Grouper Moon Project - Protecting a Caribbean Icon

REEF volunteer, Heather George, swims amongst thousands of Nassau grouper, collecting information for the Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Paul Humann.
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.
A juvenile Nassau grouper finds cover in shallow seagrass and rubble off Little Cayman. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
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 - If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF -

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 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

Upcoming Fishinars

Our 2014 Fishinar schedule is off to a great start! We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike. Check out the full schedule at Fishinars coming up include:

  • Butterflies and Angels: Kings and Queens of the Reef - Jonathan Lavan, April 1st, tonight!
  • A Few Mind-Blowing Fish Every Ichthyo-Geek Should Know About - Ray Troll, April 16th
  • What I Did On My Fall Vacation – Research on the Fishes of Southern California Oil/Gas Platforms - Dr. Milton Love, April 22nd
  • Hawaii's Wrascally Wrasses - Heather George, Liz Foote, and Donna Brown, May 13th
  • Coralinar! - Dr. Marilyn Brandt, May 29th
  • Eastside vs Westside: Lookalike Fish from the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, Andy Lamb and Andy Martinez, June 19

REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!

REEF’s Annual Lionfish Derby Series Culminates with a Successful New Event “Corals In & Lionfish Out”

Lionfish OUT. Volunteers at the 5th annual Key Largo Lionfish Derby removed 573 lionfish. Photo by REEF.
Corals IN. Volunteers at the first annual Plant-a-Thon planted 765 coral recruits. Photo by Tim Grollimund.

REEF teamed up with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) during the second week of September to host the first-ever “Corals In & Lionfish Out,” a series of events to engage and educate the public while raising funds for coral restoration and invasive lionfish removal efforts in the Florida Keys. “Corals In & Lionfish Out” coincided with REEF’s Fifth Annual Key Largo Lionfish Derby, which was held at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Sept. 13. During the Derby, 15 teams of divers and snorkelers competed from sunrise until 5PM, and removed a total of 573 lionfish from reefs in the Upper Keys. In addition to the 79 Derby participants, many other Florida Keys residents and visitors came to the Derby to sample lionfish ceviche, witness lionfish dissections, and learn more about the lionfish invasion. The Key Largo Lionfish Derby was the fourth and final in REEF’s 2014 Derby series, which collectively removed 2,677 lionfish from reefs in South Florida and The Bahamas.

The events leading up to the Key Largo Lionfish Derby included REEF’s monthly “Fish and Friends” social, which featured a presentation on invasive lionfish by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Elizabeth Underwood, REEF Lionfish Program Manager. Ken Nedimyer, the Founder and President of CRF, also shared a lecture about the history and future of coral restoration in the Florida Keys and ways to become involved in the work. Following this seminar, CRF held its Coral Plant-a-Thon on September 11. During the one-day Plant-a-Thon, 765 corals were planted by 11 divers in near-shore patch reefs in the Upper Keys. In conjunction with the week’s outstanding coral planting and lionfish removal efforts, more than $1,000 was raised to support CRF and REEF’s marine conservation programs.

REEF's Month of Membership Madness

At the end of this month, keep your eyes peeled for an announcement about REEF’s Month of Membership Madness! There are lots of exciting ways to get involved in April, in honor of Earth Day. So, be sure to check your inbox, and help us spread the word about the great work that REEF does to support ocean conservation, education, and research.

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,, for program updates. We hope to see you there!

Announcing the Next Generation of

The all new
One of the many improved features of the new - more flexibility in generating data reports, including exciting ways to view your own survey data.

REEF is excited to announce the launch of a completely redesigned website! A unique look, enhanced features, and pages of fresh content ... the address is the same but almost everything else about the REEF website is new. Through enhanced technology and innovative tools, the new Website will enable REEF to more effectively recruit, train and engage divers and snorkelers in the Volunteer Survey Project and REEF’s larger conservation science program. The new will also facilitate communication among the REEF community through Member Forums.

The new and very much improved is the result of a grant from the Norcross Foundation and a huge amount of work and patience by Ben Weintraub. Ben, a University of Washington Computer Sciences student, created the new site, which includes several new interactive features and a member log-in as well as many of the existing content and features in an updated, easy to navigate and user-friendly site.

Just a few of the features that you will find are:

  • More ways to explore your own survey data, including a REEF Survey Log.
  • Interactive discussion boards, including “ID Central”, a place where you can post identification questions and images of unknown critters for others to comment on, and a “Trip Reports” forum.
  • A searchable map of REEF Field Stations.
  • A central REEF Events calendar, including information on upcoming REEF classes and organized survey dives hosted by Field Stations.
  • Learning resources including quizzes and galleries.
  • An improved REEF Store to order all of your identification resources and survey materials.

  • And Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry for ALL of our Survey Regions. This long-awaited feature should be available by the end of this week!


    To get the most out of the new website, you will need to become a registered user, so be sure to create a user login profile.

    The new website will enable REEF to more effectively achieve it's mission to educate, enlist and enable divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active stewards and citizen scientists. The site will also facilitate collaboration with REEF’s existing and new partners and allow our programs to reach a broader audience.

    In the coming months, REEF will continue to add new content, and areas still under construction will be completed. All of the REEF staff appreciate your patience in advance as the transition to REEF’s new website is completed.

    This is the third major revision to the REEF website. REEF’s online home was originally launched ten years ago in 1997. REEF would like to extend a huge thank you to Ben Weintraub and the Norcross Foundation for making this new site possible, as well as Dr. Michael Coyne (REEF’s primary IT Support Volunteer and developer of the REEF database), and Brice Semmens and Ken Marks (the designers of the previous two versions of

  • New Learning Tool! REEF Launches Reef Fish Identification Home Study Course

    Reef Fish Identification DVD Home Study Course for Sale!

    By popular demand, REEF has adapted its classrrom course into a home study DVD course package for beginning "fishwatchers" in the Caribbean, Florida and Bahamas. Click here to read the press release; click here to purchase the DVD course. This would make an ideal holiday gift for your favorite fishwatcher!

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub