marine science info & resources
REEF Tutorial
If you aren't able to participate in REEF training workshops or field surveys, no worries, this tutorial will take you through all the steps to complete your first survey and return the data to REEF. You will also find fish identification resources that will help you become a better, more informed volunteer!
Quick Links:
Training Events in Hawaii
REEF Resources

First, you need an underwater slate and pencil to record sightings.

REEF Slate with velcro pencil

REEF Starter Kit
You can use a plain white dive slate for a REEF survey. These cost from $5-$20 and usually have a pencil attached. You may already have one! If not, you can find slates like this here. You can also use a REEF slate that has been specifically designed for fish surveys. The slate comes as part of a Starter Kit which also includes underwater survey paper, two scanforms, a REEF decal, and a waterproof color ID card or booklet. The REEF Starter Kit costs $15 and you can get one at a REEF workshop, at some dive shops, or you can order one directly from REEF here.

REEF Color ID Card (Hawaii)
We prefer to use REEF's slate and underwater paper because it makes conducting a survey much easier! Instead of writing the fishes' names, you can just check them off.
Setting up your slate. Before you take your REEF slate into the water there are a few things you can do to make it easier to use, and to ensure that you don't lose any of its parts!
Attach a wrist lanyard or clip to your slate to keep it close and to keep your hands free when needed.
Attach the pencil with line or surgical tubing. The "pop-it" pencils work great, and you can put your own velcro on them.
Use a binder clip and rubber band to keep the underwater paper secure.
Next, you'll need scanforms
Scanforms are computer forms that you use to send your survey data to REEF. This tutorial will cover the scanform in detail later on. Scanforms are provided free from REEF (click here to order them through REEF's website), and you can also get them from your local Field Station.
Finally, you'll need a good fish identification reference book.
In Hawaii, the two main fish identification books that we use are Shore Fishes of Hawaii by John Randall, and Hawaii's Fishes by John Hoover. They are both excellent resources. If you become an active REEF volunteer, you will soon find that you need both! Each has some species that the other doesn't include, and it helps to have two alternate photos of a species to help with identification.
REEF's store has a selection of references for the different geographic areas, and you can also order these books through Project S.E.A.-Link's online marketplace.
These books use different common names for many of the species, and REEF uses the common names found in Shore Fishes of Hawaii. However, Hawaii's Fishes often lists alternate common names within the species description.
Now you're ready to conduct a REEF survey! The Roving Diver Technique is simple: you just swim freely around the dive site and record every fish species you can positively identify. You begin your survey as soon as you enter the water and continue throughout the dive. You can conduct a REEF survey as a snorkeler or scuba diver, and you don't have to be a fish expert to start doing surveys!
There are two different types of surveys: Species Only and Species and Abundance.
In a Species Only survey, all you have to do is record the species of fish present at a particular dive site. This type of survey can be done over a 30-day period at the same site. Species Only surveys are good for beginners, and can also be done concurrently with Species and Abundance surveys.
A Species and Abundance survey provides more data by assigning a relative abundance category to each species sighted. Many people mistakenly think they need to count every fish that is sighted...that is not the case! Relative abundance is easy to figure out:
Throughout the dive, you should be able to estimate about how many fish you saw of each species. If you encounter a large school, all you have to do is determine if the school contains more or less than 100 fish. One way to do this is to count a smaller group within the school, and see how many times you could count another group of the same size within the entire school. If it adds up to over 100, assign that species the "abundant" category. Try this method on the above image of the largest school of fish...count 10, estimate the space that 10 fish take up in the school, and see if you could fit a similar sized group within the school 9 more times. Once you get the hang of it, it's much easier than trying to count every last fish in a school!
A particular species of fish may not always be in a school, so you can keep track of general totals in various ways as you survey the site.
Recording Sightings. Just write down the fishes' names on your slate, or check them off using REEF's underwater paper. The underwater paper has been specifically designed for each region to include the most common species, and they are listed alphabetically by species and by family.
Here is a look at the "Butterflyfish" category on Hawaii's underwater paper:
This is one way to keep track of your sightings...use tick marks. When you get to 10, you know the next one spotted will bring you to the "many" category. Or, if you already have several marked and you see a few more that bring the total over 10, you can go straight to many and circle the "M." From there it is usually pretty easy to decide by the end of the dive if you ended up seeing over 100 and should mark "A" for abundant. Make sure not to over-estimate; if you are swimming back over an area you have already surveyed, do not add to the abundance because you may be counting the same fish again...just focus on searching for new species.
"Mystery Fish." As long as you can positively identify a species, you can record it for a REEF survey. You will most likely encounter species you cannot identify during the survey, but if you record your observations you may be able to make the ID after the survey. Start by making a sketch, and note things such as: size, color, markings, behavior and habitat/depth observed. This information will help you identify the family and hopefully the species. Look up and confirm mystery fish as soon as possible after the survey. If you are not 100% certain of a sighting, DO NOT RECORD IT. The next time you observe that species, look for additional ID characteristics. Identifying mystery fish will teach you to become more and more observant, and will help you learn a lot more fish than you ever thought you would!
Here are some notes from a Hawaii REEF surveyor's underwater paper:
Perhaps not the work of Picasso, but you can see that just a few sketches and notes may be sufficient to identify a species!
Here is a great example of a species that was identified using a simple sketch and notes. The surveyor wrote down that the unknown fish was perched on the coral like a hawkfish, and sketched the spots on the head and stripe on the body. After the dive it was a simple matter to look up hawkfishes in Hawaii's Fishes, and it was clear that the "mystery fish" was in fact a Blackside Hawkfish!
Try to look up, discuss, and confirm sightings as soon after the dive as possible.
It's fun!!
Other Information to Record. Make sure you note things like the time you entered and exited the water, visibility, depth, and temperature. You will need to report this information on the scanform.
OK, so you've returned from the dive, confirmed the abundance of each species, and looked up mystery fish. Now what? It's time to fill out the scanform and send it to REEF so your data can be incorporated into the online database.
We will go through the process of filling out the scanform step by step, section by section. After you've done it once, you'll see that it is quite simple!
All you need is a No. 2 pencil with an eraser. Don't use the pencil from your slate because it is impossible to erase marks made from a pencil that has been underwater!
Member ID and Mailing Address.
First, fill out the personal information section. Make sure you fill in the bubble for "New Member." This will ensure that REEF creates a new membership for you (free), and you will soon receive your member ID number in the mail along with a welcome packet from REEF. You can also become a member and get an ID number through REEF's website here. If you already have an ID Number, just fill it in and write your first and last name only.

REEF's Privacy Policy: "The information you enter on this form will be used to include you as a REEF member. Occasionally we exchange mailing lists with other conservation organizations and companies. Please notify us if you would like us to withhold your name from these exchanges."
REEF needs your information in order to send you your membership materials. You will also receive their quarterly newsletter. In addition, as part of their quality control process, they may contact you if they have any questions about the data you submit.
Survey Type.
Make sure to indicate whether you have done a Species Only or a Species & Abundance survey.
Geographic Zone Code.
You can find a list of REEF's Geographic Zone Codes here. If your site is not listed, provide as many digits as you can...the codes are hierarchical and you should still be able to provide a general region or zone using fewer digits.
REEF's Geographic Zone Code Hierarchy:
One digit: Region: Biogeographical Region (ex. Maui County)
Two digits: Sub-region: Sub-division of Region (ex. Maui)
Four digits: Zone: An area where a REEF Map will indicate sites (ex. Molokini Crater)
Six digits: Sub-zone: Sub-division of Zone (ex. Inside Crater)
Eight digits: Site: A reporting location (ex. Reef's End)
Navigational Coordinates.
If you have a Zone Code for your site, you won't need to fill in the latitude & longitude section. However, if you are establishing a new site, provide GPS coordinates if you have them, or include details such as a sketch of the site and map for REEF.
Dive Site.
Write the name of the site and the island (if applicable).
Date of Survey.
Self-explanatory...make sure you fill it in!
You only need to fill this out for a Species & Abundance survey, and if you were snorkeling, don't worry about the bottom temperature. Make sure you indicate Farenheit or Celsius!
Bottom Time.
If you are filling out a Species Only survey that took place over multiple days, add up the total time spent surveying.
Dive Start.
Round to the nearest hour...for example, if you started your survey at 9:20 am, mark 9 am, but if you started it at 9:35 am, mark 10 am.
Try to estimate the average visibility throughout the dive taking into account where you spent the most time surveying.
Average Depth.
Many dive computers will calculate the exact average depth, but make sure it accurately represents the depth where you spent the most time surveying.
A strong current is difficult to swim against and a weak current is noticeable but does not affect the dive. "None" means slight or no current.
The scanform itself will give descriptions of each type of habitat, and habitats vary by survey region. Try to choose the one that represents the habitat over which most of the survey was conducted.

Hawaii habitats

Tropical Western Atlantic habitats
Unlisted Species.
After you finish filling out the rest of the scanform, go back to this section. List additional sightings and provide their common and scientific names.
This is where you record the species you observed during your survey. Families are listed alphabetically on the scanform, and species are listed alphabetically within families. All you have to do is transfer the data from your slate or underwater paper by filling in the bubbles by each species. If you are doing a Species Only survey, just fill in the "S" by the species name. For Species and Abundance, fill in the appropriate abundance code.
S=Single (1), F=Few (2-10), M=Many (11-100), and A=Abundant (over 100)
Some Scanform Tips for Hawaii volunteers
"Longfish" This grouping is obviously not a scientific family name, and includes fishes such as trumpetfish, cornetfish, needlefishes, and pipefishes.
The "Other" Category Make sure you are familiar with the species listed in this category. Some of the species in "Other" on the underwater paper are listed under their own family on the scanform. For example, "Boxfish" has a category on the scanform, Bigscale Soldierfish is listed under "Squirrelfish," and Trumpetfish are listed under "Longfish."
Sea Turtles The back page of the Hawaii scanform has a category for Green Sea Turtle, where you can record the relative abundance of turtles with and without Fibropapillomatosis tumors. You can also download a National Marine Fisheries Service form to submit more detailed data about turtles with tumors.
REEF has incorporated sea turtle sightings in general into its program, so you can record any species of turtle on the back page of the scanform under "Unlisted." Find out more about REEF's Sea Turtle Sightings Program here.
That's it! Now just mail the scanform to REEF. The address is: REEF; P.O. Box 246; Key Largo, FL; 33037. (The address is also listed on the scanform). Once you receive your membership information, you can look up your data online using your member ID number.
Now that you know how to do a REEF survey, you'll probably want to learn more about fish identification. Here are some online resources that you can use.
Fish Identification Training Center Project S.E.A.-Link's online resource
REEF's Fish Galleries and Quizzes Look through photos that include descriptive information and distinctive features, and take a quiz
Hawaii's Fishes John Hoover's website
Fish Pics Hawaii photos by Keoki & Yuko Stender
Sea Pics photos by Doug Perrine
Hawaii Coral Reef Network's Marine Fishes of Hawaii An index of fish families
New World Publications' Marine Life Learning Center A website by the co-founders of REEF...lots of great references!
To Find REEF Events Near You
Contact your local Field Station. (Project S.E.A.-Link is a Hawaii Field Station on Maui)
Visit REEF's Events page.
During July, participate in the Great Annual Fish Count
Visit Project S.E.A.-Link's Community Forum and Events Calendar to find out when REEF events are scheduled locally.
Quick Links:
Training Events in Hawaii
REEF Resources