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History of REEF  

Reef Environmental Education Foundation

REEFTwenty years ago, Paul and Ned published the first edition of their Reef Fish Identification, Florida Caribbean Bahamas. Two decades later they still consider it a work in progress and spend a lot of time updating the images and information in their popular field guides. During the research for the first edition, they realized that there was not a lot of information in the published literature about the actual distribution of many of the fishes of the Tropical Western Atlantic, thus the idea for counting fish, similar to the Audubon bird surveys was born. In early 1990, Ned and Paul joined by good friend and advisor, Jim Dalle Pazze, formed REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), their envisioned fish-counting organization. However, the Reef Fish Identification book was an instant success and bestseller, so the Reef Creature and Reef Coral books soon followed and there was little time to bring the fish counting idea to fruition.

While balancing the work to publish and distribute their books, Paul and Ned sought advice from scientists and environmental groups to develop a survey method and data management plan for REEF. Dr. James Bohnsack, of NOAA Fisheries, remains an active advisor to REEF to this day. Good friends Amy Slate and Spencer Slate offered support by loaning one of their employees, a young naturalist, Lad (then known by all as Laddie) Akins. The Nature Conservancy, recognizing the potential for such a grass-roots organization, provided a generous grant to create and maintain the survey database, which was originally housed at the University of Miami.

In July 1993, over three and a half years after REEF was formed, a group of fish watchers, scientists and naturalists gathered in Key Largo to spend a week learning to identify fish and enter the first fish surveys into REEF’s database. A college intern during that first survey, Christy Pattengill is now Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF’s Director of Science. Another intern, Brice Semmens, is now Dr. Brice Semmens, director of REEF’s Grouper Moon project. Lad, after serving many years as REEF’s Executive Director, is now Director of Special Projects, and oversees REEF’s Invasive Lionfish project.

In 2001 REEF expanded its work to include Grouper Moon, its study of Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. REEF also manages the Great Annual Fish Count, an international event involving fish surveyors from the Western Atlantic, Eastern Pacific and Caribbean.

Along the way, the organization has received many prestigious awards such as the Robert Rodale Environmental Achievement Award and the Chevron Conservation Award. In 2006, both Paul and Ned were recognized by the United States Coral Reef Task Force “..For founding an educational organization dedicated to enhancing scientific and public understanding of reef fish through volunteer monitoring.”
In 2009, sixteen years after that first Field Survey, REEF issued member number 40,000 and has over 140,000 surveys in its database! More than 40 scientific papers and reports have been published using REEF’s data.

The James E Lockwood REEF Headquarters is located at 98300 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, Florida 33037. Phone 305-852-0030.