Caribbean waterbird census workshop held

Long-time volunteer and bird expert Binkie van Es joined Saba Bank Officer Dahlia Hassell and Saba Ranger Jelle van der Velde; and Statian Ranger Ambrosius van Zanten at a water bird workshop on Curaçao. Also present were bird specialists from Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire who participated in a four-day workshop for park staff members and volunteers, to focus on monitoring wetland birds and their habitat.

It is the first workshop of its kind in the Dutch Caribbean. The workshop is hosted by Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity (CARMABI), in partnership with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and Birds Caribbean. As many species of water bird are in decline around the world, conservationists from all islands met for the first time this week to consider how to monitor and conserve the islands’ wetland birds, which include eight globally threatened or near threatened species. Nearly one in five water bird species is considered globally threatened, according to information from BirdLife International, mainly due to human impact on their habitat from pollution, land conversion and tourism development.

The birds are important not only as part of the islands’ biodiversity, but their populations are early indicators of the health of wetland areas. “Wetlands throughout the Caribbean provide many important roles for both migratory and resident species of water birds,” Jeff Gebraecht of the Cornell Lab commented. “A number of declining shorebirds utilise wetlands in the Caribbean as places to rest and refuel on their Birdwatchers look out for the wellbeing of water birds. The Fulica caribaea, or Caribbean Coot, is one of the most threatened species. long migration flights and several species have substantial populations which spend the winter on these same wetlands. Conserving and managing these wetlands is a key component in providing for the year round needs of many of these birds.” Other at risk species include the Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla), Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis), Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica), Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus), Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi), and Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens).

“Despite significant successes in bird and wetland conservation on the islands, there are still gaps in our knowledge about the wetland bird populations on each island,” said Kalli De Meyer, Executive Director of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. “Gathering consistent data to understand more about trends among the waterbirds will help improve conservation efforts and help us manage our parks and wetlands more sustainably.”

The workshop is part of a regional Caribbean, multipartner wetland monitoring initiative led by BirdsCaribbean, which organises an annual region-wide count over three weeks beginning in mid-January. The count provides a “snapshot” of waterbird population numbers and habitat use throughout the Caribbean. Workshop participants will receive training on monitoring protocols along with the equipment and materials they need to gather data about bird distribution, status and abundance. They will practice what they are learning during field trips to Curaçao’s wetlands where they will contribute significantly to BirdsCaribbean’s annual count.

The course is being run by BirdsCaribbean’s Executive Director and bird expert Dr. Lisa Sorenson, along with Jeff Gebraecht, eBird manager and neotropical bird expert from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The workshop was funded by Environment Canada and Vogelbescherming Nederland.

“We are delighted to be here and working with this enthusiastic group of professionals and volunteers that are interested to help with this initiative,” said Dr. Sorenson. “Everyone’s help with monitoring will add to our knowledge and help ensure that your beautiful wetland birds and the habitats they need to survive year-round are conserved.

In recent years, much conservation work on the Dutch Caribbean islands has focused on bird conservation, particularly protecting endemic species such as the Bonairian “lora” and globally threatened species, along with many migrants. Of the 24 sites on the islands’ declared Important Bird Areas under the Birdlife International protocol, 19 contain wetlands and are critical to a number of wetland bird species.

The Dutch Caribbean includes 10 “Ramsar” sites, which are wetlands of international importance. Ensuring that important wetland areas are monitored and conserved is essential for the numerous bird species that rely on them.

Partnerships with private companies have allowed the conservation of some vitally important breeding and foraging areas, such as the wetlands managed within the Cargill salt company on Bonaire. “Throughout the Caribbean, wetlands and the many species of bird that rely on them are being threatened,” De Meyer said. “Not only do wetlands provide critical ecosystem services, such as natural flood control and protection from storms, but they also are important overwintering habitats and fly way stopover points for countless migratory bird species. Monitoring wetlands and wetland birds has never been so important.”

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