Tracking a Group of Groupers

Kristine Stump (bottom center) and research divers deploy a bottom monitor in The Bahamas.

Guest post by Kristine Stump, postdoctoral research associate, Shedd Aquarium

The beautiful and iconic Nassau Grouper was once one of the most important fishery species in the wider Caribbean, but due to heavy over exploitation is now scarce in many coral reef ecosystems throughout its native region. As mesopredators, groupers play a vital role in maintaining ecosystem balance through interspecific competition and predation. They are important not only ecologically, but also economically and culturally, particularly in The Bahamas. Bahamians have fished for grouper for centuries, and the fishery supports thousands of livelihoods, saturating the social fabric of the country. However, groupers are particularly susceptible to fishing pressure because they form annual spawning aggregations at sites that are often well-known by fishermen.

In the face of rapid grouper population declines and the subsequent disappearance of once reliable aggregations, the Shedd Aquarium’s Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research has embarked on a multi-year research project, in partnership with the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources (DMR), Bahamas National Trust (BNT), Perry Institute for Marine Science and University of Exeter to enhance conservation and management efforts of the endangered Nassau Grouper in The Bahamas. Our overall project goal is to help DMR better manage the fishery of this iconic species in a more sustainable way through science-based adaptive management.

2014 was a busy year for our endangered Nassau Grouper project in The Bahamas. To understand the groupers’ movements to various annual spawning aggregations, we put in motion a large-scale telemetry project across several Bahamian islands as a two-part process: 1) surgically implanting grouper with acoustic tags, and 2) deploying monitors along the seafloor to pick up the signals from our tagged grouper. Aboard Shedd’s research vessel, the R/V Coral Reef II, we tagged a total of 46 —> Read More