Grouper Moon Project - 15th Year of Conservation Science in the Cayman Islands

Protecting a Caribbean Icon - Over 4000 Nassau Grouper gather at the spawning aggregation on Little Cayman. The site is protected during the winter months. Photo by Paul Humann.
REEF Grouper Moon team member, Dr. Scott Heppell, swimming in the aggregation. Numbers, sizes, behaviors are all documented. Photo by Josh Stewart.
Starting a few nights after full moon, the fish change colors to almost all bicolor and spawn. Spawning happens right at dusk, and occurs over several evenings. Then the fish all leave the site and go back to their home reefs for another year. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

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). In it's 15th year, this important project focuses on 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.

Several interesting video clips and stories from the field were posted on REEF's Facebook page. Be sure to check it out and like our page to keep updated on all REEF's programs.

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.

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 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? Watch this short PBS documentary about our efforts. 

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 2016, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, and local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club. Funding from the Disney Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. FLOW 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, REEF volunteers, and partners who made this year's efforts possible. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Summer Fundraising Goal Achieved!

Pink Anemonfish in the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Paul Humann.

Thank you so much to everyone that donated during our summer matching campaign! We reached our goal, as REEF members donated more than $56,100 this summer to fund our critical programs. These donations were matched dollar for dollar, up to $55,000 by the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, the Henry Foundation, and the Pelton Charitable Foundation. From research on Grouper Moon to controlling invasive lionfish programs and discovering new species, REEF's programs are increasing knowledge of the unknown beneath our seas!

We sincerely thank all our donors for their support. You make it possible for us to provide critical data that results in marine species and habitat protection.

Best Fishes,

Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder

A Great Lineup of Fishinars Planned for 2017

Vagabond Butterflyfish is one of the fish that will be covered in the upcoming two-part Fishinar series on Butterflyfishes of the Tropical Pacific. Photo by Jeffrey Haines.

REEF staff have been busy putting together the 2017 schedule of exciting online REEF Fishinars for you! This year, Fishinar topics focus on Tropical West Pacific Fishes (HAW, CIP and SOP regions), as well as fish found in the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) region - the Sea of Cortez and Galapagos. And of course, we'll have several targeting Caribbean fishes - can't forget them! Check out the lineup now by visiting www.REEF.org/fishinars and register for the ones that tickle your fancy. Once you sign up, you'll receive a confirmation email, and as the date gets closer, you'll receive 3 reminder emails too.

What's a Fishinar? REEF's brand of online webinars that are live, fun, interactive, and educational. Never boring! They last one hour, and you can log on from your home computer, or mobile device. Because we record all our Fishinars, if for some reason you wind up missing the session, you'll be able to request to view it later at your convenience. Did you know we have more than archived 120 Fishinars you can view? Check 'em all out here: www.REEF.org/fishinararchives.

We hope you'll join us for at least one - and hopefully many more!

 

Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) Wrap-Up for July

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Upper Keys AAT - Mike Smith, Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Brenda Hitt
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Middle Keys AAT - Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Paige Switzer, Wayne Manning, Brenda Hitt, and Ann Outlaw
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Joe Cavanaugh, Brian Hufford, Dave Grenda, Erin Whitaker, Mike Phelan, and Brenda Hitt

REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project.  Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program - http://www.reef.org/member/aat.htm.  Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff.  To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here - http://www.reef.org/member/experience.htm.

Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments.  The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The ship impacted the reef's upper fore reef and remained aground for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework.  In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the grounding site, restoration began in May 2002. REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.

The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002.  Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef.  Pursuant to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF) to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented.  The UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites.  Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.

I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks.  In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight!  Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.

Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled).  Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year.  Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA.  It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854.  We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event.  You will hear more about this project in the coming months.

Hope to see you in the water soon.

Best "fishes,"

Joe

REEF 2008 Field Survey T-Shirt Contest

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Help REEF Create The 2008 Field Survey Shirt
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2007 Bonaire Field Survey Team Led by Ned and Anna Deloach
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Paul Humann led Utila Field Survey, Oct.2007

REEF is asking any interested REEF members to submit to us a Field Survey T-shirt design for our upcoming 2008 season. Those of you who have participated in the past on a REEF Field Survey know that you receive a t-shirt as part of your participation in the program and every year we have a different design. There are only a couple of guidelines for you. Our new REEF Shirt must incorporate our REEF flag with our slogan, Diving That Counts! (I will send interested parties the jpeg file upon request). You do not need to incorporate the dive flag directly into the design, it may simply be on the front breast pocket of the t-shirt, for instance, with your design on the back and in this case, no need to ask
for our logo, we'll take care of that.

You should keep in mind our mission as stated on the top of our homepage, and our mantra, "diving that counts." Also please keep in mind that REEF actively surveys in 5 regions, not just the tropical western Atlantic. Please send your submissions to joe@reef.org, making sure they are in an easily readable format such as a jpeg file (preferred). Please send all entries in by Dec. 31, 2007.

Depending on the number of submissions we receive, we may have our members vote on the winner in January of 2008. Past t-shirts have had fish images, divers surveying, cartoons depicting divers surveying with witticisms, watercolors of fish, etc. Most importantly, our t-shirt design should incorporate the conservation-based focus of our Field Survey Program.

Thanks in advance for your participation and our staff will look forward to your entries. First prize will be a signed and framed 2008 Paul Humann print of two beautiful Eagle Rays.

 

Field Survey Season 2008 - 5 Spaces are still available for our Turks and Caicos Liveaboard on Aggressor II, April 19-26, 2008.
Please contact Travel for You at 1-888-363-3345 or Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030. The 2008 Field Survey page will be completed shortly - please check back in a week for final content.

Grouper Moon Project Kicks Off Expanded Research Efforts

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Thousands of Nassau grouper in spawning colorations aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in January. Photo by Phil Bush.
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A Nassau grouper from Cayman Brac that will be acoustically tagged to better understand local reproductive behaviors.
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The 2008 team of Grouper Moon researchers and REEF volunteers.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, entitled "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.

In 2003 the Cayman Islands government protected all five known current and historic Nassau grouper spawning sites in the Cayman Islands. This move was motivated by the 2001 discovery and rapid depletion of a large spawning aggregation (~7000 fish) on the west end of Little Cayman. This rapid legislative response protected the west-end spawning site before all the fish were taken (~3,000 remain), and the site is now one of the largest fully-protected Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in existence. However, the other four spawning sites had previously been fished to exhaustion and are believed to be inactive, i.e. aggregations no longer occur during spawning season.

Over the next three years, REEF will continue the ongoing aggregation monitoring and acoustic research that has been conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation since 2002 and expand efforts to Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, where historical spawning aggregations were fished out during the last ten years. Four primary research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest-funded project are: 1) Do aggregations form in regions that have been fished out? 2) If aggregations form, do the fish ultimately spawn? 3) Do these aggregations form at historic sites or somewhere else? And, 4) Does spawning at these remnant aggregations result in new recruitment?

The new research kicked into gear last month with a team of Grouper Moon scientists and REEF volunteers who conducted twelve days of field work in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The team visually monitored the Little Cayman aggregation, documenting the largest number of fish since the fishing ban was implemented in 2003. Spectacular mass spawning was documented at dusk seven days after the full moon. Grouper Moon scientists conducted extensive work on Cayman Brac to enable future visual monitoring on the historical aggregation site and initiate an acoustic tagging study that will facilitate a better understanding of the behaviors of Nassau grouper on an island with a limited number of reproductively-aged individuals. Later this Spring and Summer, REEF researchers, volunteers and an OSU graduate student will return to the Cayman Islands to conduct larval recruitment studies and begin acoustic tagging on Grand Cayman.

Capitalizing on the the increased breadth of research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest Ocean Program grant, the CIDOE is supporting a larval dispersal study that also kicked off this year under the guidance of Dr. Scott Heppell from OSU. Three satellite drifters were deployed at the Little Cayman aggregation site on the night of spawning. The paths will be recorded by ARGOS satellites for 45 days and the resulting data will be used to develop a larval dispersal model in collaboration with researchers from University of Miami. Check out the 2008 image gallery to see where the drifters are today.

Visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage to find out more about this critical conservation research program and the 2008 Gallery page to see images and video of the field work.

REEF extends a big thank you to the island business who continue to support this project, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, as well as Peter Hillenbrand and Mary Ellen Cutts, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and the 2008 REEF Volunteer Team -- Judie Clee, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell, and Leslie Whaylen.  We also greatly appreciate the continued support of our collaborative team, including the CIDOE and OSU, and the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

REEF News Tidbits for June

Please Help REEF Meet Our Summer Fundraising Goal! -- Please remember to donate online today through our secure website or call the REEF office (305-852-0030).

Pre-order Your Copy of the 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification -- Greatly expanded and improved, the 2nd edition includes more than 30 new species and 70 new photographs.  It's the perfect identification resource for surveyors from California to Alaska.  Orders are being taken now through the REEF online store.  Copies will be shipped by the end of July.

Upcoming Lionfish Research Project Opportunity -- Interested in seeing REEF's lionfish research first-hand?  Join us and our partners from the National Aquarium in Washington D.C., the Bermuda government, and Ned and Anna DeLoach at Stuart Cove's in the Bahamas September 14-20.  Click here to find out more.

REEF News Tidbits for September

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Limited Edition Lionfish Print by Rogest!  REEF friend and world famous painter, diver and character extraordinaire, Ron Steven (aka Rogest), has offered a limited edition version of his lionfish print as a vehicle to focus attention on the huge problem of invading Pacific Lionfish in Caribbean and Atlantic Waters. Limited Edition, 200 prints available. Only $25.  100% of the proceeds to benefit the REEF Lionfish Research Program. Buy yours through the online REEF store today.

- REEF's Lionfish Research Project continues to be widely covered by the media. Some of the recent coverage includes National Geographic and The Nature Conservancy's Magazine. Check out the Lionfish Media page for a complete list and links.

- There are still a few spaces left on the second Cozumel trip, December 13-18.

Belize Lionfish Project - Last few remaining spots

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Lionfish are rapidly invading Belize and other Central American countries. Help do something about the problem on a special benefit trip aboard the Sun Dancer. Photo by Rich Carey.

Needed -- a few more volunteers for this critical marine conservation project in Belize! Peter Hughes and REEF’s Lad Akins will lead this great project aboard the livaboard dive vessel Sun Dancer II, June 13-20. I am sure that most of you have been following the news about the lionfish invasion and the recent updates on fish beginning to show up in Belize. We are really concerned about this. The Central American coast is going to be the most likely pathway for introduction of the fish into the Gulf of Mexico and the extremely valuable fish and shrimp industry there.

What can we do? One of the first things that can be done is early detection and rapid response to remove these fish as they show up. To that end Peter Hughes Diving has worked with REEF to organize the first lionfish assessment and removal project in Belize (or anywhere in Central America for that matter!). This is going to be a great first effort on detecting fish, removing what we see and training local staff on how to collect and handle the fish so they can remove them year-round.

What do we need? We need more of you! We need your interest, expertise and involvement to make this project a success. We know that times are tight and there is concern over travel to some areas, but this project is not to be missed. We will be offshore on the Sun Dancer II, one of the most highly regarded liveaboards in the region. First class service, first class diving and a very important mission!

We hope you can make this project! For more information and to sign up, call Peter Hughes Diving at 1-800 9 DANCER (800-932-6237). You can also contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, with any of your lionfish questions and to find out more about this trip (lad@reef.org, 305-852-0030).

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sevengill Shark Sightings on the Rise in Southern California

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The majestic broadnose sevengill shark. Photo by Scott McGee - underpressurephoto.com

Active REEF surveyor, Mike Bear, and other San Diego area divers started noticing something unexpected earlier this year -- increasing numbers of encounters with the Bluntnose Sevengill Shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark. Knowing first hand the impact that divers and snorkelers can have as citizen scientists, Mike set up a website - http://sevengillsharksightings.org -- to serve as a central repository for photographic, videographic and written data on these magnificent creatures. Submissions on the site will allow REEF surveyors who are lucky enough to encounter this prehistoric species to provide additional information and images beyond the sighting and abundance information recorded as part of their REEF survey. It will also enable divers who were not doing a REEF survey to report their encounter. One of the most interesting parts of the website will be the development of an informal photographic database of Sevengill sightings that will facilitate the comparison of photographs and the potential identification of individual sharks using the unique pattern of dark "freckles" on the backs of each shark, similar to the patterns seen on whale sharks. To date, six REEF surveys in San Diego have reported a Sevengill (click here to see the sightings report).

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub