The Faces of REEF: David Thompson and Luanne Betz

David and Luanne in the Philippines
Exploring topside
David surveying in the Caribbean.
David and Luanne with friends on a REEF Trip.

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 one of our many REEF couples - David Thompson and Luanne Betz, members since 2011. David and Luanne have collectively conducted 250 surveys and are active surveyors in several REEF regions. Both have achieved Level 5 Expert status in the TWA and Level 3 status in the CIP. Here's what they had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? We love diving and having been married in Key Largo under the sea it was a natural fit for us. We first heard about REEF from a fellow REEF member, Penny Hall and in 2011 we signed up as members and started our fish education online. In April 2012 we completed our first survey on the Nevis REEF trip led by Dr. Christy Semmens and we were hooked!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? We have been on many! Caribbean destinations include Nevis/St Kitts, St Lucia, Utila/Honduras, Curacao, and we are going on the Bonaire trip this fall. Our favorite trip so far was to the Philippines. The highlight was when a Whale Shark unexpectedly emerged from a massive school of Bigeye Trevally. Tubbataha marine preserve was the most fascinating place we’ve ever experienced; the diversity of life was mind-blowing. We have also attended all of the REEF Fests in Key Largo.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? Learning about the fish and fish ID has added a whole new aspect to our diving. We love watching the fish behavior, the changes at night, and seeing how many different species we can find.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey? While on the field survey in the Philippines we learned the Three-spot and Reticulated Dascyllus make a throated buzz that sounds like a cat purr when defending their territory.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? We love having an expansion to a hobby we already loved. REEF has given us many new friends. We actually have gone on vacations with members we have met on REEF survey field teams. And they have stayed with us to go diving locally or just to visit. We also joined other REEF members in Hawaii last April. We also introduced REEF to our children and that has expanded our participation with them as well. Our son, Landen, went on a lionfish trip to Curacao with us and proved to be a very good shot!

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them? REEF is a citizen science program in which we are active participants. They have many programs to participate in, including invasive lionfish control and study, the Grouper Moon Project, and provide a giant database for scientists to monitor sea life around the world.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? We love to dive near our home in Coral Springs, FL. We are close enough to dive in the Keys, Delray, Boynton, and West Palm. Our favorite local spot is (of course!) Blue Heron Bridge.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to? Black Brotula in St. Lucia, Ghost Pipefish in Dumagete, Philippines, and flouders mating in Tubbataha. Still on our wish list — Manta Rays!

Exciting Opportunity to Sleep Under the Sea

We are excited to share with you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join REEF on a special expedition next spring. In partnershp with Florida International Univeristy (FIU), we have arranged for a small team of REEF members to experience another level of ocean exploration. Our team will venture beneath the waves and spend a night in the FIU Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only undersea research laboratory. Deployed 60 feet beneath the surface in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Aquarius Reef Base is the world’s only undersea research station and is used to study the ocean, test and develop undersea technology, and train astronauts. Less than 1,500 people have ever ventured inside Reef Aquarius Base, and even fewer have spent the night in the underwater habitat.

The project dates are March 5 - 10, 2017, and includes 4 nights of lodging in Marriott Bayside Resort in Key Largo, 3 days of 2-tank dives with Quiescence Diving Services, a night spent in the Aquarius Reef Base, and classroom sessions with REEF and Aquarius staff each day. Note that the time spent in the Aquarius is not a saturation dive. The pressure inside Aquarius will be adjusted during the overnight stay, and participants will not be allowed to venture outside of the Habitat until departure from the Habitat. Cost to participate is $4,500. If you are interested in finding out more, visit the Aquarius Expedition website.

Join REEF’s British Virgin Islands Field Survey, featuring a special itinerary aboard the Cuan Law

It’s not too late to become a citizen scientist in 2017! We still have a couple spaces remaining on our British Virgin Islands Field Survey this winter, December 3rd - 9th, and REEF surveyors of all levels are invited to participate. The British Virgin Islands (BVI) offer world-class diving and our REEF trip promises to be great. We have arranged a special itinerary with the Cuan Law liveaboard and the boat will explore some of the lesser-dived areas on the north side of the islands. Ellie Splain, REEF’s Education Program Manager, is leading the trip and will teach daily fish identification classes for participants to expand their knowledge of fish in the area while contributing to REEF’s marine sightings database.

At 105 feet long and 44 feet wide, the Cuan Law is the world’s largest trimaran. There are 10 spacious and air-conditioned two-person cabins onboard, each with a private bathroom. The boat’s top deck has hammocks to relax in after the day’s dives.

With more than 100 dive sites, diving in the BVI is suitable for all skill levels. The water temperature in December is a comfortable 80 degrees F and the dive sites have clear blue waters with spectacular coral formations and plenty of fish life, plus sea turtles and rays. The islands are also home to some of the most famous wreck dives in the Caribbean, including the RMS Rhone and the Chikuzen. The planned itinerary for this trip is unique and will also feature some diving on less crowded, north side reefs and pinnacles, weather and conditions permitting.

When not diving, you can enjoy snorkeling during surface intervals, and there’s plenty to do on this trip for non-divers as well. The boat has hobie cats, sea kayaks, and paddle boards available for all guests to use. The week ends with a fun beach BBQ ashore.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-reach destination for hassle-free pre-holiday travel, the BVI are a great fit. Located only 60 miles east of Puerto Rico, they are easily accessible. Tortola is the largest island and is easily reached by flight from San Juan, PR, or by ferry from St. Thomas, USVI. The currency in the BVI is the US dollar, so there is no need to worry about exchanging money either.

We welcome divers and non-divers, as well as fish surveyors of all levels. Escape from the busy holiday season, and expand your knowledge of marine life! For more information, visit our British Virgin Islands Field Survey webpage . To register for the trip, e-mail trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869.

Introduction

Hello and happy October! This edition will be REEF-in-Super-Brief since our biggest announcement - the launch of the new REEF.org website - will direct you to endless updates on REEF programs, new online tools, an improved REEF Store, and a new member-login that will allow you to get the most out of the new site. Visit www.REEF.org now!

If you're still with me, read on to learn about an exciting new artificial reef project REEF will embark on in 2008 with the sinking of the USAFS Vandenberg in Key West, Florida and REEF's participation in important inter-agency collaborative research on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in California. The third of six monitoring events at Biscayne National Park was recently completed; hats off to REEF staff Joe Cavanaugh and Lad Akins and Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) volunteers who served on this project amid challenging weather and personal circumstances.

Earlier this month, REEF lost a valuable partner and close personal friend. Mike "Smitty" Smith was a boat captain at Quiescence Diving Services in Key Largo, Florida and drove the boat for many local monitoring projects. His positive outlook and team spirit will be missed but we hope to honor his commitment to ocean conservation through REEF's continued work in the Florida Keys community.

"Best fishes" from the REEF family to yours,

 

Leda A. Cunningham, Executive Director

Holiday Open House A Swimming Success

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From left: Evelyn McGlone, Amy Slate and Steve Frink catch up while Lad Akins (rear) explains REEF to new members.

On Friday, November 30, REEF welcomed more than 100 local members and new friends to REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida for the first annual Holiday Open House. The event was intended to raise awareness about REEF in the community and educate REEF neighbors about critical conservation projects going on in the Florida Keys. The first in a series of signed, limited edition Paul Humann prints was raffled off, authors and photographers Ned and Anna DeLoach signed books and everyone enjoyed celebrating the season with friends and fellow fish watchers.

If you find yourself in the Florida Keys, we hope you will swing by and say hello at 98300 Overseas Highway, Key Largo. Many thanks to the newly formed Key Largo Fun-raisers group for helping with this event: Amy Slate, Evelyn McGlone, Mary Powell, Amy Fowler, and Sharon Hauk.

Introduction

Hello and Happy April!

In this edition of REEF-in-Brief, learn about exciting work happening in the Turks and Caicos islands, new lionfish information and opportunities and the chance to help REEF collect data in the tropical eastern Pacific. REEF members recently helped the Northwest Straits Commission locate and remove a derelict fishing net in Hood Sound, Washington, while staff and volunteers made a splash at a south Florida Earth Day event. Please mark your calendars for the 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC), taking place throughout the month of July. The GAFC is a great opportunity for fish watchers new and old to contribute to the largest marine life data collection event REEF holds all year.

My bittersweet news is that this is my last week at REEF. I will be staying in the marine conservation community here in the Florida Keys and will continue to support the critical work that REEF does. The Board of Trustees has identified a strong candidate for my replacement, details of which you will be provided soon. I sincerely appreciate the support each of you has shown REEF and hope our paths cross in the future. Until then, best wishes and best fishes,

Leda

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REEF Database Reaches New Milestones

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Over 8,500 volunteers have conducted 100,000 REEF surveys in the western Atlantic since 1993. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Earlier this week, on March 3rd, 2009, the number of REEF surveys conducted by volunteers in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (incl. the US East Coast, Caribbean, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico) topped 100,000! The REEF Volunteer Survey Project database as a whole (including all regions) reached this benchmark in October 2006. The 100k surveys have been conducted by 8,582 volunteers at 6,203 sites in the TWA region. Other remarkable project milestones reached this week -- there are now two TWA surveyors who have conducted over 2,000 surveys each(!), many of our surveyors in the Pacific and Hawaii regions are about to surpass the 500 survey mark, and the number of surveys conducted in the Pacific region will soon exceed 15,000. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations and our most active surveyors.

REEF's mission, to educate and enlist divers in the conservation of marine habitats, is accomplished primarily through the Volunteer Survey Project. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers. To find out more about who is using the data, visit the Publications page on the REEF website. The first surveys were conducted in 1993. As of February 2009, 125,717 surveys have been submitted to the REEF Survey Project database. Visit the About REEF page to find out more and to see where our volunteers are conducting surveys.

When Is a Blue Not a Blue

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Once thought to be a single species, Blue Rockfish are now being split into two. Photo by Dan Grolemund.
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This is a "blue-blotched" Blue Rockfish. Photo was taken off Dalli's Wall in Monterey, by Janna Nichols.
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This is a "blue-sided" Blue Rockfish. Photo was taken off Slant Rock in the Olympic Coast NMS, by Janna Nichols.

Just when you thought you had it all figured out, you realize there is more to learn. A few years ago, scientists working on Blue Rockfish genetics discovered that there were actually two species of Blues. After fishermen bagged both types off Eureka, California, and were able to correctly separate them by appearance, Drs. Tom Laidig and Milton Love wondered if they could be correctly identified by divers underwater, and in what range and depth they are found. What a perfect project for our west coast REEF surveyors.

Using photos taken by Pacific NW AAT members (Pete Naylor, Janna Nichols) in both Monterey and the Neah Bay area (on our annual REEF survey projects of these areas), they were able to determine that yes indeed, the two species of Blue Rockfish could be correctly ID’d underwater. Both species are being found along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts by fishermen. REEF surveyor Taylor Frierson has seen both species (in the same school!) while diving near Newport, Oregon. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has both species of Blue Rockfish on display in Halibut Flats – a good way to compare them.

Although the species has yet to be officially described, REEF is asking Pacific surveyors, whenever possible, to start separating the two into what for now will be called, “Blue Blotched” and “Blue Sided”. These new species are listed in the Unlisted Species section on the online data entry form. A general “Blue Rockfish” category will still exist if you’re unsure (the one listed on the Listed Species list). We are also asking surveyors who have photos from previous survey dives, to go through and if they can positively ID the species seen based on the photos, to submit the change to us at data@reef.org. Please include the survey number (if know), date, and location.

To help you ID the two species, here are some tips:

Blue Blotched:

  • Blotchy patterns on side
  • Body shape more symmetrical and rounded
  • Blue Sided:

  • More solid coloration of body
  • Lateral line more prominent
  • Body more elongated, flatter underside
  • Lower jaw juts out more
  •  

    Comparison photos may be seen here.

    The Survey Scoop!

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    You've done the survey, now what? Check out these FAQs. Photo by Paul Humann.
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    Data entered online at www.REEF.org/dataentry takes a few weeks to be added to the database.
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    You can view a lifelist of all species you have seen and where you have conducted surveys on REEF.org.
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    Did you see a rare fish that is not listed on the online form? These fish, like this blue croaker, can be added on the Unlisted Species page Photo by Paul Humann..

    Each month, we get questions from our surveying members about the ins and outs of conducting REEF surveys, submitting their data online, and accessing those data. Here's a compilation of some of the most frequently asked questions. The survey scoop -- all in one place!

    I’ve submitted my survey online – why can’t I see my data? Your data goes into a batch, which gets processed every few weeks. Not only does it go through computer error checks, but a live human checks it as well, and we may send an email to verify your sightings. Data submitted on paper forms take much longer (months, sorry!). So be extra patient on those.

    Once my data are processed, how can I see them? You can generate reports of your survey activity ("My Survey Log") and your species lifelist ("My Data") through the REEF website. You need to be logged in to REEF.org and then look on the left hand side of the page under your User Name. If you haven't yet created a REEF.org login, start here.

    Some fish I saw don’t appear in the Listed Species section on the online survey form. Now what? Only the most common fish in a region are listed on the online form to save space – but if you click on Unlisted Species link on the left side of the submission page, you can search the complete list that will most probably contain your species, and you can record it there. If you can't find it, email us at data@reef.org.

    I don’t see the invertebrate/algae I saw on the online survey form – now what? Remember that the REEF protocol only includes specific set of Invertebrates (PacNW, CAL) and algae (CAL) and they are listed both on the underwater survey paper, as well as the online submission form. If you don’t see it there, it isn’t monitored by REEF.

    What if the place I dove/snorkeled doesn’t have a geographic zone code assigned? Just email janna@reef.org with the name of the site, lats/longs (preferably in degrees/decimal minutes form) and most likely 4 digit zone code area it falls in, and it will get created for you. After confirmation, you’ll be able to submit your survey. To see a list of current Geographic Zone Codes, check here.

    Do I have to submit the lats/longs on each survey I do? No way! You can leave that section blank. You can also leave water temperature blank, but all other fields are required.

    I dove a site that was composed of many different habitat types. Which one do I mark? It’s a judgment call for this one – I usually just mark the habitat where I found the most species on my survey.

    I made a mistake on a survey I already submitted. Is it too late? Nope, it’s not too late. While you should try to avoid mistakes (because it’s a lot harder to change once it’s in the system), it is possible to correct and accuracy is always a good thing. Email us details.

    I forgot to turn in a few surveys from last year (or longer). Is it still OK to do so? Yes. Old data can still be submitted, but do try to keep current on your surveys so that those accessing the data are getting the most recent and accurate information available.

    Where can I take REEF Experience level tests? Find a Field Station near you – or email us at data@reef.org and we’ll find a way to make it possible.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub