Members of the Stingray Research Group from the Cape Eleuthera Institute’s Shark Research and Conservation Program have recently completed two days of outreach on Great Exuma. Following on from the highly successful Hummingbird Cay research expedition, the team, in collaboration with The Exuma Foundation and LN Coakley High School in Moss Town, took five students out to learn about stingrays at a marine reserve East of Georgetown.
The five students that spent the day with us were already incredibly knowledgeable about rays and their importance in regulating and maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. so we had a head start as we headed across Elizabeth Harbour towards Stocking Island. This designated marine reserve has long stretches of white sand beaches and little ‘hurricane holes’ naturally formed over time, allowing us to explore semi-enclosed ponds and quiet bays.
Upon arrival, the students were quizzed about rays and were given a safety talk before we set off looking for animals to capture and collect information from. While it was slow starting, we eventually caught a very small, immature female southern ray. Two of the students donned surgical gloves, and under the instruction of Research Technician Chris Ward, were able to complete a whole work up beneath the gaze of a dozen or so tourists that had gathered on the beach to watch what was happening.
Previous research indicates that bonefish migrate up to 80 km from shallow flats and tidal creeks to deeper water to spawn during the full and new moons. At these locations, bonefish gather in schools of hundreds to thousands of fish, forming spawning aggregations. To date, migration corridors and spawning aggregations have been located in South Eleuthera, Abaco, Andros, and Grand Bahama, and this information was used to create national parks on Abaco and Grand Bahama. The purpose of this telemetry study is to identify bonefish spawning aggregations and migration corridors around the island of Eleuthera. Information generated by this research can be used by the Department of Marine Resources and BNT to designate marine parks on Eleuthera, which will help The Bahamas meet the goal of protecting 20% of their marine environments by 2020.
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.
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.
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.
CEI researchers look forward to spending more time with DCMS students during the School Without Walls programs!
The invasion of lionfish on reefs of the West Atlantic has become an issue of critical concern. With eradication not possible, the silver lining is that lionfish are delicious. The You Slay, We Pay campaign was launched by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick to support the development of a local lionfish market in The Bahamas. The Island School bought lionfish from local Bahamian fishers to consume in the dinning hall.
The slayer campaign initially ran through lobster closed season in 2014, as this is the time of year that many fishers will switch to conch harvesting, which is less lucrative as a fishery and increases pressure on the already overfished species. This trial lionfish season was so successful that in December of 2014 (during the closed grouper season) the lionfish You Slay, We Pay was launched all year round. Over 1500 lbs of lionfish were brought in throughout 2015, with new fishers joining regularly and more lionfish meals being enjoyed on campus. We hope that 2016 sees even more lionfish removed from the reefs and on the plate.
The Sea Turtle Research team held an in-reach for local staff on Tuesday, December 1. Local staff members who had never gone “turtling” before, and many who had never seen a sea turtle, were given an opportunity to visit one of the research team’s study sites, Starved Creek, in order to catch turtles. The aim was to have everyone at least see a green sea turtle in its natural habitat.
During the day, the staff members came out in two different groups. In the morning, the Facilities team came out and this was when we caught our first and only turtle of the day! For someone who has never caught a sea turtle before, or even for someone who has, it is not debateable that Arlington has the most graceful technique for catching turtles. Once Arlington surfaced with the turtle, the entire boat erupted in cheers! Johnny, who was a bit apprehensive about coming along to catch turtles, turned out to be the most excited person on the boat! There was a point where all his fears disappeared and he looked as though he was going to jump in the water and catch the turtle himself! Once the turtle was caught, the entire boat broke out in singing and dancing, as Johnny lead the boat in the chorus of “Oh Happy Day!”
The second group that came out in the afternoon consisted of the Accounting Team. Although this group came mere inches from catching a turtle, they were not able to do so. Yes, sea turtles are indeed very efficient swimmers! Chasing this turtle, however, had the boat filled with a mixture of elated, excited, enthusiastic, and adrenaline-pumped individuals who, put simply, were revelling in the experience.
The sea turtle in-reach experience was a successful one and truly one of the best ways to conclude the final days of the semester. It was refreshing to share knowledge and excitement with our extended family, who are so genuinely appreciative to be a part of the research. It was undoubtedly our pleasure to give our local staff a “Happy Day.”
The Cape Eleuthera Institute Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team finished off an awesome year of Earthwatch trips with the 8th and final Earthwatch team of 2015. Participants from the US, the UK, and Canada joined the expedition for 9 days of exciting research. The participants were enthusiastic to get involved in the many facets of sea turtle research happening at CEI. The volunteers got hands on experience setting baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVS), doing abundance surveys at various locations, as well as catching plenty of turtles!
The Earthwatch team also got the chance to hear from other researchers at CEI about projects going on during nighttime presentations. These presentations varied from sustainable fisheries management to coral reef health and ecology.
A substantial amount of data was collected over the week, with 259 turtles spotted during abundance surveys across the creeks of South Eleuthera. We also had two record-breaking days in a row during abundance surveys, with exactly 127 turtles spotted, on both days, in Half Sound!
Last weekend, programs from the Cape Eleuthera Institute, including the Reef Ecology and Restoration Team, Sustainable Fisheries Team, Sea Turtle Team, and Aquaponics Program travelled to Governor’s Harbour Homecoming to spread the word about each of their fields.
Many people showed great interest in the lionfish and aquaponics displays. They were amazed at the use of plants to filter the fish waste out of water holding tilapia in the aquaponics system, while others who had never tried lionfish fritters are now converts!
The Sea Turtle Team and Sustainable Fisheries Team also educated the attendees about the protection of sea turtles through some fun word games, and the life stages of conch through a display with varying sizes of shells, ranging from juveniles to adults.
Historically, sea turtles were considered to be an economically and culturally important food source throughout the Caribbean. Since the discovery of the New World, sea turtle populations throughout the Caribbean have plummeted, leading to the classification of sea turtle species as endangered or critically endangered across the region. This led the Department of Marine Resources of the Bahamian Government to implement a Bahamas-wide ban on the harvesting of sea turtles in 2009.
The Sea Turtle Research Program has been in place at CEI since 2012 and has focused on the biology and ecology of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) around South Eleuthera. This Fall, the program embarked on a brand new study focusing on the social side of sea turtle conservation with Rachel Miller, Research Assistant, and her Island School Research Class leading the charge. This project is designed to assess the gaps in knowledge between Bahamians and researchers as well as the attitudes of Bahamians towards sea turtle conservation, particularly the 2009 harvesting ban on sea turtles, through the use of a semi-structured interview.
So far, 72 interviews have been conducted and data has been collected from 69 individuals who live in 9 different settlements across Eleuthera, plus 3 interviews from Bahamians visiting from Nassau. Preliminary data shows that of the 69 interviews from Eleuthera, 64% of interviewees (n=44) are aware of the 2009 harvesting ban on sea turtles. 96% of interviewees (n=66) have a positive reaction to sea turtle conservation, stating that it is important to protect sea turtles in The Bahamas. The Island School students will analyze and present their results during Parent’s Weekend at the end of November.
The overall goal of this study is to highlight what Bahamians know about sea turtles and how they feel about sea turtles. This information can be used to create effective outreach and awareness programs throughout Eleuthera and the rest of The Bahamas. The Sea Turtle Research program is excited to begin partnering with other organizations to continue this study on other islands and reach more communities. We thank everyone that has participated so far!
Last week, the Stingray Research Group, headed by Dr. Owen O’Shea, took 15 of our Bahamian staff members out to The Schooner Cays– a location the majority of staff have never visited despite gracing the views from office windows all over campus. The goal was for the team to experience and learn the scientific objectives of this research project Two groups of staff were organised into morning and afternoon trips, along with other ray team members. First, there was safety briefings and capture methodologies discussed in the boathouse, along with the objectives and conservation ambitions of this research, before heading out on the water to find rays.
The morning group, featuring kitchen manager Sophia Louis, guest services employee Corey Lightborne, and Bio-diesel engineer Sammy Dorcent, saw five stingrays caught in just 3 hours, including three new individuals, and the retrieval of one of our data loggers. The team was enthused and excited to be part of this research, and preconceptions regarding these gentle animals were challenged, with every member participating in either catching or working up animals.
The afternoon session saw a slightly tighter schedule (largely due to inclement weather), and included head of facilities Oscar Knowles, most of the accounts team, and campus mechanic Valentino Hall, who helped catch two additional rays. We were also able to deploy a data logger and, like the morning team, we travelled back to Cape Eleuthera to the sound of joyous discussion on how valuable the experience was. Requests for further expeditions have been made, and certainly the Stingray Research Group aims to make another trip before Christmas, for those staff unable to attend this one.
Stingrays are among a group of animals poorly understood and often feared among Bahamians, and so sharing this work and allowing up close and personal interactions with these rays has dispelled myths and changed perceptions, certainly among those staff who attended.
On the night of Halloween, the CEI team put on their lionfish costumes and travelled to the Spooktacular event at the Leon Levy Native Plant Reserve in Governor’s Harbour. The team continued to spread the word about the lionfish invasion with spooky red lights illuminating a tank showcasing a live lionfish, and dyed blue, green and red fritters.
Batman, Spiderman, witches and several zombies came to view the illuminated invasive lionfish, and were served the spooky and tasty lionfish fritters. Those who had never tasted lionfish before enjoyed the delicious fish and gave great feedback, stating they were tastier than conch fritters, even when they were green inside! Next weekend the team will be setting up a booth at the Governor’s Harbour Homecoming, and hope to continue our long term goal of seeing lionfish not just at outreach events, but permanently on restaurant menus throughout The Bahamas.