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Newcastle University Summer Research Update

Globally, sharks are among the most threatened group of species, facing some of the greatest population declines in modern history. This is exacerbated by conservative life history characteristics such as slow growth rates, late maturity ages and low number of offspring, which in turn increase their vulnerability to extinction. Turtles also exhibit similar life history characteristics, therefore assessing their importance as a food source and the significance predation has on their population can help us to further conservation efforts. This summer, Newcastle University student Massimo Casali in collaboration with the Cape Eleuthera Institute’s Shark Research and Conservation Program has been conducting a study to elucidate the importance of habitat complexity and coastal shark species on turtle abundance in different creek systems. The Bahamas offers unique opportunities to study turtles and sharks on account of a total ban being enforced since 2009 and 2011 respectively, and so this project will take advantage of the relatively untouched environment of south Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Newcastle University undergraduate student Massimo Casali holding a nurse shark prior to release

Through the use of experimental longlines, sharks are caught in close proximity to creek systems before being sampled, including the taking of morphometric data (measurements), tissue harvest for stable isotope analysis and tagging, allowing for mark-recapture assessment. So far the team has caught a total of 21 sharks represented by 5 species; nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), blacknose shark (C. acronotus), blacktip reef shark (C. limbatus) and tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). This research has also included a range of educational programmes and Island School classes enabling us to reach a broad range of budding young shark scientists.


Overall, the research objectives of this study will form the basis for Massimo’s undergraduate research dissertation, that will specifically address the relationships between sea turtle and shark abundance in these biologically diverse ecosystems, considered fragile due to human induced disturbances. This will further allow conservation frameworks that will allow the management of sensitive coastal ecosystems throughout The Bahamas.

South Eleuthera offers the only mangrove creek systems on the Island - here shows Kemps Creek which borders the Grand Bahama Bank.

American Elasmobranch Society meets in New Orleans

The American Elasmobranch Society recently met in New Orleans for their annual meeting, attended by an international collective of shark and ray scientists to discuss current and ongoing work in this very eclectic field. The Cape Eleuthera Institute was represented by Oliver Shipley and Dr. Owen O’Shea of the Shark Research and Conservation Program, both giving oral presentations to a wide range of scientists from all over the world. Oliver’s presentation focused on novel methods for post-capture release of a small bodied deep-sea shark – the Cuban dogfish - and how novel approaches may increase survivorship during by-catch events. Owen spoke of the recently ‘re-discovered’ Caribbean whiptail stingray and discussed its contemporary distribution in The Bahamas and implications for management. Dr, Owen O'Shea during his presentation on Caribbean whiptail stingrays

The week spent in New Orleans was a huge success, with the convening of several meetings and discussions pertaining to the global fin print project and a whole day dedicated to a global sawfish research symposium. Among some of the other stand out talks were the very first satellite tracking of manta rays conducted in Sudan, juvenile white shark movement in California and challenges for management of large ranging sharks, such as the great hammerhead and oceanic whitetip. It was a fantastic week with many old relationships rejuvenated, and the fostering of new ones cemented, with collaborative studies already having been discussed.

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.

Local marina and tournament anglers contribute to research at CEI

Captain and mate of team Shady Lady weigh in a wahoo. When dissected at CEI's lab, this fish was found to have a ingested a piece of plastic. This February, the Cape Eleuthera Institute partnered with Davis Harbor Marina and the Cotton Bay Club for the inaugural Davis Harbour Wahoo Rally. The two day fishing tournament allowed Davis Harbour Marina and anglers to contribute to ongoing research at CEI, making the Wahoo Rally as scientifically valuable as it was fun for the participating teams.

This partnership, and the enthusiasm of Davis Harbour Marina and the fishing teams, highlights CEI’s commitment to including anglers in ongoing research initiatives.

CEI researchers including (from L to R) a MSc student, a CEI intern, and a PhD student assisted with the collection of tissue samples


Continue reading to learn more about the angler-driven projects that were contributed to during the Wahoo Rally.

Satellite tagging wahoo

Wahoo are a pelagic sportfish sought-after for their reel-smoking runs and table-quality meat. Very little is known about how wahoo use vertical habitat (i.e., depth) or the migratory routes they take through The Bahamas. Despite high winds and heavy seas, several boats hosted CEI and Microwave Telemetry research scientists during and after the tournament to deploy archival popup satellite tags (PSATs) on wahoo, allowing CEI to track their depth, temperature, and migratory pathways – information that all wahoo anglers are interested in!

Stable isotopes and pelagic feeding ecology

Tissue samples from more than 40 dolphinfish, wahoo, tuna, kingfish, and barracuda were collected during tournament weigh-ins. Tissues will be analyzed for stable isotopes, the results of which can indicate differences in prey preference among pelagic fish.  Any angler knows that finding the right bait will maximize their chances of catching fish, and results from this study will provide information on who-eats-who in the pelagic environment.

Captain and mate of team Layla (left) assist a Davis Harbour Marina tournament official (right) weigh their winning catch


Plastic ingestion

Plastic in the oceans can have dire consequences for both animal and human health. Plastic acts like a sponge for environmental toxins, and past research at CEI has demonstrated that plastics are ending up in the stomachs of dolphinfish, tunas, and wahoo. Anglers, consumers, and sushi lovers everywhere are keen to understand how plastic pollution might end up on their dinner plate.

Stable isotopes and barracuda connectivity

Great barracuda were recently afforded sportfish status in Florida, indicating that the species is increasing in popularity among the angling community. In the Bahamas, though, barracuda are common bycatch by both nearshore and offshore anglers, and are almost always harvested. By employing stable isotope analysis to identify how barracuda link shallow water habitat with the pelagic environment, anglers can gain a better understanding of the role barracuda play in maintaining healthy fisheries.

Mercury concentration in pelagic fish

Consumers (especially pregnant women and children) are advised to limit their consumption of top predators such as tuna and swordfish due to the bioaccumulation of mercury. Mercury concentrations in Bahamian dolphinfish and wahoo are not known, and mercury concentrations can even be used in conjunction with stable isotope analysis to identify feeding ecology of pelagic fish. Tissue samples collected during the tournament will provide baseline data for researchers and anglers to monitor contaminants in the offshore fishery.

Photo credit: Erik Kruthoff and Davis Harbour Marina

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!