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 Don McCoy, a REEF member from Oregon. He joined REEF in 2009, and has conducted more than 400 surveys. Most of his surveys are from the Pacific Coast of the US and Canada (PAC) region, where he is a Level 5 surveyor. Don has also surveyed in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) and Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) regions. We're thankful that Don 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 belong to a local dive club called the Portland Sea Searchers, which has been around since 1965. We started out as spearfishers who dove off the Oregon Coast. I joined the Club in 1971. Janna Nichols came to one of our meetings in 2009, and I decided at that time that doing REEF surveys might help document what we see in the areas that we dive. I try to do a couple of dives a month and do surveys on those dives. Over the last 13 years, I have done 295 surveys in the Pacific Northwest. Some of my favorite sites are in Canada. I have also done surveys in Cuba, the Sea of Cortez and Socorro Islands.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
Since I am a veterinarian, I was attracted to the SeaDoc Society, which fellow veterinarian Joe Gaydos runs out of Orcas Island. They have supported some of the REEF Advanced Assessment Team projects in the San Juan Islands at the University of Washington Campus in Friday Harbor. I think REEF surveys were quite helpful in the documenting of the devastation of Sea Star Wasting Disease on the Sunflower Sea Star, which used to be abundant in our area. They are coming back, but slowly. Sunflower Sea Stars are a keynote species and their loss has resulted in urchin barrens and the loss of many kelp forests.

Fishing regulations in Puget Sound and Hood Canal have proven to be very helpful in protecting the resident fish. I think our surveys prove that. Rockfish are protected year-round and lingcod are only available three weeks out of the year. Most fishermen concentrate on Salmon and Steelhead, which spawn in the streams and the young go out to the ocean to feed and grow. When they come back, then they become targets for the sports and the commercial fishermen.

What is your most memorable fish find and why? Is there a fish (or marine invertebrate) you haven’t seen yet diving, but would like to?
I have seen a lot of fish and invertebrates in the fifty years I have been diving here in the Northwest. I have had octopus come after me, and have seen fish in Hood Canal gasping for breath because the oxygen level is so low. Probably my favorite fish is the Wolf Eel, maybe because it is grizzled like me. I still haven’t seen a whale underwater, but that keeps me diving. Since I dive in a dry suit, climbing back in the boat is the main challenge. The tank and weights weigh 65 pounds, and I only weigh 150 pounds. I realize that at 78 years old, my dive days are limited, but will continue to dive as long as I can.