Cayman Islands – My second home
At the beginning of this year I travelled back to the Cayman Islands to work with the Department of Environment for a 6 month period as a coral reef ecology intern to gain further experience with coral reef ecosystems, conservation and science communication.
I helped investigate the overall impact(s) the 2016 globally acute bleaching event had on the reefs of the Caymans and followed that event through time and space.
Caribbean reef sharks and black tips always show a great interest in the Department of Environment’s hard work.
I worked as part of a team with Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and Scripps Institute for Oceanography on the Grouper Moon project on the sister island of Little Cayman, conducting annual and new research on its Nassau grouper spawning aggregation.
This was an incredible sight to witness. Nassau grouper, a highly threatened species in the Caribbean, appearing in their thousands to breed. This doesn’t happen in the way mammals like you and I reproduce. Groupers gather in their thousands in specific areas highly influenced by currents. In the light of the full moon in January and February the event begins with a male grouper chasing a female. The males are ‘bicoloured’ at this point with three quarters of its body black and a white stomach and tale. The females appear with a ‘normal’ brown and black striped pattern with perhaps slightly darker skin tones. Several males join in with the chase as the female gets pressed upwards in a tight swarm of bodies until the eggs of the female and sperm of the male are released like an explosion into the water, resembling a puff of smoke. The groupers then swim down like the sparks of an exploded firework.
A live underwater broadcast was conducted on a dive at Bloody Bay Wall, to schools around the Cayman Islands. Children were able to see Brice Semmens in action on the reef and ask him questions about the Grouper Moon Project.
On August 15th 2016 our hard work had paid off. The findings from the Grouper Moon project lead to sweeping science-based protections for Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands! Specifically:
- All take, possession, or sale of Nassau Grouper is prohibited from December through April, inclusive (during the spawning months for the species.
- When take is permitted (May – November), only fish between 16″-24” can be kept and no more than 5 Nassau Grouper per fishing vessel per day can be kept.
- Nassau Grouper may not be taken on spear gun.
Additionally, I assisted the DoE with the restoration of a large area of reef that was destroyed by a super yacht anchor chain in January, assisting William Precht at DIAL CORDY and Associates INC, contracted by the Cayman Government to oversee the restoration efforts by Greg Challenger at Polaris Applied Sciences and Dr. Harold Hudson.
During my last month in the Cayman Islands, I set myself a challenge to get actively involved in science communication and to shared my marine based knowledge with the public. I did this mainly by visiting local schools and giving presentations to children of all ages.
Furthermore, I gained extensive experience driving a 46ft vessel and in my spare time gave presentations on coral reefs to children at local schools.
· January - May 2016 ·