In addition to being one of the most beautiful countries in the world, The Bahamas is a biodiversity hotspot and an ideal place for undertaking marine research. The focal species of my research is the endangered Nassau grouper. One of the large predators of other reef fishes and invertebrates, this distinctive-looking marine fish is a cultural icon in The Bahamas.
Six years ago I was fortunate to participate in a research cruise that surveyed the abundance of Nassau groupers at fish-spawning aggregation sites around Long Island in the southern Bahamas. It is fairly well known when and where spawning aggregations occur and the fish are often exploited by fishermen at this time. What we have learnt over the past six years from both our field work and national commercial landings data is that Nassau grouper populations are at risk. The species faces a range of threats, notably illegal aggregation fishing, which depletes spawning stocks. The commercial fishery is very important to many Bahamians, bringing in an average of $1.5-million per year, but is in decline.
Our challenge is to provide science-based recommendations that would help the recovery of this species and improve the management of the grouper fishery. The core of achieving this is to have a better understanding of the species’ population structure and connectivity so that conservation management units can be designated. My research uses high-resolution molecular markers, microsatellites and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to help us understand the health, status and connectivity of Nassau grouper populations in The Bahamas. Other scientists and local NGOs have been helping to acquire fin clip samples from different islands throughout the country. In September, I will return to collect more fin clip samples for these analyses.
For more information about the status of the Nassau grouper and our suggested framework for improving its management in The Bahamas, read the entire review paper published online in Marine Ecology Progress Series.