Panel Discussions Bring Citizen Scientists Together in the Florida Keys

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REEF hosted a variety of speakers, including partners from these organizations.

On Tuesday, February 26 and Wednesday, March 12, REEF hosted two citizen science panel discussions about how volunteers contribute to understanding and preserving the Florida Keys environment. The first discussion, held in Key Largo, featured speakers from the Breeding Bird Survey project, Coral Restoration Foundation, and John Pennekamp State Park native plant nursery. The second event, held in Key West, featured speakers from The Nature Conservancy, Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Weather Service. Both discussions were led by guest speaker Rick Bonney, a pioneer in the citizen science field from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY. Leda Cunningham presented on the REEF Volunteer Survey Project.

Forty-two people participated in the discussions, most of whom were themselves volunteers in a local or national citizen science project. "Most scientists usually only get to attend 'niche' meetings, where everyone in the room is talking about variations of the same subject matter," said Alison Higgins of The Nature Conservancy. "What was amazing about REEF's Citizen Science symposium is that the approach was the same (engaging the public in collecting important observations), but the subjects were varied.  I specialize in land conservation issues, but got to brainstorm and engage with fish, bird and weather scientists - It was a really great and necessary experience"

Each discussion group brainstormed next steps for the citizen science movement in the Florida Keys. Ideas included forming an informal coalition of citizen science projects, doing integrated data analysis across project taxa (effect of weather on fish or bird population trends, e.g.), starting a regular citizen science column in a local newspaper and developing a citizen science booklet for residents and visitors to learn about local projects. For more information, please contact Leda Cunningham:


REEF Hosts ICRS Field Trip

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2008 International Coral Reef Symposium Field Trip in Key Largo
11th ICRS Hosted 100's of Talks and Had Over 3,000 Attendees

In addition to attending the 11th ICRS, REEF also hosted one of the conference Field Trips.  REEF and Horizon Divers hosted 14 participants from various locations around the world including Australia, Japan, Kenya, and several U.S. institutions.  Dr. Jim Bohnsack, NOAA Research Fisheries Biologist and Science Advisor to the REEF Board of Trustees, gave a workshop presentation on applying REEF fish survey data towards Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary management decisions and Paul Humann, renowned marine life photographer and author, taught fish and invertebrate identification classes.  Lad Akins, REEF Special Projects Director, gave an overview of REEF and our programs along with a detailed update on what he and REEF partners are working on with the Lionfish (Pterois volitans) invasion in Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. Participants also had the opportunity to conduct 6 REEF survey SCUBA dives out on our local reefs to get a sense of how Roving Diver survey data are collected.

The survey data our members collect fall into two general categories.The first is the Volunteer Survey Project category that includes all of our Field Surveys and individual members surveying efforts conducted while diving or snorkeling wherever they live or travel to on vacation. The second type of data collected by our surveyors are from our monitoring and research programs in partnership with NOAA sanctuaries, the National Park service, and regional NGO’s and other non-profits as well as various universities.  It was this second category of data that our ICRS Field Trip focused on for classroom discussions. REEF data are used by resource managers include artificial reef monitoring, restoration site monitoring, marine protected area assessments, and invasive species collections and fish surveys to name a few.  One message that ICRS brought home to all attendees is that now more than ever, there is a critical need for coral reef related research, including studies addressing fish assemblages. There is also a critical need for scientists and policy makers to communicate their research and conservation strategies to the general public, conveying the message about just how vulnerable coral reefs are to anthropogenic disturbances and their importance to our collective well being. REEF will continue our efforts to engage our membership in worthwhile conservation projects that address tropical and temperate fish assemblages.

REEF News Tidbits

New Grouper T-Shirt Just Added to the REEF Store.
Members who give $250 or more during REEF's Fall Fundraising Campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print by Paul Humann.
  • Have you visited REEF's online store lately? In addition to many great fish ID guides and REEF survey materials, we have added several new items to our REEF Gear store. The newest addition is a t-shirt featuring a graphic, stylized tribal art grouper. This shirt is a great way to show your support for REEF and our important work on Nassau grouper aggregations. We also have functional and stylish long-sleeve shirts by Columbia and REEF caps, back by popular demand. Visit the store today - it's a great place to get your holiday shopping done and support REEF programs at the same time.

  • If you will be in the South Florida area next week, please join us at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo (MM 98.3) for our Holiday Open House on December 11 from 5 - 8 PM. Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach will be on-hand to sign books and talk fish, and we also will be debuting our new Gift Shop with lots of unique holiday gifts. Call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030 to find out more information.

  • Please remember REEF this holiday season -- donate during our Fall Fundraising Campaign. The financial support of our members is critical to ensuring the long-term success of the marine conservation work that REEF accomplishes every day. All donations are tax-deductible and a gift of any size is greatly appreciated. For donations of $250 or more, you will be thanked with a limited edition, signed Paul Humann print of a male jawfish guarding his eggs.

  • Make a Dive Vacation That Counts in 2009! Check out the exciting schedule of REEF trips - there is something for everyone, including Field Surveys to learn more about the marine life that you see during your dives and citizen science research trips to help stop the spread of the invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish. These eco-vacations also make a great gift for the diver in your life. Please contact our travel consultant to find out more and to book your space -- 1-877-295-7333 (REEF),
  • REEF News Tidbits


    New educational DVD/Book sets added to the REEF store! - These beautiful materials can help start grooming future generations of REEF surveyors and create good stewards of the environment. Perfect gifts and ideal for use in the classroom. The Dive Into Your Imagination by Annie Crawley entertains and educates children about the amazing natural world in the oceans. The DVDs are all bilingual and you can choose English or Spanish narration or a special track featuring just the music. In the special features section you can view the entire scripts and read to your children or have your children read to you. There are 4 sets to choose from, including "Dive Into Diversity" and "What Makes a Fish a Fish". Check them out on the REEF Store here today.

    Check out the latest news in the lionfish invasion. - There's so much going on with REEF's lionfish research and outreach programs, we can't possibly report it all here. Check out the Lionfish in the Media page to see how the media is covering our efforts.

    Online data entry available in all regions. - As we reported in last month's REEF-in-Brief, REEF surveyors in ALL regions can now submit their data online. We greatly encourage everyone to enter their surveys online rather than use the paper scanforms, if possible. And remember -- if you conduct a survey at a site that is not yet in REEF's Zone Code database, send us an email ( with the site name and latitude/longitude of the site and we will create the code for you. The 8-digit zone code must be in the system before you can enter data from the site.

    REEF News Tidbits

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.
  • REEF Data Document Declines in Yellow Stingray

    The decline in yellow stingray sightings in the Florida Keys beteween 1994 and 2007. Source: Ward-Paige, et al. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 2010.

    World-wide declines in shark and ray populations have prompted the need for a better understanding of their patterns of distribution and abundance. While much of the focus has been on the larger species of sharks, little attention had been paid to the most frequently sighted elasmobranch species in the greater-Caribbean, the yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis). Despite being relatively common and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, little was known about the status of this species. Unfortunately, it has been quietly declining. Dr. Christine Ward-Paige and her colleagues at Dalhousie University worked with REEF's Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to examine the status of yellow stingray. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Biology of Fishes. Click here to read the paper.

    The study used 83,940 surveys collected by REEF surveyors in the western Atlantic. In total, yellow stingrays were observed on 5,658 surveys (6.7% sighting frequency) with the highest occurrence in the regions surrounding Cuba. Overall, sighting frequency declined from 20.5% in 1994 to 4.7% in 2007. However, these trends were not consistent in all regions. The strongest decline occurred in the Florida Keys, the most sampled region, where trends were similar among all areas, habitats and depths. Possible explanations for these changes include habitat degradation, exploitation (this species is collected for medical research and the aquarium trade), and changes in trophic interactions. The results of the study suggest large-scale changes in yellow stingray abundance that have been unnoticed by the scientific community. This study also highlights the value of non-scientific divers for collecting data that can be used to understand population trends of otherwise poorly studied species.

    To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the website here.

    Watch an Online Screening of Alien Invaders Tomorrow Night - June 2nd


    Changing Seas, an original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, will host a live online screening event of Alien Invaders, the series’ latest episode focusing on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Alien Invaders will be screened live on the Changing Seas website ( on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. EST. During the screening, dive enthusiasts will have the opportunity to join an online chat with producers and the experts featured in the program. REEF's Lad Akins and researcher Stephanie Green will be be online to answer questions live during the event.

    The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Patricia Broom

    Pat with surveying dive buddy, Barbara Anderson (r), on the Baja Mexico Field Survey in 2010.
    Pat in Fiji.
    Pat in Turks and Caicos.

    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 feature Patricia Broom (REEF member since 2004). Pat is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic and has conducted 277 surveys in three of REEF's regions, including some of the first in our newest region, the South Pacific. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:

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

    About ten years ago while reading a favorite dive magazine I noticed an announcement about an introductory fish identification trip sponsored by REEF and led by Paul Humann. The love of REEF was born!! I responded to the advertisement, encouraged my brother to join me and attended that Field Survey trip. We joined a group of equally dedicated divers eager as we to learn about fish and how to identify them. Paul was a great teacher, very patient and concerned that we not only learn about fish but care about them and the ocean we love.

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

    One of my most memorable surveying moments occurred that week on Paul's trip. On a night dive of a very old wreck with exposed wooden beams I saw my first queen parrotfish in their nighttime cocoons. Each parrot fish occupied a space between two beams framed by basket stars in full bloom. It was a magical sight. I try to take two or three REEF trips a year, they are a great way to learn more and dive with great people. In addition to the regular ID trips, I have really enjoyed the REEF Behavior Trips that are led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. It really completes the learning experience! It is a beautiful sight to watch damselfish guard their algae gardens from predation, observe cooperative hunting, or watch a three foot Midnight Parrotfish at a cleaning station with open mouth and flared gills.

    What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

    Prior to that introductory course, I had been diving the Caribbean for twenty plus years. I witnessed the decline in fish numbers and species as well as reef degradation and wondered how many more years I could dive before there was nothing to see! REEF offered me a reason to continue diving, now there was opportunity to give back and enjoy diving again.

    Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

    I have found great enjoyment in Cozumel at the REEF Field Station at Aqua Safari, led by Sheryl Shea. She is a gifted teacher determined to make advanced assessment divers of all of us! It just so happens a few of my favorite fish are in Cozumel, the Splendid Toadfish, Sargassum Triggerfish, and Cherubfish, to name a few.

    Upcoming Fishinars - Caribbean Wrasse, Pacific Sculpins, and Blennies!

    Fighting Blennies. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

    If you haven't had a chance to attend one of our Fishinars yet, you should! New sessions are always being added, so check out the Webinar Training page ( to see the current schedule and to register for one or more sessions. These popular online training sessions (webinars) provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. Upcoming sessions include:

    The Wrasse Class: The Top 12 Wrasse of the Greater Caribbean  - Need help with those rascally wrasse? Come to this class and get the ID tips you seek! Learn tips from REEF Expert and fish geek, Jonathan Lavan. Thursday, Jun 21st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

    Sculpins Under Scrutiny  - Sculpins have been called some pretty bad names through the years, because it's so difficult to tell them apart. Well, it's time to master the art of identifying the little buggers and Sculpin Master Guru, Dr. Greg Jensen, will be the one to help you along your journey to loving sculpins. Greg will cover some of the lesser-known and lookalike sculpins. Thursday, July 19th at 7pm PDT. REGISTER

    The Blennywatcher!- Oooh, this is gonna be a good one! Videographer and blenny expert Anna DeLoach will walk us through some of her favorite Blennies and how to tell them apart. Tuesday, July 31st at 8pm EDT. REGISTER

    Scholarship Available For Educator To Participate in REEF Trip

    REEF is once again partnering with CEDAM International to support an educator to participate in one of our REEF Trips. The selected Lloyd Bridges Scholar will join Paul Humann on the Little Cayman Field Survey in July 2013. The goal of the scholarship program is two-fold: One, to have educators experience the wonders of the underwater world and then be able to share these wonders with his or her students or constituents. Two, to have these inspired individuals go out and do what they can to help protect one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. To be eligible, applicants must be a certified scuba diver, a teacher (elementary or secondary level), or actively engaged in an education program at an institution or environmental organization, such as an aquarium, science center, or relevant non-profit organization. More information and application information is posted on the CEDAM website.

    The 2013 REEF Trips Schedule includes destinations in the Caribbean, Canada, and tropical Pacific. 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

    2013 dates and destinations with space --

    May 11 - 21, 2013 Fiji, aboard the Nai'a, Led by Paul Humann FULL, waiting list available

    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 FULL, waiting list available

    August 31-September 7, 2013 Curacao, with GO WEST Diving and Sandton Kura Hulanda Lodge, Lionfish Research Trip, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes

    September 25-28, 2013 Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

    September 28-October 1, 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


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