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 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!

Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook!

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

A mystery damselfish posted to the REEF ID Central Discussion Board. What do you think it is? Photo by Carol Cox.
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 ( 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 --


Revised Damselfish Descriptions and Pictures (PDFs)

Cocoa Damselfish (Stegastes variabilis)

Beaugregory (Stegastes leucostictus)

Longfin Damselfish (Stegastes diencaeus)

Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus)


The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Don Judy

Don briefing a beach visitor about local coral reefs, and spreading the word about REEF. Photo by Liz Foote.
Sailfin Tang, displaying its beautiful "sail". Photo by John Hoover.
Don with marine scientist, Linda Castro, who is holding up a parrotfish model at Honolua Bay. Photo by Rick Long.

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 Don Judy (REEF member since 2008). Don lives on Maui, Hawaii, and has conducted 365 REEF surveys. Here's what Don had to say about REEF:

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

The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands in the world. Over 2000 miles separate them from the nearest continental land mass. I have been an avid snorkeler here for many years. When I heard about doing surveys for REEF, I knew I would truly enjoy my snorkeling even more doing surveys and reporting my sightings. I am fortunate to live near the ocean and my favorite reef snorkel site is five minutes from my home. When I enter the underwater world, I am always captivated by the dazzling array of tropical fish and their behaviors. Showing off their colors with darting and swirling motions, these beautiful creatures cause the reef to explode with life.

What are some of your favorite places to conduct REEF surveys? Do you have a favorite fish you see there?

The reef I most frequently survey is called Kahekili. I have done more than 300 surveys on this reef and feel like I have an ongoing personal relationship with all these wonderful fish. The water is crystal clear with an average temperature about 76 degrees. This reef always provides me with a chance to see 75 to 100 different species of fish. My favorite local fish on this reef is the Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum). When they raise their colorful dorsal fin, it looks like an elevated boat sail. Upon closer look, the colors in the elevated dorsal fin become an intricately woven spectrum of colors and patterns.

The island of Lanai (about 9 miles west) has another of my favorite reef beaches, Hulopoe. It is a protected marine reef featuring large schools of endemic fish found only in the Hawaiian Islands. Here my favorite fish is the Spectacled Parrotfish (Chlorurus perspicillatus). This spectacular parrotfish is the largest of the endemic parrotfish. Super (or terminal) males are deep blue green with a conspicuous dark band (the "spectacles") across the top of the snout.

What other ways do you help REEF besides being such an active surveyor?

Over the years, I have been able to recruit new REEF members. I do “outreach” stations for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary here on Maui and this puts me in constant contact with snorkelers and divers. Naturally, I talk about REEF and doing REEF surveys when people come to us for information. I like it that the REEF surveys that we do on Maui can help establish populations baselines in determining the direction of fish population.

What are some of your most memorable finds on a REEF survey?

The Commerson’s Frogfish, with their ability to disguise themselves while sitting right in front of your eyes on a piece of coral-mimicking the colors of the coral, and the Oriental Flying Gurnard, with their enormous wing like pectoral fins and wide square heads.

REEF Database Tops 150,000 Surveys!


The REEF database topped 150,000 surveys this month! The lucky 150k survey was conducted by Ross Whiteside on June 13, 2011, at Mixing Bowl in Little Cayman. Ross and his wife Terri have been active REEF members since 2002 and are members of the Advanced Assessment Team. Congrats Ross and Terri, and thanks to all of our surveying members for helping us achieve this landmark!

Was That a Sea Snake?


I was conducting a snorkel survey at Kahekili Reef on West Maui when an unknown critter came slithering across the coral. My camera was clipped to a utility belt and it took me a few seconds to swing it up to my face. I've learned I may have only one chance to capture a photo, so I took a quick photo from the surface before free-diving down to get a closer look. I was only halfway down, at about 15 feet, when the critter dove head-first into the sand and quickly disappeared. Two photos -- from the surface, and a tail shot -- are the only evidence I have. My heart was pounding because it looked like a sea snake, but only the Yellow Bellied Sea Snake is rarely seen in the coastal waters of the main Hawaiian Islands. Upon close inspection later, the photos confirmed that it was not a sea snake -- the tail shot confirms a pointy ending, not a paddle-like tail that a sea snake would have. After some searching through FishBase and Keoki & Yuko Stender's Marine Life Photography websites, I was able to confirm that my mystery was the Saddled Snake Eel (Leiuranus semicinctus). It's not surprising that this incredible sighting happened at Kahekili Reef. It is the number one most species rich site in the REEF database for Hawaii ( Kahekili Reef (also sometimes known as Airport Beach) is an amazing low-profile reef in front of a West Maui development that we are trying to save by letting the fish and urchins "naturally" graze down the algae, and is now a Marine Protected Area.

REEF Member 50,000

In July 1993, REEF had the first Field Survey trip in Key Largo and welcomed our first members. Yesterday, on June 29, 2012, we were excited to welcome REEF Member #50,000. REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. The REEF staff and Board of Directors extend a big thank you to all of our members for making the last nineteen years a success.

Thank You To Our Winter Fundraiser Donors

Last chance to get your 2012 limited edition print. Donate $250 or more before the end of the month.

On behalf of the REEF Staff and Trustees, I want to thank all the donors from our Winter Fundraising campaign who helped us reach our target goal. With your help, we can continue REEF's core conservation programs, such as fighting the Lionfish invasion in the Caribbean, protecting Grouper spawning aggregations, collecting data through our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, and providing free online "Fishinars" to the general public and fish experts worldwide.

If you haven't given already, there are a few days left in our campaign to receive my limited, signed print of a Grouper Moon aggregation for contributions of $250 and over. In addition to donating online, you can also call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030, or mail in your donation to REEF, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Thank you again for your support!

Offline Data Entry Program - The Next Generation of REEF Survey Technology

Earlier this summer, we proudly released the next generation of REEF survey technology, the REEF Data Entry Program. When surveying began in 1993, divers and snorkelers wrote out each sighted fish species on a slate and submitted the surveys to the database using paper scantron forms. In 1994, we developed pre-printed underwater survey paper to make surveying easier, and in 2005 we said goodbye to bubble-filling and premiered online data entry using the Internet. The time had come to innovate yet again.

With our members in mind, we looked to develop a data entry tool that would meet the varied needs of our surveyors, including those who are traveling or live in areas with limited Internet access. The REEF Survey Data Entry Program allows our volunteers to enter REEF surveys without an Internet connection. When they have access to the web, the entered surveys are uploaded to the REEF online entry portal. Users then logon to the portal, complete error checking, and submit the surveys to REEF. The program operates on both Mac and PC computers, and is available for all of REEF’s survey regions. Our Beta-testers and early users agree it’s a great program, and many of them prefer the offline data entry program over online data entry.

The program is free to download at: Give it a try next time you survey! We hope you enjoy the program as much as we do. Feel free to send feedback to REEF extends a huge thank you to programmer, Chris MacGregor, for his work on this project, as well as REEF members who encouraged us to pursue this option and made contributions to support its development.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on Reef Biodiversity Using REEF Data

REEF surveyors are great at recording diversity! There are at least 5 species of fish in this picture. Photo by Nathan Brown.

Data generated by the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project provide an unparalleled opportunity to examine patterns in reef fish diversity (the number and types of species) at the scales of reefs, regions, and even an entire ocean basin. Authors of one recent scientific study took advantage of the over 25,000 Expert REEF surveys conducted at 80 sites from 6 Caribbean ecoregions over 17 years. The authors of the paper, which was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, used the REEF data to evaluate patterns of biodiversity across many spatial scales (from individual sites to ecoregions). They also incorporated factors such as fisheries impacts and how connected different regions are to each other through ocean currents. They compared levels of different types of diversity-- alpha diversity (α-diversity) that explains local diversity (the number of species found in a given place), and beta diversity (β-diversity) that explains the difference in diversity among sites. Their results showed that fish assemblages are more homogenous than expected, particularly at the ecoregion scale. Within each ecoregion, diversity was mainly attributed to alpha diversity, indicating that fishes within each ecoregion are a subsample of the same species pool. Studies like this one that examine regional patterns of diversity in coral reef systems are important because of declining biodiversity in many areas. The paper's citation is: Francisco-Ramos V, Arias-González JE . 2013. Additive Partitioning of Coral Reef Fish Diversity Across Hierarchical Spatial Scales Throughout the Caribbean. PLoS ONE. 8(10): e78761. To read the full paper, or any of the other 50+ scientific papers that have included REEF data and programs, visit the REEF Publications page.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub