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Summer update from the Reef Ecology and Conservation Program

With the arrival of the summer interns, undergraduate and postgraduate placement students several weeks ago, CEI researcher Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick has been able to tackle many different projects this summer. These projects include propagating corals at the nursery, filleting over 150 pounds of lionfish, conducting reef monitoring and conducting parrotfish feeding studies. During March 2014, CEI installed a coral reef nursery at Tunnel Rock in collaboration with the University of Miami RSMAS and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Metrological Laboratories and CEI Research Manager Annabelle Brooks. In the face of rapid coral population declines, growing coral through nurseries has been an initiative to replenish wild coral. The team measured the growth progress and refragmented the coral that has been steadily amassing at CEI’s nursery.



Fragmentation of coral refers to splitting of coral to help increase coral colonies and therefore increase reproduction. Half of the fragments were re-attached to the coral nursery at Tunnel Rock, and the other half were set up at a new nursery site closer to The Island School.  This summer, the team will compare the growth and survival rates of the coral at these two different sites. The long-term goal is to transplant the coral frags out on the reef.

Lionfish filleted and dissected

This summer the team is also being kept busy with the success of the Slayer campaign and has filleted over 150 pounds of lionfish- and has over 200 lbs to do! Over the past couple of weeks, a few local fishermen have delivered hundreds of pounds of lionfish for CEI’s “You Slay, We Pay Campaign.” These lionfish are also dissected to examine gonad development and stomach content, which can offer important insight on the invasion impacts.

Additionally, the team prepared for parrotfish behavioral research this summer. This prep has involved dive teams using a herding technique to catch the juvenile parrotfish, as well as setting up raceways in the lab to conduct a feeding behavior experiment.

Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick shows visiting Earthwatch group how to dissect and fillet a lionfish. (1)A few other exciting events include three of the reef interns completing their Advanced Diving Certification and starting on their Rescue, as well visit of a teenager Earthwatch group who assisted with research for a week.  Additionally, working with The Island School students to sample inland ponds and dissection lionfish was great fun.  The whole team is pumped for the rest of the summer and getting much more achieved.

Lionfish June Patch Reef Surveys

The lionfish team recently completed their quarterly surveys of lionfish and other reef fish in the patch reef system of South Eleuthera, part of a longterm study. Adrian (SP 15 intern) does a great job removing a lionfish

This time around the team saw a few unfamiliar fish species on the reef.  First on the list are juvenile Bluelip parrotfish; these fish are not a usual site on the reefs and this may be the first time they were spotted in these parts.  Next the team saw the spotted hawk fish; which can be difficult to identify.  Lastly, a Bandtailed puffer popped in on one of the surveys.  Sadly the Bigeye that has been hanging out on one patch for the last nine months had moved on.

One of the lionfish removed during surveys

A total 91 lionfish were spotted from the 16 sites visited over the four days of diving. However,the team speared/netted 30 of those lionfish from removal reefs! The biggest one caught was 27 cm long and the smallest was 4 cm. Interestingly, they caught quite a few lionfish that were under 10 cm, which is great that they can remove the little ones off the reef before they have a chance to reproduce.


Sustainable Fisheries team represents at 2015 Conch Fest!

The CEI Sustainable Fisheries team serving up lionfish fritters Last weekend, Deep Creek hosted its annual Conch Fest.  Unlike past years, Conch Fest was new and improved, focused on keeping Deep Creek green, clean, and pristine. Instead of using plastic containers to hand out food, all of the booths used recyclable materials. Single use plastics have become an issue for the oceans, as they are being consumed by and entangling marine organisms. This initiative in Deep Creek will hopefully spread to other settlements as well as other islands to reduce the plastics ending up in the oceans.

All ages were trying and loving lionfish fritters.

The Sustainable Fisheries Team of The Cape Eleuthera Institute set up their own booth at Conch Fest among the many others. While the live lionfish in the tank and the model of the aquaponics system attracted attention, the main attraction of the night was the lionfish fritters that the team handed out as samples for everyone to try. Although conch fritters are part of the traditional Bahamian cuisine, many Bahamians were both surprised and impressed by how tasty the lionfish fritters were! Most people came back for seconds and many requested a bag to take home with them.

The team also had lionfish jewelry on display and every pair or lionfish earrings were sold by the end of the night. Some people even made special orders for lionfish jewelry to be picked up at a later date.

The Minister of Education and Technology tried his first lionfish fritter and loved it!

Conch Fest became Lionfish Fest!

Although conch fritters are a tasty treat, conch is an unsustainable fishery. Hopefully people will begin to cook lionfish fritters instead of conch fritters after tasting them at The Sustainable Fisheries booth this year.   Next year the Sustainable Fisheries Team will be back at Conch Fest handing out lionfish fritters, and spreading the word on how pretty (as jewelry) and tasty lionfish can be!

Tandem Friends School visits CEI

Phoebe Shuylor, Emma Ward, and Rachael Alberts head to the creeks with Rachel and Grace from the sea turtle conservation team to do sea turtle abundance surveys. Earlier this May, we welcomed the very FIRST group of female students to ever visit CEI from Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville, Virginia.  This trip was planned as part of their school’s Emphasis Week, a time where students have an opportunity to travel and immerse themselves in learning experiences outside of the classroom, and they couldn’t have picked a better place!  The group spent a week exploring the reefs and creeks around South Eleuthera, adapting to living sustainably, and doing things that they might not be able to anywhere else in the world!

Admiring a lionfish's gape during a dissection with the sustainable fisheries team. Left to right- Kate Bollinger, Susan Wheeler, Emma Ward, Alanna Waldman, Rachael Alberts

Before Tandem Friends arrived, they had 3 things on their marine creature checklist- sharks, turtles, and sea stars.  Guess what?!  We managed to see all three!  After getting settled into dorms, everyone came down to dip their feet into the Bahamian waters.  Sure enough, the water was so calm and clear we spotted some sea stars from shore!  We spent much of the first full day out helping the turtle conservation team do abundance surveys and came across a few turtles in their natural habitat.  The next morning while snorkeling we came across the tiniest juvenile nurse shark hiding out in the wreck just off the beach!

A lot of the week spent in the water.  The girls learned about  all sorts of other marine life, whether they were snorkeling around coral reefs, floating through the mangroves, or wading in the shallows at night.  Everyone was even able to watch the stingray team capture and tag a Southern Stingray during a visit to learn about ooid geology at the sandbar!  The lionfish dissection with the sustainable fisheries team was another favorite- after learning about invasive species the girls got a chance to get their hands dirty and were even able to taste lionfish during dinner out at Sharil’s!  On the last full day we spent the afternoon on the picturesque Cotton Bay beach for some relaxation and reflection time.  What a perfect ending to a fun-filled week!!

CEI outreach at Earth Day Event

Last weekend, the Sustainable Fisheries team packed up a van full of educational materials and headed to Governor’s Harbour for the annual Earth Day event, hosted by One Eleuthera, to showcase the ongoing sustainable projects at The Cape Eleuthera Institute. A member of the sustainable fisheries team, Alexio, gets interviewed by ZNS on the invasive species, the lionfish (1)

Representatives from Aquaponics and the Center for Sustainable Development also joined to demonstrate their projects. A working model of an Aquaponics system using a tank with tilapia and a grow bed with lettuce and basil resting on top, informed onlookers on ways to harvest both fish and vegetables sustainably. Many young kids were also enthralled by the demonstration on how to make biodiesel from used vegetable oil.

Mike Cortina, a member of the Center for Sustainable Development, teaches children how to make biodiesel from used vegetable oil (1)As for the Sustainable Fisheries team, the lionfish displayed prominently on the front table of the booth was a huge success, luring people in to ask questions about the invasive predator. For many children who passed by, this was the first lionfish they had ever seen. When asked if they had ever eaten lionfish, many of the visitors to the booth had never tried it, but the team encouraged people to start asking for lionfish in restaurants to increase the demand and create a more prominent fishery for lionfish. Some Bahamians and visitors were hesitant to try because of the venomous spines, but when they looked over the fillet guide on display, many people seemed to be interested in filleting and preparing their own lionfish in the future. A handful of people who spearfish told the team that whenever they see a lionfish they spear it because they know they are harmful to the reef. Most, however, did not know that they could eat lionfish and they were excited when they discovered they could eat the white and flaky lionfish meat.

Many women loved the idea of using lionfish fins to create earrings, and the younger groups passing by enjoyed touching the fins on display. Many of the children left the booth with face paintings of lionfish and sea creatures and kept coming back for more.

Ann holds up the lionfish slayer t-shirt she won in a drawing after signing up for The Cape Eleuthera Institute updates and newsletter

For those who signed up for The Cape Eleuthera Institute newsletter and weekly update, their names were entered into a raffle to win a “Lionfish Slayer: You Slay We Pay” t-shirt. Two lucky people received the shirts after two drawings, and pictured below is one of the winners, Ann Gates, a frequent visitor to Eleuthera.

ZNS, the local Bahamian news station, interviewed one member of the Sustainable Fisheries team about our projects on invasive lionfish. The segment will be shown to inform people who were not at Earth Day about the invasive predator, the destruction they are doing to the reefs, and ways that we can help with the invasion by eating and wearing lionfish!