You did your first REEF survey on 11/3/2002 at Andrea Reef in Puerto Rico. What got you started?
Early on in my diving I decided to take the educational path to Master Diver as opposed to Divemaster. Since I chose PADI to do this, there were several requirements to fulfill, amongst these was to take five PADI specialty courses. I decided to go to Bonaire to the then Green Submarine (today I think it is the Yellow submarine) Dive Company. I did three classes there, one of which was fish ID. The dive shop had an instructor but she was, at that time, pregnant and could only snorkel. We had a class and then some dives (snorkel for her). On the second dive she said there was this organization called REEF that had underwater paper and you could survey for them. Too much for me, I said no thanks, but the seed was planted.
I got home and looked into REEF and saw they did dive trips. The one you mention, Puerto Rico, was a fish ID trip led by none other than Paul Humann, on the SW coast of the island. Paul was a very good teacher in class, but told us, “do not bother me under water, I am taking pictures for the new edition of my book.” I got home bought the book and began taking more REEF trips. I am told I have been on 28 thus far.
When and where did you do your 1,000th Survey?
It occurred in my beloved Hawaii right near my house. Once the initial pandemic restrictions were lifted in June 2020, I resolved to make the final push to Golden Hamlet. With only locals, (Kama'aina’s) on the island and so many dive companies competing for that business it was hard to get enough boats to go out. I and some other locals were at Susanne Otero’s home discussing the Legacy Reef Foundation, which she and her partner Bill Coney run. Dee Fulton brought up how hard it was to get on a dive boat and then proceeded to organize us into a group of five (the fifth person is Dot Norris) and then six when Ron Wolfe arrived back from Alaska in November. We decided to try Kona Honu and go out on Tuesdays. Kona Honu immediately picked up on this and soon reserved Tuesdays for locals only. This then created our “dive bubble.” It was with this group, all REEF members by the way, I was resolved to do my 1000th survey.
Tell us anything memorable about your 1,000th survey?
I was asked where to dive, everyone knew this was my thousandth survey. I chose Devil’s Doorway along the Pawai coast, because it is here I have seen a mature male Spectacled Parrotfish. We did not see him that day but Janine, our dive master, took us to a cave where there were four Whitetip Sharks circling around the cave and later, two Eagle Rays. Pretty cool. So cool I was not watching my air and actually ran out!! Thanklfully I was just a few feet from the boat’s ladder. Over 1200 dives and 1000 surveys that has thankfully never happened before so that is perhaps the most memorable thing of the 1000th survey.
In which regions have you done surveys?
Seven of the ten REEF survey regions. For years Hawaii and TWA vied for having the most surveys but when I retired here to the Big Island of Hawaii and could dive all year round, Hawaii won out. Have been on the first REEF survey trips to Fiji, Palau, Thailand, and Oman. The first was lead by Paul and the other three by Christy Semmens. After I moved to Hawaii, I decided diving in Southern California was not too far away, so I did a trip with Janna Nichols on Catalina Island, in the Pacific Coast region.
What experience levels are you in those other regions?
I am Experience Level 4 in the TWA and Hawaii, and Experience Level 2 in the rest, except the NE Atlantic, where, after just two frigid surveys I gave up and thus am only a Level 1 there.
Do you have any favorite dive spots in those places?
Hawaii too many to name, maybe Ni'ihau’s Keyhole dive - it is so remarkable. In the TWA, I love Cozumel, so I’d say any of the Palancar named dive sites. In Fiji - the Nigali Passage, in Palau: Silas Cavern, In Thailand: Richelieu Rock, and in Oman; any dive in the Daymaniyat Islands.
What are some of your favorite fishes? What makes them your favorite?
As a family I love the Butterflies. Here in Hawaii this is a much larger and diverse family than in the TWA.
As for individuals I tend to identify the most with the Moorish Idol, why? Well like me, he is the only member of his family.
Another favorite is our Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, (the Reef or Picasso Triggerfish), the State Fish of Hawaii. I noticed I did not get many of these on my HAW surveys, until REEF member Heather George came by a few years ago to visit and we did a shore dive up North at Mahukona. We were shallow and I saw one. Heather asked me why did you get so excited at seeing the Humuhumu? She swims almost every day so she sees them a lot. Why does she see them so much? I thought – Answer, because they are shallows-loving fish. Knowing this, I often go shallow and am seeing them much more. Ned DeLoach would be proud of me, "if you know where to look, you will find them". Besides being in the lu'au song they teach all the tourists to do the hula, the Humuhumu have a unique back story. If you visit the Big Island see me and I will tell it to you.
What is your favorite thing/memory about REEF and the Volunteer Fish Survey Project?
I was very resistant to photographing. I am old school, I still even do my diagrams when I can not ID a fish. After Palau, Christy was insistent that I must use a camera. I reluctantly bought one. As we met on the first day I was ready to show her how cumbersome trying to juggle the slate, my light, and this camera was. Not to be trumped by me, Christy quickly clipped a light to her BCD, draped the camera on its lanyard on her right arm and held the slate in her left and the pencil in the right. She then, with the skill of Anne Oakley, dropped her pencil (which is attached to the slate in her left and) flicked the camera up into that hand with her grip perfectly around the camera and her index finger on the shoot button of the camera saying proudly, “Dennis, this will be even easier in the water than it is in the air.” What could I say? I now use a camera in the regions I need to!
What are your goals with REEF for the future?
This is an easy one. I am still striving for a century dive, 100 species on a single survey dive, in any region I might add. My dive buddy Ron and I are planning on teaching a REEF Fishinar this summer, before the Aggressor Reef survey trip here to Hawaii. If this works out I have several more ideas on Hawaii fishinars. Lastly, I am an accountant by occupation so numbers mean everything. It would be nice to get to an even 30 REEF Field Survey trips. Ron, Susan, Bill, and I have signed up for the 2022 Red Sea Field Survey trip. I am excited to do this trip. It will be my third dive trip to the Red Sea, BUT my first REEF survey as the region was not opened to surveying the first two times I dove there. It is a great place to dive. The Elfinstone Reef is amazing, and I’ll have a head start on most of the other REEFers.
Feel free to share anything else about yourself and your diving adventures!
I would just like to thank all those REEFers I have met over the twenty plus years I have been surveying - those in the REEF office, the interns, the founders and board members, and of course all those surveying dives. Many, many thanks and hope to see you on a dive soon.