A fisherman from the island of Bequia had brought us out through 30 knot winds and very rough seas to find a relatively calm place to get onto Battowia, part of the Grenadine island chain. Uninhabited by people, Battowia is a globally important breeding area for Red-footed Boobies, whose chicks were visible everywhere on the island, even in April when almost nobody else is nesting. The expansive hillsides were dotted with their white fuzzy forms, which stood out against the greenery. The most recent estimates have placed their population at 6,000 pairs with the highest nest density for the species in the Caribbean.
It was exhilarating to be back at a seabird colony, among the abundance of life compressed into these remaining island refuges: the sight of so many birds like ornaments on trees, the sound of their honking call echoing off the surrounding cliffs, and the acrid odor of guano which coats nearly every surface and can be smelled even from the boat.
We finally found the calmest spot. As we pulled in, about 100 Magnificent Frigatebirds roosting in trees opened their long, black wings and gracefully set off in unison to search the seas for their daily meal, which sometimes involves stealing food from other birds; that is how they got their nickname, Man-O-War bird. The Boobies, however, watched us with curiosity and a little wariness from their nests and roosting spots in small trees scattered across the landscape.
We would be swimming to the rocky shore from the fishing boat, trying to time the landing so it did not coincide with a big wave crashing on the rocks. We jumped in, fully dressed in pants and sneakers, which would protect us from the rocks, cactus, and other inhospitable elements which make these islands perfect for protecting wildlife from human influence.
However, during this expedition, we would not be studying native wildlife but would instead be searching for introduced predators, such as rats. The only native mammal in most Caribbean islands is bats, everything else is brought by people. So native wildlife like seabirds did not evolve with predators like rats, which have shown again and again that they can decimate wildlife populations, especially on islands.
Over the next few weeks our research team traveled aboard the sailing ship Viking, thanks to the generous donation of Captain Vaughan Wellington, and with essential support from donors like you. Our goal was to determine if these crucial seabird colonies are threatened by introduced predators. The very good news is that we did not detect any evidence of rats or mice on the islands surveyed. Additional islands will be surveyed in the coming months by our newest team member, Wayne Smart.
Wayne, a resident of Grenada and recent graduate from St. George's University in Grenada, will be studying how harvesting of seabird eggs and chicks by people affects nest success. We need to find out if enough chicks are fledging each year to keep the population stable or if there is a major population decline going on. As part of Wayne's research, he is also searching for introduced predators at his study islands and working with local fishermen to build support for protecting seabirds. He will be recruiting fishermen and others to join our volunteer ranger program and take part in upcoming training sessions.
There is so much yet to learn about the remote and unstudied islands of the Caribbean, we look forward to sharing more of our findings with you. We are excited to be working with local communities to protect wildlife and these last amazing refuges upon which they rely. We encourage you to contact us if you'd like more information or have any questions. Thank you for making this vital work possible, your ongoing support will help to ensure that we can continue this project.
Photos: Andrew Fidler, Vaughan Wellington
As a donor to this project, you have joined with many others, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, BirdsCaribbean, and Sustainable Grenadines, to make possible recent research on the relationship between Caribbean residents and seabirds. Together we are making a real difference on the ground for Caribbean wildlife.
Now there are even more ways to help and get others involved!
As noted in our most recent report from the field, there are fishermen and other stakeholders who would like to help protect seabirds. We will be partnering with these individuals on a volunteer warden program. This is where you come in!
We are looking for a great design for the logo which the volunteer wardens can display to show they are part of this conservation effort. If you or somebody you know has experience in design and can lend some talent to this cause, please contact Natalia at email@example.com.
If you are a sailor interested in sailing through the Caribbean to help with our wildlife surveys, please contact Natalia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dates can be flexible and in-kind contributions may be tax-deductible.
Maybe you have an idea for getting involved that we haven't thought of yet. If so, please tell us about it!
I wanted to share with you some exciting developments regarding Caribbean seabird conservation.
In the first study of its kind, stakeholders such as fishermen were surveyed about their economic and environmental connection with seabirds. Here are some of the surprising findings:
Okay, so what do all these numbers mean? Well, even though seabirds and their eggs are a popular dish, people are generally not relying on seabird harvests for their livelihoods. Since there isn't a major financial incentive to keep harvesting seabirds, communities can be involved in conserving seabirds without losing income. And many fishermen reported that seabirds help them to find fish, so there is incentive to have more of the birds around as "fish finders".
In fact, at meetings where the research results were reported back to the community, it was clear that many individuals want to be involved in seabird conservation. This was great news for our volunteer warden program, which will be starting in April.
In April we will also begin surveys for rats on some of the most important seabird nesting islands. And once the birds show up in force in May, we will be studying how successful their nests are and figure out if the population can handle the impacts of harvesting and/or rats and other predators.
We look forward to sharing the results of this work with you and thank you for making all of this possible! We still have a little ways to go in reaching our financial goal for the coming field season and welcome your contribution.
"How many seabird eggs would you estimate you collect in a year?" This was one of the various questions posed by a team of researchers from the countries of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who visited nearby fishing villages this month.
The organization SusGren, with support from BirdsCaribbean, has partnered with EPIC to lead a very important study on the economic and cultural value of seabirds and their eggs to fishermen and others who harvest wildlife.
There was a wide range of responses to the various questions asked during the survey. Some respondents described how good seabirds taste and how many had been harvested while others appreciated efforts to protect seabirds because they follow the birds to find good fishing spots. Data from this research is currently being analyzed and we look forward to sharing the final results of this groundbreaking study.
Our research and conservation efforts will be guided by scientific inquiry such as this economic survey to ensure that all aspects of the issue of seabird harvesting are considered.
You'll find the greatest number of Caribbean seabirds nesting during the summer months, when birds like gulls and terns migrate back to their offshore island colonies. This will be the project's main period for training residents in monitoring and outreach efforts as we work to protect offshore refuges, some of the last remaining nesting areas for many species. We are already identifying partners in the region who will take on the role of volunteer wardens and can't wait to get started!
Your support for Caribbean seabird conservation makes it possible for activities such as this to continue. We hope you share our excitement about this most recent work as well as all that will be accomplished in the coming year. From EPIC and from the birds....thank you for showing you care for seabirds and their island refuges.
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