Category Archives: Visiting Scientists

Bonefish telemetry project update

This fall, Dr. Aaron Shultz and Georgiana Burruss (CEI), in partnership with the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF), initiated a large-scale passive acoustic telemetry study to track bonefish around the island of Eleuthera during the spawning season. Funded be the Glenn Hutchins Family Foundation, this study is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Stein at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, College of the Bahamas (COB), Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, Bahamas National Trust(BNT), Ocean Tracking Network, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Georgie Burruss deploys a VEMCO receiver while on SCUBA.
Georgie Burruss deploys a VEMCO receiver while on SCUBA.
The transmitter is about to be implanted into the fish through a small incision in the body cavity.
The transmitter is about to be implanted into the fish through a small incision in the body cavity.

Previous research indicates that bonefish migrate up to 80 km from shallow flats and tidal creeks to deeper water to spawn during the full and new moons. At these locations, bonefish gather in schools of hundreds to thousands of fish, forming spawning aggregations. To date, migration corridors and spawning aggregations have been located in South Eleuthera, Abaco, Andros, and Grand Bahama, and this information was used to create national parks on Abaco and Grand Bahama. The purpose of this telemetry study is to identify bonefish spawning aggregations and migration corridors around the island of Eleuthera.  Information generated by this research can be used by the Department of Marine Resources and BNT to designate marine parks on Eleuthera, which will help The Bahamas meet the goal of protecting 20% of their marine environments by 2020.

Georgie Burruss is suturing an anesthetized bonefish after implanting a transmitter into the fish.
Georgie Burruss is suturing an anesthetized bonefish after implanting a transmitter into the fish.

Continue reading

Inland Ponds Update: Two species of critically endangered cave shrimp found in Eleuthera

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.

 

Two species of critically endangered cave shrimp found on Eleuthera
Two species of critically endangered cave shrimp found on Eleuthera\

 

Island School students collecting shrimp.
Island School students collecting shrimp.

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 Barbouria cubensis.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.

CEI’s Flats Team contributes to the science behind some of The Bahamas’ new marine parks

This year, 15 new marine parks were created in The Bahamas, bringing the country closer to their goal of protecting 20% of their coastal waters by 2020. The inclusion of several additions to the protected areas system, including The Marls of Abaco National Park, East Abaco Creeks National Park, and Cross Harbour National Park in Abaco, as well as the North Shore Gap National Park and the East Grand Bahama National Park, was influenced by bonefish research conducted in collaboration with CEI and other partnering institutions.  

Freshly tagged bonefish being released.
Freshly tagged bonefish being released.
Specifically, bonefish telemetry projects were conducted around Grand Bahama for the N. Shore Gap National Park and the East Grand Bahama National Park. Also, CEI contributed data from tagged and released bonefish in Abaco - this research fed into the decision to protect the areas due to the presence of a healthy bonefish population and the economic potential of bonefishing as a major player in the tourism industry.
The 26.5 inch fish tagged and released by Flats researchers. Note the white tag near the fishes’ dorsal fin, containing an individual number and contact information for reporting when, where, and who recaptures this fish.
The 26.5 inch fish tagged and released by Flats researchers. Note the white tag near the fishes’ dorsal fin, containing an individual number and contact information for reporting when, where, and who recaptures this fish.

Oregon State University’s final field season at CEI

Dr. Mark Hixon’s PhD students from Oregon State University returned to CEI for a fourth summer of invasive lionfish research.

The lionfish team- Alex, Kristian and Lillian
The lionfish team- Alex, Kristian and Lillian

 

As part of a long-term project, PhD student Alex Davis, and her field assistant, Kristian Dzilenski (from the University of Rhode Island), observed the home ranges 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.  In addition to this continued monitoring, she added an observational and experimental study on the bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus) and their interaction with lionfish.

Alex at work examining the tunnels of love
Alex at work examining the tunnels of love

This study was comprised of three components. First, she mapped the location of and tracked growth and abundance of bicolor damselfish on the same large reefs where she monitored lionfish movement. Second, she placed small PVC tubes with tracing paper inside of them called “Tunnels of Love” (TOLs) on the reefs, which allowed her to monitor egg production of the damselfish and determine if proximity to lionfish influences egg production. Third, she conducted a “model bottle” study to see if lionfish affect damselfish behavior.  Each damselfish was exposed to an invasive lionfish in a clear plastic bottle, an empty bottle (for control), and a native predator, egg predator, and food competitor, each also in a bottle. The behavior of the damselfish was recorded, and a comparison of how the damselfish react to the lionfish versus the native fish and empty bottle will help us understand if damselfish see lionfish as a potential threat.

Damsel fish guarding its tunnel of love
Damsel fish guarding its tunnel of love

Lillian Tuttle is another PhD student from OSU, who visited CEI for 5 weeks this summer.  Last summer she discovered that invasive lionfish will eat cleaner gobies, small but ecologically important reef fish that pick parasites off of other fishes.  But when lionfish eat cleaners, the lionfish hyperventilates as if it ate something super spicy!  She conducted a lab experiment that discovered that lionfish quickly learn to avoid the cleaner goby, meaning that this goby is one of remarkably few native fish that lionfish WON’T eat!  But what about native predators?  Must they also learn not to eat the cleaner goby, or are they born with an innate understanding that cleaners are friends, not food?  Lillian returned to the lab and found that native graysby grouper will eat the cleaner goby and hyperventilate, just like the lionfish.  But graysby are slower learners than lionfish, continuing to strike during subsequent exposures to the goby.  With these kinds of friends, who needs enemies?  It’s no wonder the goby has evolved a defense to makes them distasteful!  Now Lillian is collaborating with chemical ecologists to identify the toxin that makes her gobies “spicy,” and she plans to defend her PhD in June 2016.

 

We wish the both Alex and Lillian a fond farewell and the best of luck with their Ph.D. write ups!

Students from Simon Fraser University continue their research on the invasive lionfish in Eleuthera

Three months ago, the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) welcomed back Simon Fraser University (SFU), and their 2015 field team of seven researchers.  Based in British Columbia on the west coast of Canada (with two more collaborators joining them from the University of Bristol, UK), they made the trip down to Eleuthera to continue their research on various aspects of the lionfish invasion in The Bahamas. From acoustics to nutrient dynamics projects, the summerwas a dynamic one for SFU, filled to the brim with scientific escapades. And the most important thing they’ve learned? Every problem can be solved with cinder blocks and cable ties.

Field assistant Emma Atkinson and Fiona Francis ''discuss'' logistics while repairing one of Fiona's cages.
Field assistant Emma Atkinson and Fiona Francis ”discuss” logistics while repairing one of Fiona’s cages.

May kicked off with an exciting collaboration between the SFU team and Brendan and Sophie Nedelec from the University of Bristol that delved into the effects of lionfish on the acoustics of a coral reef – are reefs with lots of lionfish perhaps quieter than those with fewer or no lionfish? To tackle this question, the team needed more than keen eyes, and their ears certainly weren’t sharp enough to pick up on any differences. Sophie and Brendan came down equipped with a hydrophone, accelerometer, DJ-like switchboard, and a lot of cords that were loaded onto the boat and brought out to patch reefs to take sound recordings during the day and at night (when lionfish are typically hunting). Continue reading

Professor Duncan Irschick of University of Massachusetts visits CEI!

Professor Duncan Irschick, integrative biologist and innovator at the University of Massachusettes, recently visited Cape Eleuthera Institute for an exciting week of field work with the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation (STRC) team. Far from being his first visit to CEI, Prof. Irschick is working in collaboration with the STRC team on a novel project to investigate the relationship between life stage and body shape of green sea turtles; how does flipper shape and carapace (shell) shape change with age and what implications does this have on the animal’s fitness? Over the course of the year, STRC researchers have been capturing digital images of the flippers and carapace of individual green turtles as data for investigating this interesting question.

Prof. Irschick takes a series of digital images of an individual green turtle for input into the 3D modelling software
Prof. Irschick takes a series of digital images of an individual green turtle for input into the 3D modelling software

The primary focus of Prof. Irschick’s visit this time, however, was to take a series of high quality digital images for each turtle that was captured during the week. With each photo in the series taken from a different angle to the turtle, Prof. Irschick is able to use a software program to create a 3D digital model of the turtle. His hopes are that with the use of 3D printing, these perfect replicates of real-life turtles can be used as an interesting and interactive educational tool. During the week, we caught a total of 11 turtles for Prof. Irschick’s 3D modelling – a very successful week!

Mid-week, the staff and visitors of CEI were treated to an evening presentation by Prof. Irschick entitled ‘Bioinspiration as a way of understanding the world’.

Prof. Irschick delivering a presentation entitled ‘Bioinspiration as a way of understanding the world
Prof. Irschick delivering a presentation entitled ‘Bioinspiration as a way of understanding the world’

This talk gave insight into how biological form can inspire synthetic design and touched on the striking similarity between the shape of bicycle helmets and sea turtle carapaces and how, by studying the form of gecko feet, a collaboration at the University of Massachusetts was able to apply anatomical principles to create a gecko-like adhesive called GeckSkin TM. His presentation was met with a host of questions on this inspiring topic and has certainly left us looking at the form and function of organisms in a new light.

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.

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.

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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.

Graduate student update: Ian Bouyoucos on the Shark Team

Longline fishing is the predominant capture method of sharks in both targeted fisheries and fisheries that incidentally catch sharks. There is a growing body of research determining the immediate physiological responses of sharks to this prolific capture method, but researchers are just beginning to skim the surface on understanding the long-term responses to capture that may influence vital life-history processes such as growth and reproduction. The extent to which sharks allocate energy to recovery from capture away from processes like locomotion, growth, and reproduction is completely unknown and a compelling question toward shark conservation research.

An acceleration data-logging tag used to observe activty and behavior in wild sharks.
An acceleration data-logging tag used to observe activty and behavior in wild sharks.
A juvenile lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) in a respirometry chamber that is used to measure metabolic rates, or rates of energy consumption.
A juvenile lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) in a respirometry chamber that is used to measure metabolic rates, or rates of energy consumption.

Researchers at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) have recently begun conducting research to determine how much energy (i.e., calories) sharks consume when caught by longline gear relative to the energy consumed during routine, daily activity. This project combines biotelemetry (tracking behavior and activity in wild animals) and respirometry (a method of estimating energy consumption by measuring rates of oxygen consumption) approaches to estimate energy consumption in wild sharks. Specifically, acceleration data-logging tags will be used to characterize routine and exhaustive activity in wild sharks, and respirometry techniques will be employed to quantify the energetic costs of those activities. These data have the potential for conservation and fisheries management application by linking behaviors exhibited during the capture response with adverse physiological outcomes.

University of Illinois M.Sc. student, Ian Bouyoucos – a previous CEI intern – will be heading the field and lab work on site in The Bahamas. This research is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Edd Brooks of the Shark Research and Conservation Program at CEI, and longtime shark program collaborators, Dr. John Mandelman of the New England Aquarium, and Dr. Cory Suski of the University of Illinois.