July is finally here, and that means so is the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC)! The GAFC is an initiative to encourage the public to become engaged with marine citizen science. Each July, divers and snorkelers all over the world join to learn about marine biodiversity and conduct fish surveys as a part of REEF’s ongoing Volunteer Fish Survey Project. You can join other fish watching enthusiasts, attend or host a fish identification class, or simply complete fish surveys as part of the GAFC. To help you get started, below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the GAFC and surveying in general:

How do you conduct fish surveys?
To collect Volunteer Fish Survey Project data, REEF divers and snorkelers use a fun and easy roving survey method specifically designed for volunteer data collection. Each recorded species is assigned an abundance category based on how many of each species were seen during the survey. The only materials you need to survey are an underwater slate and pencil, a good reference book, and access to the internet to submit the data online. To make the process even easier, you might consider using a camera to take photos of mystery fish. REEF also has pre-formatted underwater paper and waterproof ID guides. These supplies, as well as slates, pencils, and instructor-led and home study fish ID training courses are available through our online store.

I want to attend a GAFC event. How can I learn what is happening and get involved?
Check out REEF’s online calendar of events to find GAFC events near you. You may also host your own event! There are plenty of fun options, including teaching a fish identification class a REEF curriculum followed by a survey dive or snorkel. You can also get creative and turn your event into a potluck party or BBQ, or add raffles or auctions.

Who can participate in the GAFC?
Anyone can join in the fun, whether you are a diver or a snorkeler. It doesn’t matter if you have done surveys before or if this is your first time giving it a try.

Why participate in the GAFC?
Conducting marine life surveys is a great way to add more excitement to your dives while participating in a meaningful project. Your contributions provide valuable data to researchers as they monitor ocean changes. Volunteer divers conducting REEF surveys have discovered new species, helped establish the known range of certain species, tracked the spread of invasive species and tracked fish populations over time!

Can I only do this during the month of July?
REEF surveys aren’t only done in July; they can actually be done any time, year-round in any of REEF’s survey regions! July was chosen to be the month for the Great Annual Fish Count because it's a good time of year to dive, host events, and get others involved.

For more details on how to get started and to register your event, visit www.fishcount.org.