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.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we feature Patricia Richardson (REEF member since 2000). Pat lives on the Big Island in Hawaii, and is a member of REEF's Hawaii Advanced Assessment Tea. Pat has conducted 778 surveys, and most of these have been done at one site. She has really enjoyed getting to know every critter that lives in her neighborhood spot. Here's what Pat had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
Richardson Ocean Park in Hilo, Hawaii, is near my home – and by chance shares my name. In 2000, I decided I wanted to learn as much as I could about the fish life in this popular beach area with the purpose of keeping a record of species diversity and general ocean health. Not long after I began my project, Liz Foote and Donna Brown came to Hilo to conduct a REEF training session. The REEF survey methods were a perfect match with my personal project! Before I left the training session, I was signed up, tested for Level 2, and hooked! I submitted my first survey dated January, 2001.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Since then I have become SCUBA certified and have participated in four REEF survey trips in Hawaii led by Christy and Brice Semmens. My favorite was the trip to Kauai in August of 2006. I saw my first pair of Tinker’s Butterflyfish, also a Hawaiian Morwong and a Whiskered Boarfish. The last two fish are more common in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands than in our main islands. We were also thrilled to see Hawaiian monk seals on several dives. Another REEF adventure was a trip to American Samoa in 2010 to help REEF extend survey methods into the South Pacific. This was my first chance to do surveys out of my home waters. It was very exciting to see many new species along with familiar “faces” from Hawaii.
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?
Keeping a close watch on the fish life at Richardson Ocean Park is still my favorite activity. I use mask, snorkel, and fins because the average depth of the area I survey is 4 to 6 feet, with occasional drops to 20 feet if the surf is down. A single survey usually takes about 2.5 hours. After ten years and about 700 surveys in this one small area, I am still amazed each time I enter the water with the constant change and constant beauty I find there. From time to time, something new pops up to keep me alert. Recently it was a Yellowhead (Banded) Moray. And a couple times it was a Hawaiian Monk Seal! Unfortunately, there’s no place on the data sheet for that! I also drive to Kona on the west side of Hawaii Island to dive and snorkel, always with my underwater survey slate in hand.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
My connection with REEF gives me the satisfaction of being a “citizen scientist” and a good excuse to spend several hours each week following beautiful fish around and watching their fascinating behavior. After a decade as a REEF fish counter, I am looking forward to the next decade. It’s the greatest retirement project I can imagine!
Want to learn a few of the Hawaiian fishes that Pat loves so well? Join the upcoming Fishinar, March 21st:
Fish that Say Aloha! Hawaii's Top 15
Hawaiian REEF Fish ID: Learn tips from REEF Experts and fish geeks, Donna Brown and Liz Foote.
Essential for dive travelers heading to the Hawaiian Islands, and kama'aina alike.
Wednesday, March 21st at 4pm HST / 7pm PDT / 10pm EDT - Register
We are pleased to introduce our latest Marine Conservation Interns - Lucy Davis and Brandon Lenderink. Lucy was born and raised in Texas and has spent the past few years traveling around the world. In 2009, she lived in New Zealand assisting with various research projects using her underwater skills as a diver and driving boats. She recently went backpacking through Southeast Asia where she was able to dive and see the Lionfish in its native habitat. Although she began her college degree in elementary education, Lucy now is focusing more on environmental education. Brandon is a Colorado native and a recent biology graduate whose passion for wildlife and conservation has led him to pursue a career in marine biology. Brandon has worked as an aquarist for the Denver Downtown Aquarium, promoting conservation and working the animals such as endangered turtles and Sumatran tigers, as well as for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the Aquatic Nuisance Species program. Brandon’s future goals are to become a research diver and scuba instructor.
The REEF internship program provides college age juniors, seniors, and graduate students the opportunity to experience working at a nonprofit environmental organization. Interns assist REEF staff with education, outreach, lionfish research, and day-to-day office assistance. Many REEF interns move on to successful careers in conservation and the marine environment, including natural resource agencies, academics, and conservation non-profits (including REEF). If you or someone you know is interested in applying to be a future REEF Intern, visit the application page -- http://www.REEF.org/about/internships/application.
A big fish thanks to the 222 volunteers who conducted REEF surveys in the last three months (Dec '11-Feb '12). A total of 1,746 surveys were conducted and submitted during this time!
REEF members who have conducted the most surveys in the last three months:
TWA – Dee Scarr (78), Franklin Neal (45), Michael Phelan (43)
NE – Joseph Mangiafico (13), Michael Murphy (5), Eric Heupel (5)
PAC – Randall Tyle (38), Phil Green (32), Georgia Arrow (15)
TEP – Pam Wade (20)
HAW – Judith Tarpley (41), MJ Farr (35), Patricia Richardson (30)
To date, 157,298 surveys have been conducted by REEF volunteers.
Visit www.REEF.org/db/stats to see the Top 10 surveyors with the most surveys conducted to date, the most species-rich locations, and most frequently sighted fish species.
Want to get the latest news and updates from REEF? Then be sure to check our the REEF Facebook Page. You don't have to be on Facebook to view the page, but 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 ionfish Program Facebook Page to keep you up-to-date on our current lionfish programs.
Are you ready to take a dive trip that counts? If you are looking to spend a week in a wonderful destination, learning and exploring with a group of fun and like-minded divers and snorkelers, then don't miss out on a REEF Trip. Now is the time to book your 2012 Field Survey with one of REEF's expert guides. Get in touch with our travel experts at Caradonna to find out more and to book your space - 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Details are given below and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips
April 21-28 - Nevis - Oualie Beach Resort. Led by Christy Semmens, REEF Director of Science.
May 26-June 2 (SOLD OUT) - Sun Dancer II, Belize - Lionfish Control Study, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects and Peter Hughes.
June 9-16 (SOLD OUT) and June 16-23 (2 SPACES LEFT) - San Blas Islands, Panama - Coral Lodge, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author.
July 14-21 - Lionfish workshop in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects.
July 28 - August 4 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Author.
September 22-29 (6 SPACES LEFT)- Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens, REEF Director of Science, REEF Researcher.
September 26-30 (SOLD OUT) - Hornby Island, British Columbia - Hornby Island Diving, led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator.
October 6-13 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers.
November 10-17, British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert.
December 1-8 (SOLD OUT), Cozumel - Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin, REEF Expert.