(Blue Ocean Network.com – May 5, 2014) — “Nassau grouper are beautiful, they have personalities and they can be like friendly puppy dogs,” said Peter Hillenbrand, Owner of the Southern Cross Club in the Cayman Islands.
“Unfortunately, these puppy dogs are easy to catch and taste very good.” Peter Hillenbrand pretty much sums up what has happened to the iconic Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. Over-fishing has depleted traditional spawning sites to the point where most are dormant or extinct.
A Green Globe Elite Member
The Southern Cross Club is one of Green Globe’s Elite Members, dedicated to meet the highest international standards in regards to the environment, conservation and corporate social responsibility. This casually sophisticated resort is very fond of its 900 feet of private beach front, which contains a large sea grass bed – a valuable natural resource, protected by the Cayman Island Department of the Environment.
Little Cayman is one of the last healthy and active Nassau grouper aggregation sites in the Caribbean, and the normally solitary and territorial Nassau grouper travel a long way to gather here at the protected spawning site. For over a decade, these activities have been watched carefully by marine scientists and researchers of the Grouper Moon Project, which is passionately supported by the entire Southern Cross Club team. Every year, during the study, Peter Hillenbrand opens up his home to the researchers, and his house is transformed into the project’s base of operations.
Through the years the project has grown in scope, including research at historical aggregation sites in Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman. Current components include: acoustic fish tagging, genetic studies, satellite tracking of drifting baby grouper, juvenile habitat research and educational outreach.
“The data collected through the Grouper Moon Project has enabled the Department of the Environment to build a convincing argument for protection,” explained Jennifer Mills, General Manager at the Southern Cross Club. “Success is measured by the increase in the number of groupers that show up at the site each year and by the increasing abundance on routine fish monitoring research dives around the island for the rest of the year.”
So far the protective measures introduced a decade ago are having a meaningful and positive impact − good news for the endangered Nassau grouper and all who care about it. This includes marine wildlife artist and conservationist Guy Harvey, who has helped spread the positive message through a documentary.
“The importance of the documentary “Mystery of the Grouper Moon” is in letting the rest of the world know that the Cayman Islands is taking a responsible role in conserving an iconic reef species,” he commented. “It is important to let people know that the conservation efforts are working and long term management of these valuable species is important to environmental sustainability and to the socioeconomic wellbeing of Caribbean countries.”
Peter Hillenbrand relishes the exchanges that take place on his porch during the grouper study and he’s happy to share his home for the cause.
“It’s thrilling to be part of this project and listen to the scientists and researchers. Our involvement has introduced us to new friends, and it is helping the people of the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean Sea by bringing real answers to a real problem,” Hillenbrand added.
Photo: Grouper Moon scientists, Dr. Brice Semmens and Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, conducting a live-from-the-field chat from the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation site on Little Cayman to Caymanian classrooms. Brice answered questions from the students about grouper biology, spawning aggregations, and diving. Photo Courtesy www.Reef.org by Joshua Stewart.