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Sustainable Systems

NSF site visit to CEI

A group of biologists from Universities throughout the United States gathered to discuss the improvement of the research facilities at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI).  This meeting was funded by a National Science Foundation planning grant written by PI Dr. Bill Louda (Florida Atlantic University) and Co-PIs Dr. Dave Philipp (University of Illinois), Dr. Brian Lapointe (Florida Atlantic University), and Aaron Shultz (CEI).  The expert panel, along with their individual research interests, is listed below.  The three day meeting started off with a tour of The Island School and CEI campus, and an excursion to some of the natural points of interest on the island.

DSC07559_resizeSeveral group meetings were held to discuss other research stations in the region (E.g., Central Caribbean Marine Institute, Florida Keys Marine Lab, etc.), current research projects at CEI, how to diversify the research portfolio at the institute, and the infrastructure needed to meet current and future demands.  The following are highlights from the discussions: the need for an ecosystem based approach to our research initiatives; the need for water quality analysis; and more lab space for visiting researchers and graduate students.  Overall, it was a very productive site visit that will aid in the development of the full NSF laboratory improvement grant.  CEI looks forward to collaborating with these researchers in the future.


Dr. Joe Boyer: Past director of the Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC) at Florida  International University (FIU). Developed the NSF-funded Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) of coastal south Florida.Prsently director of the Environmental Science program at Plymouth State in New Hampshire. Specializes in microbial ecology, biogeochemistry and indicators of ecosystem health. Interests include science, policy and management.

Dr. Gary Hitchcock: Director of the Undergraduate Research Program of the University of Miami Rosenteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (UM-RSMAS). Specializes in environmental factors that regulate primary production in the pelagic ecosystem and energy transfer to consumers, notably copepods.

Dr. Rudolf Jaffe: Director of FIU-SERC. Organic biogeochemist specializing in molecular markers (aka ‘biomarkers’) for the biogeochemical cycling of carbon (C) in present and paleo-environments. Large focus on natural dissolved organic matter (DOM), its chemical identification / characterization, photodegradation, bioavailability and how climate change affects these processes.

Dr. Tom Bianchi: Endowed Chair in Geosciences, University of Florida, Gainesville. Studies carbon cycling in estuaries and coastal ocean systems. Biomarkers of colloidal and particulate organic carbon. Causes and events of hypoxia / anoxia (dead zones). Biogeochemical dynamics of food chains.

Dr. Clay Cook: Presently an affiliate Professor at FAU-HBOI and the Smithsonian Marine Station in Ft. Pierce. Previous NSF Program Officer, recipient of NSF-FSML grants, and past director of the Bermuda Biological station. Research has included algal-animal symbioses, such as endosymbionts (zooxanthellae) of anenomes, and coral bleaching.

Dr. Hnas Paerl: The Kenan Distinguished Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Specializes in microbially mediated recycling of nutrients, primary production , marine phytoplankton / harmful algal blooms, atmospheric Nitrogen sources, hypersaline microbial mats and global warming effects on all of these processes.

Dr. Edie Widder: Co-Founder, President and Senior Scientist of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA). Specialist in marine bioluminescence and deep-sea exploration / observation.


Watch this incredible bonefish spawning aggregation video!

bttCheck out this awesome video of a bonefish spawning aggregation, and then read on to learn more about bonefish research being done by CEI's collaborator, the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.

A message from the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust:

One of BTT's top priorities is to learn enough about the biology of bonefish, tarpon, and permit so that we can focus conservation efforts on the most important aspects of these important gamefish. Which habitats and life stages are most critical? As you know from our monthly updates, identifying juvenile habitats, migrations, and adult habitat use are constantly in our crosshairs. Only with this information in hand can we propose effective conservation strategies like habitat protections, which we have long been pursuing in the Bahamas with collaborators Cape Eleuthera Institute, Fisheries Conservation Foundation and Bahamas National Trust.

Identifying spawning locations has long been a top priority for BTT. Experience in other fisheries has shown us that lack of spawning protections often results in fishery declines. After years of collaboration with scientific colleagues, guides, lodges, and anglers, we are making significant headway with bonefish. In 2011, Andy Danylchuk of University of Massachusetts Amherst and colleagues at Cape Eleuthera Institute documented that bonefish spawn at night in offshore waters. Following up on that research in other locations in the Bahamas, we have now added significantly to our knowledge of spawning - long-distance spawning migrations, pre-spawn staging, and movement offshore to spawn - and have documented amazing numbers of bonefish engaged in this behavior.

The next steps are to work with collaborators in the Bahamas to get these important locations protected and to use this information to identify spawning locations in other places, such as the Florida Keys. Identifying spawning locations in the Florida Keys will be a necessary step as we work to rebuild the Keys bonefish population through our Florida Keys Initiative.

Tilapia harvest at CEI

Kitchen ladies filleting tilapia. Last month, CEI conducted its first tilapia harvest since March 2013.  This exciting process began on Sunday morning when 160 tilapia were selected for harvest for an Island School parent's weekend meal and a fundraising event in Nassau. All of the fish were within the ideal harvest size range and were selected from our current stock of over 3000 fish. They were then placed in a holding tank and were not fed over the next 48 hours to clear their digestive tracts of food and waste, thus lending to a more sterile process.  On Tuesday morning, the process began when the fish were removed from their tank and humanely euthanized by being netted into an ice water slurry.  These fish were then transported to the kitchen and were filleted by a team of researchers and kitchen staff.  

Students from the Early Learning Center learn about tilapia from Whitney.

Each whole fish and the resulting filets were weighed to calculate which sized fish produced the highest percent yield.  This helped determine a more accurate target harvest weight and will cut down on wasted feed resources in the future.  The entire process took approximately 6 hours from start to finish. During the harvest, the tilapias got a visit from the little Cape Eleuthera Early Learning Center kids who were learning a bit about tilapia.  During their visit they got to touch a few of the fish, then sat down with their teacher and a special guest, a tilapia, to have a visual drawing session and a mini presentation to their classmates of what they’ve drawn.  As more tilapia are raised in the aquaponics system, one of the goals is to continue to use the system as an educational resource for visitors and students that are enrolled in The Island School and the Early Learning Center.  Ideally, the aquaponics team is striving to provide a sustainable and local meal for CEI and Island School's cafeteria as frequently as once a week. At the aforementioned event in Nassau, the provided tilapia were served in three ways- grilled, smoked, and as sushi, showing the range of ways that tilapia can be prepared.

CEI Research Team conducts beach plastic surveys

With every researcher at CEI always on the go, managing their own research projects, they hardly have time to get a feel for other projects going on at the institute.  Luckily this is changing, as once a month all researchers will come together and take part in a different research project. The goal is for each CEI researcher to have a good understanding of all of the great research being done at CEI. This past week the team assisted fellow researcher Kristal Ambrose with her beach plastic project. The team managed to survey two beaches for the long term project; Kristal aims to determine how plastic moves over time in between beaches here in South Eleuthera. The CEI team helped contribute to Kristal's growing dataset, learning new survey methods, and getting firsthand exposure to the plastic pollution that threatens the beauty and health of the island. A good time was had by all. Stay tuned for the research team's next adventure!


CEI Outreach at schools in North Eleuthera

20130926_104246Miss Kristal Ambrose, CEI's Marine Plastic Pollution Specialist, and Tiffany Gray, CEI's Lead Outdoor Educator, made a visit to 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students at North Eleuthera Primary to talk about Pollution and Plastics. Students had a blast learning about some of the threats to their marine resources, as well as acting out the North Pacific garbage patch! Kristal and Tiffany also had the opportunity to speak with the 2nd grade class briefly before heading out to Spanish Wells. Spanish Wells was a successful visit as our team checked in with the 12 grade geography class to assist them with a comparative coral reef study that they will be conducting for the Bahamas General Certificate Secondary Examination, a national exam for local high schools. CEI will be continuing on with outreach efforts in North Eleuthera on Oct 17 where students from both schools will get to visit mangroves and coral reefs.