This fall, Dr. Aaron Shultz and Georgiana Burruss (CEI), in partnership with the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF), initiated a large-scale passive acoustic telemetry study to track bonefish around the island of Eleuthera during the spawning season. Funded be the Glenn Hutchins Family Foundation, this study is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Stein at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, College of the Bahamas (COB), Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, Bahamas National Trust(BNT), Ocean Tracking Network, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Georgie Burruss deploys a VEMCO receiver while on SCUBA.

The transmitter is about to be implanted into the fish through a small incision in the body cavity.

Previous research indicates that bonefish migrate up to 80 km from shallow flats and tidal creeks to deeper water to spawn during the full and new moons. At these locations, bonefish gather in schools of hundreds to thousands of fish, forming spawning aggregations. To date, migration corridors and spawning aggregations have been located in South Eleuthera, Abaco, Andros, and Grand Bahama, and this information was used to create national parks on Abaco and Grand Bahama. The purpose of this telemetry study is to identify bonefish spawning aggregations and migration corridors around the island of Eleuthera.  Information generated by this research can be used by the Department of Marine Resources and BNT to designate marine parks on Eleuthera, which will help The Bahamas meet the goal of protecting 20% of their marine environments by 2020.

Georgie Burruss is suturing an anesthetized bonefish after implanting a transmitter into the fish.

 With the assistance of Dr. Karen Murchie (COB), Christopher Haak (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Dr. Liz Wallace (FWC), and Dr. David Philipp (FCF), 61 VEMCO acoustic receivers and 25 transmitters have been deployed around Eleuthera. Transmitters were implanted surgically into 25 anesthetized bonefish that were released at their capture location after fully recovering from the procedure. The receivers act as underwater listening stations, recording the date and time of any transmitter-implanted fish that swim past them, allowing researchers to locate migration corridors and spawning aggregations. This research would not have been possible without the support of local guides and businesses. Specifically, Zev Waserman of Rainbow Inn hosted the team for several days of fieldwork in North Eleuthera, and Manex Newton (Coco Loba Tours) and Denny Rankine (Eleuthera Island Fishing) provided boats and guided the team around Bottom Harbour and Savannah Sound, resulting in the successful tagging of 6 bonefish. The team plans to deploy 15 more transmitters by the end of January.

Denny Rankine assists the team in catching bonefish in Savannah Sound.

This study will track bonefish spawning movements around Eleuthera for the next three years. Contact and aaron.dean.shultz@gmail.comfor more information or to support our research efforts. Stay tuned for another update this spring!