The summer season at Cape Eleuthera Institute always sees a tremendous amount of activity. Visiting scientists fly in, new interns and undergraduates arrive, and every now and then our own researchers spend some time off-island diversifying their studies. This past summer, Lionfish Research Program RA Alicia Hendrix headed to Honduras to lead work with UK-based organization Operation Wallacea, which offers volunteers a chance to assist scientists at field sites around the globe.
The Bay Islands of Honduras offer a unique research opportunity to contrast divergent fishing pressures on Caribbean lionfish communities. Two sites – the Bay Island of Utila off the coast of La Ceiba and Tela, a mainland site just a few hours away – support very different reef-based economies. Utila, a widely known and popular dive destination, is home to a dozen dive shops most with active lionfish culling programs, but is not a primary fishery for more commonly consumed Caribbean staples. Tela, a site far less frequented, has been subject to harsh overfishing in past years, supports a reef fish community recovering from those pressures, and currently experiences little in the way of lionfish culling. Contrasting the two can give researchers an idea of how factors such as lionfish spearing, regular exposure to divers, and more broadly targeted fishing practices might affect lionfish distribution and behavior. Continue reading →
Mark Hixon’s Ph.D. students from Oregon State University have returned to CEI for a third summer of invasive lionfish research! This year, they have been busy both above and below the water, performing field and lab experiments. Alex Davis is observing the natural locations of lionfish on large reefs in order to understand whether different types of habitat affect whether lionfish frequent certain areas of a reef and/or leave a reef altogether. Tye Kindinger is testing for competition between two native basslets (popular aquarium fish) by comparing basslets on reef ledges where the two basslets co-occur versus on ledges where she has removed all the individuals of one basslet species. She is interested in seeing whether basslets are less or more vulnerable to lionfish predation when they are competing under ledges.
Lillian Tuttle wants to know if lionfish harm the cleaner goby, a small but important reef fish because it keeps other fish healthy by picking parasites off their skin. To do this, she moved gobies to small reefs and is now comparing their survival, growth, and behavior before and after adding lionfish, and between reefs with lionfish and those without.
Led by Eric Dilley and Dr. Stephanie Green, the OSU team is also working on a lab experiment that measures how 3 small fish species react to the presence of native predators versus invasive lionfish. Can small native fish recognize and evade this novel predator? How “appropriate” is their reaction given the serious threat that lionfish pose to their survival? Alex, Tye, Lillian, and Eric are excited to be back working at CEI, and we can’t wait to see what they discover this summer about the ongoing lionfish invasion!
Scientists from the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories, NOAA, visited CEI to install a coral reef nursery on Cape Eleuthera.
Dr. Ian Enochs and Francesca Forrestal, PhD candidate (RSMAS), who is an Island School alum and sits on the CEIS foundation board, made the initial connection between the various institutions that resulted in this exciting opportunity. Dr. Diego Lirman and Stephanie Schopmeyer (RSMAS) have installed and studied staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) nurseries in Florida and throughout the Caribbean and were able to offer their expertise to the research team at CEI, through funding from Counterpart International. Over the course of two days, two nursery trees were set up at a local dive site and wild staghorn fragments were collected from local colonies. These fragments will be left in the nursery to grow and the nursery will hopefully be ready for expansion in the next 6 months. The goal is to be able to outplant these fragments next year and help restore wild populations of staghorn on Eleuthera. Staghorn – a major reef-building coral – has suffered major decline in recent decades and was listed as critically endangered in 2008 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Restoration efforts are critical and the new nursery at CEI will also help raise awareness with all our visitors about the threats facing coral reefs globally. Visitors will be able to snorkel and dive the site and assist with maintenance – we’ll keep you updated on how the grow out goes!
The Spring Gappers are on campus! Our first week was busy getting oriented to all the exciting opportunities that are waiting for us in the next two months.
While we’ve only started our Environmental Issues class we’ve already had so many opportunities to learn, attending Dr. Conrad Speed’s presentation on his work with sharks in western Australia as well as the presentations held by three soon-to-be departing researchers on their work with checkered puffers, bonefish, and personality in sharks and rays.
Aside from learning, we’re all training to compete in athletic events organized for the end of our semester. Two of us are training for a more traditional triathlon, with our first run-swim at 6:30 Wednesday morning. Not to be deterred, our very own Stef Tai is in training for the newly created “biathlon” (swimming and now, kayaking). Continue reading →
Good news for the continuing battle against invasive lionfish – a study conducted at CEI in collaboration with Simon Fraser University and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), and headed by marine ecologist, Stephanie Green (now a postdoc at Oregon State University) was recently accepted by the Ecological Society of America. This 18 month study shows that by reducing lionfish populations below threshold levels, we can help protect native fish communities from predator-induced population declines at a local scale. Even though complete eradication of lionfish is virtually impossible, this finding gives researchers hope that removal efforts are making a difference. So, get out there…save the reef, eat a lionfish!
Wetsuits were in order as the lionfish team took to the seas for their December surveys of the patch reefs. A three-day blitz with eighteen dives brought us to sixteen sites and ninety-one transects in 73°F water. Neither impending exhaustion nor chattering teeth could dampen our spirits as we conducted REEF surveys of fish abundances, counted and sized lionfish and their competitors, and photographed the benthic environment for habitat assessment at each of the sites. We saw napping nurse sharks, spotted morays, a tiny bandtail puffer, and a rarely sighted cherub fish.
The idea of a Gap Year is to take a step back to view the big picture. To take a step back to look at where you’ve come from, where you’ve gone and see where you’d like to go. To take a step back so you can take the right steps forward.
The program here came to an end last week, culminating in the students Demonstration of Learning and Graduation ceremony. Over the past nine weeks Eryn, Ryan and Jordan have made profound change in their own lives and of those surrounding them.
The start of the semester has been an extremely busy and exciting time for the lionfish program. In November, Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, head of the team, will be heading to Texas to present her work on lobster-lionfish displacement at the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute conference. The purpose of this study is to determine whether lionfish are displacing spiny lobsters in critical habitats and what this means for the economically important lobster fishery. We were also pleased to welcome gap year student Ryan Hodges to our crew, who will be working with us for the next four weeks. His extra set of hands is needed considering we have over 150 hours of video to analyze before the GCFI conference! Continue reading →
This Fall semester, The Lionfish and Conch Programs decided to do something new. They instituted a dual internship, which would focus on sustainable fisheries and marine conservation; interns would work with both the lionfish and conch projects. Three lucky interns are being put to the task this fall to work among projects in both programs, and their bios are below.
Alicia Hendrix: A Washington state native, Alicia finished her B.A. in Biology and Fine Art at Scripps College this past January. Since then she has been at the University of Washington labs in the San Juan Islands expanding upon the work completed for her undergraduate biology thesis and teaching high school students scientific illustration. During the course of her undergraduate studies, Alicia conducted research on trace metal chelation by jelly DOM at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science and on protein localization in trypanosomes at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute. In 2011 she earned her Divemaster certification at Utila Dive Center, where she also assisted with the Coral Watch program on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. She is thrilled to be a part of the internship program here at CEI, and is already learning so much! Continue reading →
Space 2 Create, a non profit summer day camp for the youth of Harbour Island, Eleuthera, joined forces with The Cape Eleuthera Institute to initiate Space 2 Explore, a program based around marine ecology and conservation. Founded in 2007 by William Simmons (DCMS Teacher), this comprehensive youth development program aims to enhance the academic, artistic and character development of young people on Harbour Island. Students this summer explored diverse marine habitats under the guidance of Cape Eleuthera Institute researcher Kristal Ambrose and DCMS teacher Carola Walker in partnership with divemaster Shawn Springer.
Students’ eyes were opened as they learned to identify countless organisms in the habitats they explored and also grasped the importance of these threatened ecosystems. These activities were not only academically enriching but helped students to build character as they faced their fears and accomplished things they never thought possible. This learning experience is highly relevant, as Harbour Island is experiencing the pressures of rapid development. It is important that the next generation understands the role of conservation in sustainable development.