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.