An excerpt from Link School’s visit to CEI

Here is an excerpt of her Island School experience, by Link School student Medina Purefoy-Craig:

Sorting the plastics we collected at Cotton Bay Beach
Sorting the plastics we collected at Cotton Bay Beach

I can now safely say that I can jump into water and actually not drown. Early this morning before the sun itself was up we embarked on a “Run Swim”. We did multiple drills that would help us feel more relaxed in the water and know what to do to conserve energy. When I first arrived I had no idea how to swim. I relied heavily on every flotation device around even when I have my PFD (Personal Flotation Device) on. After the drills I was able to swim from one shore to the other by myself, even though I did swallow more salt water than needed and flipped over on my back when I meant to swim forward.

After breakfast, we had a small lesson on plastic and how much ends up in the ocean. We then proceeded to Cotton Bay Beach where we picked up plastic of the beach and did a not-so-competitive competition to find the weirdest things. We found a lot of nets,  refrigerator door, toothpaste tube (made in the US, package designed in the UK) a plate, some clothes, and a lot of unidentified objects as well. Overall it was a great way to give back to the earth and to save the fish even though I never eat any. In the end we had three full boxes and had to leave some there to grab later.

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Flats team field update

The flats team heading out to seine Airport flats.
The flats team heading out to seine Airport flats.

This March, the Flats Ecology and Conservation Team expanded their effort to assess the local bonefish population by implementing an en mass tagging expedition of all the tidal creeks in South Eleuthera. The Flats Team, including, Research Manager Zach Zuckerman, Research Assistant Nick Balfour, Carleton University Graduate Researcher Petra Szekeres and Flats Intern Georgie Burruss, were joined by the CEI Turtle Team, volunteer Gary Cook and Berkshire High School over six days of seining and angling to tag and collect DNA samples from adult bonefish.

The Flats team with Berkshire High School seining bonefish
The Flats team with Berkshire High School seining bonefish

After being caught and transferred to a submerged net, the fork length of each fish was recorded along with where it was caught, and the ID number on the tag being implanted. Each of these codes is unique and can later be used to identify each fish once recaptured. The tag is then implanted using a special tagging stick. Lastly, before releasing the fish, a small section of the dorsal or caudal fin is removed for DNA analysis.

These “fin clips,” are collected from each bonefish as part of an ongoing study by Dr. Liz Wallace, a postdoctoral researcher with the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife. Dr. Wallace uses these samples to compare the genetic relatedness of bonefish populations throughout the Caribbean in order to better understand how their larvae are dispersed.

In collaboration with the Bahamas Initiative, Fisheries Conservation Foundation, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Flats team will continue to monitor the population of adult bonefish every six months. Their goal is to gain a more accurate estimate of the size and origin of local populations by adding several weeks of dedicated sampling in the field.

Zach Zuckerman holding a bonefish caught at Poison flats.
Zach Zuckerman holding a bonefish caught at Poison flats.

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Joining forces to make Deep Creek Clean, Green, and Pristine!

Last Saturday morning, members from the Deep Creek Homecoming Committee and community partnered up with Deep Creek residents from Cape Eleuthera Institute and students and faculty from The Deep Creek Middle School to do a trash clean-up in an effort to get the streets of the settlement clean for their annual Homecoming in early June.
The cleanup team!
The cleanup team!
Trucks and equipment were provided by the Center for Sustainable Development and 5 loads were taken from the main road. All participants were shocked by the amount of trash found on the road and were vocal about the need to continue their efforts with more Clean-ups and education on waste management, as well as additional waste bins and signage around the community to motivate the proper disposal of trash.
Sorting through trash
Sorting through trash

The slogan for the Deep Creek Homecoming is Coming Together to keep The Creek Clean, Green and Pristine! and one member from the committee said that “the residents are striving to live and breathe the slogan to truly bring it to life for the Homecoming and afterwards”.

Starting to load up the truck with garbage
Starting to load up the truck with garbage

The Clean-up began at 9AM and ended at 12PM, just in time for the start of the Fish Fry, intended to raise funds for the festivities in June. At the Fish Fry, food vendors used all compostable packaging in order to keep plastics and harmful disposables not only off the streets but out of the dumps.

After loading the five truckloads of trash, the members of the clean up crew got together at CEI Intern, Georgie Burruss’s home to celebrate their efforts with snacks and music.
The Clean-up attracted around 40 people and is the first of a proposed monthly effort in Deep Creek and one that hopes to be a model that inspires other communities to do the same.

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Research class update!

The following is an excerpt from an update by Island School student Patrick Henderson, talking about his Research Class, Fish Assessment:

The School Research Class Reef Assessment team has been very busy already this semester. We meet at least 3 times a week and dive during 2 of these sessions. Our goal is to conduct an up-to-date assessment of the current status of commercially important fish in South Eleuthera. The data we collect will be compared to previous studies from 2009 in order to identify if there are any trends that show an increase or decline in fish density and biomass. Our goal is to provide unbiased data that could help inform future potential marine resource management strategies.

In class we hold discussions about scientific readings we have completed for homework assignments. In these discussions we question how the readings apply to our project, the subject/purpose of the reading, and how we can actively apply what we have learned from the readings in our research.

Students practicing using a t-bar during a reef transect
Students practicing using a t-bar during a reef transect

Our first week was spent primarily learning fish identification. This consisted of presentations about fish biology, body forms, markings, families, and species all to ensure that on our surveys we could accurately and correctly identify any fish that we came across.  These presentations were followed by fish point-out dives.

After we got a handle on identification we turned our focus to size estimates underwater. We worked in the classroom and underwater ensuring that every member could correctly estimate fish sizes and counts on dives.

Student Douglas Vetter on a class dive
Student Douglas Vetter on a class dive

We then began practice surveys using The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) Program fish protocols. This consisted of classroom work as well as going out and practicing on actual reefs.  Each team member had to learn the different jobs that must be completed on a survey as well as the possible risks/problems that can arise if the protocols are ignored.

This past Wednesday the team went diving on a fore reef at 60ft. Accompanying us on this dive were 3 divemasters who monitored our survey and ensured our safety. Each dive consists of 3 teams of 2 students; the students take turns practicing each role. One student counts fish during the survey, while the other holds the tape measurer ensuring the Assessment follows AGGRA protocol. Soon we should be able to begin conducting actual assessments on reefs surrounding South Eleuthera.

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OAK Leadership visits CEI Campus

OAK Leadership Institute from Cleveland, Ohio joined us the first week of April for an action packed week. The five students and two teachers had the time of their lives exploring Eleuthera and the plethora of marine habitats we are so fortunate to live beside.

Students on the boat ready for their sea turtle abundance surveys.
Students on the boat ready for their sea turtle abundance surveys.

One particular highlight for the team was assisting with the stingray ecology research project. They joined the Island School research class out on the Schooner Cays to capture, measure, tag and work up southern stingrays. It was great to see both Island School students and our visiting students working together to support this project.

Most of the students also got a chance to experience camping on a beach for the first time, it was an awesome trip of firsts, exploration and learning.

Big thanks to OAK Leadership for bringing the first group of students down to us, we hope to see OAK return next year!

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Sustainable Fisheries team represents at Rock Sound Homecoming

This past Saturday, the Sustainable Fisheries team travelled to Rock Sound for the annual Homecoming to represent The Cape Eleuthera Institute. The booth, decorated with educational materials pertaining to invasive lionfish, was a success. Both locals and visitors approached the booth with questions and were intrigued by the live lionfish that was on display in a tank on the table.

CEI team manning the booth at Rock Sound Homecoming
CEI team manning the booth at Rock Sound Homecoming

As people wandered by, the team educated the curious onlookers about the venomous spines, how to properly remove the spines and fillet the fish, common misconceptions about the lionfish, as well as the damage they are doing to the reefs.

Kids come face to face with the invasive lionfish
Kids come face to face with the invasive lionfish

The team also advertised the Slayer Campaign; this campaign incentivizes local fishermen to spear lionfish. The team emphasized how tasty lionfish are to eat, pointing out the “You Slay, We Pay” motto hanging from the tent next to the wonderful illustrations of grouper, conch, and crawfish holding up signs saying “Eat More’ Lionfish”..

The team wore their lionfish fin earrings to show off the beautiful jewelry that can be made from the non-venomous spines, so not only are lionfish tasty, but they can create beautiful, sustainable, jewelry.

Bags of sustainably grown lettuce from the CEI/CSD aquaponics system were handed out to also people about the other projects at The Cape Eleuthera Institute.

Fun and learning at the CEI booth
Fun and learning at the CEI booth

The Sustainable Fisheries team will have a similar booth set up for Earth Day and they hope to continue raising awareness about the different research projects happening at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and how to live sustainably.

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Lionfish Team Spring Survey Update

The lionfish team at work
The lionfish team at work

March weather was perfect for the lionfish team as they visited 16 different patch reef sites for their quarterly surveys, observing fish species and abundance in relation to the presence of lionfish. Of the 16 sites, we remove lionfish from 8 of them every 3 months, comparing the removal reefs with non­removal reefs as a way to measure the impact of lionfish on the patch reef systems.

Shoal of yellow tail jacks came to say hi
Shoal of yellow tail jacks came to say hi

At each patch all of the fish species present on the reef are counted for their relative abundance, especially the lionfish. Fish that compete for resources with lionfish, such as grunts, snapper, and grouper, are specifically noted along with their total body lengths. In addition to the roving survey and competitor observations, we also collected data on invertebrates, grouper, and parrotfish for three other studies. We counted the number of spiny lobster, queen conch, sea stars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers on the reefs to add to a data set that will be part of an assessment for implementing a potential marine protected area.

The team still smiling after a 5 dive day
The team still smiling after a 5 dive day

Throughout the course of the week of collecting data we saw an abundance of reef creatures, but most notably three nurse sharks, a large school of yellow jacks, a big eye which has remained on the same patch for over a year and is not commonly found on patch reefs, as well as a hawksbill sea turtle, also rarely sighted on these patches because they are critically endangered. Continue reading

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Researchers travel to Great Exuma to present at the Bahamas Conservation Symposium

IMG_7967In March, Florida State University Master’s students Brendan Talwar and Mackellar Violich, and Flats Ecology and Conservation intern Georgie Burruss traveled to Great Exuma to present at the Bahamas Conservation Symposium. The Symposium was organized by the Exuma Foundation, the Elizabeth Harbour Conservation Partnership, the Bahamas Marine EcoCentre, and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and hosted by the Exuma Foundation. The idea for the Symposium arose as a way to share scientific knowledge on the years that the Bahamas National Trust Conference does not meet. The Symposium was open to a general audience, drawing in community members of the Exuma Cays as well as local scientists.

Catherine Booker (Exuma Foundation/Community Conch) introduces Brendan Talwar (FSU/CEI) to an eighth grade science class at LN Coakley Secondary High School
Catherine Booker (Exuma Foundation/Community Conch) introduces Brendan Talwar (FSU/CEI) to an eighth grade science class at LN Coakley Secondary High School

Brendan Talwar gave a talk on deep-sea sharks, followed by Georgie Burruss’s talk on the Bahamas Initiative bonefish tagging program and their recent bonefish tagging trip to the Exuma Cays, and Mackellar Violich presented on deep-sea diversity, the Medusa project, and deep sea traps. Continue reading

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Slayer Campaign Update

Our local Bahamian fishermen recently brought in over 40 lbs. of lionfish to The Island School as part of the “You Slay, We Pay” campaign.  The slayer campaign incentivizes Bahamians to fish for invasive lionfish.

One of 49 dissected and filleted lionfish
One of 49 dissected and filleted lionfish

The lionfish are a healthy, locally sourced and sustainable fish choice for The Island School dining hall and also a great source of information. The whole lionfish brought in were dissected by the CEI lionfish research team, who dissected 49 of the fish to collect data on the weight, length, sex, and stomach contents of the fish.

The largest lionfish was 944 grams with a total length of 40 cm, close to the longest recorded lionfish which measured at 47cm.  While the large size of the lionfish were impressive, so were the organisms found during the dissection in their stomachs.
One lionfish which was 22cm long had eaten a redband parrotfish of 10cm in length, thats almost half of its size!  Other interesting finds included two lionfish who had exclusively crabs in their stomachs, and even a stomach containing lionfish spines!

Intern Alanna working through lionfish dissections
Intern Alanna working through lionfish dissections
Lionfish fins drying to be made into jewelry
Lionfish fins drying to be made into jewelry

We look forward to the next batch of lionfish from our local fishermen to dissect and fillet for more insight into lionfish biology as well as the opportunity to eat these tasty sustainable invasives. Remember to eat and wear lionfish!

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Collaborative research on Exuma will have conservation implications for important nearshore species

Dr. Owen O'Shea releases an adult bonefish.
Dr. Owen O’Shea releases an adult bonefish.

In collaboration with the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) sent researchers to the Exuma Cays in February to tag and collect genetic samples from bonefish (Albula vulpes) and southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana). The CEI team was comprised of Director Aaron Shultz, Associate Researcher Dr. Owen O’Shea, Research Assistant Alexio Brown, Flats Ecology intern Georgie Burruss, and Sustainable Fisheries intern Adrian Feiler. They were joined by FWC Post-doctoral research fellow Dr. Liz Wallace, and a North Carolina based volunteer and avid fisherman, Chandler White. The researchers spent eight days on Hummingbird Cay, a privately owned island south west of Great Exuma, and two days at the Exuma Foundation on Great Exuma.

Adrian Feiler tags a bonefish with a uniquely coded spaghetti tag.
Adrian Feiler tags a bonefish with a uniquely coded spaghetti tag.

The focus of the trip was to continue the Bahamas Tagging Initiative in Exuma, which aims to passively track bonefish movement and growth rates throughout the Bahamas. Each fish is tagged with uniquely coded external ‘spaghetti’ and the length of each fish is recorded. This allows the assessment of growth rates and location data once the fish are re-caught. These data can then be used as a powerful tool in understanding the mechanisms of spatial distribution, natural mortality, and factors influencing growth of this highly prized sportfish. The tagging program has been implemented in Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Andros, and the Exuma Cays. Continue reading

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