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Cayman Islands Government

Grouper Research Boosted

DOE Research Officer James Gibb dives with the re-breather.

Cayman's Nassau grouper conservation programme, the Grouper Moon Project, has received a welcome boost when several companies banded together to donate re-breather equipment to Department of Environment (DoE) staff.

"Nassau groupers tend to aggregate and spawn at depths of 130 - 200 feet which greatly limit the time and work that researchers can safely do using conventional scuba equipment. A re-breather will significantly enhance our research diver's ability to study and tag the groupers during the annual two-week spawning cycle," said DoE's Research Manager Phil Bush.

He added: "We specifically thank Nancy Easterbrook of Divetech for being instrumental in securing the donation of the deep diving equipment which will greatly facilitate our research goals."

The Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) is thought to be an ecological and economic corner stone of Caribbean coral reefs. Since 2004, a seasonal fishing ban has been in effect in all designated grouper spawning areas in the Cayman Islands.

"The research currently being conducted is very important to all of us. It will help to preserve the groupers for fishermen and divers alike to enjoy for generations to come. The data we are collecting will identify the level and extent to which these very sensitive (and increasingly rare) spawning aggregations must be protected," Mr. Bush explained.

Closed circuit re-breathers (CCR) allow divers to stay down longer at greater depths because unlike regular Scuba gear it delivers a constant partial pressure of oxygen, explained Ms. Easterbrook.

"Having watched Dr. Brice Semmens' fascinating presentation several times, we recognized the value of the data being collected for the sustainability of the groupers for future generations. And so we contacted several of our partners and suppliers and were successful in getting some expensive equipment as a donation to the project," she continued.

Silent Diving donated an Inspiration Classic CCR and Shearwater Research donated a Pursuit trimix computer. Local companies PM Gas donated oxygen tanks, and Divetech donated the training and materials for DOE Research Officer James Gibb to become a certified CCR diver.

Bruce and Lynn Partridge from Shearwater Research Inc. commented, "We are pleased to offer our support to the DoE and the Grouper Moon Project (REEF). We applaud the efforts of those involved with the catch, tag and release of Cayman's endangered groupers. As divers, we all appreciate a healthy fish population. The success of this program will also contribute greatly towards a establishing a sustainable fishery in the area."

Silent Diving is the distributor of the Inspiration and Evolution rebreathers. The re-breathers are well tested both in the field and through extensive CE testing in the UK before release. "As divers, the Grouper Moon Project made sense to us, as it is paramount to manage our marine fisheries in a responsible manner, and this takes knowledge. It was an easy decision to support this worthwhile project as we are also frequent visitors to Cayman," stated Mike Fowler of Silent Diving.

The project began in Little Cayman in 2002 as an effort to prevent the imminent collapse of what was thought to be the Cayman Islands' remaining viable spawning aggregation of Nassau grouper (located at the west end of Little Cayman). The programme has since been expanded to include Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman.

The Grouper Moon Project is an ongoing collaborative research programme run by the Reef Environmental and Education Foundation and the DoE. For more information visit www.REEF.org.