2023 was a record-setting year in many ways, from some of the hottest ocean temperatures ever recorded to remarkable breakthroughs in marine conservation. The oceans may face many challenges, but thanks to your support, REEF is making strides towards a more promising future for our blue planet.

Just as the oceans are an essential part of our lives, you are an essential part of REEF! Together, we are protecting biodiversity, empowering people and communities, and advancing conservation science. Thank you for helping us make a difference in 2023!

Martha Klitzkie
Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D.
REEF Co-Executive Directors


Our Impact: 2023 by the Numbers

REEF works alongside scientists, agencies, and resource managers to address the ocean’s biggest challenges, and your support makes that possible. Here are some highlights from REEF's work in 2023:

  • 13,988 marine life surveys submitted to the Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP) database in 2023, resulting in more than 295,000 surveys in the database conducted by over 17,000 volunteer citizen scientists since 1993
  • 754 volunteers participated in the VFSP in 2023
  • 136 surveyors completed the 30 for 30 Challenge by conducting and submitting at least 30 REEF surveys in 2023, in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project
  • More than 500 participants from 41 US states and 5 countries joined in the 4th Annual REEF Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K in support of ocean conservation
  • 1,898 total invasive lionfish removed by participants in the 2023 Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival, a record for REEF Lionfish Derbies in Florida
  • To date, 132 scientific publications have included REEF data, featuring findings from the VFSP, Invasive Species, and Grouper Moon Project
  • 31 education sessions provided at no cost to participants, with support from the Oceans for All Fund
  • 85 in-person programs taught in the Upper Florida Keys, with more than half hosted at the REEF Campus in Key Largo
  • 18 online programs for students in grades 3-12, including Virtual Field Trips and Virtual Case Studies
  • 46 organizations or schools served, including both local and out-of-state groups
  • More than 2,300 individuals engaged through REEF Ocean Explorers Education Programs, from elementary school students to senior citizens
  • 21 years of collaborative conservation research to monitor the endangered Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation in the Cayman Islands
  • 10 Fishinars taught, with more than 200 free educational marine life webinars available in REEF archives
  • 4 Into the Blue Book Club virtual meetings with special guest authors in attendance
  • 10 Marine Conservation Interns and 4 Marine Conservation Fellows hosted
  • 16 REEF Field Survey Trips hosted to collect marine life data at destinations worldwide, from the Caribbean to Indo-Pacific and beyond
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Protecting the Ocean, Protecting Our Future

Take a deeper look at some of this year's conservation highlights, made possible thanks to your support:

The 30th Year of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project in Review

2023 marked the 30th anniversary of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP). Since its launch in 1993, this citizen science program has generated one of the largest marine life databases in the world.

Tracking the Fate of Drifting Baby Grouper

Grouper Moon Project researchers use a variety of technology to study endangered Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands, including an underwater microscope to track the movements of Nassau Grouper eggs in the wild. This groundbreaking technology allowed scientists to study the behavior of these fish at a microscopic level and understand more about their reproduction and survival.

REEF Ocean Explorers Education Programs: 2023 in Review

REEF Ocean Explorers Education Programs bring oceans to life through online and in-person learning. 2023 was an amazing and impactful year for REEF Ocean Explorers Education programs, and we're proud to share some stats and highlights from the past year.

REEF Conservation Science Team Concludes Testing for Deep Water Lionfish Traps in Florida Keys

From March to June 2023, the REEF Conservation Science team completed a rigorous set of field testing for two types of deep water traps to capture invasive lionfish: the Gittings Noncontainment Trap, and a modified lobster trap, both designed for capturing lionfish from mesophotic reefs in the Florida Keys.

Hover over the photos for captions and photo credits.

Connecting Arts and Humanities to Ocean Conservation and Science Education

To reach varied audiences and connect as many people as possible with ocean conservation, REEF Ocean Explorers curricula and program highlight links between arts, humanities, and science. In April 2023, we hosted our first REEF Arts & Science Festival at the REEF Campus in Key Largo, Florida. More than 200 people attended and enjoyed games, ocean activities, and eco-friendly crafts.

Volunteer Divers Use Latest Camera Technology to Provide Fisheries Data in New Collaborative Citizen Science Project

A new, collaborative project called SMILE (Size Matters: Innovative Length Estimate), is underway in the Florida Keys to help collect information about fish lengths. These data are critical for fisheries stock assessments, which are used to manage ecologically and economically important marine species. Funded through NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), the SMILE project involves volunteer divers, innovative underwater camera technology, and the expansion of a citizen science approach to collect length data for reef fish in the South Atlantic.

New Publication Identifies Declines in Queen Triggerfish

Citizen science data, like the surveys conducted by REEF volunteers, are growing increasingly important for conservation, and have the potential to provide much-needed information about the health of the oceans. In a recent scientific publication, researchers at the University of Miami used REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP) data to help model population trends in coral reef fish species in The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. The study found a decline in Queen Triggerfish populations, and researchers concluded that management interventions may be necessary to reverse the decline.

Meet the 2023 REEF Educators in the Field

This year, REEF selected three educators as Educator in the Field Fellowship recipents, enabling them to participate in a REEF Field Survey Trip. During the summer of 2023, each of these educators joined REEF Trips to Roatan or the Red Sea, where they participated in ocean citizen science and data collection, and explored how to incorporate these programs into their classroom.

REEF Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival Hauls in Record-breaking 1,898 Invasive Lionfish

22 teams of scuba divers took to the water and collected 1,898 invasive lionfish during the 14th Annual REEF Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival in September 2023. REEF has been hosting lionfish derbies in the Florida Keys since 2010, and the 1,898 invasive lionfish harvested during the 2023 event is the most lionfish caught during a REEF Lionfish Derby in the Florida Keys!

REEF Conducts Grouper Moon Teacher Workshops in Cayman Islands

In November 2023, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DoE) presented professional development workshops for educators on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. Educators from eight Caymanian schools joined in this year's workshops, which included materials and resources for incorporating the Grouper Moon Project into curricula through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect students with scientists.

REEF Members Monitor Camouflage Grouper Spawning in French Polynesia

In July 2023, a team of citizen scientists monitored the Camouflage Grouper spawning aggregation in Fakarava, French Polynesia. Thanks to the generous support of Ocean Blue Tree Foundation, these divers collected valuable image data, including stereo-video imagery, which will allow for length measurements of the individuals. REEF, as part of the new GrouperSpotter project, will use the images to develop an AI-powered facial recognition platform for this and other grouper species.

REEF Advanced Assessment Team Collects Marine Life Data in Florida and Salish Sea

REEF surveyors who achieve Expert Level status (Levels 4 and 5) in a given REEF survey region are invited to become part of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). As an AAT member, these surveyors may have the chance to participate in special, regional monitoring and assessment projects. In 2023, REEF organized several citizen science-based surveying projects in Florida and also collected data for an annual AAT monitoring project in the Salish Sea.

Highlighting Marine Conservation Through Community Outreach

Education is typically thought of as taking place in a classroom, but through the REEF Ocean Explorers Education Program, learning can happen in unexpected places - like music festivals, craft breweries, and art classes! Community outreach allows REEF to connect to a wide range of audiences, including different age groups, backgrounds, and interests.


Looking Ahead: 2024 and Beyond

Thank you for helping us make 2023 a year to remember. Together, we made remarkable progress toward healthier oceans, and REEF's marine conservation programs experienced tremendous growth. There is much to look forward to on the horizon, and we are excited to carry REEF’s momentum into 2024 with you by our side!


REEF is recognized as one of the world's most effective and efficient marine conservation organizations. This means your donation goes directly towards making a difference for our oceans. REEF has received a Platinum Seal of Transparency from Guidestar and is proud to have an exceptional 'Give with Confidence' rating on Charity Navigator.