The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carol Cox

Sawblade Arrow Shrimp. Carol was the first to capture this creature on film! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Carol Cox. Carol joined REEF in 2010 and has conducted 159 surveys. Carol is a member of the Tropical Western Atlantic REEF Advanced Assessment Team and has been an active volunteer and instructor in REEF's Fishinar series. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

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

After retiring from the Air Force, and returning to our home in Mexico Beach, Florida (20 miles east of Panama City), I became active as a volunteer research diver for the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA). To receive State grants for our program, we are required to monitor the condition of artificial reefs we deploy. MBARA decided to incorporate fish surveys with the monitoring program, and I found REEF when researching ways to do fish surveys. REEF serves as our model, but we tailor our survey forms for the local area because our fish population is very different than the fishes found further south.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

When I saw how REEF data are used by naturalists and scientists, I wanted to add fish count data from where I live, especially because there were only a few surveys for my community. I really saw the need after the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our community was lucky, barely escaping the oil slick when a storm blew the approaching oil slick back in the direction it came from. Although we suffered few effects, I realized we needed to catalogue what we had, otherwise, how would we know how our biodiversity was adapting to environmental changes? Since I started volunteering with REEF, I have had opportunity to interact with scientists and fish enthusiasts from around the world. The education REEF provides is phenomenal. I began my self-education by doing the fish quizzes. Then I attended many of the online Fishinars and they are all very educational and FUN! I also learn a lot from other fish watchers using the online fish identification forum.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

The data that are being captured by REEF fish surveys will be invaluable to scientists of the future. As the environment changes, the REEF database will be looked at more and more. We need to record what we have now if we are to know what is affected by global warming, red tide, or the next big oil spill. Who knows, the REEF database may eventually provide the knowledge on how to control the lionfish invasion.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

Most of my diving is where I live, in Mexico Beach, Florida. MBARA has deployed over 150 artificial reefs, everything from reef balls to a large shrimp boat, which is my favorite dive. We see everything from giant Goliath Groupers, to small arrow shrimp (a species that had never been photographed until I discovered them during a survey). Because the survey programs for MBARA and REEF are similar, I encouraged MBARA to become a local Field Station. We are always looking for divers interested in doing surveys on our artificial reefs and can now provide training. I use training gained from REEF, along with my local experience, to teach regional fish identification and throw in some local knowledge for enthusiasts that primarily dive in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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

We were 20 miles offshore of Mexico Beach, when our boat was surrounded by small Mahi Mahi. I had a few shots left on my camera, so I slipped into the water to use up my film (am I dating myself?). Suddenly, a Mahi sped towards me, followed by a large, dark shadow in pursuit. In a matter of seconds, I could see fins, tails, and bubbles, as a large sailfish did a 360-degree turn right in front of me as it tried to capture the Mahi. In an effort to escape, the Mahi swam over my shoulder smacking me in the side of the head. The bill of the sailfish missed by chest by inches as it veered away. Having lost its prey, it swam around me three times before disappearing into the depths. The entire event lasted less than a minute, but the memory of it will last me a lifetime, especially because I got the photos.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? What is your most memorable fish find? What fish are you still waiting to find?

I love blennies! They are such a great photo subject—colorful and expressive. With a little patience, most will gladly pose for the camera exhibiting as many poses as a Vogue covergirl. Of course I am a big, big fan of Anna DeLoach’s Blennywatcher blog. My favorite find wasn’t a fish, but a sawblade arrow shrimp, Tozeuma serratum. I have REEF to thank for putting me in touch with Les Wilk who requested critter photos for the upcoming Reef Creature DVD to be published by ReefNet. I didn’t know what a rare find I had until I sent a photo of the unidentified shrimp to Les for the DVD. He sent the photo off to a marine biologist, who identified the shrimp after I collected one. It turns out this shrimp had never been photographed in its natural environment and scientists believed it only lived in deeper waters. The marine biologist was so excited she flew from Texas to our home so we could take out and show her some of “our” shrimp. The fish I would love to check off my life list is the whale shark. With all the diving we do in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure it is only a matter of time, but I am still waiting!

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

Doing surveys for both MBARA and REEF, I’ve learned it can be fun to get away from the big sites and spend time on something small that isn’t frequented by divers. I’ve spent 45 minutes looking at two 3-foot reefballs. If I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really look, I would never have seen the small juvenile jackknife-fish, or a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish.

The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Eileen Byrne

Sea Turtles - one of Eileen's favorite non-fish sightings! Photo by Carol Cox.

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 Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?

I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.

When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.

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

Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?

My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.

What is your favorite non-fish sighting?

Turtles!!!

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

Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.

REEF is Hiring

REEF is seeking to hire a Trips Program and Communications Manager to direct our Field Survey Trip Program, as well as develop initiatives to increase participation in, and awareness of, the broad suite of REEF programs and services. Do you know someone who is interested in joining our hard-working, dynamic team? The position is based at REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida. More details can be found at http://www.reef.org/jobs.

REEF 2013 Annual Report Released

REEF Staff and Board members are proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. To view a PDF of the report online, click here. In this report, you will find updates on our membership, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, regional activities, special projects including Invasive Lionfish Research and the Grouper Moon Project, data use and publications, our upcoming plans, and finances. We are truly grateful for all your support that made 2013 such a success! Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about any of the information presented in our Annual Report.

Putting It To Work: New Publication Evaluating Goliath Grouper

Goliath Grouper, a protected species. Photo by Carlos and Allison Estape.

Despite uncertainties surrounding the population status of the protected Atlantic Goliath Grouper’s, fishery managers in Florida are under pressure to end the harvest moratorium in place since 1990. A new study published this month in the scientific journal, Fisheries Research, sought to measure the proportion of anglers interested in reopening the Goliath Grouper fishery and to identify key reasons for this interest. The authors also estimated the amount that anglers would be willing to pay for a Goliath Grouper harvest tag (the right sold to an angler to harvest one Goliath Grouper). REEF data on Goliath Grouper were used to compare with the fishermen-perceived grouper population trends. REEF data have been cited as the best available index of abundance for Goliath Grouper in Florida (see Koenig et al., 2011, www.REEF.org/db/publications/9754). The study found that about half of Florida’s recreational anglers believe that the ban on fishing for Goliath Grouper should be lifted, with many anglers reporting that they feel "there are too many goliath grouper and that their populations need to be controlled." These anglers are willing to pay between $34 and $79 for the right to harvest one Goliath Grouper in Florida.

As fishery managers work to determine the future of Goliath Grouper in Florida and the rest of the southeast United States, this study's findings can help them better understand stakeholder intentions and better communicate to the public. Additionally, fishery managers can compare the amount of money recreational anglers are willing to pay to open the fishery to the amount of money other stakeholders, such as recreational divers who visit goliath grouper, are willing to pay to keep the fishery closed. The new paper is titled "Lifting the goliath grouper harvest ban: Angler perspectives and willingness to pay", and was published by Geoffrey Shideler, a scientist at Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science University of Miami, and colleagues from NOAA Fisheries. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

REEF Fest 2015 Coming Up This Month

Have you registered for REEF Fest 2015 yet? It’s not too late! Join REEF, September 24th-27th, for a celebration of marine conservation success in the Florida Keys!

  • Don’t miss out on our free series of educational seminars, beginning at 1:30 PM each day, Thursday - Saturday. Topics include Fish ID, Sharks, Invasive Lionfish, Coral Restoration, Grouper Moon, and more!
  • Dive spaces are still available, Friday - Sunday mornings, with our generous partnering dive shops. Please call the shop directly to book your spot on fish surveying, lionfish collection, and artificial reef dives! Check out the list of shops and dives available on the REEF Fest website.
  • Join us for our evening socials, Thursday at the Caribbean Club and Friday for the Open House at REEF Headquarters.
  • Tickets are still available for the Saturday Evening Celebration Dinner Party, a night that you won’t forget! Tickets include a 3-course meal, live music, and silent and live auctions.

Get full event details and register for REEF Fest at www.reef.org/REEFFest2015

Fishinars This Month: Grunts, the Gulf of Mexico, and more

Bluestriped Grunt, one of the many we will talk about in next week's Fishinar. Photo by Carol Cox.

Don't miss REEF's Fishinars scheduled for this month. We'll talk about Grunts in the Caribbean, and a two-part session to compare common fishes of northern and southern Gulf of Mexico. And then next month, we welcome back the fabulous Ray Troll, who will talk about cool sharks, both modern day and extinct. These free, online webinars offer the opportunity to learn from our experts on a multitude of topics. For the complete 2016 schedule and to register, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars. Upcoming Fishinars include:

The Grunt Club: New Members, Thursday Feb 11th at 8pm EST, with Jonathan Lavan

Northern vs Southern Gulf of Mexico, parts 1 & 2, Tuesday Feb 23rd and Feb 25th at 8pm EST, with Carol Cox

Cool Sharks, Thursday Mar 17th at 8pm EST, with Artist Ray Troll

Support Discoveries This Summer; Your Donation Will Be Matched

Make a donation today so that REEF staff can continue research and discovery on the impacts and solutions of the lionfish invasion in the western Atlantic. Photo by Rich Carey.

We have one week left in our summer matching campaign, and want to thank everyone who has given so far. This summer, we are highlighting all the amazing discoveries made possible by generous donations from members like you!

To make a contribution, please visit www.REEF.org/donate.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “To date, we have explored less than five percent of our oceans.” What does that mean for REEF and our members? It means that there is so much out there to discover! Every year, REEF members are finding new species, and REEF scientists are investigating the lifecycles and behaviors of critical marine species. We are constantly learning new things about ocean wildlife that contribute to their survival.

It also means that all these new discoveries can help regulatory agencies and policymakers to make more informed decisions on how to manage our fisheries. In cases like the threatened Nassau Grouper, seasonal protections during spawning seasons have been developed. In the case of invasive species, like lionfish, removal events are being encouraged because they have been proven effective at controlling lionfish populations.

Please take this opportunity to make a contribution this summer and help REEF continue to make these important discoveries that ultimately protect marine species around the world! Thank you again to all our members who support us in our mission, and have a great summer!

The Faces of REEF: Jet Long

Jet (second from the left) with fellow surveyors on the Micronesia Field Survey.
In addition to his volunteer work with REEF, Jet also helps with other causes like this 75-story climb for the YMCA.
A face-off between Black-saddled Toby. Photo by Jet Long.
Jet's underwater selfie!

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 Jet Long. Jet lives in California, and has been a REEF member since 2013. He has participated in several REEF Field Survey Trips and has conducted over 50 surveys. Here’s what Jet had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?

I first heard about REEF from fellow REEF member Hideko Kawabata during a volunteering trip. Doing fish surveys all over the world sounded like an interesting idea to me. I spent more time learning about REEF when I got home and decided to join. My first REEF trip was in 2013 to Southern Bahamas on Turks and Caicos Explorer II. I learned a lot about lionfishes (e.g. anatomy, how to hunt and cook them). Since then, I try to do at least one REEF fish survey trip every year.

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

I have done a few REEF Field Surveys. The one I like the most so far is the Philippines Dumaguete Atlantis Resort trip. It might be because it was the first time I did muck diving. The fishes and creatures that you could find were amazing (e.g. many types of anemone fishes, bobtail squids, slingjaw wrasse, mantis shrimps). The highlight was no doubt swimming with the world’s largest fish – whale sharks!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

There are a lot of good reasons why you want to be a REEF member. You can help to establish a fish database which is used by different research projects. You will visit places that you may not think of visiting. But the best part is the expansion of your knowledge on fishes, sea creatures, and the ocean when you are on a field survey trip. You will see the underwater world differently once you learn more about it. You will learn the importance of protecting our ocean.

What is your favorite place to dive?

I would have to say the Coral Triangle. Its high concentration of fishes, corals, and other species is really amazing.

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

When I was in Dumaguete Philippines, I saw two Black-saddled Tobies facing off with each other. At first, they were in the middle of the water column. They then spiraled down towards the bottom. They eventually glided through each other’s body. I didn’t expect this to happen.

What is your favorite fish or invertebrate?

Ocean’s giant gentle Manta Ray is my favorite fish. It was absolutely beautiful to watch them swimming and hovering the cleaning station.

Do you have any surveying, fish watching or identification tips for the REEF members?

Do more! The more you do, the better you will be in identifying the fishes in a particular region. Before each field trip, one should spend some time watching the Fishinars to get familiar with the fishes. In addition, a fish ID book is a really useful tool to learn about the fishes before and during the trip.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

Seeing a Crocodile Flathead hiding in the sea grass during the Palau trip was really neat. Its camouflage body made it almost impossible to locate. I was just lucky to look at that specific patch of sea grass. The fish that I really want to sea underwater is Ocean Sunfish (aka Mola Mola), which is supposed to be the world’s heaviest bony fish.

Welcome New REEF Staff - Bonnie Barnes and Ellie Place

Bonnie Barnes, REEF's Development Manager.
Ellie Place, REEF's Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project

We are very excited to welcome two new staff to the REEF Team - Bonnie Barnes and Ellie Place. Both joined our staff based at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida, in April 2017. Bonnie will serve as REEF's Development Manager, bringing a wealth of experience and passion to our fundraising program. Ellie came to REEF originally as a Marine Conservation Intern in 2016, and we are so happy she has decided to stay. She will be REEF's Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Program. More about both of our new staff is below, and you can read about all of our staff here - Staff Bios Page. We feel so lucky to have such a dedicated team. Our staff, together with our amazing volunteers and supporters, ensure that our mission-oriented, marine conservation work can happen.

Bonnie Barnes joins REEF as our Development Manager. Bonnie’s heart is in conservation, whether scuba diving, traipsing through a forest, or swooshing down a mountain, she loves and cares about our environment. Having started her first business at 17 in her hometown of Las Vegas, she eventually found her way to Florida where she owned a marketing company for another 14 years. After earning her MBA in 2006, she jumped head-first into the nonprofit world, leading a conservation organization in Jacksonville, Florida. As an avid diver, she trained to be a member on the Jacksonville Reef Research Team, and, as their Communications Officer, organized the first Artificial Reef conference in the early 90’s at Jacksonville University, in which REEF also participated. For her work in the offshore marine environment, Bonnie was awarded Florida’s Sea Grant Volunteer of the Year Award in 1991. With over 10 years in nonprofit management and cultivation of donors, Bonnie has found her way to the Florida Keys, where she can combine her love of diving with protection of our ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public to become involved.

Ellie Place joins REEF as the Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. She attended Brown University where she earned two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Geological Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies. She first started at REEF as a Marine Conservation Intern in the fall of 2016, and enthusiastically joined the staff in the spring of 2017 after serving as an Education Leadership Intern. She grew up in Washington State, halfway between the Puget Sound and the North Cascades, where her passion for exploring and conserving the natural world lead her to REEF. Before moving to Key Largo, Ellie worked as a co-leader for kayaking expeditions in the San Juan Islands and as a lab assistant in an oceanography lab that studied sediment samples from the East China Sea to measure centennial scale climate change. Ellie’s passion for sharing conservation efforts support her role with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project and in expanding its many components. Ellie is a member of REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team for the Tropical Western Atlantic, but has also enjoyed diving in the Pacific Northwest.

Welcome Bonnie and Ellie P!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub