First-Ever Bahamian Lionfish Jewelry Making and Awareness Workshop a Huge Success

Lionfish fins swimming
The invasive lionfish, Pterois volitans and P. miles, is noted for its characteristic brightly colored fins and venomous spines.

The lionfish, an invasive predator from the Indo Pacific currently wreaking havoc on Caribbean and South American coral reef fish populations, was first introduced to the region through the exotic aquarium trade.  These beautiful carnivorous fish have characteristic orange and red stripes, spotted and striped pelvic and caudal fins, and flamboyantly colored wide-spreading pectoral fins, which they use to corral prey.  These fins, though possibly to blame as the instigators of the devastating invasion, are now offering a new way to help control the rampant spread of the predatory fish. Continue reading

South Eleuthera Primary Schools Explore Marine Invertebrates & Sustainable Systems

Green Castle primary EP
Green Castle students discussing characteristics and adaptations of the invertebrates found.

Green Castle Primary School’s teacher, Ms. Mary Thompson, brought her class of students in grades 5 & 6 for a marine invertebrate and snorkel trip at the Cape Eleuthera Institute last Tuesday. Students first discussed 4 common invertebrate phyla they might find: cnidarians, echinoderms, porifera, and mollusks. Then they headed out to snorkel off the beach! This was an exciting trip for students who examined the different invertebrates we found such as cushion sea stars, a brittle star, juvenile conch, a sea anemone, rose coral, and even a little periwinkle.

EP Local schools
(Top) Wemyss Bight students are excited after winning a sustainability competition. (Bottom) Green Castle students pose for a group shot after snorkeling.

On Wednesday, Ms. Nathalie Sweeting with Wemyss Bight Primary grade 4 came for a trip to explore some of the sustainable systems on campus. Students started off reviewing the differences between renewable and nonrenewable resources. Then the class headed out to various systems around campus so that they could see these concepts in action. Their first stop was the dining hall cistern to measure how much water we had at the time and to talk about water conservation. Then they headed over to the wind turbine and solar panels to discuss some of the differences between how we get our energy and where they get theirs at home. A highlight for students was the aquaponics system where sustainability teacher, Adam Dusen, caught a few Tilapia and described how the system works to produce fish and hydroponically grown plants for consumption in the dining hall. It was great to get a close-up look at the unique system. Continue reading

Bonefish movements in Grand Bahama

Eric Schneider bonefish
CEI Research Assistant Eric Schneider releases a tagged fish that has fully recovered from the surgical procedure.
Blacktip shark
Bonefish are not the only economically important species found on the flats! Bonnethead, lemon, blacktip (pictured), and other sharks all visit shallow nearshore habitiat and were spotted while seining for bonefish.

Bonefish are a highly sought-after sportfish, supporting a $140+ million industry in the Bahamas. Shallow coastal waters that bonefish inhabit are under threat from development and other human-induced stressors; identifying how bonefish use critical foraging and spawning habitats is essential for securing the longevity of the Bahama’s bonefish fishery.

Over the past week, CEI’s Flats Ecology and Conservation Program (FECP) has been conducting a field study on Grand Bahama Island as part of a joint effort to further investigate the spawning activities of bonefish. The FECP is joined by a diverse team of scientists, fishermen and stakeholders that hope to learn more about local populations to direct future conservation efforts. The overall objective of this multi-year study is to determine the location of bonefish spawning aggregations to best determine possible sites for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas and National Park’s to conserve the local bonefish population. Continue reading

The Lionfish Team Breaks from Lab Work to Conduct Patch Reef Surveys

 

Speared lionfish patch reefs

balloonfish patch reefsNurse shark patch surveys

bigeye patch reef transect
(top) Lionfish are culled from select patch reefs every 3 months. During the latest round of patch reef surveys the team found (second-fourth from top) a balloonfish hiding in one site’s recesses, a nurse shark waiting when they entered the water at the next, and a bigeye fish normally only found at depths greater than 15 m.

For the past three seasons the Lionfish Research and Education Program, managed by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, has been conducting an array of lab-based behavioral studies.  Projects have assessed everything from interactions between lionfish and Caribbean spiny lobsters to preferential prey consumption by the carnivorous invaders to possible collaborative hunting nature of the fish.  This fall brings a brief hiatus from lab-based work as data analysis and writing shift to the fore.

Field work for the lionfish team, on the other hand, continues.  Another round of quarterly surveys were performed in September on the patch reefs just North of the Cape, an area in which lionfish monitoring has been going on for the past 4 years.  These small and relatively self-contained reefs allow for comparisons between communities with and without lionfish, as the LREP program regularly culls lionfish from specified patches.  September surveys were completed and over the course of the dives 78 lionfish were sighted, ranging in size from 2-28 cm. In addition to common fish a nurse shark, bigeye, and balloonfish were spotted, as well as a small aggregation of masked or glass gobies – two species impossible to differentiate underwater.

Stay tuned for Eleuthera’s first Lionfish Awareness and Jewelry Workshop, a collaboration between CEI and Eleuthera Arts and Cultural Center!

Students at The Island School Introduce Their Research Projects

Island School discussion
The Deepsea Shark Survivorship class gets feedback from advisor Brendan Talwar as they prepare their presentation.

Last week students in the Fall 2014 semester of The Island School gathered with their peers, teachers, faculty, and visitors to present introductions to their Research Class projects.  Presentations contextualized the students’ studies and provided background information, broader significance, and methodology for each.  The students will continue to hone their scientific presentation and communication skills over the course of the semester and will speak at greater length about their completed work at a Research Symposium in November, for which they will also prepare scientific posters. Continue reading

The Sustainable Fisheries Team Searches for Stone Crabs

Christian Anderson stone crab trap
The Island School student Christian Dennis prepares a stone crab trap to be set in the Bahamas Banks.

Stone crabs have been a popular and principal commercial fishery in Florida for many years, and have comprised a portion of the local fishing take here in The Bahamas for just as long.  Recently, there have been reductions in Floridian catch, as well as an  increase in fishing pressure for the crabs in the Bahamas, where they now represent the fourth largest fishery.  With growing commercial demand and the arrival of  new commercial export pressure in North Eleuthera, stone crab trapping in South Eleuthera may soon increase.  Though the fishery is presumed to be sustainable – harvest restricted to legal-sized regenerative claws suggests less than 100% mortality – little is known about stone crab populations in The Bahamas and specifically around the Cape.

This semester Claire Thomas, manager of the Sustainable Fisheries Program at CEI, and Alicia Hendrix, CEI research assistant, are leading a research class for students at The Island School hoping to address the lack of information on South Eleuthera’s stone crab population.  Using commercial fishing traps, students are collecting data on crab abundance, carapace width, propodus length, and sex that can provide insight into the local fishery. A better understanding of the current population will allow for comparisons in the future, and help identify any actions that may be needed to insure the longevity of this growing fishery.  Students are also collecting data regarding water temperature, depth, and bottom type in surveyed areas to better understand the habitats stone crabs like to frequent here in The Bahamas. Continue reading

Graduate Student Update: Ian Bouyoucos and Lemon Shark Energetics

Ian Bouyoucos spring 2014
Ian (left) with his Spring 2014 research class at The Island School.

Ian is a newly appointed master’s student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He graduated with a B.S. from the University of Michigan in December 2012 and has been conducting research with the Shark Research and Conservation Program (SRCP) since January 2013 as an intern, research technician, and research assistant. Continuing his work with shark physiology, Ian’s thesis research focuses on quantifying the energetic costs of fisheries capture. Continue reading

Gap Year Update

Gap Year 2014
Gap Year students prepare for their 5-day kayak adventure.

We’re officially back on campus safe and sound! Over the past two weeks we have been embracing the adventure and outdoor education component of the Gap Year Program here at CEI.  We have had the time of our lives traveling along the island of Eleuthera by kayak one week and by van the next.

Our kayak trip took us along the Eleutheran coast through the Bahamas Banks.  Paddling by day, in the evenings we would bring our kayaks onto the beach and set up camp, cooking dinner on an open fire despite what turned out to be one of our biggest challenges – the bugs! Every night bar the last one a storm rolled in with lots of rain and some lighting and thunder. Despite it all, though, we still had a great time.  We also all survived our solo experiences – 27 hours of solitary thought and reflection on a secluded beach on the banks.  Continue reading

The Medusa Camera Explores Deepwater Communities

mackellar violich the medusa island school
Mackey Violich shows students from The Island School how to monitor The Medusa’s depth as she descends.

This fall, CEI’s Deepwater Project is continuing use of The Medusa, a specialized deepwater camera that can provide footage from up to 2000 meters underneath the ocean’s surface. The unit is on loan from Dr. Edie Widder of Ocean Research Conservation Association (ORCA). Footage collected from the camera will shed light on the diversity, distribution, and species assemblages of deep-water fauna present within the Exuma Sound trench community.  A working understanding of healthy deep-water communities has become increasingly important in recent years as shallow-water overfishing pushes to expand the deep-sea fishing industry.

Continue reading

Graduate Student Update: Brendan Talwar and longline post-release survivorship

CEI is lucky enough to host an array of graduate students conducting collaborative projects between us and their home institutions.  In this way we are able to maximize our facilities’ potential and to share it with a broader scientific community.

Cuban dogfish
The Cuban dogfish, a common bycatch in deep sea fisheries, is one of the two shark species with which Brendan’s study is concerned. Photo by B. Talwar.

Brendan Talwar, an MSc candidate at Florida State University’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory is currently working with CEI Shark Conservation and Research Program Manager Edd Brooks to assess the post-release survivorship of deep water shark species caught on longlines.  In an effort to better inform fisheries policies, Brendan hopes to look more closely at the effects of capture stress on Cuban dogfish and gulper sharks, two common bycatch species in deep sea fisheries, with the end goal of understanding why some sharks die while others survive during and after a capture event.

Recently, Brendan has been returning longline-caught sharks to the deep in a constructed cage and monitoring them for behavioral effects post-release.  Check out Brendan’s progress and the success of his caging experiments thus far in this post, where you can hear a bit more about the potential complications that predation may introduce as well as some broader implications of his work.