Lionfish Food and Wine Event Held In Key Largo

Lad Akins shows the audience which spines contain venom. Photo by: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
Four course lionfish dinner at Fish House Encore. Photo by: Donna Dietrich.
The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's Website.

More than sixty people gathered earlier this month at the Fish House Encore in Key Largo, Florida, for Lionfish Food and Wine Night. Before dining, event attendees learned about the lionfish invasion and the importance of removing lionfish from marine environments. Peter Tselikis, chef at Fish House Encore, showed the audience how to cook two popular lionfish dishes. Lad Akins, a renowned lionfish expert and REEF Director of Special Projects, taught the audience how to fillet lionfish, avoiding the venomous spines.

The invasive species, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction, was prepared four different ways with a creative medley of ingredients and wine selections. Entrées included bacon-wrapped barbeque lionfish, sea salt-cured lionfish ceviche, and poached lionfish. Many guests said their favorite dish was Lionfish Bermuda, a lionfish fillet encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked and served with a sweet and sour sauce atop baby arugula salad.

“It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Akins. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have now invaded the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. In the invaded range, they have been documented to be gluttonous predators of native fish and invertebrates. One published study co-authored by Akins (Green et al. 2012) shows lionfish reduced the native fish prey community at some sites in the Bahamas by an average of 65% in just two years. Some sites had a 95% decline. Despite the dismal outlook, there is good news. Published studies show local control by divers and fishers can be effective, Akins notes. “Removing lionfish from local reefs is like weeding a garden. Remove weeds and the garden is healthier. Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round.”

For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit Creative lionfish recipes, as well as information on catching, cleaning, and cooking lionfish, can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook available on the REEF Store.

Upcoming Fishinars -- Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Series and more

Photo by Janna Nichols.
Photo by Janna Nichols.

Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions 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. Upcoming sessions include:

Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - While Pacific Northwest waters are not known for their schools of colorful fish, the amazing invertebrate life will blow you away! In these four sessions we'll cover a select group of invertebrates from 8 phyla, all of which are monitored by REEF volunteer divers.

Sponges and Stingers - January 8th, 2014

Gettin' Crabby - January 9th, 2014

Marvelous Molluscs - January 15th, 2014

Stars and Squirts - January 16th, 2014


Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - January 21, 2014

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page ( for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

The Faces of REEF: Judith Cucco

Cooperative hunting is always a great find for a REEF surveyor. Here, Blueifn Trevally, Blue Goatfish, and a moray eel (not shown) are hunting together. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A badly damaged sea turtle flipper, the result of entangled fishing line. Photo by Judith Cucco.

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 Juddith Cucco. Judith has been a REEF member since 2010, and has conducted 555 surveys (all in her home state of Hawaii, and all as a snorkeler!). She is a member of the Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Judith had to say about REEF:

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

I first heard about REEF through Reef Watch Waikiki while taking a fish identification course with them in February 2010. I immediately started doing surveys as I felt it was a fun way for me to share my enthusiasm for all the fish I see while snorkeling in Hawaii, where I live...and I wanted a record of the many species I've encountered.

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

Even though I've seen it many times, it still fascinates me to see cooperative hunting, for example jacks following a moray eel or blue goatfish. My favorite fish is the juvenile rockmover wrasse. They look like drifting seaweed in the ocean when they move and I enjoy watching them turn over rocks with their snout. My favorite discovery is a semi-circle angelfish (not native to Hawaii) that Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF Director of Science ) helped my swimming buddies and me identify from some very poor photos.

Where do you do most of your surveying?

I used to do most of my surveys at the outer reef in Hanauma Bay and still go there occasionally, however my favorite place to survey on Oahu is Kaiona Beach Park. You really need to look to find the fish and if one has the patience, there are ample rewards. I've seen so many species that one does not see at Hanauma Bay (knifefish, bigeyes and several types of scorpionfish). Because I snorkel, the fish are also much closer at Kaiona as it's more shallow.

What do you enjoy most about doing REEF surveys?

The most exciting thing for me when doing surveys is when I encounter a species I haven't seen before. After my snorkel, I go home and look it up in one of my fish books or online and enjoy learning about it. My biggest challenge is staying warm as I like to stay in the ocean until my fingers get numb (not recommended), which is usually around three hours even with a full wet suit.

Do you have a memorable story from a survey?

Just the other day, I had gone out for a snorkel survey (which ended up not happening). A little while into our swim, my buddy and I found an entangled green sea turtle. I saw it on the bottom in about ten feet of water. We first asked its permission, then dove down to bring it to the surface. We saw that it had fishing line wrapped around its neck and two front flippers. We were really far out on the reef and swam it in to shore. We recruited two fishermen to cut off the line and they also built a pen out of rocks for the turtle. I went to my car and called our local NOAA turtle stranding office. When NOAA staff arrived, we loaded the turtle in a carrier and the turtle was taken to a surgeon. It needs to have the front right flipper amputated, but it is going to survive and should eventually be released back in the wild. What an amazing and cooperative experience!!!!

Review Us On

Do you think REEF is doing great work? Please take a few minutes to tell others about your experience with REEF! Your personal story and feedback help us gain visibility and help us improve. Please share your experience through the website at:

Thanks to such great feedback by our members in 2014, REEF achieved "Top-Rated" status on the GreatNonprofits webpage. We need at least ten new reviews in 2015 to maintain this honored status. Please help us.

Here's an excerpt from a recent review from a fellow REEF member: "I have been contributing to REEF's database of dive surveys for over 5 years now and I really like the amount of support they provide to divers and snorkelers at any level. Their web site is a wealth of information, not only their database but also quizzes for all different regions. Their free webinars aka "Fishinars" are always fun and entertaining to be experienced from the comfort of your home. To top if all off, they have friendly staff to answer any kind of questions you may have from your dive experiences. I learned so much regarding the critters I see in the ocean and it keeps it interesting and fresh. REEF offers a lot for FREE but actually they are priceless." Thanks Gerald!

Don't Miss The Last Two Fishinars of the Year

The charismatic Garibaldi is a favorite among divers in the California Channel Islands. Photo by Janna Nichols.

As the air turns crisp and the leaves start to turn, we are winding down on our 2015 Fishinar program. You won't want to miss the last two sessions -- Fishes of the Channel Islands of California on October 20th and the Top 25 Fish You Should Know in the Caribbean on November 16th.  From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars (our version of Webinars). Check out for more information. And keep an eye on the webpage for our 2016 schedule coming soon. If you have a topic that you would like to see covered, drop us a note!

REEF Fish Field Methodology Course

Common field methodologies including transects will be covered in the REEF Field Methodology Course this summer.

Calling all college students or recent graduates who are divers! This summer, spend a week learning marine life survey techniques with REEF experts in Key Largo, Florida. Build your skills and resume for marine field research and discover career opportunities in the marine and conservation field. The course covers commonly used tools and techniques utilized in visual assessments of reef fishes. Classroom and field experiences will expose students to tropical western Atlantic reef fish identification, size estimations underwater, surveying reef fishes using transect, roving and stationary visual techniques, benthic assessments using photo quadrats and rugosity, and management of survey data.

The field course will be offered August 7 – 13, 2016, in Key Largo, Florida. The $780 course fee includes accommodations, 5 days of two-tank boat dives including tanks and weights, REEF fish survey materials, and the ReefNet Fish Identification DVD. For more information on the course and details on registering, please visit

Another Fun Summer of Ocean Explorers Camp

REEF Summer Campers.

Over the summer, REEF hosted the second year of Ocean Explorers Summer Camp, a marine science camp designed to get kids outdoors and on the water. 57 campers joined us over 4 weeks of camp, and it was a blast! Led by REEF Education Program Manager, Ellie Splain, and assisted by our wonderful Marine Conservation Interns, each week was filled with fun and interesting activities. Campers snorkeled at the coral reef, kayaked through the mangroves, dissected squid, created lionfish jewelry, and even got up close and personal with some animal visitors! Above all, campers learned about conservation and what each of us can do to protect the environment and make a difference. Keep a look out for the REEF Ocean Explorers 2017 Summer Camp date announcement! For more information, visit

The Faces of REEF: Chuck Curry

Chuck on his home turf in the Pacific Northwest.
Chuck under the water in the Philippines. Photo by Ron Lucas.
Chuck topside on the Philippines REEF Trip in 2016.
A Puget Sound King Crab, the subject of Chuck's close encounter story with a Giant Pacific Octopus. Photo by Janna Nichols.
In addition to volunteering with REEF, Chuck volunteers at the Seattle Aquarium. Here he is as Santa in the big aquarium tank. 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 Chuck Curry, a REEF member since 2013. Chuck lives in Washington State, and while he hasn't been a member for long, he has already conducted 400 surveys! He has achieved Level 5 Expert Surveyor status in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA), Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), and the Pacific Coast (PAC) regions, and Level 3 Advanced Surveyor status in the South Pacific (SOP) and Hawaii (HAW) regions. Here's what Chuck had to say about REEF:

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

I first became a REEF member and volunteer in the spring of 2013. I learned about REEF while at a talk given by Joe Gaydos at the Seattle Aquarium. Joe’s the Science Director at the SeaDoc Society, which conducts and sponsors scientific research in the Pacific Northwest’s inland waters, also known as the Salish Sea. Joe mentioned a ten-year sub-tidal monitoring project SeaDoc would be starting that would use REEF’s Roving Diver Technique and expert REEF surveyors to do the monitoring. I thought, “I want to do that!” I joined REEF after that talk and started conducting surveys.

Have you been on a REEF Field Survey Trip?

I’ve been lucky enough to be on a number of REEF Field Survey trips. The highlight of my Field Survey diving last year was getting exposure to the awe-inspiring (and sometimes overwhelming!) fish diversity of the Central Indo-Pacific region on the Philippines and Micronesia Field Survey trips.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

My desire to make a contribution to scientific research inspires me to complete REEF surveys. As a kid, I dreamed of being a marine biologist and Jacques Cousteau was one of my heroes. REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project allows me to fulfill, in part, that dream as a citizen scientist. And I get to experience some of the undersea world that my childhood hero introduced me to when I was growing up in Kansas City.

What do you like most about being a REEF member?

Without question, my favorite part about being a REEF member has been meeting, getting to know and learning from/with all the fun and interesting fish geeks who volunteer for REEF! :-)

Do you dive close to where you live?

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a great dive site (it’s “Norrander’s/Rockaway Beach” in the REEF database) 7 minutes from where I live on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. It’s my favorite place to dive because it’s my “home” site, provides great habitat for all sorts of fishes and critters (including Wolf Eels and Giant Pacific Octopuses) and I can fit in a dive between any two meals at home.

What is the most fascinating creature encounter you have had underwater?

The most fascinating fish encounter I’ve experienced wasn’t with a fish but with a marine invertebrate—we survey a selected list of invertebrates and algae in the PacNW. While taking a picture of a juvenile Puget Sound King Crab, a Giant Pacific Octopus loomed up in front of me and held on to me for five minutes with first two, then four of its arms. It seemed to be curious, running its arms over my light, camera, hands and arms as I watched it and it watched me—just an amazing experience.

Do you have any tips for new surveyors?

I’d offer two tips to other REEF members, particularly to those just getting started. One is to seek ID help from expert surveyors you dive with or meet. I’ve gotten lots of help from folks, they’ve all been happy to share their knowledge and no one has ever made fun of me for getting excited about seeing a very common fish that’s new to me. The second tip is to carry a camera and take pictures while you’re surveying. You don’t need to become an expert photographer, just getting ID shots of new fish to review topside can really speed you along the learning curve.

Creating the REEF Campus in Key Largo

REEF Headquarters and the Interpretive Center, connected by the Pathway to Conservation.
An interpretive display inside the REEF HQ.
REEF's Native Plants Trail and picnic area.

Over the last quarter-century, REEF's programs and impact have grown in scale and scope, affecting ocean conservation and education world-wide. Despite our global reach, our headquarters remains in Key Largo where it all began in 1993. The REEF Headquarters building is housed in the oldest building in Key Largo and serves as a community touchstone for local residents and visitors alike. To support our growing programs, the REEF campus underwent a dramatic transformation over the last several months, thanks to generous donations from REEF members, members of the Florida Keys community, and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

A new Interpretive Center, adjacent to REEF’s HQ building, will provide space for REEF's public seminars and programs. This educational programming will be available to the local community and the tens of thousands of tourists that visit the Keys each year. In addition, live-streaming capabilities will allow for the center’s programming to reach an even wider audience. The center features self-guided exhibits and eye-catching displays highlighting the diverse marine and terrestrial habitats of the Florida Keys.

Inside the main HQ office, there are nine new educational exhibits centered around REEF's programs and important ocean issues, including - invasive species, endangered species, marine biodiversity, marine habitats of the Florida Keys, the importance of long-spined sea urchins, climate change, and an interactive exhibit about marine fishes from around the world. The Interpretive Center and HQ building are linked by the "Pathway to Conservation", created from over 100 bricks honoring our major supporters who donated during the Summer 2017 capital campaign.

In order to provide informal learning opportunities and outdoor recreational activities, we installed a Native Plants Trail to connect the REEF Campus to the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, which is used by 1.5 million guests and bicyclists annually. This educational oasis features interpretive signs describing the native fauna found on the trail, as well as shaded picnic tables, bike racks, and a drinking fountain.

We will be hosting a grand opening celebration of the new Interpretive Center and other exhibits during REEF Fest in December 2017. We hope you can join us!

Home Grown REEF Clubs! FIN and Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers

FIN members gathered at Maluaka Beach in July for a Great Annual Fish Count dive.
FIN members, Liz Foote and Josh Wittmer (who is also a previous REEF Marine Conservation Intern and now works for the Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui), getting ready for a FIN-organized REEF dive at Honolua Bay earlier this month.

We say it often - REEF is what it is because of our fantastic members.  The grassroots nature of the organization is reflected in all aspects of our work, including the amazing volunteers like Audrey Smith who help with daily operating tasks at REEF HQ, the networks of regional REEF partners who enlist new REEF members and provide continuing education and survey opportunities for active surveyors, our members who generously support REEF with financial donations, and of course the thousands of survey volunteers who submit marine life surveys each year. 

As the corps of active and experienced REEF surveyors has grown, we have been fortunate to have some of those members take their support and interest in REEF to the next level by forming local REEF groups.  Two such REEF "clubs" are FIN (the Fish Identification Network)  and the Pacific Northwest Critter Watchers.  FIN is a REEF club based in Maui, and is touted as an opportunity to join friends and fellow fish lovers in exploring the coral reefs of Maui.  The club is for all interested divers and snorklers, and promotes marine conservation and the objectives of REEF.  FIN was founded by Terri and Mike Fausnaugh (Mike is also a member of the REEF Hawaii Advanced Assessment Team (AAT)) and is supported by the cadre of REEFers that REEF partner, Liz Foote of Project S.E.A.-Link, has generated in Hawaii through the years.  There are monthly (sometimes weekly) FIN dives at various beaches on Maui and at every event FIN folks set up a REEF station on the beach with survey materials and identification reference guides in an attempt to lure in new afishianados!  The PNW Critter Watchers encourages all divers in Washington and Oregon to become underwater naturalists.  Through training and quarterly REEF survey dives, Critter Watcher founders and REEF Pacific AAT members, Janna Nichols and Wes Nicholson, aim to put the fun in critter watching and promote REEF surveying in the Pacific Northwest.  Janna also maintains a Critter Watchers website that includes a fish of the month feature, an events listing, unusual sightings reported by fellow Critter Watchers, and congratulations to REEF surveyors who have advanced through the REEF experience level system.

These home-grown REEF clubs are a great way to help spread the fun and enjoyment of REEF surveying to a local dive community.  We are grateful that we have such enthusiastic and supportive volunteers who are willing to help spread the REEF word.  These on-the-ground activities could never be accomplished without your help!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub