Marine ecology topics

IH205 Competition within and between the dominant coral reef benthic taxa

(start dates 22 or 29 June or 06 July; need to have completed reef survey techniques course and be dive trained if incorporating a diving element into the research)

Coral reefs around the world are in a rapid state of decline and the loss of reef building corals has been reported pan-globally. Reef building corals are the key ecosystem architects and produce a physical complexity that provides habitat for the many different species. Loss of structural complexity will have dire consequences for reef biodiversity and productivity. Maintenance, growth and recovery of reefs depends on the ability of reef building corals to recruit in to the system, become successfully established and grow to provide complexity. However this process of growth and recovery seems to be significantly affected by competition between the reef building corals and other benthic life-forms such as soft corals, sponges, algae and colonial tunicates. These life-forms produce very little physical complexity and do not support high species richness. It is vitally important that research is conducted into competitive interactions between benthic life-forms across habitats and environmental gradients (eg increased sedimentation, lower light availability). Research could also evaluate how biodiversity may be affected by changes to dominant benthic life-forms.

 

IS206 The Biodiversity and Productivity of Coral reefs of Bau Bau

(start dates 22 or 29 June; need to have completed reef survey techniques course and be dive trained)

Coral reef support a vast array of species and provide food or income for 10% of the world. However tropical reefs are greatly threatened by numerous anthropogenic stressors but most notably overexploitation, changes in water and habitat quality and environmental change (ENSO and Climate Change). There has been very limited research on the coral reefs around Bau Bau but preliminary data suggests that the reefs hold exceptional biodiversity as well as an abundance of apex predators (eg reef sharks and cetaceans). There is an urgent need to carryout wide scale exploration of Bau Bau reefs to determine reef health, biodiversity and productivity. Research should also aim to identify any factors that are impacting these reefs and how these vary across the study area. Information concerning the conservation value of the area is needed along with a complete understanding of threats so a case can be made to the authorities for the region to be given protected status. In order to gain a full understanding of the ecology, biodiversity and status of reefs of the region a large number of sites will need to be surveyed. Research will therefore join the existing monitoring teams and have access to sites around all of the adjacent islands.

 

IB207 The diversity, distribution and abundance of Nudibranchs in Indonesia

(start dates 22 or 29 June or 06 July; need to have completed reef survey techniques course and be dive trained)

Molluscs are the most diverse group of animals on coral reefs, comprising up to 60% of all marine invertebrate species. Nudibranchs are one of the most familiar groups within the phylum but ecological knowledge of these charismatic species concerning their diversity, abundance and distribution is very limited and thus their population status is largely unknown. Unfortunately within the Wakatobi Marine National Park, early expeditions (before Operation Wallacea) removed many specimens for museum collections and local populations have been recovering since. No such collections have ever been undertaken in reefs surrounding Bau Bau. Researchers could examine distribution patterns of Nudibranchs within the two regions and relate abundance and diversity to other metric of reef health. Once normalized to background reef quality the implications of historical collections can be evaluated. Researchers will have the opportunity to join monitoring teams within and outside of the WMNP, visit many difference reef systems and habitats, and gain a better understanding of the local and wide scale distribution patterns of these enigmatic taxa.

Extended Project Summary

 

IH208 The ecology of Anemonefish in Indonesia

(start dates 22 or 29 June  or 6 July; need to have completed reef survey techniques course and be dive trained if incorporating a diving element into the research)

One of the more conspicuous groups of coral reef fish are anemone fish that live within anemone hosts.  This mutualistic relationship has been well documented but new patterns in fish- host interactions are emerging and investigations within the Wakatobi suggest that co-existence between different species of anemone fish within a single host is more common than in other areas of the world where reef diversity is lower. Cohabitation may be a consequence of, or driver of, high biodiversity and we aim to gain a deeper understanding of the interactions between host and fish species generally and between cohabitating species in particular. The limited observations to date suggest that within a single anemone cohabiting fish may partition their host “resource” by residing in different parts of the anemone thereby reducing competition. Whether there is any cost or benefit to the host when housing two rather than one fish species is yet to be determined. Thus there is much to do and research could include studies that focus on the relationship between anemone fish and hosts across environmental gradients, could include detailed investigations in to the frequency of cohabitation across habitats or could examine the potential costs or benefits of cohabitation for both dominant and subordinate fish species.

Extended Project Summary

 

IH209 The behaviour and functional role of reef fish cleaners in Indonesia

(start dates 22 or 29 June or 06 July; need to have completed reef survey techniques course and be dive trained if incorporating a diving element into the research)

Cleaner fish play an important role on coral reefs around the world. Recent studies have shown that the health of reef fish and the biodiversity of reef systems increase when cleaners are abundant. The Wakatobi Marine National Park is unusual in that three species of cleaner wrasse are present on its reefs. The most abundant and most successful is the Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse Labroides dimidiatus, which has been fairly well-studied but much less research effort has focused on the ecology of the other two cleaner wrasse species; the Blackspot Cleaner Wrasse Labroides pectoralis and the Bicolor Cleaner Wrasse Labroides bicolor. Another species, this time a fangblenny, mimics the most dominant cleaner species L dimidiatus in coloration patterns and morphology but rather than providing an important ecological services it attacks and bites clients waiting at cleaner stations.  A number of hypothesise could be put forward to study the success of this extreme behaviour to determine if the behaviour is controlled by the abundance of cleaners, the “value” of clients or a combination of both. Research could also focus on investigating niche differentiation through resource partitioning amongst cleaner species, the value of different clients to cleaners or could be based around the complexities of cleaning behaviour and advertising strategies. With such high biodiversity, varying habitat qualities and an abundant client pool, the Wakatobi represents the perfect place to increase global knowledge concerning the intricacies of cleaning behaviour and the role it plays on reef environments.

Extended Project Summary

 

IH210 The ecology and biology of shallow subtidal patch reefs in Indonesia

(start dates 22 or 29 June or 06 July; need to have completed reef survey techniques course)

How stable are reef communities over time, what changes are occurring and over what time scales? What are the responses of fish communities to changes in benthic cover? How do reef building corals that are sensitive to environmental change survive in these extreme and often marginal environments? These are some of the questions that we may gain answers to by investigating shallow subtidal patch reefs. Small patch reefs sometimes referred to as bommies, provide an ideal experimental system to investigate the role of transient versus resident species within reef systems due to the dynamic nature of their ecology. Coral patch reefs situated in lagoonal areas backward of the main reefs may also facilitate the daily migration of reef fish to other coastal habitats such as seagrass and mangrove forests. Consequently and apart from being an ideal model system to investigate the drivers of reef biodiversity, these patch reefs are of major ecological importance. Recently there has been much interest in shallow subtidal patch reefs as prevailing environmental conditions are often highly variable and for some organisms such as reef building corals, could be considered extreme. Several projects could be developed in this field to assess the ecology and functional roles of patch reefs, and also to identify the key environmental and biological drivers of patch reef biodiversity. This research is increasingly becoming more important as such patch reefs are often targeted for coral mining activities and are therefore at real threat from human induced degradation.

Extended Project Summary

 

IB212 The ecology and environmental impact of biological agents causing coral mortality

(start dates 22 or 29 June or 06 July; need to have completed reef survey techniques course and be dive trained if incorporating a diving element into the research)

The Crown of Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) are corallivores and voracious predators of coral reef ecosystems, spending approximately half their lifetime feeding. Due to the potentially destructive nature of A. planci it is very important to establish the extent to which the starfish is affecting reefs of Bau Bau. Apart from A planci there are a number of other species that are known to impact on coral health. Several species of fish prey on corals (eg some Butterflyfish and Parrotfish). It is unlikely that such feeding activity will cause coral mortality directly but there is some evidence to suggest that bite scars can increase coral disease. Recent studies have examined coral disease within the Wakatobi but this study has not been repeated in other nearby areas. Therefore research could focus on a single corallivore such as A. planci, a range of fish species and their indirect impacts, or could determine the extent to which coral diseases is impacting the different reefs of both the Wakatobi and Bau Bau. Importantly researchers will join the existing monitoring teams at both sites and will have access to a wide range of habitats surrounding adjacent islands. Data collected will feed in to an ecological and environmental assessment of Bau Bau coral reefs and describe the degree of threat of biological agents on reefs within the national park.

Extended Project Summary

 

IH213 The physical and biological structure of coral reef systems 

(start dates 22 or 29 June or 06 July; need to have completed reef survey techniques course and be dive trained if incorporating a diving element into the research)

Coral reefs are the most biodiverse marine systems which is largely due to the physical complexity of the habitat. Many different taxa add to the complex structures that characterise reefs but the predominant reef builders are the hard corals. Hard coral colonies are highly variable in both size and shape. This is in part a species-specific trait but is also environmentally regulated. Under different environmental conditions, such as light and exposure, colonies grow in different shapes and thus the physical complexity of a reef varies greatly. Unfortunately due to numerous factors such as reduced water quality and high sedimentation and turbidity, coral reefs around the world are becoming less complex and generally “flatter”. Numerous studies could be implemented under this topic to determine how environmental conditions regulate the architecture of coral colonies, how changing architecture influences associated fish biodiversity and how changes in fish species influences the functional ecology of reef systems. We must better understand the consequences of a global reduction in the physical complexity of reef systems and in particular how biodiversity and fish biomass will be affected.

Extended Project Summary

 

IH215 Thermal induced rapid coral mortality in Indonesia — **FULL – waiting list only**

(start dates 15, 22 or 29 June; need to have completed reef survey techniques course and be dive trained if incorporating a diving element into the research)

Coral reefs are perhaps amongst the most sensitive and important ecosystems on planet Earth. With threats of global climate change driving sea temperature rise and ocean acidification, combined with other increases in anthropogenic impacts, it is predicted that as many as ⅓ of coral reefs will be lost over the next 50 years and some species may well become extinct. Some coral species appear to be more eurythermic than others (i.e. survive over a wide range of temperatures), and some species appear to be able to withstand acute thermal stress (e.g., during ENSO events) whilst others appear sensitive and extremely vulnerable to relatively small increases in seawater temperatures. There is also increasing evidence to suggest that environmental history (i.e., the growth environment) may further influence the thermal tolerance of reef building coral species. However experimental data are limited and most often constrained by controlled laboratory settings using aquarium-grown corals that do not reflect the true environment. Dissertation projects comparing key coral species could be useful in predicting how temperature extremes may affect the biological and physical structure of reef systems. Available dissertation projects include: 1) quantifying tolerance, resistance, and lethal thermal zones for a selected coral species, and 2), comparing lethal temperatures and survival times between massive and branching coral types. While the experimental component of the research is laboratory based, student researchers may also be able to join the reef monitoring survey team to collect field data to augment their findings.

Extended Project Summary

 

HB239 Tracking the recovery of a keystone urchin species and its role in reef restoration — **FULL – waiting list only**

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June; Need to complete dive training and HU106 or HT108)

Under natural conditions, the sea urchin Diadema antillarum is the most important herbivore on Caribbean coral reefs, and is therefore considered a keystone species. However, a disease in the 1980s caused the death of an estimated 98% of individuals throughout the region. This mass mortality event had a devastating effect on reef health, driving subsequent phase shifts to algal dominated benthic communities. Recovery has been extremely limited, with populations on most reefs still severely depleted, and Utila is a classic example of this. Remarkably, the Banco Capiro reef system in Tela Bay has a population density of D. antillarum at astonishingly high levels. It also boasts extremely high benthic reef health, despite historical overfishing leading to a complete collapse of the fishery. Since its recent discovery, Operation Wallacea scientists began detailed population studies in 2013 and this project will continue to build on this. The primary objective is to quantify changes in the abundance, biomass and population structure of D. antillarum on the reefs of Utila and Banco Capiro. Further data will assess the potential roles of competition, predation and environmental factors in driving the recovery on Banco Capiro.

Extended Project Summary

 

HB240 Spatial and temporal patterns in fish community structure and biomass on contrasting reef systems in Honduras

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June;need to be dive trained and have completed the Caribbean reef ecology course)

The reefs around Utila and Tela Bay offer a unique opportunity to study various aspects of fish community structure and population dynamics on Caribbean coral reefs. Reef fish populations are subjected to a huge variety of different pressures and variables, both natural and human, which dictate their abundance and diversity. Many of these variables are not fully understood. On Utila, overfishing has long been a problem, whilst degraded reef habitats have limited the carrying capacity for fishery recovery. However, the island boasts a gradient of reef habitats to explore the drivers of fish population density and community structure. The reefs of Tela Bay have been subjected to extreme overfishing in the past, which has led to a complete collapse of the fishery. This ultimately led to a decline in fishing pressure that has provided Tela with the potential for rapid fish biomass recovery. Dissertation projects will use cutting edge stereo-video technology, which allows accurate biomass assessments of reef fish communities. These data will be combined with additional benthic habitat surveys using underwater video transects as well as environmental variables to investigate the main drivers of variation in reef fish community structure. Other projects could focus on temporal trends in overall fish biomass at both sites using data from previous research seasons.

Extended Project Summary

 

HB241 Managing the Caribbean lionfish invasion — **FULL – waiting list only**

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June; need to be dive trained and have completed the Caribbean reef ecology course)

Lionfish are an invasive species in the Caribbean, and are having a devastating impact on local fish communities throughout the region. Introduced, believed to be by accident, in the 1980s, lionfish have spread extremely quickly and are expected to soon be found as far as New York and South America. Their success is down to a number of factors, including their high reproductive rate, generalism in terms of both diet and habitat, and a lack of natural predators. They are now considered to be one of the greatest threats to the future of Caribbean coral reefs and their fish communities. Management approaches to dealing with the lionfish invasion are limited, with one of the most common being direct removal via spear fishing. This relies on regular visitation to individual reef sites, as studies have shown full recovery of lionfish only five months after complete removal. Baseline data will be collected on population densities of lionfish at sites of varying intensities of culling. Lionfish will subsequently be removed and morphometric measurements taken along with dissections for physiological and gut content assessments, which can be linked to fish assessments to gauge prey availability.

Extended Project Summary

 

HB242 The dynamics of mutualistic cleaning interactions on Caribbean coral reefs

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June; need to be dive trained and have completed the Caribbean reef ecology course)

On coral reefs, the cleaning behaviour of certain species represents an important interspecific and mutualistic relationship that provides a vital ecological service to the wider reef fish community. In the Caribbean, cleaning is performed by both fish (primarily gobies of the genus Elacatinus) and invertebrates (primarily the Pederson’s cleaner shrimp, Ancylomenes pedersoni). Cleaner species occupy cleaning stations that are sought by client fish who perform set behaviours in order to initiate cleaning. The dynamics of these interactions are complex, and span the taxonomic spectrum of the reef fish community, with Pederson’s cleaner shrimp alone known to service over 20 families of fish. Projects could focus on either goby or shrimp cleaning stations, or a comparison of both, to explore variation in clientele and investigate how cleaning frequency and duration varies between client species. Alternatively, projects could build on recent research demonstrating the impact of diver presence on the provision of cleaning behaviour through a combination of in water diver observations and remote videography.

 

HU244 Depth distributions and bathymetric connectivity of coral reef fish

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June; need to have completed the Caribbean reef ecology course and be dive trained if data are being collected by diving)

Most coral reef research focuses on shallow water habitats and their ecological processes, such as the habitat connectivity exhibited by fish migrations between coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems. However, coral reefs extend well beyond the limits of recreational diving, with mesophotic coral reef ecosystems (MCEs) extending in some areas to over 100m. These reefs are beyond the reach of most researchers, and therefore very little is known of the community structure at these depths, and what level of habitat connectivity exists between MCEs and their shallow counterparts. By working alongside a small team of technical divers and remotely deployed camera systems able to sample MCEs, students who are diving on this project will help collect the shallow data component through a range of fish and benthic monitoring techniques, and ultimately have access to both data sets for use in their dissertations. Non-diving students will operate and analyse footage from remotely deployed baited camera systems. Specific questions could include an assessment of total biomass at varying depths, or a more detailed analysis of fish community structure between a range of habitats.

Extended Project Summary

 

HU245 Reef flattening and its impacts on associated biodiversity

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June;need to be dive trained and have completed the Caribbean reef ecology course)

Hard corals are the ecosystem architects of tropical coral reefs. They provide a complex three-dimensional structure through generations of calcium carbonate skeletons, which in turn provide the range and quantity of microhabitats to support the staggering biodiversity associated with these ecosystems. However, recent decades have seen a significant loss of hard coral cover, particularly the more structurally complex branching growth forms, leading to a phenomenon known as reef flattening. The Caribbean has been particularly impacted, and the carrying capacity of associated fish and invertebrates has subsequently decreased. This project will assess areas of reefs around Utila to quantify both their structural complexity and the diversity and abundance of fish and invertebrates each area supports. Data could be collected across varying spatial scales and depths, and the findings used to predict the future consequences of continued reef flattening in the region.

Extended Project Summary

 

HU246 The vulnerability of commercially valuable groupers based on behavioural responses to diver presence

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June; need to be dive trained and have completed the Caribbean reef ecology course)

Grouper are a desirable fish and have been overfished extensively. The Nassau grouper is now commercially extinct from many parts of the Caribbean and therefore listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. This species are known to be bold and readily approachable by SCUBA divers; however this has yet to be quantified. Hunting pressure has been shown to alter an animal’s behaviour and recently spearing pressure was shown to increase lionfish weariness. Determining the weariness of a species by obtaining the Flight Initiation Distance (FID) and Alert Distance (AD) can help understand the vulnerability of a species to fishing pressure. Understanding how factors such as shelter availability and the presence of conspecifics may affect the FID is additionally important. This project will examine behaviour across the grouper community in response to approaching divers/snorkelers. This information is integral for improving the fisheries regulations for threatened species and to ensure their future survival.

 

HU247 A critical comparison of assessment techniques for surveying Caribbean coral reef ecosystems

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June;need to be dive trained and have completed the Caribbean reef ecology course)

The design of specific coral reef survey and monitoring protocols depends on a range of factors including manpower, the expertise of participants and available funding. Decreasing replicates and data resolution can increase the speed of data collection, but this has negative consequences for data reliability and the ability to answer more complex questions. Due to the heavy reliance on SCUBA, traditional methods focus on in situ data collection, meaning time becomes a significant limiting factor. However, the emergence of affordable technological alternatives to traditional coral reef monitoring techniques has greatly increased the potential efficiency of data collection. Benthic surveys to study reef habitat quality can be conducted using underwater videography, while fish surveys can be conducted using state of the art stereo-videography to provide accurate biomass as well as abundance. These techniques allow scientists to analyse footage back on land, meaning more replicates can be completed on a single dive. This dissertation will critically compare a range of coral reef survey techniques, exploring their strengths and weaknesses, to better inform researchers and conservation managers when designing reef monitoring strategies in the Caribbean.

Extended Project Summary

 

HT248 Physiology and behaviour of the long-spined sea urchin, a keystone Caribbean coral reef herbivore — **FULL – waiting list only**

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June;this project is predominately laboratory based but can also include a diving element; need to complete Caribbean reef ecology course and dive training if required)

The long-spined sea urchin, Diadema antillarum, is responsible for the maintenance of coral reef health throughout the Caribbean. However, in the early 1980s a region-wide epidemic reduced their populations by an average of 98%, which stimulated the widespread macroalgal phase-shifts that currently plague the Caribbean. Despite the fact that restoration of D. antillarum is widely believed to be a conservation priority we know surprisingly little about their physiology and behaviour. The aim of this project is therefore to explore the innate responses of this keystone species to numerous external environmental and physical factors, such as food and habitat availability, and rising sea surface temperatures, which may affect the success of targeted conservation efforts. These questions will be answered through a series of laboratory manipulations on urchin specimens collected from nearby reefs.

Extended Project Summary

 

HT249 The behaviour of invasive lionfish on Caribbean reefs

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June; this project is predominately laboratory based but can also include a diving element; need to complete Caribbean reef ecology course and dive training if required)

The invasion of lionfish into the Caribbean has developed into one of the greatest threats to the survival of the region’s coral reefs thanks to the devastating effect they have on native fish populations. Research has naturally focused on mapping the spread of lionfish, quantifying their ecological impacts, and exploring management interventions to reduce their numbers. However, improving our understanding of the behaviour of this species on non-native reefs is of particular interest to better grasp the underlying success of their invasion. This project will assess lionfish behaviour both on the reefs and in a small laboratory, where individuals will be captured and returned to land. Particular focuses of this work could include prey selectivity, and habitat preferences to investigate the cryptic nature of this species, and data can be linked to ecological characteristics of the reef itself.

Extended Project Summary

 

HT250 Caribbean reef restoration through strategically placed and structurally complex artificial structures

(Starts 15 June, 22 June, or 29 June; this project is predominately laboratory based but can also include a diving element; need to complete Caribbean reef ecology course and dive training if required)

Over the last three decades, the structural complexity of the Caribbean has significantly decreased, which has diminished the availability of living space and led to large reductions in biodiversity. In summer 2015 Operation Wallacea scientists and volunteers deployed a series of artificial reef systems around La Ensenada, a macroalgal covered, degraded patch reef located within Tela Bay. They are attempting to provide the long-spined sea urchin,a keystone herbivore responsible for the maintenance of healthy Caribbean coral reef ecosystems, with the shelter needed for them to avoid predation and proliferate, returning their much needed ecological role to reefs in crisis. This study hopes to assess the effectiveness of artificial reef deployment, coupled with urchin transplantation, for promoting the reversal of Caribbean-wide macroalgal phase-shifts. The ultimate aim is to optimise the design of artificial reef structures in order to maximise the recovery potential of long-spined sea urchin populations as a conservation intervention for the entire Caribbean.

Extended Project Summary

 

YA293 The connectivity of reef and intertidal zones in the Yucatan Peninsular

(start dates 13 June or 27 June)

Sea grass and intertidal habitats play a fundamental role in coral reef health; it is important to understand the mechanisms that connect these shallow water habitats as few studies have considered how this habitat connectivity impacts fish assemblages. Previous studies carried out on tropical marine habitat connectivity in the Caribbean region tend to focus upon coral reefs; therefore relatively little is known about the impact of habitat connectivity in intertidal regions.  This information can be very important in the implementation of ecosystem management, which in turn is vital for the conservation of these habitats that are threatened.  Seagrass beds are a major feature in most tropical tidal zones and provide important protection for adjacent reefs via sediment entrapment. The seagrass beds in Akumal bay are home to a large population of sea turtles and the health of these seagrass beds is vital to maintain this population. The connectivity of the offshore reefs, the shallow reefs and the seagrass beds is critical to sustaining intertidal biodiversity and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. This study would focus on benthic structure of reef communities and adjacent seagrass beds as well as associated biodiversity and fish biomass. The settlement of sediments on coral reefs is detrimental to their health; studies will therefore look at the succession rate of sediments onto reefs and entrapment in the connected seagrass beds.

 

BA311 Bahamian reef health assessment and restoration — **FULL – waiting list only**

(Starts 24 June)

Coral reefs worldwide are in decline, with Caribbean reefs particularly impacted. The loss of live coral is due to direct human disturbance in addition to several catastrophic events including the mass mortality of the Caribbean long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum), which played a key role in maintaining the balance between algae and live coral cover, and the spread of white-band disease, a bacterial infection. Caribbean elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (A. cervicornis) corals are critically endangered yet are traditionally the most dominant framework building corals in the region. The most recent catastrophe is the invasion of the Indo-Pacific lionfish. The effect of predation by lionfish significantly decreases the abundance and species richness of juvenile economically and ecologically important native fish, and has indirectly facilitated the spread of macroalgae on coral reefs, which has led to devastating phase shifts. Assessing the health of reefs of The Bahamas and the effectives of potential restoration techniques is integral to inform conservation management of these ecosystems. Projects will holistically assess reefs around Eleuthera and determine the success of restoration interventions with particular focus on coral cover, grazer abundance and the presence of invasive lionfish. Alternatively, projects could focus on particular species and examine spatial and temporal changes using data collected previously by the Cape Eleuthera Institute.

Extended Project Summary

 

BA312 Shark research and conservation — **FULL – waiting list only**

(Starts 24 June)

Sharks are among some of the most threatened fishes in the world’s oceans and, as a group, face possibly the largest global population declines in modern history. These declines have been caused by the chronic overfishing of some species, driven by the demand for high value fins. Many species of shark are considered apex predators, and are thought to be of critical importance in maintaining equilibrium in marine ecosystems through regulation of the distribution and abundance of lower trophic levels. Consequently, the widespread overexploitation of some shark species is thought to have far-reaching consequences for entire food webs, threatening the stability of these sensitive ecosystems. The Cape Eleuthera Institute’s Shark Research and Conservation Program aims to address these issues by conducting an eclectic portfolio of conservation driven research projects. Research includes the spatial ecology of bull sharks, physiological stress responses to long line capture in coastal species as well as spatial distribution of deep-sea species. In addition to these, research into coastal habitat use by rays has been initiated.

Extended Project Summary