[Photos by Cassandra Neal]
You did your first REEF survey on April 23, 2003 on St. Maarten. What got you started?
I grew up on Long Island, NY. When I was a child we would go to the beach. I was interested in the oceans from then. Later in graduate school I remember writing a paper comparing the low intensity coastline of the north shore where the Long Island Sound is, and the high intensity coastline impacted by the Atlantic Ocean. Later I had the opportunity to take a few courses in oceanography and education in Woods Hole and Buzzard's Bay. But I was never a swimmer. My husband, Franklin, had been a swimmer from childhood and he took up diving in the last few years before he retired. He found REEF within a few years of starting to dive and he starting going on REEF trips. In 2001 we came to Bonaire for a REEF trip and I joined in for the fishy lectures and began to learn what it was all about.
We went on one of the trips and everyone would come out of the water talking a mile a minute about all of the fish that they saw. The air was electric. The conversations were non-stop. It appealed to my nature. I knew I was missing something very special. We were in Little Cayman island. This was the trip that I decided that I wanted to live on an island when I retired - and he could come too! It was on this trip that I decided to try a resort SCUBA course. It took me a few trips to get my bearings - Bermuda, Cozumel and St. Croix. I decided that I could identify some fish myself, with the help of Paul and Ned's books and my camera. I did my first REEF survey, and the rest is history. Last year, I completed REEF's 20 in 20 Challenge, and ended up completing the most surveys of anyone! (379 surveys)
When and where did you do your 1,000th Survey? Tell us anything memorable about your 1,000th survey?
My 1,000 dive occurred sometime in November of 2020. I’ve spent an uninterrupted year in Bonaire and decided that I should spend my time diving! I challenged myself to reach the 1,000 survey mark so that I could join the Golden Hamlet Club.
In which regions have you done surveys? What experience levels are you in those other regions? Do you have any favorite dive spots in those places?
I have done surveys in the Central Indo-Pacific, Southern Pacific, Hawaii, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, and the Tropical Western Atlantic. I will add Tropical Eastern Pacific very soon. Most of my surveys have been in the Tropical Western Atlantic because I spend most of the year in Bonaire. When my husband and I were in Indonesia we saw Dottybacks. My favorite sites were any site where I could find Dottybacks. Although, I never did get a good Dottyback picture. I also enjoyed the challenge of spotting and identifying the many Indonesian Cardinalfish too.
What are some of your favorite fishes?
It’s hard to say what my favorite fishes are. I seem to have a favorite fish from each dive. One time I was filming a little yellow frogfish that floated down the reef and landed next to 2 larger frogfish. I still got a picture! This week my camera took a wonderful photo of a Pipehorse! I do like to find the rare little fish which of course are a challenge to photograph. This past year during a dusk dive on Bonaire I found a Blackfin Cardinal fish. It only took me 12 years of diving at Bari Reef see one.
What makes them your favorite?
I like finding unusual or rare fish because I like the challenge of searching for them. I am naturally a curious person. I like knowing that these fish are still on the reef and I like seeing them in their habitat. I do keep a "life list" of fish, and it is neat for me to look at that and reflect back on what I have experienced. Because sometimes these fish are only there for a moment, or because they are only sighted on one dive, I like to take pictures of them. This lets me show other people so that they also know that these fish are still here. I call these tricky-fish "one person fish". In these holes or crevices overhang ledges - this is where these fish hang out. If I catch it right I can snap a picture... but that fish may not show itself to anyone else on that dive!
I enjoy the challenge of finding fish that are both hard to find, and hard to identity. A few of the 'tricky-fish' from my life list are the Three Line Basslet, the Nine Lined Goby, the Dusky Cardinalfish, the Redface Moray. I like to search for Pygmy Gobies. I also like to learn how to identify Triplefins. It is always fun to find a Peppermint Basslet.
I enjoy taking trips with REEF. I hope that REEF divers in my generation pave the way for the younger generation to get excited about our incredible oceans.