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Another outreach event with the Stingray Team!

Members of the Stingray Research Group from the Cape Eleuthera Institute’s Shark Research and Conservation Program have recently completed two days of outreach on Great Exuma. Following on from the highly successful Hummingbird Cay research expedition, the team, in collaboration with The Exuma Foundation and LN Coakley High School in Moss Town, took five students out to learn about stingrays at a marine reserve East of Georgetown. Stingray Team with students from LN Coakley High School

The five students that spent the day with us were already incredibly knowledgeable about rays and their importance in regulating and maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. so we had a head start as we headed across Elizabeth Harbour towards Stocking Island. This designated marine reserve has long stretches of white sand beaches and little ‘hurricane holes’ naturally formed over time, allowing us to explore semi-enclosed ponds and quiet bays.

Upon arrival, the students were quizzed about rays and were given a safety talk before we set off looking for animals to capture and collect information from. While it was slow starting, we eventually caught a very small, immature female southern ray. Two of the students donned surgical gloves, and under the instruction of Research Technician Chris Ward, were able to complete a whole work up beneath the gaze of a dozen or so tourists that had gathered on the beach to watch what was happening.

The team working up a ray with two young students and toursits watching on

 

The team then walked around the corner to local tourist spot Chat ‘N’ Chill, where a conch stand attracts southern and whiptail rays to the shallows. The team then scooped up a larger female ray who had been cruising for scraps and again, allowed students to get up close with the ray with more tourists and locals looking on, who were equally as captivated as the students.

When it was time to catch the water taxi back to Exuma, the students were all quizzed on what they had learned, and all of them had said that not being afraid of these animals was something they would take away. Most of the group were nervous of rays in the morning, but at the end of the day were handling wild rays and speaking confidently about them and their importance within these fragile marine ecosystems.

The team would like to acknowledge Catherine Booker from the Exuma Foundation for facilitating this outreach event and LN Coakley High School for donating five, willing participants to catch and learn about wild stingrays!

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 georgianaburruss@islandschool.org and aaron.dean.shultz@gmail.comfor more information or to support our research efforts. Stay tuned for another update this spring!

 

Flats team takes Deep Creek Middle School students out for mangrove lessons

Last Friday, Deep Creek Middle School's Grade 7 joined Georgie Burruss, CEI Research Assistant, for a snorkel through Page Creek as part of the School Without Walls program. The focus of Grade 7's School Without Walls program this year is human impacts on the environment. Nearshore environments, especially mangrove creeks, serve as a great educational tool for displaying how even small-scale coastal development can be detrimental to coastal habitat.

Students raise their hands to answer Georgie's questions about the mangrove ecosystem

The students drifted with the incoming tide into the creek, practicing fish ID that they learned that morning with Liz Slingsby, Director of Summer Term and Gap Year Programs. At the end of their first snorkel through the creek, the students were able to successfully ID over a dozen fish species and discussed how mangroves act as nursery grounds for ecologically and economically important species such as snapper and lemon sharks.

Flats intern helps some of the students wade upstream

With the excitement of snorkeling and floating with the current, the students quickly rushed to float down again. At the end, the group met and discussed how humans might affect mangrove creek systems. The students quickly recognized pollution and habitat degradation as some of the major impacts that humans can have on these important systems. As the group walked out of Page Creek, they observed how even a short beach access road can divide a creek, limiting available habitat.

Students eager to answer Georgie's quetions.

CEI researchers look forward to spending more time with DCMS students during the School Without Walls programs!

Lionfish: Island School’s favorite dish!

The invasion of lionfish on reefs of the West Atlantic has become an issue of critical concern.  With eradication not possible, the silver lining is that lionfish are delicious. The You Slay, We Pay campaign was launched by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick to support the development of a local lionfish market in The Bahamas. The Island School bought lionfish from local Bahamian fishers to consume in the dinning hall. Rock Sound Lionfish Slayers wearing their well earned slayer t-shirts

 

New slayers Otis and Deontray Tynes

The slayer campaign initially ran through lobster closed season in 2014, as this is the time of year that many fishers will switch to conch harvesting, which is less lucrative as a fishery and increases pressure on the already overfished species. This trial lionfish season was so successful that in December of 2014 (during the closed grouper season) the lionfish You Slay, We Pay was launched all year round.  Over 1500 lbs of lionfish were brought in throughout 2015, with new fishers joining regularly and more lionfish meals being enjoyed on campus. We hope that 2016 sees even more lionfish removed from the reefs and on the plate.

Oh Happy Day!

The Sea Turtle Research team held an in-reach for local staff on Tuesday, December 1. Local staff members who had never gone "turtling" before, and many who had never seen a sea turtle, were given an opportunity to visit one of the research team's study sites, Starved Creek, in order to catch turtles. The aim was to have everyone at least see a green sea turtle in its natural habitat. Facilities team holding the turtle of the day!

During the day, the staff members came out in two different groups. In the morning, the Facilities team came out and this was when we caught our first and only turtle of the day! For someone who has never caught a sea turtle before, or even for someone who has, it is not debateable that Arlington has the most graceful technique for catching turtles. Once Arlington surfaced with the turtle, the entire boat erupted in cheers! Johnny, who was a bit apprehensive about coming along to catch turtles, turned out to be the most excited person on the boat! There was a point where all his fears disappeared and he looked as though he was going to jump in the water and catch the turtle himself! Once the turtle was caught, the entire boat broke out in singing and dancing, as Johnny lead the boat in the chorus of "Oh Happy Day!"

The Accounting team on their way to Starved Creek

The second group that came out in the afternoon consisted of the Accounting Team. Although this group came mere inches from catching a turtle, they were not able to do so. Yes, sea turtles are indeed very efficient swimmers! Chasing this turtle, however, had the boat filled with a mixture of elated, excited, enthusiastic, and adrenaline-pumped individuals who, put simply, were revelling in the experience.

The sea turtle in-reach experience was a successful one and truly one of the best ways to conclude the final days of the semester. It was refreshing to share knowledge and excitement with our extended family, who are so genuinely appreciative to be a part of the research. It was undoubtedly our pleasure to give our local staff a “Happy Day."