The summer season at Cape Eleuthera Institute always sees a tremendous amount of activity.  Visiting scientists fly in, new interns and undergraduates arrive, and every now and then our own researchers spend some time off-island diversifying their studies.  This past summer, Lionfish Research Program RA Alicia Hendrix headed to Honduras to lead work with UK-based organization Operation Wallacea,  which offers volunteers a chance to assist scientists at field sites around the globe.lionfish dissection for operation wallacea - alicia hendrix

The Bay Islands of Honduras offer a unique research opportunity to contrast divergent fishing pressures on Caribbean lionfish communities.  Two sites – the Bay Island of Utila off the coast of La Ceiba and Tela, a mainland site just a few hours away – support very different reef-based economies.  Utila, a widely known and popular dive destination, is home to a dozen dive shops most with active lionfish culling programs, but is not a primary fishery for more commonly consumed Caribbean staples.  Tela, a site far less frequented, has been subject to harsh overfishing in past years, supports a reef fish community recovering from those pressures, and currently experiences little in the way of lionfish culling.  Contrasting the two can give researchers an idea of how factors such as lionfish spearing, regular exposure to divers, and more broadly targeted fishing practices might affect lionfish distribution and behavior.

lionfish transects utila operation wallacea alicia hendrix

To address these questions,  the summer was filled with transect dives monitoring long-term lionfish abundance at each site, surveys of lionfish behavior when divers were encountered, and dissections of speared lionfish to analyze gut content and predation activity on the reefs.  Over the course of a 9-week season, Alicia Hendrix and former CEI intern Holly Trew collaboratively carried out upwards of 200 dives, ran more than 50 transects, and dissected over 150 lionfish.  Stay tuned for what the processed data will tell us about the Honduran lionfish invasion!

For more information about the research that happened around CEI this summer, check out our eNews!