other sites throughout Florida expanding our knowledge of this colorful little species. Citizen science for the win!

REEF Fest This Summer - Are You Coming?

Have you made your plans to join us in Key Largo this summer for REEF Fest? Come celebrate 20 years of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project with 4 days of diving, learning, and parties. REEF Fest is planned for August 8-11. The schedule is packed with intrested workshops, diving oportunities, organized kayaking and snorkeling expeditions, and evening socials. Special room blocks have been reserved at several area hotels. Complete details can be found online at: www.REEF.org/REEFFest2013

All REEF Fest events are open to the public, but pre-registration is requested for social events and workshops. Register using this online form. Tickets are required for the Saturday Dinner Cruise celebration. Purchase dinner cruise tickets online here. A quick look at the schedule can be seen here. Questions? Please send us an email at REEFHQ@REEF.org or call us at 305-852-0030. We look forward to seeing you all in August!

Why the celebration? In the summer of 1993, a group of pioneering volunteers conducted the first REEF fish surveys. Twenty years later, the Volunteer Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. You are invited to join us this summer to celebrate 20 years of success.

The Faces of REEF: Joe Gaydos

Joe surveying in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Pete Naylor.
The elusive and charismatic Pacific spiny lumpsucker is at the top of the wish list for all Pacific Northwest fish watchers (including Joe!). It is a member of the snailfish family and has modified pelvic fins that act as suckers. Photo by Keith Clements.

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 Joe Gaydos, Ph.D., an avid REEF volunteer in Washington State and Director of the SeaDoc Society (a REEF Field Station). Joe has been a REEF member since 2003 and has conducted 120 surveys. He is a member of the PAC Advanced Assessment Team, and Joe was instrumental in initiating the AAT San Juan Islands Annual REEF Monitoring Project that kicked off this summer (see story in this enews issue). Here's what Joe had to say about REEF:

How are you involved as a REEF member?

I conducted my first REEF survey in Washington State in 2003, and have been doing them ever since. In addition, the program I run, the SeaDoc Society, is a REEF Field Station. We’ve hosted numerous fish and invertebrate identification classes and multiple Great Annual Fish Count dives, but I’m most excited about our new monitoring program collaboration. We’ve partnered with REEF to have Advanced Assessment Team Divers come to the San Juan Islands for annual week-long survey trips. We expect that over the next 8-10 years these data will help us understand long-term sub-tidal changes in the ecosystem.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I live and dive in the Salish Sea, a 17,000 square kilometer inland sea shared by Washington and British Columbia. The data collected by REEF volunteers are valuable to the managers in the region who are working to recovery declining species like Northern Abalone and Rockfish. I love being able to collect data that is meaningful.

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

As a scientist, I love that the REEF data are collected in a way that is scientifically rigorous. Volunteers are trained and their level reflects their training and experience. Also, it is great that the data are collected and stored in a way that they will always be available for evaluation – even decades from now. This is citizen-science at its finest.

Where is your favorite place to dive?

My favorite place to dive is about 2 miles from my house. It’s a high current area split by an island so you get the benefits of seeing all of the invertebrates that flourish in the current, but you can always dive on one side of the island or the other. The site is familiar, but strikingly beautiful and I always find something new. The water is cold here and people generally expect everything to be dull and they are amazed to see videos or stills of colorful invertebrates and fishes.

Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?

Here, most everybody wants to see a Giant Pacific Octopus – 150 lbs, 2,240 suckers (unless it’s a male, then they only have 2,060) – what’s not to love. But me, I still want to see a Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. They’re only the size of a golf ball, but dang are they cute. When is Disney going to make a movie starring one of them?! Maybe this year.

New Invertebrate and Algae Survey Program for the Northeast!

American Lobster is one of 60 invertebrate and algae species now monitored by REEF surveyors in the Northeast US and Canada. Photo by Amy Maurer.

REEF is excited to announce that we have added a new invertebrate and algae survey program to the Northeast region (Virginia - Newfoundland). Similar to our other temperate regions, REEF surveyors in this area can now record all fishes as well as a select group of 60 invertebrate and algae species. Species included in the program were selected in consultation with regional scientists and experts to serve as a representative sample of the biodiversity of the region. Consideration was given to species that are habitat indicators, are harvested, and those that are just fun to look at (like nudibranchs!). REEF Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, launched the new program at the Boston Sea Rovers meeting last month. As part of the new program, we have created a new underwater survey paper that includes the invertebrates and algae, as well as a waterproof color ID card. New training curricula are currently being developed for Northeast Fishes and Northeast Invertebrates and Algae. All of the new materials can be found on the REEF online store. A big thanks to all who helped shaped this program, provided guidance, and donated images for the new materials.

The Faces of REEF: Daryl Duda

Daryl underwater. Photo by Steve Simonsen.
A smiling porcupinefish. Photo by Daryl Duda.
Scrawled Cowfish eating a jellyfish. Photo by Daryl Duda.
One fish that can scare a shark - the Goliath Grouper. Photo by Daryl Duda.

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 Daryl Duda. Daryl has been a REEF member since 2012, and has conducted 43 surveys. He is working his way up the ranks, and is now a Level 3 Surveyor! Here's what Daryl had to say about REEF:

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

I first learned about REEF during a stay in Key Largo while spending the day with the Coral Restoration Foundation. Later, I met Keri Kenning (past REEF intern and staff) at "Our World Underwater" scuba show in Chicago and she invited me to the little yellow house on my next visit to Key Largo. Its been over 2 years and I've been a member since.

What are some of your favorite moments as a REEF surveyor?

During REEF's 20th anniversary REEF Fest event last summer, I did my first survey dives, and it happened to be with Paul Human, Ned and Anna DeLoach, and Jonathan Lavan. After a morning full of interesting seminars, the afternoon diving with this all-star REEF cast made for an incredibly fun filled day. Since those first surveys, I find it difficult to be underwater and not identify and count fish. I feel like all my previous diving was just being underwater looking around. As the Sherpa said to Sir Edmund Hiliary as they scaled the mountain, "Some come to look, but others come 'To See'". I see things I have never seen before now that I started doing field surveys.

Do you have a favorite REEF Field Station?

There are many terrific dive shops in Key Largo. My favorite is Rainbow Reef Dive Center. They put a guide in the water with every 6 or so divers at no extra charge. This way I can concentrate on my photography and fish identification. Their crew is extremely knowledgeable about underwater life and curious about everything we see. Captain Alecia Adamson (another past REEF intern and staff) has become my fish ID mentor. Whenever I get stumped by a fish, I email her a photo and she helps me out.

Do you have a memorable fish encounter?

Diving on Molasses Reef in Key Largo one day, we swam around a ledge to see a 6 foot reef shark cozy up to a goliath grouper. The grouper let out a loud bellow that frightened the shark away. I never saw such a large fish swim so fast. Also, at Elbow Reef off Key Largo I got some good shots of a scrawled cowfish chomping on a jellyfish. It was the cutest thing to watch.

What is your favorite fish?

My favorite fish is the Porcupinefish. I can usually get reasonably close to get a good photo. They always look like they are smiling at you. I also like Honeycomb Cowfish that can change colors right before your eyes.

Any fishwatching tips to share?

I started of very slowly identifying fish because I didn't know very many. I always carry my camera on a dive and Ned DeLoach suggested using my point and shoot to help with my fish ID. Later back home I can zoom in and do a more accurate ID using my library of reference books. If I can't figure it out, I can email the photo to someone at REEF or post on the ID Forum at REEF.org.

Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshop Roadtrip

Funded by a grant through the US Fish and Wildlife Service, REEF’s Lionfish Program Coordinator, Elizabeth Underwood, will travel to cities throughout the Southeast United States to conduct a series of lionfish collecting and handling workshops. These workshops are meant to educate and engage stakeholders (recreational divers, professional divers, environmental groups, students, general public, etc.). Workshop topics will include background of the invasion, lionfish biology, ecological impacts, recent research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development and ways to get involved. Workshops are free of charge and open to the public, however registration is required. To register or learn more visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/workshops. We hope to see you there! Scheduled workshops include: May 6th—New Orleans, LA; May 7th—Ocean Springs, MS; May 8th—Panama City, FL; May 11th—Pensacola, FL; May 12th—Mobile, AL; May 14th—Tallahassee, FL; May 26th—Morehead City, NC; May 28th—Durham, NC; June 4th—Jupiter, FL; June 8th—Charleston, SC; June 10th—Savannah, GA; June 18th—Orlando, FL; June 23rd—Naples, FL.

REEF Rash Guards and 2nd Edition of Tropical Pacific Fish Book in Online Store

We just added a few great items to REEF's online store -- new rash guards and the much-anticipated 2nd edition of Tropical Pacific Fish Identification. Now is a perfect time to get a jump on your holiday shopping! The rash guards provide stylish sun protection while showing off your support for REEF. The new book includes information on over 200 new species and features over 2,500 color images of fishes you will see throughout the tropical Pacific regions of Indonesia, Philippines, Fiji, and more. Visit www.REEF.org/store to check out these items and more.

REEF Fest 2016 - Make Your Plans

We hope to see you in Key Largo this Fall for REEF Fest 2016! Mark your calendar -- September 29 – October 2, 2016. Our annual celebration of marine conservation includes diving, educational seminars, and social gatherings! Check out www.REEF.org/REEFFest for more information.

More Fishinars Coming Soon

Flagtail Tilefish, one of the many great fish you can find in the sand in Hawaii. Photo by Barry Fackler.

Don't miss these great Fishinars (www.REEF.org/fishinars) we are offering this fall!

  • Tuesday, October 4th - Sea Saba Underwater with Amy Lee
  • Wednesday, November 2nd - Digging Into Data: How to Use REEF's Database with REEF staff
  • Monday, Novemer 14th - Hawaii: Life in the Sand with Christy Pattengill-Semmens
  • Thursday, December 15thth - Don't Forget the Chubs and Progies! with Carlos and Allison Estape

Everyone, including divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers, is welcome to join in these free, online webinars. You don't need any special equipment (other than your computer or mobile device) to log on and join in. Be sure to visit www.REEF.org/fishinars to get more details and register for your favorite ones. We record all sessions for later viewing, and our archives are available for free viewing for REEF members.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub