After a mix-and mingle formal opening with cocktails and hors -d’oeuvres at Friends of the Environment Education Center, held in the evening of Thursday January 16, the 2014 Abaco Science Alliance’s first presentations started at approximately 9:30 on the following morning.
Moderated with the energetic presence of Paleontologist David Steadman , turned MC for the occasion, the conference produced a total of sixteen outstanding presentations either on topics of little known Bahamas resources or on the challenges facing some of the more obvious resources.
Some of the presenters such as Stephen Cone, David Steadman, Todd Pover, Kathleen Sullivan-Sealy or Janet Franklin, to mention a few, were from various universities in the United States, but nearly as many were young researchers from The Bahamas, especially from the Cape Eleuthera Institute.
After the opening remarks from MP for North Abaco, Renardo Curry, the topic of the first talk was “A Culturally Relevant and Island-Specific Approach to Coral Conservation in The Bahamas.” It was enthusiastically presented by Nikita Shiel-Rolle. It addressed concerns about the health of the Bahamian coral reefs and their conservation
Presenter Stephen B. Cone talked about The Mangrove Action Plan, a topic already addressed in previous years, but not yet resolved and no less important in view of the prospective future commercial developments considered on the shores of Abaco.
Mr. Cone reiterated the role of the mangrove regarding the health of the coastal eco-system and economy. Mangroves absorb 75% of wave and storm energy thus dampening the impact of storms on coastal communities; they stabilize shorelines and prevent erosion while acting as nursery for important species of sea-life. They trap sediments and nutrients and sequestrate 1.5 metric ton per hectare of carbon.
Deep-Water Elasmobranch Surveys from Exuma Sound by Dr. Owen O’Shea, a researcher with the Cape Eleuthera Institute, took the assembly through the deep water of the Exuma Sound where Elasmobranch, a group of sea creatures including Sharks, Rays and Skates, without a bone skeleton, but rather a cartilaginous one, live.
As commercial fishing exacerbates population decline in many shallow water fish stocks, deep- water species are increasingly becoming the targets of exploitation, said Dr. O’Shea. It is recognized, he mentioned, that approximately 46% of sharks, rays and chimeras are considered deep-water species.
“Interactions between the Caribbean Spiny Lobster and the invasive Lionfish” was another topic covered.
As Lionfish increase in number, more concerns on its effect on the local fish and shellfish population, especially the Spiny Lobster, are being voiced. The interactions between these two ocean residents are not well understood. A researcher at Cape Eleuthera Institute, Mrs. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick undertook some experiments with shelters to determine if there was any displacement of habitat by either species. It was observed that lobsters spent significantly more time outside of the shelters and more time roaming when Lionfish were present, suggesting that competition for shelter could negatively affect the abundance of lobsters found in condos.
Krystal Ambrose reached the stage announcing that she was about to talk “trash”. By this statement she did not mean that she was not going to use proper language, but that she was going to inform the assembly about her research on the accumulation of plastic garbage on the beaches of Eleuthera.
On Saturday morning, January 18 from 9am to 12 noon, the final sessions of the Abaco Science Alliance were held at New Vision Ministries. Several researchers were on hand to give information and updates on various studies that they have been conducting on Abaco or on various Bahamian Islands.
Andy Stamper was the first presenter who spoke on the topic: Coral Reefs-A Model for Restoration and Management. He spoke about how the coral reefs are being depleted and what can be done to help restore them to their natural beauty.
Dr. Woody Bracey then spoke about his research called: Forty Years of Shorebird Data – an important bird area-the sand spit at the South East corner of Green Turtle Cay. This research began in 1972 when his medical group bought property there and they have been tracking shorebirds ever since.
Dr. Thomas Goreau spoke about harmful algae blooms linked to nitrogen runoff from the golf course on Guana Cay. He noticed low phosphorus levels there (compared to nitrogen) which he said has likely limited large algal blooms. He referred to his pilot Biorock Reef Restoration Project which he started in January 2014. It is a 6 foot recovery reef made from some scrap metal he found. It is the first of its kind and already he is seeing fish taking up residence there and restoring life to the sea bed there.
To help with the recovery of reefs he suggests: looking at golf course fertilization, harmful algae blooms, controlling phosphorus, looking at golf course locations, setting ecologically sound standards and enforcing them once they are established.
The final speaker was Lindy Knowles who spoke about the Zamia Conservation Action Plan. He began by explaining what a Zamia is – which is a Cycad. A Cycad is the oldest seed bearing plant around. In the Caribbean he explained that the Zamia is called the Coontie. There are three types of Coontie found in the Bahamas.
The weekend of talks promoted lively discussion and many signed up for the additional field trips.