Spawning Agregation (SPAG) Monitoring

In the 1970s, many thousands of groupers aggregated at Northeast Point, at Glovers Reef Atoll in order to spawn.  However, in 1999, WCS researcher Dr. Enric Sala and his team estimated only 3,000. As a result of the research at Glover's and sites around Belize, the Government of Belize passed legislation to fully protect 11 Nassau grouper spawning sites, including Northeast Point, and introduced a four month closed season. Since the passing of these protective regulations, WCS and reserve staff have been conducting counts of Nassau groupers at the spawning aggregation site at Northeast Point for more than a decade, using the protocol developed for the Mesoamerican Reef region and an updated fish count protocol developed with the assistance of Dr. Yvonne Sadovy of the Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations (SCRFA). Through this protocol, counts are made by visual census techniques of species aggregating at the site, documenting the time and location. Physical measurements including salinity, currents, and air and water temperature are also taken. Based on the results of the monitoring of this aggregation site as well as several others in Belize, further protection measures for the species were introduced in 2009, including a minimum and maximum size limit. The monitoring data are entered in a shared, online database, where data collected from other sites are also stored. WCS is a leading member of the Belize National Spawning Aggregation Working Group, comprised of 13 representatives from various organizations whose main goal is “to develop strategies to maintain the aggregation sites for the protection, conservation and sustainable use of the fishery” through monitoring of the aggregation sites, public awareness and training.