It Takes A Group(er) 

November 3rd, 2023
Reading time: 4 minutes

Goliath groupers are magical creatures. As the name suggests, these fish are humongous, growing up to eight feet in length and tipping the scales at nearly 800 pounds. Seeing one in person takes your breath away and leaves you marveling at these magnificent creatures.

In September, I was fortunate enough to accompany Dr. Chris Malinowski and the Ocean First Institute on one of their goliath grouper tagging expeditions in South Florida. This organization does important work to monitor and help the groupers thrive in tandem with other critical marine conservation initiatives. 

The goliath grouper was once close to the verge of extinction due to overfishing. Thankfully, the government stepped in during 1990 and closed all goliath grouper fishing to conserve the population—leading to a return of nearly full grouper population by 2010.

But after a 32-year moratorium, the state of Florida reopened a limited harvest on the juvenile members of the species last year. This has led to experts’ confusion regarding the degree of recovery among the species, which is why Chris and his colleagues are conducting these imperative tagging expeditions.

The extent of the goliath grouper recovery can impact other fisheries and ecosystems, so it’s important to understand how these fish have made a significant population recovery from the days when they faced extinction. 

When Chris asked if I’d be interested in participating in a tagging expedition, I was all too happy to help.

What stood out for me the most as I dove into the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by some of the largest fish I’ve ever seen in person, was how committed Chris and his team are to the cause.

We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village.” This experience made me ponder a similar metaphor—it takes a group. While this choice of words may sound punny,  it perfectly encapsulates the incredible work Ocean First Institute is doing with like-minded people to protect this magnificent species of fish.

Being part of the expedition instilled in me the belief that there is a tremendous passion for helping endangered species. And when passionate people are brought together for a unifying cause, real change happens.

This year is the 50th anniversary of The US Endangered Species Act. Since its inception, the Act has saved some of the most treasured animals. It serves as a reminder that humanity has to undergo conservation efforts to save species from climate change and poaching. 

Without this legislation being enacted, it’s possible the world would be without such iconic animals as the bald eagle and the American alligator. It’s imperative these animals are not taken for granted because a significant amount of work and dedication went into saving them.

I see Chris and Ocean First Institute’s work for the goliath grouper similar to other conservation efforts. While this fish might not have the same presence in our collective consciousness as the bald eagle, it plays a vital, yet unforeseen, role in the health of our waters. 

“We could not be more excited about our partnership with Bob and Brightmark and how we all align in our caring for the planet,” said Dr. Chris Malinowski, director of research and conservation at Ocean First Institute. “Working with like-minded individuals to find creative solutions to minimize human impact is something we should all strive to do.”

One criticism surrounding tracking groupers is that they are constantly on the move, which means the idea that fewer of them are concerning. But that’s precisely why we go on expeditions to tag them—numbers don’t lie and allow conservation groups to keep a data log. If we can say, with objective certainty, that there are less of these fish than years prior, it becomes evident conservation efforts need to be bolstered even further.

I believe anything you want to do well should be done with passion and tenacity. That’s what I saw on display when I ventured out to Florida with Chris and his gang. It reminded me there are people doing the work necessary to ensure species like goliath groupers remain thriving—even when their existence faces significant challenges.

It feels incredible to know that with the right group in place, difficult obstacles can be overcome. Working to create a brighter future for goliath groupers gave me hope, and I was so privileged to be a part of it. 

Here’s to the groupers,
Bob Powell

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