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.

Graduate student project update: Invaders of the wetlab

Master's by Research student Rebekah Trehern has been working at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) for the past 5 months conducting research for her thesis project. Rebekah is a graduate student at the University of Exeter, under the supervision of Dr Lucy Hawkes (UoE) and Dr Travis Van Leeuwen (CEI). The focus of Rebekah’s study is investigating the bioenergetic costs of lowered salinity levels on the invasive red lionfish (Pterois volitans).

Red lionfish are an invasive species in The Bahamas and were first recorded in the area in 2005. Since then, many scientists have conducted research on this species at CEI, monitoring them in captivity and in the wild to track their movement and observe their foraging behaviour (the published studies can be found on the CEI website). In recent years, observations have documented an increasing presence of lionfish in mangrove ecosystems, known to be valuable nursery habitat for many juvenile fish and not previously thought to be an ecosystem likely to be inhabited by lionfish. Rebekah’s captive study aims to determine the invasive potential of lionfish by monitoring growth rate and metabolism in a variety of different salinities.

A captive lionfish is isolated in a white tote to ensure it is fed the correct amount of fish.

A captive lionfish is isolated in a white tote to ensure it is fed the correct amount of fish.

Over the past 3 months, we have reared 66 lionfish in the tanks at the CEI wet lab. At the beginning of the year, Rebekah and several CEI interns collected live lionfish from various patch reefs off the coast of the CEI campus. The lionfish were then divided between different tanks in the wet lab which were kept at three different levels of salinity. Natural seawater was used as a control, a lower salinity of 20 parts per thousand (ppt) simulated the salinity levels of mangrove ecosystems and 10ppt produced conditions at the lowest known salinity that lionfish have been known to survive for significant periods of time. Throughout the duration of these salinity treatments, Rebekah conducted various experiments including maximum growth and metabolic profiling using respirometry equipment. She hopes her results will show how lionfish compensate for the cost of living in low salinity habitats, when considering their metabolic rates, feeding activity, digestion and growth.

Rebekah catches a lionfish to measure it and monitor its growth rate.

Rebekah catches a lionfish to measure it and monitor its growth rate.

During her time at CEI, Rebekah has also being co-advising an Island School research class. Her class has been investigating how the presence of lionfish affects the behaviour of native species in a mangrove habitat. They set up a captive study in the wetlab, using a mangrove root to simulate the natural creek environment. They videoed the interactions between lionfish and schoolmaster snapper (Lutjanus apodusand) and identified any changes in how the snapper sheltered in the mangrove root. Every week, The Island School students helped Becki with her with field work, including setting up the trials in the campus mesocosm and assisting with video analysis. The students also produced an exceptional presentation about their project, explaining the methods they used and the results obtained, which they proudly presented for their parents just a few weekends ago. Rebekah is now expanding her project further and conducting the same experiment as with the students, but fully simulating a mangrove environment by using water with a salinity of 10ppt.

Island School students collect schoolmaster snappers from a local creek.

Island School students collect schoolmaster snappers from a local creek.

Preliminary analysis of the captive lionfish growth data indicates that the fish kept in 10ppt salinity grew significantly less than those in the higher salinity (20ppt) and standard sea water treatments. This could suggest that in a mangrove ecosystem, lionfish will grow at a much slower rate than those individuals who inhabit reefs. The results of the respirometry experiments show that the aerobic scope maximum of lionfish were significantly lowered in 10ppt water, suggesting that the fish are partitioning energy differently to survive in low salinity environments. Finally, the preliminary results of the behavioural studies with The Island School students, suggests that schoolmaster snapper use the shelter of a mangrove root significantly less when in the presence of the lionfish.

Rebekah is excited to return to Exeter to further discuss these findings with her supervisor Dr Lucy Hawkes, where she will use the data collected at CEI to produce a thesis and publish her findings in a high quality peer-reviewed science journal.

Showing art and sharing knowledge

Earlier this month, representatives from the Cape Eleuthera Institute headed to Rock Sound to provide the science background behind an art show showcasing a local hidden treasure: the parrotfish. The art show was organised by CEI intern Aneri Garg and hosted by Holly Burrows at her gift shop, The Blue Seahorse. The event was open to Eleutheran visitors and residents, designed to promote a local business and inform the public about the ecological importance of parrotfish.

Interns Aneri Garg and Hannah Hauptman give a short presentation to the art show guests with Research Assistant Roxy de Waegh.

Interns Aneri Garg and Hannah Hauptman give a short presentation to the art show guests with Research Assistant Roxy de Waegh.

The CEI Reef team, in collaboration with the Institute for Socio-Ecological Research (ISER Caribe), has been working on an outreach and social science project for the past few months, aimed at understanding the demand of the local parrotfish fishery. They also wanted to establish the level of local knowledge about the role of these fish across the Caribbean and their importance as a reef grazing fish. CEI worked with Deep Creek Middle School (DCMS) to visit communities across South Eleuthera, surveying local fisherman and the general public. This project inspired the middle school students to include parrotfish in their art projects. They created a comic book and choreographed a lyrical music video narrating the story of a young parrotfish called Charlotte. We loved working with the students and enjoyed watching their passion grow as they informed their local community using their nascent knowledge of reef ecosystem processes. We proudly played their music video for local residents at The Blue Seahorse and included a short presentation about the vital role parrotfish play by grazing on the algae that builds up on coral reefs.

You can watch their music video here.

The team proudly display the work of Deep Creek Middle School students.

The team proudly display the work of Deep Creek Middle School students.

In other places across the Caribbean, such as the Dominican Republic, parrotfish are extensively sought after and fished in great quantities. This is particularly concerning for parrotfish as they are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they are born female and change to male later on in life. Female parrotfish congregate in groups and eventually the largest, most dominant female changes to male, who then has mating rights over this harem of females. As the demand for parrotfish across the Caribbean increases, they are fished at a smaller size and a younger age. Subsequently, they may be removed before the time at which they change to male. This will alter the male to female ratios of local populations, limiting their breeding capabilities and could exacerbate population decline.

The preliminary results of the questionnaires show that few of the people we interviewed around Eleuthera had eaten parrotfish and most had never seen one for sale. This data will be added to a Caribbean-wide database of surveys, collected by other ISER Caribe collaborators, showing the demand for a parrotfish fishery across this region. These results can be used to devise a site specific, realistic education and conservation strategy to effectively spread information about the role of parrotfish across the Caribbean. We hope this campaign will increase ecological awareness across small fishing communities, reminding people about the importance of long-term sustainable fishing practices.

We were pleasantly surprised by the results of our local surveys, as we found that most people in Eleuthera understood the role of parrotfish and how their removal would negatively impact reef systems. We hope that these results are representative of the whole population of Eleuthera and The Bahamas and that parrotfish continue to be respected and sustainably exploited. CEI will carry on their work with nearby communities, learning from their local expertise and educating them about current research efforts.

It's Gap Year Decision Day!

To celebrate Gap Year Decision Day, here is a few diary entries from CEI gap year alumni describing their time on our campus.

Eidan Willis

In late August, I began my gap year with a ten-day family trip to Iceland, where we traveled around the western half of the country in search of glaciers and humpback whales. It was here that I discovered my love for videography and my desire to share my experiences with my friends and family on social media. Then, I embarked to Utah and Colorado for a two month river-rafting, mountaineering, and camping trip with one of my closest childhood friends, my dad, and a couple big horned sheep. In December, I ventured to Japan - this trip included visits to many temples and gardens, backcountry powder skiing, and wonderful food. We even stumbled upon the emperor giving his New Year's speech at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo! Most recently, I spent two months at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in The Bahamas, where I assisted scientists and researchers with their marine conservation efforts. This consisted of catching, tagging, and safely releasing sharks and stingrays to better understand their respective ecological and environmental impacts. It was here that I achieved my Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving certification. I also took part in a week-long kayaking trip with a 50 hour solo experience on Lighthouse Beach in Southern Eleuthera. In the coming months before university, I plan to travel more with my dad, including an eight day self-guided wilderness fly, float, and salmon fishing trip down the Chilikadrotna River in Alaska.
This experience gave me the chance to grow as a person, gain some invaluable life skills, and meet people I will never forget. Ironically, I wasn’t actively searching for any of this; it’s funny, actually, because this was all just part of the ride. I couldn’t be more thankful for everything I was fortunate enough to experience and discover.

Watch Eidan’s video about his time in Eleuthera here.

Gap year students embark on an 8 day kayak expedition.

Gap year students embark on an 8 day kayak expedition.

Andrew Hollander

I was really hesitant when I first heard about the possibility of taking a gap year.
Now, nearly a full year later, I think it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. My gap year has been filled with growth and challenges, both physically and mentally, and pushed me out of my comfort zone too many times to count. I spent the summer working as a camp counselor in upstate New York, running a cabin of 8 boys, coaching various sports teams, and leading trips into the Adirondack Wilderness. I spent the fall honing my Spanish language skills in Peru and Ecuador, while doing long homestays and traveling through South America independently. I then enrolled in the gap year program at the Cape Eleuthera Island School in The Bahamas, learning about environmental issues, doing a wide variety of marine biology research, and meeting some awesome people. As my year comes to a close I look back with no regrets over how I spent my time. This was an amazing year, which I know will serve me well in college and beyond, and I’m excited to see what comes next!

 

Max Njkerk

As I come to the end of my gap year, I have concluded that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. A gap year gives time for a student to explore different areas of interest that university and work would not permit. I spent the past twelve months at Evert tennis academy, training 5 to 6 hours a day in the Floridian heat; in the Bahamas at the Cape Eleuthera Institue, understanding the complex relationship between man and the environment; and at the Cordon Bleu in Tokyo, learning about the french culinary arts. During my gap year I have developed as a person, whether it is gaining mental toughness from competitive tennis, going out of my comfort zone to research environmental issues, or gaining independence whilst increases my knowledge of the culinary arts. In each program I have met great people from various different backgrounds and perspectives who share similar interests. I truly recommend that if someone has the opportunity to take a gap year then they should definitely take one!

CEI Gap Year students enjoy many trips to different attractions around Eleuthera, including swimming in Queens Baths (pictured above).

CEI Gap Year students enjoy many trips to different attractions around Eleuthera, including swimming in Queens Baths (pictured above).

Mark Jaschke

The decision of whether to take a gap year or not was a tough one. But after looking back over my time abroad,  I am positive now that it was a phenomenal decision to make. The Cape Eleuthera Institute's gap year program was the first trip I was able to take and it was an experience I will never forget. Not only did I make some great friends, but II also learned a great deal about a variety of current research areas, from marine biology to making biodiesel. Finishing the triathlon at the end of the CEI gap year program was one of the most satisfying races I have ever finished. I know my time at CEI will be a very positive and influential part of my gap year and for many years to come!!

Gap year students and leaders feeling very satisfied after completing the ("Talapiathon") triathlon. 

Gap year students and leaders feeling very satisfied after completing the ("Talapiathon") triathlon. 

Gabby Beaulieu

Of the few monumental life decisions I’ve made, electing to take a gap year was definitely the easiest. Almost one year ago, I decided to take a year off from college, for a number of reasons, and never regretted it.. The gap program at CEI was the second of the three main projects that I enrolled in during my gap year, but the time I spent on Eleuthera was undoubtedly some of the most jam-packed and rewarding 9 weeks of my whole journey. In just over two months, the program piqued my interest in marine life and renewed my appreciation for the ocean. The program also increased my awareness of the amount waste I personally generate, and there’s a variety of items — paper towels, take-out boxes, styrofoam cups etc.— that I view entirely differently as a result.
After my time as a CEI gap year student, I’m much less inclined to sit around and do nothing— we used to joke that we did more before 8 AM than some people do in an entire day, and that mentality of productivity and exploration is something I hope to continue throughout my life. No account of my time at CEI would be complete without mentioning the seven humans with whom I jumped off cliffs and swam with sharks, so a huge shoutout to the squad!

Gap Year Program Director, Ami Adams.

Gap Year Program Director, Ami Adams.

If you are interested in becoming a part of one of our 2017/2018 gap year cohorts, find out more on the CEI website

 

Tagging sharks in Cat Island

Over the course of the last two weeks, members from the Shark Research and Conservation Program traveled to Cat Island, The Bahamas, for the 7th annual oceanic whitetip shark tagging expedition. This project, which started in 2011, has partnered with various institutions over the years in order to better understand the movements, behavior, and physiology of this severely threatened pelagic species. This year, partnering with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, University of North Florida, Microwave Telemetry, photographer and videographer Andy Mann, Google Expeditions, and the Moore Charitable Foundation, the team explored the physiological effects of capture in addition to the continued tagging and sampling efforts.

Despite the historical abundance of oceanic whitetip sharks, this species has undergone drastic declines leading to a ‘Critically Endangered’ status in the Northwest Atlantic. Cat Island remains one of the few destinations where this species can be found reliably and in large numbers, despite still low population numbers. Past expeditions to Cat Island have produced details of movement and migratory patterns, reproductive status, site fidelity, and genetic structure for the species, providing a better understanding of the population and contributing to conservation efforts.

Oceanic whitetips swimming in the deep waters off Cat Island.

Oceanic whitetips swimming in the deep waters off Cat Island.

This year, the team successfully sampled 27 whitetips and deployed 9 high rate pop off archival satellite tags (PSATs) that record temperature, depth and location at a 2 minute resolution for 12 days. This data, complimented by blood chemistry analysis and accelerometer data, will be used by Dr. John Mandelman, PhD. candidate Ryan Knotek and Dr. Jeff Kneebone of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life as part of a study on capture stress and post-release behavior in the species. With this study, information will be extrapolated to determine the impacts of recreational and commercial fisheries on whitetip populations.

Debbie Abercrombie and Ollie Shipley apply a PSAT to a shark.

Debbie Abercrombie and Ollie Shipley apply a PSAT to a shark.

Fourteen standard rate PSATs were deployed onto pregnant females that record the same information at 15 minute – 1 hr resolution for up to 9 months, allowing for insight into the reproduction cycles and pupping grounds of the species. Pregnancy was determined by Dr. James Gelsleichter and Masters candidate Chelsea Shields from University of North Florida, who performed ultrasounds on potentially pregnant individuals. Tissue samples were also collected from each shark to be used for niche width and diet comparisons, as well as continued analysis of population connectivity and structure.

Jim Gelsleichter takes an ultrasound on a potentially pregnant female.

Jim Gelsleichter takes an ultrasound on a potentially pregnant female.

John Mandelman and Ryan Knotek process blood samples on the boat.

John Mandelman and Ryan Knotek process blood samples on the boat.

In addition to collecting data contributing to the conservation of the species, this expedition also explored a new means of education to be implemented in The Bahamas and available globally. In collaboration with Andy Mann and Google Expeditions, CEI developed a virtual reality lesson plan highlighting the importance of healthy shark populations and the need for conservation and research. This lesson plan will be implemented by CEI in classrooms across The Bahamas, and will be available to the public following release to Google Expeditions.

Each year, this expedition explores new aspects of research, conservation, and education; we are delighted with the success of the most progressive year yet, and we thank our collaborators and funders for making this expedition possible. Thank you also to all who helped execute the study: Lucy Howey-Jordan, Dr. Lance Jordan, Debbie Abercrombie, Sean Williams, Dr. Edd Brooks, Annabelle Brooks, Dr. Mark Bond, Dr. John Mandelman, Ryan Knotek, Dr. Jeff Kneebone, Dr. James Gelsleichter, Maggie Winchester, Oliver Shipley, Brendan Talwar, Chelsea Shields, and Andy Mann.