Category Archives: research

Island School alumni become Shark Explorers

Shark Explorers is a Cape Town based diving company that focus on changing people’s perspectives on the oceans’ top predators. Each year we bring in four Island School alumni to become part of our team. We continue to build on the love for ocean life, that was gained while in The Bahamas.  The internship program is based on the idea of “Education Through Experience.” The core values and tools that the Island School gives young people to thrive in Eleuthera, are the same values that allow for our interns to openly welcome the adventure and experience of the Shark Explorers Internship Program in Africa.  The 21 day program, held in August is full of scuba diving in and around the kelp forest and working as a crew member on the Great White Shark cage diving boat. We organize multiple excursions all over Cape Town to take in the sights and sounds of this amazing corner of the globe. For example, one day is spent on a game drive to see the big five land based animals of Africa.  The program also includes getting involved with ongoing research as well as supporting some of the top shark scientists and NGOs. The Shark Explorers Internship strives to be the next stepping stone for those of you that have been inspired by what the Island school has to offer and are enthusiastic to learn more about the ocean. It’s has been nothing short of a pleasure to host our 2016 interns and we can’t wait to take on four more alumni for our 2017 program.  


Take a look at what they had to say about the program:

“Even though this internship’s three short weeks are dwarfed by the incredible three months students were given at The Island School, we interns have enjoyed days jam-packed with just as much adventure as you’d expect from a day in the Bahamas. The Cape Peninsula and Cape Eleuthera may not have many similarities that are readily apparent, but working here at Shark Explorers has felt like a perfect extension of our semesters thousands of miles  away. We’re living right by the ocean, in a small town on a peninsula, as part of a close-knit community of people who are incredibly excited about what they’re doing down here. Sound familiar? Brocq Maxey and the rest of the Shark Explorers team have made this a fantastic three weeks, and we’re excited to share what we’ve been up to with everyone!”

– Harrison Rohrer  (F ’13)

“After doing our open water certification in 28 ˚ C water at the Island School, it was a difficult adjustment to dive in 14 ˚ C water. We encountered a few species of sharks endemic to this region while diving: the Pyjama shark, the Catshark, the Dark shyshark, and the Puffadder shyshark. My favorite dive was a shore dive off the off of Simons Town and in just a few meters of crystal clear water through the kelp forest. Another awesome dive we did was at the pinnacles and we gained experience dealing with surface currents, poor visibility and depth. We also did a few dives with Cape fur seals, which were a lot of fun, and on the last night we did a night dive.”

– Dana Biddle (SP ’13)


For me, the most exciting part about working with Shark Explorers was serving as a crew member on the White Shark cage diving boat and helping out with research done by the Shark Spotters organization.  Everyday, Shark Explorers runs a morning trip and an afternoon trip for tourists who want to see great whites in action.  The morning trip would leave the dock around 6:30 AM so we would be able to watch sharks feed on seals in the early morning light.  By watching the tactics these sharks used to hunt seals, it is easy to see how truly spectacular these animals are.

– George Crawford (SP  ’13)

While we were blessed to have great weather on most days we did have a few days where we could not go out on the water. One of these bad weather days we spent driving 3 hours away to go on a game drive. We saw hippos, elephants, giraffes, lions, chetahs, alligators, rhino and my favorite, zebras! This was a very unique experience because it allowed us to see not only another part of South Africa but it gave us the opportunity to learn more about the animals’ roles in African society.

– Olivia Wigon (SP ’14)



Please contact Brocq Maxey for more info at:


Instagram: @brocqmaxey @shark_explorers 


Expeditionary Summer Term 2016

“In order to discover new Ocean you need the courage to leave sight of the land.”
-Andre Gide

Lying on the decks of the Sharpie Schooners we watched the sun peek over the wide open expanse of Caribbean Sea. Our morning routine began like this most every day. Wake up at six, put away the sleeping boards, sing the Bahamian national anthem, jump in the water for a morning swim, climb back on the boats for breakfast and chores. Finally when tasks were completed and crew members were dressed in full sun protection, the sails came out and we were off.

Our expedition started on the 22nd of June when the expedition team took up residence at the newly constructed basecamp, located behind Water Polo Cut, which features tent platforms, an outdoor shower, fire pit, and a “private” beach. After dinner and some time to settle in, we circled up in the boat house to discuss expectations. That first night we acknowledged what an amazing and challenging opportunity this course would be for everyone involved.

Tents located at base camp on the Island School campus
Tents located at basecamp on the Island School campus

It is my strong belief that to adventure in the natural world one must be present. One must establish a sense of place, a bond and relationship with the land. Place-based education challenges the meaning of education by asking seemingly simple questions: Where am I? What is the nature of this place? Students are presented with the opportunity to become a part of the broader community rather than an indifferent observer. The Island School promotes this type of learning, and this course was no exception.

We spent the first week of the term on campus on learning the basics of sailing skills, marine ecology, and expeditionary living. We were pioneers plotting our journey into uncharted territory. Finally, we were ready. And so, we went.

Our expedition departed Eleuthera in the pre-dawn hours of June 30th, setting the course west 30 nautical miles across the rolling waters of the Exuma Sound. A true epic crossing was had, complete with compass and charts, waves washing over the gunwales, deep blue water, and a touch of seasickness. After eight exhilarating hours, land was sighted. Shortly thereafter we arrived at Halls Pond Cay, our first stop in the Exuma Islands.


Anchored off a white sand beach in turquoise water, an initially exhausted crew got second wind. Our first afternoon in the Exumas was spent relaxing in the shade of trees, and snorkeling the nearby reef. The students and Island School teachers were equally thrilled by the abundance of tropical fish and other marine species. Every so often someone (mostly me) could be heard exclaiming in excitement through their snorkel, a practice that continued for the duration of the trip.

The next morning we traveled to Warderick Wells Cay, headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We were met by a staff enthusiastic about our endeavor, and happy to spend some time talking with our group. Throughout the afternoon we learned about the marine protected area, fishing regulations, the Bahamas National Trust, and the history of the Exuma Islands. The time spent at headquarters helped the students to conceptualize the importance of their scientific studies on a large scale, and served as the launching point for their research.

At the beginning of the program during our on campus week, students were presented with four on-going research projects through the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), and then chose to take on the project which most interested them. The topics of these projects included Queen Conch, sea urchins, lionfish, and grouper.

The bulk of our expedition was an experiment in living, working, sailing, and researching as a contained unit. It was an experience in self-awareness, group mentality, and leadership. Personal space is difficult to come by on a 30ft sailboat, especially when it is inhabited by eight people. Throughout our trip we all experienced emotional, mental, and physical obstacles. Our true growth lies in the fact that our group learned to acknowledge and deal with personal frustrations, to be vulnerable, and to rely on and trust in each other. After two weeks exploring the Exuma Islands, our crew crossed open water and returned to Eleuthera, following the path we had taken before. But we were not the same.

Reflection, in my opinion, is a key component in realizing and solidifying change. The final component of our expedition was a 48 hour solo. During this time students had the opportunity to sit alone with their thoughts, write in their journals, and rest. While sitting completely alone and in silence can certainly be an arduous task for most, the students came off of their solo time with a new appreciation of their experience and  understanding of themselves.

Final research presentations were held in Hallig House
Final research presentations were held in Hallig House

Now that the first ever Expeditionary Summer Term has come to an incredibly successful and joyful end, we can reaffirm our initial thoughts to be true. This program was in fact an amazing and challenging opportunity for everyone involved. Some of the highlights of our final week back on the Island School campus include: the final Epic Snorkel physical challenge, research symposium, Parent’s Weekend, and kook of the day assignments. Our graduation and course celebration was filled with laughter, friendship, and even a few tears.

Throughout the past month our 13 pioneer students gained the means and confidence to approach challenges in all aspects of their lives head on, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. When asked on the very last day of the course whether they would do it again, each and every one stopped to truly think it over, and then said yes.


“The pioneer island school expeditionary program was a unique experience never to be relived the same way. Through genuine experience learning and harsh hardships that strengthen your fundamentals. You often find who you are and settle your priorities. Being on campus and living and seeing this beautiful lifestyle is undeniably life changing.” – Sebastian Alvarez, EST 16’

Alumni Spotlight: Andrieka Burrows (F’15)

Andrieka presenting the ponds research

Andrieka Burrows is the very first Island School student to present at the annual Bahamas Natural History Conference (BNHC)

CEI and The Island School were well-represented at the regional 2016 Bahamas Natural History Conference, with representatives giving talks on plastics, climate change, rare shrimp, turtles, conch, sharks, and lion fish. More excitingly, the first Island School alumna joined with the research team! Andrieka Burrows, BESS (Bahamas Environmental Stewards Scholars) scholar of Fall 2015, attended the conference to present the anchialine ponds poster. Anchialine ponds are landlocked bodies of water with marine characteristics that are connected to the sea through underground conduits. There are over 200 of these ponds on the island of Eleuthera, however, there is very little known about these ecosystems. Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown, with a team of Island School students including Andrieka, gathered baseline data on the ponds in order to determine their status and need for protection.

The students found an alarming number of the ponds were impacted by humans.  To conserve these ecosystems, there is a need to raise awareness. Andrieka did this by presenting the work of her research class at the Bahamas Natural History Conference (BNHC). The conference was hosted by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), who manage the protected areas in The Bahamas. Andrieka spoke about why these ponds are so understudied, and her hopes for more research to be carried out in the future.

Andrieka speaks to an interested crowd
Andrieka speaks to an interested crowd

“The Bahamas Natural History Conference turned out to be all that I expected,” said Andrieka. “Not only did I get the opportunity to interact with world renowned scientists, who presented their captivating work, but I also got to present my anchialine pond research to these very same scientists.”

Andrieka created much interest in ponds and did an exceptional job presenting her poster, making her research advisers very proud.

Andrieka poses with her researcher advisors Dr. Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown
Andrieka poses with her researcher advisors Dr. Curtis-Quick and Alexio Brown

IS BESS students talk ponds at conferences

Christian McIntosh, a BESS scholar and a Fall 15 Inland Ponds Research Class student, recently presented the group’s work at the Abaco Science Alliance Conference.  This conference is a biannual event hosted by Friends of the Environment, where Christian is currently interning.  The conference invites scientists to present their work and findings to fellow scientists, as well as the local community and school groups.  Christian talked with passion about the unique life he found in the ponds of Eleuthera during his research class.

Christian McIntosh presenting at the Abaco Science Alliance Conference

Exciting news just in – last week Andrieka Burrows, fellow BESS scholar and Fall 15 Island School student, had her abstract accepted to present more ponds research at the Bahamas Natural History Conference this March. The goal of the conference is to inspire new avenues of research and cooperation across disciplines while highlighting the benefits of research of the environment, economy and human society of The Bahamas.  We are sure Andrieka will do an excellent job and create more interest and support for the conservation of these understudied and fragile systems.

Andrieka Burrows at work collecting data on inland ponds

We are very proud of our young scientists, Christian and Andrieka, and hope this is the start of not only the protection of anchialine systems, but the beginning of long careers in the conservation of The Bahamas’ natural resources.

If you would like to find out more about the Island School research, check out the posters published online by the Fisheries Conservation Foundation.

Island School students in the field assessing a pond and the life within

Island School Research Projects by Andrieka Burrows

All nine research groups here at The Island School have different components that make them unique to their purpose of study, and very interesting to those who are partaking in them. Island School students team up with CEI researchers and interns who come from international backgrounds and strive for excellence in their particular fields of study.

From gathering information on a diverse range of landlocked anchialine ponds to catching deep sea sharks five kilometres offshore, research at the Island School doesn’t only provide answers to unsolved scientific mysteries, but also allows Island School students to develop an intimate relationship with science research as it coincides with “hands on education.”

Ponds Assessment

There are approximately 200+ Anchialine ponds on Eleuthera, yet, there is very little information about these ponds in scientific publications. The inland ponds are unique in their structure and thriving ecosystems that often contain endemic life. The large number of unique species in the ponds are a result of the isolation and the environmental conditions of each ecosystem. Inspired by the seahorses found in one pond, researchers at CEI set out to explore the other ponds on the island. In this research project, baseline information on the water quality, the level of human disturbance and the life present is collected at each pond site. This information will help to support future conservation efforts.

Deep Sea Sharks

Deep-sea shark populations are under global threat due to human activity such as fishing and mining. Therefore studies must be conducted in an attempt to understand deep sea sharks. The group aims to investigate vertical habitat use in Exuma Sound’s deep-sea sharks using satellite tags which record 2 minute resolution, temperature and depth data for each subject. The three target species are Cuban dogfish, Bigeye Sixgills, and Gulper Sharks. Animals are caught on 800 – 850 meter longlines before being brought up to the boat, at which time a satellite tag is attached through the animal’s dorsal fin.The animals are then released in an anti-predation release cage. This work will identify depth boundaries and vertical habitat use in cosmopolitan deep-sea sharks providing useful baseline data for management and policy.


It is obvious that when a fish is captured multiple times it can begin to experience physiological behavioural changes. This research group has set out to study the physiological and behavioral effects of multiple captures and angling events on bonefish. The group also studies how bonefish can recognize and potentially avoid hooks. This study aims to determine how increasing angling pressure and the resulting repeated capture events can affect individual bonefish.

Lemon Shark Physiology

This group of researchers is concerned with how longline gear modifications affect lemon sharks’ stress levels and behavior. To study this, the lemon shark team goes to tidal mangrove creeks to collect juvenile lemon sharks using block/spot seining techniques. After capture, the lemon sharks are brought back to the wet lab at CEI where they are caught in experimental longline tanks. The shark’s stress and behavior are measured by drawing blood and using accelerometer tags, respectively. It is hypothesized that giving sharks more room to swim when caught will affect their stress levels and behavior to a lesser degree.

Bahamian Knowledge of Turtles

There are two sea turtle projects that are conducted here at the Cape Eleuthera Island School. The first examines the social relationship between Bahamians and sea turtle. This is a new project in which the research team speaks with Bahamians to get a better understanding of Bahamian knowledge on sea turtles, sea turtle conservation, and understanding Bahamians’ perceptions of sea turtles and sea turtle conservation, particularly in regards to the 2009 ban on harvesting sea turtles. This involves interviewing Bahamians across different settlements on Eleuthera and recording their responses. This team also conducts in-water abundance surveys to align Bahamian knowledge with sea turtle abundance in different creeks across South Eleuthera.

Green Turtle Habitat Use

In this turtle group, researchers focus on tracking tagged juvenile green sea turtles in an attempt to map each turtle’s home range based on size class. Each tag emits a beeping pattern, unique to each individual, that allows researchers to monitor their movements using a technique called acoustic telemetry. Once individual turtles are located and spotted, a GPS point is recorded in order to create a map that indicates the individual home range area of each turtle. This work will help us better understand juvenile green sea turtles habitat use and help managers more effectively protect this endangered species.


The Stingray Research Team is one of the most intense, exciting research groups here on campus. This could be because the team is constantly in the field chasing and catching stingrays to assess their occupation of space and the differences in habitat specificity of two co-occurring species. When the stingrays are caught, measurements and tissues samples are taken and the animals are tagged to determine long-term site fidelity. The study is vitally important to The Bahamas since this information is not yet known and many habitats critical to life-history of stingrays are degraded or encroached upon. This work will highlight the importance of coastal and nearshore ecosystems to this meso-predator and provide frameworks for conservation and management.

Queen Conch

The queen conch, is a culturally, economically and ecologically important species. There is a need for an up-to-date assessment of conch nursery grounds locally as data collected by CEI & Island School shows declines in adult mating pairs and an increase in the harvest of juveniles. In an effort to produce this information the conch team goes out on a boat and tows two people behind, students count the conch and determine their life stage. This research is important as it will help inform future marine resource management decision making.


Last but not least we have the plastics research group. This team normally goes to sea on “The Cobia” to quantify plastic pollution from the Exuma Sound, as well as whether or not fish, such as dolphinfish, tunas, and wahoo, are ingesting plastics. The team pulls a trawl, or a net, behind the boat to collect macro and micro plastics alike. In addition to collecting plastic from the sea, the team also collects fish from local fishermen or from trolling for subsequent dissection and analysis of their stomach contents in order to identify whether fish commonly harvested for human consumption ingest plastic. It is obvious that marine organisms are negatively affected by pollution, but this team is on a mission to find out whether or not plastic pollution is making its way onto our dinner plates!

CEI’s Anderson-Cabot Hall for Graduate Studies Opens to Create More Opportunities for Bahamians in Research

On Friday June 5th, Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) hosted a ribbon cutting on their newest building, Anderson-Cabot Hall for Graduate Studies.  The grand opening was held during the SEA Change Youth Summit hosted by The Island School in partnership with 5Gyres and Jack Johnson.  Government officials, staff, students, and school supporters gathered to celebrate with an official ribbon cutting ceremony which featured speakers involved in the building’s creation, as well as its future. Chris Maxey, co-founder of The Island School, began the event by celebrating the growth of the organization and introduced Aaron Shultz, Director of Cape Eleuthera Institute.


Shultz explained the importance of Anderson-Cabot Hall not only to CEI’s campus, but also to the island of Eleuthera and the greater Bahamas. “CEI is a major hub for research, education, and outreach.  Our dorms serve over 1000 local and international students annually. Hallig House hosts professors, government officials, and short-course leaders.  The missing link has been a place for graduate students and interns to live and work on campus.  The Anderson-Cabot Hall will be the hub for the best and brightest local Bahamian and international graduate students in the Greater Caribbean Region.“

Shultz then introduced Alexio Brown, College of the Bahamas graduate, CEI Research Assistant and former BESS student at The Island School. Brown spoke about the opportunities that this building now opens up for Bahamian students like himself who aspire to pursue a career in the marine sciences. “Anderson-Cabot Halls allows me the opportunity to stay in The Bahamas and make a difference in the future of my country. There aren’t many places that offer this type of opportunity for young Bahamians in science like me.” As Shultz shared in his remarks, “Anderson-Cabot Hall is the first higher education facility built to support local and international graduate students in The Bahamas.”

In attendance was long-time supporter of the Cape Eleuthera Island School, John Dunagan, who dedicated the building to John “Giant” Norris Carey, builder and mentor. Ed Anderson and Linda Cabot, the primary financial contributors and for whom the building is named after, were present to cut the ribbon on the building and spoke to honor its opening.


As two-time Island School parents, The Anderson-Cabots told the crowd their motivation for supporting CEI’s newest building project. “Both our daughters Gigi (S’11) and Noelle (S’13) attended The Island School and had transformative experiences, that have been the cornerstones of their education. They returned home from the Cape as empowered young women; aware, excited and skilled to make an impact in their worlds,” shared Cabot. This building as a priority for Ed Anderson and Linda Cabot so that the Cape Eleuthera Institute could expand to reach more graduate students and eventually become, as Ed Anderson said, “the Wood’s Hole of the Caribbean.”


The opening concluded with remarks from Minister of Education, the Honorable Jermone Fizgerald and a luncheon honoring special guests, as well as the Carey Construction crew who built the Hall.

The Maxeys Make it to Bermuda!

Following the SEA Change Youth Summit held at The Island School June 5-7, Chris & Pam Maxey and their crew made up of Brittney Maxey, Mike Cortina (CSD sustainability teacher and F’02 alumnus), Kelly Duggan (S’11), Sam Kosoff (former IS teacher and Lawrenceville Dir. of Sustainability) and Georgie Burruss (CEI researcher) sailed from Cape Eleuthera, The Bahamas to Bermuda on their boat, Kokomo, sailing alongside 5 Gyres and Jack Johnson, who were aboard The Mystic.  Also on board the Mystic for the leg from Eleuthera to Bermuda was Island School alumna, Aly Boyce (F’10) and now her brother, IS alumnus James Boyce (F’12), will board the Mystic for the next leg.

Kokomo and Mystic left the Cape Eleuthera Resort & Marina in the afternoon of Tuesday June 9th and arrived in Bermuda coastal waters in the early morning of Sunday June 14th. Along the way, both the Kokomo and the Mystic conducted citizen science: trawling for plastic pollution in the ocean.

Spring 2011 Island School alumna, Kelly Duggan (right) who was also aboard the Kokomo with the Maxeys, helps CEI researcher, Georgie Burruss (left) set up the first trawl.

Upon arrival in Bermuda, the sailboat caravan was welcomed by the educational officer at Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), JP Skinner who lives in nearby Paget Parish. Last night, they had the opportunity to visit BIOS and check out the amazing work going on there. The rest of their time on Bermuda has been spent exploring the town of St. Georges and the nearby beaches with the team aboard the Mystic.

Tomorrow, the Kokomo and the Mystic embark on the next left of their trip, bound for the east coast of the United States. They will be sailing together for the first few days until the Mystic splits to make its way towards New York City and the Kokomo heads towards the Chesapeake Bay. We wish all the sailors a safe passage and calm seas!

James Boyce (F'12), Chris Maxey, Pam Maxey, Aly Boyce (F'10), Jack Johnson, Cha Boyce, Britt Maxey, Kristal Ambrose, Frank Boyce
James Boyce (F’12), Chris Maxey, Pam Maxey, Aly Boyce (F’10), Jack Johnson, Cha Boyce, Britt Maxey, Kristal Ambrose, Frank Boyce

Inland Ponds Update

The Bahamas has an abundance of inland ponds that are rarely visited and poorly studied. These inland ponds are fragile ecosystems that are under threat from developments, pollution and the introduction of species, yet these ponds are rarely considered for conservation protection. Eleuthera has over 200 of these inland water sites. One of these, Sweetings pond, has an unusually high number of seahorses. This pond may not be the only special site, as these isolated ponds are known to support unique and endemic life. This semester, Island School students started to explore and assess the ponds of South Eleuthera to provide data to ensure their long-term conservation. Excitingly we found new species, please visit the CEI blog for more details.

Rachel Miller Attends Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Meeting

Rachel Miller beside the Jekyll Island Convention Center where the Sea Turtle conference was held.
Rachel Miller beside the Jekyll Island Convention Center where the Sea Turtle conference was held.

Earlier in February, Rachel Miller, the Research Assistant for the Sea Turtle Conservation Program, attended the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Meeting in Jekyll Island, GA, a five-day conference that focused on the newest sea turtle research from the Southeast United States. In addition to learning about the newest sea turtle research, Rachel had the opportunity to meet with top scientists, upcoming scientists, and Island School alumni. At the conference, Rachel met IS alumna Sarah Kollar (S’07) who is working with the Trash Free Seas division of the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, DC.  It’s awesome to see where Island School has reached! You can find out more about SERST here.