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 Christa Anderson, a REEF member who lives in southern California. Christa joined REEF in 2014 and has conducted 258 REEF surveys, many of which have been submitted in her home waters of California. She is a Level 5 Surveyor in REEF’s Pacific Coast (PAC) region of the US and Canada, and has been building up her survey total in several other regions as well, including the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA), Hawaii (HAW) and Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP.)

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I first heard about REEF through Herb Gruenhagen’s REEF fish and invertebrate identification course. I had been wanting to learn the names of the creatures I saw while scuba diving and was ecstatic that a free class was being offered. Herb’s enthusiasm and amazing stories were contagious and afterwards I eagerly joined and religiously logged surveys for every dive.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I am inspired to log surveys by knowing that each report contributes to a large database that is available to the public, researchers and regulatory agencies. Each survey keeps the database current, relevant, and robust. I hope that the data I collect will benefit ocean conservation, support marine protection and inspire others to go into the ocean and explore!

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
I really enjoy exploring REEF’s database, reviewing my own information collected and love taking advantage of the free and entertaining Fishinars. I am constantly learning and being challenged. The Fishinars hosts make the online classes fun and engaging. They have a vast knowledge about fish, and fish behaviors and the community that is created is valuable and supportive.

If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
REEF is an ocean conservation non-profit organization that leads trips, hosts fish identification webinars (or Fishinars) and maintains a citizen scientist online database that tracks marine creatures’ abundance and diversity. Anyone can join for free and take advantage of learning and contributing by logging surveys. Surveying can be done by snorkeling or scuba diving and the best part is that this work is ongoing! There’s a chance that you will be the first to identify a new survey site or possibly discover a new unidentified species.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
Most of my dives are in the local region that I live. I have obtained the highest level in PAC (Pacific Coast of US/Canada) region and am currently working on TWA (Tropical Western Atlantic), TEP (Tropical Eastern Pacific) and HAW (Hawaii) regions. PAC has beautiful kelp forests and rocky reefs. The vibrant colors of algae and the streaming sunlight sifting through the water column of Giant Kelp do rival coral reefs in beauty and amazement with creatures found. In San Diego, the kelp forests off Point Loma are one of the best places to dive. Another amazing location is an advanced site known as Scripps Canyon. Here the layers in the wall offer structure for sponge, soft coral, filter feeders and a whole diversity of fish and invertebrates. It is also where you will see the most and biggest lobsters, all safely residing in the State Marine Conservation Area.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
Once on a night dive off Point Loma, I was diving with buddies in the kelp forest in ~50ft of water. My light caught something silvery in the dark and it caught my eye as well. A slender Sevengill Shark as big as me was swimming slowly toward me. I watched transfixed and anxious as it swam up to me curiously and bumped my leg with its head several times. I was thankful it wasn’t curious with its mouth. I used my fin to gently push the shark away and it swam off into the dark.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
I love octopuses. Over on the west coast in San Diego, there are a lot of small octopuses hiding in holes in the mud or in the rocks. They are very intelligent and will flash different colors and change texture to intimidate or camouflage with their surroundings. They are amazing to watch and will stick their head out of their hole to watch the noisy bubble-blowing scuba divers as we check them out as well.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
I began to notice that there are similar types of fish across different areas, especially areas sharing similar ocean climatic regions. I recognized that different regions will share fish families, like parrotfish and butterflyfish in equatorial, tropical and subtropical oceans, or in subtropical and temperate, wrasse and damselfish families. Learning to recognize the families helped me in learning to identify fish.