SPAG's 2013: Monitoring of the 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.”
This year, having participated in a SPAG’s training course in November, Celso Cawich, Marine Biologist and the leader of our Monitoring team, put into practice the techniques and recommendations of Dr. Yvonne Sadovy, Director of the Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations (SCRFA).
Celso, assisted by Marine Field Technician, Jani Salazar, Monitoring Officer, Ivanna Waight and volunteers, took two trips out to the Turneffe Atoll in late January and the first week of February with the specific objective of relocating the historic Nassau Grouper aggregations at Maugre Caye and Dog Flea Caye. The Dog Flea Caye site was last monitored in 2004 where the recorded count was a 100 groupers. In the year before, the count was 1500 groupers. Maugre Caye was said to have an aggregation site based on anecdotal information from fishermen but was never monitored before this year.
The first trip ran from January 29th through to February 1st with two teams composed of 4 volunteers each and led by Celso and Jani. On the evening of January 29th, the first aggregation was located off Maugre Caye with an averaged count of 158 groupers. The following day, the dive team found the aggregation again and a submersible buoy was deployed within a couple meters of the aggregation to aid divers in locating the aggregation in the future and also to note the movement of the aggregation. January 31st, the final day at Maugre Caye, the team returned to do a final count which came up with an averaged count of 285 groupers. Other than the Nassau Groupers the team also spotted species such as the Black Grouper and Tiger Grouper. A couple dives at the Dog flea site came up empty with no aggregation sightings.
During the consequent trip a prevailing cold front along with rough seas delayed the team’s trip back to Maugre Caye. Stuck at our Calabash Caye Field Station, the team decided to divert their focus and use the time to dive sites at Calabash and Soldier Cayes, though they are not particular Nassau spawning sites. At Calabash Caye the team spotted about 300 Horse-eye Jacks but saw no aggregation at Soldier Caye.
March 3rd, as weather conditions improved the team made the journey to Maugre Caye. This time they would relocate the aggregation from the previous trip and deploy a second buoy. The second buoy was deployed and a count of 50 Nassau was made taking into consideration the limiting effects of the weather. A final dive on the morning of March 4th came up with a count of 75 Nassau Groupers.
Many thanks to this years' dive volunteers: