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Student Research

Operation Wallacea

During the course of a six-week program, three students representing Operation Wallacea (Marcus Griffiths of the University of Nottingham, Rob McCalman of the University of Portsmouth and Lucy Arrowsmith of the University of Cardiff) have teamed up with Dr. Owen O’Shea at The Cape Eleuthera Institute to investigate the benthic habitat diversity of various creek systems around Eleuthera, The Bahamas. This project aims to establish the relationships between environmental and physical characteristics of the recently ‘re-discovered’ Caribbean Whiptail Stingray, Himantura schmardae.  As a meso-predatory species, these stingrays provide an important link between apex predators and the benthic organisms they prey upon. An abundance of this species within creek systems provides a good indication of ecosystem health. The Ray team surveying Deep Creek - A very large and biologcally rich ecosystem bordering the deep Exuma Sound

The team are currently in the process of completing benthic habitat analysis on four sites: Deep and Wemyss Bight Creek (Atlantic/Exuma Sound) and Kemps and Starved Creek (Grand Bahama Bank). This project is collecting data using a 1m2 quadrat to assess the percentage cover of flora and fauna species found in these locations, so far completing a total of 274 quadrats over a 2.6Km2 combined study area. In addition, sediment cores; sediment depth; water salinity; dissolved oxygen and water temperature are being collected at each location to gather a broader insight into the habitual preference of juvenile Himantura schmardae that appear to be utilizing these creeks on a long term basis.

The Caribbean whiptail stingray - specimen from Deep Creek

The aim of the investigation is to determine the relationship between the creek environments and the presence or absence of this relatively elusive stingray. Additionally the morphological, sexual and feeding characteristics will provide insight into the potential role of these marine systems as possible nursery sites. As a relatively new re-discovery for The Bahamas, this research could provide critical information towards development of successful conservation plans, and fine-tuning the coverage of marine protection areas (MPAs) as declared by The Caribbean challenge for the Bahamas in 2008.

Kemps Creek on the Banks side - a smaller, mangrove fringed creek

First Island School Student to Presents Research Poster at BNHC

Andrieka presenting the ponds research CEI was well represented at the regional 2016 Bahamas Natural History Conference, with representatives giving talks on plastics, climate change, rare shrimp, turtles, conch, sharks and lionfish. More excitingly, the first Island School alumni joined with the research team! Andrieka Burrows, BESS scholar of Fall 2015, attended the conference to present the anchialine ponds poster. Anchialine ponds are landlocked bodies of water with marine characteristics that are connected to the sea through underground conduits. There are over 200 of these ponds on the island of Eleuthera, however, there is very little known about these ecosystems. Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown, with a team of Island School students, including Andrieka, gathered baseline data on the ponds in order to determine their status and need for protection.

There was much interest in the inland ponds work

Research advisor Alexio Brown and Dr Curtis-Quick were very proud of Andrieka

The students found an alarming number of the ponds were impacted by humans.  To conserve these ecosystems, there is a need to raise awareness. Andrieka did this by presenting the work of her research class at the Bahamas Natural History Conference (BNHC). The conference was hosted by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), who manage the protected areas in The Bahamas. Andrieka spoke about why these ponds are so understudied, and her hopes for more research to be carried out in the future.

“The Bahamas Natural History Conference turned out to be all that I expected,” said Andrieka. “Not only did I get the opportunity to interact with world renowned scientists, who presented their captivating work, but I also got to present my anchialine pond research to these very same scientists.”

Andrieka created much interest in ponds, and did an exceptional job presenting the poster, making her research very advisors proud.

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!

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!

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.