The Faces of REEF: Alex Brett

Alex braving the snow to go diving!
The lovable Lumpfish. Photo by Jason Feick.

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 Alex Brett, a REEF member since 2014. Since joining last year, Alex has conducted 27 surveys, almost all in the Northeast (NE) region. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I first heard about REEF at Boston Sea Rovers during a presentation where the invertebrate monitoring program was being unveiled for the New England area. I had been involved in a lot of benthic invertebrate survey work in college, so the idea of adding science to my normal dives was particularly appealing.

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

I feel that the REEF programs are valuable for two equally important reasons. First off, the data that are produced are invaluable for understanding trends in ocean ecosystems. Recreational volunteer divers can collect far more data than most researchers could hope to achieve. Second, I believe that citizen science programs like REEF are invaluable because of how they engage people in marine science. By inspiring divers to become involved in marine science, REEF helps people form a stronger connection to the ocean and makes them more likely to speak up and take action on marine environmental issues.

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

I live on the coast of Maine, and I dive there year-round. I’ve dove many places around the world and it’s still one of my favorite areas to dive. The rugged rocky coast makes for some wonderfully dramatic topography underwater and our high tidal currents bring an awesome diversity of invertebrate life. One of my favorite places to dive in Maine is a spot, about 20 miles offshore, called Mount Desert Rock. The visibility is usually spectacular and a breeding colony of grey seals make for some entertaining dive companions.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Too many possibilities! I definitely can’t pick just one. I love all nudibranchs, particularly those in the genus Flabellina, like the Red-gilled Nudibranch. Lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) are also pretty incredible, with their goofy face and fins modified into a suction disc.

Is there a fish or marine invertebrate you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?

I would love to see an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) while diving. I’ve seen them at the surface many times, but they are such a unique critter I can’t quite imagine encountering one underwater. One of the things I love about diving is that you never quite know what you’re going to run into while you’re out there.

REEF's 2016 Lionfish Derby Series

REEF is continuing to lead the charge on combating invasive lionfish! The 2016 Lionfish Derby Series is just around the corner and it’s going to be bigger than ever.

For those who are not familiar with REEF’s Lionfish Derbies, they are competitions where divers and snorkelers compete to bring in the most lionfish in a single day. There are cash prizes for the teams who land the most lionfish, the largest lionfish and the smallest. REEF hosted the first Lionfish Derby in 2009, making this our 8th year of derbies. Last year over 1,000 lionfish were brought in as part of the series and over 16 thousand lionfish have been removed by participants since the first derby in 2009.

The annual derbies are planned in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Key Largo. This year, we are excited to be adding a fourth derby to the series in Sarasota, partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and ZooKeeper LLC.

To learn more about lionfish, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish, and to see all the details and register for the Derby Series, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies. We also have a REEF Sanctioned Derby program in which REEF helps others organize and conduct safe and effective derbies by providing tools, templates and promotion. Find out more at www.REEF.org/lionfish/events.

Putting It To Work: New Study Documents Transboundary Impacts of Sea Star Wasting Disease

A healthy Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), an important predator in the kelp forests of the US and Canadian west coast. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A Sunflower Sea Star that has succumbed to wasting disease. Photo by Janna Nichols.
Green Sea Urchin populations have increased in areas where Sunflower Sea Stars have declined. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Sea star wasting disease has devastated sea star populations on the West coast from Mexico to Alaska. The disease broke out in 2013, causing massive death of several species of sea stars. Infected animals develop lesions that eat away tissue, with limbs dropping off as the animals die. The disease has been linked to a virus, although environmental factors may also be involved.

A new study, published last week in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE, presents an analysis of REEF survey data on several asteroid species collected by divers in the Salish Sea over the last 10 years. The Salish Sea is a Canadian / United States transboundary marine ecosystem, and world-wide hotspot for temperate asteroid species diversity with a high degree of endemism.

The results showed that some species were hit hard, while others increased in number. Populations of Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), an important keystone predator in the region, dropped dramatically after the beginning of the epidemic. Several other sea star species, including the Spiny Pink Star (Pisaster brevispinus) also declined. Numbers of the less-common Leather Star (Dermasterias imbricata) and two species of sea urchin, which are prey for sea stars, increased after 2013.

The virus outbreak continues, and will have lasting effects on the ecosystem. Sunflower Sea Stars have effectively disappeared from the Salish Sea, the study concludes. Likely as a result, numbers of urchins have increased, which in turn will lead to more browsing on kelp. As a result, study co-author, Dr. Joe Gaydos, and his colleagues are currently in discussions with the National Marine Fisheries Service to get the Sunflower Sea Star listed as a “species of concern.”

The paper, titled "Devastating Transboundary Impacts of Sea Star Wasting Disease on Subtidal Asteroids", is available online here. Another study published earlier this year in the journal, PeerJ, used the REEF data to evaluate the potential trophic impacts of the seastar decline, as seen in the increase in sea urchins. That paper is availble here. View the entire list of all scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The Faces of REEF: Dennis Bensen

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 Dennis Bensen, member since 2001. Dennis has conducted just over 600 surveys, and is active in several of REEF's surveying regions, including his now home of Hawaii, the western tropical Pacific, and the Tropical Western Atlantic. He is also one of our most active REEF Trip participants, having been on 19 Field Surveys (so far, with more to come!). Here's what Dennis had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF? I learned to dive when I was 47 years old in 1997. Soon afterward I knew I would pursue the PADI master diver certification. In doing so one needs five specialty courses and one of them that I choose was fish ID. I took it in Bonaire and I was taught by an American marine biologist dive master, who being pregnant at the time, could only snorkel. After a slide show on fish ID we went on a snorkel. She pointed to the fish and I dove down for closer look then back up to her to give her my answer. For the second dive she gave me paper to use. After we finished the second dive she told me we could submit the results to REEF. I didn't feel ready. After that trip I went home with the REEF packet, read up on the organization, and signed up for my first REEF field survey taught by Paul Human in Puerto Rico. And that was it, I never looked back. I actually feel like I am missing something when I dive and do not survey.

Have you been on a REEF survey trip, what was your trip highlight? I could fill up a book with the answer to this one. To date, I have been on 19 REEF Field Survey Trips! Most of them in either Cozumel or Hawaii, where I now live. My most recent REEF Trip was on the Palau Aggressor. This trip was a real eye opener! The Central Indo Pacific region has a huge numbers of species. The ID paper is three times the size what we use here in Hawaii. You are busy, busy, busy from the minute you enter the water. There are fish in this region that are also in Hawaii, but nowhere near the majority of what there is to see, so you are learning, learning, learning. I owe a lot to my dive buddy Pam Wade, and trip leader Christy Semmens, who taught me a lot.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? This is an easy one. It is the people – whether they are Board members or office staff and volunteers or divers on Field Survey Trips. I have done surveys with many of the Board members and original members of the staff: Lad, Paul, Ned and Anna, Christy and Brice, and Janet (Camp) as well as staff Jane, Nancy, Amy, and Janna. I miss not working the REEF booth at “Beneath the Sea” with Martha or Lad (before moving to Hawaii I lived in New York). Beyond this, there is a host of divers too numerous to mention that have taught me so much and with whom I share a love of diving and recording the fish we see on those dives. Not to mention all those great trip farewell dinners.

In you opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs? The data that is collected, the integrity of that data, and the usefulness and research that this data will be used in. It is my own small way of giving back to the preservation and conservation of the oceans we dive in. Diving is such a huge part of my enjoyment of life and to think I can give something back, however small that might be, is very fulfilling and satisfying to me.

Do I dive close to where I live and what is the best part of diving there? As I said I now live in Hawaii. I moved here about 2 years ago to the Big Island of Hawaii, mainly because the best diving in the state is on the west coast of the big island. Honokohau harbor is only 10 minutes from my house and I try to dive out of that marina at least once per month, but I prefer to dive up north on the Kohala Coast. The Kohala Divers dive shop up there often runs a one tank afternoon dive. This is perfect for me. I do not need to get up early, I am, after all, in retirement. And with only one tank I am not too tired afterward. The dive finishes near dinner time so I often stop in Waiklloa and have dinner and a glass of wine at one of the fancy restaurants.

But besides that, and this is true of all diving in Hawaii, I can do it almost any day I want year round, something I for obvious reason did not do while living on Long Island, NY. On average, 25% of all fish here in our state are found only in Hawaii. And grey whale are around in the winter. The whales can be seen on all islands but the Kohala Coast of the big island and the South Shore of Maui form a bottle neck through which the whales must pass to move southward, often allowing for greater sightings and definitely more soundings (hearing them under water, always a thrill for me). I’d like to think of this as my own little corner of the worldwide oceans where my data will have an impact.

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

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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.
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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

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Black Seabasses on Grays Reef, photo by Greg McFall, Resarch Coord. GRNMS
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Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, photo by Greg McFall
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Tomtate, Scad, Porgy on Gray's Reef, photo by Greg McFall
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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 http://graysreef.noaa.gov/. 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 http://www.reef.org/db/reports/geo/TWA/9302.

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

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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.

REEF Travel Trips and Tips - August

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REEF Field Surveys are a great way to learn more about what is seen in the water.
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REEF members having fun looking up a mystery fish on a Field Survey in Hawaii.

The 5 P’s, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance and hindsight give you 20/20 vision, both play into REEF Trips. Keeping these mantras in mind, let’s talk about the 5 P’s first.

Have you checked out the latest 2009 REEF Trip Calendar updates? If not, now is the time, several trips are already ½ filled. Don’t wait - you might be having to take second or third choice because the trip you really wanted to go on is filled up - now that would be poor performance – although in this case 2nd choice might not be so bad but don’t wait, start planning and make that call.

One of the first REEF Field Surveys of the year is to St. Lucia

On one of those big birthdays I promised myself among other things to visit somewhere I had never been before every year for the rest of my life. Well in 2009 it is going to be St. Lucia for me – St. Lucia has been on my list for quite a awhile and now I am going to make the trip and explore my 2009 new place on the earth from under and over the sea.

I love the excitement of reading and learning and contemplating the things I might do and see once I get there. We will be staying at Anse Chastanet and diving with Scuba St. Lucia. Who knows we might even spot a Snakefsh or a Bluelip Parrotfish – but in order to see them you have to be there – so call our REEF Dedicated Travel Desk and let’s go explore and experience the REEF way -- 1-877-295-7333 (REEF).

Don’t forget while we are on this trip you can earn your Level 3, 4 or 5 Surveyor – making your surveys Expert Surveys that count even more!

This month’s Tip is to seriously consider Travel Protection when you book your trip. It could save your vacation investment if you happen to need it. When you call our REEF Travel Desk at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) ask for the details. Benefits include:

• Trip Cancellation• Trip Interruption• Travel Delay• Baggage/Personal Effects• Baggage Delay• Emergency Medical, Hospital & Dental Expenses• Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation• Assistance Service

In addition REEF gets a commission for every policy purchased by REEF members on REEF Trips. So not only do you protect your valuable vacation investment but you also help REEF out in the process. How cool is that? So remember when our very own REEF Travel Consultant asks if you want to purchase Travel Protection for your trip – the answer is yes, absolutely.

All divers should also consider an annual Diving Accident Insurance Plan, like DAN's program. This covers diving related incidents and accidents, costly chamber fees, lost diving equipment and even non diving accidents that might occur during a dive trip. Insurance is designed to protect the financial well-being of an individual or other entity in the case of unexpected loss but it doesn’t work after the fact, so as the old county adage goes hindsight is 20/20 – don’t be the one saying I wish I would have…………………….

Our trips are filling up so to make sure you get your first choice - check out our 2009 REEF Trip Schedule and call the REEF Dedicated Travel Desk at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail us at REEF@caradonna.com. Let’s go make some Dives that Count!

REEF Travel Tips and Tricks Spring 2009

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REEF's next Field Survey destination -- St. Croix, May 9-16 at the Carambola Beach Resort. Join us!
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The sad faced Cardinal Soldierfish is often found in sponges and caves. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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St. Lucia Field Survey participants.
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Now that's service!! Dive master Chad carries REEF member, Martha Barrow, off the dive boat to dry land.

Field Surveys -- these fun and educational dive trips are part of REEF's Volunteer Survey Project and they are the perfect way to "Make a Dive That Counts". I am looking for folks to join me in St. Croix in May, details are below. I recently returned from leading a group of amazing REEF volunteers on the Field Survey week in St. Lucia. The diving was great and everyone managed to see a new species during the week. Most notable for me – on my fish wish list was the Cardinal Soldierfish.

I had looked through the book many times and always paused on this photo – thinking it looked like a cartoon character with those crazy looking eyes. In fact I thought the sad sack face was just the angle Paul had taken the picture, but when James Brook shined his light into a vase sponge there it was – looking just exactly like the photograph, crazy eyes and all. I laughed out loud. Then I proceeded to look in every sponge I found for the rest of the week and I managed to find another dozen. How cool is that?

The REEF Team comprised of James and Ann Brook, Kay Tidemann, Pam McDevitt, Martha Barrow, Norbert and April Hoeller, Michael and Ellen Berson, west coast east, coast sisters Helen and Sally Davies, Marion Sinclair, Julio Esparza, and me the irreverent fish leader. We stayed at Anse Chastanet Resort, which is perched on a hillside (as per Michael and Pam who counted the steps to their rooms it was between 137 and 178 steps from beach to room). The food was great and the REEF package included all the meals (good thing we had all those steps) with a choice of 5 restaurants. The rooms looked out on the World Heritage Site of Gros Piton and Petite Piton, with birds and flowers everywhere.

The diving was close and diverse. The dive staff of Dive St. Lucia, Ponti, Ubald, Garfield and Chad could not have taken better care of us. Chad carried Martha off the boat so she wouldn’t get sand in her shoes – what service! Most gratifying for all of us was having Ponti and Ubald become the world's newest REEF Members one morning before our dives. Kay, Martha, and Pam showed them how to submit their survey data on line. Sally and Kay generously gifted their Reef Fish ID books to the newly minted REEF Members. Both guides said that we had given them a new excitement for their job. Ponti, like me, is an SSI Platinum Pro 5000 diver, and that means he has over 5,000 dives – so imagine how excited we all were to be able to share our philosophy of fish with them and teach an old fish some new tricks!

James shared his unbelievable knowledge about what we were all seeing and gave a guest lecture on Damsels in Distress, Parrot(head) Fish and something about Smart Wrasse. Kay, our other Level 5 Expert, generously dove with some of the newly minted fish watchers and coached them through some of their first surveys. It was a very diverse group in Fish IQ, sense of humor and goals for the week – so we made quite the eclectic team. The dive staff accommodated our unique style of diving and we had 1 hour + bottom times, a variety of environments and even made some 2 and 3 site dives on 1 tank. At James’ suggestion we even did a dusk dive and watched the changing of the guard. As Helen Davies said – “It was magical” I couldn’t agree more.

So what is the travel tip and trick – well I need some people to go with me to St. Croix, May 9-16. I have been there before and the north shore is great diving and absolutely gorgeous. The resort is the Carambola Beach Resort which recently went through a major renovation. You would think you were somewhere in the South Pacific from the architecture, palm trees and beach.

The dive operator is Cane Bay Dive Shop and they are fun to dive with and are all a bunch of fish nerds – really! They also have a brand new 36 foot Newton which is the Cadillac of dive boats. Since I can’t actually go by myself - something about doing lectures alone hints at insanity and doing a survey alone is not nearly the same amount of fun as being with a group (and remember we always need to dive with a buddy). So I am looking for 10 buddies to come with me. St. Croix is a key destination in the lionfish epidemic. They have had several confirmed sightings and we really need to get as much survey data about these reefs as we can. Now is the time.

We will also be doing a lionfish presentation and working with the local dive operators and stakeholders to help educate and raise awareness for this terrible environmental scourge. The REEF members on the trip will be able to see firsthand some of the invasive species work that REEF does. And just in case we see a lionfish we will bag it and eat it.

So here is the travel tip – St. Croix – beautiful, exotic and interesting, needs REEF divers to provide fish population density and diversity stats. Only a short plane ride, great accommodations, great diving and you never know what might swim by. We are shooting for a St. Croix Hat Trick (aren’t you curious now?). Time is of the essence so call our dedicated Travel Desk today and get your space booked. 1-877-295-7333 (REEF) or e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.

California REEF Workshops a Huge Success

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One of three free REEF classes held in Southern California last month.
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Divers heading out for a REEF survey dive at Malaga Cove.

As part of REEF's ongoing efforts to engage new divers and snorkelers into the Volunteer Survey Project, as well as to provide existing REEF volunteers with continued training and survey opportunities, we coordinated a REEF Workshop in Southern California last month. The free identification classes, which were taught by REEF Instructor Janna Nichols, were very well attended and the workshop series was a success. Almost 100 divers turned out to take the REEF California Fish and Invertebrate Identification classes and about a dozen divers joined in the survey event at Malaga Cove. It was a great opportunity to reinvigorate REEF's programs in Southern California and to mobilize a corps of dedicated surveyors who will begin conducting surveys on their regular recreational dives.

Funding support for the workshop series was provided by a foundation grant. REEF is dedicated to continuing these opportunities and we are planning to return to LA/OC area next Spring, as well as plan similar events in San Diego and Central California. A huge thanks to Deb Karimoto of Orange County diving, Eric Frasco of Dive 'n' Surf dive shop and Heather George for logistical help, and to REI Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach Tennis Club for letting us hold the classes at their facilities.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub