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 Will Ribbens, a REEF member who lives in Minnesota. Will and his wife Alice love to travel and dive, and have attended REEF Trips in several survey regions. They attended our inaugural Indian Ocean Field Survey Trip in the Maldives earlier this year. Will has conducted 218 REEF surveys throughout the Caribbean, as well as the Pacific and Indian Oceans. We're thankful that Will is part of the REEF family!

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
My wife Alice and I have been diving since the 1990's. Living in Minnesota, we mostly travel to dive. In our early days of diving, our logbooks were full of fish family names, which we thought was pretty cool. I gave Alice ReefNet software as a gift in 2010. Fish ID opened a whole new world for us. Alice went on her first REEF Trip (to Baja) in 2012 and I did my first REEF Trip to Bonaire in 2015. We met incredible people who were dedicated to knowing about and protecting marine life in a way that struck a chord with us. It brought a new dimension to the diving we already loved. Every dive is like a scavenger hunt where you don’t know what new species you will find. Now we can’t really think about diving without a slate in our hand hoping to find another fish for our life list.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
My favorite part of REEF is the people. We come from all walks of life. The vast majority are open, adventurous, caring people. Each one has a really interesting story about how they became REEF surveyors. They are always willing to help out whether it’s with gear, fish identification, or a place to stay. We have become friends with many and look forward to seeing them on REEF Trips as well as non-REEF trips (yes, those still happen for us!)

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
While I love the small fish and critters, my most thrilling and fascinating fish encounter was on a non-REEF dive trip to Raja Ampat in Indonesia. We got to a cleaning station in heavy current and hooked in with reef hooks at about 50 feet down. A large female Oceanic Manta (the only one I have ever seen to this day) came and thrilled us by passing overhead several times to the point I had to duck and hide under some coral. I think she liked the bubbles on her underside. She did somersaults and “floated” gently by us for more than 20 minutes. Every diver thought she was looking just me in the eye as she floated from one side to the other.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
My tip for REEF surveyors is for the newer, less expert surveyors. I don’t think of myself as an expert but I keep learning a little at time. It helps me appreciate the dives I do by making me appreciate every dive for what it becomes. Some are simple and straightforward dives, and others have ripping current where it is hard to hold still in one place. Some are shallow and surge-y, and some are deep and dead still. But each environment holds the key to the families and species of fish I may find from schools of Jacks or immense Whale Sharks cruising by the reef, to tiny Gobies or Blennies hiding in the shallows. After a while I just start knowing what I need to be looking for in each environment to document my finds on my latest scavenger hunt.