The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carol Cox

Sawblade Arrow Shrimp. Carol was the first to capture this creature on film! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Carol Cox. Carol joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 159 surveys. Carol is a member of the Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has been an active volunteer and instructor in REEF's Fishinar series. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

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

After retiring from the Air Force, and returning to our home in Mexico Beach, Florida (20 miles east of Panama City), I became active as a volunteer research diver for the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA). To receive State grants for our program, we are required to monitor the condition of artificial reefs we deploy. MBARA decided to incorporate fish surveys with the monitoring program, and I found REEF when researching ways to do fish surveys. REEF serves as our model, but we tailor our survey forms for the local area because our fish population is very different than the fishes found further south.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

When I saw how REEF data are used by naturalists and scientists, I wanted to add fish count data from where I live, especially because there were only a few surveys for my community. I really saw the need after the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our community was lucky, barely escaping the oil slick when a storm blew the approaching oil slick back in the direction it came from. Although we suffered few effects, I realized we needed to catalogue what we had, otherwise, how would we know how our biodiversity was adapting to environmental changes? Since I started volunteering with REEF, I have had opportunity to interact with scientists and fish enthusiasts from around the world. The education REEF provides is phenomenal. I began my self-education by doing the fish quizzes. Then I attended many of the online Fishinars and they are all very educational and FUN! I also learn a lot from other fish watchers using the online fish identification forum.

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

The data that are being captured by REEF fish surveys will be invaluable to scientists of the future. As the environment changes, the REEF database will be looked at more and more. We need to record what we have now if we are to know what is affected by global warming, red tide, or the next big oil spill. Who knows, the REEF database may eventually provide the knowledge on how to control the lionfish invasion.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

Most of my diving is where I live, in Mexico Beach, Florida. MBARA has deployed over 150 artificial reefs, everything from reef balls to a large shrimp boat, which is my favorite dive. We see everything from giant Goliath Groupers, to small arrow shrimp (a species that had never been photographed until I discovered them during a survey). Because the survey programs for MBARA and REEF are similar, I encouraged MBARA to become a local Field Station. We are always looking for divers interested in doing surveys on our artificial reefs and can now provide training. I use training gained from REEF, along with my local experience, to teach regional fish identification and throw in some local knowledge for enthusiasts that primarily dive in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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

We were 20 miles offshore of Mexico Beach, when our boat was surrounded by small Mahi Mahi. I had a few shots left on my camera, so I slipped into the water to use up my film (am I dating myself?). Suddenly, a Mahi sped towards me, followed by a large, dark shadow in pursuit. In a matter of seconds, I could see fins, tails, and bubbles, as a large sailfish did a 360-degree turn right in front of me as it tried to capture the Mahi. In an effort to escape, the Mahi swam over my shoulder smacking me in the side of the head. The bill of the sailfish missed by chest by inches as it veered away. Having lost its prey, it swam around me three times before disappearing into the depths. The entire event lasted less than a minute, but the memory of it will last me a lifetime, especially because I got the photos.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? What is your most memorable fish find? What fish are you still waiting to find?

I love blennies! They are such a great photo subject—colorful and expressive. With a little patience, most will gladly pose for the camera exhibiting as many poses as a Vogue covergirl. Of course I am a big, big fan of Anna DeLoach’s Blennywatcher blog. My favorite find wasn’t a fish, but a sawblade arrow shrimp, Tozeuma serratum. I have REEF to thank for putting me in touch with Les Wilk who requested critter photos for the upcoming Reef Creature DVD to be published by ReefNet. I didn’t know what a rare find I had until I sent a photo of the unidentified shrimp to Les for the DVD. He sent the photo off to a marine biologist, who identified the shrimp after I collected one. It turns out this shrimp had never been photographed in its natural environment and scientists believed it only lived in deeper waters. The marine biologist was so excited she flew from Texas to our home so we could take out and show her some of “our” shrimp. The fish I would love to check off my life list is the whale shark. With all the diving we do in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure it is only a matter of time, but I am still waiting!

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

Doing surveys for both MBARA and REEF, I’ve learned it can be fun to get away from the big sites and spend time on something small that isn’t frequented by divers. I’ve spent 45 minutes looking at two 3-foot reefballs. If I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really look, I would never have seen the small juvenile jackknife-fish, or a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Eileen Byrne

Sea Turtles - one of Eileen's favorite non-fish sightings! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

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

I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.

When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.

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

Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.

What is your favorite non-fish sighting?

Turtles!!!

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

Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.

REEF is Hiring

REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.

REEF 2013 Annual Report Released

REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects including Invasive Lionfish Research and the Grouper Moon Project, data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2013 such a success! Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about any of the information presented in our Annual Report.

Hamlet Fishinar Added - More To Come

Learn all about the interesting lives of Hamlets on March 3rd! Photo of spawning Butter Hamlets by Ned DeLoach.

Our 2015 Fishinar series is off to a great start. Be sure to join us for these free, educational webinars. The hour-long sessions let you learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we are always adding new ones. The first part of the year includes...

  • Lesser Seen Fishes of the Cayman Islands - Jonathan Lavan, February 11th
  • Cool Hawaii Finds - 15 Not-So-Common Fishes - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, February 18th
  • Hamlets! - Carlos and Allison Estape, March 3rd
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Upcoming Fishinars - YOY Rockfish, Pesky Damselfish, and more!

Hey you! Want to learn tips and tricks for identifying the pesky Caribbean damsels. Sign up for the free Fishinar, September 1. Photo by Carol Cox.

Whether you've attended one of our famous Fishinars (REEF's version of an online webinar) before or not, you're sure to enjoy one of our upcoming free classes! From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device (using the Citrix GoToWebinar app), you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information.

  • Yo Yo YOYs! Pacific Northwest Young of Year Rockfish ID
  • Those Darn Damsels - REBOOT!
  • Invertebrates and Algae of REEF's California Survey Project
  • The Nightstalkers! Eels of the Caribbean
  • Islands in the Stream: Fish of the California Channel Islands
  • The Ones You Should Know - Top 25 Fishes of the Caribbean

Putting It To Work: A New Non-native Fish in the Gulf of Mexico

The Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native species in the Gulf of Mexico. This picture was taken in its native range of the Indo-Pacific. The invasive individuals are more drab. Photo by Paul Humann.

Last year we shared an article about a new non-native fish, the Regal Demoiselle (Neopomacentrus cyanamos), showing up in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. REEF surveyors in the Yucatan region of Mexico have since reported the species. And now a new publication co-authored by REEF staff Lad Akins documents that the species could become established and spread in the western Atlantic. The study incorporated a computer model to evaluate the the non-native species’ potential to impact native populations. On the basis of this work, it is foreseeable that the reefs presently harboring Regal Damselfish will likely see increased abundance of this damsel. Immediate attempts to eliminate the fish, therefore, should be focused in nearshore shallow waters spanning Veracruz to Frontera, Mexico. To find out more about this study, published last month in the journal Marine Biology, and to see a complete list of the 50+ scientific publications that have featured REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The species is native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. Similar in appearance to the native Brown Chromis, the Regal Damsel is distinguished by a yellow or white spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin, a dark spot behind the gill, and yellow rear margins of the fins and tail. In contrast, the native Brown Chromis is identified by dark margins on the tail and a dark spot at the base of the pectoral fin.

If you see this fish while doing a REEF survey, be sure to report it on your form in the unlisted fish section. Please also report detailed information on the sighting to REEF through the invasive species reporting page.

Double Your Donation and Support REEF Discoveries

Alfian's Flasherwrasse, discovered by REEF's own Anna DeLoach in Indonesia. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

On World Oceans Day, REEF kicked off our annual summer matching campaign. Every donation that comes in through August 8, up to $40,000, will be matched dollar for dollar! We are highlighting all the exciting new discoveries REEF staff and members are making through our core programs. With your help this summer, REEF can continue to study the vast underwater world that remains largely unexplored and encompasses more than 70% of our blue planet.

To make a contribution, please visit www.REEF.org/donate.

If you are a regular reader of Making It Count, you may have already heard of these exciting discoveries. They are significant steps forward in marine conservation efforts, and it is only possible through donor support, citizen science, and the help of our members, that we uncovered:

  • Previously undescribed species, including a Coralblenny from the Philippines, Eyre’s Dwarfgoby, from Fiji, and Alfian’s Flasherwrasse from Indonesia 
  • Nassau Grouper can travel up to 275 km during their reproductive season (with this finding, the Cayman Government recommended seasonal protections rather than fishing closures only at reproductive locations) 
  • Ongoing lionfish removals can suppress the invasion to a low enough level to allow for the protection and recovery of native fish populations on Caribbean reefs

From all of us at REEF, we sincerely thank all our donors who make this work possible! Please have a safe and fun-filled 4th of July!

Last Chance to Donate in 2016

Donors giving $250 or more will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered Paul Humann print featuring two Mandarinfish.

Thank you to all our members who have donated during our winter fundraising campaign! If you haven’t yet made a donation, we still need your help. Tomorrow is the last day to make a 2016 tax deductible donation. Please take a moment to contribute online at www.REEF.org/donate, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030. Donors giving $250 or more will receive a limited edition, signed and numbered Paul Humann print featuring two Mandarinfish.

Over the last month, we have highlighted how REEF continues to inspire people around the world to cherish and protect our marine resources. From providing hands-on learning experiences for future generations to protecting important species like Nassau Grouper and fighting invasive species like lionfish, REEF remains dedicated to marine conservation. It has never been more important to ensure that we protect our oceans by promoting citizen science and environmental education.

From all of us at REEF, thank you for your support in 2016! We wish you a very happy new year, and hope you continue to join us on our adventures in 2017.

2018 REEF Trips Schedule Coming Soon!

Much fun was had on REEF's first ever Field Survey trip to the Solomon Islands last month.

We have been working hard the last few months on our 2018 REEF Field Survey Trips schedule, and it's almost ready! We have a great line-up of destinations in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Eastern Pacific, Tropical Western Pacific, and even the Indian Ocean. In addition to our usual fish ID trips and lionfish research trips, we are adding a new eco-adventure trip next year perfect for the entire family. Keep an eye on your inbox for our special announcement next week. If you haven't yet been on a REEF Trip, these are a great way to "Take a Dive Vacation That Counts". Each trip is led by an expert and the itinerary features daily diving, learning, and fun. Check out www.REEF.org/trips for more details.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub