by Natalia Hurtado, Research Associate at PIMS/CEI

The Advanced Field Biology class of Middlebury College visited Eleuthera and joined the educational program offered by the Cape Eleuthera Institute: The Island School (CEIS). The group is lead by Dr. Erin Eggleston and Dr. Jeremy Ward.

Top row from left to right: Dr. Jeremy Ward, Dr. Craig Dahlgren (PIMS), Dr. Erin Eggleston, Natalia Hurtado (PIMS/CEI), Emily Corrigan (CEI), Maya Gomez, Phoebe Oehmig, Sophie Smith, Caitlin DiCara, Ansley Harralson. Bottom row left to right: Dylan Montagu, Andrew Maritan, Niko Carvajal, Valeria Blakely, Harrison Rohrer, Casey Harris (PIMS/CEI), William Greene.

As a part of the class, the group was trained by PIMS’s Executive Director, Dr. Craig Dahlgren on Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveys. They learned how to do surveys with fish, coral and bentos memorizing many IDs for reef critters. They also improved their diving skills during their time in CEIS.

Before the first survey (W. Greene)
AGRRA coral and bentos (W. Greene)
AGRRA fish (N. Hurtado)

The students were involved in different activities and projects under the guidance of the coral team. They helped coral reef researcher Casey Harris (CEI/PIMS), research technician Emily Corrigan (CEI) and I clean tanks, prepare substrates for the next coral spawning season and improve the outdoor facilities for future microfragmentation experiments. All the students had the chance to observe coral start recruits form the species Orbicella faveolata under the stereoscope. This species has been successfully reared at CEI and has been growing in the wet lab facilities since September 2019, when their spawning was collected.

Students assisting the coral team at CEI (E. Eggleston)

As a Reef Rescue Network partner, the main research goal of the coral team and Bahamas Coral Innovation Hub is to reverse the decline of coral reefs. I ensured all the students were trained as Reef Rescue Network Divers, so they have the necessary skills to help protect our oceans. This PADI specialty was developed by Hayley-Jo Carr, Training Director & Coordinator of the Reef Rescue Network.

4-month-old O. faveolata recruit (N. Hurtado)

During the course, the group learned about the different types of nurseries, how to do manual fragmentation, out-planting and monitoring. They also established a new nursery and learned how to successfully maintain it.

Reef Rescue diver course (W. Greene)

Students also had the opportunity to experience the beauty of Eleuthera during their stay. They visited Lighthouse Beach and explored one of Eleuthera’s many famous caves. They  also went to narrowest part of the island, where the Glass Window Bridge is located. Finally, they visited one of the ponds, which has the highest concentration of sea horses in the world.

Lighthouse beach (H.Rohrer)
Glass Window Bridge (N. Hurtado)
Sweetings pond (N. Hurtado)
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