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 Mike Snow, a REEF member who lives in Washington. Mike has been a REEF member since 2006 and has conducted 193 REEF surveys, many of which have been submitted in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. As a Level 5 Surveyor in REEF’s Pacific Coast (PAC) region of the US and Canada, Mike is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team and joins in special monitoring projects for expert level REEF surveyors in this area. He also recently became a Level 2 Surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey Trip or participated in an Advanced Assessment Team monitoring project, where and what was your trip highlight?

Last September I participated in PAC Advanced Assessment Team project in Hornby Island, British Columbia. There were several highlights during this trip. Probably the single most amazing highlight was seeing Giant Nudibranchs hunting Tube-dwelling Anemones for the first time. Once we had found a Giant Nudibranch in proximity to a Tube-dwelling Anemone, it often took a few minutes for the scenario to unfold, but it was fascinating to watch: the head of the nudibranch which, at first, appeared differentiated very little from the rest of the animal, became akin to that of some mythical sea dragon as it slowly reared back and struck at the tentacles of the anemone in hopes of capturing it before the anemone could withdraw into its tube. I never did see a successful strike, but watching them try was truly spectacular. Other highlights of this trip included seeing my first Tiger Rockfish, first juvenile Yelloweye Rockfish, and the sea lions for which Hornby Island is famous.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?

My inspiration for doing REEF surveys is the results. I'm a retired scientist and I love seeing the data and what people do with it. I usually read not only the summaries highlighted in "Making It Count" but also the underlying papers that have been published using REEF data. I found the paper written last year on Sunflower Stars and co-authored by Christy Pattengill-Semmens especially intriguing. It drew upon REEF surveys and other converging evidence (including deep oceanic trawls) to map the collapse of our local Sunflower Star population and provide evidence against the hypothesis that they may have found a haven in deeper, colder waters. It's one thing to dive and notice changes in the local marine wildlife, something many divers do. It's another to contribute, even in a small way, to the understanding of why those changes are occurring. I find the latter fundamentally interesting and useful. Just recently I assisted with analysis and visualization of data from this year's Advanced Assessment Team surveys at Saltwater State Park in Des Moines, Washington. Among the interesting findings from preliminary analyses of these data is the drop in sightings of Vermilion Rockfish in the park. I noticed that no one on the AAT, including myself, reported seeing a Vermilion Rockfish in 2019. Going further into the REEF data, I found that no one has reported a Vermilion Rockfish in the park this year. A species that was seen in the park 50% of the time by REEF surveyors from 2012 - 2015 dropped to 30% in 2016, 20% in 2017, 10% in 2018, and 0% in 2019. Curious! It's seeing those kinds of findings that keeps me motivated to continue contributing data.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?

I do dive close by to where I live. In fact, REEF has added a couple of my favorite local dive sites to the database at my request after I started doing surveys there; notably Bellingham/Fairhaven Marine Park and Larrabee State Park Boat Launch. My favorite dive site is about an hour away near Anacortes: Skyline Wall. I usually survey 30+ species at that site, including Giant Pacific Octopuses and Wolf Eels. I love diving here in the Pacific Northwest: we don't get the viz you see in the tropics, but we have the largest species of octopus in the world (the Giant Pacific Octopus), the largest barnacle (the Giant Barnacle), the largest anemone (the Giant Plumose Anemone), and the largest chiton (Gumboot Chiton). It's invertebrate heaven here!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?

I am a long-time "nerdibranch" (a nudibranch nerd). My favorite is the Hooded Nudibranch. Starting around November, they gather to mate by the hundreds in the eelgrass throughout the Salish Sea here locally. I could (and often do) sit motionless for minutes at a time at safety-stop depth to watch them feed: they open their hoods wide and then slowly close them once they've caught drifting bits of food. It's also interesting to watch them "swim" (really, flop back and forth) when they occasionally become detached from the eelgrass. They're translucent so you can literally see right through them: marvelous and beautiful creatures!

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

Go slowly! Some of the other local Level 5 Surveyors and I engage in a technique we call "underwater beachcombing" - meandering slowly and paying attention to everything along the way, rather than having a destination. It seems to me that the slower I go the more I see. I can't count the number of times I've gotten impatient and a buddy behind me has pointed out a Grunt Sculpin, a patch of Orange Zoanthids, a nudibranch, or something else I missed.