Category Archives: Flats

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.

Cool new video of bonefish spawning aggregation in South Eleuthera!

A spawning aggregation of thousands of bonefish (Albula vulpes) was recently filmed in South Eleuthera. Bonefish make monthly migrations of up to 80 km (50 miles) to form spawning aggregations!

CEI’s Flats Ecology and Conservation Program is currently studying the spawning migrations of bonefish, which support a catch-and-release flyfishing industry worth over $141 million annually in The Bahamas. To view our most recent publications on this economically important species, please visit our website www.ceibahamas.org. 

 

 

Bonefish telemetry project update

This fall, Dr. Aaron Shultz and Georgiana Burruss (CEI), in partnership with the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF), initiated a large-scale passive acoustic telemetry study to track bonefish around the island of Eleuthera during the spawning season. Funded be the Glenn Hutchins Family Foundation, this study is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Stein at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, College of the Bahamas (COB), Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, Bahamas National Trust(BNT), Ocean Tracking Network, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Georgie Burruss deploys a VEMCO receiver while on SCUBA.
Georgie Burruss deploys a VEMCO receiver while on SCUBA.
The transmitter is about to be implanted into the fish through a small incision in the body cavity.
The transmitter is about to be implanted into the fish through a small incision in the body cavity.

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.

Georgie Burruss is suturing an anesthetized bonefish after implanting a transmitter into the fish.
Georgie Burruss is suturing an anesthetized bonefish after implanting a transmitter into the fish.

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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!

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!

CEI’s Flats Team contributes to the science behind some of The Bahamas’ new marine parks

This year, 15 new marine parks were created in The Bahamas, bringing the country closer to their goal of protecting 20% of their coastal waters by 2020. The inclusion of several additions to the protected areas system, including The Marls of Abaco National Park, East Abaco Creeks National Park, and Cross Harbour National Park in Abaco, as well as the North Shore Gap National Park and the East Grand Bahama National Park, was influenced by bonefish research conducted in collaboration with CEI and other partnering institutions.  

Freshly tagged bonefish being released.
Freshly tagged bonefish being released.
Specifically, bonefish telemetry projects were conducted around Grand Bahama for the N. Shore Gap National Park and the East Grand Bahama National Park. Also, CEI contributed data from tagged and released bonefish in Abaco - this research fed into the decision to protect the areas due to the presence of a healthy bonefish population and the economic potential of bonefishing as a major player in the tourism industry.
The 26.5 inch fish tagged and released by Flats researchers. Note the white tag near the fishes’ dorsal fin, containing an individual number and contact information for reporting when, where, and who recaptures this fish.
The 26.5 inch fish tagged and released by Flats researchers. Note the white tag near the fishes’ dorsal fin, containing an individual number and contact information for reporting when, where, and who recaptures this fish.

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!

CEI Director Aaron Shultz successfully defends his doctoral dissertation

Congratulations to CEI Director Aaron Shultz! He successfully defended his doctoral dissertation on “Responses of Subtropical Nearshore Fishes to Climate Change” at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with Dr. Cory Suski as his lead advisor.

Aaron’s research focused on how climate change stressors affect fish in nearshore ecosystems. These ecosystems are important nursery and foraging grounds, but there was insufficient knowledge on how fish in these areas will react to the predicted increases in temperature and carbon dioxide.

aaron

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.

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.

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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.

flatsweek_johnnykellogg_permit
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.