The Faces of REEF: Roger Skillman

A great find, especially for a first dive - the Striated Frogfish. Photo (c) Ned DeLoach.
Roger with some students at the Blue Heron Bridge.
The majestic Sand Tiger Shark. Photo by Jeff Haines.

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 Roger Skillman. Roger has been a REEF member since 2009, and has conducted 45 surveys. Despite being landlocked in the Smoky Mountains, he is an active surveyor in the Carolinas and Florida. He also teaches SCUBA and incorporates REEF in to his classes! Here's what Roger had to say about REEF:

What’s your favorite part of REEF surveying?

I like completing REEF surveys to document what was seen on any given day at a particular dive site. Completing surveys helps establish baseline data for a site. REEF members are “Citizen Scientists” with their eyes in the water and we provide valuable data for researchers that can’t be everywhere. The most interesting thing I have found about completing surveys is the importance of an underwater camera and a variety of good fish ID books to help with identification after the dive.

Do you have a favorite place to do surveys?

I have two favorite places that I like to dive. Most of my 34 years of diving have been on the shipwrecks offshore of Beaufort, North Carolina. The historical shipwrecks and abundant marine life that can be found rivals diving anywhere around the world! During the last 5 years, I have discovered the great diving around Jupiter, Florida, to include the world famous Blue Heron Bridge. BHB, with its unusual creatures and the ledges offshore, provide as many different species of fish as many tropical locales.

What is your favorite fish find?

My most fascinating fish encounter has to be diving with the Sand Tiger Sharks on the shipwreck “Caribsea” offshore Cape Lookout, NC. Diving while surrounded by 50 of these magnificent creatures was a marvelous experience. A most memorable fish find occurred at Blue Heron Bridge in 2013. I was completing open water evaluations with two of my students when we found not one, but two, Striated Frogfish. I had never seen a frogfish and these “neophyte” divers saw TWO on their first ever open water dives! Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair!

What advice do you have for other REEF members?

The best way to benefit from REEF is to get INVOLVED! I belong to inland-based REEF Field Station (Smoky Mountain Divers-Carolinas) but that doesn’t stop us from conducting surveys. Contact our field station or a field station near you and participate in their fish ID programs. Sign up and participate in the numerous webinars and classes offered by REEF to expand your knowledge. It’s not hard, just FUN!

The Faces of REEF: Phil Green

Too Close!! Phil snapped this up-close picture of a Sixgill mouth as the shark was swimming over the top of him. Photo by Phil Green.
Phil always has a smile on his face. Photo by Janna Nichols
Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo by Janna Nichols.

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 Phil Green, a REEF member since 2005. An active surveyor who lives on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Phil has conducted almost 400 surveys to date and is a member of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team for the Pacific region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

Joe Gaydos, director and chief scientist at SeaDoc Society, suggested I should be doing REEF surveys in the Yellow and Low Islands MPA where I live and work for The Nature Conservancy. I had never heard of REEF and hadn’t been diving in over 30 years. He told me there was a fish ID class in a month. I took Janna Nichols’ class, got hooked on REEF, and got recertified at Anacortes Diving, the best dive shop anywhere. So I took my first REEF class before I was even a certified diver.

Have you participated in any of the Advanced Assessment Team Projects?

I’ve been on the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) AAT project several times. The topside scenery is amazing and there is always the chance to see marine mammals (humpback whales and Steller sea lions). The diving there is amazing, both for fish and invertebrates. But the best part is diving with other AAT members. There is always so much to learn so to be diving with other level five surveyors is the ultimate learning experience.

What motivates you to conduct REEF surveys?

Even before joining REEF, I was a firm believer in citizen science. I turn in nearly daily bird lists to Cornell’s ebird website. Having done that for over ten years, it was second nature to turn in a dive survey following each dive. Not only is it a way to justify my hobbies, it just feels really good to know I’m helping supply data that cannot be gathered in any other way.

Do you have a memorable fish sighting to share?

I was diving with the Anacortes dive club out of Rendezvous Lodge in Barkley Sound where I had previously been on a REEF trip. REEF goes there in the fall but summer is the time to see Sixgill Sharks. Our group was swimming with a Sixgill and I was at the end of a line of divers. The shark did a 180 and swam straight at me. I laid flat on my back pressed against the bottom as it swam directly over me. I clicked a photo showing nothing but mouth. All I could think was WOW, a shark just swam over me inches away.

What is your favorite fish or invertebrate to see while diving in the Pacific Northwest?

My absolute favorite critter is the Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO). A couple years ago I was a bit burned out on diving the same site where I live. Then I discovered a GPO den, then another, and another, and finally a total of five den sites between two different dive sites. Octos move around between den sites and it became a game to try to find them, the underwater version of ‘Where’s Waldo.” Last year I named my dive boat Octopi.

Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used to Evaluate Species in the Northeast US

A Radiated Shanny, one of two species in the Northeast US whose populations are possibly being impacted by temperature changes. Photo by Jerry Shine.

We are proud to share a story from the East Coast that is a perfect example of how REEF data are put to work to address our changing seas. Dr. Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut and Mystic Aquarium, recently submitted a petition to add the Radiated Shanny and Atlantic Seasnail to the list of Species of Concern under the State of Connecticut's Endangered Species Act. Dr. Auster used REEF data as his primary source of information for the petition.

Both species are considered "cold-adapted," with their distribution largely north of Cape Cod with rare sightings in Long Island Sound. Data show that these species may be the first climate-change casualties in Connecticut waters as Long Island Sound continues to warm. These species occur in rocky habitats, and the best population data come from diver surveys, such as those from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. If you are a REEF surveyor in the northeast region, please keep an eye out and report these species on your surveys! Dr. Auster will continue to track their abundance through the REEF database and assess the effect of changing seas on their populations.

Take a Dive Vacation That Counts in 2016

Snorkel Jellyfish Lake in Palau this Fall. Photo courtesy PicCorrect.
Learn about the Lionfish Invasion in Curacao.
Dive with Sea Lions in the Coronado Islands.
Spend a week at the beautiful Blackbird Caye Resort.

We are looking for passionate ocean enthusiasts to join us later this year on a REEF Trip. There are still a few spaces left on the following trips in 2016:

Curacao Lionfish Research Trip, August 20 - 27 - led by REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF Board of Trustee Member, Peter Hughes. Learn all about the lionfish invasion while diving and helping with research. Visit the trip page for details.

Bermuda, October 1 - 8 - led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Renowned Underwater Photographers and Marine Life Authors. Ned and Anna will entertain participants with their fish id and behavior expertise. Pink sand beaches and fascinating historic sites help to make Bermuda a captivating destination for non-divers as well. Visit the trip page for details.

Palau and Yap, October 4 - 16 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. We will begin our trip at Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, and then board the Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard. We will explore rich coral walls and channels, documenting the biodiversity of the area. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for details.

Barkley Sound, BC, October 9 - 13led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. A must-dive destination for cold-water divers, Barkley Sound will treat participants to excellent diving and encounters with wildlife both above and below the water. Visit the trip page for details.

Saba, October 22 - 29 - led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer, and Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. A chance to dive this beautiful mountainous island in the Caribbean. In addition to the REEF seminars, participants can participate in "Sea and Learn", a month-long education program offered by Sea Saba. Visit the trip page for details.

Coronado Islands, California/Mexico, November 7 - 10 - led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. This West Coast trip offers the chance to encounter a diverse array of habitats and organisms, including kelp forests brimming with fish and invertebrates and playful sea lion pups. Visit the trip page for details.

Belize, December 3 - 10led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Decompress before the holidays with a week on Belize's Turneffe Atoll at the spectacular Blackbird Caye Resort, named one of Sport Diver Magazine's "2015 World's Best Diving Resorts." Divers will delight in the high diversity of fishes and endemic species. Non-diver companions will delight in the sandy beaches, pool side relaxing, and kayaking. Visit the trip page for details.

The complete 2016 and 2017 schedule is posted at: Contact Amy Lee at or call 305-588-5869 to book your space or to find out more.

The Faces of REEF: Laura Tesler

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 Laura Tesler. Laura lives in Oregon, and has been a REEF member since 2007. She is a member of the Pacific Northwest Advanced Assessment Team (a Level 5 Expert surveyor). She has also conducted surveys in the TWA region and is a Level 3 Advanced surveyor there. To date, Laura has completed 239 surveys. Here’s what Laura had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I have been a PNW REEF volunteer for 8 years and 44 weeks. In 2008 I heard from another diving friend about the surveys they were doing to assess marine health while diving. I was intrigued, and signed up for a REEF training taught by Janna Nichols. The rest is history.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

For me it is like being on a biological treasure hunt underwater. I have a list of species I would love to see and I am always hoping to see something off that list! REEF Trips and gatherings are really fun and educational, as you get to dive with really good divers and get into arguments about how many cirri the Scalyhead Sculpin you saw had for identification purposes. Who else do you know that gets excited about seeing a Red Brotula?

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

For me it is a 3-hour drive to a good diving site, usually in Puget Sound, Washington. Diving in Oregon is not very easy due to lack of protected areas for diving and shoreline access is limited. I’m used to the drive though!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

I will openly admit I have a fascination with nudibranchs. They have perfectly evolved to capitalize on the marine environment in so many fascinating ways (external lungs, habitats, rhinophore shapes, etc). They also come in so many shapes, sizes and colors!

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

I have my own personal fish ID book library now and I am a member of a Facebook site called REEF Pacific Northwest Critterwatchers that is active with ID discussion, informational tidbits, upcoming dives, etc. When I dive I really go slow and take the time to look under, behind, and in things and I associate habitat with species when I do survey. I also try and watch REEF fishinars as they are produced. Of course the more surveying you do the better!

West Coast REEF Monitoring Projects

A REEF surveyor checking over their survey after a dive on the San Juan Islands annual project. Photo by Janna Nichols.
REEF Advanced Assessment Team members surveying sites in the San Juan Islands in 2017.

August was an exciting month for members of the Pacific Northwest REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT), led by REEF's Citizen Science Program Manager Janna Nichols. This group of expert level surveyors (Levels 4 and 5) helped cover two ongoing REEF monitoring projects in Washington State - the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) and the San Juan Islands.

This was the 15th consecutive year that REEF formally surveyed the OCNMS. Ten divers accumulated over 80 REEF surveys in the area. Ever since the sea stars died off a few years ago, urchin populations have grown substantially and are taking a toll on the bull kelp forests found in this area. Because REEF divers monitor both fish and invertebrates in the Pacific Northwest, these important changes are being documented.

Eighteen divers helped with another annual project, done in partnership with UC Davis' SeaDoc Society on Orcas Island in Washington's San Juan Islands. Ten REEF divers survey aelect sites throughout the San Juan Islands during the week-long project, accumulating 100+ surveys. This is the 5th year of the project.

Both of these long-term monitoring projects help ensure data are available to document shifts and changes in populations and community structure as well as cataloging biological diversity. REEF data from the Pacific Northwest region been used in nine scientific publications and have been incorporated in several policy decisions on species from rockfish to octopus.

We extend a huge thanks to the following REEF surveyors who made these projects possible: Bob Friel, Carol Cline, Chuck Curry, David Todd, Don Gordon, Don McCoy, Doug Biffard, Doug Miller, Gordon Bell, Greg Sawyer, Gregg Cline, Joe Gaydos, Joe Mangiafico, Karin Fletcher, Kat Fenner, Laura Tesler, Lorne Curran, Rhoda Green, Tabitha Mangiafico, Taylor Frierson, and Todd Cliff. And thanks also to Bandito Charters and Divers Dream Charters, as well as Friday Harbor Labs and Winters Summer Inn for field support.

Putting it to Work: New Publication on the Effectiveness of Single Day Lionfish Removal Events

REEF volunteers and scientists scoring lionfish as they come in to a derby.
Results from the publication: Graphs showing density and biomass in fished (light blue) and unfished (dark blue) areas relative to derby events (dashed bars). Red Lines indicate level at which lionfish are predicted to cause declines in native fishes. A&C are Florida, B&D are Bahamas.

We are excited to share the latest publication stemming from REEF's Invasive Lionfish Research Program - "Mobilizing volunteers to sustain local suppression of a global marine invasion," recently published in the scientific journal Conservation Letters.

The study, authored by Dr. Stephanie Green of Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Studies, and Elizabeth Underwood and Lad Akins of REEF, is the first to document the effectiveness of volunteer-based removal efforts of invasive species. The article focuses specifically on removals of invasive lionfish in the Tropical Western Atlantic and answers several important questions including what percentage of the lionfish population is removed and how large of an area can be affected by a lionfish derby event. Surveys in Florida and the Bahamas were conducted at more than 60 different sites both before and after derby events from 2012 – 2014. Results showed that single day derbies conducted during this time period were, on average, able to reduce lionfish densities by 52% over 192 km2.

To view the full paper and to see a complete listing of the over 60 scientific publications that have used REEF data and programs, visit The full citation of the paper is: Green, SJ, E Underwood, and JL Akins. 2017. Mobilizing volunteers to sustain local suppression of a global marine invasion. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12426.

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

REEF Team Aquarius 2007: The Life Support Buoy, which provides power and communications to Aquarius, tethered 60 feet below, appears in the background. Courtesy of Lillian Kenney.
Volunteer Dave Grenda surveys the northeast site off Aquarius. Courtesy of NMSP.

 Six volunteer divers from the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyed two sites off the Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, to assist the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) with the science component of the Aquarius 2007 Mission: If Reefs Could Talk. Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory, is part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and sits seven miles off shore at Conch Reef. A valuable resource and good neighbor to REEF HQ, Aquarius hosts scientists from around the world, from sponge chemists to astronauts, in innovative research and education.

The team included REEF Special Projects Manager Lad Akins and AAT members Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Mike Phelan. Twelve fish surveys were conducted at each of two research sites near Aquarius using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT). This year's data will be compared to surveys collected during a 2001 mission to assess change in resident fish populations. The team also assisted NMSP in documenting the occurrence of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) at each site. Once abundant on Florida Keys coral reefs, herbivorous Diadema play an important role in keeping coral-stifling algae from overtaking the reef structure. 

Click here to read more about the 2007 mission and the Aquarius habitat, including daily broadcasts and interviews with the REEF survey team. 

Gray's Reef Proposed Research Area

Black Seabasses on Grays Reef, photo by Greg McFall, Resarch Coord. GRNMS
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, photo by Greg McFall
Tomtate, Scad, Porgy on Gray's Reef, photo by Greg McFall
Marine Managed Areas, Georgia State Waters, courtesy NOAA

Just prior to the holidays, Lad Akins and I had the pleasure of joining the Gray's Reef Research Area Working Group (RAWG) in Savannah, Georgia. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) is one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries, perhaps less well known to many of you than Stellwagon Bank or Monterey Bay Sanctuaries, and is located some 32 kilometers off the coast of Georgia. Remember that there has recently been an addition to our sanctuaries by George W. Bush (2006) in establishing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, including and extending beyond the Hawaiian archipelago. GRNMS is rectangular in its defined borders and is roughly 6.5 km N to S by 9 km E to W (17nm2) and is a popular site for recreational fishing and boating. Previous mapping and assessment studies have shown there to be 4 main benthic habitats within GRNMS that include flat sand, rippled sand, sparsely colonized live bottom, and densely colonized live bottom (ledges). 

The workshop I attended was the latest iteration of several previous meetings that had the intention of exploring the concept of placing a research area (RA) inside the boundaries of GRNMS. The focus of the latest workshop was to specifically address what scientific data would be collected inside the proposed RA. The RA would be an area specifically designated for conducting controlled scientific studies in the absence of confounding factors such as recreational or commercial fishing. Previous workshops had convened to decide on biological, ecological, and socioeconomic variables that all would contribute to deciding on where to place the RA inside GRNMS borders. Deciding on the optimal RA configuration (square, hexagon, etc.), location within the sanctuary, and size (area) of the RA for biological questions alone led to some 35,000 options after detailed matrices were created to quantify a best fit design for the RA. "Best fit" in this case is a site that would minimize impact on bottom and recreational fishermen, have a high species richness and biomass, and would have strong research and educational value. And the research and public comment phase of this project has been ongoing for almost 10 years in a collaboration between a number of multidisciplinary groups. The magnitude of the previous work to date on establishing this RA along with the talented group assembled at this past workdshop really impressed me. Furthermore, the dedication and commitment of numerous individuals and agencies in developing management tools that consider multiple stakeholders such as recreational and commercial fishing interests, scuba divers and spear fishermen, and boaters, were equally impressive. If the general public had insight into how complicated decisions such as the one this group convened are to make, they would have more empathy for the folks making these decisions.

REEF's direct interest in establishing an RA within GRNMS is that we will likely be leading the fish monitoring component of the ongoing studies for the newly established RA. Of course, there will be many studies occurring within the RA involving benthic ecology, discarded gear assessments, and numerous studies quantifying the effects of a no-take, exclusionary zone within a sanctuary. The location,boundary, and definition of the RA still need to be decided as do the types and number of research projects that will take place inside the RA. More meetings and public discourse are scheduled before research gets going and REEF becomes involved. But I know that our REEF AAT will be excited at the prospect of doing more work at GRNMS in the future, so stay tuned. For more information on GRNMS, please visit Incidentally, Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) have been found inside the sanctuary and Lad Akins, REEF's exotic species director, will be collaborating with GRNMS on future assessments. If you're wondering what fishes you might see in GRNMS, Belted sandfish, Black sea bass, and Slippery Dicks dominate the landscape, for a full report from previous projects there see our website

Please look for more information in future Enews editions on the progress of selecting the RA in the future and REEF's collaboration on monitoring fish at GRNMS.


How to Organize a Dive

Photo by Kirby Johnson

This year we would like to get more volunteers into the water conducting fish surveys. The fun part of the GAFC is not just the talks, but afterward getting into the water to do the surveys. You can help by organizing a GAFC dive. It's easy to do:

  • Pick a date date and location during June or July to conduct a Fish ID Seminar

  • Pick a date in July for a GAFC Dive

  • Register your GAFC event with REEF 

Start thinking about when you want to schedule a seminar or dive in your area, then let us know what you have planned!  

Please let us know how REEF can support you with your GAFC activities. Teaching modules for your Fish ID seminars are available online at the REEF store.

Together, we can make the 17th Great Annual Fish Count a huge success.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub