Great American Fish Count
Contact: Collen Angeles


Key Largo -- Volunteer divers and snorkelers will get the opportunity to make every dive count as the annual Great American Fish Count (GAFC) kicks off its 1999 season in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary on July 1.

"The Great American Fish Count is about more than just counting fish," said Ted Danson, president of the American Oceans Campaign, one of the event partners. "It is about instilling awareness about fish populations and trends, and understanding our oceans and the relationship of our own health to the health of the marine environment."

GAFC is an annual fish census conducted by trained volunteer divers and snorkelers.
It began in 1992, when a small group of recreational divers and marine biologists gathered in California's Channel Islands National Park to conduct a standardized fish count. Their effort, modeled after Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, quickly grew into an annual event.

Today, the fish count is a partnership among the American Oceans Campaign, Reef Environmental Education Foundation and the National Marine Sanctuary Program, with support from The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, and PADI's Project AWARE. The surveys provide scientists, marine resource managers and policy makers with valuable information about fish populations and offer divers and snorkelers a non-extractive way to enjoy the underwater world.

"By participating in the Great American Fish Count, volunteer divers and snorkelers provide important information on fish populations, helping us to protect the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary," said FKNMS superintendent Billy Causey.

GAFC uses the roving diver technique, allowing divers to count species sighted during free swim within 100 meters of their starting point. Participants list only those species they can positively identify and note their relative abundance. In 1998, Florida fish count participants completed 169 surveys and identified 226 species.

An annual two-week period focuses national attention on the fish count, but organizers hope trained divers and snorkelers will continue to conduct fish surveys throughout the year.

All that is necessary to participate in the fish count are an underwater slate, survey forms and a comprehensive fish identification book. Volunteers also must attend one of REEF's free training seminars, which will be held from 7-9 p.m. on the following dates:

Key Largo: June 30 at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Marathon: July 1 at the Marathon Government Center
Key West: July 2 at the Harvey Government Center

GAFC survey kits are available for $20 and include an underwater survey slate, a color fish identification card, survey report forms, membership in REEF and a GAFC T-shirt.

Florida Keys dive shops are sponsoring three 1999 GAFC awareness dives. Volunteers should contact the dive shop directly for reservations or more information:

July 10
Paradise Divers (Looe Key)
8:30 a.m. departure, $50 per person
(800) 852-0348

July 11
Sea Dwellers (Key Largo)
8:00 a.m. check-in, $35 per person
(includes tanks and weights)
(305) 451-3640

Subtropic (Key West)
1:30 p.m. check-in, 10% discount
(305) 296-9914

World Watersports and Divers Outlet also are local GAFC supporters. Dive into the new GAFC web site at to learn more about the history, background, partners, training seminar schedule and registration and data collected to date. For more information, contact the GAFC coordinator by email at or by phone at 1-800-8ocean0.