Grouper Moon Project - Protecting a Caribbean Icon

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REEF volunteer, Heather George, swims amongst thousands of Nassau grouper, collecting information for the Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Cayman Prep 4th year students working through a lesson on Nassau grouper as part of a new education initiative that REEF is leading in the Cayman Islands. Photo by Todd Bohannon.
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A juvenile Nassau grouper finds cover in shallow seagrass and rubble off Little Cayman. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
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Dr. Steve Gittings (REEF scientific advisor, center) with Dr. Guy Harvey (left) and Dr. Brice Semmens (right), after collecting eggs on spawning night. Photo by REEF.

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. Since 2002, 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, to study this amazing natural phenomenon and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. It was a very exiting year - we documented significantly higher numbers of fish at the site than in previous years (we are estimating that the aggregation has surpassed 4,000 fish), there were a lot of small fish this year (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time), and there are hundreds of juvenile (young-of-the-year) Nassaus throughout the shallow habitats around Little Cayman (a result of 2011 spawning). Also this year, with support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we initiated an education program to introduce local children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum is being developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. We are working with educator, Todd Bohannon, and piloting this program with Cayman Prep school on Grand Cayman.

Other highlights from Grouper Moon 2012:

- To raise awareness about the importance of spawning aggregations and the iconic Nassau grouper, we hosted documentary crews and underwater photographers to help capture the magical scenes of spawning and document our research. Dr. Guy Harvey, famed marine artist, is putting the finishing touches on "Mystery of the Grouper Moon", an hour-long show that will air later this year. A crew from the PBS series "Changing Seas" is producing an episode about the conservation impacts of our research. Paul Humann, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, was on hand to document REEF's work in this important project. And Jim Hellemn brought his custom camera rig to generate wide-angle panorama images of the aggregation. These will be used to "immerse" the viewer into the aggregation at public displays.

- On spawning nights, samples of fertilized eggs were collected to use in future genetic work, to better understand spawning patterns and inter-conectedness between Nassau grouper populations throughout the Caribbean.

- Cynthia Shaw, author of the book "Grouper Moon", joined the REEF team both in the field and in the classroom this year. As a scientific illustrator, Cindy lent her expertise to helping document the details of juvenile Nassau gropuer habitat and led our Cayman Prep classrooms in drawning Nassau grouper. Cindy's book is now available in the REEF online store here.

- Research findings from the project, describing the timing and behavior of color phases on spawning in Nassau grouper, was published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Current Zoology. You can read this paper online here.

- A short compilation of underwater footage from the spawning aggregation is posted on YouTube here.

This year's effort came on the heals of the 11th hour extension of protections for the spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban that prohibits fishing at the aggregation sites during the reproductive season, originally implemented in 2003, was extended for eight more years in December 2011. The extension, enacted by the Marine Conservation Board, was in response to recommendations made by the CIDOE based on research findings of the Grouper Moon Project, showing that full protections during spawning season are critical to the long-term survival of this iconic species in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Ministry may soon review a package of more thorough legislation that would enact seasonal closures for Nassau grouper during reproductive time (rather than only protecting the few spots on the map of known spawning sites).

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. 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.

Putting It to Work: New Publication From the Grouper Moon Project

Parallel mounted lasers projected on the side of a Nassau grouper at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation.

A new paper was just published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation documenting a key monitoring technique established by scientists from REEF and our Grouper Moon collaborators. The paper, "Documenting recovery of a spawning aggregation through size frequency analysis from underwater laser calipers measurements", describes a technique to monitor changes in fish size on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation through time that does not require the capture and handling of fish. Analysis of seven years of data show that length-distribution data can be collected by divers using a video-based system with parallel lasers calibrated to a specific distance apart. This novel technique is one of just several being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. View the paper online here. Find out more about our work on endangered Nassau Grouper by visiting the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

REEF Celebrates Our Supporters at Sustainers Event

Over 100 REEF Sustainers, marine conservationists, scientists, and prominent figures in the diving industry gathered in South Florida earlier this month to commemorate REEF's successes at the biennial REEF Sustainers Event. REEF Sustainers are donors who contribute at least $1,000 a year to support REEF's programs. REEF Board of Trustees and Staff welcomed our Sustainers and other invited guests to Mango Manor, the home of esteemed underwater photographer and REEF President, Paul Humann, for a day of presentations and camaraderie. It was an honor to have so many of our donors as well as leaders from the scientific and diving communities show support for REEF’s ocean conservation projects. Their support is critical and provides the resources to continue running REEF’s key programs: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, Invasive Lionfish Program, and the Grouper Moon Project. If you would like to join REEF as a Sustainer, please contact Martha Klitzkie at martha@REEF.org or 305-852-0030. You can also make your donation through our secure online contribution portal. A special thanks to the event's sponsors and auction donors: Rocio del Mar LiveaboardRogestCaradonna Dive Adventures, Carrow Foundation, Herdeg, du Pont & Dalle Pazze, LLP, New World Publications, and Cheeko Douglas. 

REEF Database Tops 175,000!

Two of the 14,000+ REEF volunteers conducting a survey! Photo by Tom Collier.

A few weeks ago, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database topped 175,000 surveys! We are exicted and proud to have reached this milestone. Together with our 14,000+ volunteers, we have created the largest fish sightings database in the world! This vital dataset is used by marine scientists, researchers, and government agencies to better understand and protect marine resources. The number of scientific publications, requests for data, and policy decisions resulting from REEF data continue to increase. Visit our Publications page to see the citations list of scientific papers that feature REEF data. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors.

The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is the cornerstone program that supports REEF's mission to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting, and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, and the tropical West Pacific, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada and the South Atlantic States. The data are collected using an easy and standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. The first surveys were conducted 20 years ago in Key Largo, in July 1993.

Explore the REEF database online at www.REEF.org/db/reports.

Like REEF on Facebook

Want to get the latest news and updates from REEF? Then be sure to check out the REEF Facebook Page. You don't have to have a Facebook account to view the page, anyone can look at the content. If you do have a Facebook profile, be sure to "like" us so that all of the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories will go straight to your feed. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories, and whatever is on their mind. We also maintain the REEF Invasive lionfish Program Facebook Page to keep you up-to-date on our current lionfish programs.

Double Your Donation for REEF

There is one week left to DOUBLE YOUR DONATION, and we need $13,300 to reach our goal! Help REEF’s important marine conservation programs by donating to the largest matching campaign in our history. Please donate online today.

If you have already donated this season, thank you! Your contribution will help REEF support high quality citizen science data that are making a difference in our understanding of the oceans. With these discoveries come inspiration to educate communities around the world about the importance of marine conservation.

REEF is confident that with your help, we can secure $45,000 of matching funding offered by the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation and the Henry Foundation. Please take this chance to donate today and double your dollars! Donate securely online, or call us at 305-852-0030 to donate over the phone. You can also mail your donation to REEF, PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037.

Last Chance to Donate and Receive Limited Edition Print of Goliath Grouper

Thank you to everyone who supported REEF during our annual fundraising campaign! With your help, we raised enough to continue our critical marine conservation programs in 2015. These programs make a huge IMPACT worldwide and protect iconic species, such as Goliath Grouper, Nassau Grouper, manta and mobula rays, parrotfish, and rockfish. REEF also protects ocean habitats through addressing invasive species like the Indo-pacific Red lionfish.

Saturday, February 28th is the last chance to donate to REEF's annual fundraising campaign - and receive my limited edition Goliath Grouper print. For more information on how I captured this amazing moment, please check out www.REEF.org/impact. Don't miss this opportunity to share a once in a lifetime moment I was lucky enough to witness with these gentle giants of the sea.

Thank you again for your support! We rely on individual donors so we can provide quality data to researchers and scientists who are exploring our underwater world. With your help, I look forward to another year of ocean adventure and discovery!

REEF Fest 2015 a Success!

REEF Fest 2015 drew to a close last Sunday in Key Largo, Florida. Thanks to the over 200 members who came to the Keys to help us celebrate. The 4-day event featured diving, seminars, and parties. Seminar topics ranged from fish identification and behavior, to REEF's programs, to underwater encounters with animals big and small. A big thanks goes to all of our event sponsors and auction donors, including Florida Keys dive operators, hotels, and breweries. A special thanks to our platinum sponsors, Atlantis Dumaguete Resort, Explorer Ventures II, and M/V Caribbean Pearl. We especially appreciate Rob and Linda Blesser of Quiesence Diving Services for hosting our Saturday night party and providing lodging for our out-of-town staff.

Mark your calendar for REEF Fest 2016, set for September 29 - October 2, 2016. Watch the event webpage, www.REEF.org/REEFFest2016, for program updates. We hope to see you there!

Upcoming Fishinars: Lionfish, South Atlantic States, Scientific Illustration, and More

The beautiful hard bottom reefs of the South Atlantic States will be the topic of a two-part Fishinar in April. Photo by Greg McFall/NOAA.

Check out the great Fishinars we have planned for April! We invite everyone to join in the fun of learning in the convenience of your home, with these energetic and informative online webinars. Our Fishinars are free to REEF members, interactive (so you don't fall asleep), and chock full of tips and tricks to help you learn fish ID in many areas of the world.

In April, we have five Fishinars on the calendar:

  • Wednesday, April 6th - The Lionfish Invasion: Current Findings and Control Efforts, with Emily Stokes
  • Wednesday, April 13th - More Holy Moly Gobies, with Jonathan Lavan
  • Tuesday, April 19th - Fishes of the South Atlantic States (GA, SC, and NC), with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec
  • Thursday, April 21st - Invertebrates of the South Atlantic States, with Janna Nichols and Frank Krasovec
  • Tuesday, April 26th - You Do WHAT for a Living?, with marine science illustrator Val Kells. Val will be talking about what went into the drawings seen in her new book, A Field Guild to Coastal Fishes: from Alaska to California.

And coming up in May, we have even more exciting sessions in store:

  • Wednesday, May 4th - Hawaii Fishes: Life on a Coral Head, with Christy Semmens
  • Thursday, May 5th - REEF 2017 Trips Preview, with REEF trip leaders!
  • Tuesday, May 17th - The Wrasse Class: Back in School, with Jonathan Lavan
  • Thursday, May 26th - The Northeast's Less Frequently Seen Fish, with Janna Nichols and Jason Feick

Register and get more details here: www.REEF.org/fishinars. We hope to 'see' you online!

REEF Fest 2016 is Coming Up

A group photo during the Sunset Social Hour during REEF Fest in 2014.

REEF Fest 2016 in Key Largo, Florida, is just one month away, Thursday, September 29 – Sunday, October 2. Events include ocean-themed seminars, scuba diving, and social gatherings alongside marine conservation and dive industry leaders. Attendees will enjoy opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard in the truly unique habitats of the Florida Keys. Diving and other eco-ventures are offered each morning. Each afternoon, sit back and enjoy our exciting and compelling ocean-themed seminar series. Finally, wrap up your evenings wining and dining, in good company alongside a breathtaking sunset. All REEF Fest events are open to the public.

Check out full event details at www.REEF.org/REEFFest.

We hope you will join us for an unforgettable event in the beautiful Florida Keys! Click here to register. Don't forget to purchase your ticket for the Saturday Celebration Dinner Party! Seating is limited, so reserve your space today. Click here to purchase your ticket.

On Facebook? Please join the REEF Fest 2016 Facebook event page for updates on dive opportunities, event locations, and seminar topics! Click here to connect to the Facebook event!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub