Warm greetings! I’d like to introduce myself; I am REEF’s new Executive Director, starting in this role Aug. 20th. Since then, I have been getting to know REEF’s wonderful staff, members, Board, and programs, and I am so excited to be part of the REEF community! Here’s a bit about me: I’m a third-generation oceanographer (from Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and fish geek, with 27 years of experience in marine and freshwater conservation, research, policy, and education. My experience has primarily been in the Asia/Pacific region, Africa, and the U.S. I have led fish biodiversity surveys along the Congo River, dived in Lake Tanganyika to explore fish habitat and how it drives behavioral and brain evolution, and most recently reviewed coral reef restoration work plans in the Maldives. I have worked in the U.S. government (most recently as Chief Scientist for USAID and AAAS fellow in DC and Fiji), for several nonprofits (the Merrimack River Watershed Council, The Nature Conservancy, and the New England Aquarium), and held faculty affiliate positions at Boston University and at Brown University. I have worked on fish conservation along the U.S. East Coast as Head of the Science and Data Committee for the Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership and as co-science lead for The Nature Conservancy’s Northwest Atlantic Marine Ecoregional Assessment.
In my spare time, I enjoy kayaking, biking, diving, hiking, art museums, movies, plays, and reading.
I hope to get a chance to meet many of you at our upcoming REEF Fest, other events, or trips. Don’t hesitate to reach out – I’d love to talk with you!
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 REEF member Alev Ozten. Alev joined REEF in 2016, and became an expert level surveyor in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region the following year, in 2017. To date, she has conducted more than 180 REEF surveys. She lives in Bonaire, where she frequently enjoys diving and surveying!
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I learned about REEF through Kim White’s Fish ID series she holds in March of every year in Bonaire. I was working as a dive instructor at the time. Although I was interested in looking up the fish I had seen, my knowledge of how to identify the fish in the water was limited. Once I got into doing surveys and studying the fish, I was hooked. It changed the way I dive. I did my first survey in April 2016 and passed the TWA Level 5 test in August 2017. I got a lot of joy out of the process of learning and discovery. Every time I got back from a dive with a new “first”, Kim and I would email back and forth looking at photos. I cannot emphasize the importance of having a wonderful and generous mentor. Kim shared her passion, knowledge and time freely and made the whole process exciting for me.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
Bringing non-scientists and scientists together. Raising the average person’s awareness to notice, learn about and observe marine life is the first step to making them care about marine life. Caring leads to wanting to conserve and protect. As for scientists, they not only benefit from the wide range of data collected to use for research, but I would hope that they benefit from interaction with non-scientists (via Fishinars, Facebook discussion groups, etc.) with their real-world questions.
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? Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
I live and dive in Bonaire, which is a shore diving paradise. The freedom of diving (not having to rely on a boat or a schedule) is truly fantastic. I can leave my house and be at a dive site in less than five minutes. I would love to dive in other places around the world but the ease of diving in Bonaire completely spoiled me.
What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?
There is not one. The feeling of connectedness I get when a fish or creature “accepts” me into its environment, without showing any fear but instead curiosity, is just wonderful! For instance, I love it when Trumpetfish sidle up to me for shadow hunting. Some Trumpetfish come close to touching and it is fantastic hanging out silently together. Another time I was taking photos of Molly Miller blennies on a piling in 1-2 feet of water and had put my finger on a bald spot of the piling to stabilize myself. They kept coming over, checking my finger out and sometimes nipping my cuticles… reminding me I needed a manicure? Of course, the encounters with turtles coming up and swimming close to me are always fantastic.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Buoyancy control when diving. Seems pretty basic, not directly related to surveying, but can’t emphasize it enough. You can go slow, approach fish and have better encounters if you seem like you are part of the environment. I have seen some divers kicking up sand or coral heads as they flap about. It is not only bad for the reef but the number of fish you are going to see will go down dramatically. Also, having a camera, flashlight, magnifier… all very handy tools.
This summer, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of REEF's cornerstone citizen science program, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Our annual summer fundraising campaign kicked off on World Oceans Day on June 8, and since then, thanks to the support of members like you, we were able to reach our goal of raising $60,000 to support our conservation programs! All of us at REEF would like to say thank you to everyone who contributed this summer, and a special thank you to the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, The Henry Foundation, and The Meyer Foundation for their generosity in matching these gifts.
We are so thankful for your dedication to marine conservation. In 1993, REEF began collecting marine life data through the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Today, this program includes the world’s largest marine life sightings database, which is a highly effective tool for studying our oceans. This was the first of our marine conservation efforts, but through your support, our work has grown to include protecting endangered species, addressing invasive species, and educating the next generation of ocean stewards.
Your ongoing support is absolutely critical to our mission - you make everything we have done over the last 25 years possible, and ensure that we can continue to be successful in the future. Thank you again to everyone who helped us reach our goal by donating this summer!
Lad Akins, a longstanding REEF staff member, who most recently served as Director of Special Projects, is no longer with REEF. Lad was instrumental in establishing REEF as an organization, was REEF’s first Executive Director, and spearheaded work on controlling invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic. The tremendous impact he has had in marine conservation through REEF’s projects leaves a lasting legacy. We wish Lad the best in his future endeavors.
Thought to be released by aquarium owners, the Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), native to the Indo-Pacific, has been sighted in several locations throughout south Florida since 2001. Last month, a Yellow Tang was spotted at North Dry Rocks, offshore of Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Thanks to the sharp eyes of a citizen scientist, this fish was identified, reported and removed from the Sanctuary within just a few days. Scientists from United States Geological Survey (USGS) helped divers from REEF coordinate the fish's live capture and removal. After a quarantine period, it will be on display in an exhibit of non-native marine fishes at Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami.
The Blue Tang (Acanthurus coeruleus) is a common inhabitant of Florida waters, but its relative, the Yellow Tang, is not native to Florida waters, and spotting one in this area is a cause for concern. Identification of this species can be slightly tricky, because the juvenile phase of the native Blue Tang is completely yellow, resembling the Yellow Tang. To tell the difference between the two, look at the base of the tail, where a small, sharp spine known as the "scalpel" is located. The juvenile Blue Tang has a yellow scalpel, while Yellow Tang has a white scalpel and a more protrouding mouth.
Scientists emphasize early detection and rapid response to non-native fish species in part because of lessons learned from another Indo-Pacific species, the Lionfish, which has caused detrimental impacts in its invaded range. Lionfish were first reported in Florida waters in 1985 and rapidly expanded throughout U.S. Atlantic coastal waters as well as the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
If you see a non-native species in the water, be sure to report it on your REEF survey (if you are doing one), as well as through REEF’s Non-native Sighting Program form here. To learn more about non-native Yellow Tang, check out this fact sheet from our partners at USGS: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=2304
We’re excited to introduce REEF’s new Marine Conservation Interns for the Fall 2018 semester. These four individuals will support the REEF team in mission-oriented tasks and daily office operations, as well as assist in the Upper Keys Lionfish Derby and REEF’s biggest event of the year, REEF Fest. They will also have opportunities to scuba dive, conduct fish surveys, and volunteer with environmental organizations in South Florida and the Florida Keys. This semester’s interns bring diverse skills and interests to REEF. They include:
Annie Innes-Gold from Northampton, Massachusetts: Annie has a B.A. in biology from Vassar College. Annie has studied tree frogs in Panama, participated in coral reef field surveys in South Caicos, and worked in a coral genetics lab. She is excited to learn more about ocean conservation research and outreach as part of the REEF team.
Allyson DeMerlis from Great Falls, Virginia: Allyson has a B.S. in biology from McGill University. She realized her passion for tropical marine biology (and sea turtles!) while studying abroad in Panama and interned at NOAA Fisheries in Hawaii after graduation. Allyson is looking forward to her internship with REEF and gaining more diving certifications while she’s in Key Largo.
Alison (Ali) Treen from Darien, Connecticut: Ali has a B.A. in Professional Writing and Sustainability from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Her volunteer experience at a sea turtle hospital in North Carolina—where she also learned to scuba dive—sparked her passion for marine conservation, and she’s excited to combine that interest with writing and communications at REEF.
Christy Babonau from Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada: Christy graduated from The University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Education in Biology. After graduation, she completed her Divemaster certification in Utila, Honduras and worked with conservation organizations on the Bay Islands. While teaching middle school in Vancouver, she realized the importance of public education and citizen science and hopes to focus on education and outreach while at REEF.
We’re happy to have Annie, Allyson, Ali and Christy join us this fall. Our interns are a vital part of REEF and we couldn’t accomplish our mission without them! For more information about the Marine Conservation Internship or to apply for a future semester, visit https://www.REEF.org/REEF-marine-conservation-internship-program.
Purchase your VIP passes or register a team today! For complete event details, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.
The Upper Keys Lionfish Derby will host a People’s Choice Lionfish Culinary Competition on Sunday Sept. 16, at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park from 12-4pm. Join the "Eat 'em to Beat 'em" movement and get the full experience at the derby with a VIP Access Pass! You will be able to sample gourmet lionfish cuisine from the participating chefs, vote for the best dish, get free access to Pennekamp Park, and two drink tickets. Culinary competition participants include local chefs from Chef Michael's, Atlantic's Edge of Cheeca Lodge & Spa, Chef Drew's Island Catering, CJ's on the Bay and Ocean Reef Club. Purchase VIP Passes for $20 online here or call 305-852-0030.
Calling all lionfish hunters! REEF's 2018 Lionfish Derby Series presented by Whole Foods Market® has removed 2,237 invasive lionfish from Florida waters so far this year. Let’s aim to bring that number higher! Registration fee for competitors is $120 per team. Teams may consist of 2-4 people. Prizes will be awarded to teams bringing in the largest (1st-3rd), smallest (1st-3rd), and most lionfish (1st–10th place), in addition to a new First Timers award category. Also, all participating teams who check in at the scoring station on derby day will be entered into a drawing for the Golden Fish Award, a $1,000 cash prize, as a special thank you for helping to address the lionfish invasion. Every participant in each derby this year will also earn an entry into the drawing for an Atlantis Philippines Dive Resorts & Liveaboards certificate for a 7-night dive vacation. All attendees can enjoy free lionfish tastings, live music by Key Largo's Cast Away, and raffles, plus dissections, filleting demonstrations and crafts.
For more information or to register, visit the Upper Keys Lionfish Derby page.
It was a busy summer for REEF’s Explorers Education Program, between the Ocean Explorers Summer Camp and the “Nature Days” program with the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter. Throughout the summer, 80 children joined REEF to learn about marine conservation and environmental science in a fun, outdoor setting. Thank you to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Coral Reef Park Company, Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, Island Dolphin Care, and the Everglades Outpost who made these programs possible.
To kick the summer off, we had our fourth annual Ocean Explorers Summer Camp. For three jam-packed weeks, REEF hosted children ages 7-12 at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which provided a perfect venue to actively engage kids in ocean-centric activities. Our days were full of kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, and of course some fish ID. We had visitors from the Everglades Outpost and Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center to teach the campers all about the difference between invasive and native species, as well as the importance of protecting our native species here in the Florida Keys. In addition to conservation activities, intern Ronnie Noonan designed a new activity - the "New World Scavenger Hunt.” With help from the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center, she developed an interactive and educational program that led the campers through the early history and exploration of the Florida Keys. Summer camp was very successful, and many children said they couldn’t wait to come back next year. Thank you to the following generous supporters, who supplied eight scholarships to deserving campers: The Upper Keys Rotary Club, Parrot Heads of the Upper Keys, REEF members Annette and Paul Felix, and the Waterhouse Family Fund. Your support made it possible for even more children to attend Ocean Explorers Summer Camp!
In addition to summer camp, we coordinated “Nature Days” programs in partnership with Florida Keys Children’s Shelter (FKCS) and Ocean Reef Community Foundation. This program was designed to provide children in the shelter ranging from ages 12-17 an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and learn about conservation. Days were split between Island Dolphin Care, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and the Everglades Outpost, giving the kids the chance to kayak, snorkel, and observe Florida's wildlife up close. “This program offered our youth the opportunity to participate in activities that they never would have been able to do otherwise,” said Mark Olshansky, FKCS Resident Coordinator. In fact, some of the participants had never been on a boat prior to participating in the program! We are proud of this amazing collaboration with the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter and the Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services, and are very thankful for the support of the Ocean Reef Community Foundation, who made this program possible.
Check out our Explorers Program page for more information on our education programs!
We are all connected to REEF for one reason or another, either we care for marine conservation or are avid divers who want to see our beloved coral reefs and fish species. However, it is difficult to imagine how life-changing diving and conservation work can be until you have heard it from the prospective of a special operations combat veteran. Last month, REEF was privileged to work closely with Force Blue Team 2 during their recent deployment in the Florida Keys. Force Blue is non-profit organization designed to provide former military combat divers a sense of purpose through the restoration of marine habitats. Founded by Jim Ritterhoff and Rudy Reyes, Force Blue provides an avenue for psychological healing through participation in marine conservation and coral reef restoration projects. Although many of these men have been diving for years, some having logged thousands of dives, most of them have not had the opportunity to experience recreational or scientific diving. Angelo Fiore, Director of Training at Force Blue, explained, “these men are mission driven, to achieve the result that needs to be achieved...the community is what you fight for, and that is what we are doing at Force Blue.”
Angelo further explained that the idea of Force Blue “is for everyone to come together to collectively work and accomplish a shared goal just as they did in the military.” Force Blue's motto, “One team, one fight” was a prevalent theme throughout the deployment, and demonstrated the group's dedication to their mission of protecting the environment. Angelo also explained, “[each team member] came from a diverse background, however there is no force more intensely trained…as long as [they] have the training and skill set [they] can do anything, and adapt to anything underwater.” That is exactly what these men did. Following the inaugural deployment in the Cayman Islands last year, Force Blue designed a schedule to focus directly on coral reef impacts in the Florida Keys. REEF staff and interns led the group through lessons on artificial reefs, invasive lionfish, marine ecology, and coral and fish id. The activities included classroom sessions as well as hands-on training dives. REEF Education Program Manager Ellie Splain said “Force Blue is an incredible organization that gives an environmental voice to veterans, engaging them in conservation projects. To see a group of highly trained individuals devote their energy to a cause we are so passionate about here at REEF, gives us the motivation to continue our work.”
Overall, the two weeks spent with the Force Blue Team 2 were extremely rewarding for everyone involved. According to Dan Skidmore, Team 2 member, “our experience gained through [the] teachings will stay with us and has helped raise awareness to the oceanic environment. We look forward to continually working together in Florida.” At the conclusion of Team 2's deployment, Force Blue announced they will be dedicating their focus for the next three years to protecting and restoring the Florida Keys reef tract. We look forward to continuing to work with Force Blue and seeing all that they accomplish in the future.
REEF's inaugural Field Survey Trip to Thailand was held in April 2018, and the survey results of the trip were recently processed into REEF's marine life database. We are excited to share that during this trip, REEF citizen scientists conducted 305 surveys at 24 sites throughout the Andaman Sea, and reported a total of 649 species! These surveys represent the first REEF data from Thailand, which is a valuable addition to REEF's database, currently containing more than 225,000 surveys. Although Thailand is part of REEF's Central Indo-Pacific (CIP) survey region, many of the species found in this area are also found in the Indian Ocean, an area to which REEF is currently expanding.
The trip was a ten-night adventure aboard the Thailand Aggressor, with diving around the Phi Phi Islands, Similan Islands, and as far north as Richelieu Rock, near the border of Myanmar. The surveyors were lucky enough to have several Whale Shark encounters throughout the trip, and even got to see some bucket-list fish species, such as the Ornate Ghost Pipefish! You can view the full list of species reported on this trip by checking out the batch report here.
Interested in being a part of conservation-based trips like this? Divers and snorkelers can join in on a REEF Field Survey Trip to have fun while making a difference through surveying. Click here for more information and to see upcoming REEF Trips.