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 Matt Wilbur, a REEF member from California. He joined REEF in 2021, started conducting surveys in 2023, and has conducted more than 220 surveys in the California, Pacific Northwest and Alaska (PAC) survey region in less than a year! We are excited to feature Matt this month and are thankful that he is part of REEF!

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I began surveying in March 2023 after *finally* taking Herb Gruenhagen's intro fish and invert classes. Herb is one of my dive heroes and has always been so generous with sharing his knowledge that I figured I would give this survey thing a try!

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
The names of things never really interested me, but as I've grown my ID and survey skills I find that I have a much deeper understanding of the undersea environment and marine animal behavior. That alone is a huge inspiration, as is bonding with a good dive buddy over our surveys and learning more and more. The fact that our surveys are making a difference to marine conservation efforts is a huge inspiration as well.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
This is so hard to answer. I love that even the experts get stumped on some IDs. I love that I can reach out now to a nudibranch expert, rockfish expert, and octopus expert when I have question about ID or behavior. It's this crazy fun, collaborative network of like minded people, and I never get tired of hearing REEF pals giggle and get excited over a great find.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
My most fascinating encounters have been with Giant Seabass (GSBs). Last year, diving the Marine Room, my buddy Katie and I ran into a mating pair of GSBs, and she caught a video of one of them literally flashing its spots on and then off. We'd heard from the GSB collective that this was possible, but it was incredible to see it ourselves. Also fascinating was parking near some kelp in Catalina to video a male and female swimming circles. After three laps the lead GSB swam straight at me (I was frozen still) and about a foot away, let out a loud GRUNT! and turned away sharply. I left them to it.

What is your most memorable fish find and why?
The most memorable find for me was an invertebrate. Last year, we spotted an Armina nudibranch variation that hadn't been seen in the region since 2018. We see lots of Armina californicas out here, but these were orange and purple Armina - called Armina sp. because they don't have samples yet. We managed to get word to Dr. Dave Behrens, who was considering sending someone out to take samples. Super fun!