REEF Fest kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 20 to celebrate marine conservation and education. CONTRIBUTED

By Carmen M. Alex

Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) will hold its 5th annual REEF Fest with a four-day celebration of marine conservation and education in the Florida Keys. This year’s focus will be the 25 years of volunteer fish surveys that stretch over 10 different regions worldwide and have yielded nearly 10 million records available to scientists and researchers. About 400 participants are expected for the various activities.

The festivities will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 20, at 6 p.m. with a “Welcome Sunset Picnic at the Murray Nelson Government Center, followed by a presentation on the state of the Goliath Grouper by Christopher C. Koenig, a marine research ecologist at Florida State University.

The presentations will continue on Friday afternoon with talks about “Where to find 100 or more fish,” by local, longtime REEF volunteers Carlos and Allison Estape; a discussion of the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem by Dr. Martin Grosell; and a call to advocacy for the protection and conservation of coral reefs, by Andy Bruckner.

Saturday afternoon talks include an update on lionfish research by REEF’s invasive species program coordinator, Alli Candelmo; a presentation on fish behavior and connections by Caroly Shumway, REEF’s new executive director; and an account of the effects of nitrogen enrichment on coral reefs, by Brian Lapointe.

Presentation topics during REEF Fest range from the state of the Goliath Grouper to the effects of nitrogen enrichment on coral reefs.

A number of dive and snorkel activities have been scheduled for both Friday and Saturday morning. Amoray Dive Resort at MM 104.3, Quiescence Diving Services at MM 103.7, and Key Dives at MM 79.9 all offer dedicated REEF Fest charters. Check-in is at 8 a.m. for all three locations. Amoray will also offer snorkel-friendly charters for both mornings. Space for these in-water events can be booked directly at REEF.org.

Friday and Saturday conclude with evening events: On Friday, at 6 p.m., an open house at REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3, and on Saturday, also at 6 p.m., an open-air “For the Love of the Sea” banquet at MM 103.7. The banquet, which serves as a fundraiser for REEF, is the only event, other than the dive activities, that is not free to the public. The cost is $65 per person and includes a beautiful sunset on Key Largo’s bayside (weather permitting), live music, a three-course meal, hors d’oeuvres, and a full service liquor bar, including local craft beer.

The event ends on Sunday morning with a two hour “Farewell Breakfast” at REEF headquarters.

More information is at www.REEF.org/REEFFest or 305-852-0030.

Seminars held at the Murray Nelson Government Center are free, as are Thursday and Friday evening social events. Pre-registration online is recommended.

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