The Salish Sea in Washington and British Columbia is home to hundreds of fish species, and REEF citizen scientists play an important role in documenting and monitoring the health of fish populations in this biologically diverse region. This paper shows that the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project helped monitor more than half of the total fish species known to occur in the Salish Sea. Furthermore, REEF surveyors expanded the known range of multiple species within the ecosystem and documented the presence of a fish species not previously known to occur in the Salish Sea — the Striped Kelpfish (Gibbonsia metzi).
The research was led by SeaDoc Society. SeaDoc has partnered with REEF for almost two decades to help train volunteer divers in the Pacific Northwest. REEF citizen scientists have been surveying the Salish Sea since 1998. The study was also informed by a list of species published by fisheries biologists Theodore Pietsch and James Orr, which reported on 261 known fish species from the Salish Sea. The authors compared data from 13,000 REEF surveys collected from about 800 sites in the Salish Sea over 21 years (1998-2019). Volunteers observed 138 of the 261 species and expanded the range of 18 species, meaning they were spotted in an area of the Salish Sea where they previously had not been documented to exist.
Not all fish species have an equal chance of being spotted by a scuba diver. Some might live hundreds of feet deep, expertly hide themselves, or only rarely venture into the Salish Sea. The authors took this into account and categorized each fish based on its potential for encounter by a diver. REEF divers sighted 85% of fish species that lend themselves to visual observation. For these fishes, experienced citizen scientists can expand what scientists know about range, life history, population status, size, age, behavior, and more.