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Studying the knowledge and consumption of lionfish on Eleuthera

Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) is a venomous species that has been invasive to The Bahamas for over a decade (since 2004). It was first observed around Eleuthera in 2005 and has since become established around the island and its neighbouring cays. Research has shown that the impact of their invasion has and will continue to have detrimental impacts on marine habitats, especially coral reefs. Due to their voracious appetite and rapid reproduction (potentially up to 2 million eggs per year!), they have the potential to decrease commercially fished species’ populations and alter ecosystem processes e.g food webs. Their ability to do so has been aided by the naiveite´ (unfamiliarity with lionfish) of native fish and the fact that lionfish have no natural predators in Western Atlantic waters. As such, Cape Eleuthera Institute has promoted consumption of lionfish in an attempt to introduce it as a commercially consumed fish. This summer Newcastle University student Myca Cedeno has been conducting a social science study aiming to determine the spread of knowledge Eleutheran residents have on lionfish and consuming them as a means of managing their invasion and contributing to food security. Diagram of a red lionfish clearly depicting its 18 venomous spines and general anatomy.

In April 2014, CEI introduced a Lionfish Slayer campaign, encouraging members of the public to spear lionfish in return for payment; a venture which was met with success. This summer Myca has advertised this campaign and worked to inform Eleutheran’s about lionfish’s nature as a “venomous” and not a “poisonous” species. Through interviews he has documented the views of the public on safely consuming this invader given their deleterious effects on the reefs. Myca has been in the field interviewing fishermen, restauranteurs and other members of the public as part of his dissertation research. His data collection is also coupled with educational outreach, as each interviewee is left with a flyer, detailing the history of the invasion, why it is safe to consume (despite its venomous spines), how to handle and prepare it and what to do if stuck by a spine.

Red lionfish (Pterois volitans), on a patch reef off Eleuthera, The Bahamas

So far, it’s nature as a venomous species has been a major deterrent to consumption for consumers and catch by fishermen. Restauranteurs have highlighted a lack of availability of the lionfish, potentially linked with the apprehension of fishermen to catch them. It is the hope that this research and outreach effort will help further educate the public as to the value of eating red lionfish and will provide insight as to how best to further promote this venture.

Sea Turtle team supports the Bahamas National Trust summer camp

On Thursday, July 28th representatives from the sea turtle research team at CEI went to the Leon Levy Preserve in Governor’s Harbour to share their knowledge about sea turtles with 30 Bahamian children attending the Bahamas National Trust Camp Safari. The week focused on herpetology and during a morning block the CEI team taught the campers about sea turtles. A presentation explained the 4 different species found in The Bahamas - green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback - as well as about their life cycle and some of the threats that these reptiles are facing as well as some conservation measures that are helping restore populations.

Research Technician, Anna Safryghin, teaching kids at Camp Safari about sea turtles.

The campers were very interested and particularly enjoyed videos of sea turtle hatchlings crawling towards the sea.  After the slide show presentation everyone participated in an activity where the campers had the chance to practice their sea turtle identification skills, by realizing two dimensional models of the 4 species of sea turtles, as well as learn some important facts about their diet and habitat. During the whole event, the kids were very excited to learn and had many questions. This opportunity for outreach and education was very successful and we are grateful to the Bahamas National Trust for inviting us to join in the camp.

Kids testing their sea turtle identification skills

Newcastle University Summer Research Update

Globally, sharks are among the most threatened group of species, facing some of the greatest population declines in modern history. This is exacerbated by conservative life history characteristics such as slow growth rates, late maturity ages and low number of offspring, which in turn increase their vulnerability to extinction. Turtles also exhibit similar life history characteristics, therefore assessing their importance as a food source and the significance predation has on their population can help us to further conservation efforts. This summer, Newcastle University student Massimo Casali in collaboration with the Cape Eleuthera Institute’s Shark Research and Conservation Program has been conducting a study to elucidate the importance of habitat complexity and coastal shark species on turtle abundance in different creek systems. The Bahamas offers unique opportunities to study turtles and sharks on account of a total ban being enforced since 2009 and 2011 respectively, and so this project will take advantage of the relatively untouched environment of south Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Newcastle University undergraduate student Massimo Casali holding a nurse shark prior to release

Through the use of experimental longlines, sharks are caught in close proximity to creek systems before being sampled, including the taking of morphometric data (measurements), tissue harvest for stable isotope analysis and tagging, allowing for mark-recapture assessment. So far the team has caught a total of 21 sharks represented by 5 species; nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), blacknose shark (C. acronotus), blacktip reef shark (C. limbatus) and tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). This research has also included a range of educational programmes and Island School classes enabling us to reach a broad range of budding young shark scientists.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Overall, the research objectives of this study will form the basis for Massimo’s undergraduate research dissertation, that will specifically address the relationships between sea turtle and shark abundance in these biologically diverse ecosystems, considered fragile due to human induced disturbances. This will further allow conservation frameworks that will allow the management of sensitive coastal ecosystems throughout The Bahamas.

South Eleuthera offers the only mangrove creek systems on the Island - here shows Kemps Creek which borders the Grand Bahama Bank.

Operation Wallacea

During the course of a six-week program, three students representing Operation Wallacea (Marcus Griffiths of the University of Nottingham, Rob McCalman of the University of Portsmouth and Lucy Arrowsmith of the University of Cardiff) have teamed up with Dr. Owen O’Shea at The Cape Eleuthera Institute to investigate the benthic habitat diversity of various creek systems around Eleuthera, The Bahamas. This project aims to establish the relationships between environmental and physical characteristics of the recently ‘re-discovered’ Caribbean Whiptail Stingray, Himantura schmardae.  As a meso-predatory species, these stingrays provide an important link between apex predators and the benthic organisms they prey upon. An abundance of this species within creek systems provides a good indication of ecosystem health. The Ray team surveying Deep Creek - A very large and biologcally rich ecosystem bordering the deep Exuma Sound

The team are currently in the process of completing benthic habitat analysis on four sites: Deep and Wemyss Bight Creek (Atlantic/Exuma Sound) and Kemps and Starved Creek (Grand Bahama Bank). This project is collecting data using a 1m2 quadrat to assess the percentage cover of flora and fauna species found in these locations, so far completing a total of 274 quadrats over a 2.6Km2 combined study area. In addition, sediment cores; sediment depth; water salinity; dissolved oxygen and water temperature are being collected at each location to gather a broader insight into the habitual preference of juvenile Himantura schmardae that appear to be utilizing these creeks on a long term basis.

The Caribbean whiptail stingray - specimen from Deep Creek

The aim of the investigation is to determine the relationship between the creek environments and the presence or absence of this relatively elusive stingray. Additionally the morphological, sexual and feeding characteristics will provide insight into the potential role of these marine systems as possible nursery sites. As a relatively new re-discovery for The Bahamas, this research could provide critical information towards development of successful conservation plans, and fine-tuning the coverage of marine protection areas (MPAs) as declared by The Caribbean challenge for the Bahamas in 2008.

Kemps Creek on the Banks side - a smaller, mangrove fringed creek

Local marina and tournament anglers contribute to research at CEI

Captain and mate of team Shady Lady weigh in a wahoo. When dissected at CEI's lab, this fish was found to have a ingested a piece of plastic. This February, the Cape Eleuthera Institute partnered with Davis Harbor Marina and the Cotton Bay Club for the inaugural Davis Harbour Wahoo Rally. The two day fishing tournament allowed Davis Harbour Marina and anglers to contribute to ongoing research at CEI, making the Wahoo Rally as scientifically valuable as it was fun for the participating teams.

This partnership, and the enthusiasm of Davis Harbour Marina and the fishing teams, highlights CEI’s commitment to including anglers in ongoing research initiatives.

CEI researchers including (from L to R) a MSc student, a CEI intern, and a PhD student assisted with the collection of tissue samples

 

Continue reading to learn more about the angler-driven projects that were contributed to during the Wahoo Rally.

Satellite tagging wahoo

Wahoo are a pelagic sportfish sought-after for their reel-smoking runs and table-quality meat. Very little is known about how wahoo use vertical habitat (i.e., depth) or the migratory routes they take through The Bahamas. Despite high winds and heavy seas, several boats hosted CEI and Microwave Telemetry research scientists during and after the tournament to deploy archival popup satellite tags (PSATs) on wahoo, allowing CEI to track their depth, temperature, and migratory pathways – information that all wahoo anglers are interested in!

Stable isotopes and pelagic feeding ecology

Tissue samples from more than 40 dolphinfish, wahoo, tuna, kingfish, and barracuda were collected during tournament weigh-ins. Tissues will be analyzed for stable isotopes, the results of which can indicate differences in prey preference among pelagic fish.  Any angler knows that finding the right bait will maximize their chances of catching fish, and results from this study will provide information on who-eats-who in the pelagic environment.

Captain and mate of team Layla (left) assist a Davis Harbour Marina tournament official (right) weigh their winning catch

 

Plastic ingestion

Plastic in the oceans can have dire consequences for both animal and human health. Plastic acts like a sponge for environmental toxins, and past research at CEI has demonstrated that plastics are ending up in the stomachs of dolphinfish, tunas, and wahoo. Anglers, consumers, and sushi lovers everywhere are keen to understand how plastic pollution might end up on their dinner plate.

Stable isotopes and barracuda connectivity

Great barracuda were recently afforded sportfish status in Florida, indicating that the species is increasing in popularity among the angling community. In the Bahamas, though, barracuda are common bycatch by both nearshore and offshore anglers, and are almost always harvested. By employing stable isotope analysis to identify how barracuda link shallow water habitat with the pelagic environment, anglers can gain a better understanding of the role barracuda play in maintaining healthy fisheries.

Mercury concentration in pelagic fish

Consumers (especially pregnant women and children) are advised to limit their consumption of top predators such as tuna and swordfish due to the bioaccumulation of mercury. Mercury concentrations in Bahamian dolphinfish and wahoo are not known, and mercury concentrations can even be used in conjunction with stable isotope analysis to identify feeding ecology of pelagic fish. Tissue samples collected during the tournament will provide baseline data for researchers and anglers to monitor contaminants in the offshore fishery.

Photo credit: Erik Kruthoff and Davis Harbour Marina