Marine Invertebrates in the Bahamas

Latest update May 4, 2019 Started on February 20, 2019

Follow along as we explore and observe marine invertebrate diversity around San Salvador in the Bahamas. This year we will start a photo/video record of specific locations to observe annual changes in growth and diversity.

February 20, 2019
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Last Day Adventures

This morning we started our day with a nice early morning walk to the concrete rain catching system behind the GRC campus. It was amazing to see the system in place that provided the entire campus with clean water. After that we packed up and prepared to leave campus. All of us students decided to pitch in and buy a brick to thank our professor Cara and her husband Brian for providing us with this awesome opportunity and making it so much fun! We have seen so many amazing organisms this week and gone to so many cool places! We also want to give a special thanks to Troy, the executive director of the GRC, for everything he did for us this week. We really enjoyed our time at GRC and are all very thankful we got to spend time there and use their facilities. After packing up we left San Salvador and headed back to Nassau for our last night in the Bahamas. Once there, we spent some time looking around local shops and found some very cool carvings and other souvenirs before going to dinner at Goldie’s Conch House. While eating dinner, we saw two Spotted Eagle Rays, a Yellow Ray, Barracuda, and many different fish off of the back patio. There was an insane amount of empty conch shells from all of the conchs harvested by the restaurant over the years. The foundation of the restaurant was even built on the mounds of empty conch shells collected over the last 30 years. We were also able to watch one employee go through the conch harvesting process. Overall, our trip was incredible. The reefs that we were able to see and the different sights around San Salvador were nothing short of amazing. We are all very thankful for the opportunity to be here and the hospitality we received while visiting the Bahamas. We can’t wait to come back!

  • Erica and Susan
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In The Field

Molly & Bria: Today marked our last full day here in San Salvador. We started our morning off by driving out to a mangrove forest in Pigeon's creek. We snorkeled around and saw lots of different organisms, including upside down jellies, baby barracuda, polychaete worms, trunkfish, and many more. From here we went to Bamboo Point at Cockburn where we had lunch and looked for shells. Following our lunch, we swam out to a drop off in the ocean. This was quite a long swim, but it was worth it. We saw an adult barracuda, nurse shark, green sea turtle, triggerfish, garden eels, and the deep blue sea. However, this didn't conclude our day. We had one more dive out to Snapshot Reef before dinner. Here we saw a plethora of blue chromis, sea plumes, stingrays, spider crabs, and lots of other organisms. We had a very busy, hot day; however, we enjoyed every minute of it. We are ready to get
some sleep and head back to Nassau in the morning!

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Day Five: Scientific Expedition

Our spirits were lifted as we finally got some sunshine today! We started out by going to Rocky Point where we swam along four different reef formations and split into groups in order to survey each reef. We wrote down and took photos of the organisms we encountered; we saw a Southern Stingray today, it was HUGE. Some group members saw another dolphin and a sea slug. There was a multitude of fish species we saw including the Porcupine Puffer Fish, some Groupers, the Stoplight Parrotfish, the Rainbow Parrotfish, and a juvenile Queen Parrotfish. We could hear the crunching from the Parrotfish eating the nearby coral! As we first swam around the reefs we saw a giant Long Sea Whip that was a beautiful purple color and then startled a Green Sea Turtle. During the survey, we saw many colorful Sea Fans, various encrusting and rope sponges, some purple Corky Sea Fingers and Leafy Flat-Blade Algae. After surveying the reefs, we went snorkeling in the bay next to them called Sand dollar Bay where we finally found some live Red Heart Urchins! Following the snorkeling adventure, we loaded back into the truck and headed back to the GRC for some much-needed lunch and WATER. From there we went back down to Dump Reef via a tight path through some vegetation (including the dreaded Manchineel Tree) to the beachfront. Once we reached the shore, we started surveying transects of the different intertidal zones on both the beach and tide pools. If the weather permits, some of our group will possibly be going on another night dive at Graham’s Harbor. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us!

-Sarah and Edie

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Day Four: Cave Adventures and more

The day started off with some bad weather, so we decided to head underground for some exploration. After breakfast we drove out to Dixon Lighthouse, the starting point of our trip down into a nearby cave. Our goal was to locate pseudoscorpions, which are known to inhabit a specific rock about 40 meters into the cave. Although we were not successful in our hunt, we did have quite a unique experience, including some bat sightings. Most of the group did the loop route back to the cave entrance, which involved climbing and squeezing through narrow openings between the cave walls- not an easy task to say the least! Afterwards we headed back to GRC for lunch and some rest. Once the weather cleared up a bit, we hiked out to North Point in search of nerites, climbing down the cliff to survey the shores down below. Our task was to identify which tidal zone (splash zone and upper, middle, and lower intertidal zones) the different species of nerites (bleeding tooth, four tooth, checkered, and zebra) were inhabiting. We found all but the zebra nerites, which were no where to be seen. Instead of climbing back up the cliff we swam a short distance back to Graham's Harbor, spotting flamingo tongues and a dolphin along the way. In the evening we reviewed some of our favorite photos and videos from the trip so far. Looking forward to more of these adventures!

-Selena and Amanda

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Day Three: Ocean Explosion

Stephanie and Julia: Today started out with an exciting trip to Fossil Reef. This place had solidified coral everywhere but also contained a large number of organisms within the tide pools. We spotted multiple Chitons, sponges, urchins, shells and even some Christmas tree worms! A blue crab also took a swipe at a couple of cameras that got too close. This was a great place to collect shells. Shortly after our excursion to Fossil Reef we ventured out to Bamboo Point to briefly snorkel and explore the beaches. Here we saw a peacock flounder, fire sponge, split crown flower dusters, and various polychetes. Sadly the weather was uncooperative and we were rained out. We used this time to identify different shells we have collected. After dinner we took a night swim through Dump Reef just outside the GRC. We began at dusk and ended after the sun had set. It was an exhilarating experience! Here we came across spiny Caribbean lobsters, squid, gorgonians, an eel, a white brittle star and a spotted sea hare. We are so excited for tomorrow with the hopes that there will be better weather for future adventures!

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Jen: We have arrived in San Salvador! After a smooth flight, we were greeted by Troy, the director of the Gerace Research Centre (GRC) and his giant flatbed truck. We piled all our luggage into the center, sat along the edges, and made our way toward the GRC. Once we arrived, we had a wonderful lunch (and delicious chocolate cake!) and had our orientation. After orientation, we quickly grabbed our gear and headed toward the beach! Today, we snorkeled at Graham's Harbor, which is only a short walk down the road. Features of this location include expansive seagrass beds and a collapsed pier that made for great sights. I think one of the highlights for the entire class was seeing Green Sea Turtles! Personally, I have never seen one in the wild, so it is a memory I will never forget. Other organisms we saw today include: fuzzy chitin, sessile barnacles, social fan worms, queen angelfish, queen parrotfish, trumpetfish, golf ball corals, blue encrusting sponges, sea fans, and giant anemones. After heading back to the GRC, we had an amazing dinner consisting of baked chicken, macaroni and cheese (a class favorite), rice and beans, and apple pie. We sure are spoiled here! After dinner, our expedition leader Dr. Shillington, led us on a short walk down Queen's Highway, a 30 mph road which encircles the island. Dr. Shillington pointed out manchineel trees to the class- these trees, which belong to the spurge family, contain a toxic sap that can cause severe blistering and burning if it contacts the skin. She wanted to be sure we could identify manchineel trees because they are common along the Bahamian coast, mangrove forests, and inland lakes on the island. Overall, we had an incredible first day on San Salvador and we can't wait to see what the rest of the week has in store for us!

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Kelsey: Today marked our first day of the tropical marine invertebrates of the Bahamas! We began the day with a very smooth flight down to Nassau, Bahamas, where we unpacked our snorkeling gear and immediately headed to the water. We saw a variety of amazing organisms right off of the beach near our hotel, including fishes like blue tang and yellowfin mojarra, multiple Cnidarians including giant anemones and brain corals, and other interesting taxa. We are heading to San Salvador island today to start the second day of our expedition. Our class has already seen so many awesome organisms, and we are definitely looking forward to seeing many more!


From Selena: With only a few days left before the trip, I can say that I am beyond excited to explore San Salvador! Throughout the past few months, I have learned many new things about marine life, and along the way discovered many new favorite organisms. Specifically, I have learned more in-depth about the fascinating and diverse ecosystems the oceans hold. I had always heard about the decline in coral reefs, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, although I was never entirely aware of all the consequences. Numerous fishes, crustaceans, sponges, and algae are just a few types of organisms that rely on the health of coral reefs. I, along with everyone in our group, have made sure to purchase only coral-safe sunscreen for the trip! Typical sunscreens contain chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octisalate, which can kill and damage coral reefs. Some coral-safe sunscreen brands include Badger, Raw Elements, Goddess Garden, and Stream2Sea. Although no sunscreen is 100% coral-safe, it is still important to minimize the impact we have through better alternatives.

In addition to discovering cool marine organisms, I am excited to stay at the research facility on San Salvador. This trip will expand my knowledge in marine biology, and also teach me about how marine field research is conducted, including some of the pros and cons of working in that environment. I can’t wait to see what this trip has to offer, and I am grateful for the opportunity to discover and explore in the Bahamas!

Molly Ripka: Hi everyone!! Yesterday a few of us took our new Open ROV drone to EMU’s pool and tested it in the water. It’s incredible how suddenly it can stop and turn on a dime! I’m very impressed with the controller as well, with a touch screen and built-in joysticks.

With the stress of final exams coming up fast, it’s nice to know that sun-filled beaches are just over the horizon. Plus, I might meet an octopus in the Bahamas! I’ve seen two octopuses in the wild before (and yes, it’s octopuses) in the Florida Keys, but I’m always eager to find more.

Octopuses or not, it snowed yesterday, and I’m ready to hop on a plane and fly to warmer weather.

Sarah Mapes: I am so excited for the upcoming trip to San Salvador! We are leaving for the Bahamas in 13 days and I truly don’t know how time went by so quickly this semester! To prepare for the trip, I have accumulated all of my snorkeling gear, class books, rash guards, flashlight, and camera to make sure I have everything I need well before we leave for the trip; I do not want to forget anything or leave things to the last minute in order to make sure I don’t miss out on any opportunities presented on our travel abroad trip. I have always wanted to go to the Bahamas and now I am so close to arriving and experiencing all that the Bahamas has to offer; I can’t wait to see the diverse marine life up close and be able to identify as many species as possible that we learned about in my Natural History of Invertebrates course taught by Dr. Shillington. I also can’t wait for warm weather, the sound of ocean waves and to learn all about the types of research going on at the GRC! In anticipation of the trip, I have already begun digging into some of the research that the Gerace Research Centre (GRC) has done and I can’t wait to learn even more. I’m hoping to see all kinds of marine organisms on the trip, I really love cephalopods, cnidarians, porifera and echinoderms! Honestly, I would be overjoyed to see any organism. I am also hoping to see some sharks; I doubt the other students want this experience but I love sharks so that would be an incredible experience; I am not sure how likely it is that I will see any but I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

Edie Nissen: I am very excited for the upcoming Bahamas trip! I have bought my snorkel, mask, and fins and am planning on helping test out the underwater drone in the university pool. I have also purchased an underwater camera! Photography has always been a hobby of mine so I can't wait to use it while in the Bahamas. Throughout the semester, I have found a lot of the stuff we've studied very interesting. One thing in particular that I have enjoyed studying is the phylum Cnidaria. I am hoping to be able to see some jellyfish and corals! In the meantime, I will keep studying and practicing with my fins and snorkel. Can't wait!

Susan, Julie & Amanda: We are so excited for our trip to the Bahamas! As you can see, we have been testing our equipment at one of Eastern’s pools. We are also in the process of acquiring the rest of the required materials, such as the ID books and cameras. We are also organizing our notes so that we will be able to quickly identify invertebrates while we are in the Bahamas.
The entire time we were at the pool we discussed how many new and amazing opportunities San Salvador will provide us. The coral reefs will be amazing and this will also be the first time out of the United States for the three of us. Added to that, we will be staying at a real research station (Gerace Research Centre), which in itself is an exciting opportunity. As such, we expect that there will be a lot of new experiences. As for the invertebrates available, we are especially excited to see the coral reefs, the unique shells, nudibranchs, christmas tree hydroids, and christmas tree worms. We have also just learned how to identify male and female crabs in class, and we will be doing this with the crab population on the island. There are mixed feelings between us about how nervous or excited we should be about touching them and their pincers, but it will definitely be interesting to bring our new knowledge outside of the classroom. We are counting the days until our trip and cannot wait to see everything!


Bria Spalding & Stephanie Saunders: We are super excited to be heading to San Salvador in about a month! To prepare for the trip, we have been purchasing and gathering our gear. We want to minimize the amount of glitches in our gear, so we have been trying them out in the pool. We have been trying to use one of the campus pools at least once a week. So far, everything has been working out and we are excited to spend the most amount of time possible in the ocean!


Jen Harper: I am so excited for the upcoming trip to San Salvador! I have been getting my snorkeling gear together to make sure I have everything I need because I do not want to miss a single opportunity to see all the diverse marine life the Bahamas has to offer. Next week, some friends and I will be making a trip to the university pool with our gear so that we can make sure everything is working how we need it to. I am currently taking the Marine Biology course taught by our expedition leader, Dr. Cara Shillington. In class we have been learning to ID and classify so many different organisms- sea grasses, algae (my favorite!), annelids, echinoderms, mollusks, fishes, cnidarians, ctenophorans, and of course a ton of invertebrates! I have been doing a lot of research about this trip and have been reading some of the publications made available on the Gerace Research Centre (GRC) website, which is where we will be staying on San Salvador. I have been learning about the history and geology of the island and reading the field guides on marine algae, shells, and invertebrates that they have published. These resources are invaluable and are getting me prepared and excited for the trip. I'll see you soon, Bahamas!

We just received news that we will be receiving a drone soon. So exciting. We are making planes to try it out at the university pool.

From Erica Lathers: To prepare for the trip to the Bahamas, I am studying the many different types of sponges, cnidarians, annelids, mollusks, arthropods and echinoderms that we will see will snorkeling at the research station. I am focusing on identifying the different types of corals especially, knowing different species. I am also reviewing different types of sea turtles and aquatic fish that we may see during our time in the water. I have also been reviewing the many species of chlorophytes. My goal is to be able to identify species quickly in the water. I am also getting ready by making sure I have all of the supplies that I will need for the trip. The trip is getting close and I am getting so excited!

From Kelsey Mitchell: In order to prepare for the upcoming San Salvador, Bahamas excursion, I have brought out identification notes from a previous marine biology class taught by the excursion leader, Dr. Cara Shillington. These notes, as well as my ID books, should help me better identify and understand taxa found throughout this tropical region. I have also brought out my snorkel, mask, and fins; needless to say I am getting ready a little early, but this is due to sheer excitement for this excursion!

Expedition Background

Eastern Michigan University takes biology students to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas after a semester long course studying invertebrates and marine ecology. Students have the opportunity to see close-up many of the organisms that they have been studying - seeing them in their natural habitat and observing their behavior. While this is a regular trip and we have lots of photos from previous trips, this year we will be starting a photo and video record of specific locations that we will revisit each time to track long-term changes in diversity and overall growth of organisms. Marine environments face multiple challenges associated with human activity and global warming, but sometimes changes over longer timescales are difficult to envision. When students are able to visit the same locations from year to year and visually document changes, this can become more meaningful and understandable. Our students are our ambassadors for the future welfare of our marine environments.

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Great idea with the long term photography! Will that be using ‘fixed-point’ techniques? We’ve done similar things over a season on our fish nesting site and it shows habitat changes really well when you might not otherwise notice it. Looking forward to seeing you results!
We are planning to use the "fixed point" technique. Do you have photos posted of your fish sites? How long was the season?

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