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Flats

Flats Ecology and Conservation team removes fishing line from black grouper at 90 feet!

Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes with a trusting grouper to realize our impact on the ocean and how we can make a difference. This week, the Flats Ecology and Conservation Team at the Cape Eleuthera Institute went to retrieve a temperature logger located at the base of the Aquaculture Cage. Located 90 feet deep near the wall of the Exuma Sound, the Cage serves as an aggregation spot for large marine creatures. Many fishermen frequent the area to catch large jacks, snappers, and groupers attracted to the cage.

Diver Silloette

Within minutes, a well-known large black grouper, affectionately named Bradley, approached the divers. Bradley came quite close to the group, turning and showing multiple hooks, wire leaders, and weights hanging from his jaw and gills. He moved in closer as Kelly Hannan, a University of Illinois graduate student, took out a pair of scissors.brad3

Bradley investigated the scissors and seemed to decide that Kelly was not a threat. He let her cut off two feet of tangled wire leader and three fishing weights that were hanging from the right side of his mouth. Unfortunately, the scissors were not strong enough to cut the hooks out, but the team hopes to return to the Cage with wire cutters to remove them from Bradley’s jaw in the near future.

Bradley seemed to understand that no harm would come to him from these divers and was very calm throughout the procedure. He continued to follow the divers throughout the rest of the dive.

Bradley the Grouper-1

Later that week, at the same dive site, the Flats team removed over 50 feet of fishing line from a nearby reef. Another wire trace with lead weights was picked up near the base of the Cage.

Although these dives had positive outcomes, they serve as a reminder of the impacts of fishing pressure and pollution on the marine environment. Thanks to Bradley, we had a very personal reminder of our relationship with the ocean and how our actions can affect the lives of the creatures that live in it.

CEI research highlighted in University of Illinois Report

Aaron Shultz, Director of the Cape Eleuthera Institute, has had his graduate work, under the direction of Dr. Cory Suski, highlighted in a report for the University of Illinois. Aaron was the 2011 recipient of the International Graduate Student Achievement Award. Please check out the link to the report here. Hauling a seine net to collect bonefish for the CEI wet lab.

Graduate student research update: Petra Szekeres and her work on juvenile bonefish

  Nearshore habitat where juvenile bonefish have been found in groups of mojarra; this bit of shoreline is just outside of Rock Sound.

Petra Szekeres is a Master's student in the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Lab from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Her research topics focus on the behaviour, physiology and ecology of juvenile bonefish (Albula vulpes). To date there has been very little research conducted on juvenile bonefish; this is due to the difficulty in locating them. In the past two decades, exhaustive efforts along the Florida coastline have yielded few results with regard to juvenile bonefish capture.

In recent years, researchers have turned to the relatively pristine coastline of The Bahamas to find these elusive juveniles. Petra’s research will be building upon Christopher Haak’s research, which he conducted at CEI in 2013. Christopher is a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has conducted thousands of seine hauls along the coastline of Eleuthera to locate areas juvenile bonefish inhabit. Now that some of these locations have been identified, Petra hopes to build on the foundation provided by Christopher. She will be collecting juvenile bonefish from the flats of southern Eleuthera and, for the first time, will be transporting live juvenile bonefish to the labs at CEI for further behavioural and physiological experiments.

A juvenile bonefish previously captured in southern Eleuthera.

As previously mentioned, juvenile bonefish have been historically difficult to locate along the Florida coastline. At the 5th International Bonefish and Tarpon Trust Symposium in November of 2014, bonefish researchers met and hypothesized about the disparities between coastlines of Florida and The Bahamas which may help solve the uneven distribution of juvenile bonefish. An apparent difference between the coastlines was the amount of coastal development and thus shoreline lighting. There is evidence that suggests ecological light pollution has adverse effects on different animals, from birds, to frogs and sea turtles. One aspect of Petra’s research is to address whether ecological light pollution could be a contributing cause for the unequal distribution of juvenile bonefish in Florida and The Bahamas.

Petra hopes to achieve this through a series of experiments looking at the activity, physiology and repulsion/attraction behaviour of juvenile bonefish under various lighting conditions. It is speculated that the developed coastlines and lights from street traffic may be influencing juvenile bonefish habitat decisions in Florida, thus she will be using street lighting and car headlights to determine the effects of ecological light pollution on juvenile bonefish.

Stay tuned as Petra and her team of Island School students locate, collect and transport juvenile bonefish to the wetlab at CEI!

IS Students shine in SP 15 Parents' Week presentations

Last week The Island School hosted Parents’ Week. The week included an opportunity for parents to tour our campus, view a student art exhibit, parent-teacher meetings, and a day for students to show their families the island of Eleuthera. The head of Island School addresses all of the visitors before presentations begin.

52 excited Island School students had the opportunity to present their semester long research projects to their parents, real world scientists from The Cape Eleuthera Institute, and The Island School faculty. Each research group had 10 minutes to present the culmination of their semester's work including an introduction to their project, their hypotheses, a description of methods employed, results section, and conclusions of findings from their data. In addition, each group answered questions from curious parents and researchers about their topics.

A group shot of The Island School students, staff, CEI researchers, and visiting parents.

The parents learned about how plastic pollution can end up in a fish’s stomach, exciting new research focused on the deep-sea, the current status of important fisheries species in South Eleuthera and new research focused on the inland pond systems in Eleuthera. Guest commented on how impressed they were with The Island School students' level of professionalism when presenting and their ability to share in-depth knowledge on their chosen research topic.

Flats team field update

The flats team heading out to seine Airport flats. This March, the Flats Ecology and Conservation Team expanded their effort to assess the local bonefish population by implementing an en mass tagging expedition of all the tidal creeks in South Eleuthera. The Flats Team, including, Research Manager Zach Zuckerman, Research Assistant Nick Balfour, Carleton University Graduate Researcher Petra Szekeres and Flats Intern Georgie Burruss, were joined by the CEI Turtle Team, volunteer Gary Cook and Berkshire High School over six days of seining and angling to tag and collect DNA samples from adult bonefish.

The Flats team with Berkshire High School seining bonefish

After being caught and transferred to a submerged net, the fork length of each fish was recorded along with where it was caught, and the ID number on the tag being implanted. Each of these codes is unique and can later be used to identify each fish once recaptured. The tag is then implanted using a special tagging stick. Lastly, before releasing the fish, a small section of the dorsal or caudal fin is removed for DNA analysis.

These “fin clips,” are collected from each bonefish as part of an ongoing study by Dr. Liz Wallace, a postdoctoral researcher with the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife. Dr. Wallace uses these samples to compare the genetic relatedness of bonefish populations throughout the Caribbean in order to better understand how their larvae are dispersed.

In collaboration with the Bahamas Initiative, Fisheries Conservation Foundation, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Flats team will continue to monitor the population of adult bonefish every six months. Their goal is to gain a more accurate estimate of the size and origin of local populations by adding several weeks of dedicated sampling in the field.

Zach Zuckerman holding a bonefish caught at Poison flats.

Over the course of the week, 49 bonefish were caught, tagged and released from six different tidal creeks in Southern Eleuthera. Since its beginning in 2009, the Bahamas Initiative has deployed over 6,569 tags in the Bahamas with 2,149 in Eleuthera alone. While also providing valuable short-term population assessments, continued monitoring could provide insight of long-term migration patterns that can aid in continuing conservation efforts throughout the Caribbean.

Guides and anglers that wish to assist with the tagging program should keep a lookout for tagged fish on the flats. Record its number, location, and date, and contact the BTT at 321-674-7758 or email at: info@bonefishtarpontrust.org.