As my time at CEI nears it’s end, I can’t help but feel quite sentimental about it. I only have one more week of waking up and seeing the ocean as I open my eyes. Only one more week of being able to see the most astonishing things I have ever seen. Never before in my life have I been so immersed in adventure.
I also got a special opportunity this week. This Tuesda,y the stingray team took a subset of CEI’s Bahamian staff out to catch rays. This is a particularly extraordinary opportunity because it not only gives the ray team a chance to collect data, but it gives the staff a unique research-oriented experience.
Rays were around the Schooner Keys, a beautiful set of very small islands just offshore of campus, as well as in Deep Creek, an intertidal creek system located not far from CEI. Surprisingly, almost none of the staff had ever been to the keys, despite their geographical proximity. Catching rays was an incredible introduction into the world of research, since the capture process is incredibly active and exciting. To catch a ray, the staff, along with CEI’s stingray interns and researchers rode around on boats or trudged through the water looking for rays. When one was spotted, the team would surround the ray as fast as possible, being careful not to let it get through the circle. Once the ray was herded into a giant net, it was scooped out with a smaller net and led to shallow water to be measured and tagged. The ray’s barb was secured, and the staff got a chance to feel and to interact with the ray, as well as to measure and tag it. Throughout the day, we caught two southern stingrays (D. americana) and two Caribbean whiptail (H. schmardae) stingrays.
The capture and tagging of these rays is invaluable to the research being done at CEI because each ray caught is data towards the hypothesis that there is significant habitat separation between the two stingray species mentioned above. The four rays we caught contribute to this hypothesis. The two Caribbean whiptails were caught in Deep Creek, while the southerns were caught on the small offshore Schooner Keys.
Stingrays were a particularly special species to be able to research because all too often they are associated with an unfortunate stigma of fear and are a vastly under-researched creature. As meso-predators, and under their role as habitat engineers, they’re importance in an ecosystem cannot be understated. One day in the field with the stingray team at CEI and that fear had dissipated and was replaced with loads of curiosities and questions.
Science is, at it’s core, the exploration of curiosities. By providing an opportunity for the staff to get out in the field, curiosities were both created and satisfied.
In my final week at CEI, I am excited to continue field work, strengthen the relationships I’ve made so they’ll last after we all part to our respective homes, and to continue to be as adventurous as possible!