Atlas documents state of Caribbean seabirds

| 12/01/2012

brown_booby.jpg(CNS): A new atlas compiled after an eleven month study in the Lesser Antilles has revealed the current state of endangered sea birds in the region. Environmental Protection in the Caribbean’s (EPIC) Seabird Breeding Atlas is the first of its kind to document the birds in the area as many existing records are based on anecdotal notes from the early 19th century. Globally, seabirds are among the most threatened of bird groups, with 80% of species in decline and 90-99% of seabirds lost from tropical islands. Prior to European contact, it is believed there were tens of millions of seabirds breeding in the Caribbean region, now there are under two million.

Stretching in a thin arc from Anguilla to Grenada, the Lesser Antilles are the final frontier between the Caribbean Sea and the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean. Over an eleven month study period, between 2009 and 2010, EPIC’s partners Katharine and David Lowrie, sailed 3,162 nautical miles, surveying by land and sea 200 islands above the high-tide level capable of supporting seabirds, surveying each island in the winter breeding season and again during the summer.

Surveying islands that few other sailors will venture near, the study was dubbed by the sailing community as, a survey of the worst anchorages of the Caribbean.

“The reason for such remote nesting sites is that seabirds have been pushed out from their previous breeding grounds by development. Being mostly ground-nesting, they also have no defences against voracious introduced predators such as cats and rats”, Katharine Lowrie explained in a release from the environmental organization.

The EPIC Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles reveals that four of the 18 species recorded are present at globally significant levels, with a further 11 species considered significant within the Caribbean region. It also reports that Battowia, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, followed by Dog Island of Anguilla, are the most important individual islands for globally significant seabird colonies.

One of the distressing discoveries of the study, David Lowrie said was the extent to which egg collection and hunting of seabird chicks and adults still persist throughout the chain.

“We repeatedly encountered fishermen whose only reference to the species we were studying was their relative taste,” he said. “On one island during one day we were greeted by tensof decapitated Brown Booby heads representing 39% of that colony’s generation of chicks. On another island Sooty Terns are practically ‘farmed’ for their eggs, with ‘shoot outs’ being reported between rival hunters”.

The atlas provides vital data on this poorly studied group of birds. It includes species accounts for all eighteen species; island accounts including abundance and distribution of breeding colonies and threats; detailed methods and data analysis and discussion of the priority breeding sites and species of concern in the study area.

“The vision for the Atlas was born out of frustration with the huge gaps in information in the region for simple facts, such as the breeding locations for certain species or the main threats for each site,” Natalia Collier, EPIC President said. “It was crucial that the Atlas provided transparent, standardised methods and analysis, facilitating future seabird monitoring in the region to guide conservation priorities”.

EPIC’s Atlas is available from the CreateSpace online store. Purchases through CreateSpace return a percentage of royalties to EPIC to help cover expenses incurred during the project.

Category: Science and Nature

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