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!

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IS students help with deep sea trapping research project

The Island school summer term went out with the deep-water research group, led by Mackellar Violich to pull up traps from 1200 meters deep. The baited traps are set off the wall, and traps are pulled in the following day. Researchers then identify, measure, and record all of the organisms from the traps.

IS students out with deepwater research team,

IS students out with deepwater research team,

This research project is focusing on finding the biodiversity and abundance of benthic scavenging species that live between 500-1400 meters deep in the Northeast Exuma sound.

The team recently pulled up Bathynomus giganteus, a large isopod and some Simenchelys parasitica, or pugnose eels.

Students working up organisms collected in deep water traps.

Students working up organisms collected in deep water traps.

Sustainable Fisheries team out in the field with conch surveys

Queen conch are an important animal in The Bahamas, both economically and ecologically.  Conch reproduce via internal fertilization and females lay extensive egg masses that hold hundreds of thousands of eggs.  However, recent years have shown a marked decrease in conch populations, in the greater Caribbean region, and in The Bahamas.
Robin Bater (Newcastle undergraduate researcher) records size categories of conch from Taylor Witkin and Lisa West (CEI Interns) during a tow

Robin Bater (Newcastle undergraduate researcher) records size categories of conch from Taylor Witkin and Lisa West (CEI Interns) during a tow

In 1993, dive and tow surveys were conducted that assessed the breeding populations of conch off Cape Eleuthera.  This summer we are reinvestigating this area to determine whether conch are still utilizing the same breeding grounds as they did in the 90s, and if their population is undergoing any variation or decline.
To accomplish this, CEI is running a series of conch tows and dives to assess conch population density.  This involves either pulling researchers behind a boat or diving in small groups and noting how many conch are present as well as the size category of those conch (either adult, subadult, or juvenile).  These size categories have to do with the age and sexual maturity of the conch and are determined by the presence and thickness of a flared lip on the conch’s shell.  We will continue to update you on our findings throughout the summer.

 Eleutheran Explorers Camp is a Huge Success

Last week CEI was graced with 13 kiddos here for our annual Eleuthera Explorers Summer Camp! It was a jam packed week full of smiles, snorkeling, adventures, challenges, tears, homesickness but most of all LOTS of laughs!

Both Eleuthera Explorers Kids Camp, ages 9-12, and Eleuthera Explorers Teen camp, ages 13-15, had the opportunity to head ‘down island’ as far as glass window bridge. The group stopped up at the Governor’s Harbour Junkanoo shack for a little creative pasting and rush out. Teen camp had the chance to scuba dive and Kayak during their program, both a highlight for all!

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A camper explores the reef at fourth hole beach after learning about coral reef ecologyP1050282

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The campers make traditional bahamian junkanoo headdresses out of recyclable materials

 

CEI hands out free lionfish at Deep Creek’s Conch Fest

Prepping lionfish to hand out as samples

Prepping lionfish to hand out as samples

This year, CEI had a booth at Deep Creek’s Homecoming, called Conch Fest, that was geared towards promoting sustainable fisheries. The team was frying up lionfish samples, so local community members can sample the invasive fish that is abundant on the reefs, but also delicious to eat. The team was also promoting the “You slay, we pay” campaign, where fishermen can bring in lionfish, fillets or whole fish, to sell to CEI. The goal is to create a market for lionfish on Eleuthera.

Aside from free fish, the team also had a board with conservation trivia, hoping to dispel some common misconceptions. For example, do green turtles eat conch? The answer is no! Green turtles eat plant material like turtlegrass, and their serrated jaw is perfect for this type of diet.

The booth was open for two nights, and hundreds of lionfish samples were handed out. Thanks to everyone who participated, and the team enjoyed the opportunity to spread the word about the invasive lionfish and what we can do to help (Eat them!).

Members of CEI promoting sustainable fisheries at Conch Fest 2014

Members of CEI promoting sustainable fisheries at Conch Fest 2014

CEI and Island School Research Symposium a big success

Students on the lionfish team discuss their project with Dr. Stephanie Green.

Students on the lionfish team discuss their project with Dr. Stephanie Green.

Congratulations to all of the Spring 2014 Island School students who gave oral and poster presentations at the Research Symposium. This event is a culmination a semester-long research class, where students become involved in all aspects of research. It is a chance for them to showcase the data that they collected, along with real world implications of the work.

We had many special guests in attendance this semester:

David Knowles, Director of Parks, Dr. Ethan Freid, Chief Botanist, and Camilla Adair Deputy Preserve Manager at Leony Levy Preserve, the Bahamas National Trust
Dr. Andy Danylchuk, past Director of the Cape Eleuthera Institute and currently Assistant Professor of Fish Conservation at UMass Amherst, collaborator with Flats Ecology program at CEI 
Dr. John Mandelman, Director of Research and Senior Scientist at the New England Aquarium, collaborator with Shark Research program at CEI 
Dr. Brian Silliman, Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke Marine Lab 
Dr. Jeanette Wyneken, Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University 
Dr. Mike Salmon, Research Professor at Florida Atlantic University
Dr. Stephanie Green, Postdoctoral Researcher at Oregon State University 
Thank you to all of our guests, and congratulations again to the students for a job well done.
A group photo of the Spring 2014 Island School students.

A group photo of the Spring 2014 Island School students.

Students on the flats project discuss their poster with Dr. Andy Danylchuk.

Students on the flats project discuss their poster with Dr. Andy Danylchuk.

 

Dolphinfish tagging update

Fig. 1. Anglers target mahi for their strong fight, showy leaps, tasty fillets, and beautiful colors.

Fig. 1. Anglers target mahi for their strong fight, showy leaps, tasty fillets, and beautiful colors.

Dolphinfish (aka mahi mahi or dorado) are a highly sought after sportfish targeted by offshore anglers, and they also support commercial fisheries in the Caribbean and US. Until recently, little was understood about their movements, stock ranges, and population structure. Recent findings suggest that these fish complete long-distance migrations and are quick to mature. However, little information exists about dolphinfish movements or harvest in The Bahamas – a location identified by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council  in critical need of further stock assessment.

Fig. 2. A tagged dolphinfish ready for release. Note the orange tag, printed with contact information for reporting a recapture of this fish.

Fig. 2. A tagged dolphinfish ready for release. Note the orange tag, printed with contact information for reporting a recapture of this fish.

The Cape Eleuthera Institute has been working with the Cooperative Science Services’ Dolphinfish Research Program (DRP; http://www.dolphintagging.com/) to mark dolphinfish in The Bahamas with external tags (fig. 2). After recording the fish’s size and location of capture, the fish is tagged and released to be captured again by an angler or commercial fisherman. Upon recapture, essential information such as distance travelled and growth of the fish can be determined.

Recent recaptures in the Bahamas have further demonstrated both the distances travelled by dolphinfish, as well as the large geographic range of the north Atlantic stock. One fish tagged in Florida last year was recaptured 309 days off Rum Cay in the southern Bahamas. It is estimated that the fish travelled up the East Coast of the US before swimming back to the Bahamas – a total of nearly 4,000 miles (fig. 3)!

A potential dolphinfish migration route. This individual dolphinfish grew in length from 18 to 53 inches in the 309 days between initial tagging and recapture, and might have travelled nearly 4,000 miles (map courtesy of DRP).

Fig. 3 A potential dolphinfish migration route. This individual dolphinfish grew in length from 18 to 53 inches in the 309 days between initial tagging and recapture, and might have travelled nearly 4,000 miles (map courtesy of DRP).

These findings are critical to protecting the Atlantic mahi fishery. By quantifying movements of dolphinfish across political boundaries (i.e., US, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean nations), a regional management plan can be devised and enforced, ensuring a sustainable fishery for all countries.

If you will be fishing in the Bahamas and are interested in tagging dolphinfish, contact zachzuckerman@ceibahamas.org, or visit the DRPs website. Many anglers release small dolphinfish; tagging is a great way to contribute to our increasing knowledge of this economically important species!

Dolphinfish regulations in the Bahamas are not based on current stock assessments. Collecting data on recreational harvest and movements can ensure proper management of the fishery.

Dolphinfish regulations in the Bahamas are not based on current stock assessments. Collecting data on recreational harvest and movements can ensure proper management of the fishery.

Tag and release small dolphinfish, or those too large for you cooler. Tagging is also a great way to enjoy fishing if you have reached your limit of fish. This dolphinfish smiles at the camera as it is being released.

Tag and release small dolphinfish, or those too large for you cooler. Tagging is also a great way to enjoy fishing if you have reached your limit of fish. This dolphinfish smiles at the camera as it is being released.

 

Update on the You Slay, We Pay Campaign: Mass Dissection

Mass dissection and filleting of lionfish

Mass dissection and filleting of lionfish

To date, we have had a total of 220.6 lbs of lionfish brought in for the lionfish slayer campaign.  Last Wednesday, much of the lionfish was dissected and filleted for the upcoming Parents Weekend. In total, 98 fish were filleted, 65 of which were fully dissected and documented. The whole day was a huge success as a steady flow of fish were photographed, de-spined, and measured, then dissected to determine sexual maturity and stomach content, and finally filleted. One giant fish set the record for the largest yet seen and documented at CEI; it weighed in at a whopping 967 grams, or 2.13 pounds, and measured 41.5 centimeters in length.

Biggest lionfish on record for Eleuthera

Biggest lionfish on record for Eleuthera

By the end of the day over 80 pounds of lionfish had been filleted and ready for the kitchen to prepare for visiting Island School parents. The fins were harvested for the creation of jewelry, demonstrating the multiple ways lionfish can generate income.

 

Lionfish fins saved for jewelry making.

Lionfish fins saved for jewelry making.

Early Learning Center students get to investigate real deep sea creatures!

Students checking out the giant Bathynomus

Students checking out the giant Bathynomus

The Island School’s youngest students have been able to get up close and personal with some deep sea creatures over the past couple of weeks without even setting foot in the water.  Thanks to the Shark Research and Conservation Program’s deep water team at CEI and special guest researcher, 10 year-old Forrest Schmitt, the children have been getting lessons in deep water isopods.  They learned facts about the super-giant isopod, Bathynomus giganteus, including that they live at depths exceeding 900m and that the largest one ever recorded had a total length of ~500mm.

_Y1A9076The children were intrigued and inquisitive, asking many questions about the “bugs” and studying their morphology closely.  They did observational drawings of the creatures that were displayed at the​​​​​​ Parent’s Weekend Art Show.  The only thing that the 3-6 year olds could not decide is whether the creatures 14 legs would cause it to “run very fast” or move “slow, slow, slow because they have to move so many legs”.   They may just have to wait for footage from the team’s infamous deep-sea camera unit, the ‘MEDUSA,’ to find out.

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Island School students present their research at Parent’s Weekend

Last week, the Island School campus was inundated with the parents of the Spring 2014 students. Aside from campus tours and a breathtaking art gallery, parents also got to witness the students give scientific research presentations pertaining to the research projects they have been involved with all semester.

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The Deep Water research group giving their presentation.

The Deep Water research group giving their presentation.

Each presentation was ten minutes long, and followed the format of a professional scientific presentation, explaining background on the topics, the current problem, the methods used to collect data, data analysis, and interpretation of results, ending with why the project matters and what can be done in the future. Parents were thrilled to see the young scientists give their first real talk in front of a large audience. Each student group also fielded questions from the parents.

Click on the link to see a list of research topics. Continue reading