This year’s annual REEF Fest was a whirlwind of diving, social gatherings, and conservation-themed seminars. From September 20-23, over 250 REEF supporters from around the world joined us in Key Largo, Florida, to celebrate marine conservation and REEF’s 25th anniversary. The four days were full of keynote speakers, delicious food, REEF fish surveys, and the opportunity to mingle with fellow ocean enthusiasts.
REEF Fest attendees spent the mornings in the water conducting REEF surveys with Amoray Dive Resort, Key Dives, and Quiescence. After dropping off their fins, they engaged in seminars presented by Dr. Christopher Koenig, Carlos and Allison Estapé, Dr. Martin Grosell, Dr. Andy Bruckner, Dr. Alli Candelmo, Dr. Caroly Shumway, and Dr. Brian Lapointe. The presentations left guests with a deeper understanding of the challenges that face marine ecosystems, as well as potential solutions that are being developed to combat these issues. There were plenty of social events, including an open house at REEF Headquarters and the “For the Love of the Sea” banquet, featuring live music by Cast Away, food catered by Mangrove Mikes, a raffle and silent auction prizes. The four days invited both long-term REEF members and prospective new members to share their passion for marine conservation, and we are already looking forward to next year’s REEF Fest, October 17-20, 2019. We hope to see you there, and can’t wait to celebrate another successful year of marine conservation!
Many thanks to those who made REEF Fest possible this year: The Murray Nelson Government Center, Centennial Bank, Florida Keys Brewing Company, the local restaurants and volunteers who provided food for our Friday night open house, our generous auction supporters, and all of those who attended.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. More than 70,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Susan Lokey, who has been a REEF member since 1995. She is a level 3 surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic region and has completed 175 surveys. Susan lives in Virginia, outside of Washington D.C., and enjoys traveling on dive trips. She attends REEF Field Survey Trips whenever she can!
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
My first REEF survey was done December 10, 1995, in The Bahamas on my own, not on a REEF Trip. I started diving in 1993 and found out about REEF when I was on a vacation in The Bahamas. A couple on our dive boat talked about the dives they did with REEF and how much better it was than just going on a dive without a purpose. I inquired about REEF and signed up shortly after in 1995 - my member number is 4131!
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Probably my most memorable REEF Trip was on the Aqua Cat to the Exumas. Ned and Anna DeLoach were on this trip and it was incredible. They are an amazing couple and their knowledge and enthusiasm was contagious. The Aqua Cat and their dive staff was so professional and made the dives memorable.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I love diving and typically do about 15 dives each trip. If I were to go on a dive trip and did that many dives without surveying, it would become boring. I love diving with a purpose and knowing that I am making a contribution to REEF's information and knowledge base. The most interesting thing I've learned is not only to try to identify fish, but learn about their habitat and behaviors (i.e. Sergeant Majors protecting an egg mass - to see this and then actually see the egg mass they are protecting!).
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
To be able to do so many dives with enthusiastic fellow divers, and then being able to talk about the fish sightings and compare notes.
If you had to explain REEF to a friend in a couple of sentences, what would you tell them?
I have definitely encouraged fellow divers to think about diving with REEF and explained the benefits of doing surveys. I also let them know that there are monthly trips they can choose to participate in, in various price ranges that would fit their budgets. They should know no matter which trip they decide to go on, they will enjoy all of the divers they will be with and truly feel like a valuable part of the REEF team!
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? If you don’t dive nearby, where do you most often dive?
There are no dive locations near where I live near Washington, DC. I rely on REEF Trips to fulfill my love of diving while knowing I am a valuable part of the REEF team when I dive with them.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? Why is it your favorite?
My favorite fish is the Frogfish. I saw several in my early diving days about 1995 in Bonaire. I have not seen one while surveying yet. I know they are out there but are very challenging to spot. They are my favorite because they are very unique and are masters of camouflage!
What is your most memorable fish find and why?
I was excited to find Cardinalfish which I wouldn't have seen had I not taken my dive light. Also finding a Peppermint Basslet on my own (with dive light) was exciting too.
This summer, we continued making improvements to the REEF Headquarters and campus in Key Largo, Florida. What was once a grass-filled plot next to the HQ building is now peppered with native plants and a beautiful Mosquito Fish pond. The Native Plants Trail, which loops through the garden, includes informational signage that identifies native and invasive species, and educates readers about the history of the Florida Keys. Another new addition is a solar panel charging station and an electric car charging station. Thank you to Monroe County Tourist Development, Wire Nuts Electric, and Conch Tree and Landscape who helped make this project possible.
The Garden Club of the Upper Keys was instrumental in the creation of REEF’s very own Butterfly Garden. Laurie Brooks and her team of gardeners designed a diverse and beautiful garden, with plants such as the American Beautyberry, Pickerelweed, and Spanish Needles. The plants surround the garden’s main feature, a pond with mosquito-eating Gambusia, built by Ian Cortina of Tropical Plants of North Key Largo. A bench near the pond offers a scenic place to sit and listen to the pond’s relaxing waterfall.
As visitors continue along the Native Plants Trail, they can read about the Florida Keys’ native and invasive species. The signs highlight invasive plant and animal species, such as the Burmese Python and the Coconut Palm, as well as educate about native species, like the Key Deer and Gumbo Limbo.
The solar panel collects sunlight and stores it in a battery to offer pedestrians and bikers a place to charge their cell phone while on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. Educational signage explains the importance of alternative and renewable energy sources, and minimizing our CO2 footprint.
There are plenty of new features to see at REEF HQ, so stop by to see the updates for yourself! We look forward to seeing you here.
Even though summer has only just ended, the cold days of winter will be here before we know it. Don't worry - you can escape to the Caribbean and get involved in a meaningful citizen science dive trip! We still have some openings on two of our upcoming liveaboard trips to the Eastern Caribbean and the British Virgin Islands. We have also released our complete 2019 Field Survey Trips schedule, and we hope you can join us on a trip soon!
Eastern Caribbean Field Survey: Dec. 1-8, 2018 aboard the Caribbean Explorer II with trip leader Janna Nichols, REEF Citizen Science Program Manager. Click here for details.
Looking to take one more dive trip this year before the busy holiday season? This trip will begin in St. Kitts and end in St. Maarten, with planned diving to include a special itinerary around Montserrat and the remote Saba bank – both areas with very little REEF data. The Caribbean Explorer II has 9 two-person staterooms onboard, as well as a large sundeck. Your dives will be done from the vessel, which has a spacious dive deck and easy-to-access dive platform. There are only 3 spaces remaining on this trip, so sign up today!
British Virgin Islands Field Survey: Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2019 aboard the Cuan Law with trip leader Ellie Splain, REEF Education Program Manager. Click here for details.
Originally planned for December 2017, this trip was rescheduled in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. We are looking forward to surveying the BVI and collected much-needed data from this area. Now more than ever, the data that REEF surveyors collect as citizen scientists will help scientists and resource managers assess post-storm impacts and serve as a baseline for recovery. At 105 feet long and 44 feet wide, the Cuan Law is the world’s largest trimaran. There are 10 spacious and air-conditioned two-person cabins onboard, each with a private bathroom. The boat’s top deck has hammocks to relax in after the day’s dives, and when not diving, you can enjoy snorkeling during surface intervals. The boat also has hobie cats, sea kayaks, and paddle boards available for all guests to use, making this a great trip for non-divers as well. The week ends with a fun beach BBQ ashore.
REEF Field Survey Trips include a full schedule of diving and daily seminars about fish identification. You don’t have to be an experienced surveyor to join a trip. We welcome surveyors of all experience levels to join us for these educational and fun dive vacations!
2019 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule
Jan.27 - Feb. 2 -- British Virgin Islands
- Special Survey Itinerary -- Cuan Law Liveaboard, with Ellie Splain
, Click here for trip details
Aug. 24 - 31 -- Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
-- Dolphin Dive Little Corn & Little Corn Island Beach and Bungalow, with Ellie Splain and Ellie Place
, Click here for trip details
Sept. 9 - 19 -- Cayman Brac and Little Cayman
-- Cayman Brac Beach Resort & Little Cayman Beach Resort, with Amy Lee
, Click here for trip details
To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Visit the links above for full trip details.
Did you know that REEF hosts twelve Marine Conservation Interns each year? This important program is vital to REEF's success and serves as a formative experience for these young adults. As a new feature in our newsletter, we will periodically check in with intern alumni to see where they are now and how their time at REEF impacted their journey. This month we visited with Laura Palomino.
When were you a REEF intern?
I was a Marine Conservation Intern from January to May 2018, and then stayed on as an Education Leadership Intern (ELI) from May 2018 to August 2018.
What did you like the most about your internship?
The field of marine conservation is very large, and it can be intimidating to figure out what you want to do specifically. So having the opportunity be involved in so many different projects with REEF ranging from research, communications, public outreach and education helped me realize what my interests are and where I want my career to go. Which, if you were wondering, is focusing on environmental law and policy!
Was there a goal or focus you had going into the internship?
Absolutely! After graduating college, I wanted to explore the education and outreach side of conservation and become a better public speaker, so throughout both my internships I was focused on learning to lead and create education and outreach programs. Public speaking was not my strong suit when I first started at REEF, but after working and learning from Ellie Splain for eight months, I've become very confident in my abilities as a communicator.
Were there any big projects you worked on during the internship that had an impact on you?
My intern project was being a working group member for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary marine debris project called "Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys". Through this project I helped develop protocols and materials to train the dive community on rules, regulations and permits required to lead marine debris cleanup within the marine sanctuary. This project was my first introduction to how federal and state environmental agencies operate and the intricacies of managing the interests of different stakeholders such as commercial fishermen, dive shop owners and scientists.
What are you doing now?
Currently, I am working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Department of Marine Fisheries Management as an Environmental Specialist at Biscayne National Park. My job is the result of joint state and federal efforts to manage the lionfish population in Florida. Luckily, this means I get to spend a lot time in the field SCUBA diving and spearing lionfish!
How has the REEF internship influenced or supported where you are now?
Interning with REEF has been pivotal in starting my career in marine conservation because I had the opportunity to meet and work with very influential people in conservation and gain professional experience working for an internationally-known nonprofit. Additionally, the lionfish research and education I did with REEF helped me develop the skills needed for my job today!
Many of us have hearts of gold and desire to make a difference for our favorite charity.
One of the options to consider is funding the purchase of a life insurance policy, which offers the charity an effective way to ensure long-term projects can be funded. Life insurance policies can result in a substantial gift to a charity at a relatively small cost and provide the donor with charitable income tax deductions and charitable estate tax deductions. Typically, a person can purchase a policy up to age 70, and depending on the face amount, keep the premiums affordable.
There are two ways to structure the purchase of the life insurance policy “gift,” that will determine the taxable benefits available to the donor.
- If the donor owns the policy and names the charity as a beneficiary, the donor will not receive a current charitable income tax deduction and the death benefit proceeds will be included in their estate for estate tax purposes. This allows the donor to change beneficiary or just a portion of the policy to the charity. It also allows the donor access to the cash value during his or her lifetime. Upon death, the proceeds payable to the charity should qualify for a charitable estate tax deduction.
- A policy can be purchased with the charity as the owner and beneficiary of the life insurance policy. This allows the donor to receive an immediate charitable income tax deduction for the life insurance premium amounts. The charity may choose to liquidate or maintain the policy. Typically the donor will continue to donate cash directly to the charity so the charity can pay the premiums. At the donor’s death, the charity generally receives the life insurance death benefit proceeds income tax-free. In addition to the charitable deduction for premiums paid, the donor may get a charitable deduction for the policy itself. This is determined at time of transfer based on the lesser of the policy’s fair market value or the donor’s basis, which is the accumulated premiums paid by the donor to the date of transfer minus any dividends and withdrawals paid to the donor. The standard IRS annual limitation on charitable income tax deductions apply as do some state laws.
Another opportunity for the donor is when an existing life insurance policy exists and is no longer needed. A donor may donate the policy to a charity and receive a charitable income tax deduction for the donation of the life insurance up to certain limits. This requires all rights in the policy to be assigned to the charity and the policy actually delivered to the charity. The receiving charity would sign a change of ownership and beneficiary form supplied by the insurance company and would become the new owner of the policy. If the policy still requires additional premiums, the donor may continue to donate to the charity to cover the additional premium payments. These additional donations may be income tax deductible up to certain limits. Upon the donor’s death, the charity would receive the life insurance death benefit income tax-free.
Life insurance policies are a wonderful opportunity to give back to an organization. The rules on charitable deductions to qualified charities require review at the time a charitable donation is contemplated. These rules may change or be impacted by amended regulations, current tax court decisions, and case law. We advise that any donor seek professional assistance in planning their estate for estate planning needs and/or an insurance specialist.
We are excited to share that our website has recently undergone a significant update and has a new look. Many of you may have already seen it, but if not, you can check it out by visiting http://www.REEF.org.
This undertaking has been many years in the making. Our last major webpage update happened in 2012. Since then, we have experienced significant growth in both size and scope, increasing our membership to more than 70,000 ocean enthusiasts worldwide and expanding our marine conservation projects to regions all over the globe. We could not have done this without your support and involvement, and we are very excited to share our updated online presence with you.
The webpage has many upgraded features, as well as some brand new content, including:
• Modern, visually-appealing design and colorful marine life images
• Improved data reporting capabilities, including the ability to generate individual REEF data reports and straightforward options to utilize alternate displays for reports, making it easy to find the information you are looking for
• Immediate access to our library of online educational resources including on-demand Fishinar viewing – now you can easily view our marine life identification webinars with no wait time! Click here to view the Fishinar archives.
• Enhanced philanthropic opportunities, from gifts of stock, cause marketing, legacy gifts, and even symbolic animal adoptions, these new ways to give can help you choose your preferred way to make an impact on marine conservation
• Customer-focused online store, including real-time postage and shipping calculations and user-friendly ordering process
If you haven't done so already, please check out our new website today! You can sign into your REEF profile webpage by clicking the “Log In” link at the upper right corner of the page. Once you have logged in, you can view your REEF survey data and order history. Soon we will be adding even more online content, including an interactive map of our many worldwide Conservation Partners. Please stay tuned for more exciting updates in the future!
You can contact us at reefhq@REEF.org if you have any questions or concerns. As always, thank you so much for your ongoing support and for being a part of REEF!