Author: Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., Co-Executive Director: Science & Engagement
Last month, we wrapped up the year-long celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP). Since its launch in 1993, this citizen science program has generated one of the largest marine life databases in the world. Here are a few stats to recap a great year!
- A total of 13,988 surveys were conducted and submitted to the REEF VFSP database in 2023. These surveys were conducted at 2,642 sites in oceans all over the world. An additional 1,404 surveys were submitted in 2023 but conducted in a previous year (surveys never expire!)
- 745 volunteers participated in the VFSP in 2023. The five most prolific surveyors in 2023 were: Peter Leahy (436 surveys), Chuck Curry (270 surveys), Carmen Toanchina (270), Janet Eyre (267), and Matt Wilbur (208). See the end of this article for the top 50 surveyors in 2023.
- 8 VFSP surveyors achieved one of the highest honors in the VFSP by joining the Golden Hamlet Club and submitting their 1,000th REEF survey! Surveyors who joined the Golden Hamlet Club in 2023 are: Kara Curry, Janet Camp, Ed Gullekson, Carol Cox, Marta Bonatz, Joseph Mangiafico, Kenny Tidwell, and Sara Cowles.
- 136 VFSP participants completed the 30 for 30 Challenge, conducting and submitting at least 30 surveys in 2023. They were rewarded for their efforts with a special VFSP dry bag and sticker.
- The total number of surveys in the REEF database as of Jan. 8, 2024, is 294,714!! A total of 17,371 volunteers have contributed since the VFSP started.
- REEF VFSP data and programs have been included in 132 scientific publications, covering a broad range of topics from species trends, to marine protected area effectiveness, to documenting the spread of invasives and disease, to identifying new species.
Check out this timeline of important milestones in the first 30 years of the VFSP. For more Top Stats for the VFSP visit www.REEF.org/db/stats. If you are a surveyor, be sure to visit your customized reports under the My REEF menu. Thank you to everyone who helped make 2023 one of the most successful in the history of the VFSP. Here's to the next 30 years and beyond!
Here are the top 50 most prolific surveyors in 2023 (numbers represent total surveys conducted and submitted in 2023)
Peter Leahy (436)
Chuck Curry (270)
Carmen Toanchina (270)
Janet Eyre (267)
Matt Wilbur (208)
Karen Bogart (207)
Dave Grenda (193)
Sara Cowles (174)
Mary Adams (154)
Kreg Martin (145)
Herb Gruenhagen (136)
Pam Wade (131)
Janet Camp (131)
Ed Gullekson (125)
Laurel Fulton (123)
Edward Benjamin (121)
Joseph Mangiafico (119)
Amy Lee (118)
Don Gordon (116)
Tracey Griffin (111)
Deborah Cacace (111)
Marta H. Bonatz (110)
Susan Langston (107)
Eric A. Frick (106)
Karen Bohner (105)
Katherine Mauser (102)
Shaina Michael (101)
Kim White (99)
Fred Hartner (98)
David Thompson (96)
David Ehlert (95)
Frank Krasovec (94)
Paul Bonatz (93)
Kristi Draper (90)
Marilyn Bentley (90)
Lillian Kenney (89)
Christy Semmens (88)
Robert Bentley (88)
Marta Zahalak (87)
Kathie Comerford (86)
Kara Curry (84)
Callie Mack (83)
Luanne Betz (82)
William Ribbens (82)
Kris Karlen (82)
Gail Roberts (81)
Bill Isbell (76)
Dana Kowalsick (76)
David Baasch (75)
Janet Clayton (74)
Author: The REEF Team
We are very excited to welcome two new staff to the REEF Team - Jill Kuehnert (right) as Campus Director and Dr. Kindra Bartz (left) as Operations Manager. Both are based at the REEF Campus in Key Largo, Florida.
Jill Kuehnert (‘KEY-nert’) comes to REEF with extensive experience in building support for good causes. After earning degrees in international relations and public policy from the American University in Washington DC, Jill’s professional journey began at the World Bank. She then spent a decade in the private sector, including a regional leadership assignment in Singapore. From 2007 to 2023, Jill worked as a science communications consultant for public sector agriculture research projects. Jill began scuba diving for fun when she lived in Asia and has logged hundreds of dives around the world. Jill and her husband moved to Key Largo in 2017 and until 2023 spent most of their time running Lucky Fish Scuba, a top-rated private charter operation. She is a community leader, currently serving as volunteer President of the Upper Keys Business & Professional Women (BPW), the largest local chapter of BPW/Florida. Jill has been a REEF member since 2017, attending REEF Fest every year with the t-shirts to prove it! She is an enthusiastic supporter of all kinds of cool science, especially when it empowers individuals and connects communities in protecting our oceans. As Campus Director, Jill will be responsible for overseeing programs, staff, and operations of the REEF Campus in Key Largo, Florida and helping chart the course for the organization’s growing impact in the Florida Keys community.
Kindra Bartz is an ocean enthusiast with extensive leadership education and experience overseeing the operations of a Visitor Center. She moved to the Florida Keys a year ago to help her partner run an eco-conscious scuba diving and fishing charter business. Originally from Kansas, Kindra earned a B.S. in Strategic Communications and an M.S. in University Administration from the University of Kansas (KU) while working at KU. Before moving to Key Largo, Kindra worked at a large research university for over 12 years, managing people and resources to offer campus visits and events. As an avid scuba diver, Kindra is a PADI Rescue Diver working on her PADI Divemaster certification. Kindra also earned a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California (USC) in Organizational Change and Leadership, further preparing her for nonprofit leadership. She is passionate about REEF’s conservation mission to protect marine life through education, service, and research. In her spare time, Kindra enjoys diving, riding her horse Molly, and spending time with her dogs.
Welcome to the REEF team, Jill and Kindra!
Author: Hilary Penner, Education Manager: Program Development
The winter full moon is just a few weeks away, and that means REEF scientists and research partners are gearing up to study endangered Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. 2024 marks the 22nd year of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort between REEF, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DoE), and scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Oregon State University, aimed at studying one of the largest and last known spawning aggregations of endangered Nassau Grouper. REEF has developed Grouper Moon educator resources to engage students with this amazing natural phenomenon, and help them understand the ecological and cultural importance of Nassau Grouper as a top predator on Caribbean coral reefs. To date, REEF’s Grouper Education Program has been implemented in 25 schools and 95 unique classrooms, and reached approximately 3,000 students in the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands, the US, and the UK. For more info, check out the Grouper Moon Project Educator resources page here.
You can join in live-from-the-field webchats with scientists studying the Nassau Grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands. There are three livestream sessions scheduled, including:
• Monday, January 29: Gathering Groupers - Updates from the field featuring Grouper Moon scientists
• Tuesday, January 30: Scientific and Research Technology and Tools - Exploring diverse pathways to becoming a scientist
• Thursday, February 1: Underwater Dive! Life on a Spawning Aggregation - Talk with a scientist underwater in Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman
All livestreams will take place at 10:30am EST. It’s free to join in, and livestreams will be broadcast on REEF's YouTube channel.
Author: Sierra Barkdoll, Citizen Science Coordinator
We're excited to announce our speaker lineup for 2024 REEF Fish & Friends! Each month features an engaging ocean-themed presentation from a guest speaker. Presentations are free to attend, and are hosted at the REEF Campus in Key Largo. If you're not able to join us in person, the seminars are livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube. Upcoming Fish & Friends presentations include:
• February 13 – "Currents & Crossroads: Vision for Florida's Ocean & Coasts" presented by JP Brooker, Ocean Conservancy
• March 12 – "The Solution is Clear: Restoring the Florida Bay" presented by Dr. Raechel Littman, Florida Bay Forever
• April 9 – "Coastal Everglades Monitoring: Fish & Beyond" presented by Anna Simmons, Audubon's Everglades Science Center
• May 14 – "Mission: Iconic Reefs—Empowering Snorkelers and Divers to Support Coral Restoration" presented by JD Reinbott and Madeline Cholnoky, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
• June 11 – "Following the Fish: Hemingway in the Florida Keys" presented by Dr. Cori Convertito, Key West Art & Historical Society
• July 9 – "Rock Harbor, Pineapple Farming, & the Connection to REEF" presented by Brad Bertelli, Florida Keys historian, author, & Honorary Conch
• August 13 – "The Spiky Spectacle: Long-Spined Sea Urchin's Comeback" presented by Jim Brittsan, Sustainable Oceans and Reefs (SOAR)
Visit our Facebook page or YouTube channel to view the latest recorded Fish & Friends presentation,"Human Connection to the Waters of the Florida Keys" presented by Lindsey Crews of NOAA. For more details about upcoming REEF events, visit www.REEF.org/events. You can also subscribe to our monthly REEF Campus & Keys Community newsletter here.
Author: Janna Nichols, REEF Citizen Science Program Manager
The Golden Hamlet Club is a highly dedicated group of surveyors who have conducted 1,000 or more REEF surveys as as part of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Please join us in congratulating Kenny Tidwell as the newest member of the Golden Hamlet Club. Kenny joined REEF in 1998 and started surveying on a REEF Field Survey Trip to Puerto Rico in November 2002. He has been an avid surveyor ever since, and has completed surveys all over the world, from the Caribbean to the Central Indo-Pacific. Now that he's a Golden Hamlet, Kenny's goals are to continue to survey as much as possible, and to inspire others to learn more about marine life! Click here to read more about Kenny, and here to read more about the Golden Hamlet Club.
Author: Stacey Henderson, Field Survey Trips Program Manager
REEF Field Survey Trips are eco-vacations led by marine life experts. Each trip features daily dives and fish ID classes for both beginners and experienced surveyors. Looking for an amazing dive trip this spring? We have a few spaces left on our much-anticipated trip to Indonesia aboard the Blue Manta liveaboard. This a 12-night trip is a one-way crossing through some of the most exotic dive destinations in Indonesia, including Raja Ampat, Ring of Fire, Alor, Maumere and more. Check out the link below for more details, and visit www.REEF.org/trips to see all upcoming trips. To book your space, email trips@REEF.org. Some of our upcoming trips include:
Galapagos: March 17-24 -- More information here.
Utila: April 6-13 -- More information here.
Indonesia - Misool, Ring of Fire, Alor, and more: April 12-24 -- 4 spaces remaining! More information here.
St. Lucia: May 4-11 -- More information here.
Grand Cayman: Sept. 28-Oct. -- More information here.
Lembeh Strait, Indonesia: Nov. 2-13 -- More information here.
Author: Amy Lee, Communications Manager
We are excited to welcome our Spring 2024 Marine Conservation Interns to REEF! They will assist with education, outreach, events, and daily operations around the REEF Campus in Key Largo, Florida. Pictured from left to right are Ela Gokcigdem, Sydney Houck, Nick Wilson, and Elliot Tong. Here's a bit more about them:
Ela Gokcigdem graduated from Babson College in Boston, Massachusetts, where she studied environmental economics with a focus on the blue economy. Based on her experiences growing up in her family's hometown of Avsa, Turkey, she has dedicated her career to working on healing the intersections of ocean health and economic development. Passionate about global ocean governance, Ela is thrilled to have the opportunity to focus on grassroots conservation efforts. As the Representative of Turkey on Sustainable Ocean Alliance's Youth Policy Advisory Council, Ela presented her work at both the UN Ocean Conference and COP27/COP28. She also has a climate startup that is working on converting the endemic algal blooms of the Mediterranean Sea Basin into an alternative to fertilizer.
Sydney Houck graduated from the University of Mary Washington in December 2023 with a B.S. in conservation biology. She also completed a semester at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) located at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, VA. Sydney is interested in the application of geospatial analysis in marine research and pinniped conservation. She is also interested in encouraging public interest in conservation and sharing her research with members of the public. Sydney is thrilled to be a part of the REEF team this spring, and is excited to expand her conservation skills by participating in education and outreach programs.
Nick Wilson graduated from Michigan State University in December 2023 with a B.S. in environmental science and management. During college, Nick spent time in Mozambique, where he learned about marine ecosystems, specifically the estuaries of the Indian Ocean. He engaged in environmental stewardship by participating in beach cleanups and conducted snorkel surveys where he identified and recorded species. He also attended lectures and collaborated with local experts to deepen his understanding of marine species behavior and ecology. He also recently earned his scuba certification. Nick is grateful and excited to start a new path as a REEF intern this spring.
Elliot Tong is a rising junior at Northeastern University in Boston and is currently pursuing a B.S. in marine biology. He grew up in the Bay Area, California, and has always loved the ocean. His constant visits to local aquariums and desire to learn bolstered his interests in the field. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he helped fundraise for the Oakland Zoo, raising more than $10,000 to support their supplies when they were forced to close to the public. He became scuba certified last summer, and looks forward to gaining more diving experience. He is excited to be a part of the REEF team this semester, and looks forward to learning and expanding his skills.
For more information about the Marine Conservation Internship or to apply for an upcoming semester, visit www.REEF.org/internship.
Author: The REEF Team
We're gearing up for another great year of marine conservation, and we hope you can join us to celebrate at a REEF event this year.
REEF by the Sea - March 1-3, in La Jolla, California: REEF Sustainers receive an invitation to this annual event, held each spring in either California or Florida. The weekend includes guest speakers such as scientists and other experts, plus socials and REEF program updates. For more information about donor recognition levels, visit this page.
Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K - June 8-15: Celebrate World Oceans Day and support healthy oceans by getting active! You can run, walk, hike, bike, or even swim, and choose to complete your 5K in one day or throughout the week. Best of all, you can join in from anywhere because this event is virtual! Proceeds from the 5K support the REEF Oceans for All Fund, a pooled scholarship fund that provides scholarships, programming, and marine conservation opportunities for equity deserving groups. Registration will open this spring. Visit www.REEF.org/5K for more details.
Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival - August 15-18 in Islamorada, Florida: Our 15th annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby will include two full days of lionfish hunting, followed by a family-friendly festival at picturesque Postcard Inn Resort & Marina. The festival is open to the public and will include lionfish scoring, fillet and dissection demonstrations, lionfish tastings, lionfish games and crafts, raffle prizes, plus booths from environmentally-minded vendors. Team registration will be open later this year. Visit www.REEF.org/derby for more details.
REEF Fest - October 17-20 in Key Largo, Florida: Don't miss this annual four-day conservation event, with diving, snorkeling, kayaking, ocean seminars, and socials. Registration will open in the early summer. Visit www.REEF.org/REEFfest for more information.
Author: Sierra Barkdoll, Citizen Science Coordinator
Our online programs are free and open to all! Check out what's coming up, and view the entire schedule of Fishinars and other online programs here.
Into the Blue Book Club
Thursday, January 18, 8pm EST
Click here to register.
We're kicking off the new year by reading Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by acclaimed environmentalist Cynthia Barnett. She will be joining our meeting for a Q&A, and all are invited to join, whether or not you have read the book.
Fishinar: Look Twice - and Take Pictures! Tropical Pacific Fish Lookalikes
Wednesday, January 24, 8pm EST
Click here to register.
Many fishes in the tropical Pacific can look remarkably similar. Chuck Curry, one of REEF's most active tropical Pacific surveyors, will share some of his tricks for distinguishing between these tricky species.
Fishinar: Common Fishes of the Galapagos
Tuesday, February 20, 8pm EST
Click here to register.
The Galapagos Islands are known for their biodiversity, endemic species, and large pelagic fish. Join us to learn about some of the most commonly seen species there.
Author: Janna Nichols, REEF Citizen Science Program Manager
Welcome to Citizen Science Corner, our quarterly feature to celebrate those who recently reached a milestone in our Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Here are achievements from October, November and December 2023.
Juvenile Hamlet Award
The Juvenile Hamlet Award is for individuals who have conducted 500+ REEF surveys. Congratulations to our latest Juvenile Hamlet Club member, Annette Felix! Read more about the Juvenile Hamlet award and others who have achieved it.
Experience Level Advancements
REEF Experience Levels are a way for divers and snorkelers to measure their fish ID knowledge along with their surveying experience. Experience Levels are achieved by submitting a certain number of surveys and passing a fish ID test. For more info, visit www.REEF.org/experiencelevels. Let's hear it for these REEF members who have advanced an Experience Level!
All listed below are Level 2 unless otherwise noted.
Katie Mauser - Level 3
Matt Wilbur - Level 3
Central Indo-Pacific (CIP)
Tracey Griffin - Level 5
David Thompson - Level 4
Lisa Huang - Level 3
Marilyn Bentley - Level 3
Mark Barnby - Level 3
Robert Bentley - Level 3
Karen Bohner - Level 5
Indian Ocean - Red Sea (IORS)
Pacific Northwest (PNW)
South Pacific (SOP)
Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP)
Amy Lee - Level 5
Mary Adams - Levels 3, 4 and 5
Nan Schmidt - Level 4
Joni Sensel - Level 3
Kacey Carleton - Level 3
Kristi Draper - Level 3
Pat Hartshorne - Level 3
Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA)
Dana Kowalsick - Level 5
Catherine Thomas - Level 3
Kevin Abbott - Level 3
Sarah Weaver - Level 3
Author: The REEF Team
Our first Fish of the Month for 2024 is the Kelp Greenling, Hexagrammos decagrammus!
Survey Regions: Kelp Greenlings are found throughout the PAC REEF survey region, from Alaska to northern and central California. They are also present (but less common) in southern California. Click here to view the REEF database report for this species.
Size: They are typically about 10-18 inches long, and grow to a maximum length of 2 feet.
Identifying Features: Male and female Kelp Greenlings look different from one another. Males have a brownish to blue body with light blue blotches on the head and forebody. These blue blotches are outlined in darker spots. Females have a pale body covered in yellow to orange speckles, and bright yellow fins.
Fun Facts: Kelp Greenlings inhabit kelp beds, rocky areas, and sandy bottoms. They have been reported on just over 40% of REEF surveys conducted in the PAC region, making them one of the top ten most commonly seen species in the region!
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for our next Fish of the Month.
Photos by Janna Nichols.