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Sustainable Fisheries team represents at Rock Sound Homecoming

This past Saturday, the Sustainable Fisheries team travelled to Rock Sound for the annual Homecoming to represent The Cape Eleuthera Institute. The booth, decorated with educational materials pertaining to invasive lionfish, was a success. Both locals and visitors approached the booth with questions and were intrigued by the live lionfish that was on display in a tank on the table. CEI team manning the booth at Rock Sound Homecoming

As people wandered by, the team educated the curious onlookers about the venomous spines, how to properly remove the spines and fillet the fish, common misconceptions about the lionfish, as well as the damage they are doing to the reefs.

Kids come face to face with the invasive lionfish

The team also advertised the Slayer Campaign; this campaign incentivizes local fishermen to spear lionfish. The team emphasized how tasty lionfish are to eat, pointing out the “You Slay, We Pay” motto hanging from the tent next to the wonderful illustrations of grouper, conch, and crawfish holding up signs saying “Eat More’ Lionfish”..

The team wore their lionfish fin earrings to show off the beautiful jewelry that can be made from the non-venomous spines, so not only are lionfish tasty, but they can create beautiful, sustainable, jewelry.

Bags of sustainably grown lettuce from the CEI/CSD aquaponics system were handed out to also people about the other projects at The Cape Eleuthera Institute.

Fun and learning at the CEI booth

The Sustainable Fisheries team will have a similar booth set up for Earth Day and they hope to continue raising awareness about the different research projects happening at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and how to live sustainably.

Lionfish Team Spring Survey Update

The lionfish team at work March weather was perfect for the lionfish team as they visited 16 different patch reef sites for their quarterly surveys, observing fish species and abundance in relation to the presence of lionfish. Of the 16 sites, we remove lionfish from 8 of them every 3 months, comparing the removal reefs with non­removal reefs as a way to measure the impact of lionfish on the patch reef systems.

Shoal of yellow tail jacks came to say hi

At each patch all of the fish species present on the reef are counted for their relative abundance, especially the lionfish. Fish that compete for resources with lionfish, such as grunts, snapper, and grouper, are specifically noted along with their total body lengths. In addition to the roving survey and competitor observations, we also collected data on invertebrates, grouper, and parrotfish for three other studies. We counted the number of spiny lobster, queen conch, sea stars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers on the reefs to add to a data set that will be part of an assessment for implementing a potential marine protected area.

The team still smiling after a 5 dive day

Throughout the course of the week of collecting data we saw an abundance of reef creatures, but most notably three nurse sharks, a large school of yellow jacks, a big eye which has remained on the same patch for over a year and is not commonly found on patch reefs, as well as a hawksbill sea turtle, also rarely sighted on these patches because they are critically endangered.

This week we look forward to dissecting the 22 lionfish that we collected from the removal sites to gather data on each fish, particularly which reef fish they have predated on.

Also, check out this video of the dives:

Slayer Campaign Update

Our local Bahamian fishermen recently brought in over 40 lbs. of lionfish to The Island School as part of the “You Slay, We Pay” campaign.  The slayer campaign incentivizes Bahamians to fish for invasive lionfish. One of 49 dissected and filleted lionfish

The lionfish are a healthy, locally sourced and sustainable fish choice for The Island School dining hall and also a great source of information. The whole lionfish brought in were dissected by the CEI lionfish research team, who dissected 49 of the fish to collect data on the weight, length, sex, and stomach contents of the fish.

The largest lionfish was 944 grams with a total length of 40 cm, close to the longest recorded lionfish which measured at 47cm.  While the large size of the lionfish were impressive, so were the organisms found during the dissection in their stomachs. One lionfish which was 22cm long had eaten a redband parrotfish of 10cm in length, thats almost half of its size!  Other interesting finds included two lionfish who had exclusively crabs in their stomachs, and even a stomach containing lionfish spines!

Intern Alanna working through lionfish dissections

Lionfish fins drying to be made into jewelry

We look forward to the next batch of lionfish from our local fishermen to dissect and fillet for more insight into lionfish biology as well as the opportunity to eat these tasty sustainable invasives. Remember to eat and wear lionfish!

The Lillian and Betty Ratner School Learns All About Lionfish

lionfish dissection ratner This past week, visiting students from Ohio’s Lillian and Betty Ratner School spent a week at The Island School stretching their comfort zones and exploring what it means to live sustainably while simultaneously learning about the marine life of The Bahamas. As a part of their educational experience, the Ratner students listened attentively to Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, the head of the Lionfish Research and Education Program, present on the detrimental impact of the non-native lionfish on Caribbean marine ecosystems. The students learned that these fish, originally from the Indo-Pacific, are resilient creatures that can live in environments with a wide range of salinity, depth, and habitat conditions, are seldom predated upon by Caribbean natives, and as a result are ravaging reefs by consuming native fish and invertebrates.  Such intense predation impedes important ecosystems services that otherwise keep the reefs healthy and alive.

lionfish spine dissection

After viewing footage of bobbit worm predation in the lionfish’s native range, the school relocated to the CEI wet lab to assist Alanna and Alicia, an LREP intern and research assistant (respectively) with lionfish dissections. The students were able to point out the venomous spines of the lionfish: 13 dorsally located, 2 pelvic, and 3 anal. Once the fins were removed, the kids were enthralled with finding the heart and the otoliths of the fish, and looked on closely as the stomach was removed to check for stomach contents. Many of the students even ventured to touch the ocular lens of the eyeball as well as stick their fingers into the mouth and touch the gills.

ratner sharils lionfish meal

Academic exploration did not end with the presentation and the dissection. The next night local restaurateur Sharil prepared a fried lionfish dinner for the Ratner class and each student tried a piece, even those that were initially skeptical. As a way to limit lionfish population sizes, it is important to promote spearing of the lionfish for both the tender, white fillets high in omega 3 and the beautiful jewelry that local artists make from their non-venomous fins. The students even requested a shipment of lionfish jewelry to Ohio before they left!  In using every part of the fish, whether for eating or the creation of jewelry, the lionfish is used sustainably, but also removed from the ocean to create a sustainable and healthy marine ecosystem in the Caribbean. The Ratner students completed a successful trip, leaving with a bit of lionfish in their tummies and a lot of new lionfish knowledge to share with their families and friends back home.


The lionfish team completes year 5 of reef surveys

The lionfish team zipped up their 5mm wetsuits, donned their hoods, and braved the dropping water temperatures to conduct the 5th year of reef monitoring. It is well known that the presence of lionfish negatively affects the abundance and recruitment of fish on reefs, however, the secondary and long-term effects to is yet to be fully understood. It is the goal of these surveys to provide a data set that can answer these questions. Big Eye fish sighted again!

The team surveyed fish size and abundance at the 16 study reefs. They were excited to see the Big Eye fish again some three months after its initial sighting at the same site and exact same coral head. Additionally, the divers were armed with cameras and rugosity chains to assess the reefs benthic cover and complexity. We were pleased to see the reefs that were bleaching in September had started to recover. Less pleasing to see were the high densities of lionfish at the non-removal sites; one site had 20 lionfish in an area the size of a dining table!

These surveys contribute to one of the longest monitoring data sets that examine the effects of lionfish on reefs.  Dr. Curtis-Quick along with collaborators Dr. Green, Dr. Cote and Lad Akins will be working up this data for a publication later in 2015.  This monitoring is hoped to be continued in years to come and we wish to thank all the interns and volunteers who have assisted with the monitoring over the last five years. Special thanks to Alicia Hendrix, the current Research Assistant, who over the last year has made huge contributions to the lionfish team’s work.