Putting It To Work: New Study Documents Transboundary Impacts of Sea Star Wasting Disease

A healthy Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), an important predator in the kelp forests of the US and Canadian west coast. Photo by Janna Nichols.
A Sunflower Sea Star that has succumbed to wasting disease. Photo by Janna Nichols.
Green Sea Urchin populations have increased in areas where Sunflower Sea Stars have declined. Photo by Janna Nichols.

Sea star wasting disease has devastated sea star populations on the West coast from Mexico to Alaska. The disease broke out in 2013, causing massive death of several species of sea stars. Infected animals develop lesions that eat away tissue, with limbs dropping off as the animals die. The disease has been linked to a virus, although environmental factors may also be involved.

A new study, published last week in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE, presents an analysis of REEF survey data on several asteroid species collected by divers in the Salish Sea over the last 10 years. The Salish Sea is a Canadian / United States transboundary marine ecosystem, and world-wide hotspot for temperate asteroid species diversity with a high degree of endemism.

The results showed that some species were hit hard, while others increased in number. Populations of Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), an important keystone predator in the region, dropped dramatically after the beginning of the epidemic. Several other sea star species, including the Spiny Pink Star (Pisaster brevispinus) also declined. Numbers of the less-common Leather Star (Dermasterias imbricata) and two species of sea urchin, which are prey for sea stars, increased after 2013.

The virus outbreak continues, and will have lasting effects on the ecosystem. Sunflower Sea Stars have effectively disappeared from the Salish Sea, the study concludes. Likely as a result, numbers of urchins have increased, which in turn will lead to more browsing on kelp. As a result, study co-author, Dr. Joe Gaydos, and his colleagues are currently in discussions with the National Marine Fisheries Service to get the Sunflower Sea Star listed as a “species of concern.”

The paper, titled "Devastating Transboundary Impacts of Sea Star Wasting Disease on Subtidal Asteroids", is available online here. Another study published earlier this year in the journal, PeerJ, used the REEF data to evaluate the potential trophic impacts of the seastar decline, as seen in the increase in sea urchins. That paper is availble here. View the entire list of all scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

The Faces of REEF: Dennis Bensen

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Dennis Bensen, member since 2001. Dennis has conducted just over 600 surveys, and is active in several of REEF's surveying regions, including his now home of Hawaii, the western tropical Pacific, and the Tropical Western Atlantic. He is also one of our most active REEF Trip participants, having been on 19 Field Surveys (so far, with more to come!). Here's what Dennis had to say about REEF:

How did you first hear about REEF? I learned to dive when I was 47 years old in 1997. Soon afterward I knew I would pursue the PADI master diver certification. In doing so one needs five specialty courses and one of them that I choose was fish ID. I took it in Bonaire and I was taught by an American marine biologist dive master, who being pregnant at the time, could only snorkel. After a slide show on fish ID we went on a snorkel. She pointed to the fish and I dove down for closer look then back up to her to give her my answer. For the second dive she gave me paper to use. After we finished the second dive she told me we could submit the results to REEF. I didn't feel ready. After that trip I went home with the REEF packet, read up on the organization, and signed up for my first REEF field survey taught by Paul Human in Puerto Rico. And that was it, I never looked back. I actually feel like I am missing something when I dive and do not survey.

Have you been on a REEF survey trip, what was your trip highlight? I could fill up a book with the answer to this one. To date, I have been on 19 REEF Field Survey Trips! Most of them in either Cozumel or Hawaii, where I now live. My most recent REEF Trip was on the Palau Aggressor. This trip was a real eye opener! The Central Indo Pacific region has a huge numbers of species. The ID paper is three times the size what we use here in Hawaii. You are busy, busy, busy from the minute you enter the water. There are fish in this region that are also in Hawaii, but nowhere near the majority of what there is to see, so you are learning, learning, learning. I owe a lot to my dive buddy Pam Wade, and trip leader Christy Semmens, who taught me a lot.

What is your favorite part about being a REEF member? This is an easy one. It is the people – whether they are Board members or office staff and volunteers or divers on Field Survey Trips. I have done surveys with many of the Board members and original members of the staff: Lad, Paul, Ned and Anna, Christy and Brice, and Janet (Camp) as well as staff Jane, Nancy, Amy, and Janna. I miss not working the REEF booth at “Beneath the Sea” with Martha or Lad (before moving to Hawaii I lived in New York). Beyond this, there is a host of divers too numerous to mention that have taught me so much and with whom I share a love of diving and recording the fish we see on those dives. Not to mention all those great trip farewell dinners.

In you opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs? The data that is collected, the integrity of that data, and the usefulness and research that this data will be used in. It is my own small way of giving back to the preservation and conservation of the oceans we dive in. Diving is such a huge part of my enjoyment of life and to think I can give something back, however small that might be, is very fulfilling and satisfying to me.

Do I dive close to where I live and what is the best part of diving there? As I said I now live in Hawaii. I moved here about 2 years ago to the Big Island of Hawaii, mainly because the best diving in the state is on the west coast of the big island. Honokohau harbor is only 10 minutes from my house and I try to dive out of that marina at least once per month, but I prefer to dive up north on the Kohala Coast. The Kohala Divers dive shop up there often runs a one tank afternoon dive. This is perfect for me. I do not need to get up early, I am, after all, in retirement. And with only one tank I am not too tired afterward. The dive finishes near dinner time so I often stop in Waiklloa and have dinner and a glass of wine at one of the fancy restaurants.

But besides that, and this is true of all diving in Hawaii, I can do it almost any day I want year round, something I for obvious reason did not do while living on Long Island, NY. On average, 25% of all fish here in our state are found only in Hawaii. And grey whale are around in the winter. The whales can be seen on all islands but the Kohala Coast of the big island and the South Shore of Maui form a bottle neck through which the whales must pass to move southward, often allowing for greater sightings and definitely more soundings (hearing them under water, always a thrill for me). I’d like to think of this as my own little corner of the worldwide oceans where my data will have an impact.

Plan Your 2018 Field Survey Trip

Don't miss out - book your 2018 REEF Trip space today.
Dive the Gardens of the Queen in Cuba.
Explore the oceans and mountains of Costa Rica.

Are you a diver or snorkeler looking to make a difference in the health of our oceans? If you haven't already, we hope you will make plans to join us on a REEF Trip in 2018. We have a great lineup of trips and a few spaces remain. You will participate in our citizen science programs, dive with like-minded individuals, and learn about the marine life around you. The full 2018 schedule is online (and keep an eye out for the 2019 schedule to be released this spring).

Here are 2018 trips that still have space:

Grenada, May 12-19, 2018 - More details

Bahamas Lionfish Research Trip, May 26 - June 2, 2018 - More details

Key Largo for REEF's 25th Anniversary, June 23-30, 2018 - More details

Costa Rica Land and Sea Eco-tour, July 14-21, 2018 - More details

Belize Research Expedition, August 18-25, 2018 - More details

Cuba Gardens of the Queen, August 18-25, 2018 - More details

St. Lucia, September 23-30, 2018 - More details

Eastern Caribbean, December 1-8, 2018 - More details

Cozumel, December 1-8, 2018 - More details

We maintain wait lists for full trips, so be sure to let us know if your desired destination is full. 2018 Trips that are already full: Hawaii, Thailand, Fiji, Brazil, Philippines, Cayman Brac, and Maldives.

Two Exotic Fish Species Removed from South Florida Waters

The Orangespine Unicornfish, native to the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Zach Ransom.
The Lagoon Triggerfish, native to the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Andy Dehart.
The Orangespine Unicornfish, collected from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The team of divers from REEF and Frost Science who removed the Lagoon Triggerfish. Photo by Pat Kelly.

In April 2018, two non-native marine fish species were live-captured from South Florida waters, including an Orangespine Unicornfish (Naso lituratus) in Key Largo and a Lagoon Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus) in Fort Lauderdale. Both fishes, native to a wide range in the tropical west Pacific, were collected separately through a collaborative effort between REEF, Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

These organized non-native species removals are part of an “Early Detection/Rapid Response” plan developed by REEF and the USGS, who have worked together on this initiative since 2008. The goal of the Early Detection/Rapid Response program is to remove non-native fishes as soon as possible after they are seen, before enough fish are introduced to develop a self-sustaining population which could negatively impact local marine ecosystems.

Both fishes were first spotted by citizen scientists who then reported the sightings to REEF. In early April, a group of divers from Eckerd College spotted the Orangespine Unicornfish while diving off of Key Largo during a REEF education program. Shortly after this, a second sighting of the same fish was reported by a local dive instructor, and a formal removal effort was organized to collect the fish. A team of four divers from REEF and Frost Science worked with a local volunteer to locate and live-capture the fish. The removal effort took place in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under a special research permit.

“The Orangespine Unicornfish is a very common home aquarium fish and although the owners likely thought they were doing the right thing for the animal, they were not aware of the potential negative impact. It is extremely important that no pets are released into the wild.” acknowledges Andy Dehart, Vice President of Animal Husbandry for Frost Science.

Just a few weeks after the Orangespine Unicornfish was successfully captured, REEF received a report of another exotic species. This time, the sighting was a Lagoon Triggerfish, reported by a Fort Lauderdale resident who first spotted the fish while snorkeling off the beach near Sunrise Blvd. Recognizing the fish was not native to Florida waters, the citizen scientist reported this sighting to REEF and a plan to remove the fish was put into motion. It took six divers from REEF and Frost Science two trips to live-capture the elusive fish. This was the second record of the Lagoon Triggerfish in the United States mainland.

The Orangespine Unicornfish and Lagoon Triggerfish are the eighth and ninth non-native marine fish species removed through the Early Detection/Rapid Response program. To date there have been 37 non-native marine fish species documented off of Florida, and most of those sightings are thought to be aquarium fish that were released into the ocean by humans - the same occurrence that started the lionfish invasion of the tropical western Atlantic.

“No one saw the lionfish invasion coming, and we definitely don’t want to be surprised like that again,” said USGS Fish Biologist Pam Schofield. “Our research with lionfish shows that it is vitally important to remove non-native marine fishes as soon as we see them – before they have the chance to build up a population and spread like lionfish have done.”

USGS and REEF coordinate removals of exotic species and whenever possible the non-native fish are collected alive in partnership with Frost Science, to be displayed at public aquaria for educational purposes. Frost Science has an exhibit dedicated to exotic and invasive marine species including a Blotched Foxface Rabbitfish (Siganus unimaculatus) captured from Dania Beach in late 2016. After a quarantine period, the Orangespine Unicornfish and Lagoon Triggerfish will be added to the exhibit as well.

Anyone who sees a non-native marine fish species is encouraged to submit a report on REEF’s online Exotic Species Sightings Form, available at www.REEF.org/programs/exotic/report. Sightings are then directed to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database.

REEF Events for August

Here's what we're up to in the coming month:

September 11-16, 2007: Cape Cod Field Survey led by Joe Cavanaugh. 

Click here for more information.

 

September 22-29, 2007: Bonaire Field Survey led by Ned and Anna DeLoach. 

Click here for more information.

Holidays are a Great Time to Plan Your Next REEF Field Survey Trip

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Our Cold Water Surveyor Award Goes to: Alison Johnson, still surveying in New Brunswick. Way to go, Alison!
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Rare sighting of Tripletail by Candace Grove on Bonaire, shows you do not always have to dive to see something special
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Dwarf Seahorse - Key Largo: Photo by Joyce Schulke, it pays to muck dive occasionally
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REEF Survey Diver on Riley's Hump, Dry Tortugas, Florida
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Cozumel Field Survey Group, December 2007

If you are looking for a Dive Vacation that Counts for the
New Year, there is still room on many of our trips for 2008. For a
condensed view of our upcoming Field Survey season, see below or visit
our Field Survey page at http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. A couple of quick notes, only one spot left on Turks and Caicos trip so hurry! If interested, please call Travel For You, Inc. at 1-888-363-3345 for the Turks trip only.

If the cold weather is getting you down? There's no better place to be
at the end of January than the Cayman Islands. Join REEF Grouper Moon
researchers on an exciting expedition to Little Cayman
January 22-29. The all-inclusive package includes 5 days of diving in
Little Cayman, lodging and meals at the exclusive Southern Cross Club,
and daily lectures on a broad range of subjects including reef fish
identification and the Nassau grouper aggregation research that REEF
has been invovled with. This project coincides with the annual mass
aggregation of this endangered fish species on the west end of the
island. To find out more, view the project flyer http://www.reef.org/fieldsurvey or contact the Southern Cross Club office at 1-800-899-2582.

Also REEF's St. Vincent cryptic survey is selling out
quickly. This trip has two optional back-to-back weeks of surveying,
the first week (July 26-Aug2) will be led by world-renowned
photgrapher, Paul Humann and REEF co-founder. The second week (Aug 2-9,
2008) will be led by Ned Deloach, award-winning marine life author and
his wife Anna Deloach. Contact Dive St. Vincent at 784-457-4928 or bill2s@divestvincent.com for information on how to register for either week or both!

For an all-inclusive REEF trip on the beautiful Mexican Riviera, check out our Field Survey to Akumal at Bahia Principe Resort
(below) from May 17-24, 2008. I will be leading this trip and there
will be a lot of conservation education to go along with our fish
surveys for this trip. This is a best-value trip, especially
considering the 5-star resort, at $802pp/double occ. for diving,
accomodations, food, and drinks.  

2008 Field Survey Schedule

REEF Grouper Moon Field Survey Expedition - Little Cayman Island, January 20-27, 2008, led by Dr. Christy Semmens (spaces available)

Turks & Caicos aboard Aggressor II - Turks and Caicos Islands, April 19-26, 2008, led by Joe Cavanaugh (1 space available)

Bahia Principe Resort, Akumal, Mexico - May 17-24, 2008, led by
Joe Cavanaugh (spaces available). REEF is working with ReefAid and
Reefcheck to ensure protection of the reefs along this part of the
MesoAmerican Barrier Reef. This trip provides a great opportunity to
witness how private sector cooperation with non-profits can enable
successful marine conservation and you will have the opportunity to
participate directly by collecting valuable fish community data for
REEF.

Paul Humann's Key Largo Reef Discovery Tour, Key Largo, Florida,
June 21-28, 2008 (spaces available).  Hands down a perennial
favorite for first-time surveyors and experts alike.

St. Vincent Island (Grenadines) Cryptic Species Tour, led by Ned and Anna Deloach and Paul Humann, July 26-Aug 2 (1st week), Aug 2-9 (2nd week) (selling out quickly)

Sea of Cortez aboard the Don Jose', Oct 5-12, 2008, led by Dr. Brice Semmens (spaces available)

Cozumel, Mexico with Aqua Safari Divers, Dec 6-13, 2008, led by long-time REEF Volunteer, Sheryl Shea (space available)

REEF Receives Exotics Funding from Mote’s Protect Our Reefs Fund

Dollars to Help Develop Rapid Response Plan 

In April of this year, REEF received notice our proposal to develop a Marine Exotic Species Action Plan was partially funded through the Mote Marine Protect Our Reefs Fund, which is funded through the Florida coral reef license plate. The project funding will go towards a SE Florida workshop with key federal, state and local agencies to develop a coordinated response plan for dealing with non-native marine fish. To date there have been more than 20 species of non-native fishes documented in a four-county area in Southeast Florida. Of these, the indo-pacific lionfish has become established in the US and Bahamas and is rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean. To help address this issue and prevent other non-native fish invasions, coordinated early detection and notification, and rapid response plans are needed. 

REEF will be working in partnership with the USGS and NOAA to lead the early summer workshop focusing on drafting these coordinated action plans. Funding for outreach and to establish and train response teams later this summer is still being sought as part of this effort.

Stay tuned for an update on the workshop and for future plans for development of local response teams. Be sure to report any sightings of non-native marine organisms to the REEF exotic species website at www.reef.org/programs/exotic

Wellwood Monitoring Project Final Report Released

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A REEF Advanced Assessment Team member surveys the fish assemblage on a restoration module at the Wellwood grounding site.
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Parrotfishes, such as this stoplight parrotfish terminal male, appear to be responding the quickest to restoration efforts. Photo courtesy New World Publications.

The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter, ran aground in 1984 on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals. The grounding transformed the area into a flattened, barren pavement covered with coral rubble. Eighteen years after the grounding, the area resembled nearby hard ground habitat with little structure and the benthic community was dominated by gorgonians. Natural recovery to a state similar to the pre-grounding condition failed to occur within a reasonable time frame and therefore, habitat restoration was initiated in May 2002. In the Fall of 2007, REEF completed a five-year monitoring project on the fish assemblages at the Wellwood grounding site and two nearby reference areas. A Summary Report, which summarizes the results of the monitoring effort, has been completed and is available for download from the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage.

Baseline surveys were conducted just prior to and immediately following restoration, quarterly monitoring took place through Year 1 and semi-annual monitoring in Years 2 through 5. The primary goals of this project were to aid in the assessment of restoration efforts and provide a benchmark for long-term evaluation of the fish communities at the grounding site. Teams of REEF Advanced Assessment Team divers conducted 558 roving fish surveys and 559 belt transect surveys during the five year monitoring project.

Report Conclusions:

After initial colonization, Restoration site fish assemblage diversity, density and biomass have leveled off and remain lower than that at nearby reference areas. A total of 165 fish species were recorded at the Restoration Site during the 5-year project. In comparison, 189 were documented at the North Reference site and 207 were documented at the South Reference Site. Parrotfish and surgeonfish appear to be responding quickest to the restoration efforts, with densities and biomass values similar to that of the reference sites. Grunt and snapper species are primarily absent from the Restoration Site. The relatively short duration of this study makes it difficult for results to be teased out from natural population variability. Similarly, definitive conclusions cannot be achieved from these data due to the limited amount of time that has passed since restoration and the well-known decadal processes that are required for coral reef development. However, these data will serve as a critical baseline for assessing future changes and the effect of any future restoration efforts at the site.

For more information about the 5-year project and to read the full report, visit the REEF Wellwood Monitoring webpage. There was also a longer story about the project in the January 2008 REEF-in-Brief.

Notes from the Field – 2009 REEF Grouper Moon Project

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Grouper Moon Project researchers and volunteers documented Nassau grouper spawning on all three Cayman Islands in 2009. This spawning release image was taken on the Little Cayman aggregation. Photo by Brice Semmens.
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Thousands of Nassau grouper aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in February. Photo by Phil Bush.
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The Cayman Brac team aboard the Glen Ellen.
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Grouper Moon researchers take video with lasers of individual Nassau grouper on the aggregation. The images are later analyzed to determine the size distribution of the aggregation.
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The Grand Cayman team happy after finding aggregating grouper.
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Dr. Semmens presents findings from the project to over 75 Little Cayman residents and visitors.
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Over 1,000 Nassau grouper were found on Cayman Brac, an area that was previously thought to only have a small, remnant spawning aggregation. Photo by Phil Bush.
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The path of the current drifter that was released at the Cayman Brac aggregation site on the night of spawning (19 days at sea). The current pattern is similar to that seen with drifters released on Little Cayman. Jamaica is in the southeast corner.

Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort in the Cayman Islands aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. The 2009 spawning season was the most ambitious to date for the project. For the first time, we had teams of researchers and volunteers stationed on each of the three Cayman Islands--Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. The field season was certainly a success; among many interesting results and accomplishments, our most exciting find was that the teams on all three islands witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on the same night (Valentine’s Day, of all days! – which happened to be 5 nights after the full moon).

In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all historically known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. This followed the discovery by fisherman of 7,000 aggregating Nassau grouper on the west end of Little Cayman in 2001 and the subsequent harvest of 4,000 of those fish over two spawning seasons. At the time, all other known Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands had become inactive due to over-harvest. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded in 2008 by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF is conducting research through the Grouper Moon Project to evaluate the current status of the Cayman Islands spawning aggregations and the effect of these harvest protections -- “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”.

The broad goals for the 2009 spawning season were to continue monitoring recovery in the large spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and to expand research into the fate of remnant spawning aggregations on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman; aggregations on both of these islands were fished to exhaustion in the recent past. In addition to the island specific objectives, the Grouper Moon research program expanded satellite drifter work this season. These drifters, which track current patterns associated with the body of water the grouper eggs were spawned in, will continue to report positions for 45 days after spawning; this length of time is the approximate larval duration for Nassau grouper. REEF also continued education and outreach efforts through public talks about spawning aggregations and the Grouper Moon research. Talks were held at the Little Cayman National Trust and Dive Tech/Cobalt Coast Resort.

2009 Aggregation Season Results Summary

The Little Cayman team continued the long-term monitoring of this aggregation, which includes counting the number of fish that show up, estimating the size of the fish, and recording the timing and amount of spawning observed. The Cayman Brac team’s goal was to document whether or not aggregating Nassau grouper were spawning-- evidence of spawning would refute the theory that Nassau grouper fail to recover once overfished because fish on small aggregations no longer release gametes. In the 2008 spawning season, the Grouper Moon research team discovered the location of an aggregation of Nassau grouper on Cayman Brac. This year, armed with this information, REEF and CIDOE researchers spent the full 2009 spawning season observing, videoing and documenting the Cayman Brac spawning aggregation. In addition, the team was able to accomplish the primary goal of this season’s work on the island—team members both observed and videoed spawning. Objectives for the Grand Cayman team were similar, except that they first had the task of discovering where Nassau grouper on that island go (if anywhere) during the spawning season. Using the acoutic tag pinger signal of just ONE Nassau grouper (of 6 total individuals tagged on Grand Cayman in 2008), divers confirmed the presence of aggregating grouper near the historic East End aggregation site and a dusk dive on February 14th yielded this season’s biggest accomplishment– team members witnessed Nassau grouper spawning on Grand Cayman!

The findings stemming from this work are unquestionably novel, and are certainly good news —protections on aggregation sites that have been fished to exhaustion will protect those few individuals that remain, and will protect stocks of fishes that are contributing to the next generation of this endangered reef fish. Put simply, our research demonstrates that overfished aggregations are down, but not out.

Why Does This Matter?

Nassau grouper are not just icons of the Caribbean; they are a social and ecological cornerstone of the region’s coral reefs. Historically, Nassau grouper represented one of the region’s most economically important fisheries. Unfortunately, due to intense harvest on spawning aggregations, their populations have dwindled to a fraction of their historic numbers. The species became the first Caribbean reef fish to be listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the species is candidate listed under the US Endangered Species Act. The precipitous decline in mass spawning aggregations of Caribbean grouper species has been well documented. The majority of known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive due to the ease with which aggregating species are caught. And those that are still active contain significantly fewer fish than the 10s of thousands that historically gathered at these special places.

As part of our work on the Grouper Moon Project, REEF will continue to develop a comprehensive assessment of the status of the Cayman Island’s Nassau grouper spawning population as a guide for future Nassau grouper restoration and conservation policy.

Collaborators and Supporters Who Make This Project Possible

REEF would like to thank our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, specifically Phil Bush, Bradley Johnson, Croy McCoy, James Gibb, Tim Austin, Gina Ebanks-Pietre, Chris Dixon, Keith Neale, Delwin McLaughlin and Robert Walton, as well as Drs. Scott and Selina Heppell from Oregon State University. REEF Volunteers have always been at the core of our Grouper Moon field work and 2009 was no exception – heartfelt thanks to Judie Clee, Thor Dunmire, Tracey Griffin, Doug Harder, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell and Sheryl Shea. The Grouper Moon Project has continued through the years empowered by the first year’s success and the passion of early project leader Leslie Whaylen Clift. Assistance from OSU graduate students, Stephanie Kraft and Heather Reiff, is much appreciated. Principal financial support is from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the CIDOE. Additional funding is from Mr. Wayne Panton, Mr. Dan Scott, Clive and Stella Wood, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and hundreds of REEF members. Continued in-kind logistical support from island businesses and residents, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort/Reef Divers, the Southern Cross Club and Peter Hillenbrand, is also much appreciated. And finally, our ground-breaking achievements on Cayman Brac would not have been possible without the generous support of Wayne Sullivan, who donated his vessel the Glen Ellen, his time (and patience), his equipment and technical diving expertise, and his crew, Brady Booton and Jules James.

For more information on the project, visit the Grouper Moon Project Webpage. If you would like to support this critical marine conservation research, please donate today through the REEF Website or call REEF HQ at 305-852-0030.

Grouper Moon Project Research Planned for February 2010

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Approximately 4,000 Nassau grouper aggregate each winter off the west end of Little Cayman Island. Photo by Phil Bush.

Planning is underway for REEF's annual research on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands for the 2010 spawning season - the Grouper Moon Project. This collaborative conservation program between REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment is entering its 8th year. Thanks to funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the research team is conducting innovative research that is critical to the long-term survival of this iconic Caribbean species. Grouper Moon scientists will be in the field January 30 - February 12, 2010. If you are looking for a winter getaway and are considering the Cayman Islands, this is a great time to visit Little Cayman.

While there are not opportunities for recreational divers to visit the aggregation, researchers will be giving several public talks and divers on Bloody Bay Wall will witness the mass migrations of the normally solitary Nassau grouper from their home reefs out to the aggregation site. Another good reason -- the acclaimed Southern Cross Club has offered to donate a percentage of any package booked by REEF members during that time to support REEF's Grouper Moon Project.  To take a vacation and make a positive impact for the grouper, contact the Southern Cross Club reservation office directly at 1-800-899-2582 or info@SouthernCrossClub.com -- be sure to mention that you are a REEF member!

More information about the 2010 research and program objectives for the Grouper Moon Project will be included in future issues of REEF-in-Brief. you can also find out more about the Project on the Grouper Moon Project Webpage.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub