Looking to be a citizen scientist? Ready to jump in and get started doing REEF surveys? Want to learn how to identify more of the ocean life you’re likely to see when you do survey’s in different areas? You’ve come to the right place! This toolbox includes an overview of how the Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP) works, what gear will help you get started, and, most importantly, resources to learn more about the amazing creatures you’ll see as you conduct surveys in different areas.

What is the VFSP?

  • Divers and snorkelers participate in this global citizen science marine life monitoring effort, continuously and any location within REEF's project regions.
  • Data were first collected in the TWA region in 1993, and the effort has expanded globally to ten regions around the world.
  • There is no required certification or training to participate in the VFSP.
  • The survey method (the Roving Diver Technique) is the same in all regions.
  • All marine fish species seen while in the water that can be positively identified are monitored, along with a set of invertebrates and algae in REEF's 4 temperate regions (PAC - incl PNW and CAL sub-regions, NE, SAS, and EAM).
  • In addition to a checklist of species encountered while in the water, an abundance category (Single, Few, Many, Abundant) is assigned to each species, and metadata for the survey is recorded (location, habitat, date, etc) are recorded.
  • Each VFSP surveyor is assigned a unique member ID number upon joining REEF (free), and that member# is used to submit VFSP data to the REEF database.
  • REEF has developed standardized survey materials, including survey slates, underwater survey paper, and laminated color ID cards for most regions.
  • Visit the quick start webpage to view a brief how-to video and access other resources.

    How to learn your fish and other ocean critters?

  • Everyone has a different approach. Learning with a dive or snorkel buddy, or by going on a REEF Field Survey Trip, is a great way to quickly get over the learning curve. 
  • Attend an upcoming Fishinar (REEF's own brand of ID webinars), or check out the over 200 archived recorded Fishinars. There's one for every region, and many that covers specific fish families, destinations, and most common in an area.
  • Get ID reference books and apps for the region (see regional toolkits below).
  • Don't forget to report Sea Turtles. Check out this Sea Turtle reference guide.
  • Use REEF's database by generated in a Geographic Zone Code Report for your area to view a list of all fish documented.
  • Check out online quizzes, galleries, and Quizlets on REEF's website.

    Recommended Gear for VFSP Volunteers and REEF Trip Participants

  • REEF Survey Slate and Underwater Survey Paper for the region (see toolkit links below, or the online REEF Store)
  • AquaPencil (or other attached pencil) and lanyard attached to survey slate
  • Small light for looking in crevices, sponges, and other dark habitats (many REEF surveyors use Light & Motion SOLA or GoBe light on a hand mount)
  • Small point and shoot waterproof camera for mystery fish and interesting finds (many REEF surveyors use the Olympus TG-6 with Olympus PT-059 Housing)

Visit www.backscatter.com/reeforg to purchase camera and lights through Backscatter. REEF gets a portion of every sale.


Regional Toolkits

Scroll below to see them all, or click on the region name to jump directly

For each of REEF's regions, there are a variety of field guide books, apps, and REEF survey materials available to support REEF volunteers.

Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA; Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico)

South Atlantic States (SAS; Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)

Northeast US & Canada (NE; Virginia through Newfoundland)

Eastern Atlantic & Mediterranean (EAM; Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Mediterranean, Irish, North and Baltic Seas)

West Coast of the United States and Canada (PAC; California-CAL, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska-PNW)

Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP; Gulf of California to the Galapagos Islands, West coast of Central America, Colombia and Ecuador)

Hawaiian Islands (HAW; main archipelago, northwest islands, Johnston Atoll)

South Pacific (SOP; Fiji, Samoan Archipelago, Line Islands, Cook Islands)

Central Indo-Pacific (CIP; Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Australia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southern Japan)

Indian Ocean-Red Sea (IORS; Bay of Bengal, Maldives, Red Sea, East Coast of Africa, Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands)


Tropical Western Atlantic Toolkit

(TWA; Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico)

ID Guides - Books

Reef Fish Identification - Florida, Caribbean and Bahamas, 4th edition (2014), by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach - in the REEF Store

Caribbean Reef Life: A Field Guide for Divers (2018), by Mickey Charteris - in the REEF Store

A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes: From Maine to Texas (2011), by Val Kells and Kent Carpenter - in the REEF Store

Reef Fish Behavior - Florida Caribbean Bahamas, 2nd ed. (2019), by Ned and Anna DeLoach - in the REEF Store

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF TWA Fishinars - avail online

Shorefishes of the Greater Caribbean, from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution - avail online, avail on Apple Store, avail on Android

Easy Fish ID Caribbean App, by John Hoover - avail on Apple Store

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Regular TWA Paper - lists the most frequently sighted species (133 spp) and plenty of space for write-ins and sketches.

Long TWA Paper - a longer list of species (205 spp) with minimal extra space, suitable for experienced surveyors who are hoping to minimize the number of write-ins. 

Brazil

All papers available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Regular Yellow Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, TWA Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - N/A Fish Only

Upcoming TWA REEF Field Survey Trips - Schedule Here

Bluehead Wrasse - most frequently sighted fish in the TWA (photo by Paul Humann)


South Atlantic States

(SAS; Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)

ID Guides - Books

Reef Fish Identification - Florida, Caribbean and Bahamas, 4th edition (2014), by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach - in the REEF Store

Caribbean Reef Life: A Field Guide for Divers (2018), by Mickey Charteris - in the REEF Store

A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes: From Maine to Texas (2011), by Val Kells and Kent Carpenter - in the REEF Store

Reef Fish Behavior - Florida Caribbean Bahamas, 2nd ed. (2019), by Ned and Anna DeLoach - in the REEF Store

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF SAS Fishinars - avail online

Shorefishes of the Greater Caribbean, from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution - avail online, avail on Apple Store, avail on Android

Easy Fish ID Caribbean App, by John Hoover - avail on Apple Store

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Regular SAS Paper - includes the most common fish in the region, and the invertebrates & algae monitored in SAS

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Regular Yellow Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, SAS Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - List of species monitored in SAS

Black Sea Bass - most frequently sighted fish in the SAS (photo by Paul Humann)


Northeast US & Canada

(NE; Virginia through Newfoundland)

ID Guides - Books

Marine Life of the North Atlantic: Canada to Cape May, 4th ed. (2010), by Andrew Martinez - **no longer in print** (see App section below)

A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes: From Maine to Texas (2011), by Val Kells and Kent Carpenter - avail in REEF Store

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF NE Fishinars - avail online

Marine Life of the North Atlantic: Canada to Cape May, by Andrew Martinez - avail on Apple, avail on GooglePlay

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Regular NE Paper - includes the most common fish in the region, and the invertebrates & algae monitored in NE

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Regular Yellow Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, NE Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - List of species monitored in NE

Cunner - most frequently sighted fish in the NE (photo by Alison Johnson)


Eastern Atlantic & Mediterranean

(EAM; Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Mediterranean, Irish, North and Baltic Seas)

ID Guides - Books

Europe and Mediterranean Marine Fish Identification Guide, by Patrick Louisy  (2015) - out of print but a great guide if you can get a copy

Mediterranean and Atlantic Fish Guide: From Spain to Turkey - From Norway to South Africa, by Helmut Debelius (1997) - out of print but a great guide if you can get a copy

Great British Marine Animals, 4th Edition, by Paul Naylor (2021) - avail online

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

none at this time

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Azores English -  includes the most common fish in the region, and the invertebrates & algae monitored in the EAM

Azores Portuguese - includes the most common fish in the region, and the invertebrates & algae monitored in the EAM, with common names listed in Portuguese

*The Azores paper can be used anywhere in the EAM region.

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Regular Yellow Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, EAM Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - List of species monitored in EAM

White Seabream - most frequently sighted fish in the NE (photo by Carol Cox)


West Coast of the United States and Canada

(PAC; California-CAL, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska-PNW)

ID Guides - Books

Coastal Fish Identification: California to Alaska, 2nd Edition (2008), by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach - avail in REEF Store

A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes: from Alaska to California (2016), by Val Kells, Luiz A. Rocha, and Larry G. Allen - avail in REEF Store

Beneath Pacific Tides: Subtidal Invertebrates of the West Coast (2018), by Gregory C. Jensen, Daniel W. Gotshall, and Rebecca E. Flores Miller - avail in REEF Store

The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific (2002), by Milton Love, Mary Yoklavich, and Lyman Thorsteinson  - avail in REEF Store

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF CAL Fishinars - avail online

REEF PNW Fishinars - avail online

Reef Check of California Species ID Training - on YouTube

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Regular CAL Paper - includes the most common fish in the region, and the invertebrates & algae monitored in California

Regular PNW Paper - includes the most common fish in the region, and the invertebrates & algae monitored in PacNW

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Regular Yellow Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, PAC Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List -

List of species monitored in CAL (California)

List of species monitored in PNW (Pacific Northwest)

Copper Rockfish - most frequently sighted fish in the PAC (photo by Janna Nichols)


Tropical Eastern Pacific

(TEP; Gulf of California to the Galapagos Islands, West coast of Central America, Colombia and Ecuador)

ID Guides - Books

Reef Fish Identification: Baja to Panama (2004), by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach- in the REEF Store

Galapagos Fish Identification (2003), by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach- in the REEF Store

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF TEP Fishinars - avail online

Shorefishes of the Tropical Eastern Pacific: online information system, from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute - avail online, avail on Apple Store, avail on Android

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Gulf of California/Baja Mexico/Sea of Cortez

Central America (incl southern mainland Mexico)

Revillagigedo and Cocos Islands

Galapagos

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Regular Yellow Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, TEP Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - N/A Fish Only

Upcoming TEP REEF Field Survey Trips - Schedule Here

Mexican Hogfish - most frequently sighted fish in the TEP (photo by Carol Cox)


Hawaiian Islands

(HAW; main archipelago, northwest islands, Johnston Atoll)

ID Guides - Books

Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes (2013), by John Hoover - in the REEF Store 

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF HAW Fishinars - avail online

Scuba Fish Hawaii, by John Hoover - avail on Apple

Snorkel Fish Hawaii, by John Hoover - avail on Apple

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Hawaiian Islands

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Regular Yellow Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, HAW Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - N/A Fish Only

Upcoming HAW REEF Field Survey Trips - Schedule Here

Saddle Wrasse - most frequently sighted fish in the HAW (photo by Bill Stohler)


South Pacific

(SOP; Fiji, Samoan Archipelago, Line Islands, Cook Islands)

ID Guides - Books

Tropical Pacific Fish Identification, 2nd edition (2015), by Gerald Allen, Roger Steen, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach - in the online store

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF SOP Fishinars - avail online

Reef Fishes of the East Indies, Volumes 1, 2, & 3by Gerald Allen and Roger Steen - avail on Apple

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Fiji - Large Format - This is recommended for most REEF surveyors.

Fiji - short list (yellow slate) - This is recommended for educational groups and beginner surveyors, featuring a shortened list of species.

Samoan Archipelago - short list (yellow slate)

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Large-format White Slate (Regular Yellow Slate with Short Fiji and Samoa paper)

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, SOP Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - N/A Fish Only

Upcoming Tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean REEF Field Survey Trips - Schedule Here

Blulestreak Cleaner Wrasse - most frequently sighted fish in the SOP (photo by Paul Humann)


Central Indo-Pacific

(CIP; Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Australia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southern Japan)

ID Guides - Books

Tropical Pacific Fish Identification, 2nd edition (2015), by Gerald Allen, Roger Steen, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach - in the online store

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF CIP Fishinars - avail online

Reef Fishes of the East Indies, Volumes 1, 2, & 3by Gerald Allen and Roger Steen - avail on Apple

Solomon Islands Sea Fish ID, by John Hoover - avail on Apple

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Alternative Habitats (Muck and Bays)

Ambon Bay

Banda Sea

Cenderawasih

Lembeh Strait

Micronesia (Palau and Yap)

Philippines

Raja Ampat / Indonesia

Solomon Islands

Thailand/Andaman Sea

Triton Bay

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Large-format White Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, CIP Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - N/A Fish Only

Upcoming Tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean REEF Field Survey Trips - Schedule Here

Moorish Idol - most frequently sighted fish in the CIP (photo by Paul Humann)


Indian Ocean-Red Sea

(IORS; Bay of Bengal, Maldives, Red Sea, East Coast of Africa, Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands)

ID Guides - Books

Coral Reef Guide Red Sea (2004), by Ewald Lieske and Robert Myers - avail online

Fishes of the Maldives: Indian Ocean (2014), by Rudie Kuiter and Tim Godfrey - avail online

The Reef Guide: Fishes, corals, nudibranchs & other invertebrates: East & South Coasts of Southern Africa (2014), by Dennis King - avail online

Tropical Pacific Fish Identification, 2nd edition (2015), by Gerald Allen, Roger Steen, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach - in the REEF store

Coastal Fishes of Oman (1995), by John Randall - out of print, mostly replaced by app by John Hoover (see below), but nice reference guide if you can get it

 

ID Guides - Fishinars, Apps, Websites

REEF IORS Fishinars - avail online

Oman Fish ID, by John Hoover - avail on Apple

Red Sea Fish ID, by John Hoover - avail on Apple

Maldives (Deep Blue Divers/Six Senses Resort) Fish ID, by John Hoover - avail on Apple

Reef Fishes of the East Indies, Volumes 1, 2, & 3by Gerald Allen and Roger Steen - avail on Apple

 

REEF UW Survey Paper

Maldives

Oman

Red Sea

Paper is available in the REEF Store

 

What Survey Slate is Used - Large-format White Slate

Species Reference List - Common names used in REEF database, cross-referenced by scientific name, IORS Names Report

Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring List - N/A Fish Only

Upcoming Tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean REEF Field Survey Trips - Schedule Here

Blulestreak Cleaner Wrasse - most frequently sighted fish in the IORS (photo by Paul Humann)