The Bahamas National Trust invited the Cape Eleuthera Institute to participate in a Strategic Planning Workshop intended to develop a national strategy for improving the health of coral reef ecosystems and species that depend on them. The workshop took place June 23rd – 26th at the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau and was led by Dr. Craig Dahlgren. The aim of the meeting was to incorporate knowledge of island-specific and national issues, threats, and current or planned activities into the overall strategic plan.
Representatives from local research, conservation and education organizations also discussed ways to implement national strategies on a local level throughout The Bahamas.The Plan will integrate island specific and national coral reef conservation, education, restoration, management and policy efforts. The Disney Conservation Fund supported the workshop, and the Bahamas National Trust are also looking to build strategic partnerships to maximize the benefits from existing funding sources and to collaborate to target additional funding for island specific and national projects.
Partners included: Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Department of Marina Resources, Save The Bays, Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute, Young Marine Explorers, Atlantis, Friends of the Environment, AGGRA, Shedd Aquarium, Andros Conservancy and Trust, and the New England Aquarium.
The lionfish team recently completed their quarterly surveys of lionfish and other reef fish in the patch reef system of South Eleuthera, part of a longterm study.
This time around the team saw a few unfamiliar fish species on the reef. First on the list are juvenile Bluelip parrotfish; these fish are not a usual site on the reefs and this may be the first time they were spotted in these parts. Next the team saw the spotted hawk fish; which can be difficult to identify. Lastly, a Bandtailed puffer popped in on one of the surveys. Sadly the Bigeye that has been hanging out on one patch for the last nine months had moved on.
A total 91 lionfish were spotted from the 16 sites visited over the four days of diving. However,the team speared/netted 30 of those lionfish from removal reefs! The biggest one caught was 27 cm long and the smallest was 4 cm. Interestingly, they caught quite a few lionfish that were under 10 cm, which is great that they can remove the little ones off the reef before they have a chance to reproduce.
The following is an excerpt from an update by Island School student Patrick Henderson, talking about his Research Class, Fish Assessment:
The School Research Class Reef Assessment team has been very busy already this semester. We meet at least 3 times a week and dive during 2 of these sessions. Our goal is to conduct an up-to-date assessment of the current status of commercially important fish in South Eleuthera. The data we collect will be compared to previous studies from 2009 in order to identify if there are any trends that show an increase or decline in fish density and biomass. Our goal is to provide unbiased data that could help inform future potential marine resource management strategies.
In class we hold discussions about scientific readings we have completed for homework assignments. In these discussions we question how the readings apply to our project, the subject/purpose of the reading, and how we can actively apply what we have learned from the readings in our research.
Our first week was spent primarily learning fish identification. This consisted of presentations about fish biology, body forms, markings, families, and species all to ensure that on our surveys we could accurately and correctly identify any fish that we came across. These presentations were followed by fish point-out dives.
After we got a handle on identification we turned our focus to size estimates underwater. We worked in the classroom and underwater ensuring that every member could correctly estimate fish sizes and counts on dives.
We then began practice surveys using The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) Program fish protocols. This consisted of classroom work as well as going out and practicing on actual reefs. Each team member had to learn the different jobs that must be completed on a survey as well as the possible risks/problems that can arise if the protocols are ignored.
This past Wednesday the team went diving on a fore reef at 60ft. Accompanying us on this dive were 3 divemasters who monitored our survey and ensured our safety. Each dive consists of 3 teams of 2 students; the students take turns practicing each role. One student counts fish during the survey, while the other holds the tape measurer ensuring the Assessment follows AGGRA protocol. Soon we should be able to begin conducting actual assessments on reefs surrounding South Eleuthera.
March weather was perfect for the lionfish team as they visited 16 different patch reef sites for their quarterly surveys, observing fish species and abundance in relation to the presence of lionfish. Of the 16 sites, we remove lionfish from 8 of them every 3 months, comparing the removal reefs with nonremoval reefs as a way to measure the impact of lionfish on the patch reef systems.
At each patch all of the fish species present on the reef are counted for their relative abundance, especially the lionfish. Fish that compete for resources with lionfish, such as grunts, snapper, and grouper, are specifically noted along with their total body lengths. In addition to the roving survey and competitor observations, we also collected data on invertebrates, grouper, and parrotfish for three other studies. We counted the number of spiny lobster, queen conch, sea stars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers on the reefs to add to a data set that will be part of an assessment for implementing a potential marine protected area.
Throughout the course of the week of collecting data we saw an abundance of reef creatures, but most notably three nurse sharks, a large school of yellow jacks, a big eye which has remained on the same patch for over a year and is not commonly found on patch reefs, as well as a hawksbill sea turtle, also rarely sighted on these patches because they are critically endangered. Continue reading →
Travel. A new place. A different rhythm. Novel colours, sounds and smells assail many a traveler as they set foot on foreign land. With this often comes the unmistakable adventure; something is just different as if the air itself was charged with anticipation. Arrival at CEI was no different (well maybe a little). With warm smiles and enthusiastic introductions, we were welcomed inside the community. The openness of those already here seemed to mitigate the shock of adjustment as we fell into the tight yet comprehensive embrace that defines the community.
From Aquaponics and permaculture, to ocean research with conservation in mind, we witnessed stimulating, cutting-edge projects that radiated a vibrant atmosphere of purpose and progress to the facility. Being exposed to this environment where sustainability is the main focus in all aspects prompted a plethora of concerns and reflections shared by the Gap students in the Human Ecology and Environmental Issues classes. How we’ve lived here will undoubtedly influence the way we act in relation to our environment and resources for the better, inspiring those around us, as we were here, to achieve a society where we can live in harmony with nature and its flows. And so on we strive.Continue reading →
The lionfish team zipped up their 5mm wetsuits, donned their hoods, and braved the dropping water temperatures to conduct the 5th year of reef monitoring. It is well known that the presence of lionfish negatively affects the abundance and recruitment of fish on reefs, however, the secondary and long-term effects to is yet to be fully understood. It is the goal of these surveys to provide a data set that can answer these questions.
The team surveyed fish size and abundance at the 16 study reefs. They were excited to see the Big Eye fish again some three months after its initial sighting at the same site and exact same coral head. Additionally, the divers were armed with cameras and rugosity chains to assess the reefs benthic cover and complexity. We were pleased to see the reefs that were bleaching in September had started to recover. Less pleasing to see were the high densities of lionfish at the non-removal sites; one site had 20 lionfish in an area the size of a dining table!
These surveys contribute to one of the longest monitoring data sets that examine the effects of lionfish on reefs. Dr. Curtis-Quick along with collaborators Dr. Green, Dr. Cote and Lad Akins will be working up this data for a publication later in 2015. This monitoring is hoped to be continued in years to come and we wish to thank all the interns and volunteers who have assisted with the monitoring over the last five years. Special thanks to Alicia Hendrix, the current Research Assistant, who over the last year has made huge contributions to the lionfish team’s work.
Seven students from The Palm Beach Day Academy, in Palm Beach, Florida, kicked off a busy December at the Cape Eleuthera Institute with a five day program focused on marine ecology and sustainability. As most visitors staying on campus, not only were students taking navy showers to reduce their water use and save some precious rainwater, but they also had a chance to visit some of the vital ecosystems this island is known for. We had a few certified SCUBA divers in this group and were able to head out to a reef just off of the Exuma Sound. Somethin’ 2 See, as the reef is known, is shallow enough for a great snorkel but deep enough for a colorful and exciting SCUBA dive.
Another highlight was snorkeling in 80 feet of water at the aquaculture cage to kill some time before hauling a deep water longline with Brendan Talwar, M.S. candidate at Florida State University. Brendan is researching the survivorship of deepwater sharks, specifically Cuban dogfish, after they are caught on a longline set 500-700 m deep. Students were able to support Brendan’s work by helping the shark research team work up the 4 Cuban dogfish caught that day, while others snorkeled off the boat in deep blue water as the sharks are pulled onto the boat for analysis. The sharks are then released in a cage and monitored by GoPro for the next 24 hours before they are released.
Each morning at 6:30 am students met for morning exercise to start off their day. One of the most popular workouts is the run-swim. Students run a short distance and swim a short distance then jump off a high ledge and run-swim back to campus. Waking up is always the hardest part but so worth it for an energetic morning work out to get your day started.
Students overall got a sense of some of the research conducted at the Cape Eleuthera Institute while also learning about mangroves, coral reefs, and what it means to live sustainably. We hope to see some of these bright faces back for shark week this summer or even Island School students in the future. Thanks for coming down Palm Beach Day!
For the past three seasons the Lionfish Research and Education Program, managed by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, has been conducting an array of lab-based behavioral studies. Projects have assessed everything from interactions between lionfish and Caribbean spiny lobsters to preferential prey consumption by the carnivorous invaders to possible collaborative hunting nature of the fish. This fall brings a brief hiatus from lab-based work as data analysis and writing shift to the fore.
Field work for the lionfish team, on the other hand, continues. Another round of quarterly surveys were performed in September on the patch reefs just North of the Cape, an area in which lionfish monitoring has been going on for the past 4 years. These small and relatively self-contained reefs allow for comparisons between communities with and without lionfish, as the LREP program regularly culls lionfish from specified patches. September surveys were completed and over the course of the dives 78 lionfish were sighted, ranging in size from 2-28 cm. In addition to common fish a nurse shark, bigeye, and balloonfish were spotted, as well as a small aggregation of masked or glass gobies – two species impossible to differentiate underwater.
The Fall Gap Year Program is underway and boy have the gappers come a long way since we met, as seven strangers, at the Rock Sound Airport three weeks ago. With our fearless leaders, Liz and Pat, we have become a tight-knit family. Between getting SCUBA certified and oriented to campus, we had an action-packed first week.
At the start of our second week, we really got into the swing of things. We began our classes, Human Ecology and Environmental Issues, where we learned how to live more sustainably in our daily lives. Each of us chose a topic of interest to research and present to the rest of the group. Continue reading →
Summer 2014 was a fun but busy field season for the research team from Simon Fraser University. This was the first field season at Cape Eleuthera Institute for Fiona Francis, an MSc student studying the indirect effects of invasive lionfish under the supervision of Dr. Isabelle Côté. Two undergraduate field assistants, Kyla Jeffrey and Severin Vallaincourt, were assisting Fiona as well as working on small side projects of their own.
The team spent most of the summer studying how invasive lionfish can change primary productivity on reefs. Native fish provide nutrients to algae and seagrasses, and Fiona was trying to determine if lionfish predation on these native fish reduced the availability of those essential nutrients. To do this the team spent long hours catching fish to determine the levels of nutrients excreted by different species into the water around them. While this might not sound too hard, fitting a wriggling, venomous, spiny fish into a Ziploc bag full of water proved to be quite a difficult task! Continue reading →