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Coral reef survey techniques workshop help at CEI

On August 20th, Dr. Craig Dahlgren from The Perry Institute for Marine Science Laboratory arrived at CEI along with more than 20 scientists and conservationists from around the Bahamas and United States to  learn how to conduct reef surveys.  The protocols focused on those developed for Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA). Formed in 1998, AGRRA assesses key attributes of coral reefs in the Caribbean using a standardized protocol leading to valuable regional surveys of coral reef health in an online database. AGRRA surveys incorporate coral, benthic and fish species. For this workshop participants were trained in either coral or benthic surveying, in order for each surveyor to be properly specialized, resulting in the highest quality data. Surveys were conducted at the few Eleutheran reefs left with Staghorn coral, an endangered species in the Caribbean (Photo C. Dahlgren).

Data collected during AGRRA surveys is used to create Coral Reef Report Cards. Eleutheran reefs have never been surveyed using AGRRA protocols and therefore there has been a knowledge gap for this area.  Some of the workshop participants were already AGRRA certified and conducted official surveys around South Eleuthera right away, while others began the training needed to conduct the surveys, led by Dr. Dahlgren.

Elhorn coral colony (Photo C. Dahlgren)

The week-long training included diving and practicing survey methods out on the reefs as well as classroom time learning and identifying species of coral and algae. Members of CEI were also included in the training in order for AGRRA surveys to be carried out all around Eleuthera in the future to fill knowledge gaps and help advise marine resource management decision-making.

A coral survey is conducted, identifying, measuring, and assessing health of species found along the reef (Photo C. Dahlgren).

Participants involved in the surveying and training included members from The Bahamas National Trust, Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), The Nature Conservancy, The Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission, Disney Conservation Fund, , Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, Perry Institute for Marine Science, Atlantis, Ocean Crest Alliance, , Greenforce, Forfar Field Station, and Young Marine Explorers. After a busy week everyone was an official AGRRA surveyor and many surveys had already been conducted on the nearby reefs!

Participants from organizations all over the Bahamas joined us.

Stay tuned to hear more about the workshop conducted by SECORE International involving these participants that combined with their AGRRA training during the week.


CEI team visits with Space 2 Create summer camp

Last week, four members of staff from Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) visited Harbour Island as part of an outreach event working with the summer camp Space 2 Create. 2016_08_09HI511sm

Space 2 Create is a comprehensive summer enrichment program that hosts 83 students for 3 weeks. Through artistic, academic and community projects, youth are empowered as leaders. During morning session students focus on one of the following tracks;

  • Space 2 Learn – math, English, science
  • Space 2 Taste – culinary
  • Space 2 Explore – marine science
  • Space 2 Tell your story – film making

The CEI team spent two days teaching and interacting with the camp participants exploring different aspects of research and science.

The first day Anna, Research Technician at CEI, gave a presentation about sea turtles in The Bahamas. The group learned about the four species of sea turtle in The Bahamas, and the threats they face. They also learned about their conservation status and the research being conducted currently at CEI. Following the presentation, the excited young students were able to go out in the field and participate in the capture of a green sea turtle contributing to the data they learned about earlier in the morning. They watched enthusiastically as measurements were taken and data was collected, and at the end of the workup were able to name and help safely release the animal. Green sea turtles are the most abundant of all 4 species found on Eleuthera, and are the main focus on the research conducted at CEI. Therefore the measurements taken from the turtle will allow researchers to gain important information such as growth rates and a health estimation of the individual, and contribute to a better understanding of the population of juveniles green sea turtles around Eleuthera.


The team was invited to stay for the remainder of the day to learn more about Space 2 Create and join in some of their afternoon activities. The afternoon was spent singing, dancing, painting, and joining in the drama class.

The following morning, the focus switched to the status of sharks in The Bahamas. Shane Gross, photojournalist specializing in underwater conservation photography, gave an insightful talk on sharks using many of his own photos and experiences. After this, Maggie Winchester, Research Technician at CEI, gave a presentation on the shark research currently going on at the institute, followed by a Cuban dogfish dissection.


Sharks play a significant role in the marine ecosystems of The Bahamas, not only improving ecosystem health but aiding the tourism industry as well. Despite their importance, many species of shark remain vastly understudied. The Cuban dogfish is an abundant yet poorly understood species of deep water shark in The Bahamas, commonly found at around 600m depth. During the dissection, the campers learned about the internal and external adaptations that make this small species of shark able to survive and thrive deep in the water column. This provided a hands on opportunity to learn about shark biology, using a species commonly found around the Cape.

Between Shane and Maggie’s talks and the interaction with the Cuban dogfish, myths about sharks in the Bahamas were addressed and resolved, and many fears were removed.

In the future CEI will work in collaboration with Space 2 Create and Bahamas Plastic Movement to support research activities for Eleutheran Eco Schools Club ‘s.


Photo credit: Shane Gross

Studying the knowledge and consumption of lionfish on Eleuthera

Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) is a venomous species that has been invasive to The Bahamas for over a decade (since 2004). It was first observed around Eleuthera in 2005 and has since become established around the island and its neighbouring cays. Research has shown that the impact of their invasion has and will continue to have detrimental impacts on marine habitats, especially coral reefs. Due to their voracious appetite and rapid reproduction (potentially up to 2 million eggs per year!), they have the potential to decrease commercially fished species’ populations and alter ecosystem processes e.g food webs. Their ability to do so has been aided by the naiveite´ (unfamiliarity with lionfish) of native fish and the fact that lionfish have no natural predators in Western Atlantic waters. As such, Cape Eleuthera Institute has promoted consumption of lionfish in an attempt to introduce it as a commercially consumed fish. This summer Newcastle University student Myca Cedeno has been conducting a social science study aiming to determine the spread of knowledge Eleutheran residents have on lionfish and consuming them as a means of managing their invasion and contributing to food security. Diagram of a red lionfish clearly depicting its 18 venomous spines and general anatomy.

In April 2014, CEI introduced a Lionfish Slayer campaign, encouraging members of the public to spear lionfish in return for payment; a venture which was met with success. This summer Myca has advertised this campaign and worked to inform Eleutheran’s about lionfish’s nature as a “venomous” and not a “poisonous” species. Through interviews he has documented the views of the public on safely consuming this invader given their deleterious effects on the reefs. Myca has been in the field interviewing fishermen, restauranteurs and other members of the public as part of his dissertation research. His data collection is also coupled with educational outreach, as each interviewee is left with a flyer, detailing the history of the invasion, why it is safe to consume (despite its venomous spines), how to handle and prepare it and what to do if stuck by a spine.

Red lionfish (Pterois volitans), on a patch reef off Eleuthera, The Bahamas

So far, it’s nature as a venomous species has been a major deterrent to consumption for consumers and catch by fishermen. Restauranteurs have highlighted a lack of availability of the lionfish, potentially linked with the apprehension of fishermen to catch them. It is the hope that this research and outreach effort will help further educate the public as to the value of eating red lionfish and will provide insight as to how best to further promote this venture.

Operation Wallacea student investigates growth rates at the CEI coral nursery

Over the course of six weeks, Natasha Webbe of the University of Leeds, a student representing Operation Wallacea, has been working with the Cape Eleuthera Institute to study the success of the coral nursery set up in Cape Eleuthera. This will be determined by studying staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and fused staghorn coral (Acropora prolifera) growth rates in relation to the environmental conditions surrounding the coral restoration nursery installed near CEI in March 2014 in collaboration with the University of Miami. University of Leeds undergraduate student Natasha Webbe by the coral nursery at Tunnel Rock

Coral reefs are extremely important worldwide as the most biologically diverse ecosystem, providing essential goods and services. The Bahamas, in particular, are dependant upon coral reefs to support their fishing industry through the habitats they provide. Acropora cervicornis is a major coral reef building species however have been classified as critically endangered by IUCN’s red list, therefore, conservation efforts are crucial to re-establishing healthy coral reefs around Eleuthera, The Bahamas, and the Wider Caribbean.

Healthy coral fragment (A. cervicornis) on the coral nursery

This project consists of measuring each coral fragment growing in the nursery and conducting data analysis on three years’ worth of data to assess growth rates at different depths of the tree and during different seasons of the year. Complexity will also be studied as fragments with higher complexity may be more beneficial for transplantation, aiding the outplanting success in the long term. Fragments are vulnerable to thermal stress due to climate change causing bleaching and the overgrowth of algae. Therefore, using an index, bleaching and algae have been recorded and can be compared with previous data to establish any significant correlations with the time of year or environmental conditions. Additional observations are recorded, such as,  Domecia acanthophora crabs which are known as the ‘Elkhorn crab’ and are good for coral nurseries. Water samples have also been taken to analyse pH and salinity as well as having recorded temperature on site to see whether any of these variables are affecting growth rates.

Domecia acanthophora on one of the coral fragments on the nursery

This research will form the basis of Natasha’s undergraduate dissertation aiming to determine any relationships between A. cervicornis and A. prolifera growth rates and their environment in the nursery. This can establish their optimum growth conditions to further improve the coral nursery as a restoration method.

Operation Wallacea students participate in sea turtle research

Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are one of only seven remaining sea turtle species. These reptiles were classified as an endangered species on the IUCN Red list, following the abrupt decline of populations due to overexploitation and habitat loss. Although the green sea turtle  is protected in Bahamian waters, it is still of great importance to investigate the factors that influence where juveniles choose to forage, as this life cycle stage is crucial to the species’ ability to grow and thrive. Seagrass beds play a critical role within this life cycle stage acting as a key food source for the green sea turtle, and therefore vital for development. This summer, at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Trinity College Dublin student Anna Whitaker, Oxford University student Alison Maughan and Royal Holloway University of London student Kate Rowley, aim to carry out research which could contribute to the improvement of future conservation efforts of the green sea turtle. A total number of 9 mangrove creeks were studied in this experiment. At each creek they visited, quadrats were placed and used for the investigation of seagrass structure, where percentage cover, species richness, and leaf canopy height data were collected. As well as this, environmental factors of the area, such as water depth, were studied. Samples of seagrass were also taken using a core.

Two CEI interns catching turtles with a seine net (turtle seining)

Laboratory analysis of the seagrass samples was used to identify the determinants of sea grass density. This analysis included calculating the number of leaves and shoots in each core taken. After which, the biomass of the samples were calculated by dividing out the core samples into above and below-ground matter. These seagrass samples were heated, and therefore dry weights of above and below ground seagrass matter could be taken.

In order to collect data regarding the abundance of turtles, methods including turtle seining, chasing and abundance surveys were carried out within the creeks where seagrass data had previously been collected. These methods sought to demonstrate correlations between characteristics of the seagrass and the abundance of turtles.

Measuring a captured juvenile green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Half Sound, Eleuthera

Within each creek, a number of different habitat types were studied, including the mouth, silty mangroves, warm shallow waters, and seagrass meadows.

In addition, this project has collaborated with numerous programs, such as Earthwatch, allowing this research to connect with educational outreach and inspire young marine biology enthusiasts.

Sea Turtle Research Interns (front row) and Earthwatch students (back row)

The data collected will identify the fine-scale patterns of site selection and resource use of foraging grounds. This will contribute to a better and more in depth understanding of green sea turtle habitat usage. The research objectives of this study will form the basis for Alison, Kate and Anna’s undergraduate dissertation projects. We thank them for their help and wish them all the best with their studies!