On the Expedition
Help create better marine reserves and protect fish populations by discovering how mangrove creeks and patch reefs depend upon each other.
Tropical coral reefs are critically important ecosystems that host enormous biodiversity, support fishing communities, protect shorelines, and attract divers, snorkelers, and other tourists. But large coral reefs are only one habitat within tropical marine seascapes, which include sea grass beds, mangrove creeks, and smaller, lagoonal patch reefs. All play crucial roles, and all are under threat from climate change, overfishing, and development.
On this expedition, you’ll join researchers working with the Cape Eleuthera Institute to determine how mangrove creeks and patch reefs interact to support fish populations and the overall health of the coastal ecosystem in The Bahamas. You’ll pay particularly close attention to the life cycle movements of fish from sea grass bed and mangrove creek nurseries to patch reefs. You’ll help discover whether having more and higher quality natural mangrove creeks near patch reefs boosts fish populations--especially key species like parrotfish and grouper--, and whether poor quality habitats cause stress to these fish populations that in turn affect the rest of the food chain. The data you collect will help inform marine reserve management policies.
You’ll learn how to identify fish species and estimate length underwater and to spot key behaviors in both natural and aquarium settings. You’ll combine open water snorkeling tasks with maintaining fish nets at patch reef sites, walking along and taking various measures of mangrove creeks, and helping take biological samples from fish in the field and in the lab. You’ll learn how to measure water flow rates, width, and depth in the mangrove creeks, and to conduct fish surveys. You’ll help search for, tag, measure, and monitor fish along the patch reefs and mangrove creeks. The bulk of your time will be spent in or near the beautiful waters, creeks, and reefs of Eleuthera Island, so good swimming and snorkeling skills are a must.
Earthwatch Team Facilitator
An Earthwatch Teen Team Facilitator will join your team to provide additional guidance, supervision, and activity organization for the expedition. Your facilitator will be there to help from the time you step off the plane for the team rendezvous to the end of the expedition. He or she will encourage team spirit by planning events such as team building exercises, presentations, and recreational and cultural activities. If you have any questions or problems during your expedition, such as issues with another student volunteer, homesickness, or an emergency back at home, you should feel comfortable talking to your facilitator. You should also follow the advice and expectations set by your facilitator regarding safety and personal conduct. All Teen Team Facilitators have experience teaching and leading groups of teenagers and are familiar with the team dynamics necessary to make each expedition a success. Remember, your facilitator is there for you! (Teen: Facilitator ratio: ~6:1)
Meals and Accommodations
You’ll stay at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) research facility in single-sex, dormitory-style rooms, each hosting up to eight volunteers. Each dormitory contains bunk beds and basic shelving, electric ceiling fans, lights, and 110v outlets; your bedding will be provided. Wireless internet access is available, but bandwidth may be limited. Telephone and fax services are also available. You’ll have a shared bathroom with multiple shower stalls and sinks, and hot water.
You’ll eat your morning, midday, and evening meals in a central dining area (also used by other staff and researchers present at CEI at the time), enjoying a mix of American, Bahamian, and Caribbean fare prepared by local cooks, and you’ll take part in basic clean-up duties. Vegetarian options are available at every meal and other diets can be accommodated with advance notice. Drinks and snacks (which can be purchased from the adjacent Cape Eleuthera Resort & Yacht Club) can be kept cool in a large communal fridge.
About the Research Area
The Bahamas has a tropical maritime climate, which makes for generally good weather year-round. There are basically two seasons: summer (May-September) and winter (October-April). Winter temperatures are around 21-24°C (70-75°F) with warmer weather at around 27-29°C (80-85°F) the rest of the year. Water temperatures average 24° C (75° F) in winter, 25-27° C (80° F) in spring, and 27-31° C (88° F) in summer.
Summer days can be hot and muggy, but winters are drier and cooler; relative humidity averages about 65% annually. The rainy season lasts from May-October, with most precipitation occurring during brief summer showers. Hurricane season spans from the end of June through the end of November; Earthwatch and CEI have extensive weather monitoring procedures and comprehensive evacuation protocols.
Cape Eleuthera Institute is on a peninsula with many beautiful routes for walking and cycling (CEI has basic bikes available for your use), and such recreational time activities are ideal ways to see the terrestrial wildlife of the area such as colorful iguanas and birds. (You’ll also get to explore a lot of Eleuthera as you conduct your surveys of the mangrove creeks.) CEI staff organizes occasional visits to other nearby islands for snorkeling and beach activities, and you’ll get a chance to interact with the local community when groups visit the Institute.
CEI is predominantly staffed by Americans and Bahamians and English is spoken by all staff and visiting researchers. The Bahamas are culturally similar to conservative areas of the United States in many ways, so most volunteers will be familiar with most of the guidelines given to volunteers (e.g. no swimsuits in the dining area).