Understanding Bonefish Spawning

Understanding Bonefish Spawning

Not much is known about bonefish spawning or their juvenile stages. As a $141 million-dollar industry in The Bahamas alone, understanding these crucial phases of the bonefish lifecycle is important to ensure the population is kept healthy and the fishery sustainable. In the past few months, Dr Travis Van Leuween and the Flats Ecology team focused on identifying and understanding bonefish spawning behavior.

Bonefish in one of the wet-lab tanks at CEI

Bonefish in one of the wet-lab tanks at CEI

Bonefish eggs collected in the wet-lab this week

Bonefish eggs collected in the wet-lab this week

In partnership with the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the team has been tracking the hormone levels of 43 individual fish using blood samples to create hormone profiles during both spawning and non-spawning time periods for the last eight months. By matching hormone levels to potential spawning events, we can identify hormones which may promote reproductive cues including egg and sperm production. We have also collected data on environmental cues including lunar phase and water temperature.


Prior to the last full moon, we collected bonefish from what is believed to be a spawning aggregation in order to attempt to spawn individuals in the lab. Performing cannulations on all fish captured, we identified which individuals were fertile. We then injected our lab-reared fertile female along with the newly captured egg-bearing females with hormones to accelerate egg development and promote egg release, but unfortunately our attempts were as of now unsuccessful. We are hoping to have more luck with the next full moon when we will be joined by researchers from Florida Institute of Technology and Florida State University. This is the first parallel study to record hormone profiles and bonefish spawning in a lab environment, and we are hopeful that future attempts will be a success.

  The Flats Team includes (from left to right) Olivia Eisenbach, Dr Travis Van Leeuwen, Cynthia Hsia, Danielle Orrell, Greg Sayles


The Flats Team includes (from left to right) Olivia Eisenbach, Dr Travis Van Leeuwen, Cynthia Hsia, Danielle Orrell, Greg Sayles

CEI research teams present at Fall 2017 Parents Weekend

Collaborating with Island School students is always a rewarding experience for CEI researchers, and it was no different for the class of Fall ‘17. This semester, CEI research classes both built upon previously established projects and pioneered new ones.


Senior Research Assistant Meagan Gary and Research Technician Chelsea Begnaud worked with six students to determine the optimal time to collect diet samples from green turtles (Chelonia mydas). This methods study fits within the wider, ongoing turtle research at CEI looking at seasonal and spatial variations in their diet. Having performed esophageal lavage at different times of the day and different tidal states, the team presented preliminary results regarding the optimal conditions at which to collect diet sample to maximize their size.


Research Associate Dr Nathan Robinson and Research Technician Giulia Cardoso co-advised seven students on the very first drone-based research project at CEI. The team conducted paired drone and snorkel surveys in two mangrove creeks, and compared results to assess the advantages and limitations of using drones to monitor megafauna in shallow-water environments. The results are highly encouraging, showing that some species, such as lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) and bonefish (Albula vulpes), are preferentially spotted on drone surveys.


The third research class was led by Senior Research Assistant Eric Schneider and Research Technician Reid Webb. The two advisors and their six students worked on a new project focusing on the ecological significance of fish aggregation devices (FADs) and their role as conservation tools. In collaboration with some CSD staff members, the team successfully assembled and deployed sub-surface FADs and began monitoring their early colonization by pelagic species.

All three teams delivered excellent presentations, leaving the 150-strong crowd of parents, siblings and community members incredibly impressed by their grasp of the science conducted and their confidence in communicating it. The class advisors and the rest of CEI are extremely proud of the Fall ’17 research teams and wish them all the best for the rest of the semester!

A Four Year Legacy: Dr. Owen O'Shea

A Four Year Legacy: Dr. Owen O'Shea


As summer draws to a close, and and we welcome hurricane season slightly earlier than we did last year, we also say goodbye to a staple member of our community here on Eleuthera. Dr. Owen O’Shea has been with us for the last four years and two months, dedicating his time, energy and passion to the pursuit of applied marine research and the education of students; international and domestic alike. Owen first joined us in the summer of 2013 as Research Associate for the Shark Research and Conservation Program – his first professional appointment having completed his PhD in November 2012. He soon established an applied stingray research program in 2014, that aimed to use stingrays as a conduit in the promotion of ecological and conservation value for coastal and nearshore ecosystems throughout The Bahamas. This has been an intense, ongoing and highly productive element to CEI’s research portfolio, attracting graduate students and educational programs from all over the world to come and work with him.


Previously, Owen had lectured and coordinated undergraduate labs at various universities he was affiliated with but had never assumed a formal educational role, though he always felt he had been educating in a passive manner due to the enthusiasm that is tangible when you work with him. The Cape Eleuthera Institute and Island School gave him the platform to lead young scientists in the field and ‘teach’ applied marine research for 13 consecutive semesters. Owen has managed to impact the lives of thousands of students, parents and educators through exposure to his research. What has motivated him the most, is how he’s been able to use this opportunity to realign perceptions of stingrays and contribute to our understanding of them, their processes and ecosystem contributions. He has been able to do this through several international conference presentations and published research papers during his tenure. Owen reflects that one of the more satisfying elements of his work here was the ‘re-discovery’ of the Atlantic chupare or Caribbean whiptail stingray (Styracura schmardae). This paper was just published in the Caribbean Naturalist Journal describing its contemporary distribution and can be accessed here.

While staff and faculty of The CEIS family, plus all of the students, families and school groups he has been involved with will sincerely miss Owen; he is going on to exciting new pastures. We wish him tremendous luck and success as he begins his own research initiative. You can follow his progress at www.coresciences.org and contact him directly through his website or owen@coresciences.org.


Hurricane Irma Update: Friday

CSD gets brand new storm shutters installed for this weekend

CSD gets brand new storm shutters installed for this weekend

Daybreak brought a steady breeze (approximately 25 knots) and scattered thunderstorms this morning. Winds continue to blow into the morning while the sun is trying to peek around the clouds. All of our staff continue to prepare for the storm by organizing office and outdoor spaces, installing hurricane shutters around campus, and preparing to relocate the various campus accommodations if need be. Interns will be housed in our Center for Sustainable Development. This building is more centrally located on campus than the Grad Hall and has storm shutters installed on all east-facing windows. 


Our gap year students took advantage of the beautiful weather this week by participating in our first ever free diving course on campus! Conditions were perfect to explore the waters right off shore and get in touch with their breathing and physical limits.


As the storm progresses, we will be updating social media. There is a high probability that we will lose power on campus as the Bahamas Telecommunications Company will be cutting off the public supply sometime today.  Our Boston office will be easily accessible to answer any questions that may arise and will be updating the public about the storm. You can contact them  via email at info@islandschool.org or by phone at 866-730-6624. 

CEI Hosts Youth "Explorer Camps"

Last week, 29 young explorers joined our campus community for a week of hands-on learning, new experiences, and fun in the sun! They were divided into the Teen Explorer Camp (ages 14-16) and the Eleutheran Explorer Camp (ages 8-12). The students were immediately immersed in interactive activities, facing fears and finding new passions as they allowed their curiosity to bubble up in the form of questions, ideas and excitement.

In touring our campus, these young explorers learned about how The Island School and the Cape Eleuthera Institute community members live sustainable lifestyles. The students learned about wind turbines, biodiesel production, aquaponics, living roofs, compost, and much more. They left with a broader understanding of the term “sustainability” and new ideas about how they can continue to live sustainably at home. In days following, the focus shifted to the natural environment around them: what it is, why it’s important, and how humans are affecting it. Through lessons on sand, mangroves, coral reefs, shark-tagging and lionfish-dissecting, as well as a road trip down the island, our students were able to snorkel, explore and experience all that Eleuthera has to offer, all while developing an appreciation for the scientific community.

In between lessons, the students got to enjoy the island life. With plenty of time for sandcastle building competitions, water polo tournaments and bonfires, the students were able to enjoy each other’s company and build new relationships. By the end of this action-packed week, each explorer had found new interests and was given an opportunity to choose a topic to present to their families and CEI staff members. They spent time outlining their presentations and considering ways in which they could most effectively get their information across. Topics ranged from marine plastics to Southern Stingrays, and presentation media included songs, posters, poetry, and more.

It was clear throughout these presentations that the students’ time here has impacted how they view their role in protecting our environment. Hopefully their time at CEI has ignited a passion for ecology and conservation, and that they continue use their new experiences and knowledge to be advocates for the Earth, wherever their passions may take them.