My REEF Marine Conservation Internship in Paradise

(photo above taken by Lad Akins, REEF)

I have been lucky enough to be a Marine Conservation Intern with REEF Environmental Education Foundation in Key Largo, FL since early January. As an intern at REEF, I help with a wide variety of tasks throughout the week, and I am a part of many different projects. And as a part of the internship, we also get to go diving once a week in the Florida Keys! The picture above was taken the second week of my internship. In the photo are the other three interns and I on our first dive together at a site called Snapper Ledge in Key Largo (I am the one on the far right). Those slates in our hands have waterproof paper on them and as we go through our dive, we mark and record the fish we see, including the species and abundance levels. This is part of one of the main three projects at REEF: The Volunteer Fish Survey Project. This project is REEF’s way of getting divers and snorkelers involved in citizen science all across the world. REEF has wonderful relationships with many local dive shops in which interns get to dive for free so when we go diving with them, we get to present the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to the other divers and snorkelers on the boat and then we are there to answer any other questions they may have. It is a fun way to reach out to both the local community and tourists that are just visiting because these fish surveys can be done by anyone with any experience level almost anywhere in the world (in oceans, of course).

The other two main projects at REEF are the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. Unfortunately, we don’t do much with the Grouper Moon Project because it is led by our Director of Science who works on the West coast. But, we get to be very involved with the Lionfish Invasion Program! As many of you may know, lionfish are invasive predators introduced to our Atlantic coast through the aquarium trade and has since become a major problem in the Atlantic as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They are beautiful fish, but they have no natural predators and eat A LOT so this has become a major problem for the fish communities here. Some of the lionfish programs we get to be involved in include Lionfish Jewelry Workshops, Lionfish Collection and Handling Workshops, and Lionfish Derbies. We had our winter derby in February which was so much fun! About ten teams of divers hunted lionfish one day in February and brought their catch to our scoring station set up at a local restaurant. Staff members measured each lionfish and counted the total number of fish that teams brought in. The team that brought in the most, as well as the biggest and the smallest lionfish won prizes. It was a great event open to the public and it was fun to chat with the people that attended, and another volunteer made lionfish ceviche with the fish that were brought in… which was AMAZING!

My research project is on the removal efficiency of lionfish in the Bahamas, which was inspired by an amazing opportunity that the other interns and I had. We got to go to the Bahamas in February to help with an ongoing research project there. We spent four nights in Green Turtle Cay and did two full days of research diving and spent one day learning how to freedive and spear and net lionfish (the freediving day is one of my favorite experiences so far with this internship). More importantly, we watched the super bowl with the locals overlooking the sunset (see pic above). Back to my research, I will be analyzing some data that we collected in the Bahamas regarding the removal efficiency of lionfish off artificial structures that have been placed there as part of an ongoing project. We collected all the lionfish we saw off these structures and recorded the time it took to remove them, how many attempts were made, and what tool was used to remove them. We brought the lionfish that we caught on the last day of diving back to our place, then learned how to filet them and cooked them for dinner!

This internship has been an amazing opportunity. I am learning so much and I am able to advance in my diving certifications as well! I never want this internship to end, but REEF has done a wonderful job in introducing us to a variety of other local marine conservation organizations, so hopefully I can find a job here and I never have to leave the Florida Keys!

I encourage you all to check out our website, www.reef.org,  for more info about all the cool stuff we are doing!

Best Fishes,

Briana

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