“Nassau grouper are beautiful, they have personalities and they can be like friendly puppy dogs,” said Peter Hillenbrand, Owner of the Southern Cross Club in the Cayman Islands. “Unfortunately, these puppy dogs are easy to catch and taste very good.” Peter Hillenbrand pretty much sums up what has happened to the iconic Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. Overfishing has depleted traditional spawning sites to the point where most are dormant or extinct.
A top-performing Green Globe member for years, the Southern Cross Club has been dedicated to meet the highest international standards in regards to the environment, conservation and corporate social responsibility. The resort has an important role in protecting and enhancing the island’s environment, while setting the sustainability standards in the region.
Little Cayman is one of the last healthy and active Nassau grouper aggregation sites in the Caribbean, and the normally solitary and territorial Nassau grouper travel a long way to gather here at the protected spawning site. For over a decade, these activities have been watched carefully by marine scientists and researchers of the Grouper Moon Project, which is actively supported by the entire Southern Cross Club team. Every year, during the study, Peter Hillenbrand opens up his home to the researchers, and his house is transformed into the project’s base of operations.
The Grouper Moon Project had its beginnings in 2002 after an estimated 2000 fish were taken from the unprotected Little Cayman site. To reduce fishing pressure and allow the Department of Environment to monitor the site, Cayman’s Marine Conservation Board implemented an alternate-year fishing strategy. In 2003 based on Nassau grouper population numbers, the decision was made to impose an 8-year ban on fishing the aggregations. The ban was extended in late 2011 and is set to expire in 2019. With a mission to understand the fish aggregation and taking the necessary steps to protect the species, information is collected to build a case on behalf of the Nassau grouper.
“The Department of Environment and The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) could not carry out the scope of meaningful and vital research work required to protect Nassau grouper without the considerable on-island support provided each year by Southern Cross Club staff and Peter Hillenbrand,” said Tim Austin, Deputy Director of Research and Assessment for the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.
“It’s thrilling to be part of this project and listen to the scientists and researchers. They are good people and this is a good cause. Our involvement has introduced us to new friends, and it is helping the people of the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean Sea by bringing real answers to a real problem. This research is vitally important to our understanding of the future of Nassau grouper. We should all learn from this seminal work,” added Peter Hillenbrand.
ABOUT SOUTHERN CROSS CLUB
The casually sophisticated Southern Club Fish & Dive Resort is Little Cayman’s original resort. It features 12 one- and two-bedroom beachfront bungalows, complete with a top-rated, professional in-house diving operation. All of the bungalows look out over the beautiful South Hole Sound, and the clear turquoise waters shimmer with the sun and the moon. The turtle grass off the beach is home to bonefish, snapper, jacks, barracuda, mullet, stingrays, tarpon, and the occasional great blue heron, wading in to try getting lunch. Guests can sit on the porch and watch the world creep by in a timeless procession. Most of the cottages feature a private, outdoor shower, overlooking the Sound. Friendly and diligent service, delicious food, inviting rooms with breathtaking views and a comfortable dive boat are a few of the things that bring back visitors year after year. The resort’s beach-based location also provides flats fisherman with access to Bonefish and Permit, just minutes away.