KEY LARGO, Fla. – The Cayman Islands government and REEF, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, today announced the start of a three-year research collaboration to study and validate efforts aimed at protecting Nassau grouper, an imperiled Caribbean reef fish.

“Nassau grouper are the poster-children for Caribbean coral reef health,” said Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF director of science. “The species features prominently on almost every ‘Wish you were here’ postcard from the Islands. Unfortunately, Nassau grouper are disappearing rapidly throughout the region. In the Cayman Islands, we have a chance to help through the Grouper Moon Project.”

REEF scientists and volunteers are partnering with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment to study Nassau grouper movement and reproductive biology using state-of-the-art acoustic tracking systems and satellite-linked drifters. The goal of the research is to determine whether recently established marine protected areas in the Caymans are meeting their goal of conserving regional Nassau grouper spawning aggregations.

“The Cayman Islands have perhaps the largest remaining spawning aggregation of Nassau grouper in the world,” said Dr. Brice Semmens, REEF researcher. “It is a precious resource, and the Cayman government is serious about managing it accordingly. The products of this collaborative research program will give us the information needed to make prudent conservation decisions that will ensure its long-term survival regarding this important species.”

The collaborative research program is funded by the Lenfest Ocean Program, which is managed by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Lenfest Ocean Program supports marine research that will be useful in formulating solutions to ocean problems.

“Because Nassau grouper must congregate in order to reproduce, they make an easy target for fishermen looking for a large catch. We support REEF’s efforts protect their spawning sites so that these vulnerable fish might still be around for generations to come,” said Margaret Bowman, director of the Lenfest Ocean Program.

For more information on REEF, including the Grouper Moon Project, visit

Photo by Phil Bush.
 Phil Bush