The Key Largo–based nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation, commonly called REEF, is dedicated to conserving marine ecosystems worldwide. REEF inspires and enlists divers to help protect that biodiversity through education and community partnerships.
These volunteer citizen scientists can participate in reef survey and annual fish count projects to help collect and report data on marine fish populations. Collected using a fun and easy standardized method, the data is utilized by local and national agencies to develop management plans for coral reef resources in the islands of the Florida Keys, the Caribbean, Hawaii and the North Pacific.
Each fall, the organization hosts REEF Fest, a multiday celebration of marine conservation’s positive impact on the Florida Keys and around the world. Participating ocean aficionados can experience social events, eco-adventures and presentations by renowned marine experts. The 2017 event has been rescheduled for Dec. 7-10, 2017, due to hurricane Irma.
Activities include educational seminars, gatherings, snorkeling, diving, paddling and adventures on the water at America’s best fish-filled coral reefs with some of the most prestigious names in marine conservation.
In addition, REEF is widely recognized as a leading authority in lionfish research, removal practices and educational outreach. Alongside the Keys’ commercial fishing and restaurant communities, the organization has adopted an “eat them to beat them” mantra to help control the invasive species.
REEF’s founder Lad Akins co-authored “The Lionfish Cookbook,” which earned prestigious recognition at the 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held in China.
“Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round,” said Akins. “From a culinary standpoint, lionfish are incredible. The fish has a mild, white meat and is not overpowering.”
An annual Lionfish Derby Series across Florida also is an important part of REEF programs, spearheaded in partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the dive community. Scuba and skin divers can take action and help preserve Keys reefs by competing in a fun, challenging event to capture and remove as many non-native lionfish as possible from Keys waters.