Grouper Moon Project Results in Sweeping Science-Based Protections For Nassau Grouper

Nassau Grouper, an icon of Caribbean reefs, receives broad protections in the Cayman Islands. Photo by Stephanie Archer/Grouper Moon Project.
One of thousands - Nassau Grouper at the spawning aggregation on the west end of Little Cayman, the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn, (c) Grouper Moon Project.
A spawning burst of Nassau Grouper, captured at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation. Photo by Jim Hellemn, (c) Grouper Moon Project.

We are excited and very proud to share amazing news – on August 15, 2016, the Cayman Islands government enacted a comprehensive set of regulations aimed at recovering Nassau Grouper, an endangered Caribbean reef fish. The new rules are based on more than a decade of collaborative fisheries research carried out by the Grouper Moon Project. REEF initiated the Grouper Moon Project in 2001 in collaboration with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, and it has become one of our flagship programs. We work in partnership with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Oregon State University. The project is the Caribbean’s oldest continuous grouper spawning aggregation research program, and represents one of the most advanced, multi-faceted tropical fisheries research programs in the world.

The regulations represent the Caribbean’s most progressive set of management actions for Nassau Grouper, and include:

  • All take, possession, or sale of Nassau Grouper is prohibited from December through April (during the spawning months for the species)
  • When take is permitted (May – November), only fish between 16"-24” can be kept and no more than 5 Nassau Grouper per fishing vessel per day can be kept
  • Nassau Grouper may not be taken on spear gun at any time

Many of you have followed the progress of the Grouper Moon Project through the years. Our research has focused on the west-end aggregation site on Little Cayman, which supports one of the last great reproductive populations of this endangered species. Lessons learned in the Cayman Islands have benefited Nassau Grouper conservation efforts throughout the Caribbean.

The sweeping protections enacted for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands last month represent the kind of action-oriented work that REEF is known for. This science-based management action would not have been possible without the dedication of Grouper Moon scientists and the support of REEF donors and volunteers. We greatly appreciate all our members who have contributed financially to REEF to make this important work possible.

We look forward to continuing our important work on spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands and beyond. In addition to support from our members, REEF's work in the Grouper Moon Project has been supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program and Disney Conservation Fund. Significant field logistics support has been provided by Peter Hillenbrand, Southern Cross Club, and Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers.

For more information, visit And be sure to check out the PBS Changing Seas documentary filmed a few years ago about our work in the Cayman Islands.

Protecting Our Oceans Through Citizen Science

Donors giving $250 or more will receive this limited edition, signed and numbered Paul Humann print featuring two Mandarinfish.

In December, we described ways REEF is working to inspire people around the world to cherish and protect our marine resources. We hope you were inspired to make a contribution so we can continue this critical work. If you haven’t already given, please donate online at, mail your donation to REEF at PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037, or call us at 305-852-0030.

Now, more than ever, we need your help to foster support for the amazing biodiversity of marine species and ocean ecosystems. Our programs promote citizen science as a way to fill data gaps in our understanding of ocean creatures and habitats. Collecting these data on temperature fluctuations, invasive species, and overall declines in fish populations, is critical to ensure these impacts are documented.

In 2017, your donation will enable REEF staff to:

  • Continue adding to over 211,000 surveys in REEF’s Fish Survey Project database, making it the largest fish sighting database in the world and an invaluable resource for scientists
  • Ensure new ground-breaking protections for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands stay in effect, and provide local students innovative educational experiences about this iconic fish
  • Protect native fishes that are being threatened by the invasive lionfish in the Atlantic
  • Provide high quality hands-on experiences that connect youth to the ocean through our Explorers Program and Marine Conservation Internship Program
  • Coordinate fun and interesting “Fishinars” that teach people about fish identification and other marine conservation issues from the comfort of their own home

Please make a donation to REEF today so we can continue our mission and demonstrate why our oceans are worth protecting. From the tiniest zooplankton to a large fish like the Nassau Grouper, marine species rely on each other and more importantly, they rely on us to ensure our ocean ecosystems are healthy.

And remember, for your donation of $250 or more, we will be happy to send you a limited-edition, signed and numbered print of this Mandarinfish scene. All donors who contribute $500 or more will receive their name on a fish plaque on the “Giving REEF” at Headquarters in Key Largo, FL.

2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Series

REEF Staff taking scientific samples and processing lionfish at a derby.
Invasive lionfish are found to grow much larger in the invaded western Atlantic than they do in their native range of the Indo-Pacific.
Lionfish Culinary Demonstration at a REEF Derby. Photo by Donna Dietrich.

Summer is just around the corner and that means the annual REEF Lionfish Derby Series is almost here! Whether you just want to watch the festivities and taste some delicious lionfish bites, or you want to join the derby and compete with other lionfish hunters for over $3,500 in cash prizes, we have something fun for you. This year, REEF will be hosting four lionfish derbies throughout Florida: Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Key Largo, and Juno Beach. REEF Derbies are hugely popular events that remove hundreds to thousands of invasive lionfish from local reefs over a single weekend. The derbies significantly reduce the numbers of lionfish and help native fishes maintain healthy populations. Find out  all the details on REEF’s 2017 Lionfish Derby Series here:

This year, at the Palm Beach County Derby, in partnership with Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the NUISANCE Group, we are turning the derby into a festival! There will be a kids' craft area, live music, a lionfish culinary competition, and Lagunitas Brewing Company will be providing the adult refreshments. In order to taste the delicious lionfish dishes that our competing chefs will be cooking up, be sure to purchase a VIP Pass on our website!

If you can’t make it to the Palm Beach County Derby, don’t worry, every derby has fun and educational activities for the whole family to enjoy, including cornhole, lionfish dissection demonstrations, and a raffle.

2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Dates:

    • Sarasota Lionfish Derby – July 7th-9th
    • Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby – July 14th-15th
    • Upper Keys Lionfish Derby – July 28th-29th
    • Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby – August 11th-13th

Check out the REEF Derby webpage for more information. The 2017 REEF Lionfish Derby Series is sponsored in part by the Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Whole Foods, ZooKeeper LLC and hosted in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory, 15th Street Fisheries, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE . . . DUKE OF REEF . . .

Joe Cavanaugh and Leda A. Cunningham with new fall intern Erin Whitaker
Executive Director, Leda Cunningham, presents our fabulous Summer interns, Marissa Nuttall our Texas Aggie and Paige Switzer our South Carolina girl, with a certificate of appreciation for all the tremendous work they accomplished this summer

We had a number of applicants for the Fall session and narrowing the intern pool to just two applicants was tough because everyone that applied were wonderful candidates.   This month we're introducing you to Catherine Whitaker (aka Erin) who (thankfully) arrived early to cross train with our fabulous summer interns before they departedon August 17th.  Next month we'll highlight our final recipient, Lauren Finan, who will arrive the week of August 20th.

Erin is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.    She's had a variety of jobs during her undergraduate career all of which honed her skills in preparation for a career in Marine Biology.  She is well versed in the REEF methodology having completed juvenile fish, fish, and coral abundance and distribution surveys while working with Centro Ecologico de Akumal.  As a Scuba Divemaster, Erin taught scuba to tourists and locals of all ages instilling a sense of excitement and pride for marine life to her students.  During her time at Duke, she served as research assistant to many professors and non-profit organizations and volunteered as an assistant aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium. 

While in Maine she was sampling algae and young lobsters for a census survey (we could use that here).  At the Linney genetics laboratory Erin was responsible for feeding and cleaning tanks of 3000 zebra fish.  At the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems branch of the Smithsonian, Erin assisted a PhD candidate on her research relating to the effect of parrotfish on corals as well as the coral-symbiont relationship in a stressful environment, the list goes on as does her travels.  She has been to Ankarafantsika, Madagascar as a field assistant; Caye Caulker, Belize as an underwater tour guide; Manila, Philippines as a U.S. Embassy Protocol Office Assistant; Sofia, Bulgaria as a U.S. Embassy Consular Section Aide.  REEF is very fortunate to have someone of Erin's caliber interning with us this fall.  She feels working with REEF is an ideal opportunity for her to test her ability to integrate scientific investigation, conservation efforts and a flair for reaching out to people for the betterment of our environment, while working toward her masters.

Announcing Online Data Entry for Pacific and Hawaii Regions

The all new REEF Online Data Entry Interface.

The long wait is finally over! REEF is proud to announce the launch of an expanded online data entry interface that now includes surveys conducted in the Pacific (California – British Columbia) and Hawaii regions. Surveyors in these regions can now enter data online and enjoy quicker processing time to view their data. With more than 2,000 survey forms coming in to REEF HQ each month, this expanded service will both improve efficiency and reduce rising costs of processing data. The program will eliminate many of the common clerical errors and will flag potential species misidentification based on existing REEF sightings data. REEF originally launched online data entry for surveys conducted in the Tropical Western Atlantic region (includes East and Gulf Coasts of US, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda) in February 2005. Here are answers to some of the most common questions

When and how?
Starting today, members can go online to and enter data for surveys conducted anywhere in these Volunteer Survey Project regions. You will log in using your REEF member number and last name.
Will the data immediately be added to the REEF database?
No, similar to data submitted via paper scanform, REEF staff will run the data through error checking programs first. However, overall processing time will be greatly reduced.
Will I still be able to submit data using the paper scanforms?
Yes, REEF will continue to provide and process paper scanforms. However, beginning in 2008, REEF will charge a nominal fee per paper scanform to cover rising costs in processing these paper forms.

A very big thank you to Dr. Michael Coyne, REEF’s longtime database programmer and overall IT guru, for making this new program a reality, and to stellar REEF volunteers Janna Nichols, Liz Foote, Carl Gwinn, Herb Gruenhagen, and Janet Eyre for their help in beta testing the program.

To find out more, visit

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.

Fall Fundraising

The 2008 Fall Fundraising premium image - a male yellowhead jawfish guarding a brood of eggs in his mouth. Photo by Paul Humann.

Here at REEF, we are tightening our belts and doubling our efforts to keep our long tradition of service alive during these challenging financial times. As never before, we are counting on your financial support, which for nearly two decades has been the cornerstone of our grass-roots’ partnership protecting the marine environment. Watch your mail for REEF's Fall Fundraising appeal. Or better yet, don’t wait and donate today using our secure online form.  Once again, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, Paul Humann, has donated a special signed print as a premium gift for REEF members donating $250 or more. This year's print features a beautiful male yellowhead jawfish guarding a brood of eggs in his mouth.

Since its inception REEF’s accomplishments have been powered by volunteers and donations from many friends like you who have a strong commitment to the health and protection of the natural world. We attribute our longevity to service, ethics, innovation and the wise use of this funding. We are proud to maintain one of the lowest administrative to program cost ratios in the non-profit sector. Even so, we have been able to increase our services and support long-term projects, such as the Volunteer Survey Project, the Grouper Moon Project, and the Lionfish Invasion Research Program.

Thank you for considering a gift of any size, we truly appreciate your support and your belief in our mission.

Online Data Entry 2.0 - Now Available For All Regions

The online Data Entry interface --
With the expanding availabitly of wireless internet, REEF volunteers can submit their surveys online almost anywhere. Photo by Janna Nichols.
REEF surveys conducted throughout the REEF project regions can now be submitted online.

We are excited to announce the launch of Online Data Entry 2.0. The new version includes several upgrades and now encompasses all of REEF's project regions. At long last, our REEF surveyors in the Tropical Eastern Pacific region (Baja Mexico - Galapagos Islands) and the Northeast US & Canada (Virginia - Newfoundland) are able to submit their survey data online. In addition, based on feedback from our members, the interface to add unlisted species has been greatly improved. Additional new features include: surveyors can now remain logged in for multiple submissions, ability to delete a survey in your queue, and the number of species entered is given on the summary page to cross-check with the survey paper. The Online Data Entry interface can be found at If you have feedback or suggestions you can send them to

The online data entry interface allows volunteers to log on to the REEF Website and complete data entry, either during one or multiple sessions, and includes a variety of error checking features. Submissions of Volunteer Survey Project data through the online interface is becoming the preferred method among our volunteers, due to the quick turnaround in processing (typically posted to their personal survey log report within 2 weeks versus 10 weeks) as well as the time and money savings for the volunteer. Similarly, REEF strongly encourages online submission due to the higher quality of data that are submitted (the program eliminates clerical errors and missing data, and requires surveyors to verify questionable sightings), as well as the comparably minimal staff and natural resources that are required to process the survey data. Paper scanforms will still be available and will continue to be accepted.

If you are new to entering REEF data online, check out these instructions and this past enews article on data entry tips. Most notably:

  • In order to submit a survey from a location, REEF must have an 8-digit zone code for the site in our database first. Existing zone codes are listed at To have a zone code assigned for a new site, please contact us at
  • REEF first launched online data entry for the Tropical Western Atlantic region in 2005. To date, over 15,000 REEF surveys have been submitted online. REEF is beginning work on developing an offline entry program that will enable surveyors to electronically capture data offline and later submit the survey information through the existing REEF online data entry interface. Stay tuned for updates.

    We would like to extend a very big thank you to Michael Coyne for all of his work on the new Online Data Entry interface. His assistance and support through the years is much appreciated!

    2009 Keys Community Award Presented at REEF Holiday Open House

    John Pelletier, Sr., was on hand to accept the REEF Keys Community Volunteer Award in memory of his son Chip Pelletier.
    Nancy Perez, Ned DeLoach, Jane Bixby, John Pelletier, Sr., and Anna DeLoach.

    REEF relies on the contributions of its volunteers and donors, whether it is taking a survey, helping pay the bills or participating in a conservation project - everything we do makes a difference. John “Chip” Pelletier, a volunteer at REEF Headquarters made a difference. Every week, Chip quietly showed up at the Lockwood REEF Headquarters and worked for hours, mowing, weeding, clearing and keeping the grounds. Chip passed away in October and is truly missed by our community. In December during REEF’s Holiday Open House, on Chip’s behalf, his father John Pelletier, Sr., accepted the 2009 REEF Keys Community Volunteer Award. The award is given to a member of the Keys community in appreciation for extraordinary service to REEF.

    In addition to honoring Chip, the Holiday Open House was a fun evening that brought together REEF volunteers and supporters in the Key Largo community. Anna and Ned DeLoach hosted the event and spent the evening chatting with everyone, signing books, and raffling items. There was plenty of laughter and holiday spirit. A big thanks to Nancy Perez and Diana Philips for making sure that the food was plentiful and Headquarters looked festive.

    REEF Fish and Friends - A Monthly Gathering in Key Largo

    Lad Akins discusses the Great Annual Fish Count during this month's Fish & Friends event in Key Largo.
    Zach Bamman, REEF's Summer Intern, dissected one of the freshly caught lionfish that was brought in to REEF HQ.

    In April 2009, REEF started a monthly seminar series to give back to the community that has housed and supported REEF since our inception. REEF Fish & Friends gathers snorkelers, divers, and armchair naturalists at REEF HQ in Key Largo to learn more about fish and have some fun. The July seminar for REEF, Fish & Friends was all about the Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC). Lad Akins, REEF Director of Operations, presented a brief overview of the event and its’ 18 year history.His enthusiasm and humor encouraged participants to get involved in the annual event with the hope they will continue to conduct fish surveys and contribute to REEF’s database year-round. The How, When, and Where of conducting a survey was explained and the materials needed were shown.

    Several of the people attending the seminar brought in Lionfish along with the data regarding their capture. Lad briefly updated the audience on the status of the Lionfish in the Florida Keys and thanked the local dive community for their ongoing efforts in controlling this invasive species. Zach Bamman, REEF’s summer intern, offered to dissect one of the freshly caught Lionfish and this generated a lot of interest. He is a Senior at the University of Central Florida, majoring in Environmental Sciences.

    The August REEF Fish & Friends will feature Lauri MacLaughlin from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Her presentation entitled “SPAWN-TANEOUS Corals Catch the Corals in The Act" , will document the annual spawning event over the last 14 years through lecture and video presentation. This is big summer event and Lauri will educate divers prior to their night dive so they will fully appreciate what they are about to see.

    REEF Fish & Friends is held the second Tuesday of each month from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at the James E. Lockwood REEF Headquarters at MM 98.3 Key Largo. We invite everyone to stop in and share some food, drink, good conversation, and hear a relevant topic about REEF’s projects or a mini fish ID seminar.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub