Author: Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., Co-Executive Director: Science & Engagement
We're excited to share another story about the power of REEF citizen science data. Last month, researchers from University of Miami published a new paper in the scientific journal Fisheries Management and Ecology, which used REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP) data to help model population trends in coral reef fish species. In this study, the authors used simulations as well as REEF data collected in The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos from 1994-2020 to identify model approaches that were able to predict trends in species presence and abundance as function of survey duration, location, and other variables. The models showed a significant decline in Queen Triggerfish, which was used as a model organism for this study, and the authors concluded that management interventions may be required to reverse the decline.
Citizen science data, like the surveys conducted by REEF volunteers, are growing increasingly important for conservation, and have the potential to provide much-needed information about the health of the oceans. The VFSP is an accessible way for snorkelers and divers to contribute to a large database of information. There are some challenges associated with analyzing these types of datasets, but these challenges can be addressed by creating analytical models that can help standardize the data. This helps to account for varying numbers of surveys conducted at different times and locations.
This work opens the door for further research on other understudied coral reef species, allows for higher-resolution modeling of predictors of presence and abundance, and expands the set of tools available for researchers using REEF data, ultimately leading to more information that can be used to protect our changing oceans. More than 100 scientific publications have been published to date using the REEF data. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to learn more.
Author: Amy Lee, Communications and Engagement Manager
This year, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP). Since its launch in the Florida Keys in 1993, this citizen science program has grown into a worldwide effort, generating one of the largest ocean databases in the world through marine life surveys. REEF surveys have been conducted at more than 15,000 sites throughout the world’s oceans, by over 16,000 volunteer divers and snorkelers worldwide.
Having access to information about our oceans is increasingly important for conservation, especially in today's ever-changing marine environment. REEF volunteers make valuable contributions to science by conducting surveys to monitor fish populations, providing valuable insight into the health and biodiversity of our oceans. Scientists, government agencies, and conservation organizations use REEF data for research, resource management, and education. We're thrilled to be celebrating 30 years of this amazing citizen science effort, and members like you make it all possible.
You can help commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project! There are plenty of ways to get involved:
Become a Citizen Scientist: It's easy to get started conducting REEF surveys, and both divers and snorkelers can participate. The only materials you need are an underwater slate and pencil, a good reference book, and access to the Internet to submit the data online. REEF has educational materials to help you learn along the way. Check out www.REEF.org/vfsp for more information.
30 for 30 Challenge: Conduct and submit 30 REEF surveys this year, and receive a special 30th Anniversary VFSP dry bag for free! You can conduct your surveys while snorkeling or diving, from a single region or all over the world.
Get Some Special Swag: Join in the celebration with this commemorative VFSP 30th anniversary tumbler, perfect for both hot and cold drinks! Visit www.REEF.org/store to get yours.
Celebrate With Us: Check out our events calendar here to see upcoming REEF events, both online and virtual, and stay tuned to see more ways to get involved.
Author: Stacey Henderson, Program Services Coordinator
If you have ever wanted to participate in a meaningful ocean conservation project, now is your chance! Limited space is available on several of our upcoming REEF Field Survey Trips. REEF Trips are eco-vacations led by marine life experts. Each trip features daily fish ID classes suitable for beginners and experienced surveyors, plus a full schedule of diving. If you're not a diver, snorkelers are also welcome! When you travel with REEF, you make a difference in the health of our oceans by participating in marine research. You’ll join like-minded people for an exciting and fun vacation, and you will make a difference and collect important information to support conservation. Check out the trips below, and visit www.REEF.org/trips for details about all upcoming trips. To book your space, email trips@REEF.org.
Cayman Brac - May 20-27, 2023: The "sister island" of Cayman Brac is an excellent destination for divers, snorkelers, and both beginner and experienced fish surveyors. The dive sites include walls, reefs, swim-throughs, plus two wrecks to explore, and the island is known for having little to no current and great visibility. The trip package includes three dives each day, which means plenty of time in the water. Click here for details.
Red Sea - July 6-16, 2023: The Red Sea is known for a technicolor array of hard and soft corals, schooling pelagic fish, plentiful marine life, and clear water. This ten-day liveaboard trip offers the chance to explore the shipwrecks, reefs, and pinnacles of the Egyptian Red Sea, part of REEF's newest survey region. If you're a fish enthusiast, you won't want to miss the opportunity to find many species found only in this part of the world. Click here for details.
Southern Baja - Sept. 29-Oct. 6, 2023: This special Southern Safari charter aboard the Rocio del Mar is only offered by request and provides a chance to experience the unique rocky reefs and pinnacle dive sites of southern Baja including Espirtu Santo, Los Islotes, and Isla Cerralvo, also known as Jacques Cousteau Island. Click here for details.
Curacao - Nov. 4-11, 2023: Curacao was rated as one of the top 10 diving destinations by Scuba Diving Magazine readers last year. This trip offers diving through Ocean Encounters, including boat diving and unlimited shore diving! LionsDive Beach Resort has a cozy, casual atmosphere set amidst a stunning tropical location, and both divers and snorkelers will love this relaxed Caribbean atmosphere. Click here for details.
Author: Amy Lee, Communications and Engagement Manager
Registration is open for the fourth annual REEF Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K! Between June 5-11, you're invited to join with fellow ocean lovers by getting active to support marine conservation! You can choose your favorite activity: run, walk, hike, bike, swim, or even paddle! You can complete your 5K in one day or throughout the week, participating from anywhere in the world. For all the details and registration, visit www.REEF.org/5K.
Proceeds from the Fish Out of Water 5K support the REEF Oceans for All initiative. Oceans for All supports scholarships, programming, and outreach activities to provide ocean experiences and education for equity-deserving groups. Visit this page to learn more and watch a video about Oceans for All.
When you register for the 5K, you’ll choose to join one of five Fish Teams. This year’s teams are Emperor Angelfish, Tiger Rockfish, Spotted Eagle Ray, Clownfish, and Hammerhead Shark. Read more about Fish Teams here and then select your favorite team during registration! Friends, families, co-workers, or dive buddies can also team up to participate together by forming a Fish Shoal. You don't have to be on the same Fish Team as your "shoal-mates" and you can read more about Fish Shoals here.
Registration packages start at $35. The first 100 participants to register will be entered to win some REEF swag! Registration rates increase after April 30, so be sure to sign up early to take advantage of the discount. All participants receive a limited edition 2023 long-sleeved shirt, downloadable race bib to personalize, a waterproof sticker set featuring the 2023 Fish Teams, plus the satisfaction of doing something meaningful for yourself, others, and the ocean!
Author: Katie Barnes, Communications and Engagement Fellow
You're invited to join us next Thursday, March 16, for Science on the Spectrum, a special virtual event highlighting neurodiversity, featuring a panel of guest speakers who will share their experiences and insights on how their perspectives shaped their careers in science. We have an amazing group of scientists taking part of this event, including:
Jeimi (Jamie) Ellis is a graduate from the University of South Alabama, where she earned a BSc in geology. As a geologist and NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, she has spent the last three years learning about environmental geology and earth science in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Jeimi also works as a content creator, creating fun, educational media to inspire young individuals to engage in STEM fields. She is passionate about the night sky and has plans to protect the our dark skies so that future generations can also fall in love with the Milky Way.
Brooke Enright is an avid scuba diver, ocean lover, adventurer, and teacher. She graduated from the University of Hawaii at Hilo with a degree in biology with a concentration in ecology, evolution, and conservation. She also obtained a specialized subject certificate in water quality research. Brooke was a REEF Marine Conservation Intern in fall 2022. Her goal is to explore and discover the scientific world while educating others. She focuses on underrepresentation in STEM and strives to have accessible science and opportunities for all.
Toni Galloway is an Astrobiology Ph.D. Candidate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Their research focuses on biogeochemical cycling within hot springs on Earth, as analogues for Mars. Toni earned a BSc in biology and geology at the University of St Andrews, and used their background in both subjects to understand the extreme environments within these hot springs. Toni's fieldwork takes place in Iceland, and they have visited there twice so far during their doctorate research! Toni is currently spending a semester at the University of Manchester to analyze the bioinformatics (aka genetic sequences) of the microbes within modern hot springs.
David Girbino is a queer, autistic master's student in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. They are studying agroforestry, regenerative agriculture, and syntropic farming techniques to create a secure and resilient future for food-sovereign Hawaii. They have had to navigate the challenges and utilize strengths of neurodivergence (and an autonomic nervous system disorder) throughout their professional and academic careers, and they hope that their experiences will serve as a useful guide to others in the future!
We hope you can join us for Science on the Spectrum! To register, visit www.REEF.org/fishinars.
Author: Amy Lee, Communications and Engagement Manager
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 Rocio Bunker. She is originally from La Paz, Mexico, and learned to dive at a young age. Rocio lives now in San Diego, California, where she is a scuba instructor trainer. She loves teaching people to dive and educating them about marine life, and enjoys using underwater videography and social media to encourage ocean conservation. She has been a REEF member since 2019, and has conducted more than 380 surveys in California. She is an Expert Level REEF surveyor in the PAC region, which comprises the Pacific Coast of the US and Canada. We're fortunate to have dedicated and enthusiastic members like Rocio!
How did you first hear about REEF?
One of the local dive shops I used to work at was hosting REEF meetings each month, organized by local member Herb Gruenhagen. The more I talked to him, the more I learned about the ocean creatures I was visiting on dives daily. I was also learning much more than just the species names, because Herb had interesting anecdotes and fun facts about the fish and invertebrates. Everything started making sense - like who eats who, why juveniles are so different from adults, why some species have toxins for protection, etc. I decided then that I wanted to volunteer on every dive to help this program that taught me so much.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
I am enthusiastic about giving back and volunteering because I want future generations to learn about ocean creatures and to be curious about their home. The more REEF data there is, the more we can help protect the ocean, and the more people can learn. This is my little grain of sand added to the big pile for posterity.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
So many things! For example, I now know the difference between invasive, exotic, and native species. I live in a place where occasionally we may see fish that typically live in colder waters, and then sometimes we see species that live in warm waters, so understanding this was very valuable for me. I am also able to teach my students about what I learn while doing surveys.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Everything REEF does is important, from teaching people through education programs, to creating fish ID resources, and providing data for so many scientists and students to be able to use in their research. REEF is a haven for the citizen scientists and biologists around the world. So much is done by volunteers like me and you, so the many hundreds of hours donated to the program are to be cherished, The people that are doing this are truly invested, and are doing a great thing for the ocean.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
I am lucky to live near a marine protected area so I can teach and dive there almost year-round. The dive site offers an amazing array of diversity. You could see a migrating gray whale or an Ocean Sunfish, a Popeye Catalufa or a Wolffish - the beauty of it is that it will never be the same dive!
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
My favorite ocean animal is the octopus. In La Jolla we have two species - the Spotted and the Red Ruby Octopus. They are very smart creatures, and some have learned that we mean no harm to them and they actually use our lights to hunt. Sometimes you can observe them in their dens or with prey!
Do you have any surveying, fish watching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Yes! Here are some of my tips: It gets easier if you have the books from your area, so you can look up a sighting that is unusual or difficult. Try to get at least one good picture if you can, and you don’t need a fancy camera, just a good angle and patience. Don’t chase the fish or don’t disturb the marine life, because the more space you give them, the more they will follow their normal behaviors. Do not be afraid to ask for help either - REEF conducts surveys worldwide, and has Facebook groups for each region. You can always post your photos of unknown species and get feedback from the community. Fellow REEF surveyors are always happy to help!
What is your most memorable fish find and why?
Seahorses! Due to an El Nino about six years ago, there were seahorses in the cold water at our local canyons and bays here in southern California. I never thought I’d see one here, much less dozens of them everywhere.
Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
I really want to visit Washington and see a Spiny Lumpsucker and a Giant Pacific Octopus - and I might be able to do it this year, so wish me luck!
Author: Katie Barnes, Communications and Engagement Fellow
The Conservation Challenge is a fun way to earn collectible stickers while participating in marine conservation and citizen science. Did you know that you can earn a sticker for participating in a REEF Field Survey Trip? REEF Trips are a great way to learn more about marine life while spending time with others who are interested in conservation. Spaces are still available on trips this year, so check out www.REEF.org/trips to see our schedule, and sign up for a trip today.
You can also earn a special Grouper Moon Project sticker by viewing a special documentary about the program. The Grouper Moon Project is a conservation science partnership between REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Oregon State University, aimed at studying the Nassau Grouper,Epinephelus striatus, an iconic and important Caribbean reef fish. To learn more about the program and view the documentary, visit this page. To learn more about the Conservation Challenge, visit www.REEF.org/conservationchallenge and stay tuned through the year as we highlight new Conservation Challenges!
Author: The REEF Team
Introducing our March Fish of the Month, the Emperor Angelfish, Pomacanthus imperator!
Survey Regions: Emperor Angelfish are found throughout the tropical Pacific, including REEF's Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), South Pacific (SOP), and Indian Ocean & Red Sea (IORS) survey regions. Click here to see REEF database reports for this species in each region: CIP, SOP, IORS.
Size: Adults can reach up to 15 inches, and juveniles are typically 1-4 inches.
Identifying Features: Emperor Angelfish have bright blue and yellow stripes and a yellow tail, a dark mask covering their eyes, and a large blue-edged black bar behind their head. These are also extremely eye-catching as juveniles, with a pattern of blue, black and white concentric circles covering their body. Juveniles look so different from the adults that they were once thought to be a different species!
Fun Facts: Emperor Angelfish are solitary and are found in coral-rich areas. They have the ability to make a loud drumming sound when they are startled. Males are territorial and will defend their living space, and even attack other male Emperor Angelfish who enter their territory. If you like this fish, you can choose to be on the Emperor Angelfish Team when you sign up for the REEF Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K! Click here to learn more.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for our next Fish of the Month.
Photos by Florent Charpin