REEF members are the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Divers, snorkelers, and ocean enthusiasts worldwide stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Callie Mack, who has been a REEF member since 2011. She is level 5 expert surveyor on the U.S. west coast in the PAC region, and has submitted nearly 400 surveys. Callie lives in San Diego, where she enjoys diving the nearby kelp beds and rocky reefs to search for interesting invertebrates and fish.

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I joined in 2011. I’d wanted to learn our local fishes and invertebrates, so I took one of Herb Gruenhagen’s REEF fish and invertebrate ID classes, loved it, passed the quiz to become a level 2, and started surveying!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey Trip, where and what was your trip highlight?
I’ve been on a couple of REEF Trips, and every dive was a highlight! I don’t dive the tropics very often, so I’m enthralled by just about everything I see. It’s hard to survey when I’m distracted by yet another gorgeous fish!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I really wanted to be a marine biologist when I was a kid (The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was an inspiration), but my education went in a bit of a different direction. I feel like surveying has brought me a little closer to that childhood dream. I enjoy the idea of contributing information that can be used by scientists in assessing the health of our oceans. Surveying makes every dive or snorkel like an underwater treasure hunt.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
Doing surveys here in San Diego, it’s been interesting to see the various species that have migrated north and now appear off La Jolla and in Mission Bay. Ocean temperatures have risen recently, so we’re seeing species like largemouth blennies and pufferfish that are normally seen farther south in Mexico. These species are fun to see, but are they a harbinger of permanent warming? Will some of our local species disappear from our waters? Perhaps future surveys will give us some answers.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
I really appreciate the various educational resources available through REEF: the Fishinars (which are great fun, and I’m so glad they’re archived), photo galleries, quizzes, and the “live” classes at REEF field stations (which we’re lucky to have available in San Diego.) When I went to REEF Fest this September, using all those study resources really paid off, and I was able to easily ID quite a few of the local fish.

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
REEF is an organization that uses ordinary divers and snorkelers like us – citizen scientists – to collect data that helps trained scientists assess the health of our oceans. If you want to learn about your local marine life and participate in marine conservation on every dive or snorkel, REEF can help you to do that!

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
They give the public a chance to participate in marine science in a way that acquaints them intimately with ocean life and allows them to make a credible contribution to marine conservation. It’s very satisfying to see our data used in legitimate scientific papers and projects. REEF’s educational and research programs make its members care more about the ocean – after all, we humans are more inclined to protect what we know and love.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
It’s hard to have a favorite, because I like so many! I love Pacific Green Morays, Giant Sea Bass and Two-spot Octopus. But I think my very favorite is a tube blenny called the Sarcastic Fringehead. Its big downturned mouth makes it look like Grumpy Cat, and when I see one, I can almost hear it making snarky comments about my buoyancy skills and how I look in my wetsuit.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
If you’re brand-new to diving and you don’t want to multitask by surveying before you get a few dives under your belt, go online and use REEF’s resources to learn your fish (and invertebrates if it applies.) Take a few fishinars! Carry a camera and take pics of “mystery fish." Purchase a good fish ID book so you can look up anything you weren’t sure about. The Humann/DeLoach books are terrific and available on REEF’s website. Carry those REEF laminated ID cards with you on boat trips. I almost always get asked about fish when I’m on local dive boats, and it’s a good opportunity to share knowledge and introduce other divers to REEF.