Grouper Moon project broadcasts to schools from beneath the waves

Awesome-Grouper-L

One of the natural wonders of Cayman’s waters – a mass gathering of thousands of large Nassau grouper – was broadcast live from beneath the waves this week as part of a unique education project. 

The spawning occurs in at least five sites around the Cayman Islands. Most spectacular is a mass aggregation off the west end of Little Cayman, which typically features between 3,000 and 5,000 fish. 

During the winter full moon, in either January or February, the normally solitary and territorial Nassau grouper travel long distances to gather in one spot to spawn. It is the only time the fish procreate, and the gathering is crucial to the survival of the species, considered an iconic fish in the Caribbean. 

This year, hundreds of schoolchildren from across the Cayman Islands, as well as some in the U.S., have been able to tune into the aggregation from the comfort of their classrooms. 

Dive researchers hooked up to special underwater cameras and microphones talk the schoolchildren through the details of the project and take questions as the fish swim around them. 

“It is a rare chance for them to see science in action. You normally get to hear about the research, but you rarely get to speak to scientists as they are working in the field. I don’t think this is done anywhere else. 

“It is a tremendous opportunity for schools, and the kids have been really excited about it,” said Bradley Johnson, research officer with the Department of Environment. 

Schools used the Google Hang Out instant messaging and video chat platform to tune in to the live lectures and check out the grouper aggregation as it was happening. 

In total, three live and interactive video feed sessions took place. The first was last Friday, live from the Little Cayman aggregation site. The second took place Monday from the research base on Little Cayman, and the third was on Wednesday from the island’s Bloody Bay Wall. 

The Grouper Moon research project is a collaboration between the Department of Environment and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, known as REEF. 

“While the bulk of the lessons take place over the course of the two weeks in January and February, when REEF scientists and DOE staff are working at the spawning site, we have developed a set of pre-activities to help build background knowledge, as well as follow-up lessons to help deepen the students’ learning experience,” said Christy Pattengill-Semmens of REEF. 

Mr. Johnson said the educational component helped raise awareness of the importance of aggregation sites to the survival of Cayman’s marine life. 

Researchers have been monitoring several sites around the Cayman Islands for more than a decade.  

Preliminary estimates from this year’s spawning sites suggests population numbers remain stable. 

Over the years, researchers have recorded more than 25 species of fish that use the sites for spawning. Mr. Johnson said the spawning sites had unique oceanographic characteristics which maximized the eggs’ chances of survival.  

Awesome-Grouper

A researcher takes notes amid the grouper aggregation in Little Cayman. – PHOTO: PAUL HUMANN

Grouper-Moon

Divers collect data at a grouper aggregation site. – PHOTO: GROUPER MOON PROJECT
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  1. Thank goodness the government finally took steps to protect the grouper spawning site. Hopefully this education process will confirm in everyone’s mind the importance of protecting these fish during spawning. I tip my hat to the folks at the DoE REEF.

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  2. It is wonderful that the groupers are doing so well and DOE and REEF continue the great work that started in 2001/02. That said, the groupers only have temporary protection, thanks to DOE and the Marine Conservation, NOT Government. If the LA (Julianna O’Connor-Connolly and reps from the Sister Islands) had their way the groupers would have been fished to extinction by now. The grouper spawning aggregations do not have permanent protection, yet. Here’s hoping Government does the right thing and protect them for good and ever.

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  3. Along those lines, great job DoE and REEF to help the grouper. I’m still a bit shocked that dive operators, clubs and private citizens are footing the bill and doing a lot of the work to restore the damage to the reef from the Carnival ship. What’s even more disturbing is that this story has seem to have fallen by the wayside. Worst of all, no one is being held accountable or prosecuted! Cayman continues to rank very high in the Caribbean for divers, but that cannot be maintained if the reefs are damaged and die. The persons responsible should be prosecuted.

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  4. This is great to hear that the groupers are coming back. So how many groupers do we have to have to be able to fish them again?
    I have a feeling my question won’t be answered? But someone please try

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  5. @david miller, you can fish Nassau grouper now. Must be larger than 12 inches I think. You just can’t fish them while they are gathered to spawn. Groupers are so vulnerable to overfishing while gathered in a small area. It would be my hope that that the Nassau groupers are never fished at their spawning sites, ever again. Nassau grouper have been fished to extinction in most of the rest of their range (the Caribbean) but Little Cayman.

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