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.
As REEF heads into the 20th year of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, we will be looking back at some of the milestones that got us here. In this month's Faces of REEF, we feature one of our earliest members, Ken Marks. Ken was instrumental in helping guide REEF in our early years, building the first data processing and storage tools. Ken first met REEF Co-Founder, Paul Humann, on a dive trip in 1992. Paul soon realized Ken's computer background and mentioned the idea that he and Ned DeLoach were working on for a diver-led fish survey program. The unsolved problem was the logistics of collecting data. They had thought of mailing out 3.5" floppies (remember them?!) that would be mailed back by the volunteer diver to REEF HQ (which didn’t even exist at this time). Because this was back in the days before smart phones, tablets, and ubiquitous laptops, Ken suggested a more low-tech approach. After several rounds of prototypes, Ken produced what would become REEF's very first survey scanform. Today, Ken remains an important part of our IT volunteer team, and has conducted 311 REEF surveys. Here's what Ken had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
After meeting Paul on a liveaboard dive boat, we got to talking about ways divers could report fish sightings. I suggested a computer scannable form as a solution and upon my return to Chicago researched the specifications for creating such a form. Over the next couple of months I wasted lots of Paul’s fax paper sending him 17 evolving versions of what came to be the first version of the REEF survey form, which was first printed in 1993. The creation of the REEF underwater survey sheets, guides such as Fish-in-a-Pocket and waterproof ID cards, training DVDs and courses, and the web-based online data entry are all indications that REEF has matured from its humble beginnings.
Do you dive close to where you live? Where is your favorite place to dive?
Though my involvement with REEF I have been fortunate to be able to work with scientists and various organizations surveying and teaching fish identification. This has allowed me to dive in many places throughout the Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean area but one of my favorites is just a 45-minute ride from my home – the Blue Heron Blvd Bridge near West Palm Beach. Experienced fish surveyors sooner or later start diving in “alternative habitats” in order to see species that they haven’t seen before. The shore dive under the BHB is a great way to experiencing muck diving without a passport and a 24-hour flight to Indonesia. There are all sorts of things to see “under the bridge” from octopus and bobbit worms to frogfish, stargazers, seahorses, and sea robins.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
First – slow down; it’s not a race. The mooring buoy at a dive site is usually placed in the middle of the best area. Let the others burn their air swimming around for hundreds of yards searching for turtles, sharks, dolphins (or whatever “big ticket” species will make their dive). Spend your time slowly searching over the reef (and alternative habitats near the reef) for the odd and unusual that will help you expand your list of species seen. Use the REEF forums, database, and field stations to plan your trip so you can extend your lifelist and see something you’ve never seen before on a dive.
It also helps to really know your fishes. Study your ID books or take one of the REEF courses or webinars to increase your knowledge. When you are very proficient at identifying the common species that are encountered on most dives, the unusual species will be much easier to spot when you come across one. You might even spot a species new to science – several REEF surveyors have made such discoveries over the years.
What is your most memorable fish find and why?
My most memorable fish find would have to be the Yellow Garden Eel (Heteroconger luteolus). Back in 1997, a coworker had mentioned diving on a wreck where a Goliath grouper (then known as Jewfish) had taken up residence for several weeks. At the time I had not yet added this species to my lifelist and was eager to get a photo. The following weekend we dived the site and I was ready with my Nikonos and my wide-angle 15mm lens. Of course the fish had cleared out and I never got the picture. This wreck, a tug boat, was part of a cluster of three closely spaced wrecks so we took a compass bearing and headed across the sand at 70 feet heading for the larger wreck for the rest of the dive. Along the way I noticed a colony of unusual garden eels out feeding in the Gulf Stream current.
About two weeks prior to this dive I had been helping Paul on a new printing of the Reef Fish ID book. I had purchased a reference book from the American Fisheries Society and was using it to verify that Paul’s book was using the AFS accepted common and scientific names. In that reference book, I noticed that the species previously just known as Garden Eel had been renamed to Brown Garden Eel due to a recently described second species of garden eel from the Florida area. The new species name “luteolus” implied that the species was yellow. And bright yellow was the color that I saw while crossing that sand plain at 70 feet between wrecks. I knew in an instant that this must be the newer species of garden eel. I had a friend pull the scientific paper containing its description and it matched exactly what I saw (bright yellow dorsally with a white belly). The paper mentioned that the species was described from a few partial specimens that had been dredged from deep water off Tampa as well as a few larvae that appeared different from the “standard” Brown Garden Eel. I contacted the paper's author and he suggested I try to capture one and send it to him. A short time later Ned & Anna DeLoach, Eric Riesch, and John Pitcairn joined me on a dive to photograph this species and collect a specimen. The fish we collected now sits in the Smithsonian’s collection and is, to this date, the only whole adult specimen of this species in any collection. The photo taken on the collection dive can be found in the latest edition of Reef Fish ID.
Though this was not a new species to science we were able to provide an important specimen and REEF data has subsequently found this species on other sites throughout Florida expanding our knowledge of this colorful little species. Citizen science for the win!
Have you made your plans to join us in Key Largo this summer for REEF Fest? Come celebrate 20 years of the REEF Volunteer Survey Project with 4 days of diving, learning, and parties. REEF Fest is planned for August 8-11. The schedule is packed with intrested workshops, diving oportunities, organized kayaking and snorkeling expeditions, and evening socials. Special room blocks have been reserved at several area hotels. Complete details can be found online at: www.REEF.org/REEFFest2013
All REEF Fest events are open to the public, but pre-registration is requested for social events and workshops. Register using this online form. Tickets are required for the Saturday Dinner Cruise celebration. Purchase dinner cruise tickets online here. A quick look at the schedule can be seen here. Questions? Please send us an email at REEFHQ@REEF.org or call us at 305-852-0030. We look forward to seeing you all in August!
Why the celebration? In the summer of 1993, a group of pioneering volunteers conducted the first REEF fish surveys. Twenty years later, the Volunteer Survey Project and other REEF initiatives are leading the way as innovative and effective marine conservation programs. You are invited to join us this summer to celebrate 20 years of success.
Thanks to the support of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF), REEF has announced that Adam Nardelli will be the 2014 Spring REEF Guy Harvey Intern. REEF chooses 12 individuals, out of hundreds of applicants, to intern at REEF each year. The goal of the intern program is to give future marine scientists and leaders an in-depth look at marine conservation programs, and gain critical career skills.
Nardelli, a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, wears two hats as both a SCUBA instructor and a scientist. As a student in Dr. David Kerstetter’s fisheries research laboratory, Nardelli investigates population dynamics of lionfish and provides insight into cost-effective management plans. His career goal is to engage the public in ocean resource conservation and collaborate among stakeholder, government and non-government organizations to sustain the integrity of reef ecosystems.
The GHOF is making a tremendous impact on the future of aspiring marine conservationists by sponsoring a REEF intern. REEF's long-standing Marine Conservation Internship Program, now 20 years old, has been influential for the next generation of ocean heroes. REEF interns build relationships with leaders in marine science and conservation, leaving the internship well rounded, experienced, and ready to begin successful, long-term careers in marine conservation.
“We congratulate Adam on his selection and look forward to working with him,” said Steve Stock, GHOF president. “We chose to support the REEF internship program because REEF and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation have similar interests in conserving our reefs, dealing with lionfish, and educating the next generation of marine biologists.”
As the REEF Guy Harvey Intern, Nardelli will dive headfirst into marine conservation operations at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida, learning about conservation fieldwork, data management, marine biology laboratory techniques, non-profit management, and public speaking skills. Visit these webpages for more information on the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program.
Restoration of a unique historic water cistern was recently completed at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, FL. REEF’s Headquarters is located in the building that was originally the home of William Beauregart Albury, one of the earliest settlers of the Florida Keys. In August 2012, the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys designating the building as a Key Largo historic site and “the oldest Key Largo home in its original location built in 1913.” As its original tenant, Mr. Albury lived in the residence for forty-two years. The building has subsequently undergone various commercial proprietary changes before it was purchased by REEF in 2001.
Adjacent to the former residence were the remains of a wooden cistern built around the time of the home’s construction. This one-time functioning cistern was used to collect and store rainwater which then was used to supply freshwater to the home’s inhabitants. Prior to 1942, Florida Keys early settlers would often use cisterns alongside their homes before freshwater could be transported to the Keys via Flagler’s Railroad or through a pipeline from the mainland.
Over the past nine months, REEF volunteers and partners have restored the water cistern. All of the original lumber was salvaged, restored and used in the reconstructed cistern. The cistern holds important cultural and historical significance as a unique architectural structure used by early Key Largo settlers. Later this year REEF will create interpretive signage detailing the history of cistern use in the Upper Keys in the early twentieth century by area residents and plans a ribbon cutting event when the restoration is completed. Special thanks to the Historic Florida Keys Foundation’s for funding materials in the restoration project and Jerry Wilkinson of the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys and James Scurlock of Mother Ocean Custom Woodworks for their leadership and the hundreds of hours of hard work volunteering their time for this project.
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 and Tricia Grimes. They have been REEF members since 2012, shortly after moving to the Florida Keys. They are active with REEF's lionfish research efforts, and they also lend their technology talents around REEF Headquarters. Roger is eligible to have his volunteer hours matched by his employer (Microsoft), resulting in generous financial support to REEF. Here's what they had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
We first heard about REEF when we were taking one of the first lionfish harvesting classes in Morehead City, NC. We liked REEF so much it was partially responsible for us moving to Key Largo a few years ago.
What ways are you involved with REEF?
Our main participation with REEF is with the Lionfish project. We also work to keep the REEF office computers up and running. Our highlights are all the lionfish dives we’ve done with REEF interns, Lad Akins, and the many great volunteers. Really great people! We haven’t done an official REEF survey dive yet. We’ve taken a few of the online REEF Fishinars, and they have really improved our ability to identify fish. Every new fish we see gets recorded in our copy of Reef Fish Identification. One of our life goals is to see every fish in the book!
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
REEF is a special group of people with big hearts and scientific minds who dedicate a big part of their lives protecting parts of the ocean. REEF makes a big impact through its educational outreach, sharing science, and identifying ways to make the oceans better for everyone. Everything we do for REEF makes us feel like a more complete one human family!
Do you dive close to where you live? What is the best part about diving there?
We moved to Key Largo three years ago and purposely bought a house on an ocean canal and bought a boat. We go diving every chance we get.
Do you have any fishwatching tips for REEF members?
We’ve noticed that wary fish watch your eyes. If you want to get close to a wary fish, be patient, don’t chase them directly, and advert your eyes until the last possible second.
What is your most memorable fish find?
Seeing a mola mola out in the clear bluewater. I (Roger) was a relatively new diver and I thought I was seeing the closest thing to a dinosaur. I thought I was bent. How could a fish be shaped like a hand? And I’ve never seen one since then, so I now know what a special treat it was.
Join us in Key Largo this fall for REEF Fest 2015, September 24 - 27. Celebrate the success and impact of REEF's marine conservation programs and education initiatives with diving, learning, and parties. Festivities begin Thursday with afternoon seminars and then a welcome party at the Caribbean Club. Friday and Saturday are full days, with diving in the mornings, seminars in the afternoons, and social events in the evenings (Friday Open House at REEFHQ and Saturday Celebration Dinner Party). The fun wraps up on Sunday with more organized dives. All REEF Fest events are open to the public. Complete details on the schedule, including the lineup of seminars, diving opportunities, and social gatherings, as well as travel logistics and hotel arrangements, are available online at www.REEF.org/REEFFest2015.
REEF Fest: Explore. Discover. Make a Difference. Celebrating Marine Conservation in the Florida Keys!
We are pleased to welcome two REEF surveyors to the Golden Hamlet Club in 2015 – Georgia Arrow and Janna Nichols. What is the Golden Hamlet Club? No, it is not a club of Shakespearean enthusiasts, but rather a club of citizen scientist superstars - those REEF members who have conducted 1,000+ surveys in the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Georgia was the first member to complete almost all of the 1,000 surveys in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. Although many of Janna’s surveys were also conducted in the Pacific Northwest, as REEF’s Outreach Coordinator, Janna has conducted surveys in almost all of REEF’s project regions. She recently did her 1,000th on the Cozumel REEF Field Survey.
The very first Golden Hamlet member was Linda Baker, achieving the status in 2005. Today, there are eighteen members of the Golden Hamlet Club. A plaque hangs at REEF HQ in Key Largo, with the names of our honored volunteer surveyors -- Lad Akins, Georgia Arrow, Linda Baker, Judie Clee, Janet Eyre, Dave Grenda, Doug Harder, Lillian Kenney, Peter Leahy, Rob McCall, Franklin Neal, Janna Nichols, Mike Phelan, Bruce Purdy, Linda Ridley, Dee Scarr, Linda Schillinger, and Sheryl Shea. Congratulations to you all. To see pictures and profiles of these surveyors, visit the Golden Hamlet Club webpage. Thanks to their dedication, and those of the 16,000 other volunteers who have participated in the Survey Project since its inception in 1993, we have generated the largest marine fish sightings database in the world. Who's going to be the next Golden Hamlet surveyor?
On June 22, SCUBA divers, marine conservation enthusiasts, and foodies gathered at Piccolo Ristorante in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to attend the second annual Lionfish Tasting Dinner. During the event, patrons learned about effects of the lionfish invasion while sampling the tasty invader’s light, white meat. At the end of the evening, DiveBar, one of the night’s sponsors, presented REEF with a check for $1,500 to support our Invasive Lionfish Program.
The night’s menu featured invasive lionfish, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction. Each lionfish dish incorporated unique ingredients and creative preparations, beginning with a smoked fish dip appetizer, followed by four tapas-style courses, including a lionfish corn dog, surf and turf lionfish yucca croquette with marinated skirt steak, blackened lionfish taco with tropical salsa, and finally, an IPA beer-battered lionfish over rice. Each course was paired with a wine to complement the individual dish’s distinctive flavors.
Between courses, REEF Trips Program Manager Amy Lee gave a presentation to educate attendees about the lionfish invasion and the importance of lionfish removals. At the end of the night, Andres Avayú, chef at Piccolo Ristorante, demonstrated how to safely handle and fillet a lionfish. REEF’s second edition of “The Lionfish Cookbook”, published in February, features Chef Andres’ own unique recipe, lionfish with zucchini potato pancake and roasted red pepper coulis, as well as more than 60 lionfish recipes from many other chefs throughout the invaded region.
Red Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have invaded the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. Lionfish diets are very broad and include both fish and crustaceans. They have been documented to consume more than 120 species of prey, including commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species. “It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects. “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.”
Sponsors of the Lionfish Tasting Dinner include DiveBar, Miami Wine Buzz Club, Jack Scalisi Wholesale Fruit and Produce, and 8 Shades of Blue. All lionfish fillets used at the event were donated by Sean Meadows of World of Scuba, who recently hosted a REEF Sanctioned Lionfish Derby in Boynton Beach, Florida. Thanks to the joint efforts of these supporters and Piccolo Ristorante, the Lionfish Tasting Dinner raised $1,500 to support REEF’s marine conservation programs!
REEF hopes to organize more Lionfish Dinners to continue spreading awareness of the lionfish invasion and encouraging the public to consume this malicious yet delicious invader. For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. For more information on collecting, handling, and cooking lionfish, check out the second edition of “The Lionfish Cookbook”, available on the REEF Store at www.REEF.org/store/lionfishcookbook.
This past Tuesday, REEF launched our Winter Fundraising campaign. Thank you to all who have already donated. If you haven' yet given, we are asking for your help today! By giving a gift, you are ensuring that REEF can continue to inspire people around the world to cherish and protect our marine resources.
You can give securely online at www.REEF.org/donate, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030.
Inspiring individuals to protect our marine resources is critical because our oceans are under constant threat. These threats include coral bleaching, temperature fluctuations, increased risk of invasive species, and overall declines in fish populations worldwide. Your financial support is essential to ensure REEF can provide education and research to assist in managing these impacts.
One fish that is sensitive to these threats is the vibrant and charismatic Mandarinfish. This year's limited-edition print is a scene I photographed while in the Indonesia. The image captures the species' amazing spawning ritual, truly spectacular to witness. By making a donation today of $250 or more, you will receive a beautiful 11” X 14” signed print, showcasing the astounding colors of the Mandarinfish and highlighting the importance of protecting our oceans. Donors giving $500 or more will be included on the Giving REEF, located at our headquarters.
Thanks again for your support and Happy Holidays!
Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.
To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers. REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.
Interesting data to date include: