Paul Humann, the co-founder of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, passed away February 5, 2024 at the age of 86.
Humann grew up in Wichita, Kansas and earned an undergraduate degree from Wichita State University and a law degree from Washburn Law School.
Humann learned to dive and took his first underwater photographs in the early 1960s, while still in law school. During the same period, he became a licensed, single-engine airplane pilot. By the late 1960s, several of his fish portraits were published in Skin Diver Magazine’s memorable “Fish of the Month” series. He later joined the ranks of the Underwater Society of America and became its Vice-President of Photography, subsequently organizing the first national underwater photo contest for members.
His hobby became a way of life in 1971, when he left his successful law practice to become captain/owner of the M/V Cayman Diver, the Caribbean’s first liveaboard dive vessel. As a result, Humann was instrumental in developing what became an intrinsic component of the sport diving industry. Scouting potential reef sites from the air for his diving guests was among his first exploratory projects in the islands. In the process he established Little Cayman’s now famous west side drop-offs and reefs as major Caribbean dive destinations.
Diving daily with guests for the next eight years allowed the unparalleled opportunity to photograph, document and study the biological diversity of the Caribbean’s coral reefs, setting the stage for what was to become the first comprehensive set of marine life identification books for divers. In 1980 he moved to South Florida to pursue his burgeoning publishing career.
In 1988, Humann joined forces with Ned DeLoach, founder of New World Publications, as co-Editor of Ocean Realm magazine. Finding that they worked well together, the pair established a long-standing partnership and subsequently self-published a series of marine life/diving related books on fishid.com, beginning with the popular and user-friendly reference trilogy, Reef Fish Identification, Reef Creature Identification and Reef Coral Identification — Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. Together the pair authored, photographed and published 14 marine-related books for underwater naturalists.
Humann’s groundwork for the field guides ultimately established visual identification criteria for innumerable marine species, making it practical for naturalists as well as marine scientists to make valid non-impact biodiversity assessments of reef ecosystems for the first time. To assure scientific validity, he closely collaborated with dozens of marine taxonomists. In many instances, picture/voucher specimen collection was required to make positive identifications. As a result, many of his photos were the first ever published of living species in their natural habitat. The specimens from this work now reside in the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum collections. Because of his ongoing contributions to science, several previously undocumented species were named in his honor over the decades including: the Ornate Cup Coral (Coenocyathus humanni), from the Tropical Western Atlantic; Ophichthus humanni, an eel inhabiting the Western Pacific, and a fairy wrasse, Cirrhilabrus humanni, from Indonesia.
Founding of REEF
Humann and DeLoach’s concern for the welfare of the marine environment led to their founding of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation in 1990, based in Key Largo, Florida.
REEF’s mission to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnership with the scientific community, continues to guide the organization into its fourth decade.
In recognition of their guidebooks and the founding of REEF, the publishing partners received the US Coral Reef Task Force’s Outstanding Public Awareness and Education Award in 2006. In 2007, Humann was inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, and in 2010 was the recipient of the NOGI Award from the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences, for his efforts to preserve the underwater world.
In lieu of flowers, memorials in Humann’s honor may be directed to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation. A celebration of life will be scheduled in the near future.