Last week, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) celebrated the 150,000th fish survey processed in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) survey region as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Volunteer divers and snorkelers made this significant milestone possible. Over 11,000 REEF volunteers have submitted surveys at over 8,000 sites throughout Florida, the Caribbean, and Bahamas since the program’s beginnings in 1993. You can get involved with the Volunteer Fish Survey Project by attending a Great Annual Fish Count Event, taking place throughout the entire month of July! Even if you have never done a survey, or if you have done hundreds, please join REEF for fun social events, fish ID classes, and fish survey dives.
The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is a conservation initiative that enlists divers and snorkelers to collect data on fish and invertebrate populations in different regions across the globe. The first surveys were conducted in the Florida Keys, Florida, and the program has since grown world-wide to include ocean waters of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, and South and Indo-Pacific regions.
This project, which is uniquely driven by citizen scientists, is ongoing and has generated one of the largest marine life databases in the world, with over 217,000 surveys conducted to date. Data collection on this scale could not have been possible without such outstanding volunteer efforts, which have resulted in an invaluable insight into the health and biodiversity of many different ocean ecosystems. Scientists, government agencies, and conservation organizations have used the data in research, resource management, and education. Over 50 peer-reviewed science publications have included REEF data.
Carlos Estapé completed the 150,000th survey on a recent dive trip in Bonaire with his wife, Allison Estapé. The Estapé’s are long time REEF members, volunteers, and underwater photographers who have collectively submitted over 400 surveys to REEF’s database. They actively teach fish identification classes at REEF Headquarters to help others become confident in identifying local species, and they were honored with REEF’s prestigious Volunteer of the Year award in 2013.
Carlos says that he does surveys “because I like the challenge of finding new species to add to my life list, expanding known ranges of species and, of course, adding to the scientific database. I think because of combining surveys with my fish photography I am much more confident in my identification skills and get great satisfaction from expanding my knowledge and sharing it with others.”
Anyone can complete a survey and be a part of this key citizen science program. Everyone’s data collectively builds an important resource, and surveying can be very rewarding and just plain fun for divers and snorkelers as well. For more details, visit www.REEF.org.