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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

Third BREEF Sea Camp, Governor’s Harbour, August 2014

Dr. Owen O’Shea, Associate Researcher with the Shark Research and Conservation Program at The Cape Eleuthera Institute, recently visited the Haynes Library in Governor’s Harbour to deliver a talk on sharks and rays to around 40 young people and members of the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF). In his 90-minute presentation, Dr. O’Shea covered important aspects of shark ecology and biology in The Bahamas and held an open discussion on why sharks and rays are so important for ecosystem function.

Owen O'Shea BREEF conference
Dr. Owen O’Shea speaks about the importance of sharks and rays.

The children that took part in this sea camp were aged between 8-14 and were all captivated by the images, videos and stories that Owen shared with them. “They were all so knowledgeable about the sharks in these waters,” said Owen afterwards, “it was remarkable that a group of young people were aware of the global pressures facing this group of species and wonderful to hear that many intended on applying for CEI Shark Program internships in the future.”

“Delivering outreach is an essential tool for scientists’ working at CEI and this was no exception,” added Owen. “I certainly think there were many future marine scientists sat in the audience.”

Gap Year Student Update

The Fall Gap Year Program is underway and boy have the gappers come a long way since we met, as seven strangers, at the Rock Sound Airport three weeks ago. With our fearless leaders, Liz and Pat, we have become a tight-knit family. Between getting SCUBA certified and oriented to campus, we had an action-packed first week.

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Gap Year students participate in community service clean-up at the Ocean Hole Park in Rock Sound.

At the start of our second week, we really got into the swing of things. We began our classes, Human Ecology and Environmental Issues, where we learned how to live more sustainably in our daily lives. Each of us chose a topic of interest to research and present to the rest of the group. Continue reading

Simon Fraser University’s Gotta Catch ‘Em All

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.