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 REEF member John McGurl. John lives in Virginia and has been a REEF member since 2006. He loves to travel and dive, and has attended plenty of REEF Field Survey Trips. John is a Level 3 surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region and has conducted 115 REEF surveys. He also supports REEF's Marine Conservation Internship through the John McGurl and Michelle Gluck Scholarship, which provides funding for intern alumni to participate in professional development opportunities and events like REEF Fest. We're so thankful for John's enthusiasm and dedication to REEF's mission!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
The highlight was the trip to Cozumel — the first of nearly 15 REEF Trips that I’ve taken since. In Cozumel, I spent a week in the company of fellow fish enthusiasts, attending daily lectures and diving with expert guides Tracy Griffin and Sheryl Shea, whose knowledge and leadership made all the difference in the world. They pointed out so many fish that I had heretofore seen only in books. How much more rewarding to see those fish up close in the water!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I’ve been fascinated with the undersea world since I was a child, and I’ve been diving for over 40 years. As a scientist, I am trained to make observations and identify and classify what I observe. Performing a fish survey requires me to look at something and classify it, capturing and recording what I know. At the same time, compiling that information reminds me how little I do know!

Conducting REEF surveys provides a perfect means to satisfy my thirst for constant, incessant learning. Survey trips have taken me to waters of Florida, Grenada, Indonesia, Bermuda, Honduras, and beyond. While on a sardine run in South Africa, a magnificent Bryde’s Whale surfaced 20 feet from our group. And in the Galapagos Islands, there were scores of Mola Molas; in Fiji, amazing soft corals; and in the tropics, innumerable brightly colored fish.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
REEF’s bright and energetic interns! Not only do the REEF Interns provide fresh brainpower, muscle, and enthusiasm for all of REEF’s programs, they are the future of the health and longevity of the planet, the country, and the organization.

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
The South Pacific — Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. It’s hard to match the biodiversity of that region. On my dives there, I’ve observed a stunning array of the hard and soft corals. The sheer number of species indigenous to the South Pacific, and their brilliant colors and fascinating behaviors make that location an easy favorite.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Go on a REEF Trip as soon as you are able! Go for the lectures — you will learn so much from the knowledgeable staff. And go for the matchless experience of diving with other people who share your interest in and love of the undersea world.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
I’m quite fond of the odd-looking Red-lipped Batfish. It appears to perch on its front legs and has what looks like bright red lipstick. (It looks like it may have been designed by a government committee.) I was thrilled to see them flitting back and forth atop reefs in the Galapagos Islands.

Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
I look forward to spotting the shape-shifting Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) the next time I am in the South Pacific.