REEF members are the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. A diverse community of divers, snorkelers, and ocean enthusiasts support our mission to conserve marine environments worldwide.

This month we highlight Claude Nichols, a REEF member who lives in Washington. Claude is a longtime REEF member and volunteer and is married to REEF Citizen Science Program Manager Janna Nichols! An avid surveyor, Claude is very close to achieving Golden Hamlet status, with 959 REEF surveys logged so far. He's surveyed in several regions, including the Tropical Western Atlantic, US/Canada Pacific Coast, Tropical Eastern Pacific, and Hawaii. We're thankful that Claude is part of REEF!

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
I joined REEF in September 2001 and submitted my first survey from a dive with a Pacific Northwest Fish ID class in Puget Sound that my wife, Janna, had been involved with. I had heard about REEF from her.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey Trip, where and what was your trip highlight?
I have been on lots of REEF Field Survey trips but my first was in October 2003 to Quadra Island off the east side of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The water temperature was a ‘balmy’ 49F and the current was ripping so fast that we were tumbling downslope after descending from the boat until we managed to hide in the back eddy behind a large boulder. We spotted three Tiger Rockfish and a juvenile Yelloweye Rockfish, among many other fish and invertebrates. Both were very beautiful and fairly uncommon to see. I think one of my favorite REEF Trips was to Bonaire. I love the combination of shore diving and boat diving. I also enjoy the additional freedom of wet suit diving in warm water in comparison to dry suit diving here in the Pacific Northwest, but I still love diving here in the cold water.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I enjoy the hunt for new species and realizing that those species have been present on many dives, but I missed them because I didn’t know what to look for. Surveying makes my dives more enjoyable. One of the most interesting things about surveying is learning the habitat and behavior of the fish. I also enjoy contributing to the data that is used by others to determine better what is happening underwater. I have also learned about what we jokingly call “photo bycatch” – when you take a photo to help with your survey and later, when looking at it, you discover another species that was captured in the frame!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Being involved with citizen science and gathering data for use by scientists and decision makers. I love making my dives count. I also enjoy sharing what I have seen on my dives with others who ask, “So what do you see down there?”

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
I tell friends that REEF is an organization that teaches scuba divers and snorkelers to identify the fish that they see and report those species to a world-wide database, that can then be used by scientists to help with our marine environment.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
I believe that the Volunteer Fish Survey Project is one of the most important because interests divers and allows them to become citizen scientists.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
We live about three hours away from local dive sites in Hood Canal and Puget Sound. No air travel is necessary and we can load up our gear in our car and dive with our own tanks. I really enjoy diving in British Columbia, but lately we have spent more time diving in the San Juan Islands, located between Washington and Vancouver Island, BC. Not as close by, but still one of my favorite sites, is Place of Refuge/Puuhonua o Honaunau/Two Step on the Big Island of Hawaii. I love how you step into the protected area and submerge under the snorkelers and head out to the drop off on the reef.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF Conservation partner or dive shop?
My favorite REEF Conservation Partner is Bandito Charters in Puget Sound, WA. Our Advanced Assessment Team partners with them annually to survey sites in Washington State. They are very supportive of REEF and are involved in doing surveys themselves for many years.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
My most fascinating encounter was seeing an adult Yelloweye Rockfish during a dive off of Hornby Island, BC. We were only in 50 feet of water and adult Yelloweye Rockfish normally are at depths beyond recreational dive limits. It was a large fish and was likely over 100 years old.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
This is a tough one. In Pacific cold water it is a Grunt Sculpin, a small fish that is not a great swimmer. They kind of scoot along the bottom using their pectoral fins like feet and have a pig-like face that is so cute. My favorite marine invertebrate is the Giant Pacific Octopus, the largest species of octopus in the world. They are beautiful, graceful creatures. In Atlantic warm water my favorite is the Yellow Jawfish. I love how they pop out of their dens and then hover before retreating back down.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Start slow, both with your diving speed, and learning the fish. Find a dive buddy that shares your interest in surveying and you can then point out species to each other. Learn what to look for as far as habitat of where certain species hang out. Use the REEF database to see which fish are common, before you go somewhere.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
Most memorable is the China Rockfish. Janna and I had traveled to the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, to specifically see China Rockfish. We asked the boat captain on our first dive if we would see any. He laughed and said yes. It turns out that we saw at least one China Rockfish on nearly every dive of that trip. I have never seen a Bluntnose Sixgill Shark, even though they are present in Puget Sound and I would love to see one. They can grow up to 20 feet long. Other friends have seen and even taken photos or video of their encounters.