Greetings from Key Largo! I feel as though I have finally settled in and I have certainly been kept busy the last couple weeks at REEF! I have already learned so much and have met so many new people, it is almost impossible to summarize it all up into one blog post – but I am going to try!
One of REEF’s citizen scientist programs is the Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The goal is to educate recreational divers how to correctly identify reef fish. REEF provides many resources to get started with fish identification. We sell starter kits, identification books, and provide fish identification lectures that are open to the public. Divers can use underwater paper and slates to record their data during their dives. Not only is it important to properly identify the fish, but part of the survey is recording the abundance of each species. Divers assign an abundance category to each species: single (1), few (2-10), many (11-100), or abundant (101+). They can complete these fish surveys while diving and report the data back to REEF. Over time, this has created the world’s largest fish sightings database!
In our first week, Ellie, the Education Program Manager, gave us a fish identification lecture with the most commonly sighted fish in the Tropical Western Atlantic. After this lecture, we were ready to begin surveying! Since then, I have completed 15 surveys and have been challenged to keep learning new fish IDs. It is so rewarding to learn all the names of the fish topside and then be able to correctly identify them underwater! Although we do like to see the large fish of the reef, like sharks and rays, we usually get more excited when we spot an elusive, small fish that we have been searching for. For instance, it has been exciting to begin learning goby species and find them darting across the sand. In many cases, you have to get really close to see the identifying markings. Dive after dive, I am slowly learning to identify more and more fish!
This past week has been incredibly busy with REEF’s first summer camp, Ocean Explorer’s! The camp is held at the John Pennekamp State Park andI was able to participate in three of the days’ activities. On Monday, we were visited by a park ranger (former REEF intern, Colin Howe) and were given a brief orientation of the park. After visiting the aquarium, the kids had some time to snorkel at the beach. In the afternoon, we all loaded up in tandem kayaks and paddled our way through the mangrove trails. Nobody fell in, but some of the kids decided it was too hot and needed to cool off in the water. All of them had a great time naming fish that they had just learned and exploring the mangrove ecosystem. On Wednesday, Abbey and I helped taking the group on a glass-bottom boat tour. Thankfully, no one got seasick and we had a great view of one of the coral reefs, including two nurse sharks! That afternoon, the Florida Exotic Bird Sanctuary brought in a rescued owl and gave a short presentation on the effects of bioaccumulation in an ecosystem. We finished the day by letting the kids tye-dye their camp shirts. We began the last day of camp by taking a boat out to Grecian Rocks and snorkeling on the coral reef. Many of the kids were able to correctly identify fish species and were enthusiastic about what they saw underwater. I would have loved to have gone to the Ocean Explorers camp when I was younger!
When we haven’t been counting fish or adventuring with the Ocean Explorers, the other interns and I have had a great time discovering Key Largo. We have challenged ourselves with eating as many tacos as possible at Senor Frijoles and deciding which pizza is better between Upper Crust and Tower of Pizza (still a toss-up). We have many events, including lionfish derbies and fish identification lectures, coming up in July and I am sure it will keep us busy!