Join us for free marine life seminars during REEF Fest 2023! We have a great lineup of guest speakers including scientists, naturalists, and underwater photographers. Seminars are held at the Murray Nelson Government Center (102050 Overseas Hwy. Key Largo, FL 33037.) Please see the detailed schedule below for dates and times.

Seminars are free and open to the public, but pre-registration is requested. 

Click here to register for REEF Fest!

Watch Online: For those who are not able to attend in person, REEF Fest seminars will be livestreamed on the REEF Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Seminar Schedule

Friday, Oct. 20

2:30 pm -- Seafood Fraud and the Sustainable Management of Groupers
Presented by Dr. John Claydon, Executive Director, Integrated Marine Biosphere Research

Groupers are highly prized as seafood throughout the world, but for many of the approximately 160 species of groupers, their life-history characteristics make them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. As a consequence, a number of species are endangered, and few populations show signs of recovery. However, the insatiable demand for groupers persists, and this has led to widespread, fraudulent substitution of grouper with other species. In the context of grouper conservation, John will discuss how this grouper mislabelling is yet another challenge to the sustainable management of these species.

4:15 pm -- A Connection to the Sea

Presented by Alex Troutman, NOAA Knauss Fellow with the Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program

We all are connected to the ocean, whether you live in a coastal community or in a landlocked city. Through rivers and streams, clouds and storms, dirt roads and black tops, we are linked by a watershed of creeks and rivers, which eventually lead out to the sea, and our daily lives are surrounded by products that come from or depend on the ocean. Our shared connection to the marine environment means that we should all take part in taking care of and advocating for it, but being an advocate requires opportunities for knowledge and exposure. It is critical to provide an introduction and access to historically-excluded and marginalized communities, who otherwise might not have means to understand the connection that they have to the sea. Alex will share stories of his work in the field and as a connector through science communication.

6:30 pm -- A Journey Through the Science and Management of the Remote and Wild Reefs and Islands of the Coral Sea Marine Park, Australia
Presented by Martin Russell, Manager, Coral Sea Marine Park, Australia

The Coral Sea Marine Park off northeast Australia in the Pacific Ocean is a vast and remote wilderness covering almost 1 million km2, with over 60 uninhabited islands and over 1800 reefs. Martin is the manager of the Marine Park and has two key projects: Coral Reef Health and Island Health Projects. He will talk about these amazing and relatively untouched reefs and islands, including shallow reef dive and deep reef ROV surveys, discovery of new corals and fish, the assessments of seabirds, vegetation and marine debris on islands, and the protection being implemented for the long term.

Saturday, Oct. 21

2:30 pm -- Stickball & Seahorses – A photographic journey
Presented by Jason Belport, Underwater Photographer

Jason will share photographic imagery, experiences, and observations from diving marine ecosystems around the world over the last 25 years. He will share a firsthand account of the challenges and hopes for the marine ecosystems of the Cayman Islands along with some truly unique experiences from Cayman, having been a Cayman resident since 1996. Jason will also share experiences from photographic tours in Fiji, French Polynesia, Raja Ampat, Bonaire, Roatan, Hawaii, Turks and Caicos, and California.

3:15 pm -- 30 Years of Making a Difference for the Oceans
Presented by Christy Semmens, Ph.D., REEF Co-Executive Director: Science and Engagement, and Brice Semmens, Ph.D., Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

July 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. What started with a small group of pioneering ocean enthusiasts taking a slate on a dive in the Florida Keys has resulted in the largest open-access marine life sightings database in the world, now approaching 300,000 surveys conducted by citizen scientists. Each REEF survey submitted truly makes an impact on marine conservation. Today, REEF is considered a worldwide leader in ocean citizen science and the organization's capacity for collaborative partnerships to advance science and conservation is regarded as one of our strongest assets. Christy and Brice were part of the team that helped lay the groundwork in the early days of REEF. In celebration of three decades of making a difference for the oceans, Christy and Brice will share a few of the latest updates with the survey project, as well as REEF's other conservation science programs, the Grouper Moon Project and the Invasive Species Program.

Speaker Bios

Dr. John Claydon is the Executive Director of the Integrated Marine Biosphere Research project office, hosted by the Ocean Frontier Institute at Dalhousie University, Canada. John is a tropical marine ecologist with a focus on fish reproduction, fisheries, and invasive species. He has a mixed background which includes running the Turks and Caicos Islands’ Department of Environment and Coastal Resources, managing residential marine research and education centers in the Caribbean, and co-founding FisherFolkFirst, a small non-profit organization to help empower coastal communities and promote blue justice.

Alex Troutman is a fish and wildlife biologist, birder, nature enthusiast, and science communicator from Austell, Georgia. He has a passion for sharing the wonders of nature and introducing the younger generation to the outdoors. He holds both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in biology from Georgia Southern University (the Real GSU), with a focus in conservation. Because he knows what it feels like to not see individuals who look like you, or come from a similar background, doing the things you enjoy or working in the career that you aspire to be in, Alex makes a point not only to be that representation for the younger generation but also to make sure that kids have exposure to the careers they are interested in and the diverse scientists working in those careers. Alex did his master's research on the diet of the seaside sparrow, a bird that lives in the tidal salt marshes off the coast of Georgia. He has also worked in the field with various endangered Species like Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles and Karner Blue Butterflies. Troutman is a member of Black in Marine Science, and is currently a NOAA Knauss Fellow with the Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program (FAC) at Fish and Wildlife Service.

Martin Russell is Manager of the Coral Sea Marine Park in Australia. Martin has been working for over 25 years on marine protected area and fisheries management in Australia’s oceans. He has worked previously with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Martin has extensive research and management experience working on fish spawning aggregations, coral, and reef fishes in Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean. He is the Chair of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institut (GCFI), and also the Chair of Science and Conservation of Fish Aggregations (SCRFA).

Jason Belport is Executive Vice President of JEM Worldwide with over twenty-seven years of management experience, operating premier dive resort operations including Little Cayman Beach Resort and Cayman Brac Beach Resort in the Cayman Islands. A SSI Pro Platinum Diver Award recipient, Jason is a lifelong dive industry professional with extensive operational and logistical experience as well as global dive industry knowledge and expertise. Jason serves as Vice President for Reef Renewal Cayman Islands and works as part of the South Caicos Coral Reef Consortium in the Turks and Caicos Islands. A passionate ambassador of the marine environment with well over 6000 dives, Jason has a keen interest promoting conservation and stewardship of our marine ecosystems. Jason is a passionate underwater photographer and past President of the Sister Islands Tourism Association (Cayman Brac and Little Cayman). He is a graduate of San Diego State University in San Diego, California.

Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. is REEF Co-Executive Director of Science and Engagement and Brice Semmens, Ph.D., is a Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Christy and Brice were interns with the Nature Conservancy in the summer of 1993 and were tasked to help with the field testing and launch of what would become the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP). Christy joined the REEF staff in 1998, and has overseen the global expansion of the VFSP and coordinates with research and management communities on the use of the REEF survey data. Brice has led several scientific papers using the VFSP data and has served as a scientific advisor to REEF for the past fifteen years. Christy and Brice are lead scientists for the Grouper Moon Project, studying one of the last and largest known spawning aggregations of the endangered Nassau Grouper. In 2019, they were named Sea Heroes by Scuba Diving magazine for their work on that project. In recognition of her contributions to ocean conservation and the world of scuba diving, Christy was inducted to the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2021.