Monitoring fish species to track population growth and general health is vital, and our Conservation Science team has commenced field testing for a new pilot study called SMILE (Size Matters: Innovative Length Estimates). The SMILE Project incorporates the collection of fish length data with the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project, using a special FishSense camera. Developed in partnership with the Semmens Lab at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and UC San Diego (UCSD) Engineers for Exploration (E4E), FishSense is a sleek, handheld underwater imaging device that uses Intel’s depth-sensing camera to collect 3D imagery of individual fishes, which can be used to calculate length, biomass, and health. The goal of the SMILE Project is to develop a survey method and generate a device that recreational divers can use to produce data for fisheries stock assessments, ecosystem-based assessments, and coral restoration monitoring.

REEF is currently pilot testing the FishSense cameras by surveying coral outplanting and monitoring sites designated by NOAA’s Mission: Iconic Reefs initiative in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). FKNMS Research Coordinator Dr. Andy Bruckner helped select the survey sites. Last year, SMILE surveys were conducted alongside lionfish removals in Islamorada and Looe Key. In May and June, the REEF team, along with Scripps and E4E scientists, conducted SMILE surveys at Carysfort and Horseshoe Reef. Data and images from these surveys are being processed now. Over the coming months we will continue surveying in the Florida Keys, and will also deploy the FishSense cameras during upcoming REEF Field Survey Trips.

This pilot project will provide a proof of concept for citizen science applications. These tools will be incorporated into future REEF programs, including Grouper Moon spawning aggregation research, Invasive Species Program research, and the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Stay tuned for more field updates about this exciting new project. To read more about SMILE and learn how you can support the project, visit

SMILE Project partners include Semmens Lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD E4E, UCSD Kastner Research Lab, The Nature Conservancy California, South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, SECOORA/Axiom, and FKNMS. This project is funded in part by a grant from the nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida (FWFF) via proceeds from the ‘Discover Florida’s Oceans’ license plate. Since its founding, the Foundation has raised and given away more than $50 million for conservation, outdoor recreation and youth programs and camps. For more information, please visit Additional funding has been provided by The Nature Conservancy and NVIDIA.