The trip to the Northern Exuma Islands started off as you would expect: everything coming together at the last minute. Team members included Dr. Liz Wallace (FWC), CEI staff: Aaron Shultz, Zach Zuckerman, and Eric Schneider, local guide Manex Newton, and me- Forrest Thomas, the do whatever-he's-told guy.
The purpose of this research trip was to collect data from the northern Exumas cays for the bonefish genetics study being conducting with research partners Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fisheries Conservation Foundation, and Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.
A special thanks goes out to the Bahamas National Trust and Department of Marine Resources for giving us permits to conduct this study.
On day one we started out feeling good, had a plan and worked hard. However, the first few spot seines didn't collect any bonefish, so we found a creek to block with the net. While we waited for low tide, we had lunch on the boat. We worked until sunset, which made setting up camp harder but way more interesting. In addition to the daytime seining to collect adult bonefish, the team deployed light traps in the evenings to collect larval bonefish. This would allow the researchers to better understand bonefish recruitment patterns and how closely related local populations are around Exuma Sound.
Over the next couple of days we explored more of the northern cays. We seined at several promising locations, but found no adult bonefish. However, the light traps, deployed every evening were collecting many larval bonefish. Examining the catch in the traps every morning was fun, as other interesting larvae (like the tiny octopus pictured below) were also observed. Other species seen in the traps included eels, pipefish, filefish, Atlantic silversides, and mantis shrimp.
On day three we captured our first two adult bonefish! Fin clips from their dorsal fins were collected for genetic analysis, and they were tagged with uniquely numbered dart tags to help track their movements.
The next day we collected, tagged, and fin clipped 20 fish. During a fuel stop at Highborne Cay, we got some advice on another spot to find bonefish. After checking the map of the new area, it looked great; we were all excited and couldn't wait to get there.
On our last field day we got to the new site at high tide, and set the net across the neck of the outlet. However we didn’t see any fish, so went looking. Further up we found a school of 60+ fish. This was a great way to end the trip. It took us a good 2 hours to tag and fin clip all of the fish, but the time flew by because of all the excitement.
In the end we had an awesome and successful trip. We fin clipped and tagged 82 adult bonefish, and captured over 300 larval bonefish in the light traps. I personally can't wait for the next big adventure with Aaron and the team. Thanks for a great trip guys and I'll see you all soon!!