Judie Clee

How long have you been doing dive surveys?

I’ve been doing REEF surveys since 2000.  I met Paul Humann on a dive trip to Vanuatu in the Pacific and he said “Bermuda – you live in Bermuda – we have this program that we would like to extend to Bermuda – would you be interested in helping with this?”  YES! So that is how it all started for me and I was able to help get REEF up and running in Bermuda in partnership with the Bermuda Aquarium BAMZ/Bermuda Zoological Society BZS/Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences BIOS – and Bermuda REEF volunteers have contributed immensely to many of the marine projects here. 

When did you join the Golden Hamlet Club?

I really don’t know which of my surveys reached the 1000 mark and qualified me for the Golden Hamlet Club – but I do remember the survey I did in Bermuda in October 2001 when I saw my first invasive Lionfish – and it turns out that this was the first Lionfish recorded in the REEF database for the TWA.  Interesting that the Lionfish we saw that day was under an overhang on the reef and there was a school a tiny juvenile Cottonwick Grunts in the same place – but when we went back a few days later the Grunts were all gone.  Did we even realize back then the impact of these Lionfish on juvenile fishes – I certainly didn’t.  Today Bermuda has a very active Lionfish control Program run by the Ocean Support Foundation in conjunction with the REEF Lionfish program.

Where do you survey?

I live in Bermuda, a tiny island surrounded by over 300 square miles of some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, and have spent much of my life IN, ON or UNDER the ocean.  It still amazes me that even though I had so much experience with the undersea world, becoming a REEF volunteer just opened my eyes wide to this same world and when I think of the people I’ve met, the places I’ve visited and the experiences that I’ve had with REEF – all I can say is WOW!  I’m going to resist the temptation to try to name all my REEF friends who have contributed so much to my memorable fishy moments – the list would be far too long – but they know who they are and I thank them all so much for everything.

Do you have a favorite fish or invertebrate? Why?

Oh my – how do you ever choose a favorite from all these wonderful critters?  Well perhaps for me it would be the Wrasse Blenny – a wicked, wicked fish that cleverly mimics various cleaner fishes and then takes advantage of getting that close to a fish so he can take a bite out of them!

What is your favorite memory about REEF and the Volunteer Survey Project?

One of my favorite memories about doing a REEF survey was years ago in Little Cayman at the beginning of the Grouper Moon Project.  Each year around the January full moon thousands of Nassau Grouper gather on the Spawning Aggregation SPAG to do their thing and my group was assigned to record the groupers as the migrated along the reefs and wall as they made their way to party central!  We volunteers had been carefully trained to recognize the various spawning color patterns of the groupers, to estimate how many were in each migrating group, how many had distended abdomens (with sperm and eggs), and to estimate their size etc. etc.  So now here we are on our first survey dive, hanging out on the LC wall at about 50 feet and suddenly into sight comes this convoy of sexed up Nassau Groupers trucking towards the SPAG – some detouring onto the wall into the cleaning stations and shoving each other out of the way in order to get a place at the station (that is another whole story….).  My reaction was absolute WOW – I was completely gobsmacked.  When I got back onto the boat after the dive I realized that in my excitement I had failed to write anything at all down on my survey sheet!

I have to say that another most memorable REEF moment for me was being named Volunteer of the Year 2005 – what an honor! 

Feel free to share anything else about yourself and your diving adventures!

It is really great to learn to identify the fishes and estimate their abundance – but doing REEF surveys goes way beyond that – it’s not just about Blue Fish, Red Fish, One Fish, Two Fish – it is about being immersed (literally!) in the entire ecology of the reef – observing all those wonderful critters and learning not just who they are, but what they are doing down there.  In one of his magazine articles Marty Snyderman referred to “The Wonderfully Wacky World of Fishes” and that is what it is, some really zany stuff goes on under those waves!

I really enjoy doing “Fun Fish Facts” presentation for groups of all ages and sharing the fun stories with them.  Having struggled with slide presentations for years I’m now a huge fan of the ReefNet Fish Identification interactive DVD – it is full of photos, video clips and information on all the fishes of the Caribbean and surrounding areas and you can put together a playlist in just a matter of minutes to suit whatever presentation you are doing – it is a superb “tool”.   One of my favorite presentations is on “Wonderful Little Fishes” – and it is very rewarding when you get some of the divers who always just looked for the big stuff – sharks, eels, rays etc. – now suddenly get excited when they have noticed a tiny fish like the Punk Blenny!  Of course I do all this armed with the huge amount of knowledge that I have gained from the REEF folks over the years. 

I refer to my REEF Fish ID, Creature ID and Fish Behavior books constantly – gosh, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve turned a page in one of them I would be a very rich lady!

Digital photography, the Internet and email have contributed greatly as a resources for sharing information and I am a great fan of Ned & Anna DeLoach’s BlennyWatcher Blog – it is the next best thing to actually being there.

So all in all – REEF is as much about the people as it is about the Fishes and Creatures and I encourage everyone to join and participate in the REEF trips and projects – you’ll love it!

P.S.  I was once chastised, albeit it kindly, by someone who had been at one of my fishy presentations, for using the words wow, amazing, fantastic, awesome rather too often.  He was absolutely right, and I’ve done it again when writing the above – but how can you describe REEF any other way?!!