The Caribbean’s Cayman Islands are known for their stunning coral reef ecosystems. Home to a large diversity of marine life, these reefs function as a source of both food of tourism for residents of the three islands. But for some of the reef’s fish, local pressure has led to significant population declines.
The Nassau grouper is one of the Cayman Islands’ reef fish that has struggled the most in recent years. While the Nassau grouper is itself a top predator, the fish is also an important prey for even larger predators, like sharks.
What’s more, the grouper’s eggs are also consumed by whale sharks and manta rays. Given the reliance of larger marine animals on the fish, the Nassau grouper is considered to be a ‘canary in a coal mine’ for coral reefs, meaning the decline of the grouper often indicates a reef is in poor health.
Before their recent decline, the Nassau grouper was once the most common species of grouper in U.S. waters. In 2016, the grouper was listed as ‘threatened’ in the United States under the Endangered Species Act. In the same year, the government of the Cayman Islands enacted legislation for the protection and aided recovery of the fish.