If you’re visiting Belize to see the incredible wildlife, you may think of dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks. Not everyone’s mind goes straight to Belize’s diverse community of Groupers, but they’re impressive nonetheless. Worldwide, there are approximately 159 unique species of Groupers, and Belize is fortunate to have several of them just off of its coast.
Nassau Groupers are one of the more common species of groupers in Belize–at least they have been. In recent years hunting and the presence of invasive species like Lionfish have threatened both the safety and conservation of the Nassau grouper placing it on the vulnerable species list.
The Nassau grouper can be recognized by its tan body covered in four or five irregular dark brown lines; it also has black spots around the eyes and a large black saddle patch on its tail. They grow to an average length of approximately 1 metre/3 feet and weigh around 25kg/55 pounds. The Nassau grouper may be considered a little ugly with its big, drooping mouth, but it’s a remarkable fish that can change colour depending on its surroundings, not unlike the mighty octopus. Nassau Groupers are an interesting species that holds an integral part of the diverse ecosystem of Belize and the Caribbean ocean, have historically schooled during the full moons of December and January in numbers that can contain upwards of several thousand individuals.
The Atlantic Goliath Grouper once reigned over Belize and the Caribbean Ocean but is now considered a critically endangered species. In certain places in the world, like Florida, the Atlantic Goliath Grouper is almost entirely extinct, however, thanks to Belizean wildlife preservation efforts of over twenty years, the Goliath Grouper is once again abundant.
As its name suggests, the Goliath Grouper is a massive fish: the largest resident fish in its habitat. This massive fish can easily grow up to 2.43 metres/8 feet in length and up to 363kilograms/800 pounds. Goliath groupers are large, majestic creatures that remind divers of something prehistoric, they’re also known to live quite a long time with the oldest recorded Goliath living until 37 years old. The giants play an important part in maintaining the health of the Belize Barrier Reef as they predate and balance populations of smaller herbivorous and predatory fish. Who knows, while you’re diving with the groupers, you might be swimming with one even older than you!
The Black Grouper is native to the Caribbean ocean and is fortunately not endangered like the Nassau and Goliath Groupers. There is an abundance of these fish, especially off of the coat of Belize. Despite their name, black groupers can display a variety of colouration and this changes depending on their age, sex and camouflage. Juvenile fish are covered with blotches of reddish brown and black while the Normal colours for adults are white, dark blackish or blotched. Males generally tend to be dark and females blotch. However, during and just before spawning can males be observed in a bicolour phase characterized by a pale face and a white area on the caudal fin, edged in black, on an otherwise dark body. Interestingly Black groupers are known as “protogynous hermaphrodites”, meaning that all black groupers begin life as females and later transform into males. Black Grouper can become fairly large reaching up to 1.5 metres/5 feet, and upwards of 82 kilograms/180 pounds.
Black Groupers can live up to 30 years old, hunt in packs, and are extremely powerful and strong fish. While they leave humans alone, Black Groupers are excellent predators that do not have teeth; instead, they suck up their prey into their ginormous and powerful gills. Black Groupers share the same life stages as Goliath Grouper as they also begin life as females and some eventually turn to males, with a female-to-male ratio of four to one.
Red Groupers are another smaller species of Grouper in Belize that are actually above the projected amount for a healthy and growing species. They typically reach an average of 23 kilograms/50 pounds and approximately 1.27 meters/50 inches in length. The Red Grouper is a very common fish to see on a dive expedition, and their brightly coloured reddish-brown scales make them very easy to spot. Red Groupers–like most species of groupers–are excellent predators that at times will even feast on smaller groupers. It’s literally a grouper-eat-grouper world!
Red Groupers spawn frequently (close to 26 times a year!) helping them to keep up their numbers even in the face of over-fishing and invasive species. Red Groupers are large, powerful, and resilient fish that are near the top of the food chain in their ecosystem, being hunted only by very large sharks.
Just 30 miles from Belize City, Belize Dive Haven is located in pristine Turneffe Atoll. Consisting of creeks, lagoons, mangrove islands and cays, the atoll is home to over 500 species of fish, 65 different species of stony corals as well as birds, turtles, manatees and dolphins.