British businessman, philanthropist and conservationist Sir Richard Branson was in Little Cayman last month, teaming up with noted artist, scientist and environmental activist Dr. Guy Harvey to bring attention to protecting the Nassau grouper.

On Feb. 13, the two donned their scuba gear to witness the Nassau groupers’ massive annual spawning aggregation off the west end of Little Cayman, which takes place each year after the February full moon.

“[It was] like being in the maternity ward of the ocean, with thousands of fish mating together,” said Mr. Branson of his experience, which he documented on his blog.

The spawning activity has made Nassau groupers an easy target for fishermen and consequently, their populations have become overfished and devastated throughout the Caribbean.

Mr. Branson and Mr. Harvey have teamed up several times in the name of marine conservation, speaking together last year at the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit on ocean conservation projects, and collaborating on projects like the Caribbean Challenge Initiative and the Guy Harvey Great Shark Race.

According to a press release, joining Mr. Branson and Mr. Harvey on the dive off the coast of Little Cayman were representatives from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment and Reef Environmental Education Foundation, known as REEF, which have worked for 15 years to monitor and protect the species and aggregation site.

“Because of the ongoing research program, education, and implemented legislation including a five-month closed season and catch limits, scientists consider there is a positive trend in the recovery of the species,” the release notes.

Mr. Branson visited Little Cayman to see if the scientific work and conservation effort could be exported to other islands.

The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which conducts a wide range of scientific research and hosts educational programs aimed at conserving the marine environment, has spent seven years supporting and promoting this spawning aggregation to local and international communities, emphasizing its importance to the reef ecosystem.

“The Nassau grouper is such an iconic Caribbean species. Divers love to interact with this friendly fish. As a [medium] reef predator, the grouper also needs to be protected for the health of our reefs,” said Mr. Harvey.

“We appreciate Sir Richard’s interest in this. Awareness is the first step in taking action.”

During the expedition, Mr. Harvey’s production team also shot a sequel to the critically acclaimed “Mystery of the Grouper Moon,” which first documented the work six years ago.

For more information on the Grouper Moon Project, visit REEF at www.reef.org or the DOE at www.doe.ky.

Groupers aggregate at the spawning event.
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