GEORGE TOWN, GRAND CAYMAN—APRIL 16, 2012— Recent scientific evidence shows that a ten-year effort to protect the spawning aggregation sites for the endangered Nassau Grouper has resulted in a growing and healthy population of the species on the reefs near Little Cayman—a harbinger that the recovery of the species may spread throughout the Caribbean.
“After ten years the detective work is finally done,” said an exuberant Dr. Guy Harvey, a Cayman resident and an ardent conservationist and internationally known marine wildlife artist.
Dr. Harvey, who has worked closely with research leaders REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), Oregon State University and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) to bring about legislation to protect the species, continued: “The work is finally done and science indicates the groupers need to have aggregation sites projected to help them survive.”
Late last year a groundswell of public support generated by Dr. Harvey’s latest film The Mystery of the Grouper Moon prompted the Marine Conservation Board of the Cayman Islands to extend a ban on fishing the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation site near Little Cayman. A recent re-mastering of the film, which includes spectacular footage of the 2012 spawning, will make its debut at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival scheduled to be held in Miami, Florida on Saturday, April 21. Dates of the festival are April 20-23 with April 22 being Earth Day. Emmy Award winning producer George C. Schellenger edited the film.
During a recent return to the spawning area this February, researchers collected a sampling of eggs for genetic research and noted a marked increase in the number of groupers.
“It was the biggest spawn we’ve ever seen,” Dr. Harvey noted. “With the right cooperation the Nassau Grouper will become a symbol of conservation for threatened marine species—a shining example of what can be achieved if all the stakeholders work together.”
As one of the “stakeholders” Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Director of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, is recommending complete closure of the Nassau Grouper fishery during spawning season and for the remainder of the year, enforce catch limits for hook and line.
Government officials agree and are drafting a decision to extend the fishing ban during the spawning season—November 1 through March 31—and implementing an open and closed season for groupers on an annual basis. The penalty for catching Nassau Grouper in a spawning aggregation site between November and March is up to one year in prison or up to $500,000 in fines.
“This is wonderful news, “ said Dr. Brice Semmens, who along with his wife, Christy, has spearheaded the REEF research efforts.
“I think we will find in the years to come, as we monitor these populations ,we’re going to see a dramatic response in terms of the number of new fish on the reefs for divers to see and fishermen to catch,” he said.
Dr. Semmens said that a healthy and growing Nassau Grouper population will not only seed the local reefs surrounding the Cayman Islands but will be at the epicenter for the recovery of the species everywhere in the Caribbean.
“The Cayman Islands through their cooperation and support have put themselves on the international conservation map,” he added. “The government officials made the correct and appropriate decisions based on science.”