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2004-08-15 19:19:10

Young Marine Scientists Making Impact

Research on conch has focused on the social impact of creating a closed conch season similar to that of crawfish.

At a glance, they look like any of the many thousands of students enrolled in summer internships around the country, but the five students interning at the Department of Fisheries are participating in two research projects that could have profound effects on Bahamian fisheries.

During a recent visit to the department, The Guardian spoke with the three collegiate and two high school scholars, regarding their interest in marine science and their research projects. While the department facilitates internships each year, coordinator of the programme and fisheries officer Tamica Rahming said the fact that all the participants were keenly interested in some aspect of marine science had made for a idea conducive to research.

Shanishka Bain, a marine biology major at Wisconsin's Beloit College, said the most interesting part of her internship had been the opportunity to travel. She and Ms Rahming travelled as Department of Fishery representatives along with the Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation (BREEF) to Bimini last week. While there, the organisations hosted a three-day forum which allowed Biminites to voice concerns and share ideas regarding the marine environment.

Zhivago McPhee's interest is environmental engineering, and one day he hopes to be a trailblazer in that field, which in his view has a poor local representation at present. But for now he renders drawings of marine scenes as part of the group's attempt to "bring more attention to marine conservation by the use of less words and more pictures." These drawings will be used to make posters.

In his third summer with the department, the 2003 graduate of Bahamas Academy who worked in the enforcement unit the first two years said he had enjoyed the programme more this time around. "This year, I've been doing more of the social part of it - interviews and stuff."

Although having joined the group well into the programme, Nadia Lockhart said the lessons learnt would aid her in her attempts to become a marine biologist. For Ms Lockhart, Ms Rahming is more than the programme coordinator - she is also a role-model. The COB student said she wished there were more persons like Ms Rahming, whose love for the marine environment dictated her career path.

A seemingly cheerful young lady, Ms Lockhart becomes quite serious when speaking about a COB inadequacy which is inexcusable in her view. She feels COB students such as herself and Mr McPhee should have access to a marine biology programme, which is non-existent at COB. "For a country that is surrounded by water and marine life, I feel that there should be a marine biology programme."

One of the two high school scholars in the group, Dimitri Quant, is interested in both marine biology and photography. While the two years he has left at C. R. Walker could see him develop more of a liking for one, he said he liked the idea of fusing the two.

Mr Quant said he had learned that there are many Bahamians who are taking juvenile conch. "They have already fished out all the adults." He said he believed a no-take season for conch similar to that of crawfish should be implemented. He also intends to share lessons learnt with his school mates when classes resume in September.

R. M. Bailey's Ian Smith rounds out the five. The aspiring marine biologist who wishes to focus on underwater research is among four who are scuba certified, having received his certification during the programme. For him, Mr Smith said, the internship had "been very worthwhile."

He pointed out that Bahamians were jeopardizing snapper stocks by taking immature lame snapper (maturity between 190mm-200mm) and mutton snapper (maturity between 380mm-410mm). He adds, "The mutton snapper is the fish also caught most immaturely."

The group's research project on snappers is focused on stocks mainly in the central Bahamas. It entails identifying species immaturely taken and identifying ones that are threatened. In gathering data, the group has gone to landing sites like Potters Cay, Montagu, William's Lane and various seafood processing plants. Early findings are that 50 per cent of all mutton snappers are caught undersized compared to 25 per cent of other snapper species like yellow tail and lame snappers.

Research on conch has focused on the social impact of creating a closed conch season similar to that of crawfish. The group is mindful that rules regulating conch fishing (only conch with well formed flaring lips are to be fished) are often unclear. As a result, recommendations may be made for more clearly stated guidelines such as a specific size of conch lip thickness.

It is hoped that findings of the research project will be presented at the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Meeting to be held in St. Petersburg, November 8-12. Ms Bain said the group's work would go a long way to increase education and awareness about the marine environment but added that "more can and needs to be done."

The entire group will travel to Abaco on Monday through Wednesday. While there, they will participate in fieldwork for their research projects, take part in community meetings and visit fisherman landing sites.

By Raymond Kongwa, The Nassau Guardian

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