Simon Fraser University’s Gotta Catch ‘Em All

fish catching blog
Fiona Francis catches juvenile fish on the patch reefs to be incubated in sea water.

Summer 2014 was a fun but busy field season for the research team from Simon Fraser University. This was the first field season at Cape Eleuthera Institute for Fiona Francis, an MSc student studying the indirect effects of invasive lionfish under the supervision of Dr. Isabelle Côté. Two undergraduate field assistants, Kyla Jeffrey and Severin Vallaincourt, were assisting Fiona as well as working on small side projects of their own.

patch reefs south eleuthera
Schools of juvenile grunts, prey for invasive lionfish, often cover the patch reefs off the Cape in South Eleuthera.

The team spent most of the summer studying how invasive lionfish can change primary productivity on reefs. Native fish provide nutrients to algae and seagrasses, and Fiona was trying to determine if lionfish predation on these native fish reduced the availability of those essential nutrients. To do this the team spent long hours catching fish to determine the levels of nutrients excreted by different species into the water around them. While this might not sound too hard, fitting a wriggling, venomous, spiny fish into a Ziploc bag full of water  proved to be quite a difficult task! Continue reading

Summer Research at CEI and Abroad – Check out our eNews!

The summer season at Cape Eleuthera Institute always sees a tremendous amount of activity.  Visiting scientists fly in, new interns and undergraduates arrive, and every now and then our own researchers spend some time off-island diversifying their studies.  This past summer, Lionfish Research Program RA Alicia Hendrix headed to Honduras to lead work with UK-based organization Operation Wallacea,  which offers volunteers a chance to assist scientists at field sites around the globe.

lionfish dissection for operation wallacea - alicia hendrix
Alicia Hendrix shows Operation Wallacea volunteers how to dissect a lionfish.

The Bay Islands of Honduras offer a unique research opportunity to contrast divergent fishing pressures on Caribbean lionfish communities.  Two sites – the Bay Island of Utila off the coast of La Ceiba and Tela, a mainland site just a few hours away – support very different reef-based economies.  Utila, a widely known and popular dive destination, is home to a dozen dive shops most with active lionfish culling programs, but is not a primary fishery for more commonly consumed Caribbean staples.  Tela, a site far less frequented, has been subject to harsh overfishing in past years, supports a reef fish community recovering from those pressures, and currently experiences little in the way of lionfish culling.  Contrasting the two can give researchers an idea of how factors such as lionfish spearing, regular exposure to divers, and more broadly targeted fishing practices might affect lionfish distribution and behavior. Continue reading

Gap Year Students in the Field with the Lionfish and Sustainable Fisheries Teams

lionfish dissection external
During lionfish dissections, external total and standard length measurements are taken.

Gap Year students spent an afternoon with the sustainable fisheries program, dissecting lionfish and engaging in discussion about the invasive species. During the dissection students poked at lionfish visceral fat and removed the fishes’ venomous spines, among other organs. The dissection was a hands-on way to see how these habitat and feeding generalists thrive in the Bahamas. They eat during all hours of the day and, as a result, have more visceral fat than most fish. Understanding mechanisms which make lionfish such successful invaders is an important first step to effective management of the species.

After learning about the latest research regarding lionfish prey preferences and feeding habits, Gap Year students headed into the field to try their hand at catching prey fish for the lab.  Armed with fins, snorkels, and hand nets, the team of 5 targeted juvenile fish which could be used in lab choice trials.  Despite initial setbacks (catching fish has a learning curve!) the excursion was ultimately a success and a collection of damselfish, silversides, and grunts made their way back to the CEI wet lab.

Brookwood School Visits CEI

Brookwood School students and teachers recently headed back to Massachusetts after their school’s first visit to Cape Eleuthera Institute. During their 6-day adventure the group was able to learn more about the sustainability initiatives in practice around campus and explore some of the local environments. After visiting these places, students were able to develop a better understanding of the impact that they as individuals and humans have on the marine environment.

Brookwood Educational Programs paige creek snorkel
Out for a snorkel in Paige Creek after learning about the importance of mangrove systems.

Students started off their adventure with field lessons in coral reef and mangrove ecology. When snorkeling to explore these areas, many were surprised by the warm water temperature and the abundance of colorful fish. So different from the coastal waters back home in the New England area! The group spent a lot of time in the water; they snorkeled above the aquaculture cage, explored some patch reefs, swam in a blue hole, visited Lighthouse Beach, and even went out on a night snorkel! Continue reading

American Elasmobranch Society 2014 – Chattanooga, Tennessee

Shark Research and Conservation Associate Researcher Dr. Owen O’Shea recently attended the 30th annual meeting of the American Elasmobranch Society in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Dr. O’Shea presented his paper ‘novel observations on an opportunistic predation event by four marine apex predators’ co-authored by John Mandelman of the New England Aquarium, Brendan Talwar of Florida State University and Edward Brooks, program manager at The Cape Eleuthera Institute.

Owen OShea America Elasmobranch Society
Dr. Owen O’Shea in Tennessee at this year’s annual meeting of the American Elasmobranch Society

Continue reading

Local High School Teachers Consider Sustainability as a Part of Curriculum

PHAHS Teach 1
PHAHS teachers tour the CEIS farm and orchard looking at native Bahamian plant resources and sustainable practices.

Teachers and Vice Principal, Ms. Knowles, from Preston H. Albury High School came to visit during teacher’s planning week in late August. This visit served as the start to a collaboration regarding ways that CEI may support their curriculum planning with a focus on scientific research, native Bahamian resources, and small island sustainability. We hope that teachers of all subject areas, not just biology and the sciences but also math, English, art and other subjects, see a connection with the projects we have here at CEIS. Continue reading

Sustainable Fisheries team is busy in the wet lab!

This past summer was a busy time for the sustainable fisheries team, with numerous conch and lionfish lab trials.

Students and interns observing lionfish in the lab
Students and interns observing lionfish in the lab

On the lionfish side of things, Helen, one of the visiting Newcastle students, is looking at prey density as well as whether or not it benefits lionfish to hunt in groups.  She does this by adding 1 (or more) lionfish to a tank containing varying densities of prey fish (grunts) and observing the rate at which the grunts are eaten.  Emily (another student from Newcastle University) is exploring prey preference in lionfish.  She ran a series of trials to determine whether lionfish are more likely to attack a grunt or a damselfish if given the choice.  She is now determining if lionfish rely more on visual or olfactory signals when hunting.

Oli, a third student from Newcastle, was running behavioral trials on conch. A fisherman’s tale suggests that the declining numbers of conch available is due to the fact that the animals run away from knocked shells that have been thrown back into the water by other fishermen (as opposed to overfishing).  Oli is testing this explanation by dropping empty conch shells (as well as rocks as a control) in a tank with a live conch and monitoring its movement for 4 hours.  We will keep you updated on the results of these trials as they progress!

Oceanside and Camden Hills- visiting programs at CEI

 Earlier this month was the return of Camden Hills Regional High School for their sixth visit to CEI, and Oceanside High School’s second trip alongside Camden. It was another stellar​ year of exploration, science, research and reflection.

DSCF0108Students focused on research during their time at CEI​. They were not only getting out there and assisting our resident scientists with their data collection, b​ut also coming back to the lab, sifting through video footage, % cover of seagrass and trying to work out where all the conch have gone. For these students science came alive. They were able to see what goes into real research, where time, weather, tide, and sharing resources play factors into every minute of every day.

Two students IDing some seagrass out in the field
Two students IDing some seagrass out in the field

The students final presentations were outstanding. With only three – four field days and approximately 10 hours of data analysis and thought time, they provided the community with well-rounded projects. Not only did they analyze data, they were able to offer thoughtful insights into why their research matters. Continue reading

Grand Bahama Bonefish Research Trip Update

The Island of Grand Bahama.  The dark blue color on the south side of the island indicates deep water.  The red line is the Grand Lucayan Waterway built in the 70’s that connects the north and south side of the island.
The Island of Grand Bahama. The dark blue color on the south side of the island indicates deep water. The red line is the Grand Lucayan Waterway built in the 70’s that connects the north and south side of the island.

Major man-made changes to the geography of Grand Bahama in the 1960s – 1970s altered the connection between the shallow Little Bahama Bank on the North side and the deep New Providence Channel on the South side of the island.  In particular, the construction of the Grand Lucayan Waterway created a new connection, while construction of a shipping harbor obstructed a natural waterway, Hawksbill Creek.  These land-use changes potentially altered the spawning migration patterns of fish around Grand Bahama.

VR2 receiver that was placed in the waters around Grand Bahama to record bonefish locations.
VR2 receiver that was placed in the waters around Grand Bahama to record bonefish locations.

Bonefish, sometimes referred to as the gray ghost by anglers because of their elusive nature, are extremely important sport fish in the Bahamas.  Recent research on Eleuthera, Abaco, and Andros has shown that these fish migrate from shallow flats to form pre-spawning aggregations near deep water.  The goal of this project was to assess present-day movement corridors of bonefish around Grand Bahama during the spawning season (October to May).

Bonefish tag  implanted in October 2013.
Bonefish tag implanted in October 2013.

To accomplish this task, CEI in collaboration with Fisheries Conservation Foundation, College of the Bahamas (Freeport), University of Illinois, Illinois Natural History Survey, Carleton University, and H2O Bonefishing surgically implanted 30 acoustic tags into bonefish and deployed 17 acoustic receivers around the island in October 2013. The receivers were downloaded in June of 2014 and revealed that 7 of the 24 fish tagged on the North side used the Grand Lucayan Waterway as a corridor from the north side to the south side of the island. 2 fish were recorded swimming around the west end and 2 others around the east end of the island, which are each over 80 km journeys. This indicates that bonefish are most likely forming pre-spawning aggregations on the South side of Grand Bahama and will guide research efforts during the next spawning season.  The outcomes of this project will be shared with decision makers so they can make informed decisions about protecting migration corridors from spawning grounds to aggregation sites.

Bonefish spawning aggregation
Bonefish spawning aggregation. Photo by A. Danylchuk.


Update from the Oregon State University lionfish team


Tye collecting fish
Alex collecting fish

Mark Hixon’s Ph.D. students from Oregon State University have returned to CEI for a third summer of invasive lionfish research!  This year, they have been busy both above and below the water, performing field and lab experiments.  Alex Davis is observing the natural locations of lionfish on large reefs in order to understand whether different types of habitat affect whether lionfish frequent certain areas of a reef and/or leave a reef altogether.  Tye Kindinger is testing for competition between two native basslets (popular aquarium fish) by comparing basslets on reef ledges where the two basslets co-occur versus on ledges where she has removed all the individuals of one basslet species.  She is interested in seeing whether basslets are less or more vulnerable to lionfish predation when they are competing under ledges.


OSU team diving the patch reefs
OSU team diving the patch reefs

Lillian Tuttle wants to know if lionfish harm the cleaner goby, a small but important reef fish because it keeps other fish healthy by picking parasites off their skin.  To do this, she moved gobies to small reefs and is now comparing their survival, growth, and behavior before and after adding lionfish, and between reefs with lionfish and those without.

Led by Eric Dilley and Dr. Stephanie Green, the OSU team is also working on a lab experiment that measures how 3 small fish species react to the presence of native predators versus invasive lionfish.  Can small native fish recognize and evade this novel predator?  How “appropriate” is their reaction given the serious threat that lionfish pose to their survival?  Alex, Tye, Lillian, and Eric are excited to be back working at CEI, and we can’t wait to see what they discover this summer about the ongoing lionfish invasion!