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 Rachael Lewus, a REEF member from Washington, DC. She has conducted nearly 100 surveys and is an Expert Level surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region. She has also surveyed in the South Pacific, Central-Indo Pacific, and Tropical Eastern Pacific regions. We're excited to feature Rachael this month and are thankful that she's part of REEF!

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
I was first taught to survey in a volunteer program in 2010, but hadn't used it in years. I was on a trip to Belize for New Years 2019-2020 and my shop offered the TWA fish class for everyone, which I'd sat in on many times. My shop owner, Heather, encouraged me to just make a list of what I saw on the next dive. When I came out of the water with 40+ species, she dared me to make it to 100 by the end of the trip. I did my first eight surveys on that trip, and with the help of many other folks pointing things out, ended up with 101 identified fish. I was hooked!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
Access to Fishinars! It can be so hard to learn how to differentiate similar species from the books and photos. In the Fishinars, it's like you've been given a magic decoder ring. If you're not convinced, watch the TWA one on Chubs and Porgies - game changer!

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF Conservation Partner or dive shop?
I dive with Blue Planet Scuba in Washington DC - they are the best! They offer the Fish ID class monthly and often do the presentations on trips for anyone who wants to learn more. They are very conservation-focused in general, offering the AWARE course in sharks, turtles, and whale sharks, doing local cleanups in and out of the water, and helping all their divers understand how they can make a difference. My favorite thing though is that they've created a real community of divers in our landlocked city. It's a special place.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
I once saw a sergeant major laying eggs on Frederiksted Pier in St Croix. I never would have spotted it if not for REEF, which taught me to notice normal fish behavior for different species. This one was behaving oddly, so I stopped and watched and got to see something really special. I also witnessed squid mating in Bonaire, the day after Ned DeLoach gave a presentation sharing how to spot that. It's amazing what you can see once you start learning what to look for!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Start with learning families. If you know what family a fish is in, it's so much easier to ID it. Once I got the families, I focused on 1-2 families per trip, using the Fishinars to study ahead of time. Bonus - it makes your knowledge global, as the species are different but the families are pretty much the same everywhere.