Category Archives: Flats

St. Andrews visits CEI

Lead educator Tiff Gray with students from St. Andrews
Lead educator Tiff Gray with students from St. Andrews

Last week, Educational Programs at CEI had their hands full with two classes hailing from St. Andrew’s School in Nassau, home of the Hurricanes. The first class, a group of 17 students, had a blast helping the plastics, lionfish, and bonefish research teams. Students arrived from Nassau and executed their first day nicely with lots of energy and enthusiasm! The first item on the agenda was a sustainable systems scavenger hunt, exploring the grounds and learning important facts about sustainability initiatives around campus. That afternoon, they spoke with Kristal Ambrose, Patch Reef Researcher & plastic enthusiast, on her plastics research project at CEI. Although the rain put a damper on data collection, they were able to conduct beach plastic surveys the next afternoon and utilize this data for their Math class back at

St. Andrews' students enjoying a beach bonfire on their last night.
St. Andrews’ students enjoying a beach bonfire on their last night.

St. Andrew’s. The second day they headed down island to explore the caves of Rock Sound, journal at the Banyon Tree, and swim in Ocean Hole. That afternoon they took a stroll down the beach at Paige Creek to learn about the Flats ecosystem and chat with Liane Nowell about her exciting master’s project on Bonefish. The day ended with a bonfire and s’mores on the beach! Their last day started with a joyful school reunion when the second class from St. Andrew’s arrived. Continue reading

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Island School students present introductions to their research projects

This past week, the SP13 Island School students presented Project Introduction presentations to their peers, staff, faculty, and the many visitors on campus. These presentations gave the students a chance to stand up in front of a crowd, and display their knowledge of the background, purpose, and methodology of their specific research projects.

Research projects this year include 1) lionfish and lobster competition, 2) shark physiology after longline capture, 3) effects of climate change on bonefish swimming capacity, 4) effects of decreasing pH on mangrove fish, 5) identifying juvenile queen conch nurseries, 6) green sea turtle habitat use, 7) the settlement of juvenile lionfish, and 8) coral vs. algae cover on patch reefs. These projects are led by CEI researchers, and the students have the chance to work closely with with researchers for the duration of their Island School research class. The class culminates with a Research Symposium, where the students present a scientific poster on the findings of their projects. Continue reading

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Emma Cooper Primary School visits the CEI campus

Emma E. Cooper Primary school joined us last week for an afternoon tour. However, this was no typical tour of campus! The entire primary school came with Kindergarten through grade 6, a total of 83 students and 8 teachers; we had quite the group! It was their first visit in 4 years and all were more than excited to be here at Island School.


Seven Queens University students, a group of visiting students from Ontario, Canada here fulfilling the field requirement for their teaching degree, came to lend a hand. We split the students into groups where they rotated between three different stations. In the Wet lab, they not only saw all the checkered puffers, bonefish, juvenile lemon sharks, lionfish, yellow stingrays, cobia, tilapia, etc. but they also learned how and why we are studying these marine species. The next station was a virtual tour of a coral reef – a movie by BREEF (Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation) where the students learned what makes a coral reef, its importance in the Bahamas, and how to protect this fragile coastal ecosystem. The third station was split between the farm with pigs, ducks and a permaculture garden, and the sustainable systems of campus. The systems tour exposed students to how we make biodiesel for our school vans, resource/recycle ~90% of what we use, and how we reduce our energy “footprint” by using solar panels and a wind turbine to produce energy. Continue reading

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Flats Program Update: What’s happening this spring?

The Flats Ecology and Conservation Program is continuing to move forward on several lab-based experiments, as well as adding some new work to the agenda for this spring:

-Shuttlebox: To test behavioral avoidance of flats fishes to changes in water pH and temperature in relation to climate change, the Flats program is continuing with its shuttlebox trials. Researchers are manipulating water conditions to determine the avoidance threshold of bonefish, yellowfin mojarra, checkered puffer, and schoolmaster snapper to increasing water acidity and temperature.  To better understand the ecological implications of avoidance thresholds, a predator (in this case, juvenile lemon shark) is included as part of the experiment, forcing individual fish to choose between changing water conditions or risk of predation.

-The Bahamas Initiative: The Bonefish tagging program will continue through 2013, with increased tagging efforts aimed at North Eleuthera, and a proposed tagging trip to Grand Bahama this coming April.

-Connectivity of Mangrove Ecosystems: Mangrove creeks across The Bahamas and the Caribbean are highly fragmented by the construction of access roads.  Preliminary data is being collected by the Flats program to assess how these roads impact hydrology and ecology of these systems, with the intention of identifying restoration priorities in South Eleuthera. Continue reading

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CEI has an outreach booth at the Rock Sound Homecoming!

CEI attended the 2013 Rock Sound Homecoming as part of their community outreach, and engaged the local community members in a conversation about marine conservation.

The CEI booth was packed with information on a range of issues including plastics awareness, conch conservation, sharks, climate change, bonefish best handling practices, aquaponics, and aquaculture info. We also had free giveaways! The fried lionfish and tilapia samples were a big hit, especially with all the local kids! The aquaculture mini system and free lettuce was also very popular. The day in Rock Sound was great fun – thank-you to all the CEI staff and interns who help run the booth. Look forward to the next homecoming!


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Ice, Ice, Baby; It’s Getting Hot in Here!

Researchers with the Flats Ecology and Conservation Program are studying the critical thermal minimums (CTmin) and maximums (CTmax) of fish species representative of tropical nearshore flats and mangrove creek ecosystems. Specifically, bonefish, yellowfin mojarra, checkered puffer, and schoolmaster snapper were included in the study as model fishes due to their ecological (i.e., nutrient transporters and availability as forage for predatory species) and economic (i.e., sustenance and commercial fishing of snapper, and sport angling of bonefish) importance. The critical thermal is often used to quantify fish tolerance to extreme high or low temperatures and to determine fish resistance to different thermal events.

To test the capacity of these fishes for seasonal temperature acclimation, fish were collected from local mangrove creeks during either summer (warm seawater) or winter (cool seawater) months. During CT experiments, fish were placed in individual flow-through containers, and water temperature was gradually increased by electric water heater or decreased by ice for CTmax and CTmin trials, respectively. Periodically throughout each trial, researchers observed the rate of gill movements (i.e., “breathing” rate) and behavior of the fish. The experiment was finished when all fish lost equilibrium, or lost their ability to stay righted. Each fish was then brought back to ambient temperature, and were released following a full recovery.

Picture captions: Top left CEI researchers and high school students collect checkered puffer from a nearby creek; Bottom right Researchers observe fish during a CT experiment.

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Intern profile: Melissa Dick

Here is a short bio from the Flats intern Melissa:

I grew up in the countryside of Gatineau, Quebec, Canada where I developed a love for the outdoors and learning about the natural world. I pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography at Carlton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada which exposed me to an array of interesting research questions associated with the physical environment. I had the amazing opportunity to be directly involved in research projects, leading to a directed study in dendroarchaeology in which I found the year of origin of heritage log buildings based on the tree-ring sequence sampled from the structure. For my undergraduate thesis, I studied the influence of watershed characteristics and lake chemistry variables on concentrations of mercury in 12 lakes in the Gatineau Park, Quebec, Canada.

I couldn’t get enough of doing field work on lake and stream systems, so in the autumn of 2012 I worked as a field assistant for both the Geography department of Carleton University and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, which included catching fish in lakes of the Gatineau Park and taking muscle biopsy samples which were tested for mercury concentrations, and collecting and identifying benthic macroinvertebrates to assess the health of streams. Continue reading

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BNNHC Update #2

Day 2 of the Bahamas National Natural History Conference had a session devoted to new research on life history and management of a popular gamefish of the Bahamas, the bonefish (Albula vulpes). The bonefish session, moderated by Dr. Dave Philipp, Executive Director of the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF), started off with a talk by UMass PhD student Chris Haak, who discussed his findings on the early life history of bonefish. With his findings, he theorized that juvenile bonefish actually mimic another species in the flats ecosystem, mottled mojarra, as a way to blend in with their schools for protection from predation.

Next to speak was Dr. Karen Murchie from the College of the Bahamas, talking about movement patterns in bonefish and experiments with acoustic telemetry. She found that bonefish move regularly among tidal creeks in South Eleuthera, and was able to follow some fish for almost two years! Dave Philipp then discussed the reproductive ecology of bonefish, and some implications for conservation in the Bahamas. He emphasized the importance of determining source/sink populations to inform management. Continue reading

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Another update on the North Eleuthera Bonefish Seining trips!

We have tagged many bonefish around South Eleuthera (around 2500 fish) over the last few years, and several more over the last three months off Abaco and Grand Bahama (a little over 1500 fish).  To fill in the gap in effort between those sites, however, we recently took our seines and tags up to the north end of Eleuthera.  Working out of the Rainbow Inn, our FAVORITE home base in all of Eleuthera for field work outside of CEI, Dave Philipp and Chris Haak from the Fisheries Conservation Foundation and Mickey Philipp, an IS SP09 alum and current sophomore at University of Vermont, teamed up with Zev Wasserman and Gershom Rolle from the Rainbow Inn to hunt the wily bonefish on the flats around the Current, way up at the northwest tip of Eleuthera.

Because Gershom seemed to know exactly where bonefish were going to be hanging out, we had great luck, tagging over 300 fish in our first net haul (just south of the road) and almost 200 in our second haul (over on Current Island).  On the island, Jonathon Rahming, a local resident that was justifiably concerned over strangers netting fish in front of his house, gave us his perspective on fisheries, evolution, and life in general…a fun and enlightening experience.  We then moved to Corrie Sound, where our efforts were not nearly as successful (or physically easy!).  At the end of two days, however, we had tagged over 500 fish in a great location to test bonefish movements — both down island to the Cape and across the deep water of the Bahamas strait to Abaco or Grand Bahama Island. Continue reading

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Exciting juvenile bonefish research at CEI!

Since May 2011, Christopher Haak, a PhD student (and avid fisherman) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, along with other scientists, has been trying to solve the mystery of where juvenile bonefish live, from settlement through the time they join adult populations on the flats.  Exhaustive efforts to locate juveniles along the densely-developed coastlines of Florida were met with little success, leading researchers to the comparatively pristine shorelines of The Bahamas to continue their search.

For the past one-and-a-half years, they have scoured the coastlines of South Eleuthera, conducting 1000+ seine hauls, encompassing a broad range of coastal habitats. This project is funded by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and based out of CEI.   These efforts (with the help of South-Eleutherans; thanks Denny and Kelsey Rankin!) have succeeded in locating over 800 juvenile bonefish as small as one inch in length, and have revealed some intriguing trends.  For example, contrary to what might be expected, juvenile bonefish do not appear to frequent the mangrove creek systems or expansive tidal flats commonly used by adults, preferring instead to remain along shallow, sheltered shorelines near deeper basins or channels.

Can you find the juvenile bonefish among the mojarra in the picture below?

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