by Tyler Clavelle
Since 1990, researchers at the Bimini Biological Field Station (Sharklab) on the small islands of Bimini in the Bahamas, have been cruising the shallows in search of their study subjects: lemon sharks. Lots of them. To the untrained eye, the mangrove-fringed lagoon between Bimini’s two main islands would seem an unlikely home for hundreds of sharks, but below the surface, the reasons are clear.
|Bimini Bay. Photo: Kristine Stump.|
|Juvenile lemon shark. Photo: Kristine Stump.|
In Bimini, there are several distinct mangrove-fringed nursery areas in which the Sharklab conducts its research. Of these nurseries, the semi-enclosed, 3 square kilometer North Sound has received the majority of the attention. Unfortunately, over the past decade, the North Sound has seen extensive habitat degradation due to the development of the large Bimini Bay Resort and Marina.
|Mangrove destruction on Bimini. Photo: Kristine Stump.|
As unfortunate as events in Bimini are, they provide a natural experiment upon which Sharklab Principal Investigator and University of Miami doctoral student Kristine Stump is focusing her dissertation. Kristine’s project, a Before-After Control-Impact (BACI) study, addresses the impacts of habitat loss in a lemon shark nursery. Using the extensive volume of existing Sharklab data concerning the life history, physiology, feeding and diet, bioenergetics, growth and behavioral ecology of lemon sharks in Bimini as a baseline, Kristine is quantifying the large-scale human-caused impact on the nursery with recent data collected from October 2008 to the present. Using these data, Kristine is creating a computer model addressing the potential impacts of habitat loss by elucidating factors within the nursery that are most influential in determining the sharks’ survival and movements. The ultimate goal is to help educate decision makers in order to mitigate impacts of future developments in Bimini and beyond.
|Bimini Marine Protected Area boundaries.|
www.miami.edu/sharklab for details.