Summer 2018 - CORE Newsletter
Education & Outreach take centre stage

 

Summary

 

It has been exactly 12 months since the Centre for Ocean Research and Education (CORE) transitioned from being a concept into a reality and what a year it has been!.  In this short time, we have hosted, received, taught and impacted 509 individuals through our research, education and outreach programs, the majority being Bahamian Citizens. These achievements would have been impossible without the overwhelming and continued support we have received from a range of individuals and organisations; however, it has been this past summer that has really established our reputation for excellence in research and education. For the period May 1st – September 1st we provided outreach programs for 262 individuals, over 85% of whom were Bahamian.

 

The Smithsonian Institution

 

April and May 2018 saw our collaboration with The Smithsonian Institution get underway as we welcomed Dr. Olivia Rhoades and Scott Jones from the Fort Pierce Marine Station, Florida. This project is a multi-latitudinal and multi-institutional study across several locations from Bermuda to Panama, that aims to assess the dual influences of herbivory and climatic shifts on seagrass meadows in the western Atlantic – specifically turtle grass Thalassia testudinum. Seagrass ecosystems offer a range ecosystem services considered critical for healthy coastal and nearshore environments. These include offering nursery and foraging grounds for a range of ecologically significant species, as well as providing structural integrity and carbon sequestration.

It was a huge effort with a range of volunteers from the local community as well as gap year students from the Cape Eleuthera Institute in south Eleuthera and second homeowners that had learnt of the project through our community workshops and lectures. We established an experimental array of 50 cages with varying ‘treatments’ that CORE scientists will monitor every two weeks until summer 2019. This project also facilitated an internship for Gregory Town resident and CORE intern, 21 yr. old Enrique Bethel, in what we believe is a first for this community, likely the island and even possibly for The Bahamas. A huge thank you also to Smithsonian/CORE joint interns Duncan O’Brien and Adam Southern who coordinated these efforts along with the 36 individuals who donated their time to assist us, and promote this project as a tool for community outreach programs.

 

Summer Education Programs

 

In June, we were awarded an education grant from the Lyford Cay Foundation in New Providence, to design and deliver a structured and immersive marine science program for Bahamians, based here at the field station in Gregory Town. However, one of the greatest challenges we faced during our recruitment drive, was that many young people from these communities are unable to swim, so we started with CORE M.Sc. student and recent graduate from the University of Oxford, Duncan O’Brien developing a ‘Summer Swim Club’ free of charge for any Bahamian who wished to learn vital water confidence and safety skills. Two lessons were provided each week on Wednesdays and Fridays with students ranging in age from 4 to 13 years. Significant improvements were seen in every individual that participated, building confidence in the ten children and two parents who took part every week. We are particularly indebted to Claudia Scavella for her participation and desire to carry the classes forward throughout the Fall. This highlights how we can build capacity to support local people, but then hand it back so local communities can drive it forward in a self-sustaining manner.

 

Marine Research Intakes

 

Our first marine research education program started in July whereby we hosted eight students aged 11-17 years for three days. Students hailed from Harbour Island and Nassau, and we worked in close collaboration with Sergeant Tekenia Taylor of The Royal Bahamas Police Force, who delivered the students to us each day. This program was designed to challenge students academically as well as promoting conservation through applied marine research. Students were offered a structured and rigorous program including coral reef ecology, sponge biology and evolution, scientific drawing, taxonomy, scientific writing and scientific communication as well as developing their own mini research projects:

1.    An assessment in diversity and abundance of reef architects at Longbight Cove and Gaulding Cay Gregory Town.

2.    Flow rate according to morphology in the sponges of Longbight Cove and Gaulding       Cay Gregory Town.

3.    Reef fish abundance and diversity in two coastal ecosystems of north Eleuthera. 

 

In order to ‘pass’ the program, three requirements were needed including 100% attendance, 75% or over in a final written assessment, and then at the end of program, each team delivered a conference style presentation, highlighting their research to the local community, their friends and family during an outreach event, held here at the CORE field station. 

We rapidly turned around for our second program in joint collaboration with the Cape Eleuthera Institute, and long-term friend and CORE supporter, Stan Burnside, who brought six students to us, from his well established and highly successful young man’s program from south Eleuthera. This program took a slightly different approach, in that we extended to a five-day curriculum with a more field-intense component, allowing students to develop their own data collection skills. A huge thank you to Pip Simmons and her family for donating their home for us to house the boys nearby, so we were able to start early, with a one-mile run each morning before classes started!

These education programs allowed students the capacity to learn about the value of Bahamian marine resources, and actively take part in applied research activities that we use to assess the health of coastal ecosystems. While it was challenging for these young people to learn new concepts and relatively advanced scientific methods considering their age, each student excelled and we believe learnt valuable lessons beyond just our curriculum, as we saw such transition in behaviour, confidence, maturity and communication.

Including visitors to the station in support of these young people during presentations, we hosted a total of 81 individuals involved in these programs, and this was all made possible by the Lyford Cay Foundation, for supporting our efforts, so a huge thank you to them, for believing in our mission to Make Waves…

 

Visitors from the Frozen North

 

Amid all the World Cup chaos that July brought, we were fortunate enough to work with the University of Alberta for a six-day exploratory mission on the hunt of an elusive sponge. The red dot sponge Phorbas amaranthas is shrouded in mystery as far as its Bahamian range and distribution goes, with one obscure reference from the 1950’s, sourced from a conference proceedings abstract, that suggested a sample was located at Sweetings Cay, Grand Bahama. So, the CORE team along with our Canadian visitors spent six days searching the shallow shelf reefs surrounding St. Georges Cay, Royal Island and Egg Island off the north-west coast of Eleuthera. While we ascertained that sponge diversity in these locations was incredibly high, this particular sponge eluded us, but with such a paucity of historical record from here, its habitat preference is largely unknown; for example, deep/shallow, shaded/light, high/low energy, creeks/reefs. CORE scientstis will continue to keep an eye out for this cryptic animal, so stay tuned for more information! 

 

Sweetings Pond

 

Our collaboration with the University of Tampa continues to build and gain momentum as we welcomed Heather Mason-Jones back to Eleuthera to continue with the community conservation efforts at the Sweetings Pond ecosystem. During her time on island, projects included the construction of a permanent observational array aiming to facilitate a mark-recapture study on the endemic, genetically distinct seahorse population. Dr. Mason-Jones is currently working with CORE and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) in promoting Sweetings Pond as a nature reserve, highlighting its ecological value, and therefore conservation status. This will provide a tangible resource for outreach and act as a unique platform for education in the future.

To compliment this work, CORE has just taken on M.Sc. student Duncan O’Brien in collaboration with The University of Essex, UK, and The University of Tampa, to use this system as a ‘model laboratory’. Duncan aims to describe predator-prey and feeding relationships among the whole community in a first for this fascinating anchialine lake. Duncan will employ methods involving the analysis of stable isotopes that will allow him to build a picture of how the food web dynamics work in this system. He has already started collecting data on the abundance, diversity and distribution of fishes and invertebrates, as well as characterising the biotic and abiotic components of this lake.  We will undoubtedly be reporting more on Duncan’s progress throughout 2019.

 

And Finally

 

Our plans and agenda for 2019 are ambitious but we are ready. We have just nominated a Bahamian Director to join our board of highly qualified and diverse individuals to contribute to our outreach and education strategies. In addition, Dr. O’Shea is to deliver two guest addresses at an upcoming conservation conference in Colorado and South Dakota, promoting the concept of aligning research with immersive education as a powerful tool to create awareness, and build capacity in the communities of Eleuthera.

 

 A Special Thank You

 

·      Idea Wild for funding us for the second time, providing a huge amount of the tools we have needed to make this summer so successful. Your contribution and support of CORE have been instrumental to our success.

·      Luke Madden for his tireless efforts and donation of time to create our amazing promotional video - please follow Luke’s portfolio at www.lmadden.com.

·      All of our interns: Enrique Bethel, Christopher Johnson, Zoe-Maud Alic, Sidhira Johnson, Isabella Hartman, Kaitlyn Cambridge, Mattheo Albury and Adam Southern, without whom we could not have operated with such efficiency and professionalism that has established our reputation in the wider community here, and abroad.

·      To everyone who has continued to donate to us either in person, or through our various campaigns – we cannot operate without these contributions, and we hope that this newsletter demonstrates how  we allocate these funds, making all of this possible.

 

The Centre for Ocean Research and Education has grown in a capacity that we did not predict when this project started just 12 months ago. We are indebted to you all for your support in what we are doing to create opportunity where it currently does not exist. The stories, support and feedback we have received all year from students, their parents, their teachers, police officers, business operators, community leaders, tour operators, second-home owners, visiting scientists, tourists, interns, government officials, graduate students and former colleagues who have visited us, has been overwhelming.

We continue to seek new ways in which our fundraising can be diversified to build on our portfolio of research projects while supporting education and outreach initiatives in the communities of this, and eventually, surrounding islands.  

Thank you and please help us to continue to Make Waves...

You can contact Dr. Owen O’Shea and CORE, through the website and subscribe to a quarterly newsletter and don’t forget to follow CORE on Instagram!

You can download this latest newsletter HERE !