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 www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject. 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 www.REEF.org/donate, 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: www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.

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.

The Faces of REEF: Marjorie Davis

Marjorie (right) having fun topside.
Marjorie (left) having fun underwater in Palau.
Marjorie (right) with REEF Friends on the Micronesia REEF Field Survey in 2016.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Marjorie Davis, member since 2013. Marjorie has conducted 56 surveys. She lives and dives in Florida and she is a Level 3 Advanced surveyor in the TWA region. Here's what Marjorie had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF? My sister, Pam Slutz, found the REEF website and she and her husband, Ron Deutch, and I signed up for a REEF trip in Cozumel in Dec 2013. We had such a great time we became members and went back the following year, and Pam and I also did a REEF trip with Paul Humann in Key Largo in summer 2014. Carlos and Allison Estape gave a talk about the fish diversity at REEF HQ during that summer REEF trip, and that’s when I discovered Islamorada.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight? My first REEF trip was a real eye-opener for me because I had never really studied the reefs or fish when I dove; I was just siteseeing and couldn’t tell you what fish I was seeing. After one week, I was so excited to actually know some of them! It forever changed the way I dive. My favorite diving is on a REEF trip, especially live aboards, because there are so many people that know the fish and everyone is so willing to help you figure out what you’re looking at! I also find fish surveyors move much more slowly through the water than typical “sightseeing” divers, so I don’t get left behind so much when trying to ID an elusive blenny or cardinalfish.

Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? I’m an hour from Blue Heron Bridge/Phil Foster Park in West Palm and about four hours from Islamorada, and these are my favorite spots because of the diversity and relatively easy diving. Blue Heron gets bonus points because there are many interesting critters and because it’s a super easy 2+hr shore dive! My favorite dives in Islamorada are long 2+hr dives along the outside of the shallow reef and back on the shallower, rubbly side. The variation in habitat means I have a better chance of spotting more fish species, and someday I may actually be able to identify most of them! Add a Thursday night fish ID class at REEF HQ for a great 3-day weekend!

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate? I love blennies, any and all, though eels and cardinalfish are also favorites. They are all elusive and hide so spotting them isn’t easy, and even with a magnifying glass it can be hard to ID those blennies! I thought blennies were so cute until I saw a picture of one eating another one!! Oh well, they still LOOK cute. Identifying a cardinalfish in a deep, dark reef crevice is also challenging, and while eels aren’t exactly shy, it’s always a thrill to spot one swimming; I got to watch a huge green moray swim for quite a while on a REEF trip to Palau last year.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop? My favorite dive operator is Key Dives in Islamorada. Friendly and professional, they know the reefs and probably most of the local REEF members. I especially like going out with other REEF members on one of their boats.

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

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Joe Cavanaugh and Leda A. Cunningham with new fall intern Erin Whitaker
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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.

Grouper Moon Project Kicks Off Expanded Research Efforts

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Thousands of Nassau grouper in spawning colorations aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in January. Photo by Phil Bush.
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A Nassau grouper from Cayman Brac that will be acoustically tagged to better understand local reproductive behaviors.
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The 2008 team of Grouper Moon researchers and REEF volunteers.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, entitled "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.

In 2003 the Cayman Islands government protected all five known current and historic Nassau grouper spawning sites in the Cayman Islands. This move was motivated by the 2001 discovery and rapid depletion of a large spawning aggregation (~7000 fish) on the west end of Little Cayman. This rapid legislative response protected the west-end spawning site before all the fish were taken (~3,000 remain), and the site is now one of the largest fully-protected Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in existence. However, the other four spawning sites had previously been fished to exhaustion and are believed to be inactive, i.e. aggregations no longer occur during spawning season.

Over the next three years, REEF will continue the ongoing aggregation monitoring and acoustic research that has been conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation since 2002 and expand efforts to Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, where historical spawning aggregations were fished out during the last ten years. Four primary research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest-funded project are: 1) Do aggregations form in regions that have been fished out? 2) If aggregations form, do the fish ultimately spawn? 3) Do these aggregations form at historic sites or somewhere else? And, 4) Does spawning at these remnant aggregations result in new recruitment?

The new research kicked into gear last month with a team of Grouper Moon scientists and REEF volunteers who conducted twelve days of field work in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The team visually monitored the Little Cayman aggregation, documenting the largest number of fish since the fishing ban was implemented in 2003. Spectacular mass spawning was documented at dusk seven days after the full moon. Grouper Moon scientists conducted extensive work on Cayman Brac to enable future visual monitoring on the historical aggregation site and initiate an acoustic tagging study that will facilitate a better understanding of the behaviors of Nassau grouper on an island with a limited number of reproductively-aged individuals. Later this Spring and Summer, REEF researchers, volunteers and an OSU graduate student will return to the Cayman Islands to conduct larval recruitment studies and begin acoustic tagging on Grand Cayman.

Capitalizing on the the increased breadth of research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest Ocean Program grant, the CIDOE is supporting a larval dispersal study that also kicked off this year under the guidance of Dr. Scott Heppell from OSU. Three satellite drifters were deployed at the Little Cayman aggregation site on the night of spawning. The paths will be recorded by ARGOS satellites for 45 days and the resulting data will be used to develop a larval dispersal model in collaboration with researchers from University of Miami. Check out the 2008 image gallery to see where the drifters are today.

Visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage to find out more about this critical conservation research program and the 2008 Gallery page to see images and video of the field work.

REEF extends a big thank you to the island business who continue to support this project, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, as well as Peter Hillenbrand and Mary Ellen Cutts, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and the 2008 REEF Volunteer Team -- Judie Clee, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell, and Leslie Whaylen.  We also greatly appreciate the continued support of our collaborative team, including the CIDOE and OSU, and the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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

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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

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The online Data Entry interface -- www.reef.org/dataentry.
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With the expanding availabitly of wireless internet, REEF volunteers can submit their surveys online almost anywhere. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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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 www.reef.org/dataentry. If you have feedback or suggestions you can send them to data@reef.org.

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 http://www.reef.org/db/zonecodes. To have a zone code assigned for a new site, please contact us at data@reef.org.
  • 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

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    John Pelletier, Sr., was on hand to accept the REEF Keys Community Volunteer Award in memory of his son Chip Pelletier.
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    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.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub