UB ERI Conducts SPAG Monitoring in Turneffe Atoll
The ERI has been involved in spawning aggregation monitoring since 2011 through its participation in the Belize Spawning Aggregation Working Group (BSAWG) with ERI’s Marine Science Director, Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts, as chairperson. The goal of the working group is to “To manage spawning aggregation sites and gather data that can be used to develop strategies to maintain these as viable sites for the protection, conservation and sustainable use of the fishery.” SPAGS, short for spawning aggregations, is characterized by the gathering of various fish species in larger numbers than usual with the specific purpose of reproduction. In monitoring these spawning aggregations, the aggregating fish species are identified and quantitative data is collected on the length and the number of each species observed. The main focus of the Belize Spawning Aggregation Working Group is on the Nassau Grouper. This monitoring is aimed at tracking their populations and determining the effectiveness of management measures such as the SPAG marine reserves and closed season. The monitoring team, guided by the ‘Reef Fish Spawning Aggregation Monitoring Protocol for the Mesoamerican Reef and Wider Caribbean’, conducts SPAG monitoring December to February/March every year, generally between 3-8 days following the full moon. The ERI is responsible for SPAG monitoring around the Turneffe Atoll. ERI Marine Biologist, Celso Cawich and Marine Field Technician, Jani Salazar along with volunteers, conducted monitoring twice this year in January (12th -17th ) and February (10th- 15th ). During monitoring in January, two big aggregations were observed. The first was north of the atoll near Maugre Caye where the team saw an estimated 1000 Dog Snappers, 200 Bar Jacks and chubs. The second sighting was on the southern end of the atoll at Caye Bokel, popularly known as ‘The Elbow’. Here the team saw 1000 Dog Snappers, 200 Bar Jacks, 200 Black Groupers, and 200 Horse Eye Jacks. There were also 100 Permits and 50 Tiger Groupers.
In February, the team monitored five locations: Mauger Caye, Dog Flea, Soldier Caye, Calabash Caye and Caye Bokel. At Mauger Caye, the team observed 300 Bar Jacks, 150 Chubs, 20 Yellowtail Snappers, 10 Tiger Groupers along with 8 Black Groupers and 7 Nassau groupers. There was an absence of aggregation fish at the Dog Flea site, as there were very low numbers of fish during the dives. The largest numbers of fish observed were 4 Nassau groupers and 3 Black groupers. At Calabash Caye the team observed 200 Cubera snappers aggregating relatively close to the water surface. About 20 Black groupers were also observed at the Calabash Caye SPAG site. At Soldier Caye approximately 800 Creole Wrasses, 400 Horse Eye Jacks and 15 Black Groupers were observed. Finally, at Caye Bokel, the team observed 800 Dog Snappers, 100 Permits, 100 Rainbow Runners, 70 Yellowtail Snappers, 50 Atlantic Spades, 20 Black groupers and 5 Nassau Groupers. During both monitoring trips the team witnessed no spawning only the aggregation of fish. The data collected from monitoring are uploaded to the Belize Spawning Aggregation Working Group’s database hosted on the ERI website. Information circular number 10 from the BSAWG is expected to be published later this year containing a compilation and summary of this year’s monitoring results. Visit the Belize Spawning Aggregation Working Group site at: http://collaborations.wcs.org/spag/Home/tabid/87/language/en-US/Default.aspx for more information on the work of the BSAWG.