Human Journey

Shedd Aquarium’s Iguana Research Trip – Final Series Post

A rock iguana rests on the beach of a north Exuma cay. Copyright John G. Shedd Aquarium
A rock iguana rests on the beach of a north Exuma cay. Copyright John G. Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium’s rock iguana research trip concluded at two northern cays that are hotspots for tourists based in Nassau. In fact, as we worked the beach, two powerboats arrived with 75 passengers who came to feed the iguanas.

Witnessing tour boat activity was frustrating for Shedd’s citizen scientists; after all, they spent previous days observing natural iguana behavior on cays where they aren’t visited or fed. However, people who visit the North Exumas on powerboat trips may appreciate rock iguanas more after their up-close encounters, and tourism is vital to the Bahamian economy. Fortunately, the Bahamas National Trust is a proactive conservation partner, and our collaborations will help to develop sound management plans that can ensure long-term species survival and continue providing valuable wildlife tourism opportunities.

After our work is completed on the visited cays, it was time to wrap up our journey and bid farewell to the Exumas as we traveled back to Florida. As the CR II journeys up the Miami River, we have time to reflect on a successful expedition. In total, we researched 180 iguanas, 109 of which were observed again from previous years. Our citizen scientists and Bahamas National Trust staff gathered information that is critical for our long-term population monitoring program.

I am also extremely excited about the initial results from our parasite studies. While the results are preliminary, we did find more internal parasites in fecal samples from iguanas on the visited and fed islands than from populations on the non-visited, non-fed cays. This information will lend more weight to our recommendation that an adaptive management plan be developed for rock iguanas in the Exumas.

For nearly two decades, I’ve been fortunate to lead Shedd’s citizen science iguana expeditions. Each year, I enjoy getting to know new people as they come aboard the CR II for our adventure. This time, we had a wide range of experiences and ages. Every person brings a unique perspective that makes the research trips that much more fun.

The sun sets in the Caribbean and Shedd's research vessel at the trip's end. Copyright: John G. Shedd Aquarium
The sun sets in the Caribbean and on Shedd's research vessel at the trip's end. Copyright: John G. Shedd Aquarium

Regardless of their past experience the dedication of our participants always impresses me. It’s particularly rewarding to watch everyone, young and old, scramble over rocks and through bushes on the trail of iguanas. I sense that their enthusiasm stems from working with such magnificent animals in an extraordinary environment. The 2012 expedition is barely finished, and I am already looking forward to greeting repeat participants and meeting new citizen scientists next year. If you are interested in joining us, please contact me at cknapp@sheddaquarium.org. Thank you for coming along on this island research trip. I hope to see some of you on the Coral Reef II in 2013!

The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago sparks compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world. Home to 32,000 aquatic animals representing 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the globe, Shedd is a recognized leader in animal care, conservation education and research. An accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the first U.S. aquarium to be awarded the Humane Conservation™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals by American Humane, the organization is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, and is supported by the people of Chicago, the State of Illinois and the Chicago Park District. www.sheddaquarium.org

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