HISTORY OF THE GAFC
The idea of an annual fish monitoring event might have evolved years earlier, but the first official GAFC was held back in 1992 and led Dr. Gary Davis at the Channel Islands National Park as way to encourage sport divers to report fish sightings. The small number of marine scientists, the immensity of the oceans and the scarcity of funding require that volunteers be trained to assist with a nation-wide fish monitoring effort. The use of volunteers to monitor animal species has proven to be extremely successful.
The GAFC was modeled after the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which continues to play a significant role in documenting and raising awareness of the declining populations of migratory birds, and has helped reduce destruction of their habitat. The first GAFC event was held at Anacapa Island, California with fifty participants. The event was focused during the first two weeks of July to attempt to capture as many divers as possible and attract media attention. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary joined Gary Davis efforts in the GAFC in 1994 and assisted in the protocol handbook, developed datasheets, created brochures, and coordinated fish identification workshops. By 1995, the GAFC had become a coordinated effort between the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
goal of the GAFC was to have divers become interested enough in fish monitoring
to map and adopt sites that could then be visited year-round.
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program expressed interest in having the GAFC and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) work together to support and promote volunteer fish monitoring throughout the entire Sanctuary program. To facilitate this endeavor, the Channels Islands National Marine Sanctuary coordinated and hosted a Great American Fish Count Summit to discuss and identify opportunities for the GAFC and bring together organizations in fish monitoring. By the end of 1997, the GAFC had evolved into a national event held during July of each year coordinated by American Oceans Campaign, REEF, and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program. By 1999, REEF became the sole organizer of the GAFC with continued partnership with and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program.
The 2001event was a huge success. The number of seminars quadrupled and many dives were conducted throughout the nation, Canada, and in the Caribbean. Many GAFC dives were conducted within National Marine Sanctuaries, such as Florida Keys, Gray's Reef, Stellwagen Bank, Flower Garden Banks, Monterey, Channel Islands, and Hawaii. Approximately 900 people participated and over 1,900 surveys were conducted during the July event that year. Due to the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia, in 2002, the Great American Fish Count officially changed its name to the Great Annual Fish Count.
The event continues to grow. The GAFC now brings in approximately 2,000 marine life surveys in the month of July alone and reaches hundreds of volunteers throughout REEF's survey regions in dozens of countries. This year's GAFC is sure to be a great one - get involved!