Preserving Fisheries and Ecosystems 

by Dr. Krista Sherman, Senior Scientist at PIMS

The Fisheries Research & Conservation Program (FRCP) has had a very productive 2019! With the support of partners and interns, we visited 7 islands and spent more than 200 hours underwater. We completed surveys for several important fishery species and assessed the condition of their habitats.

In January, I joined a team of researchers from Florida International University and the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) to complete baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVs) for sharks. We also scouted potential Nassau grouper spawning aggregation sites around San Salvador. BRUVs not only capture footage from sharks, but other species that swim within view of the camera like Nassau grouper.

Screenshot from a BRUV survey from San Salvador showing Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus), black jacks (Caranx lugubris) and a reef shark (Carcharhinus perezii). BRUV Video © Gina Clementi, Predator Ecology and Conservation Lab, Florida International University and Global FinPrint.

This trip was followed up by another visit to San Salvador in February with the assistance of Senior Science Officer, Lindy Knowles (Bahamas National Trust) to map and survey reported Nassau grouper spawning sites.

Lily Haines and a team of researchers accompanied me aboard the Shedd Aquarium’s R/V Coral Reef II in March. Haines is a former Research Associate for both PIMS and CEI. We were able to accomplish several tasks:

  • We sampled corals for genetic research
Richard Karp sampling from an Orbicella annularis colony.  Photo © Krista Sherman, Perry Institute for Marine Science.
  • We maintained an array of acoustic receivers. These are used to study shark, Nassau grouper and parrotfish movement patterns within the Exuma Cays and the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park,
  • We surgically implanted accelerometry tags into Nassau grouper as part of PhD Candidate, Sarah Luongo’s research
  • And finally, we collected fin clip and blood samples for ongoing Nassau grouper genetic research
Dr. Sherman collecting a blood sample from Nassau grouper after it was measured, externally tagged and implanted with a transmitter. Photo © Natasha Hinojosa.

The first of 2019’s Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveys began in April with 7 dives around South Bimini and 9 dives around New Providence and Rose Island. This was followed by

  • 13 AGRRA surveys in central Abaco in May,
AGRRA team after completing the first leg of surveys in central Abaco.  Photo © Michael Sherratt, DiveTime Abaco.
  • The completion of 18 New Providence and Rose Island surveys, and
PIMS Training Director and Coordinator, Hayley-Jo Carr inspecting tunicates in the seagrass after completing her benthic survey. Photo © Krista Sherman, Perry Institute for Marine Science.
  • 22 reef assessments in the northern part of Abaco in June.
Divers conducting fish, benthic and coral surveys at a reef in the northern part of Abaco. Photo © Kevin Davidson, ANGARI Foundation.

AGRRA surveys concluded with 29 post Hurricane Dorian reef surveys around Grand Bahama and Abaco in October.

Dr. Dahlgren surveying fish communities at Mermaid Reef, Abaco. Photo © Kevin Davidson, ANGARI Foundation
AGRRA post hurricane Dorian research team. Photo © Kevin Davidson, ANGARI Foundation

The data will be analyzed to develop new coral reef report cards to provide updates on the health and status of Bahamian reefs and key marine species.

In July, Dr. Craig Dahlgren and I visited East Grand Bahama to assess queen conch populations with the assistance of two local fishers.

Mating pairs of queen conch (Lobatus gigas) in East Grand Bahama. Photo © Krista Sherman, Perry Institute for Marine Science.
Egg mass from queen conch in a seagrass bed in East Grand Bahama. Photo © Craig Dahlgren, Perry Institute for Marine Science. 

Data collected is being used to provide recommendations to aid in the development of a zoning plan for the East Grand Bahama National Park. The goals of these efforts are to reduce threats and promote a sustainable conch fishery.

In addition to fieldwork, we are committed to advancing science-based recommendations to promote sustainable fisheries and management of marine resources. We have been actively involved in numerous meetings, workshops and presentations to update stakeholders on our work and the importance of marine science and conservation. For example, I presented at a meeting convened by the Department of Marine Resources in July to discuss management options for queen conch and the critically-endangered Nassau grouper.

The goal of the Fisheries Research & Conservation Program is to create “sustainable fisheries and healthy ecosystems that support biodiversity, livelihoods, ecosystems services and promote resilience.” In December, our research will be focused on Nassau grouper spawning aggregations. For more information about projects under the FRCP visit our website and follow PIMS on Facebook and Instagram at @perryinstituteformarinescience for regular updates.

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