The Faces of REEF: Member Spotlight, Carl Gwinn

Carl posing with his pumpkin at the yearly pumpkin carving contest of the Paradise Dive club.
Carl at his day job. day job, standing in front of the RadioAstron spacecraft in Russia, now in orbit, and going out to nearly the distance of the moon every 9 days.
A xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish that Carl found in the Channel Islands!
The resulting "Ocot-tattoo" after his encounter with a Giant Pacific Octopus.

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 Carl Gwinn, a REEF surveyor in California. Carl joined REEF in 2001 and has conducted 328 surveys. He is a member of the Pacific Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what he had to say about REEF:

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

Not long after we started to dive in California, my wife and I saw an advertisement for a fish ID seminar and survey trip out of Santa Barbara. We couldn’t make the trip, but we attended the seminar, learned quite a bit about fish, and started doing surveys. As we dived more, we became more engaged and more serious about it. We went on some trips and filled out quite a few surveys. Lately, I’ve had to slack off, because of work responsibilities, but I’m hoping to do more in the future.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?

Being a citizen scientist! I enjoy doing the dive, but it’s also making a contribution to human knowledge. So, the experiences of the dive add a little something to human knowledge, rather than being merely for my own entertainment. I also think REEF does great work in getting people to experience, appreciate, and learn about the ocean.

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?

Dive for science! Identify and count fish while enjoying your dive.

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

Of course the data are important. But I think that the education aspect is also really important. People appreciate more what they understand. Counting fish can help them to realize how complicated and interconnected the ocean is. It’s also vulnerable, but has tremendous regenerative capacity. That’s something that surveyors can experience directly, after gaining a bit of knowledge.

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

My favorite place to dive is probably Refugio State Beach, not far from my house. I’ve done over 200 dives there. I like it because it’s easy to get in and out, and is relatively well sheltered from the swell. Once you get in it has a wide variety of different habitats in a small area. You can really see how the populations of fish and invertebrates change, both with the seasons and in ways that never repeat. The beach there tends to get overcrowded, but usually once you get offshore it is pretty empty.

What is the most fascinating fish (or invertebrate) encounter you’ve experienced?

Certainly my most memorable encounter was being attacked by a Giant Pacific Octopus. He tore off my mask and my regulator, and tried to yank off my hood. I was diving in the Olympic Marine Sanctuary in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on a REEF survey trip. I slammed my regulator back in, and surfaced from 50 feet depth with the octopus on my head. Its suckers left hickeys all over my face, which lasted about 10 days! The photo has become widely circulated on the internet! Although my dive buddy had a camera, he was enjoying a crevice full of sculpins too much to notice the encounter: my only regret is that he didn’t get a series of photos.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Probably my favorite kind of fish is the rockfish. There are lots of different species, and sometimes they seem to blend into one another, so ID can be a challenge. They exhibit some interesting types of behavior, sometimes species-specific. I love to see the schools of juvenile and smaller rockfish: they have bright, clear markings and seem curious. They change from year to year, as the different species have more or less success in recruitment. And, they are hope for the future.

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

Jump in. I remember taking a boat trip to the Naples Seamount and Platform Holly. The visibility started at 5 feet and got worse with each dive, and the surge was over 3 feet at depth. On the way back to the harbor we stopped at the Goleta sewer pipeline, which runs from shore to a few of miles out to sea, and has some good fish in the rocks covering the pipeline. I decided to skip the dive, I’d had enough. My nap was interrupted by a lot of shouting up on deck. A gray whale had swum up to a few of the divers, on the bottom, and inspected them with its enormous eye. I wish I’d seen that! So, jump in.

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?

I remember spotting an unusual rockfish on a dive off Santa Cruz Island: later identified as a xanthic-melanthic gopher rockfish (or black-and-yellow rockfish) south of Santa Rosa Island. It was nearly completely yellow. It was probably the most unusual fish I have seen: essentially a mutant. I managed to get a photo. What haven’t I seen yet? I haven’t yet managed to spot many of the local fish, some common: an embarrassing lapse! I’d like to see more and different kinds of sharks, spot some turtles (they show up around here occasionally), watch a few different kinds of whales and dolphins swim by underwater. I would love to see a white abalone underwater: they are extremely rare.

Please Remember REEF In Your Year-End Giving

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.
REEF Supporters who contribute $250 or more during the winter campaign will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered photo of a Sailfin Blenny.

As we celebrate this holiday season, I am happy to report that REEF is also celebrating another successful year of protections for ocean habitats and the critters that live in them!

Please take a moment to make sure REEF continues this critical work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

From all of us at REEF, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season!

4th Edition of Reef Fish ID Guidebook Released

We are excited to announce an exclusive opportunity for REEF members to pre-purchase the 4th edition Reef Fish Identification - Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach. This newly released version includes 89 new fish species and over 150 new photos, representing a significant update to the 2002 3rd edition. The new book is currently only available through the REEF online store. Purchase your copy today by clicking here. You can also purchase the three book Reef ID Set here, which includes the new 4th edition fish book, as well as the recently released updated editions of Coral ID and Creature ID books.

Since the release of the first edition of Reef Fish Identification in 1989, this book has revolutionized fishwatching. The 4th edition is packed with amazing marine life photographs of 683 species and enough information to keep marine life enthusiasts busy for years. It includes the latest information on what is known about the taxonomy and distribution of Caribbean reef fishes. The easy-to-use, quick reference format makes it easy to identify the hundreds of fishes sighted on the reefs, sand flats, grass beds, surf zones and walls of Florida, the Caribbean and Bahamas.

To help our members get the most out of the new book, we will be offering two free Fishinars (online webinars) in the coming weeks to review many of the new additions and species updates that were included in the 4th edition. We hope you will join us for “Digging Deeper in to Caribbean Fish ID - Exploring the 4th Edition of Reef Fish ID, Parts 1 and 2”, on June 16 and June 30, at 5pm PST, taught by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, PhD. Fishinars are free to REEF members and are easy to access through a basic web browser. To register for one or both sessions, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars.

Support REEF's Impact by Donating Today

Donors of $250 or more during our Winter Campaign will receive this limited edition, signed print of aggregating Goliath Grouper by Paul Humann.

Please join me this year by giving a gift to REEF this holiday season! I want to thank all those who have been so generous and have donated already. If you haven’t given yet, we are still a long way from our goal. Your donation this winter is critical so we can continue protecting marine species all year. Click here to donate now.

Examples of REEF’s important work that directly benefit marine species include:

  • Helping to bring back the Goliath Grouper from the brink of extinction
  • Contributing to the growth of Nassau Grouper populations
  • Researching the effectiveness of invasive lionfish control techniques
  • Providing data about the spread of the seastar wasting disease on the west coast
  • Supplying data about predator populations of grouper and snapper in the Caribbean (see article below)
  • Contributing data to researchers studying the effect of Marine Protected Areas on rockfish and other species in the Pacific Northwest
  • Providing data for researching trends in large parrotfish species in the Caribbean, including Blue, Midnight, Rainbow Parrotfish
  • Assisting in conservation efforts for manta and mobula rays

As you can see, REEF works hard all year to ensure our oceans are healthy and the creatures within are protected. As my personal thank you for donations $250 or more, I will send you a limited-edition, signed print of a Goliath Grouper aggregation. Check out this webpage, www.REEF.org/impact, describing this rare photo opportunity!

Six Great Fishinars Coming Up in July

Yellowface Pikeblenny is one of the fun finds on a Bonaire shore dive. Learn about it at the Fishinar on July 28th! Photo by Ned DeLoach.

We have a SIX great Fishinars planned for July. These hour-long sessions enable you to learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. We hope you will join us - it's free for REEF members. Check out the full schedule and links to register at www.REEF.org/fishinars.

  • July 8, Rock On! California Rockfishes and Scorpionfish, Taught by Jonathan Lavan
  • July 14, Invertebrates of New England, Taught by Janna Nichols
  • July 16, Fishes of New England, Taught by Janna Nichols
  • July 21, Puffers and Porcupines of the Caribbean, Taught by Carlos and Allison Estapé
  • July 23, Pacific Coast Young of the Year (YOY) Rockfish ID, Taught by Janna Nichols
  • July 28, Fishes of Bonaire Shore Diving, Taught by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens

The Faces of REEF: 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 Jason Feick, a REEF member since 2003. Jason has been an active surveying member in his home state of Massachusetts, and he's a proud member of the Advanced Assessment Team of Expert surveyors for the Northeast (NE) region. He has also done almost 200 surveys in the warmer waters of the Caribbean and Hawaii. To date, he's conducted 403 surveys. Here's what Jason had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF?

I came up from a dive in Curacao and everyone was talking about the fish they saw and when they asked me what I saw my response was “a bunch of blue fish (blue tangs) and a potato looking thing with fins (Porcupinefish.)” After that I was determined to know what I was looking at. Around the same time, I saw an advertisement for REEF in a dive magazine and went to the website, bought the Reef Fish Identification book, and have been during surveys ever since.

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

Yes, I live in Massachusetts and dive the chilly waters off Cape Ann, MA often. The best part about diving here is the variety of marine life in different geographic areas. South of Cape Cod the waters are slightly warmer and the marine life is very different. A short drive to Rhode Island and one can see juvenile tropical fish, while a little longer drive to Maine and one can see abundant invertebrate life, such as northern red anemones and stalked tunicates.

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

On a recent trip to Eastport, Maine, I videoed two Ocean Pout either having a territorial dispute or engaged in mating behavior. They started off lying side-by-side, then one bit the other in the back and shook vigorously. The second Pout then returned the favor to the first. They ultimately locked jaws as one of them pushed the other into my camera. This was quite an exciting interaction to witness. You can watch the video here.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?

A couple months ago I came across a goosefish while diving Halibut Shores, MA. This is an “ugly” (beautiful to me) fish that I thought I would never find. It is an ambush predator that uses a lure, similar to a frogfish, to draw in prey that it gulps up with its huge mouth. I saw its outline from a distance and couldn’t believe my eyes. As I got closer this crab came bumbling down a rock towards the goosefish. I was afraid the crab was going to chase the goosefish off and I wouldn’t be able to get a good picture. Well the crab did spook the goosefish, but he only moved a little and actually the movement shook off the silt that was covering the goosefish and I was able to get some good pictures and video of him. Top on my list of critters to see is an Atlantic Wolffish. My friends recently saw three of these on a dive I chose not to go one, D’oh!

Join REEF Experts on an Unforgettable Dive Trip This Year!

Blackbird Caye Resort in Belize is a great place to unwind during the busy winter. Photo credit: Blackbird Caye Resort.
A fire dartfish in Micronesia. Photo credit: Manta Ray Bay Resort.
Learn lionfish collection techniques from the experts while in Curacao. Photo credit: REEF.

Are you looking for an Indo-Pacific adventure to Micronesia, want to dive the warm waters of the Caribbean, or aim to explore the emerald green waters of British Columbia? Join REEF to take a Dive Vacation That Counts! We still have a few spaces remaining on the following 2016 REEF Trips:

Curacao Lionfish Research Trip, August 20 - 27 - led by REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF Board of Trustees Member, Peter Hughes. Learn all about the lionfish invasion while diving and helping with research. Special promotion for new REEF Trip Participants! Visit the trip page for details.

Bermuda, October 1 - 8 - led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Renowned Underwater Photographers and Marine Life Authors. Ned and Anna will entertain participants with their fish id and behavior expertise. Pink sand beaches and fascinating historic sites help to make Bermuda a captivating destination for non-divers as well. Visit the trip page for details.

Palau and Yap, October 4 - 16 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. We will begin our trip at Manta Ray Bay Resort in Yap, and then board the Palau Aggressor II Liveaboard. We will explore rich coral walls and channels, documenting the biodiversity of the area. Participants will also have the unique chance to snorkel Palau's Jellyfish Lake and then dive the Chandelier Caves. Visit the trip page for details.

Barkley Sound, BC, October 9 - 13 - led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator. A must-dive destination for cold-water divers, Barkley Sound will treat participants to excellent diving and encounters with wildlife both above and below the water. Visit the trip page for details.

Saba, October 22 - 29 - led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer. A chance to dive this beautiful mountainous island in the Caribbean. In addition to the REEF seminars, participants can participate in "Sea and Learn", a month-long education program offered by Sea Saba. Visit the trip page for details.

Coronado Islands, California/Mexico, November 7 - 10 - led by Jonathan Lavan, REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project Assistant. This West Coast trip offers the chance to encounter a diverse array of habitats and organisms, including kelp forests brimming with fish and invertebrates and playful sea lion pups. Visit the trip page for details.

Belize, December 3 - 10 - led by REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Decompress before the holidays with a week on Belize's Turneffe Atoll at the spectacular Blackbird Caye Resort, named one of Sport Diver Magazine's "2015 World's Best Diving Resorts." Divers will delight in the high diversity of fishes and endemic species. Non-diver companions will love the sandy beaches, pool side relaxing, and kayaking. Visit the trip page for details.

The complete 2016 and 2017 schedule is posted at: www.REEF.org/trips. Contact REEF at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869 to book your space or to find out more.

Conservation Creatures and Other Perfect Holiday Gifts!

Be sure to check out the REEF online store for all of your holiday shopping needs! We have a great selection of field guide books, REEF surveying supplies, lionfish collecting gear, REEF swag, and the cutest collection of marine-themed plush animals! Shop today at www.REEF.org/store.

REEF Conservation Creatures are iconic marine species found throughout REEF’s nine Volunteer Fish Survey Project regions. These marine creatures highlight the diversity of ocean ecosystems and encourage understanding and respect for marine life. Each plush comes with a collectable, laminated Conservation Card that provides information about the animal’s habitat, characteristics, potential threats, and global distribution in REEF's Survey Project regions. These cuddly marine animals make the perfect educational gift for the ocean enthusiast in your life. Plushes are sold on the REEF website for $10 each, and if you buy three or more, you will receive a 15% discount. If you’d like to own all 12 Conservation Creatures, you may purchase the entire set for $96 (a savings of 20%!) You can view the entire collection online at www.REEF.org/creatures.

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!

REEF Joins Leading Volunteer Organizations to Develop Citizen Science Toolkit

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Leda Cunningham test drives an online bird ID portal with other conference participants.
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REEF volunteer (and family member) Brice Semmens takes in the REEF display during the poster session.

In late June, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) hosted the first ever Citizen Science Toolkit Conference in Ithaca, New York. Widely known for projects like FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the CLO is a pioneer in bringing people closer to nature through cooperative research, cutting edge technology and innovative science programs across many natural science fields. Leda Cunningham and Dr. Christy Semmens represented REEF at the 3-day meeting, where fifty leaders of citizen science organizations around the world – from worm watchers to bird counters to star gazers – came together to build a toolkit for citizen science practitioners and others seeking to engage volunteers in meaningful science activities.

There is some debate about what citizen science is, not to mention what it does. Many participants noted that “volunteer monitoring” more accurately captures the nature of their programs (much like the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project) while others thought that volunteers fill more of a role than just data collectors and should be involved in all parts of the scientific process, beginning with posing the research question. The group periodically split into five focus groups and reconvened at the end to present a model based on each group’s focus area: Education, Evaluation and Impact, Community Building, Technology and Cyberinfrastructure, and Research and Monitoring. The resulting Toolkit will include resources, recommendations, and case studies from each of these areas, as well as a key to existing citizen science programs. Christy participated in a panel on the impacts of citizen science and presented examples of how REEF data are used by resource agencies and scientists. She presented details of how REEF volunteers helped identify a hotspot of non-native fishes along the south Florida coast and the resulting management actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the important role that REEF data can play as a fisheries-independent source of data for the development of stock assessments and fisheries management plans, the discovery of new species by several REEF members, and the value of using our most experienced divers (the Advanced Assessment Team) to conduct annual monitoring of selected sites inside and around no-take marine reserves.

REEF was proud to contribute its fourteen years of experience building the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the group discussion. Many citizen science organizations deal with the same issues of volunteer recruitment, recognition and retention, engaging the “real” science community, standardizing data collection methods and measuring success. REEF has addressed many of these issues with innovative strategies that may be adopted by other citizen science initiatives: engaging the private retail sector (dive shops) to recruit volunteers within a target audience (scuba divers and snorkelers), developing strong partnerships with science and resource management agencies (such as university-based researchers and the National Marine Sanctuary Program), 5-level expertise testing (in fish identification) to assist with quality control, a published standardized data collection method and the Advanced Assessment Team as an incentive for volunteers to become more proficient surveyors and a measuring stick for training programs.

For more information on the conference or Citizen Science Central, the CLO’s initiative to provide information for practitioners and volunteers, click here. Look for the Citizen Science Toolkit, a robust and practical framework for citizen science program development, implementation, and evaluation, in the fall 2007.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub