The Faces of REEF: Adam Nardelli

Adam and the lionfish research team.
The cryptic frogfish that Adam found in Cozumel.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Adam Nardelli. Adam has been a REEF member since 2009, and he served as a REEF Intern in 2014. He has conducted 54 surveys and has participated in several of REEF's programs. Here’s what Adam had to say about REEF:

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

I first learned about REEF as a PADI dive master when I became involved in doing group fish surveys and held a Great Annual Fish Count event at a local dive shop in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I eventually became a PADI instructor and started teaching my own fish identification courses for many of the local dive shops. In 2009, the spread of invasive lionfish started to reach the shores of south Florida, and as a dive professional and passionate steward of the local reefs, I quickly saw this issue as an important threat that needed to be understood and treated for management. I started a research project on the lionfish invasion while I studied a graduate program at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, and partnered with REEF and Lad Akins as a REEF Intern.

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

My involvement with REEF has influenced most of my diving career well into shaping my view as a marine conservation steward and professional educator today. As a REEF Intern, I was fortunate to assist with several field surveys, and I would have to say that among all of them the single highlight was the ability to dive and learn from the staff members. Of course, my most memorable surveys were conducting lionfish transects with Lad, Stephanie, and the other REEF volunteers. There were as many long, cold, wet days as there were warm, sunny ones where we spent hours in the water surveying many of the diverse reef habitats around the Florida Keys. There were so many dive stories that we came away with, but I would have to say the most memorable was when we were approached by a huge sailfish chasing bait.

I also had the extraordinary experience of assisting with the Grouper Moon project in Little Cayman with Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Brice Semmens. This was an opportunity to help conduct research and promote continued protection for the endangered Nassau Grouper. It was an honor to learn from the sharp set of fish identification skills that Christy and Brice possess as expert field researchers. Swimming with large schools of these charismatic fish was a memorable dive adventure.

Lastly, just this past summer in 2015, I participated in the Roatan Field Survey group, which was led by Anna and Ned DeLoach. It was wonderful to dive with these two fish “aficionados” as we explored every coral crevice and sand hole in search of rare, cryptic and elusive creatures. It’s hard not to have fun with them around, as diving with these two really makes one appreciate how remarkable life under the ocean can be.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I am inspired to continue to do REEF surveys because it adds value to every dive I make. Not only am I contributing data for scientific endeavor, but it also enables me to appreciate the reef in a very real, detailed way. During each dive, I can account for every creature that I observe and take the time to watch their behavior. Diving becomes more like a visit with a friend than just being a passerby.

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

There are so many diverse and fascinating fish in the oceans that it would be hard to choose just one to top the list. However, during my most recent dives in Cozumel this year I encountered a perfectly cryptic Longlure Frogfish. When the dive master pointed to the coral head, I thought critically, “this guy thinks I’ve never seen a sponge before.” But then upon closer visual inspection, the pectoral fins and eyes began to take shape. With greater concealment than any octopus or scorpionfish I have encountered, this creature is truly unique.

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

My best tip for fishwatching and being a good surveyor is to slow down and take your time to dive. Be still in the water and watch the fish school around you. Practice good buoyancy control as well. You will not only appreciate the reef more, but the fish will respond better towards your presence and allow you the close inspection you may need to get that positive key identification feature.

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

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.
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. 

REEF to Host "For the Love of the Sea" Benefit Dinner and Auction

cropped diver.jpg

On Saturday, February 9, REEF will host an ocean-themed dinner and auction at Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort to raise awareness about REEF in the Florida Keys community and help conserve local coral reef ecosystems. Underwater photographers Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach will present new images of sea life taken on their worldwide dive travels. A silent and live auction will offer prizes from local businesses and travel to destinations including Bonaire and Papua New Guinea. Tickets are $75 each and include buffet dinner, open bar and dancing.

For more information, including how to purchase tickets, become an event sponsor or donate auction items, please visit If you are in the area, please join REEF for this unique opportunity to celebrate the Valentines season and kick off 2008 as the International Year of the Reef.


REEF Survey Tips

Joe Cavanaugh searching wall for Cave Basslets
Check for the Witness Protection Program Fish, here - the Yellowtail amongst Horse-Eyes
Look closely at sharksuckers, 3 species seen on this one Nurse Shark
Look for Exotics amongst the native species, here a Red Lionfish
turtle survey.jpg
Report your Sea Turtle sightings on survey - linked to
Surveyors conferring on a sighting ID
Large sponge "smoking," releasing gametes

Once again, it is that time of year when many of you are getting out on the water and conducting REEF Fish Surveys.  I have put together a few bullet points based on my experiences surveying with members and answering questions on techniques and things to watch out for when filling out your data sheets. Here are a few tips:


  • Roving Diver Surveys mean you are not restricted to a transect line while surveying and you can roam about within 100m of dive boat, mooring buoy, or shore during your survey, drift dives count, of course, and often cover a larger area. The area surveyed does not correlate to your fish sightings, in terms of sighting frequency and abundances, but rather,  your time surveying is directly correlated to your sightings data.  This is why it is important to fill in the time box on your scanform or on the dataentry page to reflect the time you actually spend surveying, not your total dive time.  If you spend 5 minutes prepping to survey and you stop surveying on your safety stop, for instance, than your survey time will not equal your total dive time.  Also, as you get better at identifying your fish, try and spend more time looking and searching for fish, and less time looking at your survey slate.
  • Set up your slate so that it is easy to get to but not necessarily in your hand throughout your dive.  I clip mine with a retractable clip to my BCD and use surgical tubing to hold a graphite pencil, the kind artists use.  You can get these at any art supply store and you'll get hundreds of surveys from one pencil providing someone doesn't smoosh it with their dive cylynder!  I typically census every couple of minutes or when I see something unique that I don't want to forget.  I periodically update my survey so that I really don't have much to add at the end of the dive and I can go through and make revisions while the dive is fresh in my mind.  I write in code such as LU (look up) for any fish I need to consult a book about later in the day.  I also carry a magnifying glass and a small flashlight to search under ledges and inside sponges for peppermint basslets and sponge cardinalfishes, for instance.


  • Use your time wisely when diving deeper profiles on wall dives.  As your dive profile changes depending on the site, you can adjust your survey strategy accordingly, to maximize your survey time and the scope of what you see.  For wall dives, I personally keep navigation simple, pick an unusual coral head or sponge and mark it in your mind and take a compass heading back to the boat.  Make your descent but while you do, search for the type of habitat you are likely to find the fish you are looking for.  On a recent trip to Turks I found that at around 100' depth, the Fairy basslets transitioned into Blackcap basslets, at this imaginary line I was likely to find some Cave basslets, or three-line basslets.   Then, knowing the dimensions of the cave openings they prefer, you can be choosy about which hiding spots you want to check out.  Checking the deeper tube sponges had rewards too in not just finding Sponge cardinals, but also Black brotulas (two for the trip).


  • Decide how much time you want to search for different species or families ahead of time.  Mike Phelan found with statistical analysis of his personal surveys that he would find 90% of his species in the first 10 minutes of his survey effort on coral reef dives.  If you have the luxury of diving a site twice, you can more easily survey the big picture and concentrate on finding cryptic species such as triplefins and other blennies and gobies on the second dive. Or you can focus on abundances for some of those cryptics, seeing how many of one species you can find, increasing Secretary blennies from Few on your first dive to Many on your second dive at the same site.


  • Can I count a fish I did not see in the water? The answer is no but here are a couple of examples where I or others have surveyed fish in an atypical manner.  Recently, on our Turks Field Survey, I was climbing onto the boat after a night dive when a flyingfish leapt from the water, bouncing off my knee onto the boat deck.  I picked him up, identified him as a Mirrorwing flyingfish and threw him back in the water.  Did I add him to my survey?  Yes, since he was in the water with me during the time of my dive and he was a new survey species for me.  I also added a Tripletail to a survey I did last year as I was gearing up on the boat, I saw this Tripletail and snorkeled over to it just before starting my dive.  One other quick example came two years ago with our Biscayne Bay AAT project where the group saw a Whale Shark but not on the survey site itself.  Some people filled out a species-only survey for this sighting as it was a first for many and a fortuitous sighting as the first time Biscayne Park recorded the species.  We created a dive site based on the coordinates.  But in general, you can only survey what you are seeing at the time you are actively engaged in your survey.  Feel free to email me at with questions about this or any other questions you might have about surveying techniques.


  • Share what you're seeing with other divers, especially your buddy.  Surveying is not a competition and its good practice to corroborate your unusual and cryptic sightings with other divers, share your findings with them in the water when you can. This really becomes important when you are with a REEF group and you are trying to get the "lay of the land," sort of speak.  Are those Dusky Damselfish I'm seeing everywhere?  And are those Secretary or Roughhead blennies I'm seeing.  How do I find a Candy basslet, people keep seeing them, can you show me?"  Ask questions of your fellow surveyors and take advantage of the unique fish identification and fish finding akumen others have; I sure do on AAT projects.  And lastly, feel free to take notes on interesting events such as coral and sponge spawning, rarely seen or odd behaviors of fish, etc.  You can post these on one of our REEF forums accessible from our homepage. Photos for this article, courtesy Aggressor II, Turks and Caicos.

REEF News Tidbits for August

REEF Hats!  Just Added to the REEF Store.  Check them out and get yours today.

The 2009 Field Survey Schedule has been updated with several new trips, including a second trip to Cozumel this December and Bermuda with Ned and Anna DeLoach in October 2009.

- REEF researchers and collaborators have been busy in the field this month on the Grouper Moon Project.  Watch for an update in next month's REEF-in-Brief.

- REEF's Lionfish Research was featured on the National Geographic News earlier this week.  This follows extensive coverage by the Associated Press earlier this month.  Also this month, Anna DeLoach produced this 5 minute video for Scuba Diving Magazine that looks at the the recent lionfish population explosion, the reasons lionfish are the perfect invader, how they got to the wrong sea, what REEF is doing about it, and how divers can help. Watch this informative video here. Read more about this project in this recent press release

REEF Fish and Friends Lecture Series

The invasive lionfish will be the topic of next month's Fish and Friends lecture, April 14th. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
REEF Executive Director, Lisa Mitchell, introduces Paul Humann, at the first Fish and Friends lecture in March.
Capt. Joanie Follmer and REEF Volunteers Jane Bixby, Nancy Perez and Julie Schneeberger attended Paul's Fish and Friends lecture earlier this month.

REEF has been around for over 15 years and we felt it was time to give back to the community that has housed and supported us since REEF’s inception. So we came up with REEF Fish & Friends, a monthly meeting/seminar in Key Largo that gathers snorkelers, divers and armchair naturalists to learn more about fish and have some fun. Our first REEF Fish & Friends was held March 10 at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters. Paul Humann, the opening night speaker, shared the history of REEF and highlighted milestones over the last decade and half.

Paul visited with guests and signed books and then spoke for about an hour. The room was packed and people were even standing in the hall to listen. As most of you know, Paul is the consummate story teller and we had some laughs, learned some new things about REEF and got to hear firsthand how the organization came to be.

REEF Fish & Friends will be held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar. We are planning a line-up of interesting guest speakers as well as REEF staff in the coming months.

In conjunction with the lecture series, we will also be working with local dive operators to arrange a monthly REEF survey dive/snorkel trip. No experience necessary. REEF Fish & Friends is all about learning how to survey and teaching others – its fun, easy and you will reap immediate results – making a dive that counts.

Upcoming Fish & Friends -- On Tuesday April 14, Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects and the recognized lionfish expert, will present Born in the Wrong Sea – a presentation about the invasion of the Pacific lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. He will present the latest information on sightings and the important marine conservation work that REEF is doing to manage this huge environmental problem.

Tuesday May 12, Lad will return to present Parrotfish and Wrasse. This will be a shortened version of the presentations that are done on REEF Field Surveys. Even if you think you know your Parrotfish and Wrasse come and listen as Lad presents ID techniques, habitat and behavior. These hermaphrodites are fascinating and are sure to provide fodder for an interesting presentation.

Keep an eye on our REEF Fish and Friends webpage ( as we post info about presentations, trips, photos and more. So see you Tuesday April 14 at the James E Lockwood REEF House, MM 98.3 from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.

REEF Trips - Making Your Vacation Count

Participants on a Field Survey to Curacao in October 2009.
REEF trips are a great way to learn, both above and below water. Photo by Jesse Armacost.

Our t-shirt may say, “It’s all about the fish”, but if you’ve been on a REEF trip, you know it’s about the people too. Diving with like-minded enthusiasts who share your interest in learning more about our underwater world is one of the best ways to spend your dive vacation! Our recent trip to Curacao was no exception – a great group of surveyors of all levels came together to share their knowledge, fish encounters, and a lot of fun. Experts Doug Harder and Kay Tidemann showed us some of the unusuals, including the delicate Pale Cardinalfish and a rare reverse-pattern Goldentail Moray. We even taught our divemaster Elric about some of the various phases of wrasses and parrotfish. At the end of the week, our sister team of Helen and Sally Davies both passed their Level 3 tests, and beginning surveyors Amy Kramer and Norm Valor are now officially at Level 2.

If you are interested in taking a “dive (trip) that counts” and making new friends, there is no better way than to join us on a REEF trip next year. Our diverse schedule has something for everyone, and some trips are already starting to fill up…only a few spots are left on the Belize Lionfish trip for example. To see the full 2010 trip calendar, just click here and scroll down the page to find a trip that fits your schedule!

Please call 1-877-295-REEF (7333) to make your reservations or you can e-mail our dedicated REEF Travel Consultant at

REEF Trip Schedule 2010 -- Prices, package details and more available online.


  • Dominica with Dive Dominica and Ft. Young Hotel -- April 17-24, 2010. Led by Heather George.
  • Belize with Sun Dancer II Liveaboard -- May 1-8, 2010. Lionfish Research Expedition, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes.
  • Roatan with Turquoise Bay Resort -- July 17-24, 2010. Led by Paul Humann.
  • Cozumel with Aqua Safari and Safari Inn -- August 14-21, 2010. Led by Sheryl Shea.
  • Key Largo with Amoray Dive Center -- August 26 - September 2, 2010. Sea Critter Seminar, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach.
  • Bonaire with Buddy Dive Resort -- September 26 - October 2, 2010. Field Survey and Coral Spawning Expedition, Led by Jessie Armacost.
  • Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico with Rocio del Mar Liveaboard -- October 9-16, 2010. Led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens.
  • Grand Cayman with Dive Tech and Colbalt Coast -- November 6-13, 2010. Led by Lad Akins.


  • REEF Hosts Booths at Two West Coast Dive Shows

    REEF volunteers spreading the word at the NW Dive and Travel Expo.
    Annie Crawley and REEF AAT member, Matt Dowell, at the Long Beach dive show.

    REEF has been on the road this past month, and was well-represented at two prominent West coast dive shows – the Scuba Show held in Long Beach, CA, and the NW Dive and Travel Expo, in Tacoma, WA. Volunteers - composed of active surveyors and members of the Advanced Assessment Team in California, Oregon and Washington - helped staff the booths. Show-goers seemed to get a kick out of the ‘pop quiz’ (a few common local fish) they were given as they walked by the booth – demonstrating the fact that even if divers only know the ID of one fish, they can get started doing REEF surveys in the Volunteer Survey Project. “Friend of REEF” stickers were freely handed out and put on shirts.

    While our main objective was to spread the word about REEF's programs, connect with current REEF supporters, and engage new volunteers, we also sold REEF gear – hats, books, slates, T-Shirts and the new Sensational Seas 2 DVD. Particularly popular were the new REEF water bottles. As always, these items are always available through REEF’s online store if you missed a chance to pick them up at the shows.

    Special thanks to Heather George, Sasha Medlen, Matt Dowell, Gerald Winkel, Todd Cliff, Jeanne Luce, Georgia Arrow, Michael Johnstone, Carol McLagan, and Rhoda Green for helping with the booths. We couldn't do it without these REEF ambassadors. REEF also appreciates the support of the show organizers, including Kim and Dale Sheckler and Rick and Kathy Stratton.

    REEF Organizes Regional Lionfish Strategy Workshop

    Lionfish populations in the Florida Keys, like many other places in the region, have rapidly increased over the last 12 months. Photo by Matt Hoelscher.

    As the spread and impact of the invasive Indo-Pacific red lionfish explodes in the western Atlantic region, REEF continues to take a lead in addressing this complex environmental issue. In addition to extensive outreach and education efforts, REEF staff is involved in several field research projects to study the ecological impact of this voracious predator. REEF is also coordinating regional response efforts. In partnership with the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), NOAA, Mexico and France, REEF helped fund and organize the first Regional Lionfish Strategy Workshop in August. The two day workshop brought together more than 40 key Marine Protected Area and fisheries managers from 17 countries and territories in the Caribbean to discuss control strategies, initiate cooperative efforts to address the invasion, and begin development of a best practices document. Participants shared stories on successes, challenges, and needs for responding to this highly invasive species. Many of those participating have worked with REEF over the last two years to initiate training and lionfish culling programs. A report from the workshop and initial steps on developing the lionfish best practices manual will be presented at the annual conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute this Fall.

    Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Reef Divers at Little Cayman Beach Resort

    A Juvenile Tripod Fish, spotted on a night dive by Reef Diver visitors. Photo by Dan Dickinson.

    REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

    This month we feature Reef Divers of the Little Cayman Beach Resort in the Caribbean, which has been a Field Station since 2004. They offer beginner and advanced fish ID classes, the shop carries REEF Survey Starter Kits and ID books, and they have a very knowledgeable dive staff who love helping with those hard-to-identify species. Reef Divers staff have seen first hand that conducting REEF surveys makes their customer’s dives that much more fun and enjoyable, and they have many repeat customers who are surveyors. The dive shop and resort have also been generous supporters of the Grouper Moon Project field logistics through the years.

    Reef Divers is one of four dive operations on Little Cayman. The island is home to what is likely the most famous wall dive in the world, Bloody Bay, where the wall starts as shallow as 18 feet and has everything from sand flats to coral pinnacles to sheer vertical walls. This mixture allows divers to see plentiful fish life. Fishwatchers fill up their survey slate quickly, and it’s a perfect place to try for a “Century Dive” (100 species on one dive). Long-time Reef Divers instructor and active REEF leader, Dottie Benjamin, says she had the pleasure of meeting Ned and Anna DeLoach while working on the WaveDancer in Belize and was on board during a REEF Field Survey trip. Dottie says she “learned lots of great information that week and my interest in fish was born.”

    When asked what the most interesting fish that their divers had ever recorded, Dottie provided this story – “Last year on a moonless night dive, a few of our divers came up with a tall fish tale of a very strange fish they spotted while doing their safety stop on the hang chain. Luckily, they got some good photos of it and we were able to identify it with some help from REEF science staff as a Tripod Fish (Bathypterois grallator) juvenile. The adults are only found on the ocean floor at depths of 3,000 to 15,000 feet. A very cool find!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub