Since 2001, REEF has led the Grouper Moon Project, a multi-faceted, collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) aimed at better understanding Nassau grouper reproduction and the role that marine reserves can play in the long-term protection of this endangered species. Earlier this month, we had researchers and volunteers in the field for two weeks to conduct field research on spawning aggregations in Grand Cayman and Little Cayman. The site on Little Cayman represents one of the largest known remaining aggregations of Nassau grouper; our research will provide valuable guidance to both the Cayman Islands government and others throughout the Caribbean on how to best protect this important coral reef fish.
In 2003 the Cayman Island Marine Conservation Board instituted an 8-year fishing ban on Nassau grouper at all known aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands (both current and historic). 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 2010 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 Grand Cayman; aggregations on this island were fished to exhaustion in the recent past. REEF continued education and outreach efforts through public talks about spawning aggregations and the Grouper Moon research. As the sunset provision on the current legislation nears, REEF is working closely with the Cayman Islands government to translate the findings from our research into effective long-term protections. I spent time with the Honorable Mark Scotland, the Minister of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports & Culture, which oversees the Department of Environment in the Cayman Islands, discussing the project, our ground-breaking results, and recommendations for the future of this iconic species.
2010 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 REEF research team uses lasers mounted on a video camera to record sizes of fish. If you would like to see what the Little Cayman aggregation looks like during the day, check out this video on YouTube. You will see the laser marks on the fish. Note that these are all Nassau grouper, just in different spawning colors. The team estimated that the number of fish showing up at the aggregation is approaching 4,000. We are also seeing a decrease if average size, which indicates that younger fish are starting to show up (good news!). Spawning was observed on four consecutive nights, starting 4 days after the full moon.
The Grand Cayman team’s primary goal was to document the remnant Nassau grouper aggregation on the East End of Grand Cayman and hopefully observe spawning. The status of this aggregation was initially documented by a Grouper Moon team in 2009. This year, with a lot of help from our partners at CIDOE and Wayne Sullivan and his crew aboard the Glen Ellen, REEF volunteer Denise Mizell was able to head up this critical component of our research. While several hundred fish were found at this historical spawning site, spawning was not documented. Unfortunately, we believe that fisherman were illegally fishing on the aggregation when our team was not on site. It is possible that this disturbance prevented the fish from spawning. This is disappointing news, but we are hopeful that the Cayman Islands government will pass revised legislation and provide more enforcement before next spawning season in order to protect the few remaining Nassau grouper on Grand Cayman.
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, 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 2010 was no exception – heartfelt thanks to Heather George, Steve Gittings, Denise Mizell and Sheryl Shea. The support and assistance of Thor Dunmire is also greatly appreciated. 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 student, Stephanie Kraft Archer, 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, Peter Hillenbrand, Dottie Benjamin, and Judie Clee is also much appreciated. To alleviate the constraints of diving deep depths on regular scuba, several other sponsors came on board to assist in the project, including Divetech and PM Gas of Grand Cayman, Silent Diving of Brockville, Ontario and Shearwater Research of Vancouver, British Columbia.
And finally, our work on Grand Cayman 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 several others.
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.
Nassau Grouper Shirts Back in the Online Store - After selling out, "Grumpy" shirts are now back in stock in the REEF online store. These short and long-sleeve shirts features the face of a Nassau Grouper. "Grumpy" is the artwork of Rogest, who created the piece to celebrate REEF's Grouper Moon Project and our work to conserve this Caribbean icon. The shirts feature the tag line "Extinction Makes Me Grumpy". Get yours today, they won't last long.
New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club in Jamaica to our growing list of Field Stations. They join the almost 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.
Did You Know -- REEF Online Data Entry Available in All Regions - REEF surveyors in ALL regions can now submit their data online. We greatly encourage everyone to enter their surveys online rather than use the paper scanforms, if possible. And remember -- if you conduct a survey at a site that is not yet in REEF's Zone Code database, send us an email (email@example.com) with the site name and latitude/longitude of the site and we will create the code for you. The 8-digit zone code must be in the system before you can enter data from the site.
Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook - The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!
Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:
- Researchers from the Centro de Ecología Marina de Utila requested data on yellowtail snapper and other snapper and grouper species. The group is working to develop an ecosystem approach to managing Caribbean coral reefs in the face of climate change .
- Scientists from NOAA Fisheries are using sightings of the Indo-Pacific lionfish in REEF surveys to evaluate the rapid invasion of this species into the Florida Keys.
REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, and REEF Outreach Coordinator, Janna Nichols, attended a rockfish conference in Seattle earlier this week. The workshop, Rockfish Recovery in the Salish Sea: Research and Management Priorities, was organized by NOAA, WDFW, and the SeaDoc Society, and served as a venue for scientists, managers, and policy makers from throughout the region to share their work and help chart a course for future work. Christy presented an overview of REEF data collected throughout the Salish Sea, and showed distribution maps for 12 species of rockfish. The REEF Volunteer Survey Program expanded to the Northwest in 1998. To date, REEF volunteers have submitted 12,495 surveys from 781 sites throughout the Salish Sea. These data are a valuable information resource for those working to protect and restore declining rockfish populations. Several other active Pacific Northwest surveyors also attended the conference.
Now is the time to book your 2012 REEF Field Survey trip. We have an exciting lineup planned. Trips are starting to fill up (some are already sold out), so don't delay. Get in touch with our travel experts at Caradonna to find out more and to book your space - 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Destinations include the Sea of Cortez/Baja Mexico, Dominica, Bermuda, the BVI, Nevis, Hornby Island, and many more. The full schedule and more information can be found online at http://www.REEF.org/trips.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. This month we feature the Dive Club of Silicon Valley. The dive club started organizing Great Annual Fish Count Events (GAFC) over 10 years ago. Club member and leader of their REEF programs, Kari Larson, says "The club has always been interested in ways to help the environment and help divers understand their role as underwater ambassadors. As a club we promote fun and safe diving. The GAFC was a perfect fit." After learning about the GAFC, she and fellow club member and husband, Mike Davis, thought it was "a good fit for the club and sounded fun. It gave us a chance to contribute to ocean conservation." Ten years later, they are still at it. The club has scheduled 3 upcoming ID classes and a survey dive at Lover Point Park in Pacific Grove, CA (details below). Kari and Mike feel that as a grass roots effort, REEF helps promote involvement at even a beginner diver level and that is important. Kari also noted that, "The access to the database is important, it allows our divers to see how their efforts make a difference. The online resources help members not only in our home area but as they travel to different locations they can identify the fish there also". Club members have started participating in REEF's online Fishinars and the club offers Level 2 & 3 REEF experience testing.
Dive Club of Silicon Valley - 2012 Great Annual Fish Count Events
June 20, 7-9pm Invertebrate - Dr. Steve Lonhart NOAA
June 26, 7-9pm Basic FishID - Mike Davis PADI IDCS Instructor
July 2, 7-9pm Basic FishID - Mike Davis PADI IDCS Instructor
July 7, 8am GAFC and BBQ at Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove, CA
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight John Wolfe. John joined REEF in 1998 and has conducted 530 surveys. John is a member of the REEF Advanced Assessment Team in both the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. In addition to his active survying, he has delved into teaching about REEF and ID and has mentored several surveyors to become experts. He has also taken a keen interest in getting REEF data used by the scientific and management communities, serving on Marine Life Protection Act committees and has written several papers using REEF data. Here's what John had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?
I took my first REEF fish ID class in 1997. It was a Great American Fish Count kick-off event organized by Karen Grimmer of NOAA and taught by Dan Gotshall (author of Pacific Coast Inshore Fishes). My friend Rachid Feretti was the area’s most enthusiastic REEF surveyor at that time. Quite the raconteur, Rachid would pigeonhole anyone (including curious tourists) to describe the REEF diver survey program. In the late 1990’s I only did a handful of surveys every year, thinking of them as special dives with special equipment; I was also a volunteer diver for the sheriff’s department, diving black water and not getting to the ocean as much. In the new millennium I realized that it was more fun to conduct a REEF survey on EVERY ocean dive I did. That was the big break-through. When I realized I could simply put my slate on a retractable harness and tuck it under my BC belly strap, it became a standard piece of my diver gear, taken on every dive.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Since 2003 I’ve participated in every annual REEF Advanced Assessment Team monitoring project in Monterey, my local dive area. It’s always a fabulous assemblage of skilled cold-water divers and enthusiastic fish nerds, with Captain Phil Sammet entertaining us with salty stories and Christy and Brice Semmens calmly and expertly leading the trips. I’ve been on the Sea of Cortez and Big Island of Hawai’i REEF trips once each, and totally enjoyed both experiences, learning a whole new ecosystem of species.
What is your favorite part about being a REEF member?
REEF totally supports my chosen hobby. My father was a fanatic fly fisherman and my mother is a fanatic bird watcher. It’s only natural that I became a fanatic fish watcher. My REEF experience has also taken me beyond just carrying a slate. Between 2005 and 2007, I served as a diver stakeholder and REEF volunteer representative for the California Central Coast Region Marine Life Protection Act initiative. After three years of intense wrangling between conservation and fishing interests, that effort resulted in a network of Marine Protected Areas along the central coast. In the Monterey Peninsula area we fought so hard that the chairman of the Fish and Game Commission, witnessing the debate, called it the Balkans. Nevertheless, I think the contentiousness of that process led to a resulting network of MPAs that all sides now grudgingly admit is a good compromise.
I have also enjoyed teaching others about REEF and ID. Over the past decade I’ve also given several REEF fish ID classes and presentations about the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative to local divers. I’m always looking for that next special diver who will become an enthusiastic and dedicated REEF surveyor. I have found some special people, like Keith Rootsaert and Alex Matsumoto, who now teach REEF fish ID classes and carry on the tradition.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
It’s only now, with fifteen years of data in Monterey, and even more in the western Atlantic, that we’re starting to see the value of the REEF surveys as long term data. REEF scientific advisor, Dr. Brice Semmens, points out that such long-term data are quite rare and precious in ecological research. Furthermore, I think we’ve recently made a big breakthrough on how to statistically analyze the data; it’s a gold mine that we’ve only really started to dig into. I’m really excited about a paper I’m co-authoring with REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, about this topic.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there? Where is your favorite place to dive?
The Monterey Peninsula is a special place, with rocky reefs, protected coves, and amazing kelp forests. It’s a two-hour drive from my home in Berkeley, well worth the effort. My favorite dive spots along the Monterey Peninsula include North and South Monastery, now protected in the recently expanded Pt. Lobos marine reserve, as well as Point Lobos State Park itself, the longest running no-take marine reserve in the state. Butterfly House and Point Pinos are wild, spectacular shore dives. I also enjoy the mellower Coral Street and Otter Cove dive sites – and I’ve never had a dull dive at the most heavily dived site of our area, the Breakwater. My favorite local boat dive site is Dali’s Wall outside of Stillwater Cove – it’s always a highlight of our annual Monterey field survey.
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?
Do I have to choose? Kelp Greenling, both male and female, are such handsome fish. Juvenile Canary Rockfish are tiny spectacular gold, black and white jewels. Enormous schools of tubesnout threading and weaving their way through a kelp forest is a spectacular sight!
What is your most memorable fish find and why?
Well, I have a few. I’ve only seen one Rockhead Poacher, years ago – it’s a bizarre tiny fish with a punctured pate (pit in the top of its head) that looks just like the orange cup coral it so successfully hides amidst. It's so bizarre, an exciting find! The second would be finding (and eventually photographing) the Masked Prickleback. It is a handsome fish with a tan back, white belly, and broad dark chocolate brown stripe running the length of the fish from eye to tail. This species was only discovered by science in the mid-1960’s, by a night diver at the Monterey Breakwater. That diver, David Powell, later became the Director of Live Exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He recounts his discovery of that species in his book “A Fascination for Fish”. Masked Pricklebacks are shy and nocturnal, relatively uncommon and very difficult to photograph. And finally -- an instance of fish ID rookie vindication! On my first Sea of Cortez REEF field survey, I’d made a couple of embarrassing and very public rookie ID goofs early in the week. So later in the week, after coming up from Swanee Reef and telling Brice I’d seen an Acapulco Damselfish, he was certain I’d seen the much more common Cortez Damselfish … until I showed him the photographic evidence. It was the first (and perhaps the only) Acapulco Damselfish the group saw that week.
The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.
The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ground-breaking invasive lionfish findings were featured in a paper published earlier this month in the scientific journal, Ecological Applications. The research was conducted as a collaboration between REEF, Oregon State University, Simon Fraser University, and the Cape Eleuthera Institute. The new study, conducted by Dr. Stephanie Green (OSU/REEF), Lad Akins (REEF), and others, confirms for the first time that controlling lionfish populations in the western Atlantic Ocean can pave the way for a recovery of native fish. Even if it's one speared fish at a time, data are showing that removals can be effective. And not every lionfish need be removed…the research findings document that reducing lionfish numbers by specified amounts will allow a rapid recovery of native fish biomass. Over 18 months, the biomass of native prey fishes increased an average 50-70% on reefs where lionfish numbers were suppressed below target levels predicted to cause prey depletion. On reefs where lionfish numbers remained higher than target levels, the biomass of prey fishes decreased by a further 50%. While complete eradication of lionfish from the Caribbean is not likely, groups are actively removing them from coastal areas (mostly via spear and net). This study is a first step in showing that strategic local efforts that suppress the invasion to low levels can help protect and recover native fish communities affected by lionfish. Click here to view the paper, “Linking removal targets to the ecological effects of invaders: a predictive model and field test.” To view a complete list of publications that have come from REEF programs, visit our Publications page.
The documentary "Grouper Moon", produced by Miami public television station WPBT2's Changing Seas, recently wowed audiences and judges at the Reef Renaissance Film Festival in the US Virgin Islands. "Grouper Moon" was awarded the Neptune Award for Best in Show, and a 1st Place Black Coral award in the Documentary Short category. The episode focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish. You can view the documentary online here. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.