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 Jeff Haines and Ann Johnson, REEF members who live in Florida. They have conducted more than 380 surveys combined and have attended REEF Trips in several survey regions. They moved from New York to Florida several years ago and now live close to some of their favorite dive sites, including Blue Heron Bridge, where they frequently dive, survey, and take stunning photographs!
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
Jeff: I first found out about REEF shortly after taking up underwater photography and trying to identify the fish I had taken photos of. I wound up purchasing the 2nd edition Reef Fish Identification set from the REEF website. After buying the books I browsed through the rest of the website and was hooked on the idea of documenting all the fish I saw on my dives.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Jeff: Going diving with other members, both on Field Survey Trips and informal meet ups, and then discussing what we saw or think we saw on the dives. It has dramatically enhanced the quality of and enjoyment of my diving whenever I get the chance to dive with fellow REEF members.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
Ann: My "Wow, this is why we scuba dive" moment came during our first trip to Hawaii during the Manta Ray night dive on the Kona coast. During our dive briefing we were informed of a very friendly Green Moray Eel named "Frank" (years later there was a "Fred") who loved divers and who might even get inside your BCD! Imagine my consternation when I got settled in the sand at 45 feet and looked up to see Frank heading right for me! Luckily, he swam past me and over to Jeff (with his big camera) on my right, encircling Jeff's neck then draping himself like a loose shawl over his neck and shoulders! I can still picture Jeff's big grin and Frank's head and open mouth just beyond Jeff's mask as the first manta swooped inches over them in a loop-de-loop! All I could think was, "if there is a heaven I want it to be just like this moment!"
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? If you don’t dive nearby, where do you most often dive? Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
Jeff: When I first began diving I lived in New York and had little opportunity to dive much in the ocean outside of dive travel, so my favorite place to dive was always the last REEF Trip I went on! Dive trips booked outside of REEF just did not measure up to what REEF had to offer, so it became the highlight of my year to go on a REEF Trip someplace with warm clear water and lots of marine life. Now that I have retired and moved to Florida, I am fortunate to be able to dive close to home. I still enjoy participating in REEF Field Survey Trips, but I have to say my favorite has become diving Blue Heron Bridge. As a photographer, you really can't beat that site in terms of bang for your buck- two to three hour dives for the price of an air fill and 1/4 tank of gas, with the opportunity to spot a seemingly limitless variety of marine creatures from Manatees to Eagle Rays, Goliath Groupers and the occasional shark including Hammerheads to a host of Blennies, Gobies and at least 3/4 of the species from the Reef Fish Identification books!
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Ann: Every REEF Trip has had highlights but our first Rocio del Mar dive liveaboard trip to the Revillagigedo Archipelago was amazing, with great diving, food, accommodations and people! Marty Snyderman was the trip leader and helped Jeff and all other photographers with recommendations to shoot better underwater pictures. While I was surveying in San Benedicto, a group of 6-7 dolphins swam over to me and hung out chattering and clacking, right next to me and conversing for a few minutes before swooping away! Our last day of diving included an amazing display by the oceanic mantas! The picture on this year's REEF Field Survey Trips t-shirt was from that day! On our recent Rocio del Mar trip to the Midriff Islands, a playful sea lion swam over and gently held one of my fins in his mouth in a gentle handshake!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Jeff: Slow down and pay close attention to everything near you before swimming on to another portion of the dive site. My most productive survey and photography dives have always been when I can take my time, even spending an entire dive on one coral head, or one patch of sand along a reef. The more still and quiet you get, the more you see. Instead of fish dashing away from you, they begin to act naturally. This is when you get to see things like spawning, feeding and other behaviors. You will also be more successful in spotting the small cryptic species.