Mackey Violich, a former student from fall 2006, and now a graduate student at the Cape Eleuthera Institute through Florida State University, has been featured on the Cal Bear website. At the University of California Berkeley, Mackey Violich spent 4 years playing division one lacrosse and double majoring in Conservation Resources Studies and Environmental Economics. She is currently working on her masters focusing on the deep-sea ecosystem in the Exuma Sound.
Students, interns, faculty, and staff all exited their designated shelters this morning into the bright Eleuthera sunlight. Island School and Gap Year Students filed out of the Center for Sustainable Development through cheering faculty members, interns are moving back into the grad hall, and our staff are returning to their offices to move everything back into place. Besides a few puddles on floors, our campus fared very well throughout Hurricane Matthew.
Another huge thank you to everybody who sent us good thoughts and checked in with us during the past few days. Our CEI network is strong and we are touched by the concern and compassion that was expressed by our families, friends, alums, and associates.
We will continue to track the weather in the coming days as classes resume, Gap Year students gear up for their triathlon, and researchers get back in the field.
The surprisingly pleasant, breezy weather stuck around though the night into the morning. The final dinner circle looked a lot different with the central flag pole having been removed, but the energy from students was as high as ever. This morning the weather is rainy and cool with good breezes when the rain bands come through.
Last night Liz, the Dean of Students, had students gather around the white board to break down the set-up in CSD. The building has been sectioned into Beach House dorm, Treehouse dorm, Quiet Zone, Food area, etc. to make the best use of the open space. The evening ended with a story read by Liz.
Gap year students have moved into the conference room and are taking advantage of the black board to flex some of their artistic talents. The conference table provides a great place to get some work done, pay games, or have meals.
Interns have been housed with CEI and Island School faculty and staff on campus and at CEI Director Annabelle Brooks’ house. The apartments are built well above any predicted storm surges. Our unique position on the western hook of South Eleuthera and off the Exuma Sound protects our campus from flooding. Nearly ten years ago, our campus weathered a Category 5 hurricane. The storm surge never came above the deck of our dining hall, providing us all reassurance in our position on the island. For information about how a storm surge might affect our location, please see this graphic provided by Weather Underground.
We are ready for today. CSD will remain home base for the students as they participate in morning stretches, class, meals, and community building activities. Check back here for updates as the weather evolves throughout the day. We continue to be touched by the warm thoughts coming our way. As always, please feel free to contact our Boston office with questions:
CEI was well represented at the regional 2016 Bahamas Natural History Conference, with representatives giving talks on plastics, climate change, rare shrimp, turtles, conch, sharks and lionfish. More excitingly, the first Island School alumni joined with the research team! Andrieka Burrows, BESS scholar of Fall 2015, attended the conference to present the anchialine ponds poster. Anchialine ponds are landlocked bodies of water with marine characteristics that are connected to the sea through underground conduits. There are over 200 of these ponds on the island of Eleuthera, however, there is very little known about these ecosystems. Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown, with a team of Island School students, including Andrieka, gathered baseline data on the ponds in order to determine their status and need for protection.
The students found an alarming number of the ponds were impacted by humans. To conserve these ecosystems, there is a need to raise awareness. Andrieka did this by presenting the work of her research class at the Bahamas Natural History Conference (BNHC). The conference was hosted by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), who manage the protected areas in The Bahamas. Andrieka spoke about why these ponds are so understudied, and her hopes for more research to be carried out in the future.
“The Bahamas Natural History Conference turned out to be all that I expected,” said Andrieka. “Not only did I get the opportunity to interact with world renowned scientists, who presented their captivating work, but I also got to present my anchialine pond research to these very same scientists.”
Andrieka created much interest in ponds, and did an exceptional job presenting the poster, making her research very advisors proud.
Over two semesters Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown led an Island School Research class focused on exploring and assessing the inland ponds of Eleuthera. These inland ponds are fragile and are under threat from human disturbance, but are rarely visited and poorly studied. The students assessed 16 sites across Eleuthera; 69% of the ponds were impacted by humans. In the few non-impacted sites, species that are new to Eleuthera were found.
Just last week, expert Professor Mary Wicksten of Texas A&M University confirmed Eleuthera is home to not one but two species of critically endangered cave shrimp, Parhippolyte sterreri and Barbouriacubensis.This further highlights the need for immediate conservation of the anchialine systems in order to protect this unique habitat and the life it supports. The ponds project is a new and exciting area of research for CEI. Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick presented the research at the 3rd International Symposium on Anchialine Ecosystems in 2015, and two of The Island School Bahamian students will present at the Abaco Science Alliance and the Bahamas National Natural History Conference in 2016. We hope to create awareness for this unique ecosystem and ensure its protection.
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!
Historically, 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 →
Plymouth University and the historical Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom hosted the 2015 Fisheries Society of the British Isles annual conference. This year’s symposium theme was the biology, ecology and conservation of Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays). Dr. Owen O’Shea represented the Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School by presenting his work on electrosensory prey discrimination in a local species of round ray – Urobatis jamaicencis. This research was taught during applied scientific research class at The Island School in Spring 2014 and was warmly received by 178 leading shark researchers from across the globe. The plenary speeches were led by a range of well-respected and established scientists such as Greg Cailliet who spoke of advances in the ageing and growth of elasmobranchs, Sonja Fordham who is founder and president of Shark Advocates International spoke of the recent CITES listings and conservations challenges in the political arena and Greg Skomal discussed his work tagging great white sharks.
This work has contributed to the paucity of knowledge surrounding the efficiency at which rays search for food, considering their prey are often concealed beneath the sandy patches amongst reef habitat in which we find them. From this information, we can better understand how these animals are able to forage effectively in term of their energy budgets. This is important because yellow rays compete with other similar fishes for the bounty that lies beneath the sediments, and so maximizing foraging efficiency is critical not to get left behind!
The conference offered an eclectic blend of talks ranging from remote camera systems following great white sharks, to the politics surrounding shark and ray conservations and the challenges faced in protecting many species. It was an honor to be a part of this conference and to not only share the work we do here at CEI, but to learn from our peers about their work, and hopefully forge future relationships and collaborations.
Friday, July 24th marked the culmination of the 20th summer of the South Eleuthera Children’s Camp at Cape Eleuthera. Fourteen children between the ages of 8 and 14 attended the one-week camp designed to introduce campers to the ocean and teach them about marine issues and conservation. For many young campers, this was their first contact with the ocean and on day one they are taught to face their fears of the sea as they dive in and learn how to swim. One camp counselor describes her first day as “inspiring” and “of real importance to children who live in such close proximity to the ocean”. All 14 campers passed their swim test and three days later dove into the deep blue of the Exuma Sound. When asked about their favorite part of camp, many children stated that facing their fears and jumping into the deep blue sea was the highlight of their journey.
Aside from learning to swim, the campers learned about ocean conservation and the marine creatures that inhabit their waters. At the end of the week, each camper gave a presentation of what they had learned to an audience of master student scientists from around the world.
Two current, CapeEleuthera Island School employees were among the first campers in the two-decade-old tradition. Sammy Dorset of Tarpum Bay, attended the camp at age 15 and Shamara Burrows of Waterford, attended at age 9.
For both Sammy and Shamara, this camp was their first encounter with Island School founders, Chris and Pam Maxey and, for Shamara, her first encounter with the ocean and learning to swim.
Both Shamara and Sammy are now key contributors to The Island School community. Sammy is a Biodiesel Technician where he works to convert used cooking oil into usable diesel to supply Island School vehicles with a sustainable, alternative fuel. Shamara is part of the accounts team and works diligently to compensate and maintain good standing with our various vendors and suppliers. They both remember their experience at camp fondly and attribute much of their current success to their first contact with The Island School – at summer camp.
When asked about the origins of the Summer Camp, Chris Maxey said, “Our true roots here for supporting educational opportunities on Eleuthera began back in the summer of 1995 with the start of our South Eleuthera Camp. Long before The Island School or the Deep Creek Middle School we camped along the shore in the Casuarina forest. I am especially proud that two of our pioneer campers who back in the beginning lived in tents by Sunrise Beach are now working with us at Cape Eleuthera Island School. The camp journey is focused on exploring the marine environment and helping instill a conservation ethic in this next generation of South Eleuthera citizens; now this summer in our 20th year of running the camp we have reached well over 250 campers. We give special thanks to the Cotton Bay Foundation for funding this opportunity since it’s inception.”
The South Eleuthera Summer Camp is a tradition here to stay and to continue to inspire young people to understand, explore and love their environment.