SPAG Don de Maria

This is a goliath grouper spawning aggregation located off Key West, Florida. It is suspected that this aggregation had only 2 pairs of fish left when commercial extinction was reached in the late 1980s in Florida, and a federal and state moratorium was implemented in the United States in 1990.

Photo Credit: Don de Maria.

SPAG Don de Maria

SPAG Don de Maria

Poaching Goliath 2010

Here, postdoc Sarah Frias-Torres is investigating a goliath grouper carcass from an illegal poaching event that occurred at one of the spawning aggregation sites she visits regularly.

Photo Credit: Jeri Curley

Poaching Goliath 2010

Poaching Goliath 2010

The overall population of large ocean fishes has been reduced by ninety percent as a result of overfishing.  Of the remaining 10%, many are currently under threat of extinction.  Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres is researching the methods of facilitating the population recovery for these endangered representatives of the marine megafauna (the ocean giants) that are currently at the brink of extinction.

The Schmidt Ocean Institute awarded Dr. Frias-Torres with a 2-year research fellowship to investigate the behavior of reef fish spawning aggregations, focusing on the critically endangered Atlantic goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) as a model species.  Most reef fish species aggregate at only a few sites during one or two months every year to spawn en masse. Worldwide, 80% of known reef fish spawning aggregations are overfished, and about 20 % of them have been fished to extinction.

Goliath grouper were once abundant in tropical and subtropical oceans.  In Florida, goliath grouper has been protected since 1990, whereas anywhere else in the Caribbean the species remains critically endangered.  Dr. Frias-Torres uses SCUBA diving research techniques to study the groupers in their natural habitat, quantify their behavior, and develop new techniques that could help improve existing management and conservation strategies for this and other reef fish species that form spawning aggregations.

To learn more about this project, please visit http://www.teamorca.org/cfiles/goliath.cfm