Graduate student update: Ian Bouyoucos on the Shark Team

Longline fishing is the predominant capture method of sharks in both targeted fisheries and fisheries that incidentally catch sharks. There is a growing body of research determining the immediate physiological responses of sharks to this prolific capture method, but researchers are just beginning to skim the surface on understanding the long-term responses to capture that may influence vital life-history processes such as growth and reproduction. The extent to which sharks allocate energy to recovery from capture away from processes like locomotion, growth, and reproduction is completely unknown and a compelling question toward shark conservation research.

An acceleration data-logging tag used to observe activty and behavior in wild sharks.
An acceleration data-logging tag used to observe activty and behavior in wild sharks.
A juvenile lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) in a respirometry chamber that is used to measure metabolic rates, or rates of energy consumption.
A juvenile lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) in a respirometry chamber that is used to measure metabolic rates, or rates of energy consumption.

Researchers at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) have recently begun conducting research to determine how much energy (i.e., calories) sharks consume when caught by longline gear relative to the energy consumed during routine, daily activity. This project combines biotelemetry (tracking behavior and activity in wild animals) and respirometry (a method of estimating energy consumption by measuring rates of oxygen consumption) approaches to estimate energy consumption in wild sharks. Specifically, acceleration data-logging tags will be used to characterize routine and exhaustive activity in wild sharks, and respirometry techniques will be employed to quantify the energetic costs of those activities. These data have the potential for conservation and fisheries management application by linking behaviors exhibited during the capture response with adverse physiological outcomes.

University of Illinois M.Sc. student, Ian Bouyoucos – a previous CEI intern – will be heading the field and lab work on site in The Bahamas. This research is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Edd Brooks of the Shark Research and Conservation Program at CEI, and longtime shark program collaborators, Dr. John Mandelman of the New England Aquarium, and Dr. Cory Suski of the University of Illinois.

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Exploring the ponds of Eleuthera

Link to video at bottom of post

Everyone on Eleuthera has driven past a pond, but very few have been in one.  These inland ponds are unique ecosystems that are rarely visited, let alone studied.  These ponds, found all over Eleuthera and throughout The Bahamas, are termed Anchialine ponds, pronounced “AN-key-ah-lin”, derived from the Greek anchi meaning near, and halos meaning sea.  Do not confuse these ponds and blue holes; blue holes are formed by collapsed caves and tend to be much deeper than ponds. The ponds contain brackish water, have some underground connection to the sea, and are an important resource for bird life.

The Problem

One of the many seahorses found in Sweetings Pond
One of the many seahorses found in Sweetings Pond

The inland ponds are fragile and under threat from human activities such as developments, pollution and the introduction of species.   Eleuthera has over 200 of these inland ponds and lakes. One of these, Sweetings Pond, in the north of Eleuthera, is home to large numbers of seahorses. In the Caribbean, there are just three species of seahorses that are all listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, meaning the information on these species is limited, but they are likely endangered.  The seahorses of Sweetings Pond are thought be a new species and require recognition and protection from developments that could destroy their habitat. Worryingly, there is a proposal to turn this pond into a marina, so action is needed now.  Sweetings Pond may not be the only special site on Eleuthera, as the isolation of anchialine ponds are known to result in high numbers of unique and endemic life. Knowledge is the first step towards conservation, but these ponds are poorly studied.

Findings                               

The Cape Eleuthera Institute Island School research class set out to explore and assess the ponds.  Specifically, we wanted to identify sites with rare species and to assess the extent of human disturbance. Over the last few months, eight ponds were visited, and four fully assessed (and no sightings of the Lusca in any of the ponds!). The most exciting finding so far has been the discovery of a red cave shrimp which has not been previously reported here on Eleuthera.  These shrimp may be the critically endangered Cuban Cave Shrimp (Barbouria cubensis) or a new species altogether.  We are working with shrimp specialists to get the species identification confirmed. Sadly, during the study we found evidence of human disturbance.  Three of the four ponds studied had an abundance of trash dumped in and around them.  However, the water quality data did not indicate high levels of pollution in any of the ponds, but these ponds were not located near farm lands or developments.

Unknown species of red shrimp discovered in the ponds
Unknown species of red shrimp discovered in the ponds

What’s next?

In summary, the findings of this study highlight the need for conservation of ponds with unique species, and the need for protection and/or restoration of ponds from human disturbance.  There is a huge opportunity to develop ecotourism at pond sites as less than one percent of the tourists that come to The Bahamas each year visit ponds.

The next step for this study is to give the Bahamas National Trust our data and to continue researching the hundreds of remaining ponds on Eleuthera. Standby for more exciting pond discoveries!

To view a video taken during inland pond research, please follow this link to the Island School blog:  http://blog.islandschool.org/2015/06/16/inland-ponds-update/

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The Island School Hosts an International Youth Summit with Musician Jack Johnson and 5 Gyres

Two weekends ago, The Island School hosted the SEA Change Youth Summit with musician, Jack Johnson and 5 Gyres to raise awareness about the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean and to inspire young students to be advocates for change. 34 Students gathered from Abaco, Grand Bahama, New Providence and Eleuthera as well as a school group out of New York and another student from Jamaica.

 Musician Jack Johnson plays a few songs at the UNEP Designation where he was recognized as a Goodwill Ambassador.
Musician Jack Johnson plays a few songs at the UNEP Designation where he was recognized as a Goodwill Ambassador.

As part of the kick-off for the weekend on Friday June 5th, Jack Johnson took part in a designation ceremony to become a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The designation was timely as last Friday marked World Environment Day, a UN flagship event encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment, celebrated in over 100 countries.

Included in the kickoff to the festivities hosted on The Island School’s campus were remarks from Chris Maxey, founder of The Cape Eleuthera Island School, Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, founders of the 5 Gyres Institute and Celine Cousteau, film maker, environmentalist and daughter of ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau and the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau. Also in the line up was Kristal Ambrose, founder of Bahamas Plastic Movement and Minister of Education, Science and Technology, The Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald.

Students at the summit make all-natural tooth paste.
Students at the summit make all-natural tooth paste.

The first day of the Summit centered around raising awareness on the issue of plastic pollution so that the students could create their own solutions based on the stories and information they’d received. In the afternoon students, facilitators, Jack Johnson and visiting UNEP representative, Naysan Sahba visited a local beach to do a clean-up lead by Kristal Ambrose. The day finished with a Junkanoo, cultural activity lead by Art teacher and Space to Create founder, Will Simmons in which Summit attendees, Island School students and Jack Johnson created original songs about plastic pollution to the Junkanoo beat provided by the visiting South Eleutheran students from Preston H. Albury High School.

The second day began with a workshop on how to reduce single-use disposable plastics in the household. Students were given tips and tools on how to make their own toothpaste and steer away from buying highly packaged products and personal care products containing plastic micro-beads. After lunch, David Stover, co-founder of Bureo Skateboards told his story of making skateboards from fish netting found in the ocean and beaches of Chile. The students then sifted through their findings from Friday’s clean-up to create a symbolic SEA Change eye sculpture out of plastics with Dianna Cohen, founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition. The sculpture was then showcased at the Deep Creek Homecoming where Summit attendees enjoyed a plastic free event thanks to a donation by World Centric for all food packaging. Recover also pitched in with a donation of t-shirts for the homecoming made from recycled plastic bottles.

Students at the summit make all-natural tooth paste.
Students at the summit make all-natural tooth paste.

The last day of the Summit was spent teaching the students how to tell and share their own stories and to create their own solutions. Facilitators and visiting activists, scientists and artists participated in group discussions on how each student could make a change in their home, on their island and in their country. The day ended in a closing ceremony with music by local band, The Rum Runners, as well as Jack Johnson, who performed alongside local and visiting musicians and even played a tune with two Island School students.

Summit organizer, The Island School’s Brittney Maxey, was blown away by the energy coming from the young students. “This is a historical event not only for us at The Island School and the island of Eleuthera, but also for The Bahamas and other island nations as a whole. We are sending these motivated young people back out into the world equipped with the tools to make a difference in their communities. The Island School’s mission is leadership affecting change and this weekend embodied this belief not only for the students but for the island of Eleuthera. We are a small place making big change.”

Summit attendees, 5 Gyres, and Jack Johnson celebrate World Environment Day on June 5 and show off all of the beach plastic they gathered.
Summit attendees, 5 Gyres, and Jack Johnson celebrate World Environment Day on June 5 and show off all of the beach plastic they gathered.

Thank you to event supporters: Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, AML Foods, Cape Eleuthera Resort & Marina, Recover, World Centric, From the Bow Seat, Bahamas Waste Limited, Cable Bahamas, One Eleuthera, The Muggia Family and Kim & Floyd Wilson

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CEI/ Island School Research Expo a big success

Spring 2015 Island School Student plays a sea turtle Jeopardy! game with Youth Action Island Summit attendees. (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)
Spring 2015 Island School Student plays a sea turtle Jeopardy! game with Youth Action Island Summit attendees. (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)

On Saturday, June 6, Spring 2015 Island School students participated in the Research Expo, their final Research Class assignment, which coincided with the Youth Action Island Summit hosted at the Island School. For the Research Expo, each group was required to focus on the “bigger picture” of conservation in their research area and present their conservation message through the use of games, trivia, slide shows, and their Research Poster.

Spring 15 Island School student shows a tour group how to measure a queen conch. Photo credit: Cam Powell
Spring 15 Island School student shows a tour group how to measure a queen conch. Photo credit: Cam Powell

 

This assignment was a great way for the students to show off all they have learned this semester, as well as to allow the students to demonstrate their abilities to speak to various audiences, such as young Bahamians, scientists, and UN delegates

The Spring 2015 Plastics Research Group presents to the Youth Action Island Summit attendees
The Spring 2015 Plastics Research Group presents to the Youth Action Island Summit attendees

At the end of the Research Expo, the Spring 2015 Plastics Research Group presented their findings to everyone in attendance. The audience was very impressed, with one Summit attendee praising the students for doing graduate level research in high school.

Spring 2015 Island School students discuss their findings on post-release survivorship with Jack Johnson and Youth Island Action Summit attendees (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)
Spring 2015 Island School students discuss their findings on post-release survivorship with Jack Johnson and Youth Island Action Summit attendees (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)

Overall, the Research Expo was a success. The students enjoyed meeting people of various backgrounds, answering questions about their research, and demonstrating all that they have learned this semester. Their final research posters, which were displayed at the Research Expo, can be found here.

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NEW VIDEO- CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE STINGRAY RESEARCH & EDUCATION

The Cape Eleuthera Institute‘s Shark Research and Conservation Program recently initiated a novel project that aims to assess the spatial ecology and genetic diversity of three species of stingray in the waters surrounding Southern Eleuthera. It is hoped this research will provide much needed information on how species critical for ecosystem function occupy and share space as well as exploit fragmented seascapes for migrations and dispersal corridors.

Check out this amazing video from our friends at Behind the Mask to learn more about the stingray project!

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Sustainable Fisheries team represents at 2015 Conch Fest!

The CEI Sustainable Fisheries team serving up lionfish fritters
The CEI Sustainable Fisheries team serving up lionfish fritters

Last weekend, Deep Creek hosted its annual Conch Fest.  Unlike past years, Conch Fest was new and improved, focused on keeping Deep Creek green, clean, and pristine. Instead of using plastic containers to hand out food, all of the booths used recyclable materials. Single use plastics have become an issue for the oceans, as they are being consumed by and entangling marine organisms. This initiative in Deep Creek will hopefully spread to other settlements as well as other islands to reduce the plastics ending up in the oceans.

All ages were trying and loving lionfish fritters.
All ages were trying and loving lionfish fritters.

The Sustainable Fisheries Team of The Cape Eleuthera Institute set up their own booth at Conch Fest among the many others. While the live lionfish in the tank and the model of the aquaponics system attracted attention, the main attraction of the night was the lionfish fritters that the team handed out as samples for everyone to try. Although conch fritters are part of the traditional Bahamian cuisine, many Bahamians were both surprised and impressed by how tasty the lionfish fritters were! Most people came back for seconds and many requested a bag to take home with them.

The team also had lionfish jewelry on display and every pair or lionfish earrings were sold by the end of the night. Some people even made special orders for lionfish jewelry to be picked up at a later date.

The Minister of Education and Technology tried his first lionfish fritter and loved it!
The Minister of Education and Technology tried his first lionfish fritter and loved it!
Conch Fest became Lionfish Fest!
Conch Fest became Lionfish Fest!

Although conch fritters are a tasty treat, conch is an unsustainable fishery. Hopefully people will begin to cook lionfish fritters instead of conch fritters after tasting them at The Sustainable Fisheries booth this year.   Next year the Sustainable Fisheries Team will be back at Conch Fest handing out lionfish fritters, and spreading the word on how pretty (as jewelry) and tasty lionfish can be!

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Tandem Friends School visits CEI

Phoebe Shuylor, Emma Ward, and Rachael Alberts head to the creeks with Rachel and Grace from the sea turtle conservation team to do sea turtle abundance surveys.
Phoebe Shuylor, Emma Ward, and Rachael Alberts head to the creeks with Rachel and Grace from the sea turtle conservation team to do sea turtle abundance surveys.

Earlier this May, we welcomed the very FIRST group of female students to ever visit CEI from Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville, Virginia.  This trip was planned as part of their school’s Emphasis Week, a time where students have an opportunity to travel and immerse themselves in learning experiences outside of the classroom, and they couldn’t have picked a better place!  The group spent a week exploring the reefs and creeks around South Eleuthera, adapting to living sustainably, and doing things that they might not be able to anywhere else in the world!

Admiring a lionfish's gape during a dissection with the sustainable fisheries team. Left to right- Kate Bollinger, Susan Wheeler, Emma Ward, Alanna Waldman, Rachael Alberts
Admiring a lionfish’s gape during a dissection with the sustainable fisheries team.
Left to right- Kate Bollinger, Susan Wheeler, Emma Ward, Alanna Waldman, Rachael Alberts

Before Tandem Friends arrived, they had 3 things on their marine creature checklist- sharks, turtles, and sea stars.  Guess what?!  We managed to see all three!  After getting settled into dorms, everyone came down to dip their feet into the Bahamian waters.  Sure enough, the water was so calm and clear we spotted some sea stars from shore!  We spent much of the first full day out helping the turtle conservation team do abundance surveys and came across a few turtles in their natural habitat.  The next morning while snorkeling we came across the tiniest juvenile nurse shark hiding out in the wreck just off the beach! Continue reading

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Graduate student research update: Petra Szekeres and her work on juvenile bonefish

 

Nearshore habitat where juvenile bonefish have been found in groups of mojarra; this bit of shoreline is just outside of Rock Sound.
Nearshore habitat where juvenile bonefish have been found in groups of mojarra; this bit of shoreline is just outside of Rock Sound.

Petra Szekeres is a Master’s student in the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Lab from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Her research topics focus on the behaviour, physiology and ecology of juvenile bonefish (Albula vulpes). To date there has been very little research conducted on juvenile bonefish; this is due to the difficulty in locating them. In the past two decades, exhaustive efforts along the Florida coastline have yielded few results with regard to juvenile bonefish capture.

In recent years, researchers have turned to the relatively pristine coastline of The Bahamas to find these elusive juveniles. Petra’s research will be building upon Christopher Haak’s research, which he conducted at CEI in 2013. Christopher is a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has conducted thousands of seine hauls along the coastline of Eleuthera to locate areas juvenile bonefish inhabit. Now that some of these locations have been identified, Petra hopes to build on the foundation provided by Christopher. She will be collecting juvenile bonefish from the flats of southern Eleuthera and, for the first time, will be transporting live juvenile bonefish to the labs at CEI for further behavioural and physiological experiments.

A juvenile bonefish previously captured in southern Eleuthera.
A juvenile bonefish previously captured in southern Eleuthera.

Continue reading

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