Posts Tagged ‘Ocean Conservation’

Mar 26, 2013

Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA)

AFTCO is a proud supporter of the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association. The MBARA was formed in January of 1997 and has since deployed over 200 artificial reefs. The mission of the MBARA is the conservation and environmental improvement of natural and artificial marine reef systems in the Gulf of Mexico near Mexico Beach, Florida.

Reef Building

The MBARA works hard to construct artificial reef habitat to enhance sustainable fisheries in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The MBARA set a milestone of establishing 1000 patch reefs, or small artificial reef habitats in the waters off Mexico Beach, Florida. The MBARA works closely with the City of Mexico Beach, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commision, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to achieve this goal.

Constructing Reef Habitat

Artificial Reef Deployment

Reef Education

Since its inception, the MBARA has worked hard to conduct and promote scientific research and evaluation of reef designs, biomass development, and fish productions. A focus for the MBARA has been the education of the public about the values of sustainable artificial reef fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, and the impact they have on the ecosystems and coastal communities where they are built. School children, members of the organization, and the general public need to know all about reefs and reef building in order to help promote conservation and environmental improvement of the marine reef systems.

MBARA Artificial Reef Underwater

Nov 6, 2012

Meeting with Sir Richard Branson

Michael Ryan, Guy Harvey, Madeleine Ryan, Jessica Harvey and Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin conglomerate of companies was here in Grand Cayman for the weekend. He gave the keynote interview at the Alternative Investment Conference held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel at the invitation of Michael Ryan, the event host and organizer. Other notable interviews were conducted with former US President George W. Bush and with former world number one golfer Greg Norman.

Several weeks ago, I had applied to meet with Sir Richard for a few minutes to discuss the potential for collaboration with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation in research and conservation projects that would be beneficial and make a difference in furthering our knowledge and therefore enhance the management process and conservation of large pelagic animals.

Sir Richard welcomed the four of us, Michael Ryan and his daughter Madeleine plus myself and my daughter Jessica. I gave Sir Richard a quick overview of the GHOF, how we raise funds and what sort of research and educational projects the GHOF currently conducts. I gave him specifics about tiger shark, mako shark, bluefin tuna and billfish research.

I elaborated on the role the research by the GHOF had played in showing the importance of the Bahamas archipelago to many species of sharks. In a collaborative effort with the Bahamas National Trust and the Pew Environmental Group, we convinced the government of the Bahamas to protect all sharks from commercial exploitation within their 200 mile EEZ.

Here in the Cayman Islands, the GHOF has broader interests in work on Nassau grouper conservation, lionfish eradication and recruitment plus climate change studies at CCMI in Little Cayman. We are also actively engaged in shark research and blue marlin migration studies.

Documentary film making has been a priority, so during the last year the Guy Harvey Expeditions team of producer George Schellenger, Guy Harvey and Jessica Harvey, have been on location nine times to conduct shoots in Panama, Nova Scotia, Little Cayman, Bahamas twice, Cocos Island, Costa Rica, Isla Mujeres, Mexico on three occasions teaming up with Captain Anthony Mendillo and crew to complete shoots on sailfish, mako sharks and whale sharks. Sir Richard was particularly interested in the sailfish and whale shark work as he has visited Isla Mujeres on several occasions guided by Captain Anthony. We discussed the limited research done on sailfish and whale sharks and the opportunity to collaborate with the Georgia Aquarium research team in future research and conservation efforts.

I went to some length explaining the value of catch and release sport fishing to Caribbean island and Central American economies. I emphasized the need for a regional approach as many of the large pelagic species cover great distances crossing several jurisdictions. This requires a regional approach in management and conservation as one country’s regulations may not be the same as its neighbours.

I explained the need for research work on all the species mentioned, as without the scientific data one cannot make management decisions and thus achieve sustainability and conservation. Fishing is the method by which we access many of these creatures for study, underwater photography, tagging and genetic work. Sir Richard was not keen on fishing but acknowledged it is a useful tool in this arena.

Sir Richard welcomed the opportunity to participate in collaborative studies and the consequent dissemination of information necessary for sustainability.

We moved on to some more local issues, the hot topics being the condition of the Cayman Turtle Farm and the issue regarding stingray conservation through law. Sir Richard was concerned that turtles could still be fished by local licensed fishermen, very archaic, given this was the 21st century and that they were protected world-wide. I pointed out that none of the current license holders have continued with this activity. The turtle farm itself needed to be divested I said, and turned into a better marine attraction whose focus was more on turtle replenishment, research and husbandry than on the consumption of the turtle meat. There are hundreds of thousands of turtle lovers out there in North America who would be only too happy to give $5 or $10 towards a satellite tagging programme and let the turtles go and provide information about migrations and long distance journeys.

The stingrays…poor stingrays… have been sabotaged and removed by unknown persons for the last two years at least. The proof was in finding four tagged stingrays in the Dolphin Discovery tourist attraction. The owners will not release the remaining six rays. No one has explained how the rays got to this location. Our ray population has been reduced by almost 50% in the last two years. Sir Richard said it should be very simple to change the law and have stingrays enjoy full protection from poaching given their ecological importance and their value to the island. We all agreed with that. After all, the people of the Cayman Islands and millions of visitors have an enjoyed and benefited from this unique experience for the last 30 years.

The value of the last ten years worth of research by the GHOF and the Dept of Environment has provided the base line information about this population. It is because of the scientific record of population numbers that we have been able to track the decline and the subsequent revelation of four of these rays ending up at Dolphin Discovery in West Bay.

The proposed expansion of marine parks by the Dept of Environment was a good move and Sir Richard commented that fishing has been known to improve in areas adjacent to marine parks. He said there are models out now that show countries need to protect 40 – 50 % of their shallow reef areas to ensure long term survivability. I commented that the Cayman Islands were a world leader in the formation of marine parks and in the protection of the spawning sites of the iconic Nassau grouper. I presented Sir Richard with a DVD copy of Mystery of the Grouper Moon and a copy of This is Your Ocean; Sharks.

Sir Richard was very gracious and listened to many of our comments and suggestions, making notes and the meeting was much appreciated by all involved.

We at the GHOF look forward to collaborating with Sir Richard and his foundation on several projects.

We also look forward to the day when the airport in George Town, Grand Cayman is expanded and to the arrival of Virgin Atlantic jets to our beautiful island.

It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of the planet.

Fish responsibly, dive safely.

—Guy Harvey PhD.

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Oct 5, 2012

Stingray Census, Grand Cayman, July 2012

The annual census of the stingray population in Grand Cayman was conducted the week of July 10 – 13, 2012. The research work was done by personnel from the Guy Harvey Research Institute in collaboration with the Cayman Island Dept. of Environment. The difference this year was that three veterinarians from the Georgia Aquarium visited to assist with analyzing the health of the stingrays.

The situation at the Sandbar in North Sound is unique, with a large number of rays, which are wild animals that are not fenced or contained but inhabit the shallow clear water with accessibility every day of the year. The socio-economic value of the rays to the Cayman economy is enormous. Rays are slow growing long lived animals, a close relative of sharks. Each animal may generate USD 500,000 in revenue per year therefore in its life time assuming they live more than 20 years, may generate USD 10,000,000 in a lifetime.

From a historical perspective, it is worth setting out the track record of research work conducted on the population of stingrays in Grand Cayman. Research was started by the GHRI in 2002 when all the stingrays that frequent the two main sites were caught by hand and tagged with a PIT (passive integrated transponder) at the base of the tail where it meets the disk on the left side of the animal. Tag retention remained at 100%, so many animals tagged ten years ago still have their PIT today. This has been a very simple and valuable tool to track the life history and growth rates of these animals.

For the period 2002-2003, one hundred rays were sampled each month over a three day period at the Sandbar. One hundred sixty-four rays were tagged, weighed and measured at the Sandbar over two years. There was never any difficulty in catching a hundred animals. The same situation was experienced in a subsequent census conducted by GHRI in 2005 and in 2008. There was recruitment of new (untagged) rays to the Sandbar and loss of individuals due to migration, natural mortality and possibly some predation. The sex ratio of 90% females to 10% males has remained historically skewed in favor of the larger females.

From 2010, tour operators and casual observations indicated a sudden decline in the number of rays at the Sandbar. The GHRI conducted a census in January 2012 and sampled only 61 rays in the standard three day research period at the Sandbar which represents a significant (38%) decrease in number of rays compared to the last census in 2008. Now that we had some facts, the next step was to find out why? What was causing the decrease in numbers? How would this affect the tourism value of the interactive programme? What action would the Dept. of Environment and therefore the CI Government take to learn more about this potential problem?

The numbers of rays have been constant since research was started in 2002 with recruitment and mortality being well balanced. GHRI personnel ruled out predation by sharks in the January census due to lack of evidence of shark bites (near misses) and the corresponding demise of sharks in the last ten years. However, some tour operators have reported seeing rays injured by sharks from time to time but no more than normal. Fishing mortality (intentionally or by accident) is a consideration. I say this because outside of the Wildlife Interactive Zones (WIZ) this species has no protection and can be removed and consumed by residents. There is no national protection for stingrays.

The health of the rays was another consideration, which is why the GHRI enlisted the support of the Georgia Aquarium veterinary staff. The research work was now becoming much more technical. Dr. Tonya Clauss (Director Animal Health, Georgia Aquarium), Dr. Lisa Hoopes (Nutritionist, Georgia Aquarium) and Nicole Boucha (Senior Veterinary Technician, Georgia Aquarium) all arrived here loaded with equipment to take blood and store these precious samples in liquid nitrogen until analysis could be achieved back in Georgia.

Over three days, the team sampled 57 rays (only 5 males) at the Sandbar (down from 61 in January) with assistance from DoE staff and several volunteers. The team spent a day at the original Stingray City and sampled 11 rays (2 males) and caught 3 rays (1 male) at Rum Point bringing the total to 71 rays sampled. The low number of males generally is cause for concern.

Each ray was caught by hand and transferred to the pool in the work boat where they were measured, tagged and then blood was taken from the underside of the base of the tail. Some of this blood was immediately centrifuged to make counts of white blood cells. The rest was frozen in liquid nitrogen for shipment back to the lab in the Georgia Aquarium.

From the blood samples the vets will be able to determine if the (monotonous) diet of squid fed the rays by the majority of tour operators is affecting the animal’s health. The processing of samples and data will take several weeks. At the end of this process we will have more knowledge about these valuable creatures and how better to manage their supplementary diet and well being.

Overall, a long term plan of monitoring the numbers of rays and their health is required. Everyone in the Cayman Islands benefits from the presence of this unique marine interactive site. Every advertising campaign or tourism related article featuring the Cayman Islands has these iconic animals up front and prominently displayed. It is time the CI Government returned the favor by supporting ongoing research of the stingrays’ population status and wellbeing by releasing funds in the Environmental Protection Fund collected for this purpose.

More updates to come.

Fish responsibly, dive safely.

Guy Harvey

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Aug 6, 2012

An Open Letter from Guy Harvey

Fellow anglers, divers and boaters,

It has come to my attention that that there is some concern, particularly among anglers in the northeast US, about my allegiance to the sport fishing community. Please know that first and foremost I am a life-long angler who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water in pursuit of big fish. It’s my passion and my profession, and I live it practically every day of the year. I am also a dedicated conservationist – I believe that we must fish responsibly and ensure the health of fish stocks throughout the world.

In an effort to broaden the message of responsible fishing, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) has supported, collaborated and partnered with many organizations over the past four years, including the Shark Free Marina Initiative (SFMI). Sharks are in serious trouble in the US and around the world. However, I am not advocating for a ban on all shark fishing. My position has always been for all anglers to take a responsible, conservation-minded approach to sharks – before you legally harvest a shark, simply consider what you are doing and why you are doing it.

The shark free/friendly concept was initiated to educate and make people aware of the severe pressures being put upon sharks populations around the globe. In the past several years, we have seen many shark tournaments – particularly in Florida – go to an all-release format, which makes for responsible fishing since most of the species of sharks caught in tournaments are traditionally not good table fare.

In contrast, the iconic mako shark is considered fair game in the northeast US, as are tunas and swordfish above federal size limits. Catch and release shark tournaments in this area with high minimum qualifying weights are well organized and have shark conservation measures at heart, as do the partial release billfish tournaments in the mid-Atlantic, which I have proudly supported for over two decades.

In addition, in the US and around the world there are areas of local abundance of species where anglers can legally harvest these species in a sustainable way, even though elsewhere in the world that species may be considered rare or overexploited. This practice is fine with me. I am all about sustainability in sport fishing and commercial fishing, as well as in spearfishing and diving. However, there are many anglers who are not concerned about sustainability and that is cause for concern.

Much of the recent criticism directed my way has stemmed from the role of the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) within the SFMI organization, and alleged ties to PETA and the PEW Environment Group (PEG). I have difficulty in accommodating the role of the HSUS in the sport fishing arena. Other than encouraging catch and release where possible, I see no reason for this organization to exert any influence in sport fishing. I have an even stronger opinion of PETA, which is just too extreme to even get my attention.

As for Pew, I am not aligned with them personally, nor have I supported them during my 20-year tenure as a board member of the IGFA. The one instance in which I worked alongside PEG was in a successful effort to prevent the archipelago of the Bahamas – which was home to the last bastion of sharks in the western Atlantic – from being scoured of sharks by impending commercial interests. The GHOF’s collaborative effort with PEG and the Bahamas National Trust worked, and it prevented the wholesale slaughter of species by people who don’t give a damn.

I also support shark interactive programs and have patronized many such programs in different countries. These interactions with otherwise shy, elusive creatures are inspiring, educational and very entertaining – all without killing a single animal. In addition, the socio-economic value of these interactive sites is immense to the host countries. Only days ago, I returned from a shoot in Isla Mujeres, Mexico where for 60 days each summer thousands of whale sharks gather to feed on plankton blooms and fish spawn. This interaction pumps millions of dollars into the Mexican economy each summer. If this phenomenon occurred in the Orient, then I am certain the harpoon boats would be racing the snorkelers to the sites every day.

Another issue I have difficulty accepting is proposed MPAs based on nothing other than whims of people who want to get rid of sport fishing. These proposed areas, which are closed to sport fishing, typically do not go through a scientific analysis to tell us all about the inventory of species or the estimated biomass from which a regulated harvest could be managed. However, specific time and area closures for certain species at certain times of year do work well. It is ludicrous to allow any harvest of any animal when it is reproducing, so closure of reef fish (snapper and grouper) spawning aggregations during their respective spawning times is a good management practice, as we have seen in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands.

There are many issues facing recreational anglers and many of us have conflicting opinions on how to apply solutions that best benefit the fisheries. Not everyone is going to agree with me on every issue. However, please don’t underestimate my dedication and commitment to the sport fishing community – along with AFTCO, I put back approximately 10 percent of all royalties generated by my art into fishery research and educational programs around the world.

I want to remind my fan base – as well as all of the naysayers – that I love fishing and I love to cook and eat the fish that I catch. I do fish responsibly – I release all billfish and undersized wahoo, tuna or dolphin that I catch. But, a nice bull dolphin, yellowfin or blackfin is going in the cooler! Swordfish are also fair game – in the tournaments we have in Cayman the small ones are released and the big ones are taken. In fact, we just landed a 600 pound plus swordfish on July 22 in Mexico. Not a scrap was wasted!

Tight lines and good luck.

Guy Harvey PhD.

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Apr 25, 2012

Doug Olander, Editor of SportFishing Magazine, continues to provide leadership on the important issue of offshore oil rigs and the valuable habit they provide. Some misguided individuals from the extreme side of the environmental community are advocating removal of the rigs without considering the valuable habitat they provide. Doug’s recent blog below shares the good news that the Gulf Coast Fishery Management Council has recently voted to list the oil rigs in the Gulf Coast as “Essential Fish Habitat” and “Habitat Areas of Particular Concern”. While this is not a final solution in keeping the underwater portion of the rigs in place, when they are decommissioned, it is a step in the right direction.

Guy Harvey and AFTCO are supporting this effort with a special Rig-To-Reefs T-shirt designed by Guy and distributed by AFTCO and its retail partners. $2 from the sale of each shirt is being donated to the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) to support their educational efforts on the value of maintaining this important habitat.Bill Shedd 

Gulf Rigs to Become ‘Essential Fish Habitat’

Every angler who fishes or ever might fish the Gulf of Mexico, as well as every true environmentalist who cares about the Gulf, owes a major “thank you!” to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

As I write this (Thursday morning, April 19), the council has just unanimously voted to go forward with the process that will list the Gulf’s decommissioned oil rigs as Essential Fish Habitat and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, official federal designations designed to protect critical habitat.

This action can be huge in the battle to save about 650 rigs – covered in tons of living coral – from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has ordered the oil industry to destroy and remove them within the next five years.

The council’s vote directs its staff to prepare the necessary management plans, and it will likely be some months before the council will have a final plan to approve and send on for the Secretary of Commerce’s signature later this year.

But process is in motion!

In a blog last week, I urged council members to vote for EFH. Now I thank them for their wise judgment in taking this important step.

For a more thorough analysis of this action and its implications, don’t miss Sport Fishing’s editorial in the June issue.

Doug Olander

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Jan 25, 2012

Lionfish In The Cayman Islands

In recent years the Indo-Pacific lionfish has spread from the SE coast of the USA throughout the Bahamas and Caribbean as far north as Bermuda and as far south as Venezuela. They can reduce the populations of native fish species very rapidly particularly by preying upon juveniles and reducing recruitment of all species to the reef habitat.

There are several examples of humans causing the substantial invasion of a (non native) species that thrives extremely well in its new habitat. In short order, this species explodes in biomass because of the lack of natural predators in that new environment and a food source that does recognize the invader as a predator. But none have had the dramatic (possibly immeasurable) damaging effect that the lionfish has had on Caribbean and western Atlantic native fish populations.

The spread of Lionfish in the Bahamas and Caribbean is problematic for native species

In response to the invasion of lionfish around the reefs of the Cayman Islands the Department of Environment now offers lionfish culling courses and licenses the use of Hawaiian slings to assist in capture and killing these fish. Being a small country with a low population but many of whom dive, fish or both, the culling of lionfish has become a weekly operation. Many restaurants are now offering lionfish on their menus.

Several dive companies have one day per week set aside for hunting lionfish, particularly in Little Cayman, the diving crown jewel of these islands. A study on the effectiveness of this culling is being undertaken by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, (CCMI) which is based on the north side of Little Cayman. Following the Wednesday culling dives, researchers are measuring the catch per unit effort needed to make a dent in the population and cover the 3 mile stretch of wall at Bloody Bay to determine how fast new lionfish colonize the vacated areas. They are also assessing whether the structure and balance of Bloody Bay’s native fish population is affected by the continuing targeted removal of lionfish.

The targeted removal of lionfish has several benefits. Firstly, they are good to eat, so in spearing lionfish rather than grouper, snapper or hogfish, this removes some fishing pressure on the more popular reef species and will help reduce the mortality of juvenile reef fish caused by the invasive lionfish. The removal of significant numbers of larger lionfish means that those remaining are unable to prey upon larger individuals of the resident native fish populations.

Perhaps the best way to get people involved is to hold a lionfish culling tournament. There is the educational component when you register for the event, then the challenge of getting the most, the biggest (or smallest) and the creation of a tournament atmosphere while relieving the reefs of a very dangerous predator.

In a meeting with the Minister of the Environment last week, I learned of the plan to have a specialized task force assigned to culling lionfish around the Cayman Islands. I agree with this move. The threat to the coral reef habitat is so great that there needs to be radical action taken. The individual dive operators should not have to do the all grunt work on their own. After all, the dive business in the Cayman Islands is the focal point of the tourism sector.

Little Cayman also has the largest remaining population of Nassau groupers. This species, which is a favourite of divers and is the iconic Caribbean reef predator, may now have a new role in reef fish population restoration. Nassau groupers routinely follow divers and will consume lionfish speared by divers. Some divers say that Nassau groupers lead them to lionfish a bit like trained hunting dogs. For decades the Nassau groupers were traditionally fished heavily by artisanal fishermen at their spawning sites (locally called “grouper holes”) over the winter full moons. The Marine Conservation Board here protected these sites from 2003, and has just renewed that protection for another eight years. Good job! The Nassau grouper might be the knight in shining armour for reef fish populations. If this grouper, along with other large groupers and mutton snappers, can learn to attack and consume lionfish without the aid of divers then natural controls will begin to take effect in reducing lionfish biomass. After all, in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean, lionfish populations are maintained at equilibrium by their natural predators such as large groupers, jacks and the white tip reef shark.

Guy Harvey

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Jan 18, 2012

“Panama Paradise: Edge of Conservation” Documentary Scheduled for Release in Spring 2012

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL—JANUARY 9, 2012— Internationally known wildlife artist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey, who took audiences across the planet in the award-winning Portraits from the Deep documentary series, is launching several new film projects in 2012, starting with Panama Paradise: Edge of Conservation due for release this spring.

“A critical part of the mission of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is education and film is a superb way to deliver the messages of science and conservation,” said Dr. Harvey. “Only through understanding the issues can we hope to save our seas for future generations.”

In Panama Paradise: Edge of Conservation, Dr. Harvey and two-time Emmy Award winning producer George C. Schellenger takes the audience on an expedition where the jungle meets the sea in an explosion of life, an unforgettable vision of Panama and its surrounding waters. The film will show how scientists are working against the clock to protect a land and sea paradise that attracts visitors from around the world.

 “The film will feature massive storms, majestic marlins and even protective dolphins—all part of an adventure that takes place above and below the water,” said Dr. Harvey, whose latest documentary “The Mystery of the Grouper Moon” played a pivotal role in protecting one of the last know spawning areas of the Nassau grouper. An updated version of the documentary is in production. Also, a film revealing scientific breakthroughs in the study of migration patterns of satellite-tagged Tiger Sharks is underway for a 2012 release.

Dr. Harvey and Schellenger have collaborated on several projects recently, including “This is Your Ocean: Sharks”, a 44-minute documentary depicting sharks in their natural environment. This film captures the adventure and passion of shark diving and evokes a call for conservation and protection for the species that today is threatened by over fishing for a growing demand for shark fin soup.

Trailer for “Panama Paradise: Edge of Conservation”:

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Dec 28, 2011

Fishing Ban Extended at One of the Last Spawning Areas for the Nassau Grouper

Discussion about and awareness of Marine Protect Areas (MPA) continues to increase.  Much focus has been put on irrational and ill-advised  MPA’s like in those along the California coast, the Outer banks of N.C. or Biscayne Bay, FL. In those cases, politics, rather than science or rational thought, drove the agenda.  AFTCO has and will continue to speak out and fight against such ill-advised MPA’s.

The above poor examples does not mean that all MPA’s are bad.  Today’s blog is about a different type of MPA, one that is reasonable, supported by sound science, and a good example of how conservationists, and sportfishermen can work together on behalf of the marine resource.  This MPA will allow the Cayman Islands to continue to protect their Nassau grouper spawning aggregation site.  We applaud Guy Harvey and all who supported him in this effort.

 – Bill Shedd   

Dr. Guy Harvey Applauds Decision But Says More Needs to Be Done

GEORGE TOWN, GRAND CAYMAN—DECEMBER 16, 2011— A groundswell of public support generated by Guy Harvey’s latest film The Mystery of the Grouper Moon has prompted the Marine Conservation Board of the Cayman Islands to extend a ban on fishing the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation site near Little Cayman.

The Board, this week, voted to extend the current moratorium another eight years after reviewing extensive research conducted by REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) and Oregon State University and a public education campaign supported by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE). The existing ban, in place since 2003, was due to expire at the end of the year. 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.

“The Cayman Islands are celebrating the 25 anniversary since the formation of the first marine park here, so it is fitting that such a strong conservation effort has been made by the MCB and that common sense has prevailed,” said Dr. Harvey.

In filming the research work being conducted by REEF, Guy Harvey and award-winning filmmaker George Schellenger created a compelling and informative 45-minute documentary—The Mystery of the Grouper Moon. The film’s purpose was to document the research and make the results available in layman’s language to the residents of the Cayman Islands. The documentary was shot entirely in the Cayman Islands and was supported by REEF and the DOE. The GHOF also supported the education campaign with custom artwork.

More work needs to be done, according to Dr. Harvey, who makes his home in the Cayman Islands.

“We are all very glad that the Marine Conservation Board has acted positively on the research conducted by REEF and the DOE, as the science clearly shows the recovery of Nassau groupers has not been as successful as expected,” said Dr. Harvey. “This is because fishing for this species still continues during the spawning season, but outside of the protected spawning aggregation sites.”

The Nassau grouper population, according to Dr. Harvey, has maintained equilibrium and has not grown appreciably. Harvey says the next step is for the Ministry of the Environment to legislate protection of Nassau grouper throughout its range during spawning season, between November 1 and March 31.

“This would be similar to the protection enjoyed by conch and lobster populations which remain healthy in the Cayman Islands, but are fished for only during short seasons each year,” he said. “Also the minimum catch size of the Nassau grouper needs to be extended from 12 inches to 24 inches. It is good fishery management to let fish reproduce before they are harvested. A 12 inch fish is immature.”

An added advantage to keeping groupers at a healthy population is that they can serve as a natural culling force on the invasive, non-native lionfish, which are annihilating several species of juvenile reef fish throughout the Caribbean.

“Local fishermen need to realize that these conservation measures will benefit all user groups in the years to come,” Dr. Harvey concluded. “Once the Nassau grouper population recovers it can then be managed and fished within the restrictions of new catch limits, but the spawning brood stock must be protected forever.”

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Dec 21, 2011

Guy Harvey On— The Queen Angelfish

Every time I go for a dive in the Cayman Islands I am always on the lookout for the most beautiful of all Caribbean reef fishes, the queen angelfish. If followed too closely, they sneak into a hole and then turn to look at you, but never give you a good profile shot. However, I know that they feed a great deal on sponges, and occasionally you can be lucky and find a hawksbill turtle chowing down on a sponge at a reasonable depth giving you decent bottom time. The turtle is a sloppy eater and there are lots of loose pieces of sponge and scraps to be had, a perfect size for the angelfish’s small mouth. 

Queen angelfish are also present at cleaning stations, particularly the juveniles,and will clean parasites off larger predators like groupers and jacks. In the tropical eastern Pacific, a close relative, the king angelfish will be a major player at cleaning stations and along with the barberfish (a butterflyfish species) will cover scalloped hammerheads as they come close to the stations to be cleaned. In such exotic locations as Cocos Island and in the Galapagos, these angelfish form large schools and the sight of them cleaning a large shark is quite a spectacle.

Apart from sponges, the queen angels consume a wide variety of tiny invertebrates, soft corals and tunicates in their normal depth range from the shallows down to one hundred meters.  Their mouths are protractible and have fine, brush-like teeth. Typically, one finds them slowly browsing along the reef picking at minute bits of coral tissue, and invertebrates that are lurking in crevices.

This species is found throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, to Bermuda, so may be considered sub tropical and tropical. By no means the largest of the angelfish species, they grow to a maximum of forty centimeters, and weigh just a couple of pounds. Because of its vivid blue and yellow colour, gorgeous face markings and unique shape, it is widely used to advertise dive shops and exotic dive destinations in numerous publications. Easily identifiable from a distance because of their flattened rhomboid shape and brilliant colours, the queen angelfish is truly the queen of the reef and a great subject for an underwater painting.

It is likely the angelfish has a protracted spawning season as pairs can stay together over many months. Other similar, but larger species, such as the gray angel and French angel, may pair for life. Following spawning, as with most tropical species, eggs hatch within twenty four hours and the larvae are planktonic, feeding and growing rapidly and then settling on a new coral reef habitat as juveniles. They are protective of their patch of reef and often engage in cleaning other fish and rays. The colouration of juvenile is different from the adult, but just as spectacular and combined in the same image make a wonderful work of art.

Queen angelfish are long lived and may be encountered in the same reef for many years. They are common but not abundant having few predators. Only man has exploited them to any great extent. For defense, they rely on their ability to fit into crevices in the coral to evade predators. Also, they have two very large backward facing spines on their pre-operculum, which they use to good effect with violent head shakes when held. In some Caribbean islands, they are harvested in fish traps or by spear fishing for food. In other locations, they are taken mostly as live animals for use in the aquarium trade but are not yet considered over exploited anywhere in their range.

So the next time you encounter a queen angel browsing along the reef, try to get the best shot ever of this magnificent creature while you wonder why it evolved with such striking markings and coloration.

It is our collective responsibility to conserve all marine creatures and maintain the biodiversity of this planet. Safe diving!

Guy Harvey 

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Nov 16, 2011

We Still Need MORE Tagging

I recently found an old story I wrote while looking up some information about tagging and its benefits. When “Migratory Movements, Depth Preferences, and Thermal Biology of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna” was published in the 17 August 2001 issue of Science there were some great stories to tell. Stories that had to be kept as secrets until the paper was published in Science.

The data presented, and conclusions drawn from them by a team headed by Dr. Barbara Block from Stanford University (and including scientists, anglers and crew making up a who’s who of tuna angling , research and management) created shocks waves across the Atlantic.

National Public Radio, National Geographic News as well local, regional and national newspapers, had already discussed the ramifications of having tuna tagged off Hatteras, cross the Atlantic Ocean, and even enter the Mediterranean Sea in larger numbers than any previous estimates could imagine. This threw a monkey wrench into all management plans and conservation attempts, based on earlier theories, that eastern and western populations of bluefin tuna were separate and need to be managed separately.

Giant Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, each weighing over a quarter-ton — Photo by Guy Harvey

Two types of tags were used in the study, surgically applied internal “archival” tags and pop-up satellite archival tags (PSAT tags in the article’s jargon). Both showed that fish from the west cross over into the eastern Atlantic. These tags, plus captured fish with conventional spaghetti tags, raised the thorny issue of North American fishermen (commercial and recreational) accepting low catch quotas in order to allow the overfished tuna populations to recover, only to have the fish massacred in huge numbers in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic. (East of longitude 45 degrees West twenty metric tonnes of bluefin tuna were being caught for every tonne caught in the west!)

The Science paper is fascinating but takes some serious reading! It is not something you can glance at and retain. Some highlights, with some input from me from information gleaned during the tagging process, include:

There were 377 electronic tags in this study. Electronic tags were recovered from a few days to 3.6 years later, AND the TAG program continues to produce amazing results. Internal archival tags totaled 279 with 49 tuna being recaptured. This 18% return rate is extremely high and by itself suggests overfishing.

The 90% data acquisition rate from pop-up tags is a marvel of both technology and tuna survival rates. The return rate is higher since the fish does not have to be recaptured and the data is downloaded through the Argos satellite system. Although, the percentage of recovery is higher less information per tag can be retrieved, because of the high energy needed to send a radio signal, not just burn data onto a chip.

There were 7065 conventional spaghetti tags applied by Carolina tuna fishermen between the years 1994 and 2000. There were 292 recoveries (4.1%). This is a high rate in itself and valuable information was added, but it is obvious that trained scientific teams with top anglers and crews are more successful than the general public in properly applying tags. (One reason for non-return is probably mortality where a dead fish sinks or is eaten by sharks and the tag cannot be recovered.)

Some tags could record depth (through pressure) and location (by measuring the levels of light). Sunrise and sunset were the “most significant light events” and with an accurate electronic clock allow extremely precise east/west location and reasonable north/south estimates. It became apparent that Western tuna breed later in their lives than originally thought- another huge consideration in conservation and management.

Deep dives to over 500 fathoms (1000 meters) sometimes resulted in lowered internal body temperatures that experiments at the tuna lab showed to probably be the result of feeding on cold squid or fish living at those depths (Block fed captive yellowfins cold bait and measured cold internal temperatures.)

My question is “HOW DO THEY KNOW?” You can dive half a mile in most parts of the ocean and NOT find a meal!

In the field, the emotional highs and lows were enormous! The successful signal reception of the first pop-up tag started a major round of toasts and celebrations. Shortly after, on a rough and stormy night when the second pop-up tag failed to report in on its scheduled time, long faces abounded- until the weather eased and in calm water the tag sang like a bird to the overhead satellite. This alone allowed an adjustment, low tech but important, in additional buoyancy for subsequent tags.

Dr. Block was reduced to tears on the flying bridge one rough day when a large sea lifted the boat and one rudder hit and killed a tuna we were trying to tag. “I’m trying to save them- not kill them!” she sobbed.

The cooperation of anglers and crews, and their donations of time and money were an extremely important factor in the amazing success of this study and along with dozens of scientists and technicians all involved are to be highly congratulated! For more information get a copy of Science (17 August 2001). .

Recently, Paxson Offield was initiated into the IGFA Hall of Fame and a high light of his career and work in conservation was an ongoing program of PSAT tags in marlin. Currently, the internationally noted artist Dr. Guy Harvey is also a leader in not only tagging but other conservation initiatives.

We need people like Dr. Block, Dr. Harvey and Mr. Offield to help conserve our precious stocks of “Marine Megafauna”. AND we all need to do our part to help out.

See my next column in Marlin Magazine for a story of a Sportfishing CLUB gone BAD and becoming a detrimental group of swordfish killing amateur professionals.

Peter B Wright

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