REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project database totals more than 258,000 surveys. A small group of highly dedicated surveyors known as the Golden Hamlet Club have contributed significantly to this total by each conducting 1,000+ REEF surveys. Congratulations to Dennis Bensen, our newest member of the Golden Hamlet Club!
Dennis has been a REEF member since 2001 and is an expert level surveyor in both the Tropical Western Atlantic and Hawaii regions. He's conducted surveys in 7 of REEF's 11 survey regions, and over half of his 1,000 surveys done in the Hawaii region.
Dennis shared some his most memorable (and funny!) moments along the journey to 1,000 surveys in a recent Golden Hamlet Q&A session. You can read more about Dennis and his experiences as a REEF surveyor here. We're so happy to have Dennis as a part of our REEF family and are so proud of his achievement!
Click here to read more about the Golden Hamlet Club.
Registration is open for the second annual Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K! From June 7-13, 2021, we're encouraging ocean enthusiasts everywhere to get moving in the name of conservation. You can choose to run, walk, hike, bike, or even swim, completing the 5K (3.1 miles) in one day or throughout the week. No matter how you participate, it’s a great way to get active in your community while making your miles count. Last year, nearly 500 people joined in our first ever 5K, and we're planning for an even bigger event this year. If you haven't already registered, click here to sign up today!
Here's what's new about the Fish Out of Water 5K for 2021:
Fish Shoals: This year, we are encouraging friends, families, co-workers, and dive buddies to participate in the 5K together by forming their very own Fish Shoal Fish Shoal. All you have to do is create a fun name for your group, and designate a Shoal Captain to submit your information on our website. Don't forget that each member of your Shoal still needs to register for the race here.
5K Swag: When you register, you’ll have the option to choose from two different packages:
- Starting Line Package: Includes limited edition shirt, finishers' medal, and personalized race bib. $35 through April 30, then $45
- Finish Line Package: Includes limited edition shirt, finishers' medial, personalized race bib, retro fanny pack, and sticker set. $55 through April 30, then $65
Registration is open until May 28. Supplies are limited, so early registration is highly encouraged.
You can share your 5K photos to participate in the 2021 giveaway! Anyone who shares a photo of themselves in their race gear on social media with at least one of the hashtags: #REEFRace or #FishOutOfWater5K will be entered to win a basket of REEF goodies. You can also enter the giveaway by emailing your photo to 5Krace@REEF.org.
The 2021 Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K coincides with World Oceans Day on June 8. This is a day dedicated to protecting and restoring our blue planet. Proceeds from your Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K registration will support REEF’s Oceans for All Fund. The Oceans for All Fund provides support for individuals who have had limited opportunities to learn about, experience, and explore the ocean through REEF's programs. By participating in the race, you're making a difference in the lives of individuals and the health of the oceans.
Scientists are looking to REEF members and other recreational divers and snorkelers to help track population recovery of the Sunflower Seastar (Pycnopodia helianthoides). With up to 24 arms, this giant seastar was historically a common sight in the kelp forests and rocky reefs from Alaska to Baja California in Mexico. Unfortunately, the species has experienced a dramatic decline in recent years, primarily due to a Seastar Wasting Disease epidemic that swept along the US and Canadian west coast from 2013-2016 and is still ongoing in places. If you see a Sunflower Seastar while in the water or walking the tide pools, please submit information about the location, size and health of the individual, and any photos using REEF's Sunflower Seastar Sightings Form at www.REEF.org/sunflowerstar.
REEF is one of dozens of institutions and individuals involved in the Pycnopodia Recovery Working Group, originally convened by researchers from Oregon State University in late 2019. The goals of the working group included creating a master database of Pycnopodia population demographics, implementing research and strategies regarding conservation and recovery of the species, and compiling information necessary to have the species considered for Red List status by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN; a global endangered species list). REEF provided researchers the long-time series of sightings data from Volunteer Fish Survey Project surveys from the Pacific coast region conducted before, during, and after the devastating epidemic. Thanks to the efforts of our volunteer surveyors, REEF was able to contribute almost a third of the data used in the IUCN assessment. We shared data from 32,517 REEF surveys conducted at hundreds of sites between California and Alaska from 1998 to 2019, which included 18,035 records of the Sunflower Seastar.
The resulting analysis, published in December 2020, found a 90.6% decline in the species, prompting the IUCN to place the Sunflower Seastar on the Red List as Critically Endangered, just one step below extinction. The Sunflower Seastar's decline has led to cascading impacts on the marine environment, including a population explosion of sea urchins, one of the main prey items consumed by the Sunflower Seastar. Higher numbers of sea urchins, which feast on kelp, has led to “urchin barrens” and a significant decline in kelp forest ecosystems. As populations begin to recover in certain areas, information from REEF's Sunflower Seastar Sightings Form data will provide researchers with much-needed real-time information on size and condition of individual Pycnopodia.
When you're ready to start planning your next trip, consider joining a REEF Field Survey Trip for a fun and meaningful dive vacation. Below are our upcoming trips, including some with space remaining later this year, as well as our newly released 2022 schedule, and a sneak peek of 2023. REEF Trips are led by marine life experts, and include diving, seminars about fish identification, and plenty of fun with friends. Not a scuba diver? No problem. Snorkelers are welcome on REEF Trips. Some destinations may be better suited for snorkeling than others; please see trip webpages and/or inquire for more information.
To book your space, send an email to trips@REEF.org. We'll send you an invoice to submit a deposit to secure your space. For individual trip details and more info, please visit the links below. Click here to view our Policies. More questions? Visit our FAQs page.
There is limited space remaining on the following 2021 REEF Field Survey Trips:
June 19 - 26 -- San Salvador, The Bahamas -- Riding Rock Resort & Marina - Click here for trip details
July 3 - 10 -- St. Eustatius -- Scubaqua & The Old Gin House - Click here for trip details
July 24 - 31 -- Gardens of the Queen, Cuba -- Jardines Avalon II Liveaboard - Click here for trip details
Oct. 2 - 9 -- Cayman Brac -- Cayman Brac Beach Resort - Click here for trip details
Nov. 6 - 13 -- St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands -- St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures & The Company House Hotel - Click here for trip details
Dec 4 - 11 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn/Casa Mexicana - Click here for trip details
2022 Field Survey Trips Schedule
Feb. 5 - 12 -- St. Vincent -- Dive St. Vincent & Sunset Shores Hotel - Click here for trip details
March 12 - 19 -- Gardens of the Queen, Cuba -- Jardines Avalon II Liveaboard - Click here for trip details - Sold out - waitlist available
April 11 - 23 -- Indonesia -- Blue Manta Liveaboard - Click here for trip details
May 7 - 14 -- St. Lucia -- Anse Chastanet Resort - Click here for trip details
June 4 - 11-- Roatan -- CoCo View Resort - Click here for trip details
July 28 - August 7 -- Red Sea, Egypt-- Grand Sea Explorer Liveaboard - Click here for trip details- Sold out - waitlist available
Aug. 20 - 27 -- Kona, Hawaii -- Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard - Click here for trip details
Sept. 24 - Oct. 6 -- Sea of Cortez - Explore Baja Itinerary -- Rocio del Mar Liveaboard - Click here for trip details - Sold out - waitlist available
Oct. 1 - 8 -- Grand Cayman -- Sunset House - Click here for trip details
Nov. 5 - 12 -- Bonaire -- Buddy Dive Resort - Click here for trip details
Dec. 3- 10 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn/Casa Mexicana - Click here for trip details
2023 REEF Field Survey Trips Preview
March 18-28 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Liveaboard - Click here for trip details
May 6-16 -- Solomon Islands -- M/V Bilikiki Liveaboard - Click here for trip details
Aug. 5 - 13 -- Dumaguete, Phiippines -- Atlantis Dumaguete Resort - Click here for trip details
Sept. 29 - Oct. 6 -- Sea of Cortez - Southern Safari Itinerary -- Rocio del Mar Liveaboard - Click here for trip details
To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org. Visit the links above for full trip details. We hope to see you on a REEF Field Survey Trip in the future!
REEF Ocean Explorers Summer Camp will immerse children into an ocean of learning and fun! Explorers will learn about the underwater world and all of its amazing creatures during a week filled with creative activities and adventures. Each camp session runs Monday - Friday, 9 am - 3 pm. All sessions will be hosted at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.
2021 Ocean Explorers Camp sessions include:
• June 14-18 (ages 8-10)
• June 28-July 2 (ages 11-13)
• June 12-16 (ages 8-10)
To ensure we have safe and healthy programming, we have developed a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. Our staff and interns will implement and ensure that all campers and staff comply with COVID-19 protocols.
To find more information or to register, visit www.REEF.org/explorers/summercamp or email explorers@REEF.org.
Please note that our 2021 camp sessions may be altered or canceled at any time due to local, state, and federal guidelines regarding COVID-19.
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 REEF member Mary Adams, who lives in Maryland. She enjoys attending REEF Trips and has conducted more than 100 surveys. She is a Level 3 surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) survey region. We look forward to seeing more surveys from Mary in the future, and are glad that she's part of REEF!
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I heard about REEF in 2018 from another scuba club member, just about the time I was realizing that I wanted to do more with diving than just be a tourist. I had discovered coral restoration in the Keys and enjoyed Coralpalooza, and found another opportunity to contribute through REEF.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
I have been on 3 REEF survey trips: St. Kitts-Statia, Belize, Turks & Caicos. Highlight was on the Turks & Caicos trip when I passed the Level 3 test! I’ve done REEF surveys on non-REEF trips, with my scuba club and with just my buddy. It is very satisfying to know the fishes that we see.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I am inspired by the Grouper Moon Project, seeing that REEF data can encourage decision-makers to manage fisheries sustainably. I think of Grouper Moon every time I see a Nassau Grouper. The interesting and exasperating thing I’ve learned is how different the parrotfish phases are - how a checkerboard-patterned intermediate phase Stoplight Parrotfish turns into a beautiful adult! It must happen overnight, because I’ve never seen a halfway intermediate-adult stoplight parrotfish.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
I love being around other divers who truly care about the fishes. Citizen science is way more fun than real science ever was (retired engineer here).
If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
It’s like birdwatching, but underwater, and you can actually see the fishes.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
It’s important to make REEF survey data freely available to marine science students and others who can use the data to make decisions that affect the Caribbean and the other REEF regions.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I dive in warm water: the Caribbean, Florida, Palau and Chuuk, the Sea of Cortez and Revillagigedo. My best time diving was Ulong Channel in Palau. It was stunning. Belize, Glover’s Atoll, early 2020, was sublime. I’ll be back there soon.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
My favorite fish is the Yellowhead Jawfish, because they are just so cute!
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Buy the books. I can’t carry them on dive trips because they are heavy, but they are necessary to interpret my photos before I enter my survey data.
What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
On a night dive at Thunderdome in Turks and Caicos, I saw schools of newly-hatched Belted Cardinalfish and Blueheads. They were transparent and SO tiny. I have yet to see those baby trunkfish that look like tiny dice. And someday I will find a seahorse all by myself, not pointed out by the divemaster.
REEF's online programs are free and open to everyone! Here's what is coming up over the next several weeks:
Fishy Hour: Fishy Game Night
Wednesday, April 7 at 8PM EDT
Join our Spring 2021 Marine Conservation Interns for a trivia-esque game night, featuring marine conservation and ocean facts plus Tropical Western Atlantic fish ID.
Fishinar: Butterflyfishes of Hawaii
Wednesday, April 21 at 8PM EDT
Many of Hawaii's colorful underwater residents belong to the Butterflyfish family. Learn how to tell them apart during this session led by Amy Lee.
Fishinar: Spineless Wonders: Tropical Western Atlantic Invertebrates
Wednesday, May 5 at 8PM EDT
This is a unique opporutunity to join Mickey Charteris, author of the popular Caribbean Reef Life guidebook, as he shares his passion for the marine invertebrates found in the Tropical Western Atlantic region.
REEF is proud to highlight one of our outstanding Conservation Partners: Island Ventures in Key Largo. REEF Conservation Partners are active organizations and dive shops committed to protecting marine environments worldwide. As valued REEF ambassadors, they serve as centers for marine conservation actions, outreach, and education. You can view the full listing of Conservation Partners or register your organization as a REEF Conservation Partner here.
In what ways do you participate with REEF’s main programs?
Island Ventures' private snorkel and scuba charters give guests the opportunity to participate in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project by completing a REEF survey. They also host lionfish removal tours by request for groups who would like to charter their dive boat. Daily charters are also available for up to 11 divers.
What other actions do you take to promote marine conservation?
Island Ventures has partnered with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to support the Goal: Cleans Seas Florida Keys initiative through monthly Dive against Debris trips, which are offered for free to all divers who participate in the program. In addition, Island Ventures runs monthly coral education seminars and coral cleaning and planting tours in partnership with Coral Restoration Foundation.
How can REEF members get involved with you?
When you make a dive or snorkel reservation, let Island Ventures' staff know you would like to conduct a REEF survey so they can make sure they have the proper gear on board. Their crew will be able to help you identify many of the fishes on the reef. Island Ventures also accepts reservations for private lionfish hunting trips, where you just may end up catching dinner! Guests may also participate in Dive Against Debris tours, offered for free on the third Sunday of each month. For more information, visit www.islandventure.com.
April is both Earth Month and Citizen Science Month. Join us all month for an Earth Day Quest - a fun way to explore REEF's marine conservation programs and the ways you can get involved! On the self-led journey, you’ll get the chance to share your REEF stories with friends, expand your fish ID skills, go on a REEF website scavenger hunt, and more!
Click here to start your Earth Day Quest. It's free to join, and everyone who registers through the Earth Day Quest webpage will receive a small surprise in the mail!
Welcome to the Citizen Science Corner, our quarterly feature to acknowledge those who recently reached a milestone in our Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Below are the REEF members who achieved a survey milestone in January, February or March 2021.
Experience Level Advancements
REEF Experience Levels are a way for divers and snorkelers to measure their fish ID knowledge along with their surveying experience. From beginner to expert, you'll find plenty of resources and friends to help you along the way. Experience Levels 2, 3, 4, or 5 are achieved through submitting specified numbers of surveys in conjunction with taking a fish ID test to demonstrate knowledge.
Let's hear it for these REEF members who have improved their fish ID skills!
*All listed below are Level 2 unless otherwise noted.
- Haley Chasin
- Leo Reyes
- Eddie Roa
- James Jaurez
- Sussi Yamaguchi
- Gabriela Sanchez
- Daniel Paskwietz
- Emily Strand
Northeast US and Eastern Canada (NE)
Pacific Northwest (PNW)
- Carter Webb
- Gary Fogelquist
- Pieter Booth
- Brad Giles
Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA)
- Mackenzie Kawahara (current REEF Marine Conservation Intern in Key Largo)
- Mikayla Carrier (current REEF Marine Conservation Intern in Key Largo)
- Sierra Barkdoll (current REEF Marine Conservation Intern in Key Largo)
- Summer Huber (current REEF Marine Conservation Intern in Key Largo)
- Ella Harder - Level 3
- Evan Centanni - Level 3
- Isabella Pari
- Jodi Lyon
- Andrew Curry
Here's a goal to shoot for in 2021: conduct and submit 25 or more REEF surveys in any region or combination of regions to complete the 2021 Super Surveyor Challenge! Everyone will reaches this goal will receive the waterproof decal pictured here.
Congratulations to everyone who has completed the 2021 Super Surveyor Challenge so far:
- Peter Leahy
- Cassandra Neal
- Rocio Bunker
- Ronald Wolfe
- Ed Gullekson
- Dennis Bensen
- Herb Gruenhagen
- Mona & Gary Wirth
- Kara Curry
- Brad Giles
Maybe you're next! Nine months to go....
Introducing our April 2021 Fish of the Month, the Cherubfish (Centropyge argi)!
Survey Regions: Cherubfish are found in REEF's Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) survey region, which includes the Caribbean, Florida, The Bahamas, and Bermuda. Click here to see a distribution report for this species throughout the TWA. If you're looking to add the Cherubfish to your life list of fish sightings, consider planning a trip to Cozumel or Bonaire. Cherubfish have been reported in more than 20% of REEF surveys at both of these locations!
Size: They grow to a maximum of 3 inches.
Identifying Features: Cherubfish have a vibrant blue body with yellow or orange on the face and chest area. They also have a thin blue ring encircling each eye and the outer edge of their dorsal and anal fins are bright blue.
Fun Facts: The Cherubfish is one of the smallest members of the Angelfish family. They prefer deep reefs and walls below 80 feet, where they can be found darting in and out of rubble piles containing rocks and broken coral fragments. A similiar (but very uncommon) species is the Flameback Angelfish, which has been reported only in the southeastern Caribbean. How to tell the difference? The Cherubfish has orange only on its face and chest, while the Flameback Angelfish has an orange wash extending from its face onto its back and dorsal fin.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for our next Fish of the Month!
[Photo by Florent Charpin]