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, 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!
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 .
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!
Two weekends ago, The Island School hosted the SEA Change Youth Summit with musician, Jack Johnson and 5 Gyres to raise awareness about the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean and to inspire young students to be advocates for change. 34 Students gathered from Abaco, Grand Bahama, New Providence and Eleuthera as well as a school group out of New York and another student from Jamaica.
As part of the kick-off for the weekend on Friday June 5th, Jack Johnson took part in a designation ceremony to become a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The designation was timely as last Friday marked World Environment Day, a UN flagship event encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment, celebrated in over 100 countries.
Included in the kickoff to the festivities hosted on The Island School’s campus were remarks from Chris Maxey, founder of The Cape Eleuthera Island School, Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, founders of the 5 Gyres Institute and Celine Cousteau, film maker, environmentalist and daughter of ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau and the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau. Also in the line up was Kristal Ambrose, founder of Bahamas Plastic Movement and Minister of Education, Science and Technology, The Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald.
The first day of the Summit centered around raising awareness on the issue of plastic pollution so that the students could create their own solutions based on the stories and information they’d received. In the afternoon students, facilitators, Jack Johnson and visiting UNEP representative, Naysan Sahba visited a local beach to do a clean-up lead by Kristal Ambrose. The day finished with a Junkanoo, cultural activity lead by Art teacher and Space to Create founder, Will Simmons in which Summit attendees, Island School students and Jack Johnson created original songs about plastic pollution to the Junkanoo beat provided by the visiting South Eleutheran students from Preston H. Albury High School.
The second day began with a workshop on how to reduce single-use disposable plastics in the household. Students were given tips and tools on how to make their own toothpaste and steer away from buying highly packaged products and personal care products containing plastic micro-beads. After lunch, David Stover, co-founder of Bureo Skateboards told his story of making skateboards from fish netting found in the ocean and beaches of Chile. The students then sifted through their findings from Friday’s clean-up to create a symbolic SEA Change eye sculpture out of plastics with Dianna Cohen, founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition. The sculpture was then showcased at the Deep Creek Homecoming where Summit attendees enjoyed a plastic free event thanks to a donation by World Centric for all food packaging. Recover also pitched in with a donation of t-shirts for the homecoming made from recycled plastic bottles.
The last day of the Summit was spent teaching the students how to tell and share their own stories and to create their own solutions. Facilitators and visiting activists, scientists and artists participated in group discussions on how each student could make a change in their home, on their island and in their country. The day ended in a closing ceremony with music by local band, The Rum Runners, as well as Jack Johnson, who performed alongside local and visiting musicians and even played a tune with two Island School students.
Summit organizer, The Island School’s Brittney Maxey, was blown away by the energy coming from the young students. “This is a historical event not only for us at The Island School and the island of Eleuthera, but also for The Bahamas and other island nations as a whole. We are sending these motivated young people back out into the world equipped with the tools to make a difference in their communities. The Island School’s mission is leadership affecting change and this weekend embodied this belief not only for the students but for the island of Eleuthera. We are a small place making big change.”
Thank you to event supporters: Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, AML Foods, Cape Eleuthera Resort & Marina, Recover, World Centric, From the Bow Seat, Bahamas Waste Limited, Cable Bahamas, One Eleuthera, The Muggia Family and Kim & Floyd Wilson
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.
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
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.
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.
Last week The Island School hosted Parents’ Week. The week included an opportunity for parents to tour our campus, view a student art exhibit, parent-teacher meetings, and a day for students to show their families the island of Eleuthera.
52 excited Island School students had the opportunity to present their semester long research projects to their parents, real world scientists from The Cape Eleuthera Institute, and The Island School faculty. Each research group had 10 minutes to present the culmination of their semester’s work including an introduction to their project, their hypotheses, a description of methods employed, results section, and conclusions of findings from their data. In addition, each group answered questions from curious parents and researchers about their topics.
The parents learned about how plastic pollution can end up in a fish’s stomach, exciting new research focused on the deep-sea, the current status of important fisheries species in South Eleuthera and new research focused on the inland pond systems in Eleuthera. Guest commented on how impressed they were with The Island School students’ level of professionalism when presenting and their ability to share in-depth knowledge on their chosen research topic.
As any angler will tell you, fresh fish is the best fish (Fig. 1)! Even non-anglers would insist that grilled wahoo, dockside yellowfin sashimi, or fried dolphinfish fingers are best when fresh from the sea. Knowing your fish is wild-caught means there are no questions about the quality of the fillet, or the fish’s diet – right?
Each year, between 8-12 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans, ranging in size from large pieces of floating trash or small (< 5mm) microplastics barely visible to the naked eye (Fig. 2). Some of this debris may result in the entanglement and death of marine mammals, or can be ingested by birds, sea turtles, and fish with severe health consequences. Even more concerning is that plastic debris acts as a magnet for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs or DDT – chemicals known to disrupt hormones or have carcinogenic effects in humans and animals. Thus, identifying whether plastic debris is consumed by recreationally and commercially important fish species should be of concern to any angler or sushi-lover.
CEI researcher Zach Zuckerman, along with 6 Island School students, are investigating how marine debris – particularly plastic – is affecting the marine food web of The Bahamas. Zuckerman and his team have collected over 100 dolphinfish, wahoo, and yellowfin tuna carcasses from anglers at Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina and Davis Harbour Marina, both located near CEI’s campus on South Eleuthera. The location at which each fish is captured is recorded, and the stomachs removed at CEI’s wetlab to be dissected in search of plastic debris. To identify microplastics, the team runs the contents of each fish’s stomach through a sieve, or a series of increasingly smaller screens, to separate prey and debris by size (Fig. 3).
Preliminary results indicate that 19% of wahoo, 23% of dolphinfish, and 20% of yellowfin tuna captured in Eleuthera’s waters contain plastic in their stomachs. Some of this is easily identifiable by eye such as pieces of plastic bag! Most of the debris, though, is less than 5mm in size and identifiable only through the sieving process such as the 14 small pieces of clear plastic found in a single yellowfin tuna (Fig. 4)!.
These preliminary results are quite startling; past gut content analysis of fish harvested near the Pacific Garbage Patch suggests much lower occurrences of plastic ingestion by recreational species, with only 2% of dolphinfish and no yellowfin tuna having been found with plastic in their stomachs. These researchers, though, only searched the gut by eye and did not sieve the stomach contents. Many anglers claim to have never seen plastic inside a fish, yet it would seem that most have never looked quite close enough!
Please follow this research as we increase our sample size, add new recreational species to the study, and quantify concentrations of free-floating plastic around Eleuthera by sampling the Exuma Sound with a plastic trawl (blog coming soon). Contact email@example.com with questions or to support our research efforts.
Lyford Cay International School in New Providence brought 25 bubbly 5th graders down for a 3 day sustainability program at the Cape Eleuthera Institute. Besides learning about topics such as Bahamian ooidic limestone, ocean pollution, and permaculture, students also learned first hand how biodiesel is made from used cooking oil by making a “test batch” in the lab.
This group of students was the youngest group to ever do a run-swim! A run-swim is a morning exercise where students go through a series of short runs and short swims before climbing a sea wall, jumping off a cliff and run-swimming back to campus. Run-swims are always a highlight for visitors and of course a great way to start your day off on the right foot!
Lyford will be returning in the fall with more grades, more science, more fun and more learning!
Although one of our youngest overnight programs, Lyford Cay 5th grade students blew us away with their prior knowledge on sustainability as well as their excitement to learn even more through experience!
The Cape Eleuthera Institute’s Shark Research and Conservation Program has just started to receive data back from the satellite tags deployed last winter onto five female bull sharks. These transient sharks come to The Cape Eleuthera Marina each November and spend around four months inhabiting the shallow marina waters where fishermen clean their daily catches. Their habitat occupation and use of space beyond Cape Eleuthera has remained a mystery until now.
The migratory routes of these animals has been speculated due to the necessity for females to seek freshwater in order to pup, however, the first track we have received reveals a long and exciting journey via Cuba and the Florida Keys. The highly migratory nature of this species creates challenges for conservation and management efforts as they travel across international boundaries with differing levels of protection.
Research efforts at The Cape Eleuthera Institute in collaboration with Microwave Telemetry will increase our understanding of the species by elucidating critical information about their use of space and seasonal habitat occupancy.
Dolphinfish (aka mahi mahi or dorado) are a highly sought after sportfish targeted by offshore anglers, and they also support commercial fisheries in the Caribbean and US. Until recently, little was understood about their movements, stock ranges, and population structure. Recent findings suggest that these fish complete long-distance migrations and are quick to mature. However, little information exists about dolphinfish movements or harvest in The Bahamas – a location identified by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council in critical need of further stock assessment.
The Cape Eleuthera Institute has been working with the Cooperative Science Services’ Dolphinfish Research Program (DRP; http://www.dolphintagging.com/) to mark dolphinfish in The Bahamas with external tags (fig. 2). After recording the fish’s size and location of capture, the fish is tagged and released to be captured again by an angler or commercial fisherman. Upon recapture, essential information such as distance travelled and growth of the fish can be determined.
Recent recaptures in the Bahamas have further demonstrated both the distances travelled by dolphinfish, as well as the large geographic range of the north Atlantic stock. One fish tagged in Florida last year was recaptured 309 days off Rum Cay in the southern Bahamas. It is estimated that the fish travelled up the East Coast of the US before swimming back to the Bahamas – a total of nearly 4,000 miles (fig. 3)!
These findings are critical to protecting the Atlantic mahi fishery. By quantifying movements of dolphinfish across political boundaries (i.e., US, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean nations), a regional management plan can be devised and enforced, ensuring a sustainable fishery for all countries.
If you will be fishing in the Bahamas and are interested in tagging dolphinfish, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the DRPs website. Many anglers release small dolphinfish; tagging is a great way to contribute to our increasing knowledge of this economically important species!