Since last week, our partners at the Cayman Islands Department of Environment have been busy in the field, conducting multiple dives each day on the Nassau Grouper spawning site on the west end of Little Cayman. Since 2002, this site has been the focus of our collaborative conservation effort, the Grouper Moon Project. The team has been performing visual assessments, collecting size estimates through stereo-video, and capturing images of individual fishes for our "Fish Faces" project, which uses artificial intelligence to measure population size.
Because of COVID restrictions, our research team from the US was not able to take part in the field effort this year - but fortunately the science still continues! One of the most interesting reports from the field this year has been the increasing presence of sharks at the aggregation site. While this is not always great news for a few unlucky grouper (and can get a diver's heart pumping while swimming through a cloud of fish eggs) it is a very positive sign for the conservation efforts in the Cayman Islands. Healthy apex predator populations like sharks and larger grouper are essential to a balanced, stable ecosystem and to control mesopredator (middle level predator) populations, including lionfish. Protection of these multi-species spawning aggregations is vital to maintaining coral reefs for the future. You can watch a video of some of the shark action at the spawning site here. To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.