The Faces of REEF: Mary Korte

Mary surveying in Kauai.
Mary and Don snorkeling and surveying!
Mary getting ready.
A rare dry moment for Mary.
Butterflyfish, often found in pairs, like Mary and Don! Photo by Carol Cox.
It's always great to have a buddy to point stuff out to.

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 Mary Korte. Mary, and her husband Don, have been REEF members since 2001. Both are active surveyors, and Mary is a Level 3 surveyor in the TWA who has completed 284 surveys (all on snorkel!). Here’s what Mary had to say about REEF:

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Everything! I especially love the Fishinars because they are a great way to improve my fish identification skills, and they boost my confidence in my ability to record species accurately. Fishinars also inspire me to read about the species and learn more about the fish behaviors I observe. I’d love to dive, but I can’t SCUBA dive due to my cardiac history. However, even as a snorkeler, I can contribute to the REEF database. I used to feel bad that I couldn’t dive, but REEF staff members have been wonderful and have told me that reporting data from the top 10-15 feet is important—I’m thankful for their encouragement. I also love that the REEF staff will help me identify “mystery fish” in photos I take while surveying.

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

My husband and I went on the first lionfish survey REEF organized in Curacao. Curacao is a special place for us because we’ve spent our wedding anniversary there every year for almost 15 years. It’s a wonderful island, and the fish life is amazing. It meant a lot to be able to help gather data on the lionfish invasion and hopefully make a difference in the future of the reef fish populations. Without a doubt, eating those pesky fish was the highlight. As our t-shirts say, “Wanted Dead and Grilled: Lionfish, Pirate of the Caribbean.” They make very tasty ceviche, too! We also loved the wonderful sunset sail the last night.

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

You’ve probably known birdwatchers who keep a life list of bird species they’ve seen. They may collect data, e.g. by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. REEF volunteers are “fishwatchers” who keep a life list of fish and collect data on fish abundance and biodiversity for a global database used by marine biologists to monitor the health of coral reefs worldwide. Over 60 scientific papers have been written using REEF data which is really amazing.

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

I think the most important aspect is that REEF’s professional staff and volunteer “citizen scientists” are enhancing our understanding of coral reef ecosystems and fish populations. REEF’s database is an invaluable resource for marine scientists, and it is a privilege to help gather information that is useful for their work. I believe humans have a unique responsibility to care for the environment and our fellow creatures. Hopefully we can collectively make a difference in preserving these special living organisms and places for future generations.

What is your favorite fish?

My favorite fish are the butterflyfish because we almost always find them swimming in pairs. My husband and I have been married 46 years and we always snorkel together so the butterflyfish remind me of all the wonderful years we’ve had together. Surveying for REEF is one of the things we most enjoy doing as a couple because we are both biology teachers and love the ocean.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

We’ve lived in Wisconsin for the last 20 years, but I really love being near the sea. I’ve completed most of my surveys in the tropical Western Atlantic although I’ve also surveyed in Hawaii and the Galapagos. This summer I’ll be in French Polynesia for a week, and I’m looking forward to adding new fish to my life list. We were there almost 30 years ago, and that is where my husband and I fell in love with snorkeling although we didn’t know about REEF back then. It’s really hard to pick one favorite place, but I especially like the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Curacao because of the species diversity and beautiful water. Curacao probably tops my list because there are so many great places that are easily accessible from shore, and Playa Lagun is probably my favorite place to spend an afternoon there because I almost always see eels and interesting fish.

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

Slow down and take time to enjoy really watching the fish—don’t be in a hurry to move on to a new spot too quickly. Linger in one place and try to figure out what the fish are doing. It’s not just about identifying and counting fish—it’s also about relaxing and savoring the privilege to be in this environment. If you slow down, you’ll use more of your senses, notice more details, and begin to feel that you are a part of the ecosystem even if only briefly as a guest. Absorb the tranquility and drift with the fish—breathe slowly, feel the water, and go with the flow. Always, always carry a camera because you never know what you’ll find.

The Blue Ocean Institute's Sea Stories

The ocean is a muse to many artists. REEF members have also felt that tug of creativity and sent us amazing pictures as well as commentaries from their travels. Being a part of REEF means sharing the underwater world that we all love which is why we'll be sharing with you the interesting pictures and experiences our members send us. We'd like to do this monthly, but need you to participate so email us your fun or interesting Fish Tales so we can publish them in the next REEF-in-Brief! Who knows . . . we may even choose your unique picture/story for placement in our annual news letter soon to be printed for 2008.   Please email them to intern@reef.org  titled ENews. 

We also would like to share with our members a place to publish and read YOUR stories about ocean issues.

"Sea Stories, an online journal of creative writing and art about the world's oceans sponsored by Blue Ocean Institute, features contributions by ocean-lovers from all backgrounds and walks of life - writers, artists, educators, students, scientists, fishers, conservationists, explorers, and just regular people. Educators are invited to use Sea Stories in the classroom or as a publishing opportunity for yourself or your students. Join us in celebrating all things oceanic!"

Visit www.seastories.org!

If you have a fun or interesting Fish Tales you would like to share with REEF and its 30,000 members, please email them to intern@reef.org titled ENews. We'd love to publish your experiences in the next REEF-in-Brief!

Why Become a Registered REEF.org User?

One of the most exciting features of the new REEF.org Website is the ability to login to the site and gain access to a variety of useful features, including your personal data summary report and survey log, your membership profile, ability to edit your contact information, tracking orders made through the online REEF store, and posting privileges to the discussion forums. To become a registered REEF.org user, go to the Register link on the left hand menu. You will need your REEF member number, last name and email address. You will be asked to create a user name and will then be sent an email with instructions on completing the registration process. If you forgot your member number, check out our REEF.org Web Tip in this e-news issue to find out how to look up your member number. Once you are logged in to the REEF Website, your personalized content will be accessible through a menu on the left hand side.

An important tip – the email and last name that you provide must match what is currently in your REEF membership profile. The email where you receive REEF-in-Brief is the email that is on file. If you encounter an error, please drop us an email with your current contact information.

2 rooms left for REEF lionfish project with Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas - May 11-17,2008

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As part of REEF;s ongoing research partnership studying
lionfish in the tropical Atlantic, we have 2 rooms left (up to 4 people) for
our May 11-17 project in Nassau.

Join REEF’s Lad Akins, marine life authors, filmmakers
and naturalists Ned and Anna DeLoach, Chris Flook - Collector of Specimens for the Bermuda Zoo and Aquarium, Andy
Dehart – General Manager of the National Aquarium in Washington DC, and other REEF volunteers for a week of
lionfish research, collection, tagging, surveying and observation. The project cost is $999.92 pp dbl occ. and
includes accommodations at the Wyndham Cable Beach resort, daily two tank
dives, tanks & wts, and lively presentations and interactions with
knowledgeable reef experts. To reserve
space now, call Pam Christman at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas at (800) 879-9832
or for more project information call Lad Akins at (305) 942-7333. Hope to see you there!

REEF Travel Trips and Tips

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Participants on a Field Survey at the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman.
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Taking a break in between dives on the Kona Hawaii Field Survey.
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Having fun during a Field Survey in Belize.

As Audrey reported in the previous article, REEF Field Surveys are more than just your average dive vacation. Not only are you joined by like-minded divers and led by dynamic experts in marine life, but the trips often include opportunities to learn more about a local culture and even participate in conservation activities or research. We already have several great destinations lined up for 2009 and are finalizing several more trips for the calendar. These trips run the gambit from traditional Field Surveys with fish ID seminars straight through to scientific research projects and they are all located at some of the best dive destinations with some of the best resorts and dive operators. Visit the REEF Trips Schedule page for details. In addition, here is a sneak peak at two special projects that REEF staff and Board members will be offering in 2009.

First is a Lionfish Trip to the Turks and Caicos next Spring with REEF Director of Special Projects Lad Akins. A lot has been happening with this pivotal environmental situation, and REEF has been at the forefront, gathering data, coordinating research and educating the public on the issues. We hope all of you saw the NBC Nightly News segment featuring the important work that is being done by REEF on the invasion of Indo-Pacific Lionfish in Atlantic waters. The REEF Lionfish Trip will have participants working as part of a team, to search for, collect and tag lionfish specimens, document abundance of native reef fish at lionfish sites, help collect samples of lionfish for dissection to determine prey and reproduction, and learn about invasive species issues. This is cutting edge research and your help is needed to aid in gathering information to learn more about the problem and to work towards finding a solution.

Next, how about a Shark Diving Week with our very own REEF Board of Trustees Member, Director of Biological Programs for the National Aquarium and now the Discovery Channel Shark Week Consultant, Andy Dehart? Andy is becoming quite well known for his expertise and passion for sharks and our REEF Shark Week will certainly be a trip that fills quickly. Destination and program details coming soon so stay tuned.

So, the REEF Travel Tip for this month is - start planing now! The 2009 REEF Trips will fill up quickly and once they are filled that ship has sailed. By booking early and planning ahead you will be able to participate in exactly which REEF Trip you want for 2009 and take a Dive Vacation that Counts! REEF’s partnership with Caradonna allows you the ability to book your airfare at the same time you book your trip for (as we like to call it) one-stoplight-parrotfish shopping.

Please check out the REEF Trips section of our website for details. And keep checking back as we will have the rest of the trips up in the next couple of weeks with more details on all of our 2009 REEF Trips being posted.

Call 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com for trip availability and information – some trips are already starting to fill up. Don’t let the 2009 REEF Trip Ship sail without you!!!

REEF Travel Trips and Tips - DiveAssure Announces New Program to Support REEF

<<This article was originally published in January 2009. This promotion has ended. Please contact REEF HQ at trips@REEF.org to find out about current promotions with DiveAssure.>>

DiveAssure, a leader in the field of diving and dive-travel insurance, has committed to support REEF to advance our projects and activities that benefit marine environments. DiveAssure is offering REEF members a significant discount on two levels of coverage - 50% off the regular price for the Platinum program and 35% off the Diamond program. DiveAssure offers membership benefits including the best insurance programs that are tailored to meet the needs and demands of divers. Only DiveAssure offers primary coverage with the lowest deductibles and the highest limits. In addition, DiveAssure offers the only comprehensive dive and travel program available on the market. The Diamond program provides divers with multi-trip or single-trip annual coverage and is available in varying levels of trip cancellation/interruption limits, to ensure that your trip will always be covered, according to your needs.

DiveAssure cares about its members and the future of diving. That is why DiveAssure donates a percentage of its profits to the maintenance and improvement of local diving environments, dive medicine and dive research organizations as well as projects aimed at improving the safety and well-being of the diving environment.

To take advantage of the significant savings that DiveAssure is offering to REEF members, visit the DiveAssure webpage to determine which preferred level of coverage best suits your needs (discounts eligible on Platinum and Diamond programs only). Then contact DiveAssure toll free at 866-898-0921 Ext 1, 9 - 5 PM EST. Be sure to mention that you are a REEF member; you will be asked to provide your REEF member number for verification in order to receive the discounted pricing. If you can't remember your REEF member number, you can look it up here.

REEF greatly appreciates DiveAssure's support of our programs and their recognition of the importance of protecting our oceans!

REEF News Tidbits

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  • New REEF Water Bottles and other Gear at the REEF Store! It's your one stop shop for all of your REEF Gear, ID Books and REEF Survey Supplies. Just added in the REEF Gear section -- water bottles and REEF Fish Surveyor t-shirts. We also just added new Identification Training Modules for Pacific Northwest Fish and Invertebrates.
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  • Sensational Seas Two Coming Soon! Check out the trailer for the awesome new Sensational Seas Two video available for sale in April. Proceeds benefit REEF and other marine non-profits.
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  • Dive Shows! 2010 Come see REEF at a dive show near you. In 2010, REEF plans to be at four major consumer shows -- Our World Underwater (just passed, in Chicago), Beneath the Sea (NJ), Northwest Dive Show (WA), and SCUBA 2010 (CA).
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  • Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook. We recently surpassed the 1,000-fan mark on the REEF Facebook Page. Gary Carlson joined 999 of our fans and also received some fun prizes for his lucky timing. The REEF Facebook page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind.
  • GAFC Back Where It All Started - the West Coast

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    Divers discuss sightings and record their data after a survey at Lover's Point in California. Photo courtesy Kari Larson/DCSV.
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    A female Kelp Greenling was one of the many species found during the dives near Friday Harbor (WA). Photo by Pete Naylor.

    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.

    Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Reef Watch Waikiki

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    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!

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Mike Phelan

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    Mike has been monitoring an aggregation of Goliath grouper in Florida for the last several years. Photo by Mike Phelan.
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    Black brotula in St. Vincent - one of Mike's favorite finds. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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    Goliath! Photo by Mike Phelan.

    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.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub