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Reef ecology

Halloween Spooktacular- Lionfish Treats

The spooky lionfish tank! On the night of Halloween, the CEI team put on their lionfish costumes and travelled to the Spooktacular event at the Leon Levy Native Plant Reserve in Governor’s Harbour. The team continued to spread the word about the lionfish invasion with spooky red lights illuminating a tank showcasing a live lionfish, and dyed blue, green and red fritters.

Spooky lionfish treats were a big hit at the Leon Levy Halloween event

Batman, Spiderman, witches and several zombies came to view the illuminated invasive lionfish, and were served the spooky and tasty lionfish fritters. Those who had never tasted lionfish before enjoyed the delicious fish and gave great feedback, stating they were tastier than conch fritters, even when they were green inside! Next weekend the team will be setting up a booth at the Governor’s Harbour Homecoming, and hope to continue our long term goal of seeing lionfish not just at outreach events, but permanently on restaurant menus throughout The Bahamas.

The lionfish team, ready to spook!

Last Coral Reef Earthwatch Expedition Complete!

At the end of August, the final “Investigating Reefs and Marine Wildlife in The Bahamas” Earthwatch team arrived at the Cape Eleuthera Institute to conduct fish surveys on the patch reef systems of the Bahamas Banks. This program has been running at CEI for the last four years, and the most recent group of eight eager fish observers had the honor of completing the large data set for the prominent coral reef scientist Dr. Alastair Harborne of Queensland University. The overall study focused on the interaction between mangroves and corals reefs to improve our understanding and management of these systems. The final coral Earthwatch team


Grunts on the reef

The patch reefs off CEI have surprised us in terms of how different they can be as we move around the study area. This is particularly true for presence and numbers of juvenile grunts. During this last field season, patch reefs were resurveyed - half of the sites visited were patches that had previously been found to have an abundance of grunts, and the other half were sites that had fewer grunts present. The goal was to establish information on the site attachment of these grunts. Not only were grunts observed, but the team looked at the abundance and sizes of all fish on the reef.

After many fish identification lessons and sizing practices, the Earthwatch volunteers were both proficient and confident in their skills and able to collect relevant data for Dr. Harborne’s research. Led by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown in the field, not only were the Earthwatchers learning in the water, but they also had nightly presentations on various projects happening at CEI, such as the research on green sea turtles, inland ponds, invasive lionfish, and the accumulation of plastics in our oceans.


Bahamian fellow Garelle Hudson

At the end of their 9 day expedition and some 23 patch reef surveys later, the team travelled down the island of Eleuthera to explore the Glass Window Bridge, the Banyan trees, as well as the Rock Sound Ocean Hole. To top off their successful week of data collection, the team enjoyed a meal of delicious lionfish at a wonderful local restaurant.

Bahamian fellow Khadaja Ferguson

All of the Earthwatchers travelled home with full stomachs, back to their respective homes all over the United States, The Bahamas, as well as England, with many hoping to visit the Cape Eleuthera Institute again in the future.

Coral Nursery Update (with video!)

Last Thursday, the Reef Ecology and Restoration team carried out our monthly growth and health checks on the Acropora fragments at the nursery site. After taking measurements on length, number of branches, and number of apical polyps of each fragment, it was found that the majority had grown in length since September. This brings us closer to our long term goal of being able to replant the coral fragments on reefs to increase populations. To keep the coral as healthy as possible, the team carried out a deep clean, which involves brushing off any smothering algae that can cause coral mortality. Unfortunately, bleaching was seen in several fragments; bleaching is characterised by the coral turning white. This occurs when the algae that lives within corals are expelled due to stress.

One of the main reasons for this increase in stress is a rise in water temperature. We could be seeing a large increase in bleaching because this is an El Niño year. NOAA has declared this year a major bleaching event, only the third major bleaching event on record.  The first global bleaching event was in 1998, during a strong El Niño that was followed by an equally strong La Niña. A second one occurred in 2010.  El Niño years are characterized by changes in upwelling. Upwelling of cold currents is replaced by warmer waters and increases sea surface temperatures. With this in mind, we will keep closely monitor the nursery, and we hope to see continual growth during the next check, despite the El Niño warm waters.

Here is a link to a time-lapse video of the team cleaning the coral nursery!

Educational Programs Team hosts Akhepran International Academy

While all visiting groups are special to us here at CEI, certain ones touch our hearts in unique and unexpected ways. Akhepran International Academy, visiting us for the first time from Nassau, was one group that made a big impact in their short time with us. Students sit on the beach to hold turtles as the research team takes their measurements

On Monday August 24, 10 students along with 2 teachers arrived from New Providence and jumped straight into the island school life. They had a jam packed day to orient them to our campus, complete with a sustainable systems tour and awesome day one snorkeling.

The rest of the week had a large emphasis on working with our IMG_5503research teams and discussing the implications of their work on our world. Lloyd Allen, head chaperone and a teacher at Akhepran, has a big vision for his scholars and hoped that in their time here they would see the plethora of career options in sciences and engineering and be inspired to pursue their passions.

Some students have dreams of being engineers. These students really enjoyed learning about our aquaponics system with Michael Bowleg and spoke excitedly about going home and engineering their own aquaponics system at home. Others dream of being marine biologists and, after a morning learning about and dissecting lionfish, want to go back to Nassau and tell everyone they know about this invasive species and get them to eat lionfish instead of more commonly overfished species.

These examples are just the beginning of this group’s studies.

Students assist researchers  studying stingrays

Their curiosity, questions, and positive approach to life made them a joy to spend the week with. By the end of the week many spoke about how their perspectives on the ocean had shifted and they had learned to love the ocean they grew up around even more. One student said, “every time a wave hits against me it’s like a kiss from mother nature” and another admitted that she had fears about the ocean, but that swimming in it and “being one with the fish” showed her she didn’t need to be so afraid.

This was truly a week of growth and inspiration, and even though their trip was cut short by threats of a hurricane, we look forward to this relationship and have hopes to visit their school in Nassau in the future.

Summer interns witness the annual spawning event for the Brown Encrusting Octopus sponge!

On August 7th at three o’clock in the afternoon, while conducting benthic surveys on Ike’s reef, some of our summer interns came across the annual spawning event for the Brown Encrusting Octopus sponge (Ectyoplasia ferox). These common bright orange tubular sponges immediately caught their attention because they appeared to be smoking. When the interns took a closer look the smoke appeared to be stringy neon orange mucus attached to the sponges.DCIM102GOPROGOPR3241.The mucus filaments contain fertilized eggs that hatch into larvae and settle down on the reef to form new sponges. The Brown Encrusting Octopus Sponge, like most sponges, is a hermaphrodite; meaning they function as both sexes simultaneously. Fertilization takes place within the sponge once sperm makes its way through the water column to an individual of the same species. August is the usual time for the spawning of this species and a number of variables make it hard to predict the exact date to witness this unique event. These sponges are generally found on coral reefs and other nearby areas at depths from 40 to 75 feet, so keep an eye out this month!