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Visiting Scientists

Bonefish telemetry project update

This fall, Dr. Aaron Shultz and Georgiana Burruss (CEI), in partnership with the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF), initiated a large-scale passive acoustic telemetry study to track bonefish around the island of Eleuthera during the spawning season. Funded be the Glenn Hutchins Family Foundation, this study is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Stein at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, College of the Bahamas (COB), Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, Bahamas National Trust(BNT), Ocean Tracking Network, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Georgie Burruss deploys a VEMCO receiver while on SCUBA.

The transmitter is about to be implanted into the fish through a small incision in the body cavity.

Previous research indicates that bonefish migrate up to 80 km from shallow flats and tidal creeks to deeper water to spawn during the full and new moons. At these locations, bonefish gather in schools of hundreds to thousands of fish, forming spawning aggregations. To date, migration corridors and spawning aggregations have been located in South Eleuthera, Abaco, Andros, and Grand Bahama, and this information was used to create national parks on Abaco and Grand Bahama. The purpose of this telemetry study is to identify bonefish spawning aggregations and migration corridors around the island of Eleuthera.  Information generated by this research can be used by the Department of Marine Resources and BNT to designate marine parks on Eleuthera, which will help The Bahamas meet the goal of protecting 20% of their marine environments by 2020.

Georgie Burruss is suturing an anesthetized bonefish after implanting a transmitter into the fish.

 With the assistance of Dr. Karen Murchie (COB), Christopher Haak (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Dr. Liz Wallace (FWC), and Dr. David Philipp (FCF), 61 VEMCO acoustic receivers and 25 transmitters have been deployed around Eleuthera. Transmitters were implanted surgically into 25 anesthetized bonefish that were released at their capture location after fully recovering from the procedure. The receivers act as underwater listening stations, recording the date and time of any transmitter-implanted fish that swim past them, allowing researchers to locate migration corridors and spawning aggregations. This research would not have been possible without the support of local guides and businesses. Specifically, Zev Waserman of Rainbow Inn hosted the team for several days of fieldwork in North Eleuthera, and Manex Newton (Coco Loba Tours) and Denny Rankine (Eleuthera Island Fishing) provided boats and guided the team around Bottom Harbour and Savannah Sound, resulting in the successful tagging of 6 bonefish. The team plans to deploy 15 more transmitters by the end of January.

Denny Rankine assists the team in catching bonefish in Savannah Sound.

This study will track bonefish spawning movements around Eleuthera for the next three years. Contact and aaron.dean.shultz@gmail.comfor more information or to support our research efforts. Stay tuned for another update this spring!


Inland Ponds Update: Two species of critically endangered cave shrimp found in Eleuthera

Over two semesters Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown led an Island School Research class focused on exploring and assessing the inland ponds of Eleuthera.  These inland ponds are fragile and are under threat from human disturbance, but are rarely visited and poorly studied.   The students assessed 16 sites across Eleuthera; 69% of the ponds were impacted by humans. In the few non-impacted sites, species that are new to Eleuthera were found.  

Two species of critically endangered cave shrimp found on Eleuthera


Island School students collecting shrimp.

Just last week, expert Professor Mary Wicksten of Texas A&M University confirmed Eleuthera is home to not one but two species of critically endangered cave shrimp, Parhippolyte sterreri and Barbouria cubensis.This further highlights the need for immediate conservation of the anchialine systems in order to protect this unique habitat and the life it supports. The ponds project is a new and exciting area of research for CEI.  Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick presented the research at the 3rd International Symposium on Anchialine Ecosystems in 2015, and two of The Island School Bahamian students will present at the Abaco Science Alliance and the Bahamas National Natural History Conference in 2016. We hope to create awareness for this unique ecosystem and ensure its protection.

CEI's Flats Team contributes to the science behind some of The Bahamas' new marine parks

This year, 15 new marine parks were created in The Bahamas, bringing the country closer to their goal of protecting 20% of their coastal waters by 2020. The inclusion of several additions to the protected areas system, including The Marls of Abaco National Park, East Abaco Creeks National Park, and Cross Harbour National Park in Abaco, as well as the North Shore Gap National Park and the East Grand Bahama National Park, was influenced by bonefish research conducted in collaboration with CEI and other partnering institutions.   Freshly tagged bonefish being released.

Specifically, bonefish telemetry projects were conducted around Grand Bahama for the N. Shore Gap National Park and the East Grand Bahama National Park. Also, CEI contributed data from tagged and released bonefish in Abaco - this research fed into the decision to protect the areas due to the presence of a healthy bonefish population and the economic potential of bonefishing as a major player in the tourism industry.

The 26.5 inch fish tagged and released by Flats researchers. Note the white tag near the fishes’ dorsal fin, containing an individual number and contact information for reporting when, where, and who recaptures this fish.

More research from Brendan Talwar

Click HERE for the latest update from MSc student Brendan Talwar's research on deep sea sharks- this time focusing on blood chemistry analysis! New equipment that Brendan is working with!


Oregon State University's final field season at CEI

Dr. Mark Hixon’s PhD students from Oregon State University returned to CEI for a fourth summer of invasive lionfish research. The lionfish team- Alex, Kristian and Lillian


As part of a long-term project, PhD student Alex Davis, and her field assistant, Kristian Dzilenski (from the University of Rhode Island), observed the home ranges of lionfish on large reefs in order to understand whether different types of habitat affect whether lionfish frequent certain areas of a reef and/or leave a reef altogether.  In addition to this continued monitoring, she added an observational and experimental study on the bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus) and their interaction with lionfish.

Alex at work examining the tunnels of love

This study was comprised of three components. First, she mapped the location of and tracked growth and abundance of bicolor damselfish on the same large reefs where she monitored lionfish movement. Second, she placed small PVC tubes with tracing paper inside of them called “Tunnels of Love” (TOLs) on the reefs, which allowed her to monitor egg production of the damselfish and determine if proximity to lionfish influences egg production. Third, she conducted a “model bottle” study to see if lionfish affect damselfish behavior.  Each damselfish was exposed to an invasive lionfish in a clear plastic bottle, an empty bottle (for control), and a native predator, egg predator, and food competitor, each also in a bottle. The behavior of the damselfish was recorded, and a comparison of how the damselfish react to the lionfish versus the native fish and empty bottle will help us understand if damselfish see lionfish as a potential threat.

Damsel fish guarding its tunnel of love

Lillian Tuttle is another PhD student from OSU, who visited CEI for 5 weeks this summer.  Last summer she discovered that invasive lionfish will eat cleaner gobies, small but ecologically important reef fish that pick parasites off of other fishes.  But when lionfish eat cleaners, the lionfish hyperventilates as if it ate something super spicy!  She conducted a lab experiment that discovered that lionfish quickly learn to avoid the cleaner goby, meaning that this goby is one of remarkably few native fish that lionfish WON’T eat!  But what about native predators?  Must they also learn not to eat the cleaner goby, or are they born with an innate understanding that cleaners are friends, not food?  Lillian returned to the lab and found that native graysby grouper will eat the cleaner goby and hyperventilate, just like the lionfish.  But graysby are slower learners than lionfish, continuing to strike during subsequent exposures to the goby.  With these kinds of friends, who needs enemies?  It’s no wonder the goby has evolved a defense to makes them distasteful!  Now Lillian is collaborating with chemical ecologists to identify the toxin that makes her gobies “spicy,” and she plans to defend her PhD in June 2016.


We wish the both Alex and Lillian a fond farewell and the best of luck with their Ph.D. write ups!