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Sea turtles

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.

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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.

Seining success for sea turtle team

Students cleaning off the seine net after a long days work

Recently, St. Thomas Aquinas High School from Dover, New Hampshire helped conduct research with the CEI sea turtle research team in Winding Bay. Although the weather was uncooperative on Friday while the group was seining, they came out strong with the capture of five green sea turtles in their first attempt. Seining is a method used by several research teams at CEI that involves a very long net that temporarily encloses the animals inside.

The group on Saturday had to put in a little more effort as it took five seining attempts to finally capture three green sea turtles!

Students take the curved carapace length (CCL) of one of the turtles

One turtle that was captured, Kyra, had its left rear flipper almost completely detached. The wound was healed and the flipper still had some movement. What caused the damage is unknown, but Kyra is lucky to have kept this limb! Green turtles don’t typically use their rear flippers much except for maneuvering while swimming, and females use them for digging a nest.

A turtle being measured

Both groups had the opportunity to experience the challenge it is to catch sea turtles and keep them steady to take measurements! It was all worth it as one student said, “This was the best day so far!”

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."

 

Final Earthwatch team of 2015!

The Cape Eleuthera Institute Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team finished off an awesome year of Earthwatch trips with the 8th and final Earthwatch team of 2015. Participants from the US, the UK, and Canada joined the expedition for 9 days of exciting research. The participants were enthusiastic to get involved in the many facets of sea turtle research happening at CEI. The volunteers got hands on experience setting baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVS), doing abundance surveys at various locations, as well as catching plenty of turtles! These Earthwatch participants joined the Cape Eleuthera Institute Sea Turtle Research Team from across the globe for a week filled with research and education

The Earthwatch team also got the chance to hear from other researchers at CEI about projects going on during nighttime presentations. These presentations varied from sustainable fisheries management to coral reef health and ecology. A substantial amount of data was collected over the week, with 259 turtles spotted during abundance surveys across the creeks of South Eleuthera. We also had two record-breaking days in a row during abundance surveys, with exactly 127 turtles spotted, on both days, in Half Sound!

Earthwatch participant Bill Creasy learns how to take the curved carapace length of a small juvenile green turtle

 

Earthwatch had a very successful week, catching 15 turtles total, including tagging 6 new turtles. One particularly fast member of this Earthwatch team, Patti, also caught 6 of the 15 turtles, which may be a new individual record for Earthwatch. The team of volunteers participated in analyzing some of the BRUVS footage recorded during the week. They caught footage of Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks on the videos!

As we wrap up an awesome year of Earthwatch programs, the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team would like to send a huge thank you to the 90 volunteers that have come down and joined us in our research efforts. Without them, it would not be possible to successfully complete the amount of research that we conduct every year. Looking towards 2016, we are excited to add two additional Earthwatch teams to the schedule, bringing us to a total of 10 teams for 2016. We look forward to welcoming our first team of the year in February!

A busy week with The Island School Research Symposium and Parent's Week

Last Thursday was The Island School Research Symposium! It is a highlight of Parent's Week, and a time for parents to hear about the good work being done by their sons and daughters. Throughout the semester, The Island School students have collaborated with CEI researchers, contributing to ongoing research projects. They have been studying various ecosystems around Eleuthera, including inland ponds, the pelagic zone, the deep sea, shallow water sandbars, and tidal creeks . Dr. Craig Dahlgren discussing the current state of coral reefs in The Bahamas.

 

In all, nine projects were presented, and Dr. Craig Dahlgren, Senior Research Scientist for the Bahamas National Trust, concluded the event with a talk on the state of coral reefs in The Bahamas. All nine projects are being featured on our Instagram (@CEIBahamas) and Facebook pages, so please check them out for more details on the amazing research done this semester!