Author: Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., Co-Executive Director: Science & Engagement
2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Since its launch in 1993, this citizen science program has generated one of the largest marine life databases in the world through marine life sightings surveys conducted by volunteer divers and snorkelers. A key aspect of the project's success and impact is that REEF data are available to everyone. Over the past three decades, hundreds of raw data files have been provided to scientists, government agencies, and other groups, for use in a wide array of studies and policies to better understand and protect the oceans. These data requests have resulted in over 250 scientific publications. Visit this page to see a full list of scientific publications that use REEF data.
Over the past year, REEF staff have fulfilled 16 data requests, including these recent examples:
- Kyle Dettloff, a statistician at the NOAA Fisheries' Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC), is using the REEF database to evaluate depth distribution of invasive lionfish in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) through time. REEF provided Kyle with over 24,000 sightings records of invasive lionfish in the Caribbean and Florida.
- The TWA dataset was provided to Dr. Joe Serafy from NOAA/SEFSC to evaluate fish biodiversity patterns and trends to help inform wind power development in the Caribbean basin.
- Dr. Meg Malone from Florida International University was provided data on Great Barracuda in southeast Florida, to evaluate the REEF sightings data in comparison with trends seen in other datasets. Dr. Malone noted that it is extremely difficult to capture Great Barracuda population trends by using more traditional scientific data collection methods such as transects and point counts, and the data collected by REEF surveyors will provide much-needed supplementary data about this species.
- REEF survey effort data were provided to Emily Shumchenia from the Northeast Ocean Data Portal to support ocean planning in the New England region. This is an updated data request; Emily first requested data for the Portal in 2020. Established in 2009, the Northeast Ocean Data Portal provides free, user-friendly access to expert-reviewed interactive maps and data on the ocean ecosystem, economy, and culture of the northeastern United States. The Portal’s maps show the richness and diversity of the ecosystem and illustrate the many ways that humans and environmental resources interact.
- REEF provided data to Alice Daeschler and Michael Gerdes from Coral Restoration Foundation to evaluate the status of herbivores in the Florida Keys, with specific interest on sites undergoing coral restoration. Sightings data on herbivore species in the following families were included in the data request: parrotfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish, damselfish, and invasive lionfish.
- REEF data were provided to Teagan Baiotto, a doctoral student at University of Southern California, to evaluate population trends of fishes and invertebrates in the US West Coast Sanctuaries.
Author: Lex Bryant, Conservation Science Associate
From March to June of this year, the REEF Conservation Science team completed a rigorous set of field testing for two types of deep water traps to capture invasive lionfish: the Gittings Noncontainment Trap, and a modified lobster trap, both designed for capturing lionfish from mesophotic reefs in the Florida Keys. With the help of Forever Young Charter Company and local volunteers, our team deployed these traps in a paired design at 43 different natural and artificial reefs across the Upper Florida Keys. The two trap types were each deployed for three days, in the sand near a reef or artificial structure, in 30 meters of water. To test if light lured in more lionfish or bycatch, nearly half of the traps also had pot lights on them. The goal was to understand lionfish and bycatch catch rate and recruitment for each trap design. At the end of the field testing period, one lionfish had been caught in the lobster trap, and zero lionfish were caught in the Gittings traps. Although both designs yielded minimal bycatch, the lobster trap produced slightly higher bycatch, with Tomtate grunts and Hogfish being the most commonly caught species.
After field testing was complete, the team spent several months reviewing video footage from the deployments. Video analysis suggests that there was limited recruitment of lionfish to both trap designs, even when lionfish were abundant on nearby sites. Based on the results of this study, it seems that traps may not be effective in attracting invasive lionfish and reducing populations, even on relatively low relief deep water reef sites.
REEF Conservation Science Associate Lex Bryant presented a research poster describing these results, titled “Testing the Efficacy of Lionfish Traps in the Florida Keys” at the 76th Annual Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) Conference. She discussed the trap design and deployment strategies as well as paired design tests completed over the past few years. REEF would like to thank all of our partners for their contribution to the project. The project is funded through NOAA’s Saltonsall-Kennedy Grant Program and all activities were conducted under Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) Permit.
Author: Hilary Penner, Education and Conservation Programs Manager
This month, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DoE) presented professional development workshops for educators on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The workshops, led by Grouper Moon educator Todd Bohannon and Bradley Johnson from DoE, provided teachers with a marine science curriculum based on the Grouper Moon Project for intermediate/elementary and high school students. Participants received the materials and resources to incorporate the Grouper Moon Project into their classrooms and curricula, through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect classrooms with Grouper Moon scientists in the field.
Educators from eight schools joined in this year's workshops. While Caymanian educators have been using Grouper Moon lessons in their classrooms for years, Todd has recently been working with the Cayman Islands' Ministry of Education to implement Grouper Education Program lessons that align with Year 4 Cayman Islands National Curriculum. This means that every Cayman Islands Year 4 (equivalent to 3rd grade in the USA) student will fulfill standards-based lessons by learning about Nassau Grouper and the Grouper Moon Project!
The Grouper Education Program curriculum allows students and educators to gain an understanding of the critically endangered Nassau Grouper, the focal species of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research project to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations each winter. The Nassau Grouper plays a key cultural and ecological role in the health of reefs, fisheries, and tourism throughout the Caribbean, Florida, and Cayman Islands. Key concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper. The Grouper Education Program was supported by the LP Family. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. Visit this page to see more Grouper Moon resources for educators.
Author: Janna Nichols, Citizen Science Program Manager, and Amy Lee, Engagement and Communications Manager
The REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project enables divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations, plus invertebrate and algae species in temperate areas. Participants can measure their fish ID knowledge along with their surveying experience through REEF Experience Levels, which are categorized from beginner to expert. Experience Levels are achieved by submitting a certain number of surveys and passing a fish ID test. Surveyors who achieve Expert Level status (Levels 4 and 5) in a given REEF survey region are invited to become part of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). As an AAT member, these surveyors may have the chance to participate in special, regional monitoring and assessment projects. This year, REEF organized several AAT Projects in Florida, part of the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region, and collected data for an annual AAT monitoring project in the Salish Sea, part of the Pacific Northwest (PAC) survey region.
In the TWA region, we continued our ongoing Species Snapshot project. The goal of this project is to monitor Florida's coastline by taking a "biological snapshot" of each area, by gathering baseline data on under-surveyed areas and alternative habitats. These data will help us observe changes in fish populations over time and identify biodiversity hotspots. Over the past two years, REEF AAT surveyors have collected data in north Key Largo, Biscayne National Park, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. This summer, our TWA AAT surveyors participated in two more Species Snapshot sessions - one in Panama City Beach in June, and Pompano Beach in August. Surveyors who participated in the Panama City Beach project conducted 73 surveys and reported 119 species, including interesting and rarely seen species like Red Goatfish, Blackbar Drum, and Leopard Toadfish. Surveyors on the Pompano Beach project conducted 94 surveys and reported 207 species. The most commonly reported species during the Pompano Beach project were the Bluehead Wrasse, Masked/Glass Goby, and Porkfish. You can view the sightings reports from the Panama City Beach project here, and Pompano Beach here.
Moving across the US to the Pacific Coast and PAC survey region, last month, our Pacific Northwest AAT members monitored fish and invertebrate populations in the southern part of the Salish Sea. These inland waters near Seattle, Washington, are also known as Puget Sound. Five of the 17 surveyors who joined in this year's project are members of the REEF Golden Hamlet Club (aka Golden Lumpsucker Club for cold water surveyors) joined in this year's project, making this a highly experienced group of surveyors! Golden Hamlet Club members are those who have conducted 1,000+ REEF surveys.
During the Salish Sea monitoring project, the team conducted 48 surveys and recorded 82 species of fish, invertebrates and algae. The most commonly seen species were the Copper Rockfish, Brown Rockfish and Painted Greenling. The most common invertebrates seen were the Coonstripe Shrimp, California Sea Cucumber, and the Red Rock Crab. Meanwhile, the most unusual sighting was the Spotted Ratfish, a member of the Chimaera family. Although Spotted Ratfish make up about 30% of Puget Sound's biomass, they are not often seen by divers because they live in deep water. Click here to view the complete sightings report. The Salish Sea monitoring project is funded by the SeaDoc Society, part of UC Davis and based in the San Juan Islands. Special thanks to Bandito Charters for their support of this project.
Author: The REEF Team
The start of November means that the holiday season is fast approaching. We're looking forward to kicking off this joyous time of year with Giving Tuesday on November 28. Giving Tuesday is a day for people to come together and make a meaningful impact for a better future.
When you donate to REEF on Giving Tuesday, your gift goes directly towards protecting marine life and environments through education, citizen science, and research programs. It takes an entire community, and gifts of all sizes, to make a meaningful difference for our oceans. All who give $250 or more this winter will receive a 2023 limited-edition, signed and numbered Paul Humann photograph! Keep an eye on your inbox this month as we'll be announcing Paul's print selection for this year. Your generosity makes our conservation work possible. We hope you will remember REEF this Giving Tuesday, on November 28. Thank you for being a vital part of our ocean conservation mission!
Author: Amy Lee, Communications and Engagement Manager
The REEF team is preparing to attend the annual DEMA (Dive Equipment and Marketing Association) Show in New Orleans, LA on November 14-17, 2023. DEMA Show is the largest trade-only event in the world for businesses and organizations involved in scuba diving, ocean water sports and adventure/dive travel industries. Each year, the show attracts hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of dive and travel industry professionals worldwide. We're excited to have an opportunity to spread awareness of our marine conservation and education programs, network with our partners, and make new connections. If you are attending DEMA Show, be sure to stop by REEF's booth, #3340, to say hello and check out the latest news about REEF programs and events.
REEF is proud to play an active role in engaging divers in ocean conservation. As part of the educational sessions open to all DEMA attendees, REEF has planned a panel discussion called "Blue CitSci: Leveraging Citizen Science for Customer Engagement (And to Help Protect the Ocean!)" The session will highlight citizen science programs for divers and snorkelers, and will discuss how dive professionals can leverage these programs to engage their customers. The session will include a panel of dive industry professionals who have successfully incorporated citizen science programs for divers and snorkelers into their organizations or businesses. The panel will feature REEF members and partners including Alice Ribbens of Scuba Center, Carmen Toanchina of Scuba St. Lucia, Mike Goldberg of Key Dives, and Dora Sandoval of Mexico Liveaboards. REEF Co-Executive Director Christy Semmens will also moderate and serve on the panel. The REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project will be highlighted as a case study, and all attendees will receive REEF fish ID training materials and resources. The session will be held on Thursday, November 16 from 8:30-9:45am, and all DEMA Show attendees are invited.
Author: Amy Lee, Communications and Engagement Manager
We had such a blast last month at REEF Fest in Key Largo! Thank you to everyone who joined us for our annual marine conservation celebration. Check out the REEF Fest 2023 photo album to see all the fun we had, including diving, snorkeling, kayaking, seminars, socials, and even nature tours. We had a fantastic lineup of seminar speakers this year, several of whom traveled great distances to be part of REEF Fest. Thanks to the help of some of our amazing volunteers, we were able to livestream and record their presentations for future viewing. You can view the seminar recordings on our Facebook page and YouTube channel.
REEF Fest was made possible thanks to our sponsors, including First Horizon Foundation, Florida Keys Brewing Company, Little Moir's Hibiscus StrEATery, Kaldi's Coffee, Divers Alert Network, and Keys Weekly. REEF Fest was sponsored in part by the State of Florida through the Division of Arts and Culture and the National Endowment for the Arts. Thank you to all of the attendees, event partners and volunteers for being part of another fun and successful REEF Fest! We're already looking forward to next year, so be sure to mark your calendar for REEF Fest 2024, on October 17-20! Keep an eye on www.REEF.org/REEFfest for more information.
Author: The REEF Team
REEF online programs are free and open to everyone! Here's what's coming up this month:
Fishinar: Muck Diving Around the World
Tuesday, December 5, 8pm EST
Click here to register.
Join us for an evening of adventure in some of the muckiest and murkiest marine habitats. REEF surveyor and volunteer Frank Krasovec will give us tips to get the most enjoyment out of muck diving, along with tales and beautiful photography of the unusual fish and invertebrates who thrive in this type of environment.
Author: Stacey Henderson, Program Services Coordinator
The tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans are known as biodiversity hotspots and home to some of the world's most breathtaking dive destinations. We've planned some incredible trips to the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the coming years, including two brand new trips for 2026 that we recently added to our schedule. Check out the info and links below to learn more about these new trips, plus some other amazing Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean trips that we have planned in 2024, 2025, and 2026! REEF Trips to these regions tend to fill up quickly, so be sure to act quickly to secure your space! To book, email trips@REEF.org.
BRAND NEW TRIP: Philippines: Tubbataha to Visayas Field Survey Trip – June 28 - July 8, 2026, on the Philippines Aggressor liveaboard
Enjoy the best of the Philippines on this 10-night repositioning charter as the Philippines Aggressor makes its way from Tubbataha to Visayas as the seasons change. Tubbataha Reefs National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the middle of the Coral Triangle, known for its amazing marine biodiversity. Visayas is home to soft coral-covered walls, thresher sharks, sardines, jacks, and whale sharks, plus of macro life like pipefish and waspfish! Click here for details.
BRAND NEW TRIP: Sea of Cortez, Mexico: Midriff Island Field Survey Trip – Sept 12-19, 2026 on the Rocio Del Mar liveaboard
Enjoy the Rocio Del Mar's world-class experience diving in the Sea of Cortez, an incredibly diverse body of water with a vast array of blennies, jawfish, rays, massive schools of fish, seahorses, frogfish, and more. The Rocio del Mar is a family-owned liveaboard and a longtime partner of REEF. Click here for details.
Indonesia (Raja Ampat, Ring of Fire, Maumere) – April 12-24, 2024 on the Blue Manta Explorer liveaboard
Experience some of the most exotic and sought-after dive destinations in Indonesia on this one-way Banda Sea crossing trip from Sorong to Maumere. Starting in south Raja Ampat including Misool, you will be immersed in an amazing array of marine life on this 12-night adventure throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Locations we anticipate diving include Misool, Fiabacet, Boo, West Seram, Ring of Fire, Wetar and Alor. The trip will end with some fabulous muck diving in Maumere. Surveyors will love being aboard the beautiful Blue Manta Explorer, a spacious and luxurious vessel, with a large dive deck and dedicated camera room. Click here for details.
Lembeh, Indonesia - Passport to Paradise - November 2-13, 2024 - Three resorts in 11 days
Explore three distinct destinations in one trip, seeing everything Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia has to offer. This amazing trip will start off with four nights at Murex Manado Resort, where we’ll dive stunning walls. We’ll then spend three nights at Murex Bangka Resort, where the pristine reefs are teeming with life. We'll end the trip with four nights at Lembeh Resort, the critter capital of the world, home to plenty of rare and unusual marine life. Click here for details.
Maldives - January 12-22, 2025 - Emperor Explorer liveaboard
Maldives liveaboard diving is a must-do for every avid scuba diver! The South Ari, South Male, Vaavu, and Meemu Atolls are dreamy tropical oases perfect for fish surveyors. Made up of nearly 1,200 islands, the inner and outer reefs of the Maldives atoll are a haven for wildlife. Click here for details.
Misool, Indonesia - May 8-17, 2026 - Misool Eco-Resort
Located in remote Raja Ampat, Misool is known for its pristine reefs and abundant marine life. All of the dive sites are protected by the resort's own Misool Private Marine Reserve, including the House Reef, which is known for having Black Tip Reef Sharks, Bargibanti and Denise Pygmy Seahorses, and even mating Mandarinfish! Renowned for excellent service and attention to detail, Misool Eco Resort is situated on a private tropical island, and each accommodation is built entirely from reclaimed tropical hardwoods and designed with comfort, privacy, and sustainability in mind. Click here for details.
Author: The REEF Team
Meet our November Fish of the Month, the Palette Surgeonfish, Paracanthurus hepatus!
Survey Regions: Palette Surgeonfish are found throughout the tropical Pacific and the Indian Ocean, in REEF's Central Indo-Pacific (CIP), South Pacific (SOP), and Indian Ocean & Red Sea (IORS) survey regions. Click the links to view sightings reports for this species in each region: CIP, SOP, and IORS.
Size: They grow to about 10 inches long.
Identifying Features: Palette Surgeonfish have a brilliant blue head and body, with a black hook-shaped marking starting from the eye and curving along the body, and a yellow tail with black borders.
Fun Facts: Palette Surgeonfish can be shy and secretive, and will wedge themselves among the branches of staghorn corals when they are alarmed. They can be solitary or in small groups, and can often be seen swimming above coral heads on current-swept reefs. The character Dory in Disney's Finding Nemo movies is a Palette Surgeonfish, making this species well-known among both fish surveyors and the public.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for our next Fish of the Month.
Photo by Florent Charpin.