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Atlantis Bonefish Collection

Over the past ten years Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, working alongside our many collaborators, has gained valuable insight into bonefish spawning behavior, but there is still a lot we don’t know. One way we’re trying to decipher the riddles of bonefish spawning is through the Bonefish Restoration Research Project, a collaboration with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, which aims to spawn and rear bonefish in captivity. Spawning and rearing bonefish in captivity will help us understand the ecological and physiological requirements for bonefish to spawn, as well as for the survival of their eggs and larvae. 

In the early stages of this project, we heard rumors of bonefish spawning in captivity in the aquariums at Atlantis resort in Nassau, Bahamas. After inquiring with the aquarium staff, they told us that the rumors were indeed true and backed it up with footage of bonefish spawning in one of the aquariums, something that had never been recorded before in the wild or in captivity. After viewing the video and inquiring further, we found out that the behavior occurred regularly when the numbers of bonefish in the aquarium were much higher than they currently were. This was especially interesting considering that our observations of pre-spawning bonefish in the wild suggested that bonefish need a minimum number of fish (probably >1,000) to successfully spawn. We quickly began organizing a collection trip with Atlantis to boost the numbers of bonefish in the aquarium, to see if that will lead to more regular spawning. This will hopefully give BTT and Harbor Branch the opportunity to study this behavior in captivity and figure out what the triggers might be that induce bonefish to spawn.

After months of planning and re-scheduling due to hurricanes, a team consisting of Dave Wert (Atlantis Aquarium Director), Todd Kemp (Atlantis Head Collector), Vernel Ching (Atlantis Aquarists), Justin Lewis (BTT Bahamas Initiative Manager), and Nina Sanchez (Bahamian student and BTT research assistant), journeyed to the Berry Islands is search of bonefish. After a day of scouting with local guide Percy Darville, the team knew where to find fish, and the next day collecting did not disappoint. With one set of the large seine net, the team was able to capture 200 bonefish and safely transport them to the collection boat where they were kept in large tanks. The next day the team traveled on the collection boat back to Atlantis and transferred the bonefish directly into the aquarium.

Our hope is that the bonefish added to the aquarium will help trigger spawning activity in the near future, which will help us gain a better understanding of bonefish spawning behavior. This information will be directly applicable to ongoing efforts to identify and protect bonefish spawning locations in the Bahamas, and will also inform the work that is ongoing at HBOI.

We would like to thank all the staff at Atlantis and Great Harbour Cay Marina for assisting with this effort.