Category Archives: Educational Programs

Operation Wallacea students participate in sea turtle research

Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are one of only seven remaining sea turtle species. These reptiles were classified as an endangered species on the IUCN Red list, following the abrupt decline of populations due to overexploitation and habitat loss. Although the green sea turtle  is protected in Bahamian waters, it is still of great importance to investigate the factors that influence where juveniles choose to forage, as this life cycle stage is crucial to the species’ ability to grow and thrive. Seagrass beds play a critical role within this life cycle stage acting as a key food source for the green sea turtle, and therefore vital for development. This summer, at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Trinity College Dublin student Anna Whitaker, Oxford University student Alison Maughan and Royal Holloway University of London student Kate Rowley, aim to carry out research which could contribute to the improvement of future conservation efforts of the green sea turtle.

A total number of 9 mangrove creeks were studied in this experiment. At each creek they visited, quadrats were placed and used for the investigation of seagrass structure, where percentage cover, species richness, and leaf canopy height data were collected. As well as this, environmental factors of the area, such as water depth, were studied. Samples of seagrass were also taken using a core.

Two CEI interns catching turtles with a seine net (turtle seining)
Two CEI interns catching turtles with a seine net (turtle seining)

Laboratory analysis of the seagrass samples was used to identify the determinants of sea grass density. This analysis included calculating the number of leaves and shoots in each core taken. After which, the biomass of the samples were calculated by dividing out the core samples into above and below-ground matter. These seagrass samples were heated, and therefore dry weights of above and below ground seagrass matter could be taken.

In order to collect data regarding the abundance of turtles, methods including turtle seining, chasing and abundance surveys were carried out within the creeks where seagrass data had previously been collected. These methods sought to demonstrate correlations between characteristics of the seagrass and the abundance of turtles.

Measuring a captured juvenile green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Half Sound, Eleuthera
Measuring a captured juvenile green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Half Sound, Eleuthera

Within each creek, a number of different habitat types were studied, including the mouth, silty mangroves, warm shallow waters, and seagrass meadows.

In addition, this project has collaborated with numerous programs, such as Earthwatch, allowing this research to connect with educational outreach and inspire young marine biology enthusiasts.

Sea Turtle Research Interns (front row) and Earthwatch students (back row)
Sea Turtle Research Interns (front row) and Earthwatch students (back row)

The data collected will identify the fine-scale patterns of site selection and resource use of foraging grounds. This will contribute to a better and more in depth understanding of green sea turtle habitat usage. The research objectives of this study will form the basis for Alison, Kate and Anna’s undergraduate dissertation projects. We thank them for their help and wish them all the best with their studies!


Seining success for sea turtle team

Students cleaning off the seine net after a long days work
Students cleaning off the seine net after a long day’s work

Recently, St. Thomas Aquinas High School from Dover, New Hampshire helped conduct research with the CEI sea turtle research team in Winding Bay. Although the weather was uncooperative on Friday while the group was seining, they came out strong with the capture of five green sea turtles in their first attempt. Seining is a method used by several research teams at CEI that involves a very long net that temporarily encloses the animals inside.

The group on Saturday had to put in a little more effort as it took five seining attempts to finally capture three green sea turtles!

Students take the curved carapace length (CCL) of one of the turtles
Students take the curved carapace length (CCL) of one of the turtles

One turtle that was captured, Kyra, had its left rear flipper almost completely detached. The wound was healed and the flipper still had some movement. What caused the damage is unknown, but Kyra is lucky to have kept this limb! Green turtles don’t typically use their rear flippers much except for maneuvering while swimming, and females use them for digging a nest.

A turtle being measured
A turtle being measured

Both groups had the opportunity to experience the challenge it is to catch sea turtles and keep them steady to take measurements! It was all worth it as one student said, “This was the best day so far!”

Spring 2016 Gap Year Update

The Spring 2016 Team Gap has had a great first few weeks. Everyone has gotten to know each other very quickly and we are all enjoying our time in Eleuthera.
gappers in Page Creek learning about the importance of mangroves and their role in the greater ocean ecosystem.
gappers in Page Creek learning about the importance of mangroves and their role in the greater ocean ecosystem.
We began the week with some snorkeling introductions and began our marine ecology class, learning the fish of The Bahamas, and putting that into context learning about coral reef ecology.
Exploring the Banyan tree in Rock Sound
Exploring the Banyan tree in Rock Sound
Gapper Mason dives down to get a closer look at the reef
Gapper Mason dives down to get a closer look at the reef

We wrapped up the week with a South Eleuthera road trip to learn about and see different parts of the island. Team Gap is looking forward to the next 8 weeks of learning and laughs. Stay tuned for more updates on our adventures.

Flats team takes Deep Creek Middle School students out for mangrove lessons

Last Friday, Deep Creek Middle School’s Grade 7 joined Georgie Burruss, CEI Research Assistant, for a snorkel through Page Creek as part of the School Without Walls program. The focus of Grade 7′s School Without Walls program this year is human impacts on the environment. Nearshore environments, especially mangrove creeks, serve as a great educational tool for displaying how even small-scale coastal development can be detrimental to coastal habitat.
Students raise their hands to answer Georgie's questions about the mangrove ecosystem
Students raise their hands to answer Georgie’s questions about the mangrove ecosystem
The students drifted with the incoming tide into the creek, practicing fish ID that they learned that morning with Liz Slingsby, Director of Summer Term and Gap Year Programs. At the end of their first snorkel through the creek, the students were able to successfully ID over a dozen fish species and discussed how mangroves act as nursery grounds for ecologically and economically important species such as snapper and lemon sharks.
Flats intern helps some of the students wade upstream
Flats intern helps some of the students wade upstream
With the excitement of snorkeling and floating with the current, the students quickly rushed to float down again. At the end, the group met and discussed how humans might affect mangrove creek systems. The students quickly recognized pollution and habitat degradation as some of the major impacts that humans can have on these important systems. As the group walked out of Page Creek, they observed how even a short beach access road can divide a creek, limiting available habitat.
Students eager to answer Georgie's quetions.
Students eager to answer Georgie’s quetions.
CEI researchers look forward to spending more time with DCMS students during the School Without Walls programs!

Last Coral Reef Earthwatch Expedition Complete!

At the end of August, the final “Investigating Reefs and Marine Wildlife in The Bahamas” Earthwatch team arrived at the Cape Eleuthera Institute to conduct fish surveys on the patch reef systems of the Bahamas Banks. This program has been running at CEI for the last four years, and the most recent group of eight eager fish observers had the honor of completing the large data set for the prominent coral reef scientist Dr. Alastair Harborne of Queensland University. The overall study focused on the interaction between mangroves and corals reefs to improve our understanding and management of these systems.

The final coral Earthwatch team
The final coral Earthwatch team


Grunts on the reef
Grunts on the reef

The patch reefs off CEI have surprised us in terms of how different they can be as we move around the study area. This is particularly true for presence and numbers of juvenile grunts. During this last field season, patch reefs were resurveyed – half of the sites visited were patches that had previously been found to have an abundance of grunts, and the other half were sites that had fewer grunts present. The goal was to establish information on the site attachment of these grunts. Not only were grunts observed, but the team looked at the abundance and sizes of all fish on the reef.

After many fish identification lessons and sizing practices, the Earthwatch volunteers were both proficient and confident in their skills and able to collect relevant data for Dr. Harborne’s research. Led by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown in the field, not only were the Earthwatchers learning in the water, but they also had nightly presentations on various projects happening at CEI, such as the research on green sea turtles, inland ponds, invasive lionfish, and the accumulation of plastics in our oceans.


Bahamian fellow Garelle Hudson
Bahamian fellow Garelle Hudson

At the end of their 9 day expedition and some 23 patch reef surveys later, the team travelled down the island of Eleuthera to explore the Glass Window Bridge, the Banyan trees, as well as the Rock Sound Ocean Hole. To top off their successful week of data collection, the team enjoyed a meal of delicious lionfish at a wonderful local restaurant.

Bahamian fellow Khadaja Ferguson
Bahamian fellow Khadaja Ferguson

All of the Earthwatchers travelled home with full stomachs, back to their respective homes all over the United States, The Bahamas, as well as England, with many hoping to visit the Cape Eleuthera Institute again in the future.

Educational Programs Team hosts Akhepran International Academy

While all visiting groups are special to us here at CEI, certain ones touch our hearts in unique and unexpected ways. Akhepran International Academy, visiting us for the first time from Nassau, was one group that made a big impact in their short time with us.

Students sit on the beach to hold turtles as the research team takes their measurements
Students sit on the beach to hold turtles as the research team takes their measurements

On Monday August 24, 10 students along with 2 teachers arrived from New Providence and jumped straight into the island school life. They had a jam packed day to orient them to our campus, complete with a sustainable systems tour and awesome day one snorkeling.

The rest of the week had a large emphasis on working with our IMG_5503research teams and discussing the implications of their work on our world. Lloyd Allen, head chaperone and a teacher at Akhepran, has a big vision for his scholars and hoped that in their time here they would see the plethora of career options in sciences and engineering and be inspired to pursue their passions.

Some students have dreams of being engineers. These students really enjoyed learning about our aquaponics system with Michael Bowleg and spoke excitedly about going home and engineering their own aquaponics system at home. Others dream of being marine biologists and, after a morning learning about and dissecting lionfish, want to go back to Nassau and tell everyone they know about this invasive species and get them to eat lionfish instead of more commonly overfished species.

These examples are just the beginning of this group’s studies.

Students assist researchers  studying stingrays
Students assist researchers by helping to catch southern stingrays.

Their curiosity, questions, and positive approach to life made them a joy to spend the week with. By the end of the week many spoke about how their perspectives on the ocean had shifted and they had learned to love the ocean they grew up around even more. One student said, “every time a wave hits against me it’s like a kiss from mother nature” and another admitted that she had fears about the ocean, but that swimming in it and “being one with the fish” showed her she didn’t need to be so afraid.

This was truly a week of growth and inspiration, and even though their trip was cut short by threats of a hurricane, we look forward to this relationship and have hopes to visit their school in Nassau in the future.

BREEF 2015 Summer Camp at CEI!

chris blogOn Friday, August 21st, the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the Cape Eleuthera Institute was once again honored to host and be involved with 22 young Bahamian students from the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) Eleuthera Sea Camp for a full day of research-related activities. Friday capped off a week-long summer camp focused on the Eleuthera’s marine environment, and the relationships that residents of the Bahamas have with that environment.
Firstly, students were introduced to our systems and facilities via a 60-minute walking tour of campus including a visit to our permaculture farm, aquaponics system, wet lab, and biodiesel facility. At each stop, members of the community informed students about sustainable farming practices, biodiesel production, and how we grow fish to not only eat, but that help us grow our lettuce and herbs. Following the campus tour, the students ate a picnic lunch at the Boathouse with members of the Shark Team.

Dr. Owen O'Shea describes the importance of understanding how stingray biology influences the environment around the Bahamas.
Dr. Owen O’Shea describes the importance of understanding how stingray biology influences the environment around the Bahamas.

The afternoon was full-on, filled with the CEI shark research team, shark handling demonstrations, and a stingray tagging experience. Research Technician Cameron Raguse kicked things off with a short presentation on shark ecology, explaining their role as a top-predator in the Bahamas and how integral they are to maintaining a stable ecosystem. The students then split into groups alternating between two activities: one with Dr. Owen O’Shea and his team for stingray tagging; and one with University of Illinois graduate student, Ian Bouyoucos demonstrating shark handling and physiology. In each case, the students got an in-depth look at research here at CEI, as well as getting up-close with some often misunderstood animals.

an Bouyoucos, M.Sc candidate at the University of Illinois, prepares to show the students a juvenile lemon shark.
Ian Bouyoucos, M.Sc candidate at the University of Illinois, prepares to show the students a juvenile lemon shark.

At the end of the day, the group left with a better understanding of elasmobranchs as a whole, and a deeper appreciation for the wildlife right at their doorstep.

To check out photos from the camp, go to our Flickr album!


Flyfishing, snorkeling and exploring South Eleuthera with Flats Week!

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.

Searching a seine net haul of mottled mojarra, looking for juvenile bonefish.

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.

Flats Week participant Johnny Kellogg with landed fish in South Eleuthera.

If you are interested in participating in Flats Week in August 2016, please visit the CEI short courses webpage.

The South Eleuthera Children’s Camp celebrates its 20th year!

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.

Shamara Burrows and Samuel Dorcent pose together 16 years later.

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.”

Chris and Pam Maxey join the campers at the Sandbar, just off the coast of The Island School peninsula.

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.

Tandem Friends School visits CEI

Phoebe Shuylor, Emma Ward, and Rachael Alberts head to the creeks with Rachel and Grace from the sea turtle conservation team to do sea turtle abundance surveys.
Phoebe Shuylor, Emma Ward, and Rachael Alberts head to the creeks with Rachel and Grace from the sea turtle conservation team to do sea turtle abundance surveys.

Earlier this May, we welcomed the very FIRST group of female students to ever visit CEI from Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville, Virginia.  This trip was planned as part of their school’s Emphasis Week, a time where students have an opportunity to travel and immerse themselves in learning experiences outside of the classroom, and they couldn’t have picked a better place!  The group spent a week exploring the reefs and creeks around South Eleuthera, adapting to living sustainably, and doing things that they might not be able to anywhere else in the world!

Admiring a lionfish's gape during a dissection with the sustainable fisheries team. Left to right- Kate Bollinger, Susan Wheeler, Emma Ward, Alanna Waldman, Rachael Alberts
Admiring a lionfish’s gape during a dissection with the sustainable fisheries team.
Left to right- Kate Bollinger, Susan Wheeler, Emma Ward, Alanna Waldman, Rachael Alberts

Before Tandem Friends arrived, they had 3 things on their marine creature checklist- sharks, turtles, and sea stars.  Guess what?!  We managed to see all three!  After getting settled into dorms, everyone came down to dip their feet into the Bahamian waters.  Sure enough, the water was so calm and clear we spotted some sea stars from shore!  We spent much of the first full day out helping the turtle conservation team do abundance surveys and came across a few turtles in their natural habitat.  The next morning while snorkeling we came across the tiniest juvenile nurse shark hiding out in the wreck just off the beach! Continue reading