You are what you eat… and what your dinner eats, too!

As any angler will tell you, fresh fish is the best fish (Fig. 1)! Even non-anglers would insist that grilled wahoo, dockside yellowfin sashimi, or fried dolphinfish fingers are best when fresh from the sea. Knowing your fish is wild-caught means there are no questions about the quality of the fillet, or the fish’s diet – right?

Wahoo (top) and dolphinfish (bottom) are highly sought after sportfish, and are targeted for their fighting ability and table quality meat. These species, together with tunas and billfish, drive the economically valuable Bahamian sportfish economy.
Wahoo (top) and dolphinfish (bottom) are highly sought after sportfish, and are targeted for their fighting ability and table quality meat. These species, together with tunas and billfish, drive the economically valuable Bahamian sportfish economy. Photo credit: Erik Kruthoff
Fig. 2: A sugar bag originating from the Dominican Republic. Within a few years this bag will break up into tiny microplastics, easily available for accidental consumption by marine fishes.
Fig. 2: A sugar bag originating from the Dominican Republic. Within a few years this bag will break up into tiny microplastics, easily available for accidental consumption by marine fishes.

Each year, between 8-12 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans, ranging in size from large pieces of floating trash or small (< 5mm) microplastics barely visible to the naked eye (Fig. 2). Some of this debris may result in the entanglement and death of marine mammals, or can be ingested by birds, sea turtles, and fish with severe health consequences. Even more concerning is that plastic debris acts as a magnet for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs or DDT – chemicals known to disrupt hormones or have carcinogenic effects in humans and animals. Thus, identifying whether plastic debris is consumed by recreationally and commercially important fish species should be of concern to any angler or sushi-lover.

Fig. 3: Island School students remove the stomach from a dolphinfish in preparation for a stomach dissection.
Fig. 3: Island School students remove the stomach from a dolphinfish in preparation for a stomach dissection.

CEI researcher Zach Zuckerman, along with 6 Island School students, are investigating how marine debris – particularly plastic – is affecting the marine food web of The Bahamas.  Zuckerman and his team have collected over 100 dolphinfish, wahoo, and yellowfin tuna carcasses from anglers at Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina and Davis Harbour Marina, both located near CEI’s campus on South Eleuthera. The location at which each fish is captured is recorded, and the stomachs removed at CEI’s wetlab to be dissected in search of plastic debris. To identify microplastics, the team runs the contents of each fish’s stomach through a sieve, or a series of increasingly smaller screens, to separate prey and debris by size (Fig. 3).

Fig. 4: This large hair bead and piece of trash bag were discovered in a dolphinfish and wahoo (top), while these 14 small pieces of clear plastic film were discovered after sieving the stomach contents of a single yellowfin tuna.
Fig. 4: This large hair bead and piece of trash bag were discovered in a dolphinfish and wahoo (top), while these 14 small pieces of clear plastic film were discovered after sieving the stomach contents of a single yellowfin tuna.

Preliminary results indicate that 19% of wahoo, 23% of dolphinfish, and 20% of yellowfin tuna captured in Eleuthera’s waters contain plastic in their stomachs. Some of this is easily identifiable by eye such as pieces of plastic bag! Most of the debris, though, is less than 5mm in size and identifiable only through the sieving process such as the 14 small pieces of clear plastic found in a single yellowfin tuna (Fig. 4)!.

These preliminary results are quite startling; past gut content analysis of fish harvested near the Pacific Garbage Patch suggests much lower occurrences of plastic ingestion by recreational species, with only 2% of dolphinfish and no yellowfin tuna having been found with plastic in their stomachs. These researchers, though, only searched the gut by eye and did not sieve the stomach contents. Many anglers claim to have never seen plastic inside a fish, yet it would seem that most have never looked quite close enough!

Please follow this research as we increase our sample size, add new recreational species to the study, and quantify concentrations of free-floating plastic around Eleuthera by sampling the Exuma Sound with a plastic trawl (blog coming soon). Contact zachzuckerman@ceibahamas.org with questions or to support our research efforts.

 

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Prominent sea turtle researchers visit CEI

During the first week of May, Cape Eleuthera Institute and the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program were honored to welcom Dr. Karen Bjorndal and Dr. Alan Bolten to our facility. Dr. Bjorndal and Dr. Bolten are co-directors of the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida and collaborators on the “Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas” Earthwatch program conducted at CEI.

Research assistant of the Sea Turtle Research Program, Rachel Miller, watching Dr. Alan Bolten take a biopsy from a green sea turtle caught in Starved Creek, The Bahamas.
Research assistant of the Sea Turtle Research Program, Rachel Miller, watching Dr. Alan Bolten take a biopsy from a green sea turtle caught in Starved Creek, The Bahamas.

Dr. Bjorndal and Dr. Bolten came to CEI to discuss the program as well as scout out potential study sites for their newest graduate student to investigate the effect of green sea turtles on the carbon cycle of seagrass beds. They also accompanied the turtle team on a trip to Starved Creek. Here, Drs. Bjorndal and Bolten taught the turtle team how to take skin biopsies from a sea turtle. These skin biopsies will be used to conduct stable isotope analysis, an analysis that examines the diet of the turtle, as well as genetic analysis. The genetic analysis will help give the team at CEI an idea of which rookery (nesting area) the sea turtles came from as the green sea turtles feeding off the shores of Eleuthera most likely traveled long distances from their hatching grounds.

Dr. Karen Bjorndal gives a presentation to Island School students about her work in the Bahamas over the last 40+ years. Photo Credit- Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick
Dr. Karen Bjorndal gives a presentation to Island School students about her work in the Bahamas over the last 40+ years. Photo Credit- Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick

On their final night at CEI, Dr. Bjorndal gave a presentation to the Island School students and staff. Dr. Bjorndal was a doctoral student of Archie Carr, the grandfather of sea turtle research, and her presentation gave background information on sea turtles in the Bahamas and provided insight into the research she has conducted for the last 40+ years in The Bahamas. Dr. Bjorndal initially monitored nutritional ecology of green sea turtles in the early 70’s but this has grown into a long term monitoring program in Inagua, southern Bahamas. She and Dr. Bolten also monitor abundance of sea turtles (green, loggerhead, and hawksbill) as well as growth rates of sea turtles throughout various sites in the Bahamas.

The turtle team are grateful for the time they got to spend with these distinguished scientists and look forward to their graduate student joining the team at CEI next year!

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Island School Research Class helps assess the local reef invertebrate populations

An adult conch, next to an egg mass. Queen conch are the second largest fishery in The Bahamas.
An adult conch, next to an egg mass. Queen conch are the second largest fishery in The Bahamas.

In the Bahamas, the fishing industry is crucial for the economy of the country, worth about $100  million annually. This mainly comes from the three main fisheries of The Bahamas, spiny lobster, queen conch, and Nassau grouper.

In efforts to protect these crucial fisheries, The Bahamian government aims to protect 20% of the coastal waters by 2020 through mechanisms such as marine protected areas. There are 19 proposed marine protected areas for The Bahamas currently, and one of them is proposed in South Eleuthera, protecting the patch reef systems east of the Cape Eleuthera.

While many studies have been done on the fish populations and abundances on these patch reefs, there is a lack of empirical data on the invertebrates, specifically the queen conch and the spiny lobster, which are economically important to the Bahamian fisheries, but also the sea stars, sea cucumbers, and sea urchin,s which are ecologically important to the health of the reefs.

Students out on a boat on their way to the patch reefs
Students out on a boat on their way to the patch reefs

This semester, the Island School research class taught by Claire Thomas, Sustainable Fisheries Program Manageer at CEI, is assessing the abundances of the economically and ecologically important invertebrates in the South Eleuthera proposed marine protected area on randomly selected patch reefs to investigate the current status of these important invertebrates. To collect data, the students preform a  roving snorkel survey, counting the number of each key invertebrate they observe both on the reef and 5 meters around the patch reef. With this information and information previously collected pertaining to the measurements, structure, and habitat parameters of the reef, the students will quantify the densities in relation to the habitat variables.

A student about to start a reef assessment
A student about to start a reef assessment

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CEI Research Manager attends international sea turtle conference

20150421_132327Annabelle Brooks, CEI Research Manager, just attended the 35th annual symposium on sea turtle biology and conservation, hosted by International Sea Turtle Society, in Dalaman, Turkey. The symposium draws participants from around the world, from across disciplines and cultures to a common interest and objective: the conservation of sea turtles and their environment. The Symposium encourages discussion, debate, and the sharing of knowledge, research techniques and lessons in conservation, to address questions on the biology and conservation of sea turtles and their habitats. 

Annabelle gave a presentation on some of her research findings, focusing on morphological variation in juvenile geen sea turtles around Eleuthera, and also attended talks on various topics including nesting, in-water biology, and fisheries bycatch of sea turtles. Next year the symposium will be held in Lima, Peru.

The morphological study is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Duncan Irschick of UMASS Amherst and the full study will hopefully be published later this year!
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Earthwatch group works with CEI Sea Turtle Research Team

An Earthwatch member holding up a captured turtle
An Earthwatch member holding up a captured turtle

A group of 18 students from Skyline school in Seattle joined the turtle team at the start of April on an action packed 9-day Earthwatch expedition. Days were filled with turtle abundance surveys, baited remote underwater video (BRUV) deployments to assess predator distribution, and the capturing of turtles to collect morphometric data (measurements and weight). For some of the students, this trip was their first experience of snorkelling, travelling in boats and seeing wild turtles. Despite a few nervous faces at the start of the trip all the students quickly embraced this new experience and the rest of the time was filled with excited faces and (a lot of) happy singing!

Turtle blog photo 1The students had a great time exploring different habitats while looking for turtles. The most turtles counted in one day was 80 at Half Sound on the Atlantic side! In total over the 9 days the group counted 179 turtles and caught 18 turtles for morphometric data collection.

The Earthwatch students spent their final night with the turtle team having dinner on Sunset Beach. As the sun sank below the horizon, each student gave their favourite memory from the past 9 days. These ranged from watching some of their peers with their ‘interesting’ methods of getting into and out of the water from the boat, to singing on the van trips to study sites, and enjoying the very bumpy boat rides on windy days. However, there were two favourite memories that all the students could agree on; working hands-on with sea turtles, and the passion that all the researchers at CEI have for their research projects.

Thank you Skyline School for your enthusiasm and hard work during your Earthwatch expedition!

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Lyford Cay International School visits the Cape Eleuthera Institute

Students engaged in plastic pollution research getting up close with a mahi mahi dissection
Students engaged in plastic pollution research getting up close with a mahi mahi dissection

Lyford Cay International School in New Providence brought 25 bubbly 5th graders down for a 3 day sustainability program at the Cape Eleuthera Institute. Besides learning about topics such as Bahamian ooidic limestone, ocean pollution, and permaculture, students also learned first hand how biodiesel is made from used cooking oil by making a “test batch” in the lab.

The Grade 5's post The Island School's youngest RUN-SWIM EVER!!!!!
The Grade 5′s post The Island School’s youngest RUN-SWIM EVER!!!!!

This group of students was the youngest group to ever do a run-swim! A run-swim is a morning exercise where students go through a series of short runs and short swims before climbing a sea wall, jumping off a cliff and run-swimming back to campus. Run-swims are always a highlight for visitors and of course a great way to start your day off on the right foot!

Lyford will be returning in the fall with more grades, more science, more fun and more learning!

Student assisting Samuel our bio-diesel technician making a batch in the lab
Student assisting Samuel our bio-diesel technician making a batch in the lab
Although one of our youngest overnight programs, Lyford Cay 5th grade students blew us away with their prior knowledge on sustainability as well as their excitement to learn even more through experience! 

 

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CEI outreach at Earth Day Event

Last weekend, the Sustainable Fisheries team packed up a van full of educational materials and headed to Governor’s Harbour for the annual Earth Day event, hosted by One Eleuthera, to showcase the ongoing sustainable projects at The Cape Eleuthera Institute.

A member of the sustainable fisheries team, Alexio, gets interviewed by ZNS on the invasive species, the lionfish (1)

Representatives from Aquaponics and the Center for Sustainable Development also joined to demonstrate their projects. A working model of an Aquaponics system using a tank with tilapia and a grow bed with lettuce and basil resting on top, informed onlookers on ways to harvest both fish and vegetables sustainably. Many young kids were also enthralled by the demonstration on how to make biodiesel from used vegetable oil.

Mike Cortina, a member of the Center for Sustainable Development, teaches children how to make biodiesel from used vegetable oil (1)As for the Sustainable Fisheries team, the lionfish displayed prominently on the front table of the booth was a huge success, luring people in to ask questions about the invasive predator. For many children who passed by, this was the first lionfish they had ever seen. When asked if they had ever eaten lionfish, many of the visitors to the booth had never tried it, but the team encouraged people to start asking for lionfish in restaurants to increase the demand and create a more prominent fishery for lionfish. Some Bahamians and visitors were hesitant to try because of the venomous spines, but when they looked over the fillet guide on display, many people seemed to be interested in filleting and preparing their own lionfish in the future. A handful of people who spearfish told the team that whenever they see a lionfish they spear it because they know they are harmful to the reef. Most, however, did not know that they could eat lionfish and they were excited when they discovered they could eat the white and flaky lionfish meat.

Many women loved the idea of using lionfish fins to create earrings, and the younger groups passing by enjoyed touching the fins on display. Many of the children left the booth with face paintings of lionfish and sea creatures and kept coming back for more.

Ann holds up the lionfish slayer t-shirt she won in a drawing after signing up for The Cape Eleuthera Institute updates and newsletter
Ann holds up the lionfish slayer t-shirt she won in a drawing after signing up for The Cape Eleuthera Institute updates and newsletter

For those who signed up for The Cape Eleuthera Institute newsletter and weekly update, their names were entered into a raffle to win a “Lionfish Slayer: You Slay We Pay” t-shirt. Two lucky people received the shirts after two drawings, and pictured below is one of the winners, Ann Gates, a frequent visitor to Eleuthera.

ZNS, the local Bahamian news station, interviewed one member of the Sustainable Fisheries team about our projects on invasive lionfish. The segment will be shown to inform people who were not at Earth Day about the invasive predator, the destruction they are doing to the reefs, and ways that we can help with the invasion by eating and wearing lionfish!

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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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