The goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) is the largest grouper in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the two largest species of groupers in the world, exceeding 2m (6 feet) in total length, and reaching up to half a ton in weight. Goliath groupers traditionally occurred in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and along the West African coast from Senegal to Congo.
However, the species is extremely vulnerable to overfishing due to a combination of life history traits typical in large grouper fish, such as slow growth, long lifespan (exceeding 4 decades), late sexual maturity (up to 8 years), strong site fidelity, and formation of spawning aggregations. Due to overfishing, goliath groupers became commercially extinct in the USA in the late 1980s. A US federal fishing ban has protected the species since 1990. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, the species is either overfished or reaching ecological extinction levels. In west Africa, scientists suspect goliath groupers are completely extinct. Since 1994, the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies goliath groupers throughout the remainder of its western Atlantic distribution area as critically endangered.
Today, Florida is the only place in the world where goliath groupers can be found on a regular basis throughout the year, and in their spawning aggregation sites in late summer. The curious nature of goliath groupers, unafraid of divers and very friendly, made them an extremely easy target for spearfishing. Today, such special charisma makes goliath groupers a welcome attraction for the recreational SCUBA diver.
"My love and respect for nature was instilled in me at a young age. My parents enjoyed the outdoors and took us camping as often as they could. As kids we explored the Santa Ana River which seemed a world away from our neighborhood street. This river in the desert was a place to look for hawks, coyotes, wild pigs, crawdad, tadpoles, and fish.. I was always interested in fish!!
The Magic Message is about the beauty and wonder of the natural world. It takes inspiration from multiple undersea and land creatures. The plant is part cacti and part coral, I was looking at undersea volcano tube worms and the white crabs that live there. The base, the vessel that is holding everything is the Goliath Grouper. I have always been interested in these enormous sea bass, as a kid I remember reading that they could grow as big as cars and swallow divers! They are now endangered by overfishing and human impact, as they are quite friendly and easy to spear or catch. They live long lives, reproduce slowly and need protection."
- Jeff Soto -
Jeff Soto is a painter, illustrator and muralist who has exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. As a youth, he simultaneously discovered both traditional painting and illegal graffiti – and, ever since, both worlds have informed his work. The artist’s distinct color palette, subject matter and technique resonate with a growing audience and bridge the gap between pop surrealism and street art. Inspired by youthful nostalgia, nature, and popular culture, his bold, representational work is simultaneously accessible and stimulating.