Category Archives: Conch

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!

CEI Research Team presents at conference in Abaco

Last week, researchers from The Cape Eleuthera Institute traveled to Abaco for the 7th Biennial Abaco Science Alliance Conference (ASAC) hosted by Friends of the Environment. Over the course of two days, posters and presentations alike highlighted research findings in natural history and environmental science in The Bahamas. Drawing a diverse audience with scientists from The Bahamas to as far as Canada, local community members and high school students from Abaco, the conference provided a forum for sharing scientific knowledge on the diverse ecosystems of The Bahamas.

Dr. Owen O'Shea presenting at the conference.
Dr. Owen O’Shea presenting at the conference.

 

Dr. Owen O’Shea, Research Associate for the Shark Research and Conservation Program, gave an engaging presentation on the ongoing stingray research project at CEI and ecosystem-driven approaches to conservation. Candice Brittain, Applied Scientific Research Department Head, spoke about the recent assessment of the queen conch nursery ground in South Eleuthera. Her presentation was followed by a workshop on conservation of queen conch in The Bahamas, led by the Bahamas National Trust. Georgie Burruss, Research Assistant for the Flats Ecology and Conservation Program, presented new findings on marine debris in the Exuma Sound and plastic ingestion by pelagic sportfish. She also gave a talk on studies conducted by the Flats Program that have aided in developing the Best Handling Practices for bonefish and protection of critical bonefish habitat. Finally, Eric Schneider, graduate student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, presented research he conducted at CEI on temperature change effects on juvenile and adult schoolmaster snapper.

ASAC provided a unique opportunity for networking between the local community, students, and researchers for sharing knowledge on ecosystems across The Bahamas. Researchers from CEI look forward to attending ASAC in 2018!

Conch nursery project update

This semester, the Sustainable Fisheries Team has been surveying the waters of South Eleuthera in search of juvenile queen conch. In 1993, South Eleuthera had the largest surveyed juvenile conch nursery in The Bahamas.

 An aggregation of juvenile queen conch piled on top of each other in South Eleuthera

An aggregation of juvenile queen conch piled on top of each other in South Eleuthera

 

On the seashores of The Bahamas, it is common to see conch middens, or large piles of discarded conch shells. When fishermen return from their fishing trips, they take the fleshy meat from inside the shell and then throw that shell away. Recent conch shell midden data shows a significant increase in the harvest of juveniles. In South Eleuthera, 49.2% of the conch shells in one local midden are characterized as juveniles (lack of a flared lip).There has also been a significant decline in the number of adult conch mating aggregations in South Eleuthera.

Understanding if there is still an important juvenile conch nursery in South Eleuthera will help determine the current status of this economically and ecologically important species. Using methods created by researchers at the Shedd Aquarium, snorkelers are towed behind a boat on a manta-tow board with a Gopro attached. Images are taken continuously to document the number of conch, life stage and habitat type throughout the tow. The images are then pieced together to create a visual map of the tow. This methodology allows a rapid, accurate assessment of conch, and also documents the habitat types conch are being found in. The depths and temperature are also recorded for each tow.

During many of the surveys,  only a small number of queen conch were observed, and in some tows no conch were found. But, recently, a high density of juvenile queen conch was discovered. These findings could help inform future sustainable harvesting strategies and conservation management for queen conch.

Our partner, the Shedd Aquarium, have a research team that is currently conducting further research to investigate the dispersal of conch eggs throughout the oceans currents. This further research is vital for understanding the full life cycle of queen conch and the locations of important habitats for this species.

We recommend that you only harvest conch with a fully flared lip with at least a 15mm thickness. This is when conch is considered sexually mature and can reproduce. It is important that species are able to reproduce before they are harvested, otherwise populations will most likely crash and possibly become endangered or even extinct.

A busy week with The Island School Research Symposium and Parent’s Week

Last Thursday was The Island School Research Symposium! It is a highlight of Parent’s Week, and a time for parents to hear about the good work being done by their sons and daughters. Throughout the semester, The Island School students have collaborated with CEI researchers, contributing to ongoing research projects. They have been studying various ecosystems around Eleuthera, including inland ponds, the pelagic zone, the deep sea, shallow water sandbars, and tidal creeks .

Dr. Craig Dahlgren discussing the current state of coral reefs in The Bahamas.
Dr. Craig Dahlgren discussing the current state of coral reefs in The Bahamas.

 

In all, nine projects were presented, and Dr. Craig Dahlgren, Senior Research Scientist for the Bahamas National Trust, concluded the event with a talk on the state of coral reefs in The Bahamas. All nine projects are being featured on our Instagram (@CEIBahamas) and Facebook pages, so please check them out for more details on the amazing research done this semester!

Lionfish, and conch, and sea turtles, and aquaponics, oh my!

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.

The CEI team in front of their booth at Governors Harbour Homecoming
The CEI team in front of their booth at Governors Harbour Homecoming

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 CEI booth with information on lionfish, queen conch, sea turtles, and aquaponics
The CEI booth with information on lionfish, queen conch, sea turtles, and aquaponics

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.

 

CEI/ Island School Research Expo a big success

Spring 2015 Island School Student plays a sea turtle Jeopardy! game with Youth Action Island Summit attendees. (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)
Spring 2015 Island School Student plays a sea turtle Jeopardy! game with Youth Action Island Summit attendees. (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)

On Saturday, June 6, Spring 2015 Island School students participated in the Research Expo, their final Research Class assignment, which coincided with the Youth Action Island Summit hosted at the Island School. For the Research Expo, each group was required to focus on the “bigger picture” of conservation in their research area and present their conservation message through the use of games, trivia, slide shows, and their Research Poster.

Spring 15 Island School student shows a tour group how to measure a queen conch. Photo credit: Cam Powell
Spring 15 Island School student shows a tour group how to measure a queen conch. Photo credit: Cam Powell

 

This assignment was a great way for the students to show off all they have learned this semester, as well as to allow the students to demonstrate their abilities to speak to various audiences, such as young Bahamians, scientists, and UN delegates

The Spring 2015 Plastics Research Group presents to the Youth Action Island Summit attendees
The Spring 2015 Plastics Research Group presents to the Youth Action Island Summit attendees

At the end of the Research Expo, the Spring 2015 Plastics Research Group presented their findings to everyone in attendance. The audience was very impressed, with one Summit attendee praising the students for doing graduate level research in high school.

Spring 2015 Island School students discuss their findings on post-release survivorship with Jack Johnson and Youth Island Action Summit attendees (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)
Spring 2015 Island School students discuss their findings on post-release survivorship with Jack Johnson and Youth Island Action Summit attendees (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)

Overall, the Research Expo was a success. The students enjoyed meeting people of various backgrounds, answering questions about their research, and demonstrating all that they have learned this semester. Their final research posters, which were displayed at the Research Expo, can be found here.

CEI outreach at Earth Day Event

Last weekend, the Sustainable Fisheries team packed up a van full of educational materials and headed to Governor’s Harbour for the annual Earth Day event, hosted by One Eleuthera, to showcase the ongoing sustainable projects at The Cape Eleuthera Institute.

A member of the sustainable fisheries team, Alexio, gets interviewed by ZNS on the invasive species, the lionfish (1)

Representatives from Aquaponics and the Center for Sustainable Development also joined to demonstrate their projects. A working model of an Aquaponics system using a tank with tilapia and a grow bed with lettuce and basil resting on top, informed onlookers on ways to harvest both fish and vegetables sustainably. Many young kids were also enthralled by the demonstration on how to make biodiesel from used vegetable oil.

Mike Cortina, a member of the Center for Sustainable Development, teaches children how to make biodiesel from used vegetable oil (1)As for the Sustainable Fisheries team, the lionfish displayed prominently on the front table of the booth was a huge success, luring people in to ask questions about the invasive predator. For many children who passed by, this was the first lionfish they had ever seen. When asked if they had ever eaten lionfish, many of the visitors to the booth had never tried it, but the team encouraged people to start asking for lionfish in restaurants to increase the demand and create a more prominent fishery for lionfish. Some Bahamians and visitors were hesitant to try because of the venomous spines, but when they looked over the fillet guide on display, many people seemed to be interested in filleting and preparing their own lionfish in the future. A handful of people who spearfish told the team that whenever they see a lionfish they spear it because they know they are harmful to the reef. Most, however, did not know that they could eat lionfish and they were excited when they discovered they could eat the white and flaky lionfish meat.

Many women loved the idea of using lionfish fins to create earrings, and the younger groups passing by enjoyed touching the fins on display. Many of the children left the booth with face paintings of lionfish and sea creatures and kept coming back for more.

Ann holds up the lionfish slayer t-shirt she won in a drawing after signing up for The Cape Eleuthera Institute updates and newsletter
Ann holds up the lionfish slayer t-shirt she won in a drawing after signing up for The Cape Eleuthera Institute updates and newsletter

For those who signed up for The Cape Eleuthera Institute newsletter and weekly update, their names were entered into a raffle to win a “Lionfish Slayer: You Slay We Pay” t-shirt. Two lucky people received the shirts after two drawings, and pictured below is one of the winners, Ann Gates, a frequent visitor to Eleuthera.

ZNS, the local Bahamian news station, interviewed one member of the Sustainable Fisheries team about our projects on invasive lionfish. The segment will be shown to inform people who were not at Earth Day about the invasive predator, the destruction they are doing to the reefs, and ways that we can help with the invasion by eating and wearing lionfish!

Sustainable Fisheries team represents at Rock Sound Homecoming

This past Saturday, the Sustainable Fisheries team travelled to Rock Sound for the annual Homecoming to represent The Cape Eleuthera Institute. The booth, decorated with educational materials pertaining to invasive lionfish, was a success. Both locals and visitors approached the booth with questions and were intrigued by the live lionfish that was on display in a tank on the table.

CEI team manning the booth at Rock Sound Homecoming
CEI team manning the booth at Rock Sound Homecoming

As people wandered by, the team educated the curious onlookers about the venomous spines, how to properly remove the spines and fillet the fish, common misconceptions about the lionfish, as well as the damage they are doing to the reefs.

Kids come face to face with the invasive lionfish
Kids come face to face with the invasive lionfish

The team also advertised the Slayer Campaign; this campaign incentivizes local fishermen to spear lionfish. The team emphasized how tasty lionfish are to eat, pointing out the “You Slay, We Pay” motto hanging from the tent next to the wonderful illustrations of grouper, conch, and crawfish holding up signs saying “Eat More’ Lionfish”..

The team wore their lionfish fin earrings to show off the beautiful jewelry that can be made from the non-venomous spines, so not only are lionfish tasty, but they can create beautiful, sustainable, jewelry.

Bags of sustainably grown lettuce from the CEI/CSD aquaponics system were handed out to also people about the other projects at The Cape Eleuthera Institute.

Fun and learning at the CEI booth
Fun and learning at the CEI booth

The Sustainable Fisheries team will have a similar booth set up for Earth Day and they hope to continue raising awareness about the different research projects happening at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and how to live sustainably.

CEI Researchers attend GCFI Conference in Barbados

67LogoCEI researchers Claire Thomas and Zach Zuckermen attended the 67th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute in Barbados the first week of November. This conference focused on small islands and developing nations, and gave Claire and Zach and opportunity to talk about their work in Eleuthera.

An adult queen conch found grazing during summer surveys.
An adult queen conch found grazing during summer surveys.

Claire’s talk focused on her recent assessment of essential queen conch habitat in South Eleuthera. Her main findings were that there are low densities of adults and juveniles in shallow water habitat, and that populations of adult breeding conch have declined severely in the past 20 years. Also, she pointed out that the area in South Eleuthera proposed as a marine protected area might be beneficial to shallow water inhabitants, but does not include any of the important breeding grounds. Continue reading

Brookwood School Visits CEI

Brookwood School students and teachers recently headed back to Massachusetts after their school’s first visit to Cape Eleuthera Institute. During their 6-day adventure the group was able to learn more about the sustainability initiatives in practice around campus and explore some of the local environments. After visiting these places, students were able to develop a better understanding of the impact that they as individuals and humans have on the marine environment.

Brookwood Educational Programs paige creek snorkel
Out for a snorkel in Paige Creek after learning about the importance of mangrove systems.

Students started off their adventure with field lessons in coral reef and mangrove ecology. When snorkeling to explore these areas, many were surprised by the warm water temperature and the abundance of colorful fish. So different from the coastal waters back home in the New England area! The group spent a lot of time in the water; they snorkeled above the aquaculture cage, explored some patch reefs, swam in a blue hole, visited Lighthouse Beach, and even went out on a night snorkel! Continue reading