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CEI scientists present research at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium

written by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick The International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) is the olympics of marine biology and is only held every four years. It is the primary international meeting focused on coral reef science and management. The 13th symposium was the biggest yet, bringing together some 2,500 coral reef scientists, policy makers and managers from 97 different nations. This meeting is very important because it provides the international science community with a platform to:

  • Increase global knowledge and interest in coral reefs, including sustainable use and conservation strategies;
  • Showcase successful science, conservation and management efforts;
  • Develop collaborations and partnerships to increase international capacity to address coral reef issues; and
  • Increase global awareness of reef degradation and possible solutions by extensive promotion in the media.

CEI scientists Zach Zuckerman, Dr Aaron Shultz and Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick present their parrotfish research

Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick wrapped up her time with CEI by presenting on the lionfish feeding studies and the summary of the 5-year culling program along with a collaborative project with Zach Zuckerman and Dr Aaron Shultz on the impacts of CO2 on the grazing and metabolic rates of parrotfish.  Jocelyn was not alone – many researchers that conducted fieldwork at CEI, CEI intern alumni and ex-Island School faculty were also in attendance!

Dr Jill Harris (Island School faculty 05) recently completed her PhD in marine biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she was happy to keep running into Island School student and faculty alums. Now she works for the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, DC, studying how to make MPAs more effective and presented on this work at the symposium. Jill’s job is mostly about scuba diving and statistics, just like at The Island School!

ICRS was attended by a number of the Island School community. Dr Curtis-Quick met Island School faculty alums Jill Harris and Kim Falinski along with numerous CEI visiting researchers and CEI intern alum Jason Selwyn.

Dr Kim Falinski (Island School faculty 06) began an MSc in Agricultural Engineering at Cornell University, specializing in recirculating aquaculture systems after leaving The Island School.  Kim’s thesis brought her to Waimanalo, HI, to work at Oceanic Institute on scaling up microalgae production for copepod feed.  Kim then worked as a professor at the local community college before starting her PhD at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Kim’s specialty is land based source pollutants – sediments from poor land management practices and nutrients from wastewater and inorganic fertilizers.  Today Kim works at The Nature Conservancy in Honolulu as a water quality scientist on the Marine team, which she presented on at ICRS. In her free time free time, Kim races big sail boats and run triathlons. “The Island School most certainly sent me on this path” says Kim.

The symposium covered an array of topics including coral reefs and climate change, cutting edge technology in coral science, community-based management, coastal pollution and the role of Marine Protected Areas. The main goal of the symposium wasbridging science to policy to inform and increase the effectiveness ofcoral reef conservation worldwide.  The week was huge success – we all look forward to the next meeting in 4 years’ time.

Flats team picks up acoustic receivers and finds elkhorn coral

Georgie Burruss secures a receiver to a cinderblock after downloading the data from the device. Last week, the Flats Ecology and Conservation team downloaded data from a large-scale passive acoustic telemetry array designed to track bonefish to their pre-spawning aggregations. A total of 61 receivers were placed around Eleuthera to track the movements of 39 bonefish and 14 barracuda that were implanted with acoustic transmitters. The research team downloaded key receivers and found schools of bonefish moving over coral reef habitats at night near tidal creeks on the East coast of Eleuthera, indicating that these fish may move offshore to spawn on the windward side of the island. Stay tuned for more updates in June.

A healthy stand of Elkhorn coral

Helen Conlon signals okay after redeploying a receiver.

As a bonus, while collecting receivers the team got to swim by several Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) colonies, an IUCN-listed critically endangered species. Elkhorn coral grows rapidly, providing significant structure and habitat for reefs throughout the Caribbean, though it is in severe decline as a result of coral bleaching, predation, storm damage, disease, and human activity. Though it was heartening to see so many healthy colonies of this critically endangered species, they are small compared to the large stands of dead elkhorn that used to thrive in the area. Our reef restoration project has begun mapping these areas and will be monitoring its growth.

Spring 2016 Gap Year Update

The Spring 2016 Team Gap has had a great first few weeks. Everyone has gotten to know each other very quickly and we are all enjoying our time in Eleuthera.

gappers in Page Creek learning about the importance of mangroves and their role in the greater ocean ecosystem.

We began the week with some snorkeling introductions and began our marine ecology class, learning the fish of The Bahamas, and putting that into context learning about coral reef ecology.

Exploring the Banyan tree in Rock Sound

Gapper Mason dives down to get a closer look at the reef

We wrapped up the week with a South Eleuthera road trip to learn about and see different parts of the island. Team Gap is looking forward to the next 8 weeks of learning and laughs. Stay tuned for more updates on our adventures.

Coral Nursery Update (with video!)

Last Thursday, the Reef Ecology and Restoration team carried out our monthly growth and health checks on the Acropora fragments at the nursery site. After taking measurements on length, number of branches, and number of apical polyps of each fragment, it was found that the majority had grown in length since September. This brings us closer to our long term goal of being able to replant the coral fragments on reefs to increase populations. To keep the coral as healthy as possible, the team carried out a deep clean, which involves brushing off any smothering algae that can cause coral mortality. Unfortunately, bleaching was seen in several fragments; bleaching is characterised by the coral turning white. This occurs when the algae that lives within corals are expelled due to stress.

One of the main reasons for this increase in stress is a rise in water temperature. We could be seeing a large increase in bleaching because this is an El Niño year. NOAA has declared this year a major bleaching event, only the third major bleaching event on record.  The first global bleaching event was in 1998, during a strong El Niño that was followed by an equally strong La Niña. A second one occurred in 2010.  El Niño years are characterized by changes in upwelling. Upwelling of cold currents is replaced by warmer waters and increases sea surface temperatures. With this in mind, we will keep closely monitor the nursery, and we hope to see continual growth during the next check, despite the El Niño warm waters.

Here is a link to a time-lapse video of the team cleaning the coral nursery!