During my first week at REEF as a Marine Conservation Intern, I gained a plethora of fish identification knowledge. My previous dive experience has been in the Pacific Ocean, so I had not seen most Tropical Western Atlantic fish underwater before. To practice, I constantly reviewed presentations and underwater photographs. I was eager to get in the water and put my identification skills to the test! I recently had the opportunity to get out on the water in Key Largo, alongside three other REEF interns: Riley, Amelia, and Stacey. We ventured to Molasses Reef where I conducted my first REEF fish survey. It was incredible! Stacey and I dived while Riley and Amelia snorkeled at the surface, and even observed a sea turtle and a nurse shark that Stacey and I did not see.

A few fish really stood out to me, including two Porcupinefish and a juvenile Yellowtail Damselfish. The damselfish's vibrant yellow tail contrasted with its blue disco ball-like spots. I was fascinated watching this little guy swim close to the reef while his spots reflected the sunlight from the surface. It was such an invigorating experience to see so many new fish and understand what species I was observing. Seeing the fish in their natural habitat significantly helped to reinforce my knowledge. I paid close attention to the various distinctive characteristics of each family and species, but I think experiencing the different behaviors of the fish is what ultimately strengthened my fish identification skills. For instance, witnessing the territorial behavior of the Bicolor Damselfish and connecting it to my knowledge of their role as algae farmers made things click.

In a small way, I truly felt like I was making a difference on behalf of our marine world by participating in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. After this diving experience, I understand what they mean when they say, “Diving That Counts”!