With their remarkable adaptations and abilities, seabirds are the only animal to unite the air, land and sea.
Their long-distance migrations also unite nations as they cross borders as well as those who care about them, as was the case during recent seabird surveys which took place in the region.
The transboundary Grenadines, split between Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and Grenada, are rapidly gaining recognition as the most important region for breeding seabirds in the Lesser Antilles. With 3 colonies of global significance and 18 of regional importance, more than 54,000 pairs of 12 species of seabirds rely on these remote uninhabited islands for nesting. Many more types of seabirds pass through both nations, relying on them for their productive feeding grounds and safe places to rest.
Most seabirds return to the same islands each year to nest and raise their chicks, making it essential that the health of their nesting islands is preserved. Despite protective laws, enforcement and monitoring activities at Grenadines nesting sites have been limited due to the inaccessibility of most islands and high cost to visit. This is a reality that Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) is working with local partners to change.
With EPIC’s efforts, seabirds are now uniting people with very different skills and experiences, across SVG and Grenada, through the “Grenadines Seabird Conservation Network”. This group consists of government officials, enforcement officers, researchers, non-governmental organisations, students, tour operators and fisherfolk from both nations, who regularly communicate about shared seabird issues in the Grenadines island chain.
Since 2016 EPIC has trained over 60 persons in both nations in seabird identification, monitoring techniques and reporting of threats at remote Grenadine islands. These individuals, known collectively as the “Grenadines Seabird Guardians”, are a core part of the Grenadines Seabird Conservation Network, collecting vital information on the status of seabird populations and threats to their survival in the region. The Grenadines Seabird Guardians have conducted a record number of seabird surveys throughout the island chain in 2020 – a remarkable achievement in light of Covid-19 restrictions and limitations.
Most notably, throughout July, several small groups mobilised near-simultaneously to conduct seabird surveys. In the Saint Vincent Grenadines, a total of 10 persons travelled to 9 nesting islands. Participants included SVG Forestry Department, Mustique Company, Science Initiative for Environmental Conservation and Education (SCIENCE) and fisherfolk of Bequia, Mustique and Mayreau. In the Grenada Grenadines, 10 persons representing fisherfolk, the Grenada Birding Club, marine biologists, a veterinarian and Ocean Spirits conducted surveys at 14 islands, spanning from Carriacou south to Grenada.
The Grenadines Seabird Guardians noted thousands of nesting seabirds at remote islands, and in one case documented a Gull-billed Tern – a seabird species that had not been recorded in Grenada in more than 130 years. Participants were captivated by seeing the impressive numbers of nesting seabirds close up and putting their field identification skills to test. They also observed a variety of wildlife, including reptiles and land birds, demonstrating the biodiversity value of these sites.
While this was the first time some of the participants had travelled to these remote islands, they were accompanied by experienced seabird monitors who were able to assist the new recruits with identification and surveying methods. EPIC’s Project Coordinator Juliana Coffey noted “A major strength of this programme is being able to mobilise teams with very different backgrounds and skills. In this way, all team members can benefit from the diverse knowledge of each member, particularly contributions from fisherfolk who have detailed knowledge of the offshore islands and the seabirds.”
Unfortunately, the seabird monitors also encountered significant threats, ranging from invasive species (such as goats, sheep and a cat) in abundance, to marine litter and evidence of illegal harvesting of seabirds. Lystra Culzac, a Conservation Biologist with SCIENCE (SVG) reported “the population of goats encountered was alarming, with several persons expressing concern on the amount of damage that growing feral goat populations are causing on these sensitive islands”.
The information collected through the Grenadines Seabird Guardians programme is intended to contribute to the conservation of seabird populations and biodiversity at offshore islands, such as by feeding into national and regional management and conservation plans. If you are interested in becoming a member of the Grenadines Seabird Guardians, or for more information, please contact Juliana Coffey, Project Coordinator at [email protected] or on WhatsApp at (709) 770-6877.
Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC)