Exploring Marine Conservation in the Classroom Using Reef Environmental Education Foundation Data

Access Fish Population Data from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF)
This webpage was prepared for SERC by Heather Rissler in consultation with Bryan Dias of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation
Author Profile

The Dataset

Accessing Fish Population Data from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) allows users to explore how REEF involves divers (experienced and novice) in marine conservation efforts by supporting the collection and maintenance of an extensive fish population database. Divers collect data on fish species diversity and relative abundance at dive sites covering the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Use and Relevance

Scientists and government agencies use this dataset to address a wide range of issues that are accessible by understanding fish population dynamics, including understanding relationships between species and habitats or planning and managing aquaculture, research, and conservation efforts.

Use in Teaching

This dataset can be used to teach the following topics and skills in Biological Oceanography:


  • Relationships between habitats and populations
  • Geographical variations in species diversity and abundance
  • Using population data to address issues in managing and planning aquaculture activities
  • Marine sanctuaries and conservation


  • Interpreting population data to understand species diversity and abundance
  • Understanding the interpretation and use of parameters derived from population data, such as density and sighting frequency
  • Using data to generate and confirm predictions about relationships between habitats and species

Exploring the Data

Data Type and Presentation

Processed data are provided in tabular format that indicates sighting frequency and abundance for each species sighted at a particular geographic location. Raw data for species sightings are also available (this data is used to calculate sighting frequency). Information on calculations and interpretations involving REEF data is available.

Accessing the Data

Data can be accessed by geographical location using the REEF databases interactive map. Once a location is chosen, a geographic area report can be generated for the entire area or for specific dive sites within the area. Geographic Area Reports provide density and sighting frequency data. Data can also be accessed by generating a 'Distribution Report' for a specific species of interest. 'Comparison reports' can be generated to compare sighting frequency and density for species at multiple locations. All data are provided in HTML tabular format.

Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations

One way that students can manipulate data from the REEF database is to import data from various geographical locations into a spreadsheet program, such as Excel, to generate graphical representations of species distribution in varying habitats.

Tools for Data Manipulation

Raw data can be downloaded and imported into a spreadsheet application such as Excel for further processing. The Starting Point site provides a tutorial for using Excel.

About the Data

Collection Methods

REEF data are collected by community observers (including observers from Novice and Expert levels). Data from dives are submitted to REEF and maintained in a searchable database. Numbers of fish sighted are collected by assigning observations to relative abundance categories: single (1), few (2-10), many (11-100), or abundant (>100).

Limitations and Sources of Error

Data are presented from both Novice and Expert observers. Expert observers collect data on species of fish that they are highly confident (90 to 100% accuracy) in identifying. The REEF database maintains an information page that addresses issues related to data interpretation and data accuracy.

References and Resources

Scientific References that Use this Dataset

  • The REEF website maintains a bibliography of scientific papers that use REEF data.
  • Project S.E.A.-Link has pages describing the REEF collection process.
  • To cite REEF's Database, use the following format: Reef Environmental Education Foundation. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.reef.org, date of download (day month year).

Education Resources that Use this Dataset

  • Fish Communities is an activity from the BRIDGE Ocean Science Education Center that examines distribution of fish species in 3 different ecosystems in the Tropical Western Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic Oceans (Gray's Reef, The Florida Keys, and the Flower Garden Banks).

Other Related Scientific References

  • Mosquera et al., 2000, Conservation benefits of marine reserves for fish populations: Animal Conservation, v. 3, p. 321-332. This review article from discusses the impact of conservation efforts on fish populations.

Related Links

  • National Marine Sanctuaries is a website maintained by NOAA that provides information on national marine sanctuaries and marine conservation efforts.
  • FishBase is a global information system on fish.
  • Blue Frontier: Oceans for Life is a National Geographic website that deals with marine conservation and related educational activities.