Nearshore habitat where juvenile bonefish have been found in groups of mojarra; this bit of shoreline is just outside of Rock Sound.

Petra Szekeres is a Master's student in the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Lab from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Her research topics focus on the behaviour, physiology and ecology of juvenile bonefish (Albula vulpes). To date there has been very little research conducted on juvenile bonefish; this is due to the difficulty in locating them. In the past two decades, exhaustive efforts along the Florida coastline have yielded few results with regard to juvenile bonefish capture.

In recent years, researchers have turned to the relatively pristine coastline of The Bahamas to find these elusive juveniles. Petra’s research will be building upon Christopher Haak’s research, which he conducted at CEI in 2013. Christopher is a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has conducted thousands of seine hauls along the coastline of Eleuthera to locate areas juvenile bonefish inhabit. Now that some of these locations have been identified, Petra hopes to build on the foundation provided by Christopher. She will be collecting juvenile bonefish from the flats of southern Eleuthera and, for the first time, will be transporting live juvenile bonefish to the labs at CEI for further behavioural and physiological experiments.

A juvenile bonefish previously captured in southern Eleuthera.

As previously mentioned, juvenile bonefish have been historically difficult to locate along the Florida coastline. At the 5th International Bonefish and Tarpon Trust Symposium in November of 2014, bonefish researchers met and hypothesized about the disparities between coastlines of Florida and The Bahamas which may help solve the uneven distribution of juvenile bonefish. An apparent difference between the coastlines was the amount of coastal development and thus shoreline lighting. There is evidence that suggests ecological light pollution has adverse effects on different animals, from birds, to frogs and sea turtles. One aspect of Petra’s research is to address whether ecological light pollution could be a contributing cause for the unequal distribution of juvenile bonefish in Florida and The Bahamas.

Petra hopes to achieve this through a series of experiments looking at the activity, physiology and repulsion/attraction behaviour of juvenile bonefish under various lighting conditions. It is speculated that the developed coastlines and lights from street traffic may be influencing juvenile bonefish habitat decisions in Florida, thus she will be using street lighting and car headlights to determine the effects of ecological light pollution on juvenile bonefish.

Stay tuned as Petra and her team of Island School students locate, collect and transport juvenile bonefish to the wetlab at CEI!