David Ehlert and Summer Huber are two of the divers learning about the innovative underwater camera technology to capture fish length, important data used in fisheries stock assessments.

David Ehlert and Summer Huber are two of the divers learning about the innovative underwater camera technology to capture fish length, important data used in fisheries stock assessments.

Scuba diving in places such as the Red Sea and the Southern Sea of Cortez, or closer to home in the Caribbean to Bonaire or St Lucia, make for exciting trips.

Doing so as a participant in a REEF Field Survey Trip combines the enjoyment of diving with providing valuable data to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation.

As explained on their website, “REEF Field Survey Trips are eco-vacations led by REEF’s ocean experts. Each year we offer a schedule featuring many exciting destinations. Each trip itinerary is customized and includes daily seminars along with a full diving schedule. The trips are a great introduction to fish identification for both novice and experienced fish surveyors! When you travel with REEF, you make a difference in the health of our oceans by supporting marine research, conservation and education. You’ll join like-minded divers for an exciting and fun week, and you will make a difference for the marine environment.”

A new camera technology is bringing another dimension to the trips and volunteers will be included in the project referred to as SMILE.

A press release describes the intent, “A new collaborative project SMILE (Size Matters: Innovative Length Estimate) is now underway in the Florida Keys to help collect information about fish lengths.

These data are critical for fisheries stock assessments, which are used to manage ecologically and economically important marine species. Funded through NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), the SMILE project involves volunteer divers, innovative underwater camera technology, and the expansion of a citizen science approach to collect length data for reef fish in the South Atlantic.

The SMILE project team includes Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's (SAFMC) Citizen Science Program, Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA), and Axiom Data Science. The REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project, launched in 1993, has successfully worked with trained recreational divers to create one of the largest citizen science-based marine life databases in the world.

The SMILE project will incorporate diver-collected fish length data, through the use of stereo video technology, as a companion to the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project.”

Training for volunteers will be phased in beginning this summer and extending into at least two more years. Alli Candelmo, PhD, REEF Conservation Science Manager, outlined the plan in a recent email.

“The project is still in testing phase as part of a NOAA grant which began October 2022. We will not be giving out equipment to volunteers yet other than as part of an organized Advance Assessment Team Surveys that will be conducted in the summer of 2023, 2024, and 2025 and during our Field trips we will offer the cameras for use to participants as we develop both the technology and citizen science methodology.

We have used stereovideo technology in our research over the past four years and we are working to simplify this process for citizen science data collection.

The grant is for three years (through September 2025) but we intend to use this initial funding to establish the program and then expand it through future funding and membership training.”

More detail is provided at www.REEF.org/smile-project

Being a participant on the leading edge of new technology is not for everyone and a now familiar lower tech way to support REEF is to sign up for their 4th Annual REEF Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K.

Early registration of $35 ends April 30th and the event take place June 5-11, 2023, where individuals can choose to complete the 5K running, walking, hiking, biking, or swimming. The distance and method can be completed at one time or divided into segments during those days.

Individuals choose to be on one of five “Fish Teams” and all proceeds go to support “REEF's commitment to increasing inclusive programming in science, diving, and conservation.”

Participants receive, “a limited edition 2023 long-sleeved shirt, downloadable race bib for you to personalize, waterproof sticker set featuring the 2023 Fish Teams, and the knowledge that YOU did something great for yourself, others, and the ocean!”

For more information and to register, go to www.REEF.org/5K

REEF Headquarters is located at 98300 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL. Telephone is: (305) 852-0030 ; Email: reefhq@REEF.org

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