A weak hurricane had drenched South Florida a few days earlier and the underwater visibility off Fort Lauderdale was murky at best. But the conditions didn't dampen Paul Humann's buoyant attitude. While other divers complained about the poor vis as they returned to the boat, Humann raved about witnessing an interaction between a cleaning goby and a snook on the shallow reef below. Now that is something that you don't see everyday, Humann says. A former attorney from Kansas who loves gardening, Humann operated the Caribbean's first successful live-aboard dive boat in the Cayman Islands back in the 1970s. But he is best known for a series of popular fish and coral identification books that are the result of his collaboration with Ned DeLoach. The two men also are co-founders of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit group formed in 1990 that now has more than 15,000 members. Humann and DeLoach came up with the idea for creating REEF while working on their first fish identification book. It really became apparent how little was known about the range and distribution of most species of reef fish, says DeLoach, an ex-teacher and former cave diver who lives in Jacksonville, Florida. In order to protect the marine environment, the first thing you need is knowledge, Humann adds. REEF's aim is to enlist and educate recreational divers so they can conduct marine life surveys. Since its inception, REEF's volunteer divers have conducted more than 24,500 such surveys, mostly throughout the Caribbean and tropical Western Atlantic.The information culled from these surveys has helped improve the management of several marine parks and sanctuaries. For instance, plans to establish the nation's largest ecological reserve to protect 180 miles of Florida's Dry Tortugas were based in part on years of REEF surveys, which showed that the area is a key spawning ground for grouper and snapper. I can't stress enough how important REEF and the work they have done has been in helping us create no-take areas in the Keys, says Billy Causey, manager of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Perhaps even more important than generating valuable data, REEF's surveys are keeping divers in the water who may have otherwise lost interest in the sport. It is a great way to stay involved, says Linda Schillinger, who intends to complete her 500th REEF survey before the end of this year. After reading a magazine ad several years ago, the recovery room nurse from New York went on a REEF-sponsored live-aboard dive trip to Belize. I got hooked after that, says Schillinger, who also has taken part in REEF trips to the Cayman Islands, Venezuela, U.S. Virgin Islands and the Dry Tortugas.Though they've both been diving for more than 30 years, DeLoach and Humann are still enthusiastic about their favorite pastime.I just love being underwater and I am more excited today than when I started, says DeLoach, who spent four summers diving almost every day with his wife around the island of Bimini while doing research for a book on reef fish behavior that was published last year. Nothing makes me happier than stalking a 4-inch fish across a rubble bottom.Humann (left) and DeLoach currently are tackling their most ambitious project yet, a Pacific reef fish identification book that will include more than 2,000 species when it is completed in a year or so. Meanwhile REEF continues to expand the number of areas where its surveys are conducted. The group now is working with divers in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii and a portion of the tropical Eastern Pacific stretching from the Gulf of California to the Galapagos Islands.Our biggest goal is to get more divers involved in this, Humann says. DeLoach says the success of the fish identification books and REEF's surveys are fostering a new sea ethic in which divers search for new species to list in their log books instead of hunting for fish to kill. I was part of the first generation of divers who went in and pillaged the sea. But we've taken enough and it is time to start thinking differently, he says. What we need to focus on now is protecting the reefs and fish. For more information on the coral and fish identification books by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, contact New World Publishing by calling 800-737-6558 or go online and visit www.fishid.com. To learn more about REEF, call 305-451-0312 or check out the group's Web site at www.reef.org.
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