A Four Year Legacy: Dr. Owen O'Shea

A Four Year Legacy: Dr. Owen O'Shea

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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.