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Educational Programs

Operation Wallacea students participate in sea turtle research

Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are one of only seven remaining sea turtle species. These reptiles were classified as an endangered species on the IUCN Red list, following the abrupt decline of populations due to overexploitation and habitat loss. Although the green sea turtle  is protected in Bahamian waters, it is still of great importance to investigate the factors that influence where juveniles choose to forage, as this life cycle stage is crucial to the species’ ability to grow and thrive. Seagrass beds play a critical role within this life cycle stage acting as a key food source for the green sea turtle, and therefore vital for development. This summer, at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Trinity College Dublin student Anna Whitaker, Oxford University student Alison Maughan and Royal Holloway University of London student Kate Rowley, aim to carry out research which could contribute to the improvement of future conservation efforts of the green sea turtle. A total number of 9 mangrove creeks were studied in this experiment. At each creek they visited, quadrats were placed and used for the investigation of seagrass structure, where percentage cover, species richness, and leaf canopy height data were collected. As well as this, environmental factors of the area, such as water depth, were studied. Samples of seagrass were also taken using a core.

Two CEI interns catching turtles with a seine net (turtle seining)

Laboratory analysis of the seagrass samples was used to identify the determinants of sea grass density. This analysis included calculating the number of leaves and shoots in each core taken. After which, the biomass of the samples were calculated by dividing out the core samples into above and below-ground matter. These seagrass samples were heated, and therefore dry weights of above and below ground seagrass matter could be taken.

In order to collect data regarding the abundance of turtles, methods including turtle seining, chasing and abundance surveys were carried out within the creeks where seagrass data had previously been collected. These methods sought to demonstrate correlations between characteristics of the seagrass and the abundance of turtles.

Measuring a captured juvenile green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Half Sound, Eleuthera

Within each creek, a number of different habitat types were studied, including the mouth, silty mangroves, warm shallow waters, and seagrass meadows.

In addition, this project has collaborated with numerous programs, such as Earthwatch, allowing this research to connect with educational outreach and inspire young marine biology enthusiasts.

Sea Turtle Research Interns (front row) and Earthwatch students (back row)

The data collected will identify the fine-scale patterns of site selection and resource use of foraging grounds. This will contribute to a better and more in depth understanding of green sea turtle habitat usage. The research objectives of this study will form the basis for Alison, Kate and Anna’s undergraduate dissertation projects. We thank them for their help and wish them all the best with their studies!


Seining success for sea turtle team

Students cleaning off the seine net after a long days work

Recently, St. Thomas Aquinas High School from Dover, New Hampshire helped conduct research with the CEI sea turtle research team in Winding Bay. Although the weather was uncooperative on Friday while the group was seining, they came out strong with the capture of five green sea turtles in their first attempt. Seining is a method used by several research teams at CEI that involves a very long net that temporarily encloses the animals inside.

The group on Saturday had to put in a little more effort as it took five seining attempts to finally capture three green sea turtles!

Students take the curved carapace length (CCL) of one of the turtles

One turtle that was captured, Kyra, had its left rear flipper almost completely detached. The wound was healed and the flipper still had some movement. What caused the damage is unknown, but Kyra is lucky to have kept this limb! Green turtles don’t typically use their rear flippers much except for maneuvering while swimming, and females use them for digging a nest.

A turtle being measured

Both groups had the opportunity to experience the challenge it is to catch sea turtles and keep them steady to take measurements! It was all worth it as one student said, “This was the best day so far!”

Spring 2016 Gap Year Update

The Spring 2016 Team Gap has had a great first few weeks. Everyone has gotten to know each other very quickly and we are all enjoying our time in Eleuthera.

gappers in Page Creek learning about the importance of mangroves and their role in the greater ocean ecosystem.

We began the week with some snorkeling introductions and began our marine ecology class, learning the fish of The Bahamas, and putting that into context learning about coral reef ecology.

Exploring the Banyan tree in Rock Sound

Gapper Mason dives down to get a closer look at the reef

We wrapped up the week with a South Eleuthera road trip to learn about and see different parts of the island. Team Gap is looking forward to the next 8 weeks of learning and laughs. Stay tuned for more updates on our adventures.

Flats team takes Deep Creek Middle School students out for mangrove lessons

Last Friday, Deep Creek Middle School's Grade 7 joined Georgie Burruss, CEI Research Assistant, for a snorkel through Page Creek as part of the School Without Walls program. The focus of Grade 7's School Without Walls program this year is human impacts on the environment. Nearshore environments, especially mangrove creeks, serve as a great educational tool for displaying how even small-scale coastal development can be detrimental to coastal habitat.

Students raise their hands to answer Georgie's questions about the mangrove ecosystem

The students drifted with the incoming tide into the creek, practicing fish ID that they learned that morning with Liz Slingsby, Director of Summer Term and Gap Year Programs. At the end of their first snorkel through the creek, the students were able to successfully ID over a dozen fish species and discussed how mangroves act as nursery grounds for ecologically and economically important species such as snapper and lemon sharks.

Flats intern helps some of the students wade upstream

With the excitement of snorkeling and floating with the current, the students quickly rushed to float down again. At the end, the group met and discussed how humans might affect mangrove creek systems. The students quickly recognized pollution and habitat degradation as some of the major impacts that humans can have on these important systems. As the group walked out of Page Creek, they observed how even a short beach access road can divide a creek, limiting available habitat.

Students eager to answer Georgie's quetions.

CEI researchers look forward to spending more time with DCMS students during the School Without Walls programs!

Last Coral Reef Earthwatch Expedition Complete!

At the end of August, the final “Investigating Reefs and Marine Wildlife in The Bahamas” Earthwatch team arrived at the Cape Eleuthera Institute to conduct fish surveys on the patch reef systems of the Bahamas Banks. This program has been running at CEI for the last four years, and the most recent group of eight eager fish observers had the honor of completing the large data set for the prominent coral reef scientist Dr. Alastair Harborne of Queensland University. The overall study focused on the interaction between mangroves and corals reefs to improve our understanding and management of these systems. The final coral Earthwatch team


Grunts on the reef

The patch reefs off CEI have surprised us in terms of how different they can be as we move around the study area. This is particularly true for presence and numbers of juvenile grunts. During this last field season, patch reefs were resurveyed - half of the sites visited were patches that had previously been found to have an abundance of grunts, and the other half were sites that had fewer grunts present. The goal was to establish information on the site attachment of these grunts. Not only were grunts observed, but the team looked at the abundance and sizes of all fish on the reef.

After many fish identification lessons and sizing practices, the Earthwatch volunteers were both proficient and confident in their skills and able to collect relevant data for Dr. Harborne’s research. Led by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown in the field, not only were the Earthwatchers learning in the water, but they also had nightly presentations on various projects happening at CEI, such as the research on green sea turtles, inland ponds, invasive lionfish, and the accumulation of plastics in our oceans.


Bahamian fellow Garelle Hudson

At the end of their 9 day expedition and some 23 patch reef surveys later, the team travelled down the island of Eleuthera to explore the Glass Window Bridge, the Banyan trees, as well as the Rock Sound Ocean Hole. To top off their successful week of data collection, the team enjoyed a meal of delicious lionfish at a wonderful local restaurant.

Bahamian fellow Khadaja Ferguson

All of the Earthwatchers travelled home with full stomachs, back to their respective homes all over the United States, The Bahamas, as well as England, with many hoping to visit the Cape Eleuthera Institute again in the future.