Winter full moons mean that it's grouper spawning time! Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. We estimate that between 5,000 and 7,000 Nassau grouper come to the site to spawn. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Program, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. In 2003, the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands (both current and historic). This ban expires later this year and new legislation is being developed. We are rapidly compiling the results of our research, which will provide the Cayman Islands government guidance on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.
Earlier this month, we had a small team in the field- Dr. Selina Heppell (OSU researcher), Stephanie Archer (OSU graduate student), and Brenda Hitt (long-time REEF Grouper Moon volunteer). They witnessed spawning on two nights following the January full moon. We expect February to be the "main" spawning month (based on past research, we know it has to do with when the full moon is in relation to the winter solstice). A much larger team of researchers and volunteers will be on the island to conduct a full suite of research projects. We will also be producing several outreach products aimed at promoting the management and conservation of these spawning aggregations. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting and important marine conservation research. In the mean time, to find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. To see video of the aggregation during the day, check out this video on YouTube taken last year. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.