This year, 15 new marine parks were created in The Bahamas, bringing the country closer to their goal of protecting 20% of their coastal waters by 2020. The inclusion of several additions to the protected areas system, including The Marls of Abaco National Park, East Abaco Creeks National Park, and Cross Harbour National Park in Abaco, as well as the North Shore Gap National Park and the East Grand Bahama National Park, was influenced by bonefish research conducted in collaboration with CEI and other partnering institutions.
Last Thursday was The Island School Research Symposium! It is a highlight of Parent’s Week, and a time for parents to hear about the good work being done by their sons and daughters. Throughout the semester, The Island School students have collaborated with CEI researchers, contributing to ongoing research projects. They have been studying various ecosystems around Eleuthera, including inland ponds, the pelagic zone, the deep sea, shallow water sandbars, and tidal creeks .
In all, nine projects were presented, and Dr. Craig Dahlgren, Senior Research Scientist for the Bahamas National Trust, concluded the event with a talk on the state of coral reefs in The Bahamas. All nine projects are being featured on our Instagram (@CEIBahamas) and Facebook pages, so please check them out for more details on the amazing research done this semester!by
Here at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), members of the Shark Research and Conservation Program are trying to unlock some of the many mysteries surrounding stingrays. Much like their shark ancestors, there are still many myths and misconceptions about these typically mild mannered creatures. Once believed to be nothing more than vermin on local reefs, scientists are now beginning to appreciate their true value as mesobenthic predators. Through a process called bioturbation, rays can alter ecosystems physically, chemically, and biologically. Often overlooked and underappreciated, these amazing animals play a vital role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem.
The CEI Stingray Project, led by Dr. Owen O’Shea, began in January of 2015, and is the largest study of its kind in The Bahamas. The purpose of this research on stingrays is to gain valuable baseline data regarding their habitat use, growth rates, behavior, daily activity budgets, genetic connectivity, demography and feeding preferences. Rays are caught via spot seining along local creeks, coasts and offshore sand cays and are measured, tagged, sampled for tissue and blood, and released. Together with the help of our Island School students, visiting Educational Programs and undergraduate students, Dr. O’Shea has caught 175 stingrays across both species, including 59 recaptured individuals.
Since these rays occupy coastal and nearshore environments, it is believed they are actually more susceptible to anthropogenic impacts such as habitat loss and degradation and overfishing when compared to offshore populations of fish. It is critical that further research is conducted to learn more about these animals. This research will allow for the formation of a more solid knowledge base as well as an efficient conservation and management framework for both species and the habitats that support them.by
Throughout the fall semester, The Sustainable Fisheries team, with help from the conch Island School research class, has been assessing the abundance and distribution of juvenile queen conch in South Eleuthera. Queen conch are ecologically, economically, and culturally important to The Bahamas. Queen conch consume algae and detritus and maintain the health of the sea grass beds. In exports alone they bring in an estimated $7 million annually. Queen conch are also a part of many traditional food dishes in The Bahamas. Collecting data on their populations is useful for fishermen, scientists, and residents of Eleuthera.
Using a towing method, snorkelers are pulled behind the boat on a manta tow board that allows them to dive down to observe the benthic habitat and keep an eye out for queen conch. During each tow the number of conch are counted and recorded along with life stage: juvenile, sub adult, or adult. Juveniles are characterized by the absence of a flared lip, while sub adults have a flared lip, and adults have a fully formed flared lip. This methodology allows the group to rapidly assess large areas and to identify the abundances and locations of queen conch aggregations in South Eleuthera. Preliminary findings are showing a big decline in juvenile populations, however the team will be conducting more tows this week to cover more area in search of queen conch! Stay tuned for more information on queen conch in South Eleuthera.by
Last weekend, programs from the Cape Eleuthera Institute, including the Reef Ecology and Restoration Team, Sustainable Fisheries Team, Sea Turtle Team, and Aquaponics Program travelled to Governor’s Harbour Homecoming to spread the word about each of their fields.
Many people showed great interest in the lionfish and aquaponics displays. They were amazed at the use of plants to filter the fish waste out of water holding tilapia in the aquaponics system, while others who had never tried lionfish fritters are now converts!
The Sea Turtle Team and Sustainable Fisheries Team also educated the attendees about the protection of sea turtles through some fun word games, and the life stages of conch through a display with varying sizes of shells, ranging from juveniles to adults.
Historically, sea turtles were considered to be an economically and culturally important food source throughout the Caribbean. Since the discovery of the New World, sea turtle populations throughout the Caribbean have plummeted, leading to the classification of sea turtle species as endangered or critically endangered across the region. This led the Department of Marine Resources of the Bahamian Government to implement a Bahamas-wide ban on the harvesting of sea turtles in 2009.
The Sea Turtle Research Program has been in place at CEI since 2012 and has focused on the biology and ecology of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) around South Eleuthera. This Fall, the program embarked on a brand new study focusing on the social side of sea turtle conservation with Rachel Miller, Research Assistant, and her Island School Research Class leading the charge. This project is designed to assess the gaps in knowledge between Bahamians and researchers as well as the attitudes of Bahamians towards sea turtle conservation, particularly the 2009 harvesting ban on sea turtles, through the use of a semi-structured interview.
So far, 72 interviews have been conducted and data has been collected from 69 individuals who live in 9 different settlements across Eleuthera, plus 3 interviews from Bahamians visiting from Nassau. Preliminary data shows that of the 69 interviews from Eleuthera, 64% of interviewees (n=44) are aware of the 2009 harvesting ban on sea turtles. 96% of interviewees (n=66) have a positive reaction to sea turtle conservation, stating that it is important to protect sea turtles in The Bahamas. The Island School students will analyze and present their results during Parent’s Weekend at the end of November.
The overall goal of this study is to highlight what Bahamians know about sea turtles and how they feel about sea turtles. This information can be used to create effective outreach and awareness programs throughout Eleuthera and the rest of The Bahamas. The Sea Turtle Research program is excited to begin partnering with other organizations to continue this study on other islands and reach more communities. We thank everyone that has participated so far!by
Last week, the Stingray Research Group, headed by Dr. Owen O’Shea, took 15 of our Bahamian staff members out to The Schooner Cays– a location the majority of staff have never visited despite gracing the views from office windows all over campus. The goal was for the team to experience and learn the scientific objectives of this research project Two groups of staff were organised into morning and afternoon trips, along with other ray team members. First, there was safety briefings and capture methodologies discussed in the boathouse, along with the objectives and conservation ambitions of this research, before heading out on the water to find rays.
The morning group, featuring kitchen manager Sophia Louis, guest services employee Corey Lightborne, and Bio-diesel engineer Sammy Dorcent, saw five stingrays caught in just 3 hours, including three new individuals, and the retrieval of one of our data loggers. The team was enthused and excited to be part of this research, and preconceptions regarding these gentle animals were challenged, with every member participating in either catching or working up animals.
The afternoon session saw a slightly tighter schedule (largely due to inclement weather), and included head of facilities Oscar Knowles, most of the accounts team, and campus mechanic Valentino Hall, who helped catch two additional rays. We were also able to deploy a data logger and, like the morning team, we travelled back to Cape Eleuthera to the sound of joyous discussion on how valuable the experience was. Requests for further expeditions have been made, and certainly the Stingray Research Group aims to make another trip before Christmas, for those staff unable to attend this one.
Stingrays are among a group of animals poorly understood and often feared among Bahamians, and so sharing this work and allowing up close and personal interactions with these rays has dispelled myths and changed perceptions, certainly among those staff who attended.by
On the night of Halloween, the CEI team put on their lionfish costumes and travelled to the Spooktacular event at the Leon Levy Native Plant Reserve in Governor’s Harbour. The team continued to spread the word about the lionfish invasion with spooky red lights illuminating a tank showcasing a live lionfish, and dyed blue, green and red fritters.
Batman, Spiderman, witches and several zombies came to view the illuminated invasive lionfish, and were served the spooky and tasty lionfish fritters. Those who had never tasted lionfish before enjoyed the delicious fish and gave great feedback, stating they were tastier than conch fritters, even when they were green inside! Next weekend the team will be setting up a booth at the Governor’s Harbour Homecoming, and hope to continue our long term goal of seeing lionfish not just at outreach events, but permanently on restaurant menus throughout The Bahamas.by
The main objective of the project is to tag oceanic whitetips in The Bahamas, a shark sanctuary, and to track their movements. This can be compared to areas of protection vs. potential threats. This information can then be used to influence policy and management on a national level.