Shallow water flats and mangrove forests play an integral role in maintaining healthy nearshore marine ecosystems

 

Flats ecosystems are of high economic and ecological importance to The Bahamas, acting as nursery grounds for juvenile and commercially important reef fish, suppressing the impact of storms on coastal habitats and settlements, and harboring sportfish such as bonefish, barracuda, and sharks. Flats and mangroves, however, are under heavy threat from coastal development and anthropogenic-induced changes to the environment.

Our Research

The goal of this program is to connect research with education and outreach to share and further our understanding of ecological processes and anthropogenic stress on The Bahamas’ nearshore shallow water environments. Scientists associated with this program have expertise in fish physiology and behavior, telemetry, mark recapture, and ecosystem monitoring and rehabilitation.

Our current projects include:

  • The Bahamas Initiative bonefish tagging program– A Bahamas-wide bonefish mark/recapture study.
  • Behavioural and physiological thresholds of nearshore fishes to pH, salinity and temperature– Will climate change cause nearshore fishes to disperse out of mangroves and into high predator density reefs?
  • Site fidelity and homing behaviors in bonefish

Previous study areas have included:

  • The effect of temperature across ontogenetic stages of nearshore species– Do species that inhabit mangroves as juveniles lose their capacity to cope with high water temperature through maturation?
  • The susceptibility of bonefish to predation in a shifting climate– Will predator or prey be at a disadvantage with increasing temperature in shallow water environments?
  • The impact of sunscreen on recovery time of angled bonefish– How does the presence of sunscreen on a fisherman’s hands following bonefish handling impact the health and recovery time of the fish?
  • Bonefish as a keystone nearshore species– Do bonefish play enough of a role in shaping the nearshore environment to be considered a keystone flats species?
  • Wetland Rapid Ecological Assessments (REAs)– Identifying nearshore habitats critical to fish production in the Bahamas

 

 

Collaboration & Support

The Flats Ecology and Conservation Program (FECP) was conceived in 2004 as a collaborative effort with the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Carleton University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. In recent years, we have added the University of Massachusetts, College of the Bahamas, and Monmouth University to our list of collaborators.

To support the Flats Ecology and Conservation Program’s education, outreach, and research initiatives please contact Dr. Travis Van Leeuwen at: travisvanleeuwen@ceibahamas.org