By Austin Lin
A year ago, during the beginning of October in 2015, CIEE started the box jellyfish project looking into the reproduction and ecology of Alatina alata. This pan-global species is known to inhabit fringing reef islands with deep water drop offs, which includes Bonaire, Hawaii, Australia, and Puerto Rico. On Bonaire, their swarming happens 8 to 10 days after the full moon on the leeward side of the island late at night. It was noticed that these spawning individuals gathered in the shallow waters along the western coastline of Bonaire to reproduce. The research developed into a year-long monitoring of the localized box jellyfish population on Bonaire. The circalunar spawning cycle of this box jellyfish species makes the full moon more than just a reoccurring scenery of the night.
The project served as a foundation for future research in A. alata on Bonaire. Physical parameters of sexually matured individuals were documented each lunar cycle, and throughout a total of 13 lunar cycles we have hosted over 39 sampling sessions and surveyed 830 jellyfish. Through monitoring the spawning aggregations for an extended period of time, we were able to document a population baseline for the swarming events. In addition, we noticed significant differences in some of the physical characteristics (i.e. bell size, weight) between male and female A. alata individuals. These results provide us with basic understandings of the A. alata population that inhabits the deep waters on Bonaire.
Throughout the year, we had countless volunteers that devoted their time and effort to assist the field processes. The group of volunteers ranged from CIEE staff members, study abroad students, STINAPA Junior Rangers, to the general public that caught wind of our monthly routine. The opportunity to educate the public about scientific research through participation as citizen scientists bridges the communication between scientists and the local community.