We are proud to announce our 2013 Volunteers of the Year, Carlos and Allison Estapé. Carlos and Allison joined REEF in 2008, and collectively, they have conducted 108 surveys. They call the Florida Keys home. As Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team members, skilled lionfish hunters, expert underwater photographers, and PADI Open Water Scuba Instructors, this diving duo is instrumental to REEF’s fieldwork conducted in the Upper Florida Keys and they are avid REEF ambassadors. Most recently, they have raised interest in the 100 Fish ID Challenge, or "Century Dive", in the Keys, whereby a REEF surveyor finds at least 100 species of fish on one dive (their quest even ended up in the Miami Herald newspaper). Here's what Carlos and Allison 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?
In 2008, we moved to the Keys permanently and we were looking for people with similar interests. What a great find! We started attending the monthly REEF Fish and Friends lectures and participated in REEF Lionfish Derbies. From there, our participation continued to grow as we got involved with the interns and the 100 Fish Challenge.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
Carlos- "For me, surveys have evolved into an underwater treasure hunt. There is a great quote that says “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder” R.W. Sockman. And this directly applies to fish surveys. When all you know are 100 species you try to pigeonhole everything you see into that knowledge base, but as I have delved deeper into all the real possibilities I question even what appears to be obvious. A few days ago, Allison pointed out a solitary fish on a deep mooring line. It appeared to me to be an Orange filefish, a species I only see on rare occasions and needed a better photograph of. Only after seeing the image on the computer back at home did I realize I had just photographed the first and only Unicorn Filefish (Aluterus monoceros) I have ever seen!
Allison - "I completely agree with Carlos on the surveys being an underwater treasure hunt. It is always exciting when you identify a new fish and/or see a very rare fish. I’ve greatly enjoyed adding to the REEF database and expanding the number of species sighted on our favorite dive sites. When we realized that there was the possibility of seeing over 100 species of fish on one dive at Alligator Reef, that really motivated us to not only expand our ability to identify with certainty more fish species, but it also motivated us to get out and do 2 ½ hr dives to see just how many species we could identify on a dive. My personal best was 116 fish identified and we have had a great time taking the REEF Interns and other fish ID enthusiasts to Alligator Reef so they can attempt to identify over 100 species. So far, 12 divers have achieved the 100 Fish ID Challenge, and we are hoping that many more take up the challenge. Doing the 100 Fish ID Challenge has really taught me where to look for different species of fish, and has really re-invigorated my diving enthusiasm – I spend time in the grass flats, sand, and rubble areas looking for the small fish I never paid any attention to prior to doing the surveys.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
The camaraderie, hands down! We have especially enjoyed our time with the interns when we take them out on our boat and show them some of our favorite dive sites. The friendships we have made with the REEF team and members, the fun of diving with other fish enthusiasts, and the sense of excitement and accomplishment we achieve together when we do Field Surveys and attempt the 100 Fish ID Challenge, has made our participation in REEF one of our most satisfying experiences.
If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
Carlos - "REEF is an organization of people driven by their passion of the sea with the goal to protect and document life in the oceans."
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Carlos - "Education. You only love what you care about, only care about what you know and only know what you are taught.
Allison - "I also believe the scientific research and data that REEF volunteers collect is making a difference in the management of our marine ecosystems/fisheries. The Lionfish removal/derby data is enabling marine park managers to make scientific choices on how to manage the invasive species, and the REEF survey database allows non-scientists to participate in collecting data that scientists use.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
We have the Florida reefs thirty minutes away by boat by design. I was certified in 1978 and my first dive was on Pickles reef. Recently we have been on a quest to photograph as many species as possible listed on a survey done by Dr. W. Starck back in the 1960’s. Over a period of ten years he found over 500 species in our own backyard! Over 300 of those are within the safe diving limits and so far we have photographed 225 of them including a few he never found!
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?
Islamorada Dive Center (IDC) out of Windley Key in Islamorada. Great attitude and service. They always put a dive guide in the water with you for no extra charge. We have become close friends with everyone there.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
Carlos - "The one and only time I was in the water with a Whale shark in the Maldives. We had been motoring for hours looking for one without success and finally the crew gave up and put us in the water anyway. Within minutes a shadow blocked the sun and when I looked up there it was! A juvenile “only” about twenty-five feet long! We swam with it for a few minutes and then it was gone like it had never been there. When I dive I always try to remember to look up now and then."
Allison - "The time we found a 12ft sawfish while diving on the Eagle Wreck in the Florida Keys. The sawfish was laying on the sand in 110 ft of water and looked like a parked submarine. It was flanked by 2 large remora. When we approached it, it pushed up off the bottom in a big swirl of sand and slowly swam away. It was a spectacular sighting of a very rare animal. On that same dive we saw a spotted eagle ray, hawksbill turtle, and many schooling fish. That dive goes down in the memory books as one of our best."
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Carlos - "Take a camera with you and if you can afford it add an external strobe even to the simplest of point-and-shoot cameras. I cannot tell you the “finds” I have made once I have downloaded and reviewed the day’s photos. A great example of this was reviewing some of Allison's photos that she had taken at Alligator ledge of a Colon Goby. Lying next to the goby is a three inch Saddled stargazer! She didn’t realize it was there when she snapped the photo."
Allison - "A camera, or a buddy with a camera is a must. The more I learn, the less I “know”. You have such a short amount of time to ID fish and so many species are similar that having a camera really makes a difference in identifying an Almaco Jack vs a Lesser Amberjack, and when it comes to the tiny triplefins – a photo is the only way I know whether I got the ID right.
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 Naomi Wooten. Naomi has been a REEF member since 1999, and has conducted 143 surveys (all in her home state of California). She is a member of the Pacific Coast Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Naomi had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
My friend and I participated in a Great American Fish Count dive in Monterey in June 2005 led by John Wolfe and did my first REEF surveys. A local reporter wrote about the event and said that my buddy and I were excited to find an elusive fish and mistakenly named a very commonly sighted fish. I have had a REEF number since 1999. I think I signed up at a scuba show exhibit.
Have you participated in any REEF special projects or Field Surveys?
I was part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advanced Assessment Team Project in 2012. After the last dive, my tank went bouncing off the boat into the ocean on a rocky ride back to the dock, and I unwillingly contributed to the artificial reef of Monterey. The best part of the story is that several team members and REEF generously pitched in and helped me replace the tank. I put a REEF sticker on that tank!
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I am motivated to complete surveys by an unexplainable interest in stats and a slightly competitive spirit. Doing surveys contributes to a growing database that others have used in scientific papers and debates. When I started, Kawika Chetron was the top surveyor in California with about 300 surveys. Three hundred surveys became my lifetime goal. I am almost halfway there.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
I love doing REEF surveys because they are so easy and surveys can be part of any dive. I am happy that I can contribute without being a scientist, fish expert, or copious surveyor.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?
Instead of being a rare fish, my favorite is the blue rockfish, which is very common in Monterey. I smile every time I see the first one on a dive. There is nothing like the peaceful awe I feel when I slowly move into a school of these beautiful fish and am temporarily allowed to be part of their group.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Well, this is my tip for myself. Don’t compare yourself to other REEF members you know and don’t feel bad that you cannot identify (or find) tons of fish and invertebrates like they can. Concentrate on ones you can identify for sure. Keep adding to your personal list and honing your critter-finding skills.
If you haven’t yet booked a REEF trip, or if you are considering another, please take a look below. There are still a few spaces left, especially in the first half of the year when colder temperatures at home may make a tropical dive vacation look especially inviting. In particular, be sure to check out our trips to Fiji aboard the luxurious NAI'A liveaboard. We have 3 spaces available (1 double cabin and one share female space), May 2-12, and 1 male share space left on our second trip, May 12-19. We have also just added a trip to St. Lucia in December. To find out more information or to secure your space on the Fiji trip or any of our other 2015 trips, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Visit www.REEF.org/trips for complete trip details.
2015 REEF Field Survey Schedule
Feb 28 - Mar 7 -- Hawaii -- Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, SOLD OUT, Details
Mar 14 - 21 -- Grand Cayman -- Wall to Wall Diving and Comfort Suites, Led by Jonathan Lavan, 4 spaces left, Details
May 2 - 12 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, 3 spaces left, Details
May 12 - 19 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, 1 space left, Details
May 9 - 16 -- Bahamas Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, SOLD OUT, Details
Jun 13 - 20 -- Roatan -- Anthony's Key Resort, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, 3 spaces left, Details
Jul 11 - 18 -- Grand Turk -- Oasis Divers & Osprey Beach Hotel, Led by Paul Humann, SOLD OUT, Details
Aug 1 - 8 -- Bonaire -- Buddy Dive, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, SOLD OUT, Details
Aug 22 - 29 -- Curacao Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- GO WEST Diving & Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, 3 spaces left, Details
Nov 1 - 5 -- Catalina Island -- Scuba Luv & Pavilion Hotel, Led by Janna Nichols, Details
Dec 5 - 12 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn or Casa Mexicana, Led by Tracey Griffin, SOLD OUT, Details
Dec 5 - 12 (just added) -- St. Lucia -- Anse Chastanet Resort, Led by Heather George, details coming soon
Thanks to a grant from The Russell Family Foundation, we are in the middle of a year-long initiative to actively engage new REEF surveyors in the region and to provide incentive to our existing surveyors to stay active and move up through the ranks of the REEF Experience Level system. We have teamed up with PNW REEF instructor, Janna Nichols, to coordinate a series of free training workshops throughout Washington and Oregon. These seminars will cover the Introductory REEF Fish Identification training, the REEF Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Identification training, and a NEW Advanced Fish Identification training program. Visit the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers Webpage to see a complete list of classes. The project will also support a series of REEF survey day trips on area dive charters that will be open free of charge to current REEF surveyors who are actively conducting surveys and interested in advancing their REEF experience level. Ten active REEF surveyors recently participated in the first such opportunity - survey dives at two new REEF sites in the San Juan Islands, Washington earlier this month. In addition to conducting REEF surveys. The great news is that everyone on the trip who was eligible to move up one experience level did so! A big congratulations goes to Pete Naylor and Mary Jo Adamas, REEF's newest Pacific Advanced Assessment Team Level 5 members, and the rest of the gang who successfully passed the Level 2 or Level 3 exam.
We greatly appreciate the funding support of The Russell Family Foundation. This project will enable REEF to actively engage divers in marine conservation through support and enhancement of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project in the Pacific Northwest. Traditionally, divers and snorkelers have not received much more than a cursory introduction to underwater ecology or marine life identification. Even after years of experience in the water, most divers are able to identify only a handful of the marine life they see during their dives. REEF introduces marine enthusiasts to the incredible diversity of fishes and other wildlife found in local waters as well as the identification resources and survey methods needed to document these species. Active REEF surveyors advance through five experience levels (Novice: 1-3 and Expert: 4-5), based on the number of surveys completed and passing scores on comprehensive identification exams. While 536 volunteers have conducted surveys in the Pacific Northwest as part of the REEF Fish Survey Project, there are currently only twenty-eight members rated as Expert surveyors. However, expert level volunteers have conducted approximately one-third of all surveys submitted to date. It is clear that as volunteers improve their skills, they are more likely to stay actively involved in data collection.
Happy 2008! REEF is looking forward to a great year for marine life everywhere as 2008 has been designated the International Year of the Reef by the International Coral Reef Institute. In this first editon of REEF in Brief 2008, learn about recently completed biological monitoring at the M/V Wellwood restoration site in Key Largo, Florida, a proposed research only site at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia and a host of upcoming REEF Field Surveys to tempt your travel bug. Also read about an upcoming dinner and auction to benefit REEF in its hometown Key Largo and meet new office manager, Bonnie Greenberg. Finally, REEF remembers long time member and friend, Chile Ridley, who will be remembered for his generosity to the marine environment.
Best fishes for a healthy, happy start to the new year,
REEF is pleased to welcome Stephanie Roach from Camp Hill, PA as the 2008 REEF Summer Intern and Great Annual Fish Count Coordinator (GAFC). Her internship is supported by the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society. The REEF internship program provides college age juniors, seniors and graduate students the opportunity to experience working at a nonprofit environmental organization. REEF interns assist REEF staff with education, outreach and a multitude of programming. Many REEF interns move on to successful careers in conservation and the marine environment, including natural resource agencies, academics and conservation non-profits (including REEF). In fact, REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., is a former REEF intern.
The Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society is a nonprofit, educational organization whose mission is to promote educational activities associated with the underwater world. For over 35 years, they have fostered the development of future leaders of the marine environment through their scholarship and internship programs.
Stephanie graduated this May from Denison University with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology as well as Studio Art. She attended the Skidmore College Summer Six Art Program and the School for Field Studies in the Turks and Caicos where she experienced open water research. By the end of her time in the British West Indies she said, "I realized I wanted to work toward a better understanding of the world's oceans and eco-systems."
As this year's summer intern, Stephanie will act as the primary GAFC coordinator for REEF, along with assisting staff with various activities and preparing and presenting REEF talks and fish ID classes to the Florida Keys community. She will also have an opportunity to present and implement a project which aligns with her interests in combination with REEF needs and activities. She begins her internship June 2 and you can greet her with a happy hello by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-852-0030 ext. 1#.
If you would like to support future REEF internships, please send your tax-deductible donations to REEF, P.O. Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037 or click here and make a secure donation online today. For more information, please call 305-852-0030 or email email@example.com.
Members of the REEF Pacific Northwest Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) recently conducted the 6th annual survey of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) near Neah Bay, Washington. Porthole Dive Charters transported the 8 member dive team to ten sites over the course of a week. A total of 89 surveys were completed and the team documented 85 species of fish and invertebrates, including many unusual sightings such as the tubenose poacher, lobefin snailfish, and rosylip sculpin.
The OCNMS covers over 3,300 square miles of ocean off Washington State's rugged and rocky Olympic Peninsula coastline. Sanctuary waters host abundant marine life. A small but important stretch of coastline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca features some of the best diving in Washington State, yet is rarely visited because of the remote location and limited diving facilities. In 2003, REEF started conducting annual assessments at a set of key sites in the northern portion of the OCNMS in order to generate a baseline of data that can be used to evaluate the status and trends of marine communities.
To date, REEF volunteers have conducted 353 surveys in the OCNMS (290 hours of observation time!) and have documented 61 species of fish and 31 invertebrates. The 2008 project summary data is posted here. REEF staff are currently preparing a summary report for the Sanctuary based on the data collected to date.
Funding and support for this year's OCNMS project was generously provided by the National Marine Sanctuary Program, the Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation, the Winter's Summer Inn in Seiku, and the REEF survey participants. A bunch of spectacular photos have been posted (from both above and below the water) by the team participants. Online galleries include: Janna Nichols, Pete Naylor, April Theod, Ron Theod, and David Jennings.
The annual REEF Cozumel Field Survey started out like all the rest, but there were so many folks anxiously waiting for a spot on the team that a second week was added. Then, several divers from the first week just couldn't tear themselves away and stayed over for the second week. So we ended up as just one big two-week team. So (whew!) we turned out around 225 surveys and our species list FINALLY topped 200!
We had a lovely mix, once again, of Cozumel Field Survey regulars and some new faces. It's always so good to welcome back old REEF friends, meet new ones and together do our bit to help the ocean that we all love so much. For the first time, we missed a dive day due to sea conditions but those extraordinary REEFers were not about to daunted by a gale or two. Most made up their survey dives on other days and even did extra dives.
Debby Bollag and Jamie Gigante made the giant leap from novice to expert fishwatchers. Welcome to the Advanced Assessment Team! A helpful addition to our classroom setup was a projector donated to REEF by Ray Bailey at Camcor.com.
The reefs are really looking beautiful again after the double whammy of Hurricanes Emily & Wilma of 2005 - multicolored sponges, lettuce & finger corals which are home to juvenile and tiny fish are coming back strong. On some sites the Cherubfish have bounced back big-time, 75 were counted on Dalila Wall site. Bluelip & Greenblotch parrotfish are once again everywhere. Some Yellowline gobies were found, which had disappeared along with the tube sponges during hurricane Emily.
A highlight of the week was the Dwarf Sand Perch - never previously reported in Cozumel. This fish hovers over the sand where you might find Harlequin Bass, and since they are both black and white, it would be easy to confuse them. They were later found at other dive sites since the initial sighting at Paradise Reef by Doug Harder. As usual we couldn't get Kenny Tidwell out of the water, so he added quite a few of those shore-loving species to the list like Reef Squirrelfish & Reef Scorpionfish. You never know what you might see diving in Cozumel - and of course as luck would have it, a week after the trip ended REEF member Tracey Griffin spotted a Dwarf Frogfish!
As always, this trip is already filling up for 2009, so if you're interested it would be best to get your name on the list, and airfare to the area is really good right now. To find out more, visit the REEF Field Survey schedule. Please call 1-877-295-REEF (7333) to make your reservations or you can e-mail our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at REEF@caradonna.com. Hope to see you all in Cozumel in December!
REEF is continuing our ground-breaking research and outreach on the lionfish invasion with projects in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The project is supported with funding from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Grant and the Buck Island REEF National Park and long-time supporters Henry Foundation, Oceans Foundation and Munson Foundation. REEF researchers have teamed with Simon Fraser University (SFU) and will be collaborating with the St Croix Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to implement an 18 month project aimed at increasing awareness, conducting hands-on training and determining effectiveness of removal strategies to deal with the recent lionfish invasion.
In August and October of this year project teams joined up with local dive operators, NGOs, and state and federal agencies to conduct numerous lionfish workshops and seminars as well as initiate studies of local reef areas. REEF volunteers and researchers from the National Aquarium, National Park Service, and SFU spent more than 24,000 minutes underwater conducting detailed surveys of 16 sites in each area. In addition, the team initiated meetings to develop response plans and increase awareness of local communities about the lionfish issue. REEF is looking for funding to continue this effort beyond the current December 2010 project endline. For more information or to contribute to this or other lionfish research efforts, contact lad Akins at Lad@reef.org or call (305) 852-0030.
If you see a lionfish on a survey while in the western Atlantic, or any non-native species, please report it through REEF's Exotic Species Sightings form here -- http://www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report
Internationally renowned marine artist, Ron Rogest Steven recently spent time with youth in Seattle, Washington, to create individual marine art paintings in Rogest's 'dotty' style. Over two days, 13 members of Alki Elementary School Girl Scout Troop #40766, painted whales, turtles, fish, and more. Their paintings were then on display and up for auction at the NW Dive & Travel Expo in Tacoma (WA), with proceeds benefiting REEF! During the show, several members of the troop met with REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and Christy will also be visiting the elementary school to give a presentation on the marine life of the northwest.
Through creating their artwork, students learned more about the marine life they choose to paint; discovered new ways to conserve; and found out how they can do more to protect what is right in their back yard. Rogest has championed the philosophy to “Think locally and act locally.” This philosophy is passionately shared by the members of this troop. These girls are some of the most socially responsible 8 and 9 year old junior citizens you'll ever meet. Caring, proactive future keepers of the flame, the girls are dedicated to the protection of animal friends above and below sea level. REEF was proud to be a part of this program and we greatly appreciate being included in Rogest's Kid’s Gallery Program.