Two marine research scientists spent eight days on Abaco from 29 February to March 8 in conjunction with a multi-year study being conducted across the entire Bahamas. This was the first time on Abaco for researcher Liz Wallace of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida though Chris Haak of the University of Massachusetts has been here before working on other tagging projects.
This current project is funded by the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and the goal is to study the relationship of bonefish between the islands and how closely related the populations are. The main focus of this trip has been to identify crucial habitats.
This study is extremely important to Abaco and indeed the entire Bahamas since it is vital to conserve a healthy population of bonefish. The bonefishing industry provides a huge economic benefit for the country. It pumps in excess of $140 million into the economy of the Bahamas each year.
Chris and Liz have been studying the spawning behavior of the bonefish and state that the bonefish go out into deep water to spawn especially at the south end of the island of Abaco. They spawn in mass and then the eggs float in from the deep ocean and reach the shoreline approximately two months later.
“The reason we came at this time of year to collect samples is because we believe the peak spawning season to be November and December so that most larvae will be coming in to shore now. The ocean currents can carry the larvae far so there is potential for extremely long range dispersal. Our goal is to find out how the bonefish populations of the different islands are connected and whether the Abaco babies are from Abaco or from other islands in particular or a mix of several different islands.”
The samples were collected using mesh cylinders with a light bulb and the researchers stated that they found larvae all over the island from North to South and East to West. These they have now taken these back to their labs to study and they will carry out intensive genetic analyses in which they extract DNA from the larvae which takes a considerable amount of time.
“This research study is of such importance because in places like the Florida Keys there has been a real decline in bonefish in the past few decades and we do not know why. Researchers from all over are trying to identify why and trying to figure out how to try and replenish the bonefish population in Florida and how to conserve the bonefish population here in The Bahamas,” stated the researchers.
“Understanding where the larvae come from is very important and it becomes more complicated to protect them if they are from various islands. The connectivity between the islands tells us how to manage conservation. This project is a collective effort between researchers on several of the islands of the Bahamas, mainly Abaco, Andros, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama and Exuma.”
Chris and Liz wished to thank persons who assisted them greatly during this project on Abaco. Namely Capt. Buddy and Cindy Pinder, the Abaco Lodge, the Delphi Lodge and Black Fly Lodge all of whom donated their time, guides, boats and gas.