It is a well-known fact that our oceans are in serious trouble from a combination of over-fishing, pollution, and unsustainable development. One of the most heavily impacted marine environments is the flats, where many anglers target their favorite species including bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Some keys to the conservation of these species are initial awareness of the threats the flats environment face, the environmental and economic importance of the flats, and the work that is being done to protect this fragile environment and the species that call the flats home. This awareness begins with education in the classroom.
This fall, Justin Lewis, BTT’s Bahamas Initiative Manager, was invited by Nicole St. Pierre, the geography teacher at Lucaya International School, to speak to her two grade 12 classes about the recreational bonefish fishery in the Bahamas. During his presentation Justin highlighted the economic and cultural importance of the flats and bonefish to the Bahamas, the history of bonefishing in the Bahamas, bonefish ecology, and the research that BTT and our collaborators are doing to help conserve bonefish and their habitats. Both classes were very engaged during Justin’s presentation, and asked a lot of great questions.
It is one thing to talk to students about the flats and bonefish in the classroom, but if it is combined with hands on experience in the field, what is being taught takes on a holistic form. Many of the students had never seen, let alone been on a flat before, or seen a bonefish for that matter. Justin, along with Miss St. Pierre, and Dan Dow, BTT’s PR and Communications Manager, took the students out on a field trip to a local flat where they participated in BTT’s bonefish tag-recapture program and genetics study. Using seine nets the group was able to capture 38 bonefish. Eleven of which were recaptures, these fish already had tags in them from previous tagging efforts. Justin had the students fin clip all the bonefish and insert dart tags into untagged fish.
By looking back at the original tag data of the fish that were recaptured, it was found that those fish had been recaptured in the same location where they were originally tagged. Knowing that bonefish have small home ranges has important conservation implications. For example, human disturbances such a jet ski’s, hotel developments, and marina construction can negatively impact a flat and degrade it to a point that could displace a local population of bonefish. This reinforced Justin’s classroom presentation, during which he described the small home ranges of bonefish. Having students participate in research such as this gives them perspective into what it is like to be in the field of marine science, which might appeal to some of the students as they prepare to head off to college. More importantly, it allows these young students to see and experience the vital bonefish habitat found all around the Bahamas, and hopefully that experience has given them a greater appreciation and awareness of its fragility and importance. Justin will continue his education and outreach efforts throughout the islands he visits, educating students and adults alike about the importance of the flats and bonefish to the Bahamas, and getting them involved in the conservation work that Bonefish and Tarpon Trust does around the country. Continued research efforts to identify key bonefish habitats and studying their behavior is integral to the conservation of the species and protection of their habitats. This ongoing research will ensure a healthy fishery for generations to come.