Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Co-Executive Director of Science and Engagement, recently attended the 2023 Citizen Science Association Conference to share information about the Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP). The semi-annual conference brings together a wide variety of practitioners, volunteers, academics, educators, and more, to share ideas and insights, and to forge stronger relationships and practices across the field. Christy has represented REEF and the VFSP at these gatherings since the very early days (even before there was an official association), including the very first workshop that was held at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2007. This year's conference was dubbed C*Sci23, with the asterisk representing the many approaches to research by, for, and with members of the public and the various terms and categories of contributory, collaborative, and co-created science.

Christy presented a poster (pictured) that explored how modern digital photography has not only enriched dives underwater, but has also drastically improved efforts in citizen science, most notably fish identification. The evolution of cameras, lights, and other technologies has enabled diving citizen scientists to record and identify species well after they are out of the water, bringing a new wave of discoveries. At the same time, social media platforms, especially Facebook groups, have connected communities and facilitated the leveraging of distributed knowledge and expertise in ways previously impossible. These advances collectively have resulted in new species being identified, and a better understanding of species-specific distributions, commonness, and habitat specialization has resulted. This information has strengthened reference materials and field guides, and have improved natural history and training opportunities for citizen scientists. 

In a few weeks, REEF will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the VFSP. The very first REEF surveys were conducted by a group of volunteers (including Christy) in Key Largo, FL, during the inaugural REEF Field Survey Trip on July 19-23, 1993. Today, the VFSP database is approaching 300,000 surveys conducted worldwide. We are so proud of the program's growth and impact, and are honored to be considered a leader in the field of citizen science. Check out some of the fun ways we are celebrating at www.REEF.org/vfsp-30th.

Are you a REEF surveyor who uses a camera while diving or snorkeling? We would love to hear how cameras and other technology impacted your experience with the VFSP. Send us a note to data@REEF.org.

Click here to view a larger image of the poster Christy presented at C*Sci23, titled "A Clearer Picture: how digital cameras and other technologies have changed citizen science marine life surveys."