Category Archives: conservation

Summer research focusing on critically endangered coral reef species

Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) corals are major reef-building corals found off the shores of Florida and throughout the Caribbean. In recent decades there has been a widespread decline in distribution and abundance of elkhorn and staghorn corals. Their decline is the product of compounding effects from local stressors and global factors linked to climate change including ocean acidification, sea level rise, coral bleaching, disease, and the increased severity of hurricanes. The loss of the Acropora species negatively affects the reef function and structure. This summer, McMaster University student, Heather Summers, in collaboration with Operation Wallacea and the Cape Eleuthera Institute, has been investigating the abundance and distribution of the Acroporid coral populations in South Eleuthera, Bahamas.

Undergraduate dissertation student, Heather Summers, recording the habitat assessment score at one point along the transect.
Undergraduate dissertation student, Heather Summers, recording the habitat assessment score at one point along the transect.

The purpose of this study is to collect qualitative and quantitative observations of coral reefs for use in the development of a mathematical model that will help describe these complex marine ecosystems. The data collected includes benthic assessment, species abundance, bleaching status, and environmental conditions of temperature, pH, and salinity. At each site transects are laid out and benthic communities are assessed using habitat assessment scores (HAS) and the line-point-intercept method in order to quantify the coverage of live scleractinian coral and macroalgae. This research project also investigates the impact of predation and herbivory on coral health by recording the abundance of key fish families and invertebrates including Diadema antillarum, Scaridae, Acanthuridae, Pomacentridae, and Pterois. The information amassed by this research project can help inform decisions on coral nursery site selection and identify potential donor colonies for regeneration in the nursery.

Staghorn coral colony
Staghorn coral colony

Coral reefs are complex, dynamic marine biomes and their health is reliant upon many factors. This complexity makes coral reefs ideal platforms for the development, testing, and validation of mathematical models that can be used to help explain and predict the impacts of adverse conditions on Acropora health.

Elkhorn coral colony
Elkhorn coral colony

If you spot any elkhorn or staghorn on Eleuthera or elsewhere throughout the Bahamas please report it to us! info@ceibahamas.org

Sea Turtle team supports the Bahamas National Trust summer camp

On Thursday, July 28th representatives from the sea turtle research team at CEI went to the Leon Levy Preserve in Governor’s Harbour to share their knowledge about sea turtles with 30 Bahamian children attending the Bahamas National Trust Camp Safari. The week focused on herpetology and during a morning block the CEI team taught the campers about sea turtles. A presentation explained the 4 different species found in The Bahamas – green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback – as well as about their life cycle and some of the threats that these reptiles are facing as well as some conservation measures that are helping restore populations.

Research Technician, Anna Safryghin, teaching kids at Camp Safari about sea turtles.
Research Technician, Anna Safryghin, teaching kids at Camp Safari about sea turtles.

The campers were very interested and particularly enjoyed videos of sea turtle hatchlings crawling towards the sea.  After the slide show presentation everyone participated in an activity where the campers had the chance to practice their sea turtle identification skills, by realizing two dimensional models of the 4 species of sea turtles, as well as learn some important facts about their diet and habitat. During the whole event, the kids were very excited to learn and had many questions. This opportunity for outreach and education was very successful and we are grateful to the Bahamas National Trust for inviting us to join in the camp.

Kids testing their sea turtle identification skills
Kids testing their sea turtle identification skills

CEI scientists present research at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium

written by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick

The International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) is the olympics of marine biology and is only held every four years. It is the primary international meeting focused on coral reef science and management. The 13th symposium was the biggest yet, bringing together some 2,500 coral reef scientists, policy makers and managers from 97 different nations. This meeting is very important because it provides the international science community with a platform to:

  • Increase global knowledge and interest in coral reefs, including sustainable use and conservation strategies;
  • Showcase successful science, conservation and management efforts;
  • Develop collaborations and partnerships to increase international capacity to address coral reef issues; and
  • Increase global awareness of reef degradation and possible solutions by extensive promotion in the media.
CEI scientists Zach Zuckerman, Dr Aaron Shultz and Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick present their parrotfish research
CEI scientists Zach Zuckerman, Dr Aaron Shultz and Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick present their parrotfish research

Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick wrapped up her time with CEI by presenting on the lionfish feeding studies and the summary of the 5-year culling program along with a collaborative project with Zach Zuckerman and Dr Aaron Shultz on the impacts of CO2 on the grazing and metabolic rates of parrotfish.  Jocelyn was not alone – many researchers that conducted fieldwork at CEI, CEI intern alumni and ex-Island School faculty were also in attendance!

Dr Jill Harris (Island School faculty 05) recently completed her PhD in marine biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she was happy to keep running into Island School student and faculty alums. Now she works for the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, DC, studying how to make MPAs more effective and presented on this work at the symposium. Jill’s job is mostly about scuba diving and statistics, just like at The Island School!

ICRS was attended by a number of the Island School community. Dr Curtis-Quick met Island School faculty alums Jill Harris and Kim Falinski along with numerous CEI visiting researchers and CEI intern alum Jason Selwyn.
ICRS was attended by a number of the Island School community. Dr Curtis-Quick met Island School faculty alums Jill Harris and Kim Falinski along with numerous CEI visiting researchers and CEI intern alum Jason Selwyn.

Dr Kim Falinski (Island School faculty 06) began an MSc in Agricultural Engineering at Cornell University, specializing in recirculating aquaculture systems after leaving The Island School.  Kim’s thesis brought her to Waimanalo, HI, to work at Oceanic Institute on scaling up microalgae production for copepod feed.  Kim then worked as a professor at the local community college before starting her PhD at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Kim’s specialty is land based source pollutants – sediments from poor land management practices and nutrients from wastewater and inorganic fertilizers.  Today Kim works at The Nature Conservancy in Honolulu as a water quality scientist on the Marine team, which she presented on at ICRS. In her free time free time, Kim races big sail boats and run triathlons. “The Island School most certainly sent me on this path” says Kim.

The symposium covered an array of topics including coral reefs and climate change, cutting edge technology in coral science, community-based management, coastal pollution and the role of Marine Protected Areas. The main goal of the symposium wasbridging science to policy to inform and increase the effectiveness ofcoral reef conservation worldwide.  The week was huge success – we all look forward to the next meeting in 4 years’ time.

First Island School Student to Presents Research Poster at BNHC

Andrieka presenting the ponds research
Andrieka presenting the ponds research

CEI was well represented at the regional 2016 Bahamas Natural History Conference, with representatives giving talks on plastics, climate change, rare shrimp, turtles, conch, sharks and lionfish. More excitingly, the first Island School alumni joined with the research team! Andrieka Burrows, BESS scholar of Fall 2015, attended the conference to present the anchialine ponds poster. Anchialine ponds are landlocked bodies of water with marine characteristics that are connected to the sea through underground conduits. There are over 200 of these ponds on the island of Eleuthera, however, there is very little known about these ecosystems. Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown, with a team of Island School students, including Andrieka, gathered baseline data on the ponds in order to determine their status and need for protection.

There was much interest in the inland ponds work
There was much interest in the inland ponds work
Research advisor Alexio Brown and Dr Curtis-Quick were very proud of Andrieka
Research advisor Alexio Brown and Dr Curtis-Quick were very proud of Andrieka

The students found an alarming number of the ponds were impacted by humans.  To conserve these ecosystems, there is a need to raise awareness. Andrieka did this by presenting the work of her research class at the Bahamas Natural History Conference (BNHC). The conference was hosted by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), who manage the protected areas in The Bahamas. Andrieka spoke about why these ponds are so understudied, and her hopes for more research to be carried out in the future.

“The Bahamas Natural History Conference turned out to be all that I expected,” said Andrieka. “Not only did I get the opportunity to interact with world renowned scientists, who presented their captivating work, but I also got to present my anchialine pond research to these very same scientists.”

Andrieka created much interest in ponds, and did an exceptional job presenting the poster, making her research very advisors proud.

Flats team picks up acoustic receivers and finds elkhorn coral

Georgie Burruss secures a receiver to a cinderblock after downloading the data from the device.
Georgie Burruss secures a receiver to a cinderblock after downloading the data from the device.

Last week, the Flats Ecology and Conservation team downloaded data from a large-scale passive acoustic telemetry array designed to track bonefish to their pre-spawning aggregations. A total of 61 receivers were placed around Eleuthera to track the movements of 39 bonefish and 14 barracuda that were implanted with acoustic transmitters. The research team downloaded key receivers and found schools of bonefish moving over coral reef habitats at night near tidal creeks on the East coast of Eleuthera, indicating that these fish may move offshore to spawn on the windward side of the island. Stay tuned for more updates in June.

A healthy stand of Elkhorn coral
A healthy stand of Elkhorn coral
Helen Conlon signals okay after redeploying a receiver.
Helen Conlon signals okay after redeploying a receiver.

As a bonus, while collecting receivers the team got to swim by several Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) colonies, an IUCN-listed critically endangered species. Elkhorn coral grows rapidly, providing significant structure and habitat for reefs throughout the Caribbean, though it is in severe decline as a result of coral bleaching, predation, storm damage, disease, and human activity. Though it was heartening to see so many healthy colonies of this critically endangered species, they are small compared to the large stands of dead elkhorn that used to thrive in the area. Our reef restoration project has begun mapping these areas and will be monitoring its growth.

Patch reef survey time!

Last week the Reef Ecology and Restoration team completed the March monitoring surveys of the 5 year reef study around the patches of Eleuthera. The March surveys usually call for thick wetsuit, hoods and hot chocolate. However, the water was particularly warm at 27oC, resulting in the surveys being completed in record time. Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick has been leading this study since 2012; she now plans to use this incredibly unique and invaluable dataset to thoroughly examine the influences and impacts that the invasive lionfish have on the patch reef ecosystem.

Every part of the reef is searched for lionfish
Every part of the reef is searched for lionfish

The Reef Ecology team has already begun the process of analysis, and Jocelyn was able to present some of these preliminary findings at the Bahamas Natural History Conference in Nassau earlier in the month. By continuing to spread and enhance the local knowledge within Eleuthera and beyond, the management of the lionfish will hopefully continue to grow.

Removing lionfish from the reef
Removing lionfish from the reef

Of the 16 patches that have been surveyed throughout the study, 8 have been designated as removal sites, and with a highly experienced team we were able to continue our contribution to the culling effort around The Bahamas and wider Caribbean. Stay tuned to hear the full results of our study and a more detailed picture of how the lionfish is making its presence felt around Southern Eleuthera. In the mean time don’t forget, You Slay, We Pay!

Research to protect Eleuthera seahorses

Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and her team have been assisting Dr. Heather Masonjones with her ongoing seahorse research in Sweetings Pond. Sweetings Pond on the island of Eleuthera contains a diverse array of species, including both seahorses and octopuses. Originally described in the early 1980’s, this pond has remained unstudied over the past 30 years.

The amazing seahorses of the pond (photo credit Shane Gross)
The amazing seahorses of the pond (photo credit Shane Gross)

This type of tidal saltwater pond forms in regions with limestone geologic histories, fed from the ocean through cracks and underground caverns. Depending on the size of these connections and how long they have been isolated from gene-flow, these ponds are well known sites of speciation, with an array of endemic or limited-range organisms, and unfortunately, a long list of species declines. The Sweetings Pond site is part of wider assessment of the inland ponds found all over Eleuthera, led by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick.

All seahorses found are photographes as their marking can be used to identify individuals
All seahorses found are photographes as their marking can be used to identify individuals

Seahorses are marine fish that have captivated humans for generations. Worldwide, their populations are under threat from over-harvesting for curios, traditional medicines and as bycatch from fisheries. They are also declining because of decreasing water quality of their shallow coastal habitats, and increased use of these habitats through poorly-managed tourism. The impacts of these threats are difficult to measure in seahorses, because they are difficult to study in the wild.  The pond species of seahorses, Hippocampus erectus, is also listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, an international organization dedicated to conservation.

At night a black light shows the tagged fish (photo credit Shane Gross)
At night a black light shows the tagged fish (photo credit Shane Gross)
Lili Wagner finds a baby octopus on the light trap
Lili Wagner finds a baby octopus on the light trap

The team spent two days assessing the seahorse’s use of different habitats and successfully tagged more than 30 seahorses, enabling the mark and recapture technique to be used to assess population density. In order to assess what the seahorses are eating, as there is little to no research on their prey selection at night, the team set out plankton tows and executed gastric lavage procedures on the seahorses. The stomach contents were preserved and will be sent to a lab at the University of Tampa to be analyzed, and the animals were released unharmed back to the exact location where they were originally found. Because of their monogamous mating system, moving animals from their home location can interrupt mating pairs, and make it difficult for animals to reproduce.

Populations of seahorses are rarely as dense as we have measured in the pond, so from a conservation perspective, this would be an excellent choice of location to protect and conserve for future generations.  Dr. Masonjones presented the preliminary findings at the Bahamas Natural History Conference last week.

If you see seashores in the water around Eleuthera please report your sightings on iSeahorse.

Professor Wicksten visits CEI

Prof. Wicksten exploring the inland ponds
Prof. Wicksten exploring the inland ponds

The Reef Ecology and Restoration team welcomed Prof. Mary Wicksten to CEI last week. Prof. Wicksten is a professor at Texas A&M University, College Station, where she works on the biogeography, systematics and behavior of decapod crustaceans. Prof. Wicksten is collaborating with CEI’s Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick on the anchialine pond research.

Rare shrim found in the ponds of Eleuthera. Photo credit: Drew Hitchner
Rare shrim found in the ponds of Eleuthera. Photo credit: Drew Hitchner

During Prof. Wicksten’s visit, she got to explore some of the inland ponds and helped to identify deep sea crab species for other researchers at the institute. Prof. Wicksten used her expert ID skills to also identify crabs and shrimp present in the stomach contents of some lionfish. Prof. Wicksten had the opportunity to talk with the young ones from the ELC about crustaceans – inspiring future scientists!

Although a short visit to the CEI, Prof. Wicksten made the most of her time, and even helped to support the ongoing lionfish outreach.  She attended the Blue Seahorse art show, where the Reef Ecology team was increasing lionfish awareness, particularly the importance of removing the lionfish from the reefs and spreading the word that it is a really good fish to eat!

It was a pleasure to have Prof. Wicksten with us for four amazing days!

Queen conch “graveyard” study taking place at CEI

An adult conch in the shallow water
An adult conch in the shallow water

High on top of the Bahamian crest is a queen conch—an iconic representation of how truly integrated marine ecosystems are to Caribbean culture. Queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a large gastropod native to the Caribbean and has been a staple in the Bahamian diet for centuries.   Unfortunately, the overfishing of conch has caused massive declines in populations, and conservation efforts are greatly needed to promote a healthy and sustainable conch fishery in the Bahamas.

Selecting conch at random to  be used in a trial
Selecting conch at random to be used in a trial

In fisherman lore around the Bahamas it is said to be bad luck to throw knocked conch into the water, as it will scare away living conch—thus, huge conch middens are often found onshore. But, some conch are still tossed overboard at sea, and it is thought this may also be affecting conch populations. The Sustainable Fisheries team, here at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), is testing avoidance behavior from conch with help of several Island School students. The main question is- do conch flee upon seeing/smelling an injured or dead conspecific, and if so, what sort of cue is triggering movement?

Sustainable Fisheries intern Cara measures the distance moved by a conch in a behavioral trial
Sustainable Fisheries intern Cara measures the distance moved by a conch in a behavioral trial

So far 40 trials have been conducted, and CEI’s Claire Thomas, Program Manager for Sustainable Fisheries, will be presenting the preliminary results at the Bahamas National Trust Natural History Conference in Nassau this week. As we conduct more trials and gain more insight into potential conch avoidance behavior, there may be implications for new management strategies to better protect this important species—stay tuned for results!

Local marina and tournament anglers contribute to research at CEI

Captain and mate of team Shady Lady weigh in a wahoo. When dissected at CEI's lab, this fish was found to have a ingested a piece of plastic.
Captain and mate of team Shady Lady weigh in a wahoo. When dissected at CEI’s lab, this fish was found to have a ingested a piece of plastic.

This February, the Cape Eleuthera Institute partnered with Davis Harbor Marina and the Cotton Bay Club for the inaugural Davis Harbour Wahoo Rally. The two day fishing tournament allowed Davis Harbour Marina and anglers to contribute to ongoing research at CEI, making the Wahoo Rally as scientifically valuable as it was fun for the participating teams.

This partnership, and the enthusiasm of Davis Harbour Marina and the fishing teams, highlights CEI’s commitment to including anglers in ongoing research initiatives.

CEI researchers including (from L to R) a MSc student, a CEI intern, and a PhD student assisted with the collection of tissue samples
CEI researchers including (from L to R) a MSc student, a CEI intern, and a PhD student assisted with the collection of tissue samples

 

Continue reading to learn more about the angler-driven projects that were contributed to during the Wahoo Rally.

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