This past week, Flats Ecology and Conservation Program of the Cape Eleuthera Institute welcomed four students to our campus for Flats Week. Lead by Aaron Shultz, CEI director, and Georgie Burruss, Flats Ecology and Conservation Program research technician, as well as the summer interns, Connor Gallagher, Emilie Geissinger, and Chase Goldston, the group spent the week conducting research, flyfishing, snorkeling, and exploring South Eleuthera.
Two of the students learned how to fly fish for the first time. The group fished for bonefish for two days on the flats of South Eleuthera with Manex, a local bonefishing guide from South Eleuthera, and ended up successfully landing several bonefish. The group assisted with the Bahamas Initiative bonefish tagging program, founded by the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT), Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF), and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). A genetic sample was also taken from each bonefish caught as part of a genetic connectivity study by Dr. Elizabeth Wallace (FWC), Christopher Haak (University of Massachusetts Amherst). The Flats team spoke with the students about the controversial proposed regulations for managing the bonefishing industry in the Bahamas. The team highlighted the need for regulation of the bonefish fishery in the name of conservation.
The group contributed to research with Carleton University’s Cooke Lab graduate student, Petra Szekeres, looking at how light pollution effects adult bonefish and learning how to conduct chase to exhaustion experiments. They also assisted Petra in catching over 30 juvenile bonefish to return to CEI for experiments, making it one of the most successful days yet for juvenile bonefish collection. They spent a day at a local pond, assisting the Inland Pond Project as well as flyfishing.
The students snorkeled blue holes, learned about their formation and also saw several southern stingrays and many fish species. The students ended their week with a short down island trip, traveling to the banyan tree, the Rock Sound ocean hole, and the bat caves, focusing on how tourism and development has shaped South Eleuthera.
Friday, July 24th marked the culmination of the 20th summer of the South Eleuthera Children’s Camp at Cape Eleuthera. Fourteen children between the ages of 8 and 14 attended the one-week camp designed to introduce campers to the ocean and teach them about marine issues and conservation. For many young campers, this was their first contact with the ocean and on day one they are taught to face their fears of the sea as they dive in and learn how to swim. One camp counselor describes her first day as “inspiring” and “of real importance to children who live in such close proximity to the ocean”. All 14 campers passed their swim test and three days later dove into the deep blue of the Exuma Sound. When asked about their favorite part of camp, many children stated that facing their fears and jumping into the deep blue sea was the highlight of their journey.
Aside from learning to swim, the campers learned about ocean conservation and the marine creatures that inhabit their waters. At the end of the week, each camper gave a presentation of what they had learned to an audience of master student scientists from around the world.
Two current, CapeEleuthera Island School employees were among the first campers in the two-decade-old tradition. Sammy Dorset of Tarpum Bay, attended the camp at age 15 and Shamara Burrows of Waterford, attended at age 9.
For both Sammy and Shamara, this camp was their first encounter with Island School founders, Chris and Pam Maxey and, for Shamara, her first encounter with the ocean and learning to swim.
Both Shamara and Sammy are now key contributors to The Island School community. Sammy is a Biodiesel Technician where he works to convert used cooking oil into usable diesel to supply Island School vehicles with a sustainable, alternative fuel. Shamara is part of the accounts team and works diligently to compensate and maintain good standing with our various vendors and suppliers. They both remember their experience at camp fondly and attribute much of their current success to their first contact with The Island School – at summer camp.
When asked about the origins of the Summer Camp, Chris Maxey said, “Our true roots here for supporting educational opportunities on Eleuthera began back in the summer of 1995 with the start of our South Eleuthera Camp. Long before The Island School or the Deep Creek Middle School we camped along the shore in the Casuarina forest. I am especially proud that two of our pioneer campers who back in the beginning lived in tents by Sunrise Beach are now working with us at Cape Eleuthera Island School. The camp journey is focused on exploring the marine environment and helping instill a conservation ethic in this next generation of South Eleuthera citizens; now this summer in our 20th year of running the camp we have reached well over 250 campers. We give special thanks to the Cotton Bay Foundation for funding this opportunity since it’s inception.”
The South Eleuthera Summer Camp is a tradition here to stay and to continue to inspire young people to understand, explore and love their environment.
Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes with a trusting grouper to realize our impact on the ocean and how we can make a difference. This week, the Flats Ecology and Conservation Team at the Cape Eleuthera Institute went to retrieve a temperature logger located at the base of the Aquaculture Cage.
Located 90 feet deep near the wall of the Exuma Sound, the Cage serves as an aggregation spot for large marine creatures. Many fishermen frequent the area to catch large jacks, snappers, and groupers attracted to the cage.
Within minutes, a well-known large black grouper, affectionately named Bradley, approached the divers. Bradley came quite close to the group, turning and showing multiple hooks, wire leaders, and weights hanging from his jaw and gills. He moved in closer as Kelly Hannan, a University of Illinois graduate student, took out a pair of scissors.
Bradley investigated the scissors and seemed to decide that Kelly was not a threat. He let her cut off two feet of tangled wire leader and three fishing weights that were hanging from the right side of his mouth. Unfortunately, the scissors were not strong enough to cut the hooks out, but the team hopes to return to the Cage with wire cutters to remove them from Bradley’s jaw in the near future.
Bradley seemed to understand that no harm would come to him from these divers and was very calm throughout the procedure. He continued to follow the divers throughout the rest of the dive.
Later that week, at the same dive site, the Flats team removed over 50 feet of fishing line from a nearby reef. Another wire trace with lead weights was picked up near the base of the Cage.
Although these dives had positive outcomes, they serve as a reminder of the impacts of fishing pressure and pollution on the marine environment. Thanks to Bradley, we had a very personal reminder of our relationship with the ocean and how our actions can affect the lives of the creatures that live in it.
For two weeks in early July, Rachel Miller, Research Assistant for the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program, headed to Costa Rica to lead a marine biology summer camp. This camp was comprised of 8 high school students from all over the United States who came to Costa Rica to learn more about worldwide sea turtle conservation initiatives and to help better the community.
The camp worked in conjunction with WIDECAST – Pacuare, a conservation program located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Here, Rachel and the campers had the opportunity to assist with hatchery construction, night walks, and hatchling releases. Even though it is illegal, poaching is a major issue in Costa Rica, especially in poorer communities. These communities have subsisted on the consumption and sale of turtle eggs and meat for decades. However, WIDECAST – Pacuare is working to combat poaching through the use of night walks (led by former poachers, used as an alternative source of income), a guarded hatchery (used to monitor relocated nests and protect the eggs from predators and poachers), and education initiatives (public hatchling releases, lectures, and social media).
During their time in Pacuare, Rachel and the campers got to see leatherback hatchlings make their way into the sea and on the last day, they were rewarded with a hawksbill hatching! It is common for leatherbacks to nest on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica from February until the end of June and the babies begin to hatch in May until the end of July. Hawksbill sea turtles, however, nest less frequently, and there were only two hawksbill nests in the hatchery during the time the camp was taking place. Not only was the hawksbill hatching special in and of itself, but the nest consisted of 9 hybrid hatchlings– these babies were the result of a successful mating between a hawksbill and a Kemp’s Ridley. Unlike most hybrids, the offspring of a hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley are thought to be fertile and it is believed that this is the fourth generation of these hybrids. The reason that all 120 hatchlings were not hybrids is because many sea turtle nests have multiple paternities, resulting in typical hawksbill hatchlings and hybrid hatchlings.
Rachel and the campers came away from this trip with a better understanding of how conservation works outside of the United States. It is often difficult to enforce laws and regulations, especially if people are reliant on an organism for food or income and if that community has no other source of income. Sea turtle populations continue to be exploited, but conservation efforts are in effect worldwide, and protecting eggs and nesting mothers helps to aid in the redevelopment of healthy sea turtle populations on a global scale. For more information on the project in Pacuare, click here.
With the arrival of the summer interns, undergraduate and postgraduate placement students several weeks ago, CEI researcher Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick has been able to tackle many different projects this summer. These projects include propagating corals at the nursery, filleting over 150 pounds of lionfish, conducting reef monitoring and conducting parrotfish feeding studies.
During March 2014, CEI installed a coral reef nursery at Tunnel Rock in collaboration with the University of Miami RSMAS and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Metrological Laboratories and CEI Research Manager Annabelle Brooks. In the face of rapid coral population declines, growing coral through nurseries has been an initiative to replenish wild coral. The team measured the growth progress and refragmented the coral that has been steadily amassing at CEI’s nursery.
Fragmentation of coral refers to splitting of coral to help increase coral colonies and therefore increase reproduction. Half of the fragments were re-attached to the coral nursery at Tunnel Rock, and the other half were set up at a new nursery site closer to The Island School. This summer, the team will compare the growth and survival rates of the coral at these two different sites. The long-term goal is to transplant the coral frags out on the reef.
This summer the team is also being kept busy with the success of the Slayer campaign and has filleted over 150 pounds of lionfish- and has over 200 lbs to do! Over the past couple of weeks, a few local fishermen have delivered hundreds of pounds of lionfish for CEI’s “You Slay, We Pay Campaign.” These lionfish are also dissected to examine gonad development and stomach content, which can offer important insight on the invasion impacts.
Additionally, the team prepared for parrotfish behavioral research this summer. This prep has involved dive teams using a herding technique to catch the juvenile parrotfish, as well as setting up raceways in the lab to conduct a feeding behavior experiment.
A few other exciting events include three of the reef interns completing their Advanced Diving Certification and starting on their Rescue, as well visit of a teenager Earthwatch group who assisted with research for a week. Additionally, working with The Island School students to sample inland ponds and dissection lionfish was great fun. The whole team is pumped for the rest of the summer and getting much more achieved.
Matthew Smith is a Master’s student of the Ecology and Environment Lab from the University of Exeter in the UK. The main focus of his study is the effects of anthropogenic noise on reef fish populations, vocalisations and behaviour. There have been many studies on the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals, but substantially fewer studies have be conducted concerning how noise pollution is affecting reef fish. Hearing and vocalisations are very important to many species found in the patch reefs such as those off of the coast of Cape Eleuthera. Boat traffic is an emerging threat that is often forgotten when assessing the threats to marine populations.
The primary study has involved selecting pairs of patch reefs with similar characteristics before splitting the pair into either treatment group, to receive increased or reduced boat traffic. By conducting fish surveys at regular intervals and recording using a hydrophone, Matthew is able to decipher if the changing levels of boat traffic is having an effect on the community living on each patch reef.
A secondary study is looking at the effect of boat traffic on damselfish (Stegastes spp.). Damselfish aggressively defend territories within which they preen a ‘garden’ of algae and have a heavy influence on algae populations on reefs as well as the behavior of fish in and around their territories. Using reefs that are less frequently exposed to boats, cameras are set up in front of damselfish territories to record how exposure to boat traffic affects their behavior. The end goal is to be contribute towards a better assessment of how anthropogenic noise pollution is affecting fish populations.
The Sea Turtle Research Team recently said goodbye to their first Earthwatch team of the summer, and we are sad to see them go. The group of 7 students and 4 chaperones from Santa Maria, California were very enthusiastic and eager to participate in all activities. The group’s visit was concurrent with the summer intern’s first week at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, so lots of learning was had by all. Our work done in the field with Earthwatch included abundance surveys, BRUVS (baited remote underwater video survey) setting, as well as catching and tagging turtles through seining and capture off the boat. Jules, a fast swimming student from the Earthwatch team, caught the first turtle, named ‘Seawater,’ setting the mood for the week to come. Our most successful turtle capture was on the last day, with a total of 10 turtles caught in our seine net at Half Sound! With one recapture and 9 new individuals being tagged, it added a significant amount of turtle individuals to our overall count with sizes varying from 257mm- 357mm.
Other highlights of the week included excursions to the ocean hole and caves in Rock Sound as well as a down island trip with lots of stops along the way. On a day off, the team got to see a bit more of Eleuthera, stopping at the Glass Window Bridge, and Governors Harbor. Evenings consisted of presentations given by Cape Eleuthera Institute faculty about their research including information on sea turtles and manta rays. They also spent two evenings recording data from the BRUVS they had set out earlier in the day by watching the film and looking for predators and they saw- barracuda, nurse sharks, and even a green turtle. “I genuinely will miss this place and will cherish everything forever,” said Eugene Kim, one of the student volunteers as his closing remarks. Our next group arrives at the end of July!
The Bahamas National Trust invited the Cape Eleuthera Institute to participate in a Strategic Planning Workshop intended to develop a national strategy for improving the health of coral reef ecosystems and species that depend on them. The workshop took place June 23rd – 26th at the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau and was led by Dr. Craig Dahlgren. The aim of the meeting was to incorporate knowledge of island-specific and national issues, threats, and current or planned activities into the overall strategic plan.
Representatives from local research, conservation and education organizations also discussed ways to implement national strategies on a local level throughout The Bahamas.The Plan will integrate island specific and national coral reef conservation, education, restoration, management and policy efforts. The Disney Conservation Fund supported the workshop, and the Bahamas National Trust are also looking to build strategic partnerships to maximize the benefits from existing funding sources and to collaborate to target additional funding for island specific and national projects.
Partners included: Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Department of Marina Resources, Save The Bays, Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute, Young Marine Explorers, Atlantis, Friends of the Environment, AGGRA, Shedd Aquarium, Andros Conservancy and Trust, and the New England Aquarium.