The Grouper Moon research team spends weeks each year monitoring the spawning aggregations of the Nassau grouper in the Cayman Islands.
This year, scientists from REEF, Reef Environmental Education Foundation, who have partnered with the Department of Environment on Grouper Moon since 2001, took a so-called ‘day off’ to focus on education.
But when the Grouper Moon team says ‘day off’, you won’t see anyone putting up their feet. Part of REEF’s objective is to bring its Nassau grouper research to classrooms.
That all culminates with a live underwater hangout, where the students can interact with scientists broadcasting live from Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay wall.
“Cayman is lucky that it has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the entire Caribbean, so it is a wonderful place to be able to work with local school groups to show them the resources that exist here,” said Dr. Brice Semmings of REEF and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
From the reefs of Bloody Bay wall, to classrooms in Cayman Brac, Grand Cayman, and all across the world, Dr. Semmens said the live interaction between scientists and students makes for an unforgettable learning experience.
“They ask a series of questions throughout the course of the dive, which is kind of fun because it allows me to really focus on specific aspects of the reef, and start to answer some of the burning questions as they are seeing what we are seeing.,” he explained.
“Of course the first thing we saw was a nurse shark,” said Dr. Scott Heppell of REEF and Oregon State University.
As the underwater cameraman for the live broadcast, he treated students to a shark encounter, and an intimate interaction with a very tired Nassau grouper.
“That grouper, he he had probably just come back from the spawning aggregation either today or yesterday, it was just hanging out, you could see a little cleaning gobies scooting all around the side of it, picking of parasites and things like that, and that fish was totally mellow,” said Dr. Heppell.
“I want to try and create an experience for the kids that is really and truly engaging, and I think we are able to do that through this,” said Todd Bohannon, an educator with REEF.
He told Cayman 27 when kids learn to understand the resources around them, they are more keen to protect them.
“Especially here in the Cayman Islands, the reef is one of the most important natural resources that we have, and if kids don’t have a real connection to that, or actually see that for themselves, they’re less likely to want to protect it,” said Mr. Bohannon.