Category Archives: Student Research

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!

Stingray project update

Here at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), members of the Shark Research and Conservation Program are trying to unlock some of the many mysteries surrounding stingrays.   Much like their shark ancestors, there are still many myths and misconceptions about these typically mild mannered creatures.  Once believed to be nothing more than vermin on local reefs, scientists are now beginning to appreciate their true value as mesobenthic predators.  Through a process called bioturbation, rays can alter ecosystems physically, chemically, and biologically.  Often overlooked and underappreciated, these amazing animals play a vital role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem.

Ray in net
Ray in net

The CEI Stingray Project, led by Dr. Owen O’Shea, began in January of 2015, and is the largest study of its kind in The Bahamas.  The purpose of this research on stingrays is to gain valuable baseline data regarding their habitat use, growth rates, behavior, daily activity budgets, genetic connectivity, demography and feeding preferences.  Rays are caught via spot seining along local creeks, coasts and offshore sand cays and are measured, tagged, sampled for tissue and blood, and released. Together with the help of our Island School students, visiting Educational Programs and undergraduate students, Dr. O’Shea has caught 175 stingrays across both species, including 59 recaptured individuals.

Successful release with accelerometer
Successful release with accelerometer

Since these rays occupy coastal and nearshore environments, it is believed they are actually more susceptible to anthropogenic impacts such as habitat loss and degradation and overfishing when compared to offshore populations of fish.  It is critical that further research is conducted to learn more about these animals. This research will allow for the formation of a more solid knowledge base as well as an efficient conservation and management framework for both species and the habitats that support them.

Exploring the social side of sea turtle conservation in Eleuthera


Island School student, Aissatu, interviewing a localHistorically, sea turtles were considered to be an economically and culturally important food source throughout the Caribbean. Since the discovery of the New World, sea turtle populations throughout the Caribbean have plummeted, leading to the classification of sea turtle species as endangered or critically endangered across the region. This led the Department of Marine Resources of the Bahamian Government to implement a Bahamas-wide ban on the harvesting of sea turtles in 2009.

The Sea Turtle Research Program has been in place at CEI since 2012 and has focused on the biology and ecology of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) around South Eleuthera. This Fall, the program embarked on a brand new study focusing on the social side of sea turtle conservation with Rachel Miller, Research Assistant, and her Island School Research Class leading the charge. This project is designed to assess the gaps in knowledge between Bahamians and researchers as well as the attitudes of Bahamians towards sea turtle conservation, particularly the 2009 harvesting ban on sea turtles, through the use of a semi-structured interview.

Island School Students teach local teens about sea turtles

So far, 72 interviews have been conducted and data has been collected from 69 individuals who live in 9 different settlements across Eleuthera, plus 3 interviews from Bahamians visiting from Nassau. Preliminary data shows that of the 69 interviews from Eleuthera, 64% of interviewees (n=44) are aware of the 2009 harvesting ban on sea turtles. 96% of interviewees (n=66) have a positive reaction to sea turtle conservation, stating that it is important to protect sea turtles in The Bahamas. The Island School students will analyze and present their results during Parent’s Weekend at the end of November.

The overall goal of this study is to highlight what Bahamians know about sea turtles and how they feel about sea turtles. This information can be used to create effective outreach and awareness programs throughout Eleuthera and the rest of The Bahamas.  The Sea Turtle Research program is excited to begin partnering with other organizations to continue this study on other islands and reach more communities. We thank everyone that has participated so far!

Shark Research and Conservation Program Begins Novel Deep-Water Shark Telemetry Project

Deep-water sharks are slow growing, slow to mature, and have a relatively small number of young, and as a result are extremely vulnerable to human-based disturbances. This, coupled with the migration of commercial fisheries from coastal to deeper waters, has resulted in large population declines in a number of deep-water shark species. Similar to their coastal counterparts, deep-water sharks are assumed to exert important top-down control on deep-sea communities, and, as a result, their behavior plays a particularly important role in influencing healthy ecosystem dynamics.

In order to further understand their ecological role and inform constructive management and policy, it is critical to assess the unique behavioral characteristics of these poorly understood elasmobranchs.

This semester members of the Shark Research and Conservation Program have been working diligently in collaboration with Microwave Telemetry to explore and uncover some of the mysteries behind the behavior of deep-water sharks. This particular study, led by Research Assistant and recent MSc graduate Oliver Shipley, aims to assess the daily vertical behavior of common deep-water sharks in the Exuma Sound via satellite telemetry.

Figure 1: Applying a satellite tag
Figure 1: Applying a satellite tag

In order to assess movement patterns over a 24-hour cycle, animals are captured via demersal longlines (lines that sit on the ocean floor) and hauled to the surface using an electronic pot-hauler. These movements are assessed by attaching X-satellite tags (Figure 1), (measuring time, temperature, depth, and light) to the dorsal fin of animals deemed large enough to carry the tag without impairing movement. X-tags measure high resolution (every two minutes) data over a 14-day period.

Dogfish in the release cage
Dogfish in the release cage

Once tagged, animals are then placed into a newly designed release cage (Figure 2), in order to prevent predation by larger sharks during descent. Once the cage reaches the sea floor, a weighted door opens, enabling the shark to safely swim out. After the two week tracking period, a release mechanism causes the tags to pop off and rise to the surface, transmitting the data to an Argos satellite prior to analysis. Continue reading

Summer update from the Reef Ecology and Conservation Program

With the arrival of the summer interns, undergraduate and postgraduate placement students several weeks ago, CEI researcher Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick has been able to tackle many different projects this summer. These projects include propagating corals at the nursery, filleting over 150 pounds of lionfish, conducting reef monitoring and conducting parrotfish feeding studies.

During March 2014, CEI installed a coral reef nursery at Tunnel Rock in collaboration with the University of Miami RSMAS and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Metrological Laboratories and CEI Research Manager Annabelle Brooks. In the face of rapid coral population declines, growing coral through nurseries has been an initiative to replenish wild coral. The team measured the growth progress and refragmented the coral that has been steadily amassing at CEI’s nursery.

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Fragmentation of coral refers to splitting of coral to help increase coral colonies and therefore increase reproduction. Half of the fragments were re-attached to the coral nursery at Tunnel Rock, and the other half were set up at a new nursery site closer to The Island School.  This summer, the team will compare the growth and survival rates of the coral at these two different sites. The long-term goal is to transplant the coral frags out on the reef.

Lionfish filleted and dissected
Lionfish filleted and dissected

This summer the team is also being kept busy with the success of the Slayer campaign and has filleted over 150 pounds of lionfish- and has over 200 lbs to do! Over the past couple of weeks, a few local fishermen have delivered hundreds of pounds of lionfish for CEI’s “You Slay, We Pay Campaign.” These lionfish are also dissected to examine gonad development and stomach content, which can offer important insight on the invasion impacts.

Additionally, the team prepared for parrotfish behavioral research this summer. This prep has involved dive teams using a herding technique to catch the juvenile parrotfish, as well as setting up raceways in the lab to conduct a feeding behavior experiment.

Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick shows visiting Earthwatch group how to dissect and fillet a lionfish. (1)A few other exciting events include three of the reef interns completing their Advanced Diving Certification and starting on their Rescue, as well visit of a teenager Earthwatch group who assisted with research for a week.  Additionally, working with The Island School students to sample inland ponds and dissection lionfish was great fun.  The whole team is pumped for the rest of the summer and getting much more achieved.

Graduate student update: Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith is a Master’s student of the Ecology and Environment Lab from the University of Exeter in the UK. The main focus of his study is the effects of anthropogenic noise on reef fish populations, vocalisations and behaviour. There have been many studies on the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals, but substantially fewer studies have be conducted concerning how noise pollution is affecting reef fish. Hearing and vocalisations are very important to many species found in the patch reefs such as those off of the coast of Cape Eleuthera. Boat traffic is an emerging threat that is often forgotten when assessing the threats to marine populations.

The team out on the boat, simulating acoustic pollution near experimental reefs
The team out on the boat, simulating acoustic pollution near experimental reefs

The primary study has involved selecting pairs of patch reefs with similar characteristics before splitting the pair into either treatment group, to receive increased or reduced boat traffic. By conducting fish surveys at regular intervals and recording using a hydrophone, Matthew is able to decipher if the changing levels of boat traffic is having an effect on the community living on each patch reef.

A secondary study is looking at the effect of boat traffic on damselfish (Stegastes spp.). Damselfish aggressively defend territories within which they preen a ‘garden’ of algae and have a heavy influence on algae populations on reefs as well as the behavior of fish in and around their territories. Using reefs that are less frequently exposed to boats, cameras are set up in front of damselfish territories to record how exposure to boat traffic affects their behavior. The end goal is to be contribute towards a better assessment of how anthropogenic noise pollution is affecting fish populations.

Sea Turtle Earthwatch Team visits CEI

The girls show off the first turtle caught of the trip, Seawater, caught by Jules
The girls show off the first turtle caught of the trip, Seawater, caught by Jules

The Sea Turtle Research Team recently said goodbye to their first Earthwatch team of the summer, and we are sad to see them go. The group of 7 students and 4 chaperones from Santa Maria, California were very enthusiastic and eager to participate in all activities. The group’s visit was concurrent with the summer intern’s first week at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, so lots of learning was had by all. Our work done in the field with Earthwatch included abundance surveys, BRUVS (baited remote underwater video survey) setting, as well as catching and tagging turtles through seining and capture off the boat. Jules, a fast swimming student from the Earthwatch team, caught the first turtle, named ‘Seawater,’ setting the mood for the week to come. Our most successful turtle capture was on the last day, with a total of 10 turtles caught in our seine net at Half Sound! With one recapture and 9 new individuals being tagged, it added a significant amount of turtle individuals to our overall count with sizes varying from 257mm- 357mm.

A green turtle caught by the seine net.
A green turtle caught by the seine net.
Earthwatch Volunteers, Leaders and Interns enjoy each others company at a farewell beach bbq
Earthwatch Volunteers, Leaders and Interns enjoy each others company at a farewell beach bbq

Other highlights of the week included excursions to the ocean hole and caves in Rock Sound as well as a down island trip with lots of stops along the way. On a day off, the team got to see a bit more of Eleuthera, stopping at the Glass Window Bridge, and Governors Harbor. Evenings consisted of presentations given by Cape Eleuthera Institute faculty about their research including information on sea turtles and manta rays. They also spent two evenings recording data from the BRUVS they had set out earlier in the day by watching the film and looking for predators and they saw- barracuda, nurse sharks, and even a green turtle. “I genuinely will miss this place and will cherish everything forever,” said Eugene Kim, one of the student volunteers as his closing remarks. Our next group arrives at the end of July!

The Island School Partners With Hurricane Island Outward Bound to Offer Sailing Expeditions

Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS) is partnering with The Island School to launch an expeditionary sailing program to be operated out of The Island School’s campus in Cape Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Thanks to seed funding from the Mactaggart Third Fund, the two organizations are looking forward to hosting groups and students starting in 2016.

Outward_Bound-4

In 2012, The Island School developed the concept of a sailing program. After deciding a partnership was the best option, The Island School was introduced to HIOBS’ Executive Director Eric Denny in 2013. It was in May 2015 when the dream took shape when a veteran crew from HIOBS sailed on an epic expedition from Florida, across the Gulf Stream and the Bahamas Bank to Eleuthera to deliver two sailboats, Avelinda and Eliza Sue, to The Island School’s Cape Eleuthera campus. Avelinda and Eliza Sue are 30-foot twin masted sailboats designed to sail quickly and navigate into shallow waters with extractable center boards. In keeping with the “human-powered” expedition ethos of Outward Bound, these open boats are oar powered by students when there is little wind. Designed and built specifically for Outward Bound, the boats can carry up to 8 participants and 2 instructors and will allow expeditions to sail out across the Exuma Sound to the Exuma Sound to the Exuma Land and Sea Park, the oldest marine protected area in the world.

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“I see this partnership as a model for non-profits in the coming decade,” states Denny. “It brings two world-class organizations together to share their complementary areas of expertise to create an exceptional program that neither organization could accomplish on its own.”

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The first step in this partnership is to integrate sailing into the existing expeditionary curriculum of The Island School’s 100-day fall and spring semesters and Gap Year program beginning fall 2015. In 2016, HIOBS and Island School will launch a 21-day expedition that includes sailing, exploring and studying around Eleuthera’s neighboring islands. The trip will include research, a coastal marine ecology and conservation course, focus on island sustainability, teach seamanship and leadership skills, and allow for team and leadership development.

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About Hurricane Island Outward Bound

Outward Bound is a non-profit educational organization and expedition school that serves people of all ages and backgrounds through active learning expeditions that inspire character development, self-discovery and service both in and out of the classroom. Outward Bound delivers programs using unfamiliar settings as a way for participants across the country to experience adventure and challenge in a way that helps students realize they can do more than they thought possible. The organization established its first sea-based school on the coast of Maine in 1964. Hurricane Island, a remote island approximately 75 miles northeast of Portland, served as the summer base camp for sailing, sea kayaking, and rock climbing programs. For more information, visit www.hiobs.org.

The Island School Hosts an International Youth Summit with Musician Jack Johnson and 5 Gyres

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.

 Musician Jack Johnson plays a few songs at the UNEP Designation where he was recognized as a Goodwill Ambassador.
Musician Jack Johnson plays a few songs at the UNEP Designation where he was recognized as a Goodwill Ambassador.

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.

Students at the summit make all-natural tooth paste.
Students at the summit make all-natural tooth paste.

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.

Students at the summit make all-natural tooth paste.
Students at the summit make all-natural tooth paste.

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.”

Summit attendees, 5 Gyres, and Jack Johnson celebrate World Environment Day on June 5 and show off all of the beach plastic they gathered.
Summit attendees, 5 Gyres, and Jack Johnson celebrate World Environment Day on June 5 and show off all of the beach plastic they gathered.

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

CEI/ Island School Research Expo a big success

Spring 2015 Island School Student plays a sea turtle Jeopardy! game with Youth Action Island Summit attendees. (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)
Spring 2015 Island School Student plays a sea turtle Jeopardy! game with Youth Action Island Summit attendees. (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)

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.

Spring 15 Island School student shows a tour group how to measure a queen conch. Photo credit: Cam Powell
Spring 15 Island School student shows a tour group how to measure a queen conch. Photo credit: Cam Powell

 

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

The Spring 2015 Plastics Research Group presents to the Youth Action Island Summit attendees
The Spring 2015 Plastics Research Group presents to the Youth Action Island Summit attendees

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.

Spring 2015 Island School students discuss their findings on post-release survivorship with Jack Johnson and Youth Island Action Summit attendees (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)
Spring 2015 Island School students discuss their findings on post-release survivorship with Jack Johnson and Youth Island Action Summit attendees (Photo Credit-Cam Powel)

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.