The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is REEF’s cornerstone citizen science program, and was the foundation of the organization’s inception. The goal of the program is to enlist divers and snorkelers to report fishes they see during their time in the water; documenting status and trends much in the way birdwatchers do for birds. The first REEF surveys were conducted in 1993 by a few dozen volunteers in the waters off Key Largo, Florida. The program has grown significantly, with more than 16,000 volunteers participating and 230,000 REEF surveys conducted at sites around the world.
Our most recent geographic expansion is to the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, a vast and diverse area of marine life. To kick off the expansion, REEF's Director of Science led REEF Field Survey Trips to the Maldives in January and Oman in April. Each location offered an amazing experience for both new and seasoned REEF surveyors! The divers saw many species familiar to them based on previous experience in the tropical Pacific. There were also many new sightings, including species restricted to the Indian Ocean or those only found in a specific location. The latter was particularly true in Oman, where surveyors found several fish endemic to Oman, including the spectacular Two-faced Toadfish and the Oman Anemonefish. Another favorite sighting was the Stars and Stripes Snakelet, living in a specialized habitat under sea urchins.
The survey data from the Maldives has been submitted, processed, and is now available through REEF’s publicly-accessible database. As a group, the team conducted 379 fish surveys and reported 549 fish species. (Check out the summary here.) The Oman trip concluded in early May, and the team is currently working to finalize and submit their surveys. This can be a lengthy process, especially in a newly-pioneered area like Oman, where there are a lot of mystery fishes and even likely undescribed, new-to-science species. In these cases, we often consult with fish taxonomists and ID experts to help us resolve some of our mysteries.
So why is this work important? Ocean ecosystems are facing increasing threats, and marine life populations and biodiversity are changing at dramatic rates. As REEF continues to expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, we are building on a critical global database that can be used to better understand and hopefully mitigate these threats. By engaging the public through citizen science, we are enabling everyone to become part of the solution. The support of our donors and the involvement of our passionate team of surveyors makes this work possible, and we are excited for the future of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project.
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 Becky and Nate Collins, who live in Key Largo, Florida. Nate and Becky first became involved with REEF in 2013, and they have submitted a combined 258 surveys in the Tropical Western Atlantic! They are passionate conservationists who have participated in several REEF Lionfish Derbies and frequently attend events at REEF Headquarters.
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
We first heard about REEF from Elena Muratori. We were new to the Keys and she invited us to attend a Fish & Friends lecture at REEF Headquarters. We enjoyed the presentation and meeting other local REEF members. We began doing REEF fish surveys in 2014 and joined Carlos and Allison Estape’s 100 Fish ID classes at REEF to begin our journey to becoming expert fish surveyors.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Our first REEF Trip was in 2015 to Grand Cayman. We have also been on REEF Trips to Cozumel, Cuba and Bonaire. We have met some incredible people who inspired us to learn more fish and become active surveyors. Becky’s trip highlight happened in Cozumel when our dive guide spotted a Bluespotted Cornetfish and a Splendid Toadfish as we were soaring over the reef. Nate’s memorable moment came when attempting a shore dive in Bonaire at Tori’s Reef. Having never been to the spot, we chose the wrong entry point and Nate ended up getting tossed around the rocks on his back like a turtle. When trying to stand up he got stabbed in the foot by an urchin. He didn’t get seriously hurt and we have never laughed so hard.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
We both enjoy doing fish surveys because it gives us a purpose to our hobby. We like the fact that we are contributing to REEF's database, which can be used by scientists to help with fish conservation issues.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
Becky: My favorite fish is the Black Durgon. The way they swim with their dorsal and anal fins undulating is very beautiful. We rarely see them diving in the Keys, so when we do it is a treat. I also really enjoy observing Smooth Trunkfish. I love their pursed lips and the way they feed by blowing in the sand to uncover morsels of food.
Nate: Hammerhead Shark. I like anything big that makes my heart flutter and makes me realize how much more well-suited they are for the ocean than we are.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Becky: It was helpful for me to start learning the fish by concentrating on one family at a time. Attending fish identification classes and watching Fishinars is also very helpful. Diving with other REEF members at home and on REEF Trips helps to hone your ID and fish finding skills too.
Nate: Dive with the most knowledgeable person you can, to learn one new fish on each dive, then find less experienced surveyors to teach them a fish that they don’t know.
What was your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
Seeing the Golden Hamlet in Cuba. We were diving with Doug Harder - a "Golden Hamlet” REEF member, when he spotted the elusive fish along a wall. We have never seen Doug get so excited, so we followed him and we were greatly rewarded with the find. We have yet to swim with Whale Sharks or Manta Rays so they are definitely on our list.
We’re excited to introduce our Summer 2019 Marine Conservation Interns. These individuals will support the REEF team in mission-oriented tasks and daily office operations at REEF Headquarters, as well as play an integral role in our Lionfish Derby Series, Ocean Explorers Summer Camp, and other education and outreach events taking place this summer. They will also have opportunities to scuba dive, conduct fish surveys, and volunteer with environmental organizations in South Florida and the Florida Keys. This semester’s interns bring a unique set of skills and interests to REEF. They include:
Kate Dremluk from Alexandria, Virginia: Kate graduated from the University of Miami with a a B.S. in marine science and biology, and a minor in chemistry. Kate has conducted undergraduate research on ocean acidification, and also spent a semester in the Galapagos Islands doing field research. In the future she plans to attend law school. This summer, Kate is excited to take an active role in protecting Florida’s marine habitats while sharing her love of conservation, research, and education with others.
Ben Farmer from Lexington, Kentucky: Ben recently graduated from the University of Kentucky with a B.S. in biology. He became interested in coral reef ecology, scuba diving, and scientific communication during a semester at CIEE Research Station in Bonaire. He has worked on a variety of environmentally-focused projects including marine protected area effectiveness in the Indo-Pacific, the biology of karst water systems, and the parental behavior of sparrows. Ben believes in the importance of ground-level support for conservation initiatives, and he strives to be an effective communicator and ambassador for the underwater world through his involvement with REEF.
Matthew Hall from Mason, Ohio: Matthew just completed his second year at Ohio State University, where he is studying biology. He started college as an astrophysics major, but after discovering a love of the ocean through scuba diving, Matt set his sights on a career in marine science and conservation. He developed education and leadership skills by spending several summers as camp counselor. Matt is excited to spend the next few months in Key Largo and learn more about the ocean through REEF's programs and diving opportunities.
Stacey Henderson from St. Johnsbury, Vermont: Stacey attended Wheaton College and has a B.A. in biology with a minor in animal behavior. He became a certified diver during an internship in Roatan, where he learned about coral nurseries and invasive lionfish. His passion for the ocean and love of diving led him to become a dive instructor, and he has taught scuba diving in Roatan, Thailand, and Malaysia. Stacey looks forward to working with REEF this summer to build on his current skills and acquire new ones while supporting marine conservation.
Our interns are a vital part of REEF and we couldn’t accomplish our mission without them! For more information about the Marine Conservation Internship or to apply for an upcoming semester, visit https://www.REEF.org/REEF-marine-conservation-internship-program.
Last summer, we launched a brand-new version of the REEF website! There are many improved features on this new interface that we'd like to share with you. This month, we'll show you how to find a geographic zone code for a dive or snorkel site you’ve surveyed or are going to survey.
Step 1: Go to the Programs Tab on www.REEF.org and select Geographic Zone Codes & Maps
Step 2: Select the region you want on the list
Step 3: Locate on the map the area you want, and hover your mouse over it.
Step 4: In some areas, you can zoom in to get a closer look within the region by clicking on the magnifying class icon
Step 5: To view a list of the geographic zone codes in that area, click on the generate report icon
Step 6: You can print the list by clicking on the + icon in the bottom right hand of your screen, or by clicking Ctrl-P on your keyboard.
Step 7: If you see that REEF does not have the GPS coordinates for a particular site, you can report them by clicking on the 'report' link. Note that lats and longs are not visible on the website.
Important things to note:
- It’s always a good idea to get familiar with the zone codes in an area before you go
- REEF uses a hierarchical 8-digit code system for survey site locations
- When completing a survey, you’ll need to know the complete 8-digit code for the site you surveyed
- Each geographic region (TWA, HAW, NE, etc.) has its own set of codes
- If the site that you surveyed is not currently on our list, then please email zonecode@REEF.org to request a new code to be assigned. Please provide the site name, general location, and ideally the latitude and longitude
We hope you'll give some of these new features a try! Please email janna@REEF.org with any comments or questions.
Spaces still remain on some REEF Field Survey Trips this year, and we are now accepting registrations for 2020 REEF Trips as well! Join us for a vacation filled with diving, educational fish ID lessons, and fun with friends. We have a few spots open on these upcoming trips:
• Sea of Cortez, Mexico - 1 female-shared space open! - July 13-20
• Bonaire Shore Diving Trip - Female and male-shared spaces available! - Aug. 3-10
• Little Corn Island, Nicaragua - Aug. 24-31
• Cayman Brac and Little Cayman - Sept. 9-19
• Solomon Islands - Oct. 30-Nov. 8
• Turks and Caicos Islands - Dec 14-21
Interested in seeing the full Field Survey Trips schedule? Click here to view all upcoming trips.
This month, we are saying farewell and best wishes to Bonnie Barnes, who served as Development Manager since April 2017. Bonnie has accepted a position as Executive Director of the Deering Estate Foundation in Miami.
During her time at REEF, Bonnie expanded our development presence in numerous ways. Her ability to foster relationships and make beneficial connections helped to garner valuable individual and foundation support for REEF’s marine conservation programs. She created a Legacy Society to assist members with planned giving, furthered corporate and workplace giving, partnered with ocean-minded businesses by implementing a cause marketing program, and assisted with community outreach and capacity building efforts. Bonnie’s dedication to supporting ocean initiatives made her an enthusiastic and passionate member of the REEF team, and we wish her all the best in her next chapter!
REEF Fishinars are fun, live, interactive webinars, open to anyone who wants to learn about ocean life. Our next Fishinar, Gobies and Blennies of the Sea of Cortez, is coming up on Wednesday, June 19 at 8pm EST. This session is perfect for surveyors heading to the Sea of Cortez on the upcoming REEF Field Survey Trip, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about the smaller species found in Baja California!
All you need to participate in a Fishinar is a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone and an internet connection – no microphones or webcams are needed. You may watch alone or as a group. Fishinars are great events for dive club meetings or in classroom settings! No need to worry if you can't make it to the live broadcast, because all sessions are archived. There are 170 additional archived presentations available at www.REEF.org/fishinararchives.
To register for upcoming Fishinars, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars.
In honor of the upcoming Summer Lionfish Derby Series, we are spotlighting several Conservation Partners who go above and beyond in their support of our lionfish work. Thank you to Forever Young Charter Company, Juliet Sailing and Diving, Sea Experience, ZooKeeper, and Johnny Leuthold for sponsoring our 2019 Lionfish Derby Series as REEF Conservation Partners!
REEF Conservation Partners are active organizations and dive shops dedicated to protecting marine environments. As valued REEF ambassadors, they teach fish ID classes, host survey dives, organize volunteer events and more. With more than 80 partners across the country and beyond, there are plenty of opportunities to engage! You can see the full listing of Conservation Partners or register your business or organization as a REEF Conservation Partner here: www.REEF.org/conservation-partners.
Forever Young Charter Company
Forever Young Charter Company is a NOAA Blue Star dive operator, committed to promoting sustainable diving, snorkeling and fishing practices in the Florida Keys. Forever Young is located in Islamorada, Florida, and supports REEF programs by participating in Lionfish Derbies and donating lionfish hunting charters for REEF events. They also educate guests about invasive lionfish and promote lionfish removals by regularly offering spearfishing charters. Captain Tony Young of Forever Young also gives lionfish presentations at schools and other community events to help raise awareness about the lionfish invasion. For more infomation, visit Forever Young Charter Company's website, or email email@example.com.
How does Forever Young conserve marine environments?
What is special about Forever Young is that we take guests diving from all over the world, in a private boat (6 divers or less) setting. Our full day charter is eight hours long (four dives) and we have a lot of time to talk with our guests and share our passion for marine conservation with them. We don't just hunt lionfish with our guests, we really dive into the details and educate our guests on why they are having such an impact in the Caribbean waters. We are the only charter company to hold both the NOAA Blue Star Dive rating and the NOAA Blue Star Fishing Guide rating, this recognition is given to charter operators who dedicate their businesses to coral reef conservation and preservation. Our goal is share our passion for the Florida Keys with our guests and connect them to the beautiful places we visit on each charter. From scuba diving on the reef to watching a sunset in the bay, the Florida Keys are a very special place with beauty that will take your breath away. Connecting guests from around the world with this beauty will help them understand why we must all work hard to protect it!
Why is marine conservation important to you?
The ocean is the lifeline for our planet; everything on earth depends on a healthy ocean for its survival. The ocean is a busy place, every animal has its role and you can't help but wonder how they all work so perfectly together. The beauty is breathtaking and my goal in life is to do everything I can to support these ecosystems so my children and their children can see it as we have. With some hard work, I believe our children can see a healthier ocean than we have now. I want them to see the Jawfish hovering in the sand, the Mahi-Mahi schooling in numbers offshore, the birds diving on bait, dolphins playing together in the bay, corals thriving with color, and all the fish with their own personalities. We are all connected to marine environments and we must do everything we can to conserve them!
Juliet Sailing and Diving
As a liveaboard dive boat operating primarily in The Bahamas, Juliet Sailing and Diving staff educate guests about the lionfish invasion with weekly presentations about the history and impact of lionfish in the Bahamas ecosystem. They also teach guests about safe lionfish collecting and handling procedures as well as how to clean and prepare them for tasty dishes like ceviche and fish tacos. They also offer lionfish hunting trips, specifically focused on removing lionfish from reefs that have been particularly impacted by the invasion. For more information, visit Juliet Sailing and Diving's website, check them out on Facebook, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How does Juliet Sailing and Diving conserve marine environments?
We try to adhere to the Monterey Bay's Seafood Watch program guidelines when preparing our weekly menus, as well as offering the guests educational opportunities on board, like conducting REEF surveys, fish and critter ID sessions, and shark talks. We encourage guests to use reef-safe sunscreens and stock biodegradable soaps to try to keep the corals healthy. We also engage our guests when they're not on board via social media with ways they can reduce plastic use, organize cleanups, and generally live more sustainably when they're at home.
Why is marine conservation important to you?
On Juliet we are lucky enough to see the ocean on a daily basis and deeply understand how connected we are to it. The creatures we see every week become our family, and the ocean is their home, and we get to make a living showing people this incredible underwater world. We are also unlucky enough to see the changes that are happening firsthand. All humans rely on the ocean for oxygen, food, climate, and so much more, but the creatures that live there need the oceans to stay healthy so much more immediately than we do. It is our job - as divers, fish nerds, sailors, anglers, and all other ocean enthusiasts - to be good ambassadors and spread the word so everyone is interested in making more positive impacts on our oceans and less detrimental ones.
Sea Experience is located in Fort Lauderdale, FL. They are a sponsor of the 2019 Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby, and have also partnered with REEF to host a Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshop on June 28. Sea Experience also offers REEF fish survey dives, participates in the Great Annual Fish Count, and hosts dives to monitor coral bleaching and collect marine debris. For more information or to sign up for their newsletter, email email@example.com. You can also check out Sea Experience's website or Facebook page.
How does Sea Experience conserve marine environments?
We host underwater cleanups throughout the year, recruit divers to conduct REEF surveys on their dives, host BleachWatch classes and dives which assess the health of the corals in our area, and recently started Eco Pro IDC which trains dive professionals on various aspects of marine conservation. During our PADI Women's Dive Day event this year, divers will have an opportunity to choose to participate in either an underwater cleanup or a REEF fish survey. We also participate in the Great Annual Fish Count and the SEAFAN Community Cleanup event each summer. We have stopped using plastic bottles on our boats and encourage people to either purchase one of our reusable water bottles or bring one of their own to fill up using our water cooler on board.
Why is marine conservation important to you?
Conserving the marine environment is everything to us! We are ocean lovers and as such, we protect what we love. We produce so much waste as humans and so much of that ends up in the ocean. As divers, we want to preserve the beauty of our reefs, not just because we want to continue diving there for a long time, but because so many ocean critters' lives depend upon it. There is an interdependence between humans and ocean life that many do not realize exists. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and others on what that means for all of us and how, with one simple step at a time, we can begin to make a difference.
ZooKeeper - ZK, LLC
ZooKeeper creates Lionfish Containment Units (LCUs) that promote diver safety and efficiency. The LCU enables divers to collect large quantities of lionfish safely by serving as a secure collection device, lowering the risk of being stung by sharp lionfish spines. Based in Sarasota, Florida, ZooKeeper is a longtime supporter of REEF's lionfish work, particularly our annual Lionfish Derby Series. Allie El Hage of ZooKeeper also participates in REEF Lionfish Derbies and assists with our lionfish education and outreach. For more information, visit ZooKeeper's website.
Immerse your child into an ocean of learning and fun this summer! Open to campers ages 8-13, each week-long session of Ocean Explorers Camp includes coral reef snorkeling trips, kayak ventures through winding mangrove trails, a glass bottom boat ride, arts and crafts, hands-on marine science lessons, and a dolphin interaction and touch tank program! Camp is hosted Monday-Friday from 9am-3pm at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Island Dolphin Care, both located in Key Largo, FL. 2019 Ocean Explorers Summer Camp dates include June 24-28, July 15-19, and July 29-Aug. 2. Spaces are filling quickly so sign up today! Click here for more info or to register.