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 Leslie Kopietz. She lives in Minnesota and has been a REEF member since 2011. She has surveyed in the Tropical Western Atlantic region, where she is a Level 5 Expert Surveyor, and has also surveyed in Hawaii. She's conducted nearly 300 REEF surveys and we're excited to see more from her in the future. Thank you for being a part of REEF, Leslie!

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF?
A search for fish identification materials first led me to REEF. As a diver, REEF’s mission resonated with me and I became a member in 2011. My first experience volunteering came when I joined the field survey trip to Cozumel in 2015. The other divers on that trip were so helpful and enthusiastic, pointing out fish, sharing photos and confirming “fish finds." I had a great time improving my fish identification skills and completing surveys. I became a fish geek with a purpose.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I love the challenge of doing REEF surveys. Every dive becomes like a treasure hunt. Will I see a fish I don’t recognize? Will I get a decent photo? Will I find a cryptic species hidden in a hole? Will I add a fish to my life list? Some of the best treasure hunts happen where the scenery is least impressive. Dives over muck, rubble and grass are great for spotting new fish. Surveying connects me to the ocean and its life.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey? It is interesting to me that there is still so much to be learned about fish taxonomy. In the time I have been surveying new species have been described and existing ones have been reclassified. Early in my surveying experience I was in the Cayman Islands. I was able to add the newly described Cayman Cleaning Goby and Cayman Sponge Goby to my life list. It’s cool to think that our survey data may contribute to evolving fish knowledge in some small way.

What is your most memorable fish find?
On a dive in Grand Cayman a few years ago I spotted my first and only Golden Hamlet. We were at Chelonia Wall off Seven Mile Beach. I was waiting for the other divers to descend so I was alone. No one could hear me yelling my amazement into my regulator. I pursued that iconic little fish taking photos like I was the paparazzi. After the dive I shared my Golden Hamlet photos on the boat and got polite responses like “nice”. At that moment I really missed my fellow REEF surveyors and fish geeks.