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Research Demystifies Bonefish Movement Patterns in The Bahamas
By Office of Communication, The College of The Bahamas
Apr 16, 2013 - 5:57:14 PM

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Nassau, Bahamas - Tracing the movement patterns of bonefish is no small feat; anglers admit that the popular sport fish is difficult to catch because of its enigmatic colouring. But Assistant Professor in the School of Chemistry Environmental and Life Sciences at The College of The Bahamas Dr. Karen Murchie and her team tracked 15 bonefish for six months and discovered information that could impact the ecology and the economy of The Bahamas.

Using waters off the south end of Eleuthera as their laboratory, from Starved Creek to Cape Eleuthera, the researchers used acoustic telemetry or tagging and tracking to study the movements of adult bonefish. In a carefully planned and executed process, 47 adult bonefish were surgically implanted with transmitters.  Additionally, 27 receivers were positioned along a 14-mile stretch of coastline in creeks, near-shore and off-shore habitat zones to listen for and record the movements of tagged bonefish.

After releasing the 47 bonefish, 45 were detected in the array of receivers, which allowed the researchers to collect over 300,000 data points.  In their investigations, they examined daily and seasonal movement patterns, habitat use, how tides influenced their movement and the dynamics of bonefish schooling behavior.

“Previous studies on adult bonefish movement patterns carried out in Florida or The Bahamas by other researchers were largely unsuccessful in the past because they typically were only able to track a few fish for a short amount of time.  In our study we had 15 bonefish that were tracked for six months or more, and even one fish detected for 611 days” Dr. Murchie explained.  “The benefit of the extended data set is that we can actually start to see seasonal trends in movement and it is also apparent that individual fish have periods of time where they are home bodies and don’t travel too far, and other times when they are more exploratory.”

Dr. Murchie recently shared the results of that study titled “Bonefish movement patterns and energetics - knowledge gained from acoustic telemetry studies in Eleuthera, The Bahamas” at the recently held National Natural History Conference that took place at The College of The Bahamas. The conference was a deliberate step towards properly archiving the results of these kinds of research on The Bahamas so that they can be easily accessible for the public, scholars and policymakers.

The information collected on the movement patterns of adult bonefish will be very useful for establishing conservation and management strategies to protect the species. This also has particular implications when approvals are being considered for tourism related capital developments in environmentally sensitive areas.   

“We are observing what these fish are doing when they are not being affected by humans. This information is really important because if what we start to see is that a large population of bonefish are repeatedly using the same types of habitats – and if there were some sort of development, like a resort or something that wanted to come in, clear out all these mangroves and habitats that are very important in the adult stage of the bonefish life cycle – that can have a huge impact on their populations because that could have been a prime feeding area for them,” Dr. Murchie said.

“Also, on a bigger scale, bonefish are just one of the species that live in these areas. So, some of the information that we gain from how bonefish live in these types of environments could apply to other species as well,” she added.

Researchers believe that further studies must be completed on bonefish in The Bahamas to understand their ecology and determine which areas should be protected to ensure a healthy ecosystem and economy.

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