This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Grouper Moon Project, and we are excited to report that our team was once again able to get into the field after missing last year due to COVID-19 restrictions. For ten days around the January full moon, our team conducted research to document the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation on the west end of Little Cayman - the largest and one of the last known aggregations of these endangered reef fish. This year, we continued to develop the 'Fish Faces' project, which uses artificial intelligence and pattern recognition to identify individual Nassau Grouper. These images will be processed through REEF's GrouperSpotter© platform to estimate population size and track growth and behavior of individuals. We also used stereo video to document fish lengths, monitored for spawning activity, and used a tagging method called mark-recapture to estimate population size. The team didn't see any spawning activity in January, although this is not surprising because it's a "split moon" year, meaning the full moon falls in the middle of the month. We anticipate plenty of spawning activity later this month during the February full moon. In addition to the field work, we held several Grouper Education field chats with classrooms in the Caymans and beyond. These web-based chats introduced students to the important and exciting work the scientists participated in as part of the Grouper Moon Project.
Our team is headed back to the Cayman Islands in a few weeks for the February full moon, so stay tuned to REEF's social media channels and next month's e-News to get updates. To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, including links to documentaries, published papers, and the education program, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.
The Grouper Moon Project is a conservation science partnership between REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DoE) with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Oregon State University, aimed at studying Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a social and ecological cornerstone of Caribbean coral reefs. The work focuses on studying the spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman. Reseach also takes place on the other two known aggregations in the Cayman Islands, one on Grand Cayman and one on Cayman Brac.