In February this year Richard Branson dived in the beautiful waters of the Cayman Islands with one of the most well known Nassau grouper spawning aggregations left in the Caribbean.

These aggregations are spectacular natural events that occur for just a few days each year at very specific places and times. These are the only times that beautiful groupers reproduce and therefore are essential for their future.

Unlike the more famous wildebeest, flamingo, or monarch butterfly wildlife migrations, the massive movements and gatherings of fishes are not nearly so well-known, but they’re no less spectacular (as Sir Richard so aptly expressed in his blog).

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Ocean, Yvonne Sadovy
Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Ocean, Yvonne Sadovy

I have dived for over 30 years and some of the most incredible dives I have ever had were on such aggregations. The experience of being totally surrounded by thousands of active groupers – the males desperately fighting each other for mates, the ladies bursting with the hundreds of thousands of eggs that they need to release at any moment – was absolutely amazing. The fish ignore the divers as they focus on much more important things. There is so much energy in the water you can actually feel it.

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Ocean, Yvonne Sadovy

Sadly, over the last two decades, lots of these aggregations have disappeared. Once discovered they are easy to find again and so many are being fished out of existence. This is happening not just in the Caribbean, but for groupers all over the world – from camouflage grouper, to blue speckled grouper, to square tailed coral, goliath, and gulf groupers. It is also happening to other reef fishes, such as snappers and the bumphead parrotfish.

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Ocean, Yvonne Sadovy
Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Ocean, Yvonne Sadovy

The Nassau grouper has now lost about two thirds of all of its aggregations and most of those that remain have far fewer fish assembling to mate than they did in the past. The Cayman Islands aggregation, visited by Mr. Branson, is one of the very few examples of a recovering aggregation – this made possible by the great work of the researchers who draw attention to it, and the support from governments that protected them.

The problem is simple: too much fishing and too little management.

Sadly, due to declines throughout so much of its range, the once-common Nassau grouper – previously a very important food and trade fish – is now endangered (IUCN Red List) because of fishing on its aggregations. The problem is simple: too much fishing and too little management.

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Ocean, Yvonne Sadovy

We must find a balance so that we have our fish – and their aggregations – treated in a sustainable way. To learn more about aggregations and how not to lose them visit SCRFA.


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