The first Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) event was held in 1992 at Anacapa Island, California, with fifty participants. Dr. Gary Davis from the Channel Islands National Park came up with the idea as way to engage park visitors. REEF took over the coordination of the event in 1997 when the REEF Fish Survey Project expanded to the US West Coast. The event was initially called the Great American Fish Count, but the name was changed in 2002 to reflect the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia. During it's 19th year (2010), the GAFC continues strong, including several events held along the west coast.
On July 11, The Dive Club of Silicon Valley's annual GAFC event was held at Lover's Point in Pacific Grove, CA, organized by Kari Larson and Mike Davis. The day started as most summer days in the Pacific Grove - foggy and cool. About 40 divers participated, with a nice mix of new and experienced REEF surveyors. As dive teams came out of the water they commented on the abundance of fish this year at Lover's. Experienced REEF divers, Keith Rootsaert and Alex Matsumoto were on hand to help answer questions about critter ID and the survey method. Exciting finds included crevice kelpfish, a gaggle of reef surfperch, a couple large tubesnout laying/eating eggs on a piece of kelp, and a rare sighting of a Giant Pacific Octopus. Following the dive, the club hosted a BBQ to feed all the hungry divers and their families.
The SeaDoc Society and Naknek Dive Charters teamed up for a great GAFC event in the San Juan Islands in Washington on July 16. The day began with a free REEF fish and invertebrate identification class presented by Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society. Folks learned how to identify common species and how to conduct a REEF survey. In the afternoon, Peggy and Kurt Long of Naknek Charters, hosted a survey dive near Friday Harbor. The surveyors found Tiger Rockfish, schools of Pacific Sandlance, Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers, and many more astounding sea creatures.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Reef Watch Waikiki in Hawaii, which has been a Field Station for about a year. Reef Watch Waikiki is a project of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program and their mission is to inspire and facilitate community stewardship of the famed Waikiki coastline. They coordinate a suite of ocean education and marine monitoring programs, which began in February 2009 with "Beach Watch", a human-use monitoring program, followed by "Fish Watch" in February 2010. Fish Watch trains community volunteers and visitors in the REEF method and encourages participants to conduct surveys in the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District. This unique site is a small, no-take marine protected area located along a largely "engineered" shoreline that is heavily utilized by both visitors and residents. Reef Watch Waikiki has really embraced the REEF program and we are thrilled to have this active partner on Oahu, an island that previously had very few REEF surveys. Coordinator, Jennifer Barret, says that her favorite things about the REEF program are "to see people's excitement and enthusiasm when they participate in their first survey and see FISH, yes, even in Waikiki!, as well as the easy access online to the database."
In the past year, since becoming a REEF Field Station, the folks at Reef Watch Waikiki have offered 17 REEF classes and have coordinated 15 snorkel surveys (because of UH requirements for SCUBA, they stick to snorkeling)! Thanks to grant funding that they secured, Reef Watch Waikiki provides REEF starter kits and a supply of underwater survey paper to most of their volunteers. For participants who happen to have a favorite snorkel spot outside of Waikiki, they take advantage of the opportunity for a 'field trip' to help out with obtaining GPS coordinates for new surveys sites. They also connect their volunteers with monthly dives planned by another local REEF Field Station, FIN Oahu. In order to share sightings and post information about their monitoring efforts, they recently started a blog, which has been a great way to keep the community informed of their activities and to experiment with online resources like quizzes and (coming-soon) self-paced training modules.
A big fish thanks to Reef Watch Waikiki - keep up the great work!
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 Mike Phelan (REEF member since 1998). Mike is a member of our Golden Hamlet Club, having conducted over 1,000 surveys (1,211 to be exact!), and he is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. In addition to being an active REEF surveyor, Mike has been documenting an annual aggregation of Goliath Grouper in Florida. Here's what Mike had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF? I read an article in Skin Diver Magazine over 12 years ago. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for a REEF Field Survey trip to Saba and several other nearby islands on a live aboard. Since then, I have participated in seven REEF Field Surveys and several REEF Advanced Assessment Team surveys in the Florida Keys. The most memorable was my trip to St. Vincent. I was fortunate to add several fish to my species life list including the illusive Black Brotula. My favorite part of being a REEF member is interacting with fellow citizen scientists.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey? I believe that REEF members occupy a somewhat unique position to make a dive that really counts. I find that the focused experience of completing a survey opens up your eyes to the entire reef ecosystem including fish behaviors, the surrounding benthic community, and both species presence and absence. I have been a diver for over 44 years, and I can state with certainty that you need to enlarge your diving hobby beyond “blowing bubbles” to keep that inquisitiveness that attracted you to diving in the first place.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I live in SE Florida and most of my diving takes place on the off-shore reef system of Jupiter, Florida. Jupiter is a unique location. It is the only known aggregation and spawning site for the Goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) in the SE United States. In the late Summer, aggregations of 30-50 Goliath groupers can be seen. Since the species was almost fished to extinction in the late 1980s, it is a privilege to witness its repopulation on the reefs of Florida. Jupiter is also a major nesting site for three species of sea turtle (Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Green). In the Spring and Summer, the reefs abound in turtles. They are very cool animals. Lastly, there is a Winter aggregation of lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) and seeing them is quite a thrill.
Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? My favorite dive shop is the Jupiter Dive Center. They are very supportive of the Goliath grouper research.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? While bluewater drift diving in the Gulf Stream near Jupiter, I sighted a large Sailfish that turned sharply upon sensing me and thereby displayed its sail. Last year, I was able to see the Flashlightfish in a cave at night in the Solomon Islands. The flashing light was very disorienting since you were hovering in completely black water while the blinking lights of about 30 fish turned on and off. The number one fish that I would like to see is the Sawfish (Pristis pectinata).
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members? My recommendation for all fish surveyors is to slow down and let nature emerge right in front of you. Carry a point and shoot type camera to aid in identification after the dive. This can be very helpful with the smaller gobies and blennies.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs? By far, the database containing the fish and sea turtle sightings gains ever more importance each year. There really is no other information source on the planet containing the number of reported survey dives with such a broad geographic scope.
Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:
- A researcher from the Seattle Aquarium is using REEF data on rockfish populations from Washington State to analyze with other long-term monitoring data.
- The Nature Conservancy in Washington State is using REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity in the Salish Sea and Oregon.
- A citizen group from the Florida Keys is using data from areas around Key Largo to evaluate the status of fish populations on reefs that are not currently protected within the existing network of Sanctuary Preservation Areas.
- A scientist from University of Connecticut is using REEF data collected in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia.
We are excited to announce our 2013 Field Survey Schedule. Spaces are already starting to fill up so reserve yours today. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Each trip features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Complete package details and prices can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Make a Dive Trip That Counts!
Dates and destinations for 2013 --
May 11 - 21, 2013 Fiji, aboard the Nai'a, Led by Paul Humann
May 18-25, 2013 Southern Bahamas, Lionfish Research Cruise aboard Explorer II, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes
July 13-20, 2013 Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author
July 20-27, 2013 Utila, Deep Blue Utila, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers
September 25-28, 2013 Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator
October 5-12, 2013 Grenada, with True Blue Bay Resort and Aquanauts Diving. Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science
December 3-12, 2013 Socorro Islands, aboard Rocio del Mar, led by Andy Dehart and Marty Snyderman, Shark Experts, Photographers, and REEF Board Members
December 7-14, 2013 Cozumel, Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin and Sheryl Shea, REEF Fish Experts and Cozumel Naturalists
2012 Trips with space available --
July 14-21, 2012 - Lionfish Research in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects
July 28 - August 4, 2012 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author
September 22-29, 2012 - Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens, REEF Director of Science, REEF Researcher
October 6-13, 2012 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers
November 10-17, 2012 - British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert
We have a full line-up of dive show appearances planned this year. If you are in the area of one of these shows, please stop by the REEF booth to find out what new and exciting things are happening. In 2013, we will be at: Our World Underwater (Chicago, February 15-17), Beneath the Sea (NJ/NY, March 22-23), Northwest Dive & Travel Expo (WA, April 20-21), and Northern California Dive & Travel Expo (Bay Area CA, May 11-12). We are always looking for volunteers to help at the booth. If you are interested in being a REEF ambassador, contact Martha at martha@REEF.org.
We are busy putting the finishing touches on our 2014 Field Survey Trip schedule and full details will be posted soon. There is an exciting lineup of destinations planned, including: Key Largo with Paul Humann, Dominica with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Belize with Fishinar Instructor Jonathan Lavan, Cayman Brac, Bequia, Cozumel, and Hornby Island BC. We also have planned Lionfish Control Study trips to Curacao and the Bahamas with Lad Akins and Peter Hughes. We we hope you will join us. If you haven't been on a REEF Field Survey Trip before, they are not-to-be-missed! These dive vacations offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. More information can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. Make a Dive Trip That Counts!
Looking to getaway in 2013? These REEF Trips still have space --
July 13-20, 2013 - Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club. Led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author. Contact Caradonna to book your space: REEF@caradonna.com, 877-295-REEF (7333).
August 31 - September 7, 2013 - Lionfish Control Study trip, Curacao, with GO WEST Diving and Sandton Kura Hulanda Lodge. Led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and Peter Hughes, REEF Board of Trustee. Contact REEF HQ to book your space: trips@REEF.org, 305-852-0030.
September 25 - 28 or September 28 - October 1, 2013 - Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. Contact Rendezvous Dive Adventures to book your space: email@example.com, 1-877-777-9994 (toll free US& Canada), or 250-735-5050.
December 3-12, 2013 Socorro Islands, aboard Rocio del Mar. Led by Marty Snyderman, Renowned Shark Photographer and REEF Board Member. Contact Caradonna to book your space: REEF@caradonna.com, 877-295-REEF (7333).
See www.REEF.org/trips for complete information.
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.