GAFC Follow-Up Article as Printed in Florida Scuba News, October 2001

GAFC Follow-Up Article as Printed in Florida Scuba News, October 2001



"2001 Great American Fish Count: Great, Indeed!"

Anyone diving in the Panhandle during the month of July may have noticed a strange scratching sound underwater, and thought it sounded like a pencil on paper. If so, they were exactly right - it was the busy pencils of divers participating in this year's Great American Fish Count! The GAFC takes place every July, and is an event coordinated by the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) based in Key Largo. REEF works to teach sport divers basic fish identification techniques. Participants in the free seminars are then qualified to perform a fish survey whenever diving or snorkeling, thereby contributing to the largest fish census database in existence. In the process, they gain a new and interesting skill to perform while diving, increase their knowledge of the underwater world, and have a lot of fun.

While REEF surveys are taken year-round, the GAFC is an annual, widespread event which spotlights REEF's fish ID program and encourages participation. Every July at locations throughout the western hemisphere, REEF seminars are held and survey dives are organized. The success of the GAFC is due largely the result of volunteer efforts, and the Panhandle is fortunate to be home to some of the most energetic REEF volunteers anywhere.

REEF seminars and the Great American Fish Count are conducted in the Panhandle by the REEF Field Station of the Northern Gulf of Mexico (REEFNGOM.) Since being founded by Pensacola native Danielle Dowdy in 1999, REEFNGOM has compiled an impressive list of achievements, and has been called REEF's most active field station. It has held numerous REEF fish ID classes, offered in locations ranging from the University of West Florida campus, to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, to liveaboards at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The Field Station's success in its first GAFC was used as a model for later years' events. REEFNGOM worked out sponsorships with Pensacola dive shops, charter boats, and businesses, who generously offered specials on rentals, free airfills, and even discounted dive trips to GAFC participants during the event. Since 1999, relationships with their GAFC sponsors have grown steadily. More classes were added, attracting people from as far away as Maryland. In 2001, REEFNGOM's expanded GAFC seminars and sponsorships included Destin and Panama City as well as Pensacola. During July, well-attended classes were held in all 3 cities. Those participating made a significant number of dives afterwards, turning in valuable survey data. As an added bonus, each completed survey was an entry into a drawing for prizes ranging from dive gear to a week-long Caribbean dive vacation! It was by far the best GAFC ever, thanks to the efforts of sponsors, REEFNGOM volunteers, and enthusiastic surveyors.

As for the surveys themselves, they provide very important information on fish populations. While the REEF database is huge, covering much of the hemisphere, there was a wide gap in it stretching hundreds of miles from Tampa to western Louisiana. Almost nothing was known about this area of the Gulf of Mexico, which is an incredibly diverse and interesting part of the ocean. To fill this gap, the REEFNGOM was created. Those taking one of its many seminars have done much to remedy the previous lack of knowledge. Many new sites have been added to the database, and the information has been very useful. Along the way, there have been surprises. One member recorded and photographed a species of parrotfish which was previously unreported in the Gulf of Mexico. With so much still unknown about this area, there is no telling what future dives will reveal. REEFNGOM can help you become one of those who will find out.

Even if you don't live close to the Panhandle, REEF seminars are available near you. They are fun, educational, and add a whole new aspect to your diving. In addition, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a valid contribution to the understanding of the ocean that we, as divers, all enjoy.

MORE INFORMATION:

REEF Field Station of the Northern Gulf of Mexico (REEFNGOM)
Feel free to email with questions. If you're an experienced surveyor, and need help with a difficult identification, let us know. We have many resources available to help you.
Email info@reefngom.org
Website http://www.reefngom.org


Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF)
REEF's website contains their entire database. You can search it in many different ways, and even view your own survey data online!
Email reefhq@reef.org
Website http://www.reef.org


Great American Fish Count (GAFC)
Website http://www.fishcount.org