Quickstart Guide


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Quick Start REEF Surveying Guide

So you wanna start doing some REEF surveys, but don't know quite how to go about it? Here's the low-down...

1. Get a few good books!!

For starters, REEF recommends:

  • Coastal Fish ID - California to Alaska by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach - 2nd edition.
  • Coastal Fishes - of the Pacific Northwest by Andy Lamb - 2nd edition.
  • Whelks to Whales by Rick Harbo (for invertebrates). ) - 2nd edition.

These are available at many local dive shops as well as online bookstores and through REEF's online store.

2. Start learning online!

Photos of the fish and invertebrates that are taught in the beginning Fish and Invertebrate ID courses are found online, along with names and family or phylum (which you should learn):

Show me the fish

Show me the invertebrates

Study list of fish and invertebrates you'll need to know


3. Get a slate!

  • You can attach special underwater paper with the most common fish and all the invertebrates surveyed, to your slate to make surveying really easy, and it's available for only $.75 each from REEF's online store. Each sheet is good for 4 dives (PNW and CAL). If you're careful, you can erase data and reuse the uw paper.
  • Either use a slate you have currently, or get one from REEF's online store. Two versions are available, the yellow slate and the white (Deluxe) slate. Here are the differences:

click to enlarge

Yellow slate

White slate

Short pencil attached with velcro. Useless in cold water with gloves. I attach a pop-a-point or cheapie mechanical pencil with surgical tubing instead. Comes with short wooden pencil already attached with surgical tubing
Comes with small plastic clip and one rubber band to attach underwater paper. In cold water and currents, these both come off within minutes. Instead, I use 4 rubber bands: 2 horizontally and 2 vertically to attach paper securely. Comes with 4 wingnuts to attach paper very very securely. Really securely.
6" x 9" 8" x 10.5"
If you wrap paper over the top of the slate, you can easily do your second dive without removing uw paper. You must remove 4 wingnuts with cold hands (be careful, don't drop them!) to switch uw paper between each and every dive.
You should attach a wrist strap to the slate so you won't lose it. Comes with a wrist strap attached.
Smaller and streamlined, can slip between tummy and cummerbund on BCD. Thicker, bulky, wingnuts protrude out 1/2".
Neutrally/slightly negatively buoyant Positively buoyant, floats up in your face when not in use.

4. Get in the water!

  • Go about your dive as you normally would. This is called the Roving Diver Technique. No need to sit on the bottom for 30 min in one place, no need to swim a straight line.
  • Record only what you personally see. If your dive buddy spots a sixgill while you're busy checking your gauges, sorry! Only your buddy can record the sixgill sighting.
  • If you see only one of a species on your entire dive, mark S for Single. If you see 2-10 of the critters, then mark F for Few. Sighting 11 - 100 of the critter bumps you into the M (many) category, and anything over 100 should be marked A for Abundant.
  • Only record what you can positively identify. It's perfectly OK to not know the name of the critter while you're on your dive, but then look it up in a book afterwards and positively identify it. When in doubt, leave it out.
  • Newer surveyors will find it easiest to survey for either fish OR invertebrates, but not both. You can indicate what type of survey you conduct when you submit your data online.

5. Submit your data!


  • Go to and select Submit Data Online. Using your REEF Member number, login and get started!

6. View your data online!

  • Allow about 2-3 weeks for your data to be processed.
  • Go to REEF's website and access your data by logging in. You can access tons of info from your login page, like your survey log, your REEF experience level, dive info, and your account and orders.

7. Other Great Stuff!

And that's all there is to it! Best Fishes and Happy Critterwatching!