Protect Baby Seabirds in the Caribbean

 
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These Masked Boobies match pefectcly, you can too!
These Masked Boobies match pefectcly, you can too!

You know what is even better than the feeling of donating to a great cause? Having your donation matched! To make sure your gift can do even more good work, today Global Giving will be matching donations of up to $1,000. But limited funds are available so donate early to be sure your gift is matched.

It's the time of year when Caribbean seabirds are starting match up as well. They may all look the same to us humans, but the birds can tell eachother apart and often mate for life.

Caribbean seabirds often share their nesting islands with special species found nowhere else on earth, known as island endemics. The intricate ways these seemingly unrelated species are connected can be surprising. For example, when seabirds poop at their nesting sites (which they do a lot!), it bring nutrients from the sea (fish) to the land. This fertilizer keep plants healthy, which endemic insects and lizards need to survive, and prevents erosion since the plant roots hold the soil together. Pretty amazing!

Next month our team of researchers will be conducting groundbreaking surveys of remote islands to search for these rare species. So little research has been done in this region that the possibility of discovering new species is an exciting prospect. For example, just a few years ago a new species of gecko was found on the small, inhabited island of Union. This species is now known to be globally endangered and it can be protected. By uncovering the full diversity of animals and plants using seabird nesting islands, we can demonstrate their widespread value to conservation.

We are also excited to be working with local partners on this summer's seabird training workshop. Future bird guides, volunteer wardens and bird monitors will come together with regional seabird experts to share knowledge and experience. Participants will be empowered to care for their local nesting areas and join a network of colleagues.

All of this wonderful work is made possible by donors like you. Please donate today, Matching Day, and your gift can go even further in making a real difference for conservation.

In Gratitude,

Terns at a Grenadines nest site. Photo: A. Fidler
Terns at a Grenadines nest site. Photo: A. Fidler

Thanks to generous donors like you, we have reached our annual funding goal!

It means so much to know that you support the work that is our passion.

There's even more good news. We were able to get a grant from the Global Environment Facility by showing that we had matching funds from Global Giving donors who believe in this project. That means your donation was doubled! The grant will fund biodiversity education in the Grenadines and will support a workshop to train fishermen and others how to be bird guides in addition to our volunteer warden project. This an opportunity to create jobs that rely on healthy bird populations, a win-win for everybody.

I hope you will continue to show your support for this project, there is much more work to do in 2015. We wil be continuing our research on chick survival and working with the Grenadines community to protect seabirds through workshops and outreach. The project's lead researcher, Wayne, is from Grenada and is starting graduate school this year using this project as the basis for his thesis. Building local capacity is just one of the many benefits of this project.

Global Giving is now matching the initial donation of recurring donations. Whether it is a monthly donation or a one-time donation, either way it will all add up to another great year because of donors like you!

Wishing you all the best for the holiday season and looking forward to another successful year.

EPIC researcher Wayne Smart searching for nests.
EPIC researcher Wayne Smart searching for nests.

Wherever you live, you've probably noticed an uptick in bird activity outside your window in the summertime. Nesting birds are busy claiming territories and getting food their chicks, who call out noisily for food. Now imagine that one summer none of that noise and activity happened, it was quiet. That is what EPIC researcher Wayne Smart encountered during his research on seabird nesting success in the Grenada Grenadines this past summer. In some cases, the birds just never arrived.

For example, one island, which had 1,200 nesting pairs of gulls a few years ago, had one gull nest this year. Another island, which harbored over 2,000 pairs of nesting birds, this year had no nests at all.This dramatic population decline alone would be a major cause for concern but the seabirds which remained were not able to nest with much success either. Less than a third of nests had chicks that fledged, or were old enough to fly away. You can read the full report in the attached document.

With just one year of data on nesting success, we cannot say if this is just a bad year for seabirds, or if this is part of a longer trend. But, the big question is why...what caused this huge shift from a few years ago? Maybe they nested elsewhere, although none of the nearby islands had an significant population increase. Maybe there just wasn't enough food in the ocean, perhaps due to changing ocean currents or environmental stress. Maybe this decline is the consequence of years of unsustainable seabird harvest.

The network of fishermen we work with are used to seeing the islands buzzing with seabird activity and are deeply concerned to see such a drastic change. They continue to provide valuable insights and report on areas where seabird harvest is observed.

We are eagerly looking foward to the next nesting season so we can gather more data and help to resolve this crisis. In the meantime, we are holding urgent meetings with government  and non-profit partners to convey these shocking research results and develop a strategy to protect seabirds. We will also continue working with fishermen, who visit the islands almost daily and serve as guardians for these last seabird refuges.

With your support, we can continue to expand this crucial work. Thank you for allowing us to be able to document this historic decline in seabirds and to help protect this vital habitat.


Attachments:
Field Research Manager Wayne Smart observes nests.
Field Research Manager Wayne Smart observes nests.

The summer seabird breeding season is coming to a close in the Caribbean as parents busily bring food to demanding chicks. The young ones look pretty uncoordinated for now, but soon they will transform into graceful masters of the sea and air.

There has been a substantial drop in the number of birds nesting at our study sites and we continue to investigate the cause for this decline. It could be related to a loss of food sources, too much harvesting of eggs and birds by people, or another similar threat. We are working diligently to figure out what is happening and take action as seabird populations continue to shrink to dangerously low levels in the Caribbean.

We invite you to view the results of an expedition to the Grenadine islands which took place earlier this year.  You can read the full report, Invasive Predator Surveys of Important Bird Areas and Protected Areas in the Grenadines, at our website. The report provides information not just on findings related to invasive species but also wildlife observations and the first documentation of toxin levels in Grenadine seabirds.

EPIC's annual report will soon be coming out as well and we look forward to sharing our accomplishments over this past year. Please let us know if you would like to opt out of receiving this once-a-year mailing by writing to ncollier@epicislands.org.

We continue to prepare for the upcoming training session for volunteer wildlife wardens and build partnerships in the fishing communities where we work. Thank you for making this valuable work possible through your generosity. We are excited about all that is possible in the coming year with your continued support.

Links:

Red-footed Booby chick in nest on Battowia island
Red-footed Booby chick in nest on Battowia island

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

Researcher prepares a non-lethal rat bait station.
Researcher prepares a non-lethal rat bait station.
Red-footed Booby adult with chicks
Red-footed Booby adult with chicks
Leaving the research boat for Catholic Island
Leaving the research boat for Catholic Island

Links:

About Project Reports

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Project Leader

Natalia Collier

Green Cove Springs, FL United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Protect Baby Seabirds in the Caribbean