Summer recap: Candice Brittain spent a month with the Kinship Conservation Fellows Program

Kinship Conservation Fellows is an environmental leadership program that emphasizes market-based solutions to environmental problems. Applied Scientific Research Department Head, Candice Brittain, was awarded a place on the prestigious program and headed out to Bellingham, Washington for a month-long fellowship in July.

2015 Kinship Conservation Fellows cohort at The Northern Cascades Institute

The eclectic 2015 international cohort of fellows came from far and wide, travelling from Bhutan, India, Argentina, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, South Africa, Madagascar, USA, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam, and The Bahamas.

Fellows play a game created by The Environmental Defense Fund, Catch-Shares to enable fishers to take ownership of their fisheries and negotiate solutions
Fellows play a game created by The Environmental Defense Fund, Catch-Shares to enable fishers to take ownership of their fisheries and negotiate solutions

On the first day, each fellow was asked to define conservation and sustainability and to share these definitions with the group. None of the 18 fellows had the same description; an important lesson that these terms can have very different meanings to different people. This set the scene for the coming month and the many challenges that lay ahead.

The Kinship curriculum explores incentives for conservation. The two themes for the month focused on cultivating leadership: skills and strategies & market (incentive) based conservation strategies. Fellows learnt about different types of leaders, how to re-frame their problems, and had invaluable one-on-one coaching sessions. The group grappled with economics and finance classes, learning from agricultural, water management, and carbon examples. Impact investment demonstrated a viable way to fund and sustain conservation initiatives, and there were lively class discussions on how conservation can be implemented and operated as a business, generating either income or other non-monetary gains to motivate stakeholders to conserve.

Candice and Kinship Conservation Fellow, Siddharth, kayaking during the July 4th field trip at Larrabee State Park
Candice and Kinship Conservation Fellow, Siddharth, kayaking during the July 4th field trip at Larrabee State Park

Taking on the roles of various stakeholders in high conflict conservation scenarios allowed fellows to realise opposing viewpoints, re-evaluate situations, and to practice and develop negotiation skills to find new innovative solutions. Emphasis was placed on how to create the most impact; if a project is successful, could it be replicated and then taken to scale?

Exciting field trips during the month included celebrating American Independence Day while kayaking at Larrabee State Park, 4 days hiking and learning negotiation skills at the Northern Cascades Institute, and finally an unsuccessful, but enjoyable, orca watching trip to Friday Harbour.

Candice and Kinship Conservation Fellow Viviana Lujan Gallegos jointly present solutions to environmental issues on Eleuthera, The Bahamas

The program was concluded with each fellow presenting a site-specific project they are working towards, applying the knowledge they gained from the fellowship and adaptive strategies they intend to develop in the future.

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Educational Programs Team hosts Akhepran International Academy

While all visiting groups are special to us here at CEI, certain ones touch our hearts in unique and unexpected ways. Akhepran International Academy, visiting us for the first time from Nassau, was one group that made a big impact in their short time with us.

Students sit on the beach to hold turtles as the research team takes their measurements
Students sit on the beach to hold turtles as the research team takes their measurements

On Monday August 24, 10 students along with 2 teachers arrived from New Providence and jumped straight into the island school life. They had a jam packed day to orient them to our campus, complete with a sustainable systems tour and awesome day one snorkeling.

The rest of the week had a large emphasis on working with our IMG_5503research teams and discussing the implications of their work on our world. Lloyd Allen, head chaperone and a teacher at Akhepran, has a big vision for his scholars and hoped that in their time here they would see the plethora of career options in sciences and engineering and be inspired to pursue their passions.

Some students have dreams of being engineers. These students really enjoyed learning about our aquaponics system with Michael Bowleg and spoke excitedly about going home and engineering their own aquaponics system at home. Others dream of being marine biologists and, after a morning learning about and dissecting lionfish, want to go back to Nassau and tell everyone they know about this invasive species and get them to eat lionfish instead of more commonly overfished species.

These examples are just the beginning of this group’s studies.

Students assist researchers  studying stingrays
Students assist researchers by helping to catch southern stingrays.

Their curiosity, questions, and positive approach to life made them a joy to spend the week with. By the end of the week many spoke about how their perspectives on the ocean had shifted and they had learned to love the ocean they grew up around even more. One student said, “every time a wave hits against me it’s like a kiss from mother nature” and another admitted that she had fears about the ocean, but that swimming in it and “being one with the fish” showed her she didn’t need to be so afraid.

This was truly a week of growth and inspiration, and even though their trip was cut short by threats of a hurricane, we look forward to this relationship and have hopes to visit their school in Nassau in the future.

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Professor Duncan Irschick of University of Massachusetts visits CEI!

Professor Duncan Irschick, integrative biologist and innovator at the University of Massachusettes, recently visited Cape Eleuthera Institute for an exciting week of field work with the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation (STRC) team. Far from being his first visit to CEI, Prof. Irschick is working in collaboration with the STRC team on a novel project to investigate the relationship between life stage and body shape of green sea turtles; how does flipper shape and carapace (shell) shape change with age and what implications does this have on the animal’s fitness? Over the course of the year, STRC researchers have been capturing digital images of the flippers and carapace of individual green turtles as data for investigating this interesting question.

Prof. Irschick takes a series of digital images of an individual green turtle for input into the 3D modelling software
Prof. Irschick takes a series of digital images of an individual green turtle for input into the 3D modelling software

The primary focus of Prof. Irschick’s visit this time, however, was to take a series of high quality digital images for each turtle that was captured during the week. With each photo in the series taken from a different angle to the turtle, Prof. Irschick is able to use a software program to create a 3D digital model of the turtle. His hopes are that with the use of 3D printing, these perfect replicates of real-life turtles can be used as an interesting and interactive educational tool. During the week, we caught a total of 11 turtles for Prof. Irschick’s 3D modelling – a very successful week!

Mid-week, the staff and visitors of CEI were treated to an evening presentation by Prof. Irschick entitled ‘Bioinspiration as a way of understanding the world’.

Prof. Irschick delivering a presentation entitled ‘Bioinspiration as a way of understanding the world
Prof. Irschick delivering a presentation entitled ‘Bioinspiration as a way of understanding the world’

This talk gave insight into how biological form can inspire synthetic design and touched on the striking similarity between the shape of bicycle helmets and sea turtle carapaces and how, by studying the form of gecko feet, a collaboration at the University of Massachusetts was able to apply anatomical principles to create a gecko-like adhesive called GeckSkin TM. His presentation was met with a host of questions on this inspiring topic and has certainly left us looking at the form and function of organisms in a new light.

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Fall 2015 Gap students tell us about their first week!

At 6:15 am the alarm goes off every morning, waking us for a day filled with the fresh possibilities of discovery. Here, at the Island School, we partake in a program that focuses on not only challenging us mentally, but also pushing us physically, to accomplish more than we thought ourselves capable of.

Gappers head out on their first expedition on the boat.
Gappers head out on their first expedition on the boat.

Our first morning here on Eleuthera, we walked straight out the front doors of our dorms onto the beach. Before entering the water, we laid face down on the beach, digging our hands into the sand, talking to the microscopic pieces of shells, coral, and rocks, asking them, “where did you come from?” “how did you get here?”. It is this humility of submerging yourself into the natural ecosystems that drives our learning here at the Cape Eleuthera Institute. We then made our way into the warm water, with our fins and masks and snorkels ready to travel to a world only accessible to those seeking it. This is the magic of this program, the opportunity to uncover and explore the world from an ecological perspective.

On our first full day on Eleuthera we made our way to the marina. There is a filleting station that the local fisherman use, which the sharks take full advantage of. We got to watch four nurse sharks and a southern stingray eat the discarded fish. It felt extremely surreal and humbling to see sharks feeding in the wild, as opposed to the stereotypical aquarium feeding experience. We then jumped right into The Cut.

Phoebe observes fish interactions in the roots of the red mangrove
Phoebe observes fish interactions in the roots of the red mangrove

The Cut is a lazy river that is a spot we are going to frequent often; it connects the marina and the ocean. So far, this has been one of our favorite places to go. It is filled with snapper, grouper, anemone , stingrays, and Phoebe’s favorite conch! Phoebe found a group of five empty conch shells that were all connected. Though extremely heavy she felt it very important to pick them all up. This sent us all into a fit of laughter, as she was barely able to keep her head above water, while refusing to put her “jackpot” down. Needless to say it was an incredible day filled with exploration, adventure, and more knowledge about the ocean then I have ever received.

Together with our leader Liz, we are a group of eight, in this short seven days we have become incredibly close. We feel like we have known each other (the gappers) for much longer than just a week. The sense of community and purpose at The Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School is overwhelming. Us gappers have been welcomed with open arms and enthusiasm by everyone here. And we are nothing but looking forward to the next eight weeks here in our new home!DCIM100GOPRO

-Molly Brigham & Phoebe Colvin Oehmig

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The new multinational Sea Turtle Team ready to go for the Fall!

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From left to right: Jorell Pageot, Anna Safryghin and Brittany Bradshaw

The Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team here at CEI welcomes three new members to the team for the fall semester! They arrived last Saturday and, after a few days of orientation, they got to finally jump on a boat and head into the field. Despite the early finish due to unpredictable weather conditions, all the interns had an amazing time getting hands-on experience in working with Meagan Gary on her Masters study by monitoring for sea turtles carrying her acoustic tags. Brittany Bradshaw (left), who had the task of listening for sea turtles, is a 21 year old college graduate from the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus (Trinidad and Tobago), where she did her BSc. in Biology and Environmental Resource Management. Although she came from a Caribbean island, she honestly believes without a doubt that Eleuthera is the hottest place in the world! Brittany is excited to learn and will be spending her free time scuba diving and participating in projects with the other staff members at CEI.

Anna Safryghin (middle), manning the hydrophone, is a 21 year old half Italian and half Russian placement year student from Plymouth University, UK. Anna studies Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology and also plays soccer for the University team. She left the freezing Russian cold behind her to come and enjoy the hot and stunning Eleuthera. In her free time, Anna can usually be found engaging in some kind of physical activity, from water polo Wednesday to volley ball Tuesdays. During her 6 months at CEI Anna is looking forward to gaining experience in the field in all ways possible.

Last but not least, there is Jorell Pageot (right), who did a great job recording the positions of the turtles during her first field day. She is an 18 year-old, recent highschool graduate, from the not-so-far Nassau, New Providence. Jorell has been so enthusiastic about everything since her arrival. It is actually her first time on any of the family islands and so far she is “loving it”! Jorell looks forward to working with the turtle team and learning new things, she plans to become a marine biologist and is already looking at colleges to begin her studies to achieve that goal. Jorell loves meeting new people, soccer, and she wants to become a certified scuba diver. We look forward to working with this team for the rest of Fall 2015!

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Throwback Thursday – Last week EPs hosted Brookwood School!

Photo taken from the Brookwood School blog.
Photo taken from the Brookwood School blog.

Last week, the Educational Programs team was fortunate enough to host 28 amazing 8th grade students and four chaperones from Brookwood School in Massachusetts for five days of learning, exploring, and unforgettable nature experiences. During their time here, the students got the full Island School experience; they were up each morning at 6am for morning exercise, they participated in dish crew duties, they nominated caciques for each day, and they spent fun-filled days learning about the various ecosystems around Eleuthera.

One highlight of the trip included a morning spent with the Center for Sustainable Development crew learning about biodiesel, solar power, and aquaponics, where the students actually got to make a half-gallon batch of biodiesel, build a solar powered light bulb, and fillet tilapia from the aquaponics system! Another afternoon, after a lesson on sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, the students went out to CEI’s aquaculture cage where they got to snorkel with schools of jacks and spadefish, and were lucky enough to spot multiple large reef sharks and two turtles! For many students, this was their first time swimming in the deep, open ocean, and though it was intimidating, every student tackled the challenge with excitement and ended the afternoon with some fun time spent jumping off the roof of the Cobia into the deep blue waters below. The students also enjoyed a dinner out at Sharil’s where they got to eat her famous fried lionfish, and followed that up the next morning with the lionfish team, learning more about the invasive species and dissecting multiple lionfish.

To finish the week off, everyone sat around a campfire on the last night, roasting marshmallows and reflecting on their experience. Many students commented on how much closer they felt with their class, and how they hoped to bring those stronger relationships back to school to enrich their 8th grade year, while others talked about their newfound love of the ocean, everything they had learned about sustainability, and what they were going to do back home to help protect our environment.

The chaperones also kept a blog throughout their week here to keep families back home updated on all of their kids’ adventures, including detailed accounts of each day’s activities and some great pictures! Throughout the week, the chaperones provided students with various writing prompts to respond to and reflect on, and some of those responses are included in the blog as well. One prompt asked the students to write as if they were speaking to grade below them, 7th graders who would get the next opportunity to visit the Island School. One response stood out in particular:

“… everything about this place is amazing! Even the morning exercises I dreaded turned out to be some of the most fun things I’ve ever done. In school, you think so many times that you won’t apply things that you learn in school to life in general. However, here at the Island School you will apply everything you learn in about an hour and the whole time while learning, while applying, and while experimenting. You will have the most fun you’ve ever had. So step out of your comfort zone and join your classmates in a trip to the Island School.”
– Kishan P.

We’re so glad this incredible group had as much fun at the Island School as we did having them here! We can’t wait to see Brookwood back next year for another amazing week.

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CEI represented at the 13th annual FSBI conference at Plymouth University, UK

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Dr. Owen O’Shea presents his research on electrosensory prey discrimination in a local species of round ray – Urobatis jamaicencis.

Plymouth University and the historical Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom hosted the 2015 Fisheries Society of the British Isles annual conference. This year’s symposium theme was the biology, ecology and conservation of Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays). Dr. Owen O’Shea represented the Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School by presenting his work on electrosensory prey discrimination in a local species of round ray – Urobatis jamaicencis. This research was taught during applied scientific research class at The Island School in Spring 2014 and was warmly received by 178 leading shark researchers from across the globe. The plenary speeches were led by a range of well-respected and established scientists such as Greg Cailliet who spoke of advances in the ageing and growth of elasmobranchs, Sonja Fordham who is founder and president of Shark Advocates International spoke of the recent CITES listings and conservations challenges in the political arena and Greg Skomal discussed his work tagging great white sharks.

This work has contributed to the paucity of knowledge surrounding the efficiency at which rays search for food, considering their prey are often concealed beneath the sandy patches amongst reef habitat in which we find them. From this information, we can better understand how these animals are able to forage effectively in term of their energy budgets. This is important because yellow rays compete with other similar fishes for the bounty that lies beneath the sediments, and so maximizing foraging efficiency is critical not to get left behind!

photo 4The conference offered an eclectic blend of talks ranging from remote camera systems following great white sharks, to the politics surrounding shark and ray conservations and the challenges faced in protecting many species. It was an honor to be a part of this conference and to not only share the work we do here at CEI, but to learn from our peers about their work, and hopefully forge future relationships and collaborations.

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BREEF 2015 Summer Camp at CEI!

chris blogOn Friday, August 21st, the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the Cape Eleuthera Institute was once again honored to host and be involved with 22 young Bahamian students from the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) Eleuthera Sea Camp for a full day of research-related activities. Friday capped off a week-long summer camp focused on the Eleuthera’s marine environment, and the relationships that residents of the Bahamas have with that environment.
Firstly, students were introduced to our systems and facilities via a 60-minute walking tour of campus including a visit to our permaculture farm, aquaponics system, wet lab, and biodiesel facility. At each stop, members of the community informed students about sustainable farming practices, biodiesel production, and how we grow fish to not only eat, but that help us grow our lettuce and herbs. Following the campus tour, the students ate a picnic lunch at the Boathouse with members of the Shark Team.

Dr. Owen O'Shea describes the importance of understanding how stingray biology influences the environment around the Bahamas.
Dr. Owen O’Shea describes the importance of understanding how stingray biology influences the environment around the Bahamas.

The afternoon was full-on, filled with the CEI shark research team, shark handling demonstrations, and a stingray tagging experience. Research Technician Cameron Raguse kicked things off with a short presentation on shark ecology, explaining their role as a top-predator in the Bahamas and how integral they are to maintaining a stable ecosystem. The students then split into groups alternating between two activities: one with Dr. Owen O’Shea and his team for stingray tagging; and one with University of Illinois graduate student, Ian Bouyoucos demonstrating shark handling and physiology. In each case, the students got an in-depth look at research here at CEI, as well as getting up-close with some often misunderstood animals.

an Bouyoucos, M.Sc candidate at the University of Illinois, prepares to show the students a juvenile lemon shark.
Ian Bouyoucos, M.Sc candidate at the University of Illinois, prepares to show the students a juvenile lemon shark.

At the end of the day, the group left with a better understanding of elasmobranchs as a whole, and a deeper appreciation for the wildlife right at their doorstep.

To check out photos from the camp, go to our Flickr album!

 

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CEI represented at American Elasmobranch Society Meeting!

In the month of July, Alp Gokgoz, past CEI Research Technician, attended the 31st annual American Elasmobranch Society meeting in Reno, NV, with support from CEI’s professional development fund. Florida State University and Shark Research and Conservation Program graduate student, Brendan Talwar, also attended and presented his research on the post release mortality of the cuban dogfish and the gulper shark. It was a chance to meet many peers in the field of elasmobranch (belonging or pertaining to the Elasmobranchii, the subclass of cartilaginous fishes comprising the sharks and rays) research and learn of their studies and findings while sharing some of the research they had been involved in this past year at CEI.

Brendan Talwar presenting his thesis research at the American Elasmobranch Society meeting.
Brendan Talwar presenting his thesis research at the American Elasmobranch Society meeting.

The presentations and posters included findings on various aspects of elasmobranch biology, including morphology, genetics, ecology and physiology to name a few. Researchers deployed tags and BRUVS, collected DNA samples or even opportunistically examined specimen and behaviours using methods that were familiar and established but occasionally new and innovative. Listening to these talks allowed Alp and Brendan to gain a new perspective on the science behind this taxa and how it is conducted.
After speaking to various peers and attending a workshop on integrative biology in elasmobranchs, the main lesson Alp took from the meeting was that we must ask questions that integrate many aspects of an organism’s biology. In other words, focusing on the system as a whole, using the focus taxa to answer the question. For someone intent on a career in research, this might have been one of the best lessons from the conference. It has changed how he thinks about approaching a question but also guided him towards pursuing a master’s degree.

We hope to see Alp back at CEI in the future as a graduate student!

 

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Summer interns witness the annual spawning event for the Brown Encrusting Octopus sponge!

On August 7th at three o’clock in the afternoon, while conducting benthic surveys on Ike’s reef, some of our summer interns came across the annual spawning event for the Brown Encrusting Octopus sponge (Ectyoplasia ferox). These common bright orange tubular sponges immediately caught their attention because they appeared to be smoking. When the interns took a closer look the smoke appeared to be stringy neon orange mucus attached to the sponges.DCIM102GOPROGOPR3241.
The mucus filaments contain fertilized eggs that hatch into larvae and settle down on the reef to form new sponges. The Brown Encrusting Octopus Sponge, like most sponges, is a hermaphrodite; meaning they function as both sexes simultaneously. Fertilization takes place within the sponge once sperm makes its way through the water column to an individual of the same species. August is the usual time for the spawning of this species and a number of variables make it hard to predict the exact date to witness this unique event. These sponges are generally found on coral reefs and other nearby areas at depths from 40 to 75 feet, so keep an eye out this month!

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