CEI presenters at the conference.
CEI researchers were busy in Nassau over the past week. On March 4th, Aaron Shultz and Kate Kincaid attended an IUCN Red List Workshop, held at The Bahamas National Trust. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization (www.iucn.org). As an expert commission member for several IUCN groups, Kate is regularly involved in IUCN work. This workshop was open to scientists to come together and discuss plans for a National Red List for The Bahamas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (www.iucnredlist.org) promotes conservation and is an assessment of the conservation status of species to highlight taxa that are threatened with extinction. Species are evaluated using set criteria; this catalogue of threatened species is an internationally recognized inventory and important for conservation, decision making and highlighting biodiversity loss.
Many species have not yet been assessed and many countries are conducting national Red Lists. A national Red List for The Bahamas can be used for conservation planning and to assess their progress towards the 2020 Conventional on Biological Diversity Aichi targets. At this workshop, Kate and Aaron expressed CEI’s interest to be involved in the planning process and in species focus groups for sharks, corals and turtles.
Aaron Shultz presenting.
Following this workshop, CEI researchers Aaron Shultz, Kate Kincaid and Kristal Ambrose attended the 2nd Bahamas National Natural History Conference. This was a 3 day conference from 5th-8th March led by the Bahamas National Trust (www.bnt.bs) that highlighted the importance of research, conservation, and environmental stewardship in The Bahamas. The conference began with an opening ceremony at Atlantis followed by 3 days of talks. Continue reading
Team members chasing a turtle.
The first of 8 teams for 2014 were at CEI last week assisting with sea turtle research. 9 volunteers, from across America and Canada, spent 9 days collecting data from boats, on foot and by snorkeling in 11 sites across South Eleuthera. They collected vast amounts of data that would otherwise have taken much longer without their support. Using baited remote underwater video surveys for predators, they surveyed 9 sites and ‘captured’ 7 individuals from 3 different species: nurse, lemon and tiger sharks! They also caught and tagged 9 turtles, setting the record for catching 6 using the rodeo method in one day!
Earthwatch team members with a captured turtle.
Fire up the grill! As the 22nd annual Bahamian Young Chef Championship rolls nearer, high school students around the island are fine-tuning their culinary skills and perfecting recipes featuring local ingredients and flavor combinations.
Students learning the location of lionfish’s 18 venomous spines
This week the CEI lionfish team headed to Central Eleuthera High School’s Family and Consumer Science class to speak with Mrs. Williams-Sands’ and Mrs. McKinney’s students about preparation of lionfish. A student representative from CEHS will be headed to the Young Chef’s district-based competition next week and is considering featuring lionfish as a local ingredient. This shows marked and exciting progress toward cultivating demand for the invader from the fisheries industry.
Alicia Hendrix, CEI’s sustainable fisheries research technician, presenting on the impact of lionfish in the Bahamas
CEHS students learned about the invasion of lionfish in the Bahamas and some of the work done at CEI both to manage and to understand its implications for affected ecosystems. After being shown where lionfish spines were located and having their proper removal demonstrated, students Nigel and Sam faced off to fillet two lionfish, and they and their fellow students worked together to prepare them. Lionfish were fried, baked, and sampled by all students, many of whom had never tried the fish before!
Not only was it exciting to share this delicious white-meat fish with so many new samplers, but being enthusiastically approached by CEHS to introduce this dish was equally thrilling. With the help of more students, teachers, and community members there may yet be a booming lionfish market. Stay tuned for updates regarding the lionfish team’s plans for a local fisherman campaign; best of luck to CEHS in their competition next week!
CEI Researchers Annabelle Brooks and Meagan Gary took a class of Grade 7 students from Deep Creek Middle School to get hands-on learning experience, capturing and tagging sea turtles in Half Sound, Eleuthera. The class was part of the middle school’s “School Without Walls” program which aims to tackle unique and pertinent issues confronting the surrounding community. Students waded out into the mangroves and captured 5 turtles and multiple bonefish. All were measured and tagged and released back into the wild. For many of the students, this was their first time exploring the mangroves ecosystems of Eleuthera. Two of the turtles were captured for the first time, which the kids named “Franklin” and “Slash”.
Students form a “scare line” that spans the creek, chasing turtles and fish into the net near the mouth
The seine net is carefully rolled up, removing any debris.
Captured turtles were weighed, measured, and fitted with a unique tag number.
Vital statistics were recorded.
The tagged turtles were safely released back to the sea.
DCMS Grade 7 and CEI Turtle Research Team
Handling a yellow stingray prior to blood sampling.
Thursday, February 13th, researchers from the Shark Research and Conservation Program completed the second round of sampling for the program’s stingray physiology project. The project aims to understand how the immune response of yellow stingrays (Urobatis jamaicensis) changes as a result of long-term exposure to a chronic stressor. After Thursday’s sampling, stingrays will be exposed to increased levels of dissolved carbon dioxide for two weeks at levels forecasted from climate change models. This project has implications for better understanding the long-term responses of sharks to a chronic stressor since stingrays are closely related to sharks, and it is more practical to keep stingrays in a lab for long durations.
Drawing blood from the caudal vein using 27 gauge needles
A typical sampling event involves drawing blood from all 20 stingrays. Blood is drawn from the caudal vein running along the bottom of the tail. The vein is encased in a cartilage sheath and is so small that needles used are 0.016 inches, or 0.4 millimeters, wide. Blood is prepared in a neutral buffered formalin solution and smeared on slides in preparation for tests to determine the total white blood cell count and proportions in which different white blood cells occur together. Sampling will occur three more times until the end of the month, at which point all current animals will be released, and 20 more will be caught for a second replicate.
Preparing blood smears on slides for differential white blood cell counts
The research team is particularly excited because this is only the third study to observe changes in immune function in sharks and rays, and this is the first study to observe changes in the immune response over a long duration. This project is a collaborative effort between researchers at the New England Aquarium, Carleton University, the Baltimore Aquarium, and the University of Illinois.
This week, the RSMAS group had a class on invasive species. As part of the class, team RSMAS got to go out with the lionfish researchers and help with spearing, dissecting, and filleting of fish.
Megan Gleason said, “The spears were easy to use, and the lionfish were abundant. We got 14 of them!” Team RSMAS had the opportunity to dive and spear in an uncharted spot which was great.
It was alarming to see the amount of lionfish on a reef that had not been monitored, but it was also a cool experience having so many potential targets to spear!
They got back to campus and began to dissect the fish in order to see what they had been eating. There were some baby crabs and shrimp in their stomachs; it was incredible that we were able to see them in their whole form. Then it was time to fillet the fish. Afterwards, the group reflected, “We are all looking forward to eating them and experimenting with ways they can be prepared. The cookbook we had the chance to look through gave us some good ideas.”
Meaghan Gary, Research Technician for the Turtle Research team, discusses her project:
Juvenile green sea turtle
We are currently conducting a study on the in-water thermal variation across a juvenile green turtle foraging ground and the thermal preferences of the juvenile green turtles utilizing this foraging ground. We have placed habitat temperature data loggers in sixteen different locations throughout our study site, Starved Creek, which is located on the west coast of Eleuthera. These temperature data loggers are called iButtons (Maxim Integrated Thermochron ® Temperature Data Loggers) and are programmed to record every hour so that we are able to account for tidal differences.
iButton attached to green sea turtle
We are also in the process of attaching iButtons to juvenile green turtles in order to investigate their thermal preferences. The iButtons attached to green turtles will record a temperature every ten minutes due to their movement throughout the tidal creek. We hope to continue to attach more iButtons to green turtles throughout the spring and recapture as many as possible.
After mangrove ecology class and snorkel
Week two was very full as we began to get into the swing of things on campus. As always each day was new and exciting and there was never a dull moment.
Human ecology classes began this week where we were given a deeper understanding of how humans impact the environment. We were all very shocked about the average consumption of an American in a year. For example the average American will use 43,371 soda cans in a life time. The gap students then began presentations on environmental issues. Stef discussed overpopulation and Kaitlin presented on the dredging in Gladstone, Australia.
CEI launched into 2014 with a busy EP season. Amidst the many veteran programs was the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with 8 students visiting for their inaugural trip to Eleuthera!
Students learning snorkeling and transect techniques in boathouse cut prior to starting solo research
Led by Dr. Cory Suski, with years of CEI research under his belt, students spent their first 3 days at CEI learning proper research techniques in various environments. While surveying patch reefs, executing mangrove transects, or seining creeks for live specimens, the students were developing their own research proposals for field research to occur later in the program. Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Zach Zuckerman were instrumental in passing along effective sampling techniques to the students. Once equipped with methodology, 4 projects were launched, and the students were scattered throughout the Cape collecting data.
Students seining Rock Sound for bonefish and other flats fish with Zach
Among the topics studied were the impacts of take vs. no-take zones on lionfish presence and biodiversity, abiotic factors in various creeks in relation to the biodiversity of these zones, and anthropogenic impacts among various mangrove communities. A symposium was hosted on the final day of program, during which students presented their findings to the CEI community. Keep your eyes on U of I as these students return home and ready themselves for graduation in the spring – their dedication to science and research will undoubtedly take them far!
Students test out the Manta Tow during a search for aggregate grouper spawning site with Sustainable Fisheries