The Faces of REEF: Dennis Bensen

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 Dennis Bensen, member since 2001. Dennis has conducted just over 600 surveys, and is active in several of REEF's surveying regions, including his now home of Hawaii, the western tropical Pacific, and the Tropical Western Atlantic. He is also one of our most active REEF Trip participants, having been on 19 Field Surveys (so far, with more to come!). Here's what Dennis had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF? I learned to dive when I was 47 years old in 1997. Soon afterward I knew I would pursue the PADI master diver certification. In doing so one needs five specialty courses and one of them that I choose was fish ID. I took it in Bonaire and I was taught by an American marine biologist dive master, who being pregnant at the time, could only snorkel. After a slide show on fish ID we went on a snorkel. She pointed to the fish and I dove down for closer look then back up to her to give her my answer. For the second dive she gave me paper to use. After we finished the second dive she told me we could submit the results to REEF. I didn't feel ready. After that trip I went home with the REEF packet, read up on the organization, and signed up for my first REEF field survey taught by Paul Human in Puerto Rico. And that was it, I never looked back. I actually feel like I am missing something when I dive and do not survey.

Have you been on a REEF survey trip, what was your trip highlight? I could fill up a book with the answer to this one. To date, I have been on 19 REEF Field Survey Trips! Most of them in either Cozumel or Hawaii, where I now live. My most recent REEF Trip was on the Palau Aggressor. This trip was a real eye opener! The Central Indo Pacific region has a huge numbers of species. The ID paper is three times the size what we use here in Hawaii. You are busy, busy, busy from the minute you enter the water. There are fish in this region that are also in Hawaii, but nowhere near the majority of what there is to see, so you are learning, learning, learning. I owe a lot to my dive buddy Pam Wade, and trip leader Christy Semmens, who taught me a lot.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? This is an easy one. It is the people – whether they are Board members or office staff and volunteers or divers on Field Survey Trips. I have done surveys with many of the Board members and original members of the staff: Lad, Paul, Ned and Anna, Christy and Brice, and Janet (Camp) as well as staff Jane, Nancy, Amy, and Janna. I miss not working the REEF booth at “Beneath the Sea” with Martha or Lad (before moving to Hawaii I lived in New York). Beyond this, there is a host of divers too numerous to mention that have taught me so much and with whom I share a love of diving and recording the fish we see on those dives. Not to mention all those great trip farewell dinners.

In you opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs? The data that is collected, the integrity of that data, and the usefulness and research that this data will be used in. It is my own small way of giving back to the preservation and conservation of the oceans we dive in. Diving is such a huge part of my enjoyment of life and to think I can give something back, however small that might be, is very fulfilling and satisfying to me.

Do I dive close to where I live and what is the best part of diving there? As I said I now live in Hawaii. I moved here about 2 years ago to the Big Island of Hawaii, mainly because the best diving in the state is on the west coast of the big island. Honokohau harbor is only 10 minutes from my house and I try to dive out of that marina at least once per month, but I prefer to dive up north on the Kohala Coast. The Kohala Divers dive shop up there often runs a one tank afternoon dive. This is perfect for me. I do not need to get up early, I am, after all, in retirement. And with only one tank I am not too tired afterward. The dive finishes near dinner time so I often stop in Waiklloa and have dinner and a glass of wine at one of the fancy restaurants.

But besides that, and this is true of all diving in Hawaii, I can do it almost any day I want year round, something I for obvious reason did not do while living on Long Island, NY. On average, 25% of all fish here in our state are found only in Hawaii. And grey whale are around in the winter. The whales can be seen on all islands but the Kohala Coast of the big island and the South Shore of Maui form a bottle neck through which the whales must pass to move southward, often allowing for greater sightings and definitely more soundings (hearing them under water, always a thrill for me). I’d like to think of this as my own little corner of the worldwide oceans where my data will have an impact.

Plan Your 2018 Field Survey Trip

Don't miss out - book your 2018 REEF Trip space today.
Dive the Gardens of the Queen in Cuba.
Explore the oceans and mountains of Costa Rica.

Are you a diver or snorkeler looking to make a difference in the health of our oceans? If you haven't already, we hope you will make plans to join us on a REEF Trip in 2018. We have a great lineup of trips and a few spaces remain. You will participate in our citizen science programs, dive with like-minded individuals, and learn about the marine life around you. The full 2018 schedule is online (and keep an eye out for the 2019 schedule to be released this spring).

Here are 2018 trips that still have space:

Grenada, May 12-19, 2018 - More details

Bahamas Lionfish Research Trip, May 26 - June 2, 2018 - More details

Key Largo for REEF's 25th Anniversary, June 23-30, 2018 - More details

Costa Rica Land and Sea Eco-tour, July 14-21, 2018 - More details

Belize Research Expedition, August 18-25, 2018 - More details

Cuba Gardens of the Queen, August 18-25, 2018 - More details

St. Lucia, September 23-30, 2018 - More details

Eastern Caribbean, December 1-8, 2018 - More details

Cozumel, December 1-8, 2018 - More details

We maintain wait lists for full trips, so be sure to let us know if your desired destination is full. 2018 Trips that are already full: Hawaii, Thailand, Fiji, Brazil, Philippines, Cayman Brac, and Maldives.

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

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REEF Team Aquarius 2007: The Life Support Buoy, which provides power and communications to Aquarius, tethered 60 feet below, appears in the background. Courtesy of Lillian Kenney.
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Volunteer Dave Grenda surveys the northeast site off Aquarius. Courtesy of NMSP.

 Six volunteer divers from the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyed two sites off the Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, to assist the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) with the science component of the Aquarius 2007 Mission: If Reefs Could Talk. Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory, is part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and sits seven miles off shore at Conch Reef. A valuable resource and good neighbor to REEF HQ, Aquarius hosts scientists from around the world, from sponge chemists to astronauts, in innovative research and education.

The team included REEF Special Projects Manager Lad Akins and AAT members Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Mike Phelan. Twelve fish surveys were conducted at each of two research sites near Aquarius using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT). This year's data will be compared to surveys collected during a 2001 mission to assess change in resident fish populations. The team also assisted NMSP in documenting the occurrence of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) at each site. Once abundant on Florida Keys coral reefs, herbivorous Diadema play an important role in keeping coral-stifling algae from overtaking the reef structure. 

Click here to read more about the 2007 mission and the Aquarius habitat, including daily broadcasts and interviews with the REEF survey team. 

Gray's Reef Proposed Research Area

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Black Seabasses on Grays Reef, photo by Greg McFall, Resarch Coord. GRNMS
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Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, photo by Greg McFall
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Tomtate, Scad, Porgy on Gray's Reef, photo by Greg McFall
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Marine Managed Areas, Georgia State Waters, courtesy NOAA

Just prior to the holidays, Lad Akins and I had the pleasure of joining the Gray's Reef Research Area Working Group (RAWG) in Savannah, Georgia. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) is one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries, perhaps less well known to many of you than Stellwagon Bank or Monterey Bay Sanctuaries, and is located some 32 kilometers off the coast of Georgia. Remember that there has recently been an addition to our sanctuaries by George W. Bush (2006) in establishing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, including and extending beyond the Hawaiian archipelago. GRNMS is rectangular in its defined borders and is roughly 6.5 km N to S by 9 km E to W (17nm2) and is a popular site for recreational fishing and boating. Previous mapping and assessment studies have shown there to be 4 main benthic habitats within GRNMS that include flat sand, rippled sand, sparsely colonized live bottom, and densely colonized live bottom (ledges). 

The workshop I attended was the latest iteration of several previous meetings that had the intention of exploring the concept of placing a research area (RA) inside the boundaries of GRNMS. The focus of the latest workshop was to specifically address what scientific data would be collected inside the proposed RA. The RA would be an area specifically designated for conducting controlled scientific studies in the absence of confounding factors such as recreational or commercial fishing. Previous workshops had convened to decide on biological, ecological, and socioeconomic variables that all would contribute to deciding on where to place the RA inside GRNMS borders. Deciding on the optimal RA configuration (square, hexagon, etc.), location within the sanctuary, and size (area) of the RA for biological questions alone led to some 35,000 options after detailed matrices were created to quantify a best fit design for the RA. "Best fit" in this case is a site that would minimize impact on bottom and recreational fishermen, have a high species richness and biomass, and would have strong research and educational value. And the research and public comment phase of this project has been ongoing for almost 10 years in a collaboration between a number of multidisciplinary groups. The magnitude of the previous work to date on establishing this RA along with the talented group assembled at this past workdshop really impressed me. Furthermore, the dedication and commitment of numerous individuals and agencies in developing management tools that consider multiple stakeholders such as recreational and commercial fishing interests, scuba divers and spear fishermen, and boaters, were equally impressive. If the general public had insight into how complicated decisions such as the one this group convened are to make, they would have more empathy for the folks making these decisions.

REEF's direct interest in establishing an RA within GRNMS is that we will likely be leading the fish monitoring component of the ongoing studies for the newly established RA. Of course, there will be many studies occurring within the RA involving benthic ecology, discarded gear assessments, and numerous studies quantifying the effects of a no-take, exclusionary zone within a sanctuary. The location,boundary, and definition of the RA still need to be decided as do the types and number of research projects that will take place inside the RA. More meetings and public discourse are scheduled before research gets going and REEF becomes involved. But I know that our REEF AAT will be excited at the prospect of doing more work at GRNMS in the future, so stay tuned. For more information on GRNMS, please visit http://graysreef.noaa.gov/. Incidentally, Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) have been found inside the sanctuary and Lad Akins, REEF's exotic species director, will be collaborating with GRNMS on future assessments. If you're wondering what fishes you might see in GRNMS, Belted sandfish, Black sea bass, and Slippery Dicks dominate the landscape, for a full report from previous projects there see our website http://www.reef.org/db/reports/geo/TWA/9302.

Please look for more information in future Enews editions on the progress of selecting the RA in the future and REEF's collaboration on monitoring fish at GRNMS.

 

How to Organize a Dive

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Photo by Kirby Johnson

This year we would like to get more volunteers into the water conducting fish surveys. The fun part of the GAFC is not just the talks, but afterward getting into the water to do the surveys. You can help by organizing a GAFC dive. It's easy to do:

  • Pick a date date and location during June or July to conduct a Fish ID Seminar

  • Pick a date in July for a GAFC Dive

  • Register your GAFC event with REEF 

Start thinking about when you want to schedule a seminar or dive in your area, then let us know what you have planned!  

Please let us know how REEF can support you with your GAFC activities. Teaching modules for your Fish ID seminars are available online at the REEF store.

Together, we can make the 17th Great Annual Fish Count a huge success.

REEF Travel Trips and Tips - August

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REEF Field Surveys are a great way to learn more about what is seen in the water.
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REEF members having fun looking up a mystery fish on a Field Survey in Hawaii.

The 5 P’s, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance and hindsight give you 20/20 vision, both play into REEF Trips. Keeping these mantras in mind, let’s talk about the 5 P’s first.

Have you checked out the latest 2009 REEF Trip Calendar updates? If not, now is the time, several trips are already ½ filled. Don’t wait - you might be having to take second or third choice because the trip you really wanted to go on is filled up - now that would be poor performance – although in this case 2nd choice might not be so bad but don’t wait, start planning and make that call.

One of the first REEF Field Surveys of the year is to St. Lucia

On one of those big birthdays I promised myself among other things to visit somewhere I had never been before every year for the rest of my life. Well in 2009 it is going to be St. Lucia for me – St. Lucia has been on my list for quite a awhile and now I am going to make the trip and explore my 2009 new place on the earth from under and over the sea.

I love the excitement of reading and learning and contemplating the things I might do and see once I get there. We will be staying at Anse Chastanet and diving with Scuba St. Lucia. Who knows we might even spot a Snakefsh or a Bluelip Parrotfish – but in order to see them you have to be there – so call our REEF Dedicated Travel Desk and let’s go explore and experience the REEF way -- 1-877-295-7333 (REEF).

Don’t forget while we are on this trip you can earn your Level 3, 4 or 5 Surveyor – making your surveys Expert Surveys that count even more!

This month’s Tip is to seriously consider Travel Protection when you book your trip. It could save your vacation investment if you happen to need it. When you call our REEF Travel Desk at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) ask for the details. Benefits include:

• Trip Cancellation• Trip Interruption• Travel Delay• Baggage/Personal Effects• Baggage Delay• Emergency Medical, Hospital & Dental Expenses• Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation• Assistance Service

In addition REEF gets a commission for every policy purchased by REEF members on REEF Trips. So not only do you protect your valuable vacation investment but you also help REEF out in the process. How cool is that? So remember when our very own REEF Travel Consultant asks if you want to purchase Travel Protection for your trip – the answer is yes, absolutely.

All divers should also consider an annual Diving Accident Insurance Plan, like DAN's program. This covers diving related incidents and accidents, costly chamber fees, lost diving equipment and even non diving accidents that might occur during a dive trip. Insurance is designed to protect the financial well-being of an individual or other entity in the case of unexpected loss but it doesn’t work after the fact, so as the old county adage goes hindsight is 20/20 – don’t be the one saying I wish I would have…………………….

Our trips are filling up so to make sure you get your first choice - check out our 2009 REEF Trip Schedule and call the REEF Dedicated Travel Desk at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail us at REEF@caradonna.com. Let’s go make some Dives that Count!

REEF Travel Tips and Tricks Spring 2009

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REEF's next Field Survey destination -- St. Croix, May 9-16 at the Carambola Beach Resort. Join us!
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The sad faced Cardinal Soldierfish is often found in sponges and caves. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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St. Lucia Field Survey participants.
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Now that's service!! Dive master Chad carries REEF member, Martha Barrow, off the dive boat to dry land.

Field Surveys -- these fun and educational dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". I am looking for folks to join me in St. Croix in May, details are below. I recently returned from leading a group of amazing REEF volunteers on the Field Survey week in St. Lucia. The diving was great and everyone managed to see a new species during the week. Most notable for me – on my fish wish list was the Cardinal Soldierfish.

I had looked through the book many times and always paused on this photo – thinking it looked like a cartoon character with those crazy looking eyes. In fact I thought the sad sack face was just the angle Paul had taken the picture, but when James Brook shined his light into a vase sponge there it was – looking just exactly like the photograph, crazy eyes and all. I laughed out loud. Then I proceeded to look in every sponge I found for the rest of the week and I managed to find another dozen. How cool is that?

The REEF Team comprised of James and Ann Brook, Kay Tidemann, Pam McDevitt, Martha Barrow, Norbert and April Hoeller, Michael and Ellen Berson, west coast east, coast sisters Helen and Sally Davies, Marion Sinclair, Julio Esparza, and me the irreverent fish leader. We stayed at Anse Chastanet Resort, which is perched on a hillside (as per Michael and Pam who counted the steps to their rooms it was between 137 and 178 steps from beach to room). The food was great and the REEF package included all the meals (good thing we had all those steps) with a choice of 5 restaurants. The rooms looked out on the World Heritage Site of Gros Piton and Petite Piton, with birds and flowers everywhere.

The diving was close and diverse. The dive staff of Dive St. Lucia, Ponti, Ubald, Garfield and Chad could not have taken better care of us. Chad carried Martha off the boat so she wouldn’t get sand in her shoes – what service! Most gratifying for all of us was having Ponti and Ubald become the world's newest REEF Members one morning before our dives. Kay, Martha, and Pam showed them how to submit their survey data on line. Sally and Kay generously gifted their Reef Fish ID books to the newly minted REEF Members. Both guides said that we had given them a new excitement for their job. Ponti, like me, is an SSI Platinum Pro 5000 diver, and that means he has over 5,000 dives – so imagine how excited we all were to be able to share our philosophy of fish with them and teach an old fish some new tricks!

James shared his unbelievable knowledge about what we were all seeing and gave a guest lecture on Damsels in Distress, Parrot(head) Fish and something about Smart Wrasse. Kay, our other Level 5 Expert, generously dove with some of the newly minted fish watchers and coached them through some of their first surveys. It was a very diverse group in Fish IQ, sense of humor and goals for the week – so we made quite the eclectic team. The dive staff accommodated our unique style of diving and we had 1 hour + bottom times, a variety of environments and even made some 2 and 3 site dives on 1 tank. At James’ suggestion we even did a dusk dive and watched the changing of the guard. As Helen Davies said – “It was magical” I couldn’t agree more.

So what is the travel tip and trick – well I need some people to go with me to St. Croix, May 9-16. I have been there before and the north shore is great diving and absolutely gorgeous. The resort is the Carambola Beach Resort which recently went through a major renovation. You would think you were somewhere in the South Pacific from the architecture, palm trees and beach.

The dive operator is Cane Bay Dive Shop and they are fun to dive with and are all a bunch of fish nerds – really! They also have a brand new 36 foot Newton which is the Cadillac of dive boats. Since I can’t actually go by myself - something about doing lectures alone hints at insanity and doing a survey alone is not nearly the same amount of fun as being with a group (and remember we always need to dive with a buddy). So I am looking for 10 buddies to come with me. St. Croix is a key destination in the lionfish epidemic. They have had several confirmed sightings and we really need to get as much survey data about these reefs as we can. Now is the time.

We will also be doing a lionfish presentation and working with the local dive operators and stakeholders to help educate and raise awareness for this terrible environmental scourge. The REEF members on the trip will be able to see firsthand some of the invasive species work that REEF does. And just in case we see a lionfish we will bag it and eat it.

So here is the travel tip – St. Croix – beautiful, exotic and interesting, needs REEF divers to provide fish population density and diversity stats. Only a short plane ride, great accommodations, great diving and you never know what might swim by. We are shooting for a St. Croix Hat Trick (aren’t you curious now?). Time is of the essence so call our dedicated Travel Desk today and get your space booked. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.

Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook!

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Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook.

We are excited to announce the launch of the *official* REEF Facebook page -- Become a Fan of REEF today. The REEF Facebook Page gives you the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and see exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. We're building a strong community to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. And we want you to join us!

To Become a Fan: Go to REEF's Facebook page, log in to your Facebook account, and click Become a fan at the top of the page. Or just click on the "Become a Fan" link in the box below. If you don't have a Facebook account, sign up for one.

Please help us spread the word about REEF. Click the Share button on the REEF Facebook page or the Cause to post them to your wall. To find the Share button, look on the bottom left side of the REEF Facebook page. Thank you for helping us build our online community and for supporting our mission to conserve marine ecosystems!

REEF staff and Board of Trustees would like to extend a big thank you to REEF member Park Chapman for all of his help in getting REEF's Facebook Page up and running. And thanks to our first 200+ fans who have already become a part of our online community.

Damselfish Revised

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A mystery damselfish posted to the REEF ID Central Discussion Board. What do you think it is? Photo by Carol Cox.
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Juvenile damselfish are a bit easier to ID. Do you know which one this is? Photo by Carol Cox.

Those pesky Caribbean damselfish! They have been confusing even the most experienced REEF surveyors for years! After consulting with the leading damselfish taxonomist experts, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach revised the descriptions and updated pictures for four species - Cocoa Damselfish (Stegastes variabilis), Beaugregory (Stegastes leucostictus), Longfin Damselfish (Stegastes diencaeus), and Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus). One of the most noticeable changes from what many of us learned - Cocoa Damselfish don't always have a spot at the base of the tale and Beaugregory often have a spot!

A recent discussion thread on the REEF ID Central Discussion Board highlights the confusion around damselfish. Take a look at the thread (http://www.reef.org/node/3853) and see what you think!

The revised pages, meant to replace pages 124-129 in the 3rd edition of Reef Fish Identification, are available for download as PDFs below, courtesy of New World Publications. The text and pictures were reviewed by Dr. Ross Robertson with the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute in Panama, who is considered the world's authority on Western Tropical Atlantic damselfishes, and Dr. Mark Steele at University of California, Santa Barbara, another damselfish taxonomist.

Long-time REEF Advanced Assessment Team member, Neil Ericsson, has also compiled the key features into a handy matrix. The matrix is available as a PDF here. All of these resources are also linked from the Damselfish Revised page on the REEF website -- www.REEF.org/damselfish.

 

Revised Damselfish Descriptions and Pictures (PDFs)

Cocoa Damselfish (Stegastes variabilis)

Beaugregory (Stegastes leucostictus)

Longfin Damselfish (Stegastes diencaeus)

Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus)

 

Tropical Pacific Critter ID Book, Pre-Release Special Edition 10 Day Auction on eBay

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After years of work, the Tropical Pacific edition of Reef Creature Identification by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach is being released later this fall. A limited number of pre-release, signed and numbered copies will be available beginning Monday September 13. The authors have donated to REEF the first five pre-release copies of this spectacular book. REEF will be auctioning copies #1-#5 through eBay. The copies will be numbered, signed, and personalized to the winner's specifications. All proceeds from this auction will go directly to REEF, and will support our critical marine conservation programs. The auction goes live Sunday September 12 at 9pm EST. Once live, you can find the auction pages for all five copies here. The auction will last 10 days.

The long-awaited, 500-page reference detailing 1,600 animals with 2,000 photographs and descriptive text is not only the most comprehensive visual field guide to marine invertebrate life inhabiting the waters from Thailand to Tahiti, but also a pictorial tour de force skillfully bridging science and the aesthetic. For the past five years the two authors/photographers have delved deep into uncharted waters, not only visually documenting numerous species for the first time, but also incorporating the most recent taxonomic research of more than 40 scientific specialists. The text focuses on mobile species, highlighting crustaceans, mollusks, worms and echinoderms, however the pages include an overview of attached marine animals, and also explore facets of marine invertebrate behavior. The guide provides a boon of information for diving photographers and underwater naturalists, known as critter hunters, who enjoy one of the most challenging games in the sea – searching for charismatic mini-fauna of the reef. And for the armchair adventurers, the brilliant gallery of images brings an unseen, unimagined world to the surface like never before.

Visit the book webpage to find out more about Reef Creature Identification - Tropical Pacific and to see sample spreads from the book.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub