The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Paul and Marta Bonatz

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 Paul and Marta Bonatz. Marta joined REEF in 1998 and she drew Paul in 2005. They have become active surveyors, and each has conducted 240 surveys. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Our favorite part of being REEF members is working with a network of other “citizen scientists” to make a difference. Interacting with like-minded divers in an organization that is focused on saving the marine environment is fulfilling. It’s also gratifying to see the change in newly recruited “fish geeks” as they learn more about the underwater world.

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

We’ve been on two REEF field survey trips and plan to do more! The first, which hooked us on fish watching, was to Culebra, Puerto Rico. The highlight was the abundant staghorn coral. Unfortunately, it was totally devoid of adult fish. Our second trip was a lionfish control study in Belize. Spending a week focused on spotting and capturing 506 lionfish in the Belize Atolls with Peter Hughes and Lad Akins was exhilarating. We learned about the hazard this invasive species poses to the indigenous Caribbean fish population, and we now work to educate others about this urgent problem.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

Avid divers are frequently asked to name their favorite vacation destination. When we are asked this question our honest response is “Wherever we are currently diving”. REEF surveying teaches you to appreciate interesting finds on every dive. We sometimes spend an entire dive in a few square yards watching small critters in their habitat. Although every location is unique, the place we visit most frequently is Little Cayman. The sheerness of Bloody Bay wall, the healthy marine environment, and the stunning Nassau Grouper make for an incomparable mixture.

What is the most fascinating marine encounter you’ve experienced?

We have to include two favorite underwater encounters – we couldn’t agree on just one! The first was on a Manta Ray research trip to the Maldives. At a break in the action while monitoring Mantas on 5 x 1 hour shifts at North Male Atoll, we discovered an octopus positioned on a rock quietly observing us from the distance of a few feet. He welcomed us back every shift! The second was an encounter with a dolphin named “Spot" on Cayman Brac. Spot arrived on Cayman Brac after Hurricane Mitch, and he swam and played with divers on many of the Brac dive sites. Spot disappeared one day and everyone feared the worst. Two years later while diving in Cayman Brac we noticed a pod of dolphins near the boat. Spot edged up to the boat to show off his new family. He wouldn’t let us interact with him anymore, but he wanted everyone to know he was healthy and happy in his new life. It was an electric moment.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Hornby Island Diving

Tiger Rockfish, a great find for a PacNW surveyor. Photo by Janna Nichols.

REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

This month we feature Hornby Island Diving in British Columbia, a REEF Field Station since 2010. Owners Rob and Amanda Zielinski have always been conservation-minded and involved in local projects, so when they heard about REEF several years ago through their repeat customers (who were REEF surveyors) and through discussions with REEF staff, it was an easy choice to become a REEF Field Station. Although divers have been flocking to this area for years, not many surveys had been conducted in the area, so they felt this would be a good way to get the word out about REEF and to encourage divers in that direction. Being a dive charter and lodge, they have the facilities and space for classes. They just hosted twelve enthusiastic surveyors for 5 days for a REEF Field Survey complete with nightly seminars in their meeting area. Amanda is very knowledgeable about marine life and has conducted REEF surveys herself, so she is a good one to ask any questions you might have if you’re just getting started. The area boasts some big attractions for REEF surveyors, including frequent sightings of Tiger Rockfish and Yelloweye Rockfish, both adult and juvenile.

Amanda has some great ideas up her sleeve for getting divers involved in conducting surveys while at Hornby Island Diving, whether for just a weekend or for a week. She says, “If everyone who is a REEF surveyor comes and does one survey, and everyone who’s not, joins REEF and gets started, think of the possibilities.” She’s also been collaborating with another REEF Field Station in the area (The Edge Diving Centre in North Vancouver, BC) to provide more in-depth fish and invertebrate ID training.

Putting It to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, April 2013

REEF data on lingcod are being used to evaluate population trends in Washington State. Photo by Chad King/NOAA.

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 scientists from the Nature Conservancy in Washington is using REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity in the Salish Sea and along the Oregon Coast as part of TNC's ecoregional analysis.

- A student at UNC Chapel Hill is using REEF data from the Galapagos Islands for use in a multimedia class project on data visualization.

- The Underwater Council of British Columbia requested REEF survey activity to be used in the BC Marine Conservation Analysis database being developed as part of the Marine Planning Partnership.

- A scientist from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is using data on Goliath Grouper populations in South Florida in the KeysMAP Marine Climate Change Adaptation Planning Project.

- Scientists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife used data on lingcod, giant Pacific octopus, and other species to evaluate distribution and trends.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Manta and Mobula Rays Published Using REEF Data

A Manta Ray swimming at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Jackie Reid/NOAA.

We are excited to share a new scientific paper published last month in the journal PLoS ONE that included REEF data - Global Population Trends and Human Use Patterns of Manta and Mobula Rays, by Christine Ward-Paige, Brendal Davis, and Boris Worm. Despite being the world’s largest rays and providing significant revenue through dive tourism, little is known about the population status, exploitation, and trade volume of mobulids (Manta and Mobula species). There is anecdotal evidence, however, that mobulid populations are declining, largely due to the recent emergence of a widespread trade for their gill rakers. Researchers from Dalhousie University and used expert divers’ observations from two citizen science programs, REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and, to describe global manta and devil ray abundance trends and human use patterns. The study highlights the relative rarity of aggregation sites on a global scale and reveals that many populations appear to be declining. The authors warn that newly emerging fisheries for the rays gill-­‐rakers likely exceed their ability to recover. The study also demonstrates the deficiency of official catch reports, as only four countries have ever reported landing manta or devil rays– Indonesia, Liberia, Spain, and Ecuador. However, numerous diver reports compiled in the paper illustrate that many other countries are regularly landing and selling these rays without reporting.

The paper can be viewed online here. A complete listing of all papers that have featured REEF data can be found online here.

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Ten Reasons to Join REEF’s Field Survey to Grenada this May

Many cryptic species, including Frogfish, can be found in Grenada. Photo courtesy of Aquanauts Grenada.
An aerial view of True Blue Bay Resort.
One of Aquanauts' spacious dive boats.
The Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park is a unique attraction.

Known as the dive capital of the Eastern Caribbean, Grenada is located on the border between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Grenada’s diving includes famous shipwrecks, colorful reefs, and mind-blowing macro marine life. The island is also home to an underwater sculpture park and has plenty of land-based activities to enjoy during surface intervals, including hiking, visiting beautiful Grand Anse Beach, river tubing, and touring historic sites. Trip participants will collect data on marine fish species while diving, and enjoy fish ID classes each evening. 

Space is filling up quickly and the last chance to register for this trip is Feb. 10, so if you are interested, don’t wait to book! Trip details are available here.

Here are ten reasons to join REEF in Grenada this year:

10. Perfect time of year: While the dive season is year round, May is a great month to visit the island. It’s the end of the dry season, which means great visibility for diving – the average is 50-100 feet. Weather-wise, air temperatures in May are in the mid-80’s and there is always a nice breeze from the ocean.

9. Be a citizen scientist: REEF’s database currently has less than 500 surveys from Grenada. This is a great opportunity to collect data from a less-frequently surveyed location, while adding to your life list of fish sightings and surveys.

8. Expand your fish ID knowledge: Surveyors of all levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced, and daily classes will focus on different fish families and fun sightings from the day’s dives. 

7. Make a difference: When you travel with REEF, you make a difference in the health of our oceans by supporting marine research, education and conservation. REEF is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. The IRS may consider expenses associated with your work as a REEF Field Survey volunteer tax deductible. For details, visit and consult your tax advisor.

6. Diving perks: Aquanauts Grenada is known for offering great service, valet diving, and having comfortable, spacious boats. Most dive sites are less than 30 minutes away via boat ride. For those who are Nitrox certified, free Nitrox is included with this trip, and the dive shop is located onsite at True Blue Bay Resort. 

5. Relaxing accommodations: True Blue Bay Boutique Resort is a family-owned and operated hotel overlooking the water. All rooms have a view of the bay, and there are many onsite amenities and activities including a spa, yoga studio, boutique, restaurant, rum tastings, free Hobie cats and kayaks, and several pools.  

4. Easy to get there: There are daily direct flights to Maurice Bishop International Airport (GND) from several major US cities. Once you’re there, getting around the island is easy via bus or taxi.  

3. Plenty to do on surface intervals: When you’re not diving, Grenada, known as the Spice Island, has many topside activities and beautiful scenery including hiking trails through rainforests, ending in fantastic waterfalls. Visit Georgetown’s spice market to sample nutmeg, clover, cinnamon, ginger, and cocoa, or tour the Grenada National Museum or Fort Matthew to learn more about the history of the island. 

2. Unique dive sites: Awe-inspiring wrecks, colorful reefs, and exciting drifts make Grenada a great place for divers of all levels. The island’s reefs, walls, and underwater sculpture parks are prolific marine ecosystems. One drift diving site, located where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, offers plenty of chances to see large schools of fish and lesser-seen migratory species.

1. Great spot for marine life: Surveyors will love the abundant marine life here. The dive site “Purple Rain” is named for the schooling Creole Wrasse that descend like purple raindrops over the reef. Blennies, frogfish, and seahorses can be found in shallows, and acording to locals, Grenada’s reefs and walls also provide a good opportunity to see the elusive Black Brotula – a fish on every surveyor’s bucket list!

If you’re interested in joining this trip or have questions, contact for more information or to sign up today!

Membership Madness a Success

REEF’s first Month of Membership Madness was a huge success! In April, lucky Michelle Rogers joined as our 60,000th member, and we far exceeded our goal, with 603 new members signing up. If you are a new member, WELCOME to REEF! The winner of the wetsuit giveaway will be announced April 15 on our Facebook page. If you haven’t yet seen the video that our brilliant intern Jack Fishman produced about joining REEF, we highly recommend it (visit! From being a part of the largest marine citizen science project in the world to making new fishy friends, REEF’s community of members will guarantee you a fishy adventure. Also, included in this month’s activities was an infographic about our incredible REEF members. This graphic illustrates an amazing diversity of support that really highlights how REEF truly depends on our members and volunteers to expand our knowledge of our underwater world. Thank you for everything!

REEF Surveyor Find Rare Jawfish in Veracruz Mexico

The rare Swordtail Jawfish. Photo by Itziar Aretxaga.
The rare Swordtail Jawfish. Photo by Itziar Aretxaga.

Itziar Aretxaga, a long-time REEF surveyor who lives in Veracruz Mexico recently sent in this rare fish sighting report about finding a Swordtail Jawfish. What a great sighting! Here's Itziar's story:

"Earlier this year, I was taking part on an underwater photography competition in Veracruz, Mexico. Every year the diving operators and other supporting organizations launch it as a way to draw awareness upon the diversity and richness of the protected National Park of Veracruz. I had no hope of winning anything as I am a novice photographer with a very basic camera and no illumination, but I wanted to support their efforts. Each of us had a 90-minute time limit to take up to 100 photos.

I saw this jawfish on the sandy area immediately below the buoy in Cabomex, Anegada de Adentro, at about 14m depth. I knew it was not any of the jawfishes I had reported before: face markings, behavior, and burrow type gave it away as a different species. I was set on identifying it more than on making any impression on the competition jury, so I spent my allotted 90 minutes by the jawfish, as motionless as possible, and trying to make it get used to the camera just 15cm away from its burrow. The series of photographs allowed me to identify it as a Swordtail Jawfish (Lonchopisthus micrognathus) based on the body bars and the pointy protruding tail, as described in the sketches of the ReefNet Fish Identification DVD. In looking at the REEF database later, I realized it is extremely uncommon to see this species. So all in all, I felt I had won a big prize in that competition!"

Thanks for sharing, Itziar. If you have a rare sighting or fun find to share, please drop us a note.

Get Ready For the Great Annual Fish Count 2016

During the entire month of July we encourage you to try your hand at conducting your first survey if you're new to our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, or to do a few more if it's been a while.

The GAFC began in 1992 when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists conducted a visual fish count in California's Channel Islands National Park. The effort was modeled after the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and has now grown into an international event.

The ideas behind the GAFC are to:

  • introduce divers and snorkelers to fishwatching and citizen science
  • connect local fishwatchers with each other
  • encourage participation in REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project, and
  • help gather data on fish populations around the world

We've revamped the GAFC website, and it's got everything you need to be able to join in the fish counting fun as a participant or to organize your own local event. It can be as simple as hosting a survey dive (throw in a BBQ), or an ID class or presentation about your local fish.

We especially encourage shops, dive clubs, marine science centers and others to organize a GAFC event.

Be sure to visit to get the scoop.

See you in the water!

Digging for Data: a Fishinar on how to use the REEF Website reports

And now for something completely different - Ever wonder how you could use REEF's amazing, online, publicly accessible database to answer some common questions you might have?

Join REEF staff Ellie Splain and Janna Nichols for a free Fishinar that will answer those questions (we're mind readers and know what you'll ask) and give you tips and tricks along the way. -- Wednesday November 2nd, 8pm Eastern time. Register online at

And don't miss our other upcoming Fishinars:

  • November 14th - Hawaii - Life in the Sand with Christy Semmens
  • December 15th - Don't Forget the Chubs and Porgies with Carlos and Allison Estapé
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