#News: Volunteer Divers Become Year-Round Asset - A man flying through the air while swimming in a body of water - Scuba diving

Divers and snorkelers who want to ramp up their fish identification skills can assist Florida Keys marine researchers year-round gathering data on fish diversity and population trends — an initiative inspired by the Great Annual Fish Count, an eco-event traditionally staged on reefs around the world during July.

Divers and snorkelers often turn a hobby of fish-watching into organized fishcounting dives individually or through a dive club to join local dive shops for special fish ID excursions.

Resource managers and policy makers use this helpful data to help assess reefs’ condition and their ability to sustain fish and marine life. More than 181,000 surveys have already been submitted for research, according to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, who sponsors the GAFC.

REEF is to present a free introductory fish ID class Wednesday, July 23, at the organization’s headquarters at mile marker 98.3 in Key Largo. This is a great opportunity for divers to learn fish identification skills, get more information on REEF programs and prepare to do an actual survey dive. To participate, call 305-852-0030 or visit reef.org.

A GAFC morning dive event is planned Saturday, July 26, with Ocean Divers, located at 522 Caribbean Drive in Key Largo. Fish identification and marine survey materials will be provided to use, and REEF marine conservation interns will assist with fish ID during the two-tank dive. To join the event, visit oceandivers.com or call 800-451-1113. Fish survey participants receive a special discount.

Divers are encouraged to conduct fish count surveys year-round, since collected reef fish data is aggregated with counts from around the world and has been used by local and national agencies to develop management plans for coral reef resources in the islands of the Florida Keys, Caribbean, Hawaii and North Pacific.

For more information: reef.org or 305-852-0030.

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