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Posted: Monday 9 March, 2009 at 3:19 PM

Pioneering Seabird Survey underway in St Kitts and Nevis

No official surveys have been done on the population or habitat of the local birds
By: Pauline Waruguru, SKNVibes

    CHARLESTOWN, Nevis - While conservationists in the Federation are active in the protection of marine life, pets and the general environment, there is hardly any attention paid to birds.

     

    This, however, will soon cease to be the case as the non-profit organisation, Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), has initiated preliminary seabird surveys.

     

    According to Katharine Lowrie, Field Research Manager Seabird Breeding Atlas, there is no data on how many seabirds in the Lesser Antilles or on which islands they nest. It is also not clear where they feed.

     

    Speaking to SKNVibes last Friday (Mar. 6) at the Charlestown Port, Lowrie asked: “Isn’t that incredible when you think about the millions of people who live, visit and sail through the Lesser Antilles each year, that something as huge as a Pelican or as a spectacular as tropicbird can be missed?”

     

    She continued: “Well, that is where the non-profit organisation Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) comes in. Over the next two years we will be compiling a Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles.”

     

    Lowrie and her team will sail from St. Kitts and Nevis to the Grenadines in search of seabirds aboard their 75-year-old wooden Norwegian converted fishing boat, Lista Light.

     

    The crew is keen to talk to islanders and fishermen who may have information on where seabirds nest and whether they are familiar with the Wedrego or Audubon Shearwater (a seabird that flies back to its nest at night).

     

    “We also hope to give a presentation on the island about our work and speak to local schools,” Lowrie said.
     
    According to Lowrie, “We will visit islands and cays that have not recently been surveyed for seabirds; sometimes not for decades. Using the latest survey techniques we will determine seabird population sizes. This will involve documenting seabird nests, eggs, chicks and adults. Of course, a seabird’s idea of a smart, comfy home is different from ours. They are often found under a cactus, dangling on a vertical cliff ledge or in thick acacia shrub; so our job will not always be that easy.”

     

    The EPIC team will also be working closely with the islands administration and conservation organisations to collect any existing information about seabirds. They also hope to speak to schools and residents about their work while gaining local knowledge.

     

    Asked why conservation groups should have interest in seabirds, Lowrie said lots of people enjoy watching colorful seabirds.
     
    “It is part of what makes the Caribbean the beautiful tropical holiday destination that millions of tourists choose each year and that residents can take pride in. Seabird populations also indicate the ecological condition of the ocean and whether fish stocks are healthy.

     

    “Potential threats to nesting seabirds include human disturbance, trampling of nests by livestock, and predation by introduced species such as rats, cats, dogs, and mongoose,” she explained.

     

    Lowrie said that because seabirds tend to nest in a small number of colonies throughout the Caribbean, the entire population of a species can experience a major decline with the loss of just one breeding location.

     

    “In addition, populations are slow to recover due to low reproductive rates, with many species laying just one or two eggs a year.”

     

    According to Lowrie, “Some species cannot breed until late in life, like the Audubon’s Shearwater or Wedrego, which doesn’t nest until the eighth year of life. All of these factors put seabirds at risk. Many species are threatened or endangered, while some, such as the Jamaican Petrel, are most likely extinct.”

     

    The final Atlas will be available online through interactive maps and databases.  The results will also be integrated into the Caribbean Waterbirds Conservation Plan being drafted by the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds.

     

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