Current Events


Yes, we're finally updating our Current Events page! After an eventful year, we decided that maybe we should post the details for the sake of those who didn't get to participate. 2001 was earmarked by some interesting changes in the fishwatching realm.

The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) Convention in January provided an atmosphere where the Field Station, alongside of REEF, was able to make divers nationwide aware of the benefits for both diver and the environment of fish population surveying. However, spreading the word of the REEF program was only the beginning. REEF also released new scantron survey forms to accommodate its expanding range of sites: Tropical Western Atlantic (Caribbean, Florida, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico, Mid-Atlantic States); Northeast US and Canada (Virginia - Newfoundland); West Coast* (California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia); Tropical Eastern Pacific (Gulf of California to the Galapagos Islands); and Hawaiian Islands. (*A new West Coast REEF scanform was then released in summer 2001 to accommodate the new Living REEF Project invertebrate monitoring program. Although one form will be used for the entire area from California to BC, invertebrate surveys can only be conducted in Oregon, Washington, and BC. The new West Coast scanform no longer includes the time code abundance estimates. This method was being tested in California and has been phased out, however, older versions of the all scanforms can still be used to submit data.)

In addition to promotion of the program, we were interested to expand our cooperation with other conservation programs. After attending a lecture on the slaughter and growing market of whale sharks in third world fishing villages, Field Station founder Danielle Dowdy formed a relationship with the Shark Research Institute (SRI) to promote their fund-raising items at the fish ID seminars. (If you or someone you know would like to donate to the cause, we will have an SRI donation page set up soon to describe the items and the prices. In the meantime, if you would like to donate now, please visit the Shark Research Institute website. Also, please mention that you learned about donating to the SRI through our website.)

Yet, DEMA was only the beginning of the year. The Field Station was recruited to establish a curriculum for the AAOA Volunteer Dive Program to monitor the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary. The class took two four hour sessions to instruct on an advanced level the species to be found in the sanctuary, including juvenile, initial, and supermale (terminal) phases. Field Station co-founder Greg Bunch scanned the slides and wrote the program to allow the test to be taken on a computer by the volunteers. With a grade of 90/100, those who passed were placed on a list of divers from which the aquarium chooses to go on free fish monitoring cruises. On the cruises, Danielle and Greg guided the surveyors as well as conducted surveys of their own.

In the surveying department, the Field Station members have surveyed more new terrain, expanding REEF's database even further. On research trips, Greg initiated surveying at several previously unmonitored oil platform sites outside the Flower Gardens. He also began surveying at a remote seamount approximately 50 miles east of the Flower Gardens called Geyer Bank. (A page on Geyer Bank coming soon.) At about 4 surveys per day on four-day trips, these cruises added quite a bit of information about the Gulf of Mexico's populations.

However, the most data received was, of course from our annual Great American Fish Count (GAFC) in July. This year's event was triple the boost for REEF's database, as the Field Station conducted not only its third Pensacola GAFC, but also the first GAFC's in Destin and Panama City, Florida as well. Promotion covered the entire Panhandle to announce the seminars in three cities over two weekends as well as the new component called the "GAFC Challenge." With each survey submitted for scheduled GAFC dives, the member was entered once into drawings held by REEF and held by the Field Station. Prizes awarded by REEF included two weeklong dive trips and ReefNet Software. Prizes awarded by the Field Station were ReefNet paraphernalia, ReefNet Software, and two tickets to the Museum of the Man in the Sea. With more planning and continued sponsor support, we expect to make next year's prizes even better with more chances to win. (For more details on the results of the 2001 GAFC, please read our follow-up article.)

So, 2001 has been quite a year for our members, new and seasoned, with new goals, as always, to make the next year even better than this year. Our plans so far include working on prize sponsorship for the 2002 GAFC and establishing a curriculum with REEF geared for the northern Gulf fish species known to populate our areas, rather than the Caribbean species-based class we currently now instruct. If you have any other ideas or suggestions on how to reach our goals, please email us, because, remember, the Field Station is made of the members for the members.


Big News! - With the range that our field station has reached along the Gulf Coast, we have changed our name to include all the regions for which we provide support in fish surveying. We are now "The REEF Field Station of the Northern Gulf of Mexico"! Our new email address is and our new website address is The old website and email will remain active for a period of transition to allow ample time for members to be notified of the changes.
In addition to the new name, we are pleased to announce that we will be attending DEMA this year. Although we don't have the funds to purchase our own booth, we will be in and out of the REEF booth throughout the convention.


On 10/21/00, we received an email from member Mark Bryant with a shots of the Redfin Parrotfish (also known as the Yellowtail Parrotfish) at the Casino Rubble on Pensacola Beach. His photos seemed to confirm his correct identification of this species. We sent the information on to the Executive Director of REEF, Laddie Akins, who was excited about the sighting and said that Rodale's and Copeia, a scientific journal, would be interested in the story. The email was forwarded to the Scientific Coordinator of REEF, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D., and she responded today and wanted to know if the species establishes or is just a transient. She said the sighting would make the next issue of REEFNotes, but "it would be great if you could do periodic surveys in the area over the next year or so." So, as the Doc says, we encourage members to continue diving as far into the winter season as possible to help us get a better picture of the species present or absent throughout the year.


A visitor to our website emailed us regarding an interesting sighting he had at the Fort Pickens Jetties on 11/4/00. Although not a surveyor, his detailed descriptions led him to recognize the fish as a stargazer.

Never having seen one, we went to REEF's database on the Northern Stargazer (species #569) in the Tropical Western Atlantic to find that the Northern Stargazer has a Sighting Frequency (SF) of 0.2% on the southern part of Florida's East Coast and 1.4% in the central part of Florida's East Coast. The Density Score (DEN) for both places was 1 (sightings of individuals only) in all of the 3 total sightings. The Southern Stargazer (species #572) is listed as having been seen in one survey (SF of 0.1%) with a Density Score of 2 (or 2-10 individuals reported) in the region between Jupiter Inlet and Key Biscayne.

However, we asked our most active surveyor, Alan Manning, of his experience with the stargazer. In his email, Alan said he caught one in a net a few years ago at night and a commercial fisherman friend that was there told him that it was a stargazer and that he had caught them before in his net. Alan also said the fisherman "carefully removed" the fish from Alan's net, which would confirm the fisherman's identification, as the stargazers have an electric organ on the head that could cause a painful shock. Alan didn't know which stargazer it was, and location is no help, as the distribution and abundance of each species is the same according to Fishes of the Caribbean and Adjacent Waters fish ID CD-ROM: southeast Florida to New York, uncommon. We are contacting REEF on this sighting and will post their response here when we receive it.


At the request of the Panama City Dive Club (PCDC), the Field Station conducted two fish ID classes at the Okaloosa Walton Community College. 11 people attended the classes with one being a diver from Destin and one being a Panama City dive shop owner. PCDC welcomed the new look at their local diving, and in conjunction with the Dixie Divers shop owner, sounded very eager to coordinate with the Field Station to conduct a Panama City GAFC for next year. Also to be noted is that during this weekend, dives at Blackwater Bridge Rubble Site 15-G and Three Barges showed no trace of the fairly abundant Twospot Cardinalfish surveyed during the GAFC in July for the last two years. Previously unreported species for our area were also seen. So, we are seeing a definite change in populations from season to season, but we need that colder climate data...hint, hint!


The 2nd Pensacola GAFC was conducted at Dive Pros on Hwy. 98. Proudly, the Field Station was sponsored by many of the same participating Pensacola businesses as last year with a new charter. With 12 attendees, including 2 current members there to reinforce their first fish ID class, the event was well attended by people from many different levels and interests. One member drove from Maryland to take the seminar and dive with us, while one of the dive charter captains brought his daughter to the class with him. Additionally, the two days of survey diving were used to explore a new site to REEF's Pensacola database, Three Barges, and to record sightings of new species. Two of our attendees did several Fort Pickens surveys for their GAFC dives. The surveying was also enhanced with the thrill of the possibility of seeing bull sharks that were reported on Pensacola sites, although, unfortunately, members did not get that lucky.


The Field Station's mailing address has changed from its Pensacola address to 7301 W. Judge Perez Dr. - Suite #406 Arabi, LA 70032. Also, the phone number has changed to (504) 276-4887. Although a physical move has taken place, the Field Station still teaches classes and provides support for areas from New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle.


Founders Greg Bunch and Danielle Dowdy welcome the newest and youngest member of the Field Station, Ethan Anthony Bunch, to the world. At 10 lb. and 9 ounces, Greg and Danielle were kept busy with the blessed event while members sent in their surveys.


Although our winter diving conditions have been inconsistent, the urge to get back in the water hasn't. Several people have seen the article and the comments made in the Director's Corner on the Field Station in the latest copy of REEF's newsletter and have inquired about class schedules. As we would like to schedule a class soon, we need to ascertain how many people will be attending. If you missed previous chances to take our one-hour Basic Fish Identification course, please email us your contact information, your preferable dates for classes, and the number of people attending. If you cannot make a class in the near future, keep in mind that we are doing preliminary plans for our Fish Count 2000 in July, where the class will be taught before group survey dives. Tentative dates for a class or meeting will be mid- to late-March. As plans solidify for these and the dates of the Fish Count, the website will be updated or email may be sent to the Field Station.

Regarding the efforts of our volunteers from 1999, the data was compiled and reported to Escambia County Parks and Recreation Department in our second report now available on this website. Since then, the reports were also sent to REEF, and entered into their database on the Florida Panhandle. The Field Station is proud to announce that by sending in their surveys, our members have now created 8 new REEF site codes for several of Pensacola's reefs and a few in surrounding areas. These codes are used to identify each individual site when surveys are recorded and are the only ones to date for Pensacola's vast artificial reef community. We hope to establish even more new codes this year.


The following email was sent out to members regarding the next few months of meetings:
Dear Members:

As the water temperatures are cooling off, so seem to be the interest of attending dive meetings, especially with all of the hectic holiday plans and shopping to do. Therefore, our meetings will be postponed until more desirable diving conditions revamp the need for saltwater in our blood. We have presented the second report to the county on our fish data as well. To make our third, however, please send in any surveys you have not yet turned in.

Thanks for your support in our effort.


Our second report was turned in to Trey Goodman of Escambia County's Parks and Recreation Department. The report included the surveys of the initial report to make a comprehensive view of the sites our volunteer surveyors have performed in County waters. Due to the focus of the County's interest on Pensacola sites, we did not include, however, the surveys performed in Navarre and Destin. Mr. Goodman stated that these studies will prove very important in his presentation to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection. As the future of the reef program in county waters is not firm yet, our survey reports establish the monitoring effort he feels will be necessary to acquire permits for the next year.
In addition, the National Seashore Park, Fort Pickens, has shown interest in our results for the fish populations in park waters. Mr. Riley Hoggard, the Resource Management Specialist, has suggested that a cooperation between the park and the Field Station be established. This program will, in effect, provide our members with fee waivers to the park to perform surveys and provide them with previously unavailable data. The park wishes to track population trends throughout the year in order to determine seasonal patterns. As some members have voiced a desire for periodic, group surveys, this idea seems beneficial to both institutions involved. More information will be posted later as talks progress.


Our second meeting, though full of information and attendance potential, was a little late in its arrangement and caught many people out of town. Made available were copies of the first reef surveying report delivered to Escambia County on the initial surveying of Blackwater Bridge Rubble Site 15-G. The agenda is also available for viewing.


We held our first meeting from 7-9:30pm at Fish House Restaurant. Out of 15 expected attendees, 13 came to eat great seafood and discuss local surveying, current activities in our area, and marine conservation matters. Included in our crowd were Kerry Freeland, owner of Gulf Breeze Dive Pros, and two new members. With the issues discussed and the atmosphere of concern for the waters of our area, the first monthly meeting was deemed a success. Members collaborated and seemed to feel a part of a larger effort, as is difficult when surveys are conducted by individuals on their own time. However, people seemed energized by the gathering, as was our goal, and we interested in knowing about next month's meeting. (The agenda for the first meeting is available for viewing. As it is abbreviated, please feel free to call or email with any questions.)


Because of our accelerated success with Pensacola's First GAFC, the GAFC Coordinator, Brian Huff, requested copies of the publicity materials of the Field Station. In his presentation to the funding partners of the annual event, he used Pensacola's very own brand new REEF resource to set example for the rest of the country. The REEFNWFL was the ONLY participant to not only utilize, but to maximize the sponsorship opportunities available in the local dive community with the new GAFC Fish Counter Card. Not one other group was able to get a sponsor for this year's event to acknowledge the brand new cards. We, however, managed to engage six dive shops and four dive charters. As next year more people will be familiar with the local GAFC, we anticipate even more sponsorship cooperation.

The hottest tidbit, however, is the introduction of the new monthly meetings for the Field Station where we can learn, preserve, and 'speak fish'! It'll be a time where we can collaborate ideas, such as promoting membership, the direction of the Field Station in future local events, and what services the members would like from the Field Station. A few ideas include our own local newsletter, suggestions about information people would like on the website, and a 'surveyor buddy matching list' for those who need a buddy to survey dive and compare notes with. REEF Headquarters suggested having contests, where the person to see the most species wins a prize. The possibilities are endless, but I think we can nail down a lot of the good ones in a forum of members and prospective members. The day and time of the meetings have not been set yet. Although we know we won't be able to make it convenient for everybody, we will try to do our best, so please email in the best day and time for you. As for locations, we thought of alternating between dive shops and restaurants (yes, seafood restaurants, too.) We have a lot planned for the first meeting, so we're going to try to get this off the ground as soon as possible.


GAFC Results

Our first year for Pensacola's GAFC was a success. Our seminar attendants numbered 16, including two guest speakers. The first speaker was Trey Goodman, Chief of Program Operations of the Escambia County Parks and Recreation Department. He oversees all of the artificial reefs placed in our waters. Mr. Goodman spoke of the importance and relevance our data has on the artificial reef program. The second guest was Mrs. Sonya Mahler of the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. She is the Marine Extension Agent for Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties. Mrs. Mahler spoke briefly on diving ethics and water recreation issues, such as not feeding dolphins and other marine wildlife topics.

The biggest success, however, is the advertisement of the GAFC as a Pensacola event. Our press efforts included a media dive aired on WKRG-TV5 News, an article in the NAS Navy base newspaper (the Gosport), an announcement on the Pensacola Visitor's website, a radio interview on local station WUWF at 88.1FM (including words of support from Trey Goodman), and brochures, flyers, and sign-up sheets at the six main dive shops in town: Scuba Shack, Diver's Den, both branches of Dive Pros, MBT Divers, and Ocean Enterprises on base.

Being that this was our first year to have the GAFC in Pensacola, we did not expect such a high attendance; however, the number of people interested well exceeded those who could attend. In our advertisement, we included the fact that the classes are taught year-round through REEF, and that we could keep the interested parties on the calling list for next year's GAFC. This suggestion was appreciated by those who had other obligations preventing them from attending.

We organized one dive on Saturday afternoon and one on Sunday. Saturday's dive was canceled due to weather, but Sunday's dive collected much-needed information
for the County's artificial reef program. A great variety of fish were observed from small reef fish, such as juvenile damsels to large pelagic game fish, such as amberjack and Spanish mackerel. Although not all students aced the quiz, the consensus was that they are now confident in their approach to learn fish species and recognize how different characteristics can be identified.

The data was gathered, and surveys continue to arrive in the mail from members who took the GAFC seminars. Surveys are being conducted not only in Pensacola, but at Navarre and Destin sites as well. Also, the demand for another fish ID course has increased with help from the word of mouth from our GAFC participants. We had a great time, and the effort was well worth it. We look forward to next year.

(The sponsors for our first GAFC were the ONLY sponsors that cooperated with discounts this year throughout the event and are given in a separate section near the end of the page.)


The Great American Fish Count (7/10-7/11/99)
During the period of July 1st-14th, this national event is taking place to increase fish surveying. This year, the Florida Panhandle's First City, Pensacola, will be participating in the data collection for the first time. The one-hour, FREE fish identification seminars will be held at 8:30am and 10:00am on Saturday July 10th and dives will be conducted in the afternoon and on Sunday. Contact the R.E.E.F. Field Station of Northwest Florida (REEFNWFL) for more details and signup. If you are interested in the class, but cannot attend this event, classes are held year-round, and you may enter yourself on the calling list.

The national dates and seminars and other information can be found on the Great American Fish Count website.

Please email all questions to

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