The little boats here can’t go out in strong winds, so today we were land-based and started working on our group projects. Our topic was mangroves – we decided to compare species diversity in mangrove creeks on opposite sides of the Cape. Once we came up with a plan, we presented our ideas to the rest of Team Bahamas for feedback. Fritter the cat was present too, listening attentively.
This afternoon, we got to meet stingray guru and founder of CORE (the Centre for Ocean Research and Education) Owen O’Shea. CORE aims to involve young Bahamians in research and conservation work, so the next generation will have the skill set and motivation to protect marine environments for the future. To find out more (and for some stunning pictures – I recommend the “gallery” section) check out their website here.
One of the groups had found a dead stingray in a creek, and Owen was here to dissect it and share some of his knowledge on these creatures. This was particularly valuable as data on Caribbean whiptails is so scarce – they weren’t even reported as being present in the Bahamas until recently.
During the dissection, we were shown its stomach and gut containing small mollusc shells, and the flat jaws used to crush them up. We learnt that the age of a ray can be calculated by counting the rings in their vertebrae, and heard accounts of their famed sting. The barb used is an extraordinarily modified scale, made toxic by a cocktail of bacteria and algae in two grooves along its length. All that said, being stung clearly hadn’t put Owen off his work, and we’d felt safe enough wading in a creek full of the creatures – even once we’d handled and released the rays on day one of our activities, they tended to sit quietly on the bottom rather than attack their captors.

Barbs on Friday’s ray – Photo credit to Montana Caller

We still had an hour or two until dinner, so we hopped into a minivan to take water samples in the creeks we hoped to investigate for our project. Back on campus, we tested them for nutrient levels using the same kit the aquaculturists use to check their fish are healthy. Finding no difference in nutrients between the creeks, we washed up and went to eat.
The final activity of today was a talk about sharks and the work CEI (The Cape Eleuthera Institute) does with them.  Particularly interesting was the huge diversity of sharks we heard about – from fin to tooth shape, each species is spectacularly adapted to its environment and prey type.  This is one of the reasons sharks are so successful in evolutionary terms – they have existed in a recognisable form since before trees developed.
The Bahamas is important to sharks as it holds a range of habitats in a very small area – reefs, mangroves, deep and shallow seas are within easy swimming distance.  Research here varies from recording and tracking juvenile lemon sharks, as we have seen, to surveying elusive deep-water shark species.  Read more about Cape Eleuthera’s shark projects here.

eo271    January 10th, 2018    Bahamas    , , , , , ,

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