Thanks to the multitude of jobs created by the area's tourism industry, Veron has become one of the main points of migration in the Dominican Republic. While this has been a boom for the area economically, the transitory nature of much of Veron's population presents unique challenges for community development initiatives. This summer the Puntacana Ecological Foundation hosted two timely and in depth university studies in order to better understand these constantly changing communal dynamics in Domingo Maiz before the Fuentes de Vida project breaks ground. First, the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) with the help of the Peace Corps realized a detailed community health analysis from May 5 - 12. The survey was developed by Gallop Poll to investigate a broad range of key social and health indicators such as: education, family dynamics, employment history, recent health history as well as communal environmental issues. The survey built upon previous studies executed by Save the Children in different barrios throughout Veron in 2009. The results of the study are being compiled into a final report which will then be shared with the Neighborhood Association of Domingo Maiz by early Fall 2013. This study will serve as a "before" snapshot which will then be followed up with another study after the system has been completed to see if the newly implemented sanitation systems have a quantifiably positive impact on the residents' health - if so then Domingo Maiz could truly serve as a model community for the larger municipality.
The second university study was executed by Virginia Tech's Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE). The Fuentes de Vida project was originally inspired by a 2011 CEE ground water contamination study, which led CEE professors John Novak and Mark Widdowson to recommend the constructed wetland sewage treatment system as an effective vehicle for stemming the flow of effluent water into the community's water source. Since then CEE has continued to be a crucial partner, consulting on every aspect of the Fuentes de Vida project and returning every summer to continue their studies on well water contamination in Veron. Their annual work has produced the most complete database currently available to the community of Veron and the Puntacana Ecological Foundation by identifying contamination hotspots that pose health risks to the residents of Veron. This year's studies examined contaminant levels over time as water is pumped form the well to observe if contamination rates decreased as theoretically cleaner water is drawn from deeper in the aquifer. As with all of its community studies the Puntacana Ecological Foundation, along with the aid of Peace Corps volunteers, communicate the results of these studies back to the community members and well owners as soon as the reports are finalized. The final goal of these studies is not only to better inform the Fuentes de Vida project but to also better educate the community members about potential environmental/health risks in their communities.
In other news, the magazine Good Company recently wrote a piece about Fuentes de Vida and sent down two photographers to document the community and the project. The issue is available now in Barnes and Noble bookstores. Also in recent months, all members of the Fuentes de Vida project have put forward a great effort to raise funds for the construction of the constructed wetland treatment system through grants, fundraisers and awareness campaigns. The community of Domingo Maiz has made it their goal to raise enough money to begin construction before the end of the calendar year, which means your help and contributions via Global Giving could make a huge difference for 500 residents in Domingo Maiz.
This month the Ridgway’s Hawk project has exciting news to announce: We have a Ridgway’s Hawk nest right here in Punta Cana WITH A CHICK! ND, the female that had paired up with the male AN, laid a single egg in April that has just hatched this past week!
In a surprising plot twist that sounds like something straight out of a telenovela, ND is no longer with the male AN but has left him for AV, an older male. AV is a bird that was released in the 2011 hack season; AV did very well after his 2011 release and rapidly became independent, but one day that summer we found his transmitter, which appeared to have been cut off of his body, laying on the ground by the side of a road outside of Punta Cana! Because one of the major challenges we face with the Ridgway’s hawk is persecution from people, we thought that someone must have killed AV, removing his transmitter and taking the body; we wrote him off as dead. Thus when ND appeared one morning with this older male in tow, we were surprised and overjoyed to discover AV alive and in beautiful adult plumage!
AV and ND have since been very busy staking out their territory, constructing their nest on top of an active palmchat-colony nest in a cana palm, and laying eggs. After over a month of incubation, the nestling finally hatched this past Saturday, May 25, 2013. For the following several days we have been watching AV bringing prey to the nest and ND carefully tearing tiny bites to feed to the nestling. On Tuesday we saw the top of the chick’s head for a few brief seconds over the edge of the nest as it was being fed. Then on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 we climbed the nest palm to check that all was going well with the nestling. We are happy to report that the chick was in perfect health and was safely examined and weighed, then replaced in the nest. We will be closely monitoring the chick to ensure its health and safety as much as possible until it too is a flying member of the Punta Cana population of the Ridgway’s Hawk.
In other news, we have been focusing much of our attention on community education here in Punta Cana and in the surrounding communities. Many workers at the resorts and persons whose livelihoods depend on the tourism industry have come to know the Ridgway’s Hawk (Gavilán de la Hispaniola) by name. Thus far in 2013 the Ridgway’s Conservation Initiative has reached out to over 292 adults and 257 youths in various communities, schools and businesses that may come in contact with the hawks. We are continuing our efforts to nurture a feeling of ownership for the birds within the area with plans to spread out further in the future.
Meanwhile, The Peregrine Fund’s conservation efforts for the Ridgway’s Hawk population located in Los Haitises National Park, is also making record-breaking progress this year. So far The Peregrine Fund has banded 47 nestlings and 19 adults from over 50 nests that were closely monitored during the 2013 breeding season. This year a higher percentage of young birds have fledged than in years past, in part due to increased monitoring of nests. While this does not directly affect the population here in Punta Cana, it is good news for the species and we applaudthe efforts of The Peregrine Fund and their field crew
Finally, many thanks to all the wonderful donors who have helped to keep this project afloat, we could not have made this sort of progress without your generous and continuing support!
This update was written for the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation by Christine Deegear Hayes, Seasonal Field Biologist, The Peregrine Fund.
The fifth year of the Ridgeway’s Hawk Conservation Project marks a significant milestone for the Puntacana Ecological Foundation (PCEF) and The Peregrine Fund. Having begun the process of establishinged a concentrated and stable population of Ridgeway’s in the Punta Cana area with year round monitoring carried out by the Peregrinevolunteers, the Ecological Foundation and The Peregrine Fund will delay this year’s reintroductions to better document the previously reintroduced hawks’ adaptation to the Punta Cana area. Also, a new education campaign will be commencing soon with the help of Fundación Propagas. Education is a vital component of wildlife conservation and we hope to realize greater results in the upcoming years with this new partner.
Most importantly, we will be making daily observations of the first pair of Ridgway’s Hawks to form in thePunta Cana area. Male “AN” and female “ND” from the 2012 introductions have been seen together off and on throughout the fall and are now a confirmed pair. They have begun the process of building a nest and have also been observed copulating and making food transfers which are sure signs these two birds are attempting to reproduce. Ridgway’s Hawk females have never been recorded to reproduce at one year of age, but it has been recorded in other raptor species, so we are anxious to see what happens with this pair. Some of the other released hawks have established territories immediately bordering each other. We are monitoring these birds closely as well with the hope that they may pair up in the near future.
In other news, The Peregrine Fund, the PCEF, and Grupo Puntacana’s architecture department have worked together to compile the previous four years’ of observational and GPS data into a digital map outlining the hawk’s’ territoriesy and identifying exactly which electrical poles present the largest danger to the hawks. While there are several options available for retrofitting the poles to make them safer for the birds, the most economicaland immediately actionable option for The Peregrine Fund and the Ecological Foundation is to install the wooden perches pictured below. Continued observations of the initial pilot implementation of the original 10 wooden perches back in August 2012, has shown that the Ridgeway’s and other raptors much prefer the wooden perches to sitting on the lines or on the poles. Over the next few months the PCEF and the Peregrine Fund will install perches throughout the 30 square mile property of Grupo Puntacana and perhaps beyond that in accordance with the birds’ territories.
While all of the this work isgoing on in Punta Cana The Peregrine Fund will be directing much of its attention and efforts to working with the last remaining wild population of Ridgeways Hawks in Los Haitises National Park. Their efforts will focus on community education, better documenting the largest threats to the remaining population and realizing in situ interventions to protect the hawks in their natural habitats.
Finally, the Puntacana Ecological Foundation along with its ecotourism partner, E-Way Group, has developed a walking tour dedicated to exhibiting and explaining the Foundation’s various projects and programs. The Ridgeway Hawk Conservation Program will have its own display in this tour and this will hopefully be a center piece in raising greater awareness with visiting tourists about the plight of one of the rarest species of hawks in the world.