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.
In the Bahamas, the fishing industry is crucial for the economy of the country, worth about $100 million annually. This mainly comes from the three main fisheries of The Bahamas, spiny lobster, queen conch, and Nassau grouper.
In efforts to protect these crucial fisheries, The Bahamian government aims to protect 20% of the coastal waters by 2020 through mechanisms such as marine protected areas. There are 19 proposed marine protected areas for The Bahamas currently, and one of them is proposed in South Eleuthera, protecting the patch reef systems east of the Cape Eleuthera.
While many studies have been done on the fish populations and abundances on these patch reefs, there is a lack of empirical data on the invertebrates, specifically the queen conch and the spiny lobster, which are economically important to the Bahamian fisheries, but also the sea stars, sea cucumbers, and sea urchin,s which are ecologically important to the health of the reefs.
This semester, the Island School research class taught by Claire Thomas, Sustainable Fisheries Program Manageer at CEI, is assessing the abundances of the economically and ecologically important invertebrates in the South Eleuthera proposed marine protected area on randomly selected patch reefs to investigate the current status of these important invertebrates. To collect data, the students preform a roving snorkel survey, counting the number of each key invertebrate they observe both on the reef and 5 meters around the patch reef. With this information and information previously collected pertaining to the measurements, structure, and habitat parameters of the reef, the students will quantify the densities in relation to the habitat variables.
Here is an excerpt of her Island School experience, by Link School student Medina Purefoy-Craig:
I can now safely say that I can jump into water and actually not drown. Early this morning before the sun itself was up we embarked on a “Run Swim”. We did multiple drills that would help us feel more relaxed in the water and know what to do to conserve energy. When I first arrived I had no idea how to swim. I relied heavily on every flotation device around even when I have my PFD (Personal Flotation Device) on. After the drills I was able to swim from one shore to the other by myself, even though I did swallow more salt water than needed and flipped over on my back when I meant to swim forward.
After breakfast, we had a small lesson on plastic and how much ends up in the ocean. We then proceeded to Cotton Bay Beach where we picked up plastic of the beach and did a not-so-competitive competition to find the weirdest things. We found a lot of nets, refrigerator door, toothpaste tube (made in the US, package designed in the UK) a plate, some clothes, and a lot of unidentified objects as well. Overall it was a great way to give back to the earth and to save the fish even though I never eat any. In the end we had three full boxes and had to leave some there to grab later.
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.
OAK Leadership Institute from Cleveland, Ohio joined us the first week of April for an action packed week. The five students and two teachers had the time of their lives exploring Eleuthera and the plethora of marine habitats we are so fortunate to live beside.
One particular highlight for the team was assisting with the stingray ecology research project. They joined the Island School research class out on the Schooner Cays to capture, measure, tag and work up southern stingrays. It was great to see both Island School students and our visiting students working together to support this project.
Most of the students also got a chance to experience camping on a beach for the first time, it was an awesome trip of firsts, exploration and learning.
Big thanks to OAK Leadership for bringing the first group of students down to us, we hope to see OAK return next year!
Eleuthera was recently visited by a group of students from Williams College (Massachusetts). Their trip focused on Eleuthera’s food systems, with a focus on sustainable production. Over the past two weeks these students conducted interviews with farmers, restaurant owners, food market attendees, and fishermen all over the island. They also studied the sustainable systems we have right here at the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD), particularly the organic garden and the aquaponics system, which feeds roughly 125 people/day.
They ended their trip with a 45 minute presentation to a full room of Island School, CSD and CEI staff, that concluded with a 5-10 minute rough cut of the web video that they are making for One Eleuthera, the local non-governmental organization that partnered with Williams College in their local surveys.
Williams College has been blogging about their trip and their findings, which you can find here. Return to the site in early February 2015 to access their final report, “Eleuthera’s Promise.”
9 expeditions, 92 volunteers, 115 turtles, and 145 Baited Remote Underwater Video Surveys - just a taste of the successful year the Earthwatch-funded sea turtle research program had in 2014!
This is the first year of study that Earthwatch has supported the sea turtle research program at CEI and 92 Earthwatch volunteers travelled to Eleuthera to assist with fieldwork between February and November this year. The age range was 15 – 80 years old and over the course of nine days volunteers helped conduct sea turtle abundance surveys, deploy and analyse baited video surveys to look at shark abundance and diversity, and hand capture turtles – plus they got to have some fun snorkelling and touring around Eleuthera!
The main species caught is the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) however a few hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata) were also tagged! The study is well on its way to better understanding forgaing ground use by juvenile green sea turtles. The study spans across 10 sites around South Eleuthera and Earthwatch volunteers are critical in providing man-power to actually complete field work as well as funds to cover research costs.
Thank you to all the volunteers, interns, Research Assistants and staff at CEI, as well as the Family Island Research and Education team, for their contributions this year – we’re looking forward to another busy and successful year in 2015!
The Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute Research Symposium was held last Saturday, November 29. As with previous years, The Island School students prepared scientific posters about their Applied Research Class projects, which they presented to Symposium guests. Some students also manned stations in the wet lab, showing guests how their experiments were run in real time.
Attendees then had the chance to tour the Center for Sustainable Development, and learn about the sustainable systems on campus, such as the wind turbine, the solar panels, and the biodiesel. After the tours, guests moved on to the boathouse, where students had set up games aimed at outreach and conservation. Continue reading →
Last week students in the Fall 2014 semester of The Island School gathered with their peers, teachers, faculty, and visitors to present introductions to their Research Class projects. Presentations contextualized the students’ studies and provided background information, broader significance, and methodology for each. The students will continue to hone their scientific presentation and communication skills over the course of the semester and will speak at greater length about their completed work at a Research Symposium in November, for which they will also prepare scientific posters. Continue reading →