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Flats team picks up acoustic receivers and finds elkhorn coral

Georgie Burruss secures a receiver to a cinderblock after downloading the data from the device. Last week, the Flats Ecology and Conservation team downloaded data from a large-scale passive acoustic telemetry array designed to track bonefish to their pre-spawning aggregations. A total of 61 receivers were placed around Eleuthera to track the movements of 39 bonefish and 14 barracuda that were implanted with acoustic transmitters. The research team downloaded key receivers and found schools of bonefish moving over coral reef habitats at night near tidal creeks on the East coast of Eleuthera, indicating that these fish may move offshore to spawn on the windward side of the island. Stay tuned for more updates in June.

A healthy stand of Elkhorn coral

Helen Conlon signals okay after redeploying a receiver.

As a bonus, while collecting receivers the team got to swim by several Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) colonies, an IUCN-listed critically endangered species. Elkhorn coral grows rapidly, providing significant structure and habitat for reefs throughout the Caribbean, though it is in severe decline as a result of coral bleaching, predation, storm damage, disease, and human activity. Though it was heartening to see so many healthy colonies of this critically endangered species, they are small compared to the large stands of dead elkhorn that used to thrive in the area. Our reef restoration project has begun mapping these areas and will be monitoring its growth.

Cool new video of bonefish spawning aggregation in South Eleuthera!

A spawning aggregation of thousands of bonefish (Albula vulpes) was recently filmed in South Eleuthera. Bonefish make monthly migrations of up to 80 km (50 miles) to form spawning aggregations!

CEI's Flats Ecology and Conservation Program is currently studying the spawning migrations of bonefish, which support a catch-and-release flyfishing industry worth over $141 million annually in The Bahamas. To view our most recent publications on this economically important species, please visit our website 



Bonefish telemetry project update

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!


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!

CEI Research Team presents at conference in Abaco

Last week, researchers from The Cape Eleuthera Institute traveled to Abaco for the 7th Biennial Abaco Science Alliance Conference (ASAC) hosted by Friends of the Environment. Over the course of two days, posters and presentations alike highlighted research findings in natural history and environmental science in The Bahamas. Drawing a diverse audience with scientists from The Bahamas to as far as Canada, local community members and high school students from Abaco, the conference provided a forum for sharing scientific knowledge on the diverse ecosystems of The Bahamas. Dr. Owen O'Shea presenting at the conference.


Dr. Owen O’Shea, Research Associate for the Shark Research and Conservation Program, gave an engaging presentation on the ongoing stingray research project at CEI and ecosystem-driven approaches to conservation. Candice Brittain, Applied Scientific Research Department Head, spoke about the recent assessment of the queen conch nursery ground in South Eleuthera. Her presentation was followed by a workshop on conservation of queen conch in The Bahamas, led by the Bahamas National Trust. Georgie Burruss, Research Assistant for the Flats Ecology and Conservation Program, presented new findings on marine debris in the Exuma Sound and plastic ingestion by pelagic sportfish. She also gave a talk on studies conducted by the Flats Program that have aided in developing the Best Handling Practices for bonefish and protection of critical bonefish habitat. Finally, Eric Schneider, graduate student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, presented research he conducted at CEI on temperature change effects on juvenile and adult schoolmaster snapper.

ASAC provided a unique opportunity for networking between the local community, students, and researchers for sharing knowledge on ecosystems across The Bahamas. Researchers from CEI look forward to attending ASAC in 2018!