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. Earlier this month, we had researchers and volunteers in the field for two weeks to conduct field research on spawning aggregations in Grand Cayman and Little Cayman. The site on Little Cayman represents one of the largest known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper; our research will provide valuable guidance to both the Cayman Islands government and others throughout the Caribbean on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.
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 followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.
The broad goals for the 2010 spawning season were to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Grand Cayman; aggregations on this island were fished to exhaustion in the recent past. REEF continued education and outreach efforts through public talks about spawning aggregations and the Grouper Moon research. As the sunset provision on the current legislation nears, REEF is working closely with the Cayman Islands government to translate the findings from our research into effective long-term protections. I spent time with the Honorable Mark Scotland, the Minister of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports & Culture, which oversees the Department of Environment in the Cayman Islands, discussing the project, our ground-breaking results, and recommendations for the future of this iconic species.
2010 Aggregation Season Results Summary
The Little Cayman team continued the long-term monitoring of this aggregation, which includes counting the number of fish that show up, estimating the size of the fish, and recording the timing and amount of spawning observed. The REEF research team uses lasers mounted on a video camera to record sizes of fish. If you would like to see what the Little Cayman aggregation looks like during the day, check out this video on YouTube. You will see the laser marks on the fish. Note that these are all Nassau grouper, just in different spawning colors. The team estimated that the number of fish showing up at the aggregation is approaching 4,000. We are also seeing a decrease if average size, which indicates that younger fish are starting to show up (good news!). Spawning was observed on four consecutive nights, starting 4 days after the full moon.
The Grand Cayman team’s primary goal was to document the remnant Nassau grouper aggregation on the East End of Grand Cayman and hopefully observe spawning. The status of this aggregation was initially documented by a Grouper Moon team in 2009. This year, with a lot of help from our partners at CIDOE and Wayne Sullivan and his crew aboard the Glen Ellen, REEF volunteer Denise Mizell was able to head up this critical component of our research. While several hundred fish were found at this historical spawning site, spawning was not documented. Unfortunately, we believe that fisherman were illegally fishing on the aggregation when our team was not on site. It is possible that this disturbance prevented the fish from spawning. This is disappointing news, but we are hopeful that the Cayman Islands government will pass revised legislation and provide more enforcement before next spawning season in order to protect the few remaining Nassau grouper on Grand Cayman.
Why Does This Matter?
Nassau grouper are not just icons of the Caribbean; they are a social and ecological cornerstone of the region’s coral reefs. Historically, Nassau grouper represented one of the region’s most economically important fisheries. Unfortunately, due to intense harvest on spawning aggregations, their populations have dwindled to a fraction of their historic numbers. The species became the first Caribbean reef fish to be listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the species is candidate listed under the US Endangered Species Act. The precipitous decline in mass spawning aggregations of Caribbean grouper species has been well documented. The majority of known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive due to the ease with which aggregating species are caught. And those that are still active contain significantly fewer fish than the 10s of thousands that historically gathered at these special places.
As part of our work on the Grouper Moon Project, REEF will continue to develop a comprehensive assessment of the status of the Cayman Island’s Nassau grouper spawning population as a guide for future Nassau grouper restoration and conservation policy.
Collaborators and Supporters Who Make This Project Possible
REEF would like to thank our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, specifically Phil Bush, Bradley Johnson, Croy McCoy, James Gibb, Tim Austin, Gina Ebanks-Pietre, Keith Neale, Delwin McLaughlin and Robert Walton, as well as Drs. Scott and Selina Heppell from Oregon State University. REEF Volunteers have always been at the core of our Grouper Moon field work and 2010 was no exception – heartfelt thanks to Heather George, Steve Gittings, Denise Mizell and Sheryl Shea. The support and assistance of Thor Dunmire is also greatly appreciated. The Grouper Moon Project has continued through the years empowered by the first year’s success and the passion of early project leader Leslie Whaylen Clift. Assistance from OSU graduate student, Stephanie Kraft Archer, is much appreciated. Principal financial support is from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the CIDOE. Additional funding is from Mr. Wayne Panton, Mr. Dan Scott, Clive and Stella Wood, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and hundreds of REEF members. Continued in-kind logistical support from island businesses and residents, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers, the Southern Cross Club, Peter Hillenbrand, Dottie Benjamin, and Judie Clee is also much appreciated. To alleviate the constraints of diving deep depths on regular scuba, several other sponsors came on board to assist in the project, including Divetech and PM Gas of Grand Cayman, Silent Diving of Brockville, Ontario and Shearwater Research of Vancouver, British Columbia.
And finally, our work on Grand Cayman would not have been possible without the generous support of Wayne Sullivan, who donated his vessel the Glen Ellen, his time (and patience), his equipment and technical diving expertise, and his crew, Brady Booton and several others.
For more information on the project, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. 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.
Nassau Grouper Shirts Back in the Online Store - After selling out, "Grumpy" shirts are now back in stock in the REEF online store. These short and long-sleeve shirts features the face of a Nassau Grouper. "Grumpy" is the artwork of Rogest, who created the piece to celebrate REEF's Grouper Moon Project and our work to conserve this Caribbean icon. The shirts feature the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". Get yours today, they won't last long.
New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club in Jamaica to our growing list of Field Stations. They join the almost 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.
Did You Know -- REEF Online Data Entry Available in All Regions - REEF surveyors in ALL regions can now submit their data online. We greatly encourage everyone to enter their surveys online rather than use the paper scanforms, if possible. And remember -- if you conduct a survey at a site that is not yet in REEF's Zone Code database, send us an email (email@example.com) with the site name and latitude/longitude of the site and we will create the code for you. The 8-digit zone code must be in the system before you can enter data from the site.
Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook - The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!
Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:
- Researchers from the Centro de Ecología Marina de Utila requested data on yellowtail snapper and other snapper and grouper species. The group is working to develop an ecosystem approach to managing Caribbean coral reefs in the face of climate change .
- Scientists from NOAA Fisheries are using sightings of the Indo-Pacific lionfish in REEF surveys to evaluate the rapid invasion of this species into the Florida Keys.
REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and REEF Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, attended a rockfish conference in Seattle earlier this week. The workshop, Rockfish Recovery in the Salish Sea: Research and Management Priorities, was organized by NOAA, WDFW, and the SeaDoc Society, and served as a venue for scientists, managers, and policy makers from throughout the region to share their work and help chart a course for future work. Christy presented an overview of REEF data collected throughout the Salish Sea, and showed distribution maps for 12 species of rockfish. The REEF Volunteer Survey Program expanded to the Northwest in 1998. To date, REEF volunteers have submitted 12,495 surveys from 781 sites throughout the Salish Sea. These data are a valuable information resource for those working to protect and restore declining rockfish populations. Several other active Pacific Northwest surveyors also attended the conference.
If you haven't had a chance to attend one of our Fishinars yet, you should! New sessions are continually being added, so check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/resources/webinars) to see the current schedule and to register for one or more sessions. These popular online training sessions (webinars) provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are open to divers, snorkelers, and devout landlubbers alike. Participation is free but you need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. You don't need a microphone or a webcam to be able to participate. Great for first-timers or those wanting a review. Upcoming sessions include:
NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO: DAPPER DOZEN Wednesday, February 1st at 5pm PST / 8pm EST
ROCKFISH ROCK Thursday, February 2nd at 6pm PST / 9pm EST
CARIBBEAN CRYPTICS Wednesday, February 15th at 6pm PST / 9pm EST
PACIFIC NW ADVANCED FISH ID Tuesday, February 21st at 7pm PST - Part 1; Wednesday, February 22nd at 7pm PST - Part 2; Thursday, February 23rd at 7pm PST - Part 3
NOT EXACTLY BUMS: FISH THAT LIVE UNDER FLORIDA'S BLUE HERON BRIDGE Wednesday, February 29th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST
PERPLEXING PARROTFISH Wednesday, March 14th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST
25 CARIBBEAN FISH YOU SHOULD KNOW Wednesday, March 28th at 5pm PST / 8pm EST
There is just one week left to Double Your Donation as part of our Summer Fundraising Campaign. We are so close to reaching our goal of raising $60,000 in 60 days! Please help us in this final stretch, every donation counts! You can contribute through our secure website at www.REEF.org/contribute, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 246 - Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030. Double your donation and ensure REEF’s marine conservation programs can continue. Your donation supports programs such as our free Fishinars, Volunteer Fish Survey database management, Lionfish outreach, and Nassau Grouper conservation and education. Thank you to all of our members who have donated so far to our summer matching campaign, and thanks to the generosity of the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation for matching your contributions!
Many of you know that REEF helps out sea-dwelling creatures, but you may not know that we also help prepare our future land-dwelling leaders to deal with issues facing our marine ecosystems. Meet the faces of our Marine Conservation Internship Program! Every four months, REEF invites hundreds of applicants to compete for four internship positions. The chosen interns implement community outreach and education programs focused on reef fish identification and lionfish handling and collection. Interns also dive and volunteer with partner organizations in the Florida Keys. Examples of some average daily intern activities include computer data entry, helping to write and layout newsletters and flyers, packaging orders, answering phone calls and e-mails, greeting visitors at REEF Headquarters, biological assessment fieldwork and data analysis, community education and outreach, writing, artwork, and GIS mapping.
For more information on this program or if you know someone who would like to apply, please visit the Internship Webpage or email General Manager, Martha Klitzkie, at Martha@reef.org. Applications for the Fall internship are due June 15th.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Lillian Kenney, one of REEF's earliest members. Lillian lives in Florida and joined REEF in our inaugural year of 1993. Lillian conducted her first survey in 1994, and has since conducted 1,250 surveys, making her a member of the Golden Hamlet Club (see article in this issue for more on this achievement). She has conducted surveys in all of REEF's tropical regions (TWA, TEP, and SOP), and is a member of the TWA Advanced Assessment Team. Here's what Lillian had to say about REEF:
How did you first hear about REEF? In what ways are you involved?
I joined REEF in 1993, when it was first started. I saw an ad in a diving magazine and it sounded like the very thing I wanted to get involved in. I missed the first classes in Key Largo, but started doing fish surveys right away. Before this, I had concentrated on photography when diving, but I always tried to ID the fish. At first I did surveys on my own, but then I heard about the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) and I took the tests and started doing Expert-level surveys. I really enjoy the camaraderie and discussing fish ID with other avid surveyors. I have done many REEF Field Survey trips over the last 20 years, including the recent ones to Fiji. The soft corals and fish in Fiji are definitely a highlight for me.
Do you dive close to where you live?
In the summer I dive regularly and do surveys in Florida. I live near the Gulf of Mexico and enjoy diving the same sites year after year to see what stays the same and note any changes. I also dive on the East Coast of Florida and in the Keys. One of my favorite sites is Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach, Florida. I always see interesting critters there.
What is your favorite fish find?
I have many favorite fish and invertebrates. If I had to pick one I guess it would be the frogfish. It is so cute and reminds me of children's bathtub toys. It is very interesting to watch as it 'walks' on the bottom. I see Striated Frogfish at Blue Heron Bridge. I have also seen the same species in Indonesia. In the Gulf I sometimes see Ocellated Frogfish.
REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Our team went to Little Cayman around full moons in both January and February this year (both because it was considered a “split year”, meaning the full moon dates were right on the line of predicting which month would be the strong spawning month). February turned out to be the big month, and spawning was seen over 3 nights starting 3 nights after full moon. Watch a short video montage of the aggregation and spawning action here - http://youtu.be/GwKVzPLgmbo
Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. This year, we tested out some new techniques for collecting and rearing fertilized eggs (in the montage video you will see a diver swimming through a spawn cloud with a plastic bag). After collecting Nassau grouper eggs during the two nights of peak spawning, Scripps scientists and REEF Grouper Moon Project volunteers cultured the eggs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman. After one night, a subset of eggs were preserved for research on fertilization rates. After two nights, the eggs had hatched, and researchers were surprised to find larval Nassau swimming around the tank the next morning. Check out this video of larval Nassau grouper under the microscope - http://youtu.be/0Vph6LzH9IE!
In addition to the research, REEF also is leading the charge on an educational program surrounding Nassau Grouper and spawning aggregations. Thanks to support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, we have created an exciting K-12 education curriculum rooted in the link between healthy reef communities (including humans) and healthy spawning aggregations. See last month's REEF newsletter for more about the Grouper Education Program.
Want to learn more about the Grouper Moon Project? Lead scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, recently gave a Perspectives in Ocean Science talk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire talk is online. Click here to watch! To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.
Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2014, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club (especially Neil van Niekerk and the crew of the Lucky Devil for taking our team out in January), and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Cayman Airways provided inter-island travel support. And the staff at Central Caribbean Marine Institute provided research space for the fertilized egg work. Thanks also to our scientists, volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible - Adam, Alex, Brenda, Bradley, Croy, Guy, Hal, Ivan, James, Josh, Keith, Leslie, Laura, Lynn, Paul, Steve, and Todd. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.
"Did you ever have a fish experience that both excited and sadden you?"
That feeling recently happened to me at the dive site Kalli's Korner in Bonaire. My husband, Chile, and I were having a great day of diving with our friends Bryan and Phyllis McCauley in their boat, Pufferfish. Towards the end of our second dive that day, I noticed a pair of eyes peeping out of some coral rubble. As I watched suddenly a small eel darted out and raced few feet before hiding again. I was immediately intrigued and, using my rattle, got my buddy Phyllis' attention. Pointing out the location, we watched as once again the little conger eel slipped out of his cover and moved away. We slowly began to approach in hope of a better look. The process continued as we sought to identify him and he continued his trek. Each time we were able to get a bit closer and look for characteristics. Finally he seem comfortable enough to look at us, as we looked at him. Suddenly, a barred hamlet appeared above him and scooped him up. Imagine our shock and horror!!! Anger raced through my body and instinctually I reached for my dive knife and took off after that (blank blank) hamlet. The chase continued as the hamlet, with his full tummy, eluded me and viewed me as if to say 'why are you after me?' What was my plan I thought later? Well, I only know if I had caught the sucker, oops fish, he would have been disemboweled in the search for the little conger eel. The sound of laughter underwater reaches me. By this time, my dive buddy is in stitches as I sheepishly return. Later research found a margaintail conger that matched our descriptions.
Now as I continue my search for what I hope are his companions, I will be keeping a wary eye out for hamlets in the surrounding area. So that’s my fish tale and now for the question: Should you report to REEF a fish, found, identified but not longer living in the underwater world?
You can bet I did.