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Mackey recounts her deep-sea adventures with Dr. Edith Widder in the Gulf of Mexico

My journey started as an Island School student back in Fall 2006, before Cape Eleuthera Institute even existed. The bridge across the mangroves was just being built. After my semester ended I knew I wanted to do more research and come back to The Island School. I looked for any opportunity to come back. I returned multiple times, as a Dive Master, Alumni advisory, Intern, Research Technician, Research Assistant, and now as a graduate student. I been able to grow within the organization with endless opportunities and experiences to learn from. I have gone from being a student to now teaching students for the past four semesters.

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My research is looking at the abundance and biodiversity of the deep-sea organisms living in the Exuma Sound. I use two specialized deep-sea cameras, the Medusa and the Pegasus. These cameras can be deployed to over 1000 meters deep and observe the animals that live in deep-sea environments. As some of the smaller organisms are extremely hard to identify on the video, I also use a series of deep-sea traps to study smaller benthic organisms.

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I just got back from an amazing experience on a deep-sea cruise in the Gulf of Mexico with Dr. Edith Widder. The main focus of the cruise was finding new species that emit light through the process of bioluminescence. We had the Medusa on board, accompanied by the E-jelly, an electric jellyfish that emits small lights to replicate bioluminescence. These lights were used to lure deep sea organisms to the camera. We saw cutthroat eels, rattails, and shrimp on the film. As part of our research we collected samples of organisms that would potentially produce bioluminescence.

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It was an unbelievable experience and I’m so excited to continue to research the largest and least explored biome in the world!

Bonefish Research Trip to the Northern Exuma Islands


Forest Thomas, Regional collaborator from Hummingbird Cay, Exuma, shares his experience as he teams up with CEI for a Bonefish Research Adventure

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The team sets up camp on the Exuma shores.

The trip to the Northern Exuma Islands started off as you would expect: everything coming together at the last minute. Team members included Dr. Liz Wallace (FWC), CEI staff: Aaron Shultz, Zach Zuckerman, and Eric Schneider, local guide Manex Newton, and me- Forrest Thomas, the do whatever-he’s-told guy.

The purpose of this research trip was to collect data from the northern Exumas cays for the bonefish genetics study being conducting with research partners Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fisheries Conservation Foundation, and Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.

A special thanks goes out to the Bahamas National Trust and Department of Marine Resources for giving us permits to conduct this study.

On day one we started out feeling good, had a plan and worked hard. However, the first few spot seines didn’t collect any bonefish, so we found a creek to block with the net. While we waited for low tide, we had lunch on the boat. We worked until sunset, which made setting up camp harder but way more interesting. In addition to the daytime seining to collect adult bonefish, the team deployed light traps in the evenings to collect larval bonefish. This would allow the researchers to better understand bonefish recruitment patterns and how closely related local populations are around Exuma Sound.Bonefish2

Over the next couple of days we explored more of the northern cays. We seined at several promising locations, but found no adult bonefish. However, the light traps, deployed every evening were collecting many larval bonefish. Examining the catch in the traps every morning was fun, as other interesting larvae (like the tiny octopus pictured below) were also observed. Other species seen in the traps included eels, pipefish, filefish, Atlantic silversides, and mantis shrimp.bonefish6

On day three we captured our first two adult bonefish! Fin clips from their dorsal fins were collected for genetic analysis, and they were tagged with uniquely numbered dart tags to help track their movements.

The next day we collected, tagged, and fin clipped 20 fish. During a fuel stop at Highborne Cay, we got some advice on another spot to find bonefish. After checking the map of the new area, it looked great; we were all excited and couldn’t wait to get there.

On our last field day we got to the new site at high tide, and set the net across the neck of the outlet. However we didn’t see any fish, so went looking. Further up we found a school of 60+ fisbonefish5h. This was a great way to end the trip. It took us a good 2 hours to tag and fin clip all of the fish, but the time flew by because of all the excitement.

In the end we had an awesome and successful trip. We fin clipped and tagged 82 adult bonefish, and captured over 300 larval bonefish in the light traps. I personally can’t wait for the next big adventure with Aaron and the team. Thanks for a great trip guys and I’ll see you all soon!!

 

Students conducting dissertation projects at CEI this summer

This is the 4th year that CEI has been collaborating with Newcastle University, United Kingdom, in offering research placements for their marine biology undergraduate students. Over the years student numbers have been increasing and this year we have 10 students enrolled in an 8 week session that provides an opportunity for them to each get hands on field and lab experience as well as collect data that they will go on to analyze. This fall they will write up a dissertation that contributes to their final university degree. This placement program has also expanded to more universities and this summer we welcomed a student from Reading University, UK, and Green Mountain College in Vermont as well as Master’s students. The ten students this summer are working on a range of studies withing our shark, coral, flats and sea turtle research programs and here is some information from three of the participants about their projects:

“Hi, I’m Jordan Atherton from Newcastle University, England, conducting research here at CEI for my final year thesis project. I’m looking at how the fish assemblages on the coral reef here are affected by different habitat complexities by method of underwater visual census, so plenty of diving!” DCIM100GOPROGOPR1872. “My name is Ashley Bairos and I am conducting field research towards an M.Sc. degree from Green Mountain College in Vermont. Ultimately the goal is to measure habitat suitability across various intertidal creek areas around Cape Eleuthera for the purpose of applying effective conservation strategies for green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). By measuring benthic coverage, predation pressures, habitat structure, and various abiotic factors including water depth and substrate type, I hope to quantify the value of foraging habitats for green sea turtles.”

“My name is Izzy Lake and I am a marine biology student currently studying at Newcastle University, England. I’m here over the summer to work as part of the Sea Turtle Research Team at the Cape Eleuthera Institute. While I am here I will be conducting my undergraduate research project on understanding the environmental variables that could affect green sea turtle abundance. My field work involves conducting benthic mapping transects in local tidal creeks as well as monitoring sea turtle abundance.” DCIM100GOPROGOPR0812. We’re looking forward to the results of their work. Any enquiries about this program should be directed to annabellebrooks@ceibahamas.org

Rachel Miller Attends Sea Turtle Conference in GA

Earlier in February, Rachel Miller, the Research Assistant for the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program at CEI, attended the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Meeting in Jekyll Island, GA. The conference was a five-day conference that focused on the newest sea turtle research from the Southeast United States.

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Even though Rachel doesn’t live or work in the Southeast United States, many of the sea turtles that nest or hatch from that area come to The Bahamas to eat and grow, so it is important that the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program at CEI keep up-to-date with important research from that area of the world. Rachel also had the opportunity to meet with a number of individuals involved in sea turtle research and conservation, including distinguished scientists such as Dr. Peter Pritchard and Dr. Kate Mansfield, as well as Island School alumni.

The Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program is gearing up for a busy year, and hopes to use some of the newly acquired information from the meeting to help the program run smoothly. If you are interested in keeping track of what the program is doing, please check out the Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas page on Facebook!

Sea Turtle Team Takes DCMS Students in the Field

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Program Manager Annabelle Brooks releases a recaptured green sea turtle.

On Friday, January 23, the Sea Turtle Research Team was joined by the Grade 7 students from Deep Creek Middle School. The day was started by reviewing the biology of different species of sea turtles and talking about why sea turtle species are declining.  The effects that humans are having on sea turtles worldwide were also discussed, as well as what students can do to protect the threatened species.  The knowledge that DCMS students already had about sea turtles and their habitats was impressive! Continue reading

The Lillian and Betty Ratner School Learns All About Lionfish

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LREP Intern Alanna Waldman shows students from the Ratner School how to safely remove venomous lionfish spines.

This past week, visiting students from Ohio’s Lillian and Betty Ratner School spent a week at The Island School stretching their comfort zones and exploring what it means to live sustainably while simultaneously learning about the marine life of The Bahamas. As a part of their educational experience, the Ratner students listened attentively to Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, the head of the Lionfish Research and Education Program, present on the detrimental impact of the non-native lionfish on Caribbean marine ecosystems. The students learned that these fish, originally from the Indo-Pacific, are resilient creatures that can live in environments with a wide range of salinity, depth, and habitat conditions, are seldom predated upon by Caribbean natives, and as a result are ravaging reefs by consuming native fish and invertebrates.  Such intense predation impedes important ecosystems services that otherwise keep the reefs healthy and alive.

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LREP Research Assistant Alicia Hendrix describes envenomation mechanisms to listening students and shows them a lionfish spine close-up.

After viewing footage of bobbit worm predation in the lionfish’s native range, the school relocated to the CEI wet lab to assist Alanna and Alicia, an LREP intern and research assistant (respectively) with lionfish dissections. The students were able to point out the venomous spines of the lionfish: 13 dorsally located, 2 pelvic, and 3 anal. Once the fins were removed, the kids were enthralled with finding the heart and the otoliths of the fish, and looked on closely as the stomach was removed to check for stomach contents. Many of the students even ventured to touch the ocular lens of the eyeball as well as stick their fingers into the mouth and touch the gills. Continue reading

PH Albury & DCMS Eco Clubs Team Up for SEEP Recycling

All volunteers and adults congratulate themselves on a job well done!  Photo credit: Nicole Elliot
All volunteers and adults congratulate themselves on a job well done! Photo credit: Nicole Elliot

This past Saturday, the Deep Creek Middle School Early Act and Eco Club teamed up with Preston H. Albury High School’s newly formed Eco Club to sort plastics 1, 2, and 5. It wasn’t the prettiest job – sorting plastic bags and food containers and removing bottle caps from a few hundred bottles – but friendly competition made it fun as three groups each tried to sort the most! Continue reading

Cape Eleuthera Institute Southern Stingray Project gets underway

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Southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana) are the subjects of the SRCP’s latest project.

With a successful start to field sampling for its newest project, the CEI Shark Research and Conservation Program broadened its portfolio to include studies of Southern stingrays  (Dasyatis americana).  These rays are elasmobranch relatives to the program’s more traditional subjects. Principal investigator Dr. Owen O’Shea explains, “the research will determine long-term site fidelity, seasonality, and spatial partitioning within this species so as to allow a multi-faceted approach to understanding ontogenetic habitat transitioning in this species.” Continue reading

CEI’s Flats Ecology and Conservation Program Attends the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust Symposium

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Anglers are critical stakeholders in the management of marine resources. Tax dollars from fishing gear and license sales contributes heavily to fisheries management and research, and anglers are one of the strongest voices in marine conservation issues.

CEI Director Aaron Shultz and Flats Ecology and Conservation Program Manager Zach Zuckerman attended the 5th International Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT) Symposium on Nov. 7th – 8th at the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame and Museum in Florida. Zuckerman presented findings on movement and growth of bonefish in South Eleuthera, and how development and anthropogenic land use change have resulted in bonefish habitat loss. Shultz moderated a discussion on bonefish management and coastal protection as part of The Bahamas Initiative‘s bonefish management workshop. Workshop attendees included Eric Carey and Vanessa Haley-Benjamin of The Bahamas National Trust, as well as guides, BTT scientists, and conservation-minded anglers. Continue reading

Fall 2014 IS/CEI Symposium Focuses on Outreach

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The Island School student Peter Knudsen explains the role of coastal development in increasing pollutant runoff to a group of visiting children.

The Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute Research Symposium was held last Saturday, November 29. As with previous years, The Island School students prepared scientific posters about their Applied Research Class projects, which they presented to Symposium guests. Some students also manned stations in the wet lab, showing guests how their experiments were run in real time.

Attendees then had the chance to tour the Center for Sustainable Development, and learn about the sustainable systems on campus, such as the wind turbine, the solar panels, and the biodiesel. After the tours, guests moved on to the boathouse, where students had set up games aimed at outreach and conservation. Continue reading