Seabird research in the Grenadines

A survey of Grenadians on seabird harvest in the Grenada Grenadines

Wayne A. Smart, Natalia Collier and Virginie Rolland

Abstract 

Despite their sociocultural and economic value, seabird populations have dramatically declined, in part due to overexploitation. Although seabird harvest is not as common worldwide as it was historically, partly because of protective laws, illegal harvest still occurs, particularly in tropical developing nations. In Grenada, seabird harvest could partly explain the decline of seabird colonies. Our objective was to determine if fishers and recreationists engage in seabird harvest in the Grenada Grenadines and, if so, which sociodemographic factors may be associated with harvesting seabirds. We designed a 64-question survey that we made available at the Fisheries Division office of Sauteurs, Grenada, for 6 weeks each year (15 June to 30 July) from 2015 to 2017. Although respondents claimed that harvesting is a tradition that infrequently occurs today, survey responses and anecdotal evidence suggest seabird harvest still occurs. Continued seabird harvest, combined with other threats (e.g., livestock grazing), could prove detrimental to existing Grenadine seabird colonies. Interestingly, respondents who have collected or eaten seabirds seem unaware of laws that protect seabirds from hunting, which are especially restrictive during the breeding season. Therefore, we recommend establishing a community-based monitoring program that 1) empowers fishers and recreationists through education and awareness of seabird harvest, 2) provides a patrolling presence on islands previously neglected, and 3) ensures continuity of seabird data collection in the Grenada Grenadines.

 

The entire article can be read or downloaded here on the JCO website

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Get the new field guide for birds of the Grenadines, developed by Juliana Coffey and Alison Ollivierre. Information on where to purchase can be found on their website here.

Grenadines Seabird Conservation Management Plan

Juliana Coffey and Natalia Collier, Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC)

EPIC recently published a comprehensive management plan for seabirds in the Grenadines, the executive summary of which can be found below. The complete management plan has been included as a PDF for download. 

Executive Summary

More than thirty percent of seabird species worldwide are at risk of extinction, with seabirds being declared one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates worldwide. Conservation of seabirds is an international challenge due to their wide-ranging movements spanning political borders, their tendency to nest on remote islands and their relatively secret lives at sea. Transboundary cooperation is often required to effectively prioritize conservation strategies and manage common threats, such as invasive species, poaching and protection of important areas, required to ensure healthy populations of wide-ranging species, such as seabirds (Wolf et al. 2006).


The transboundary Grenadines archipelago hosts twelve breeding species of seabirds, numbering in the tens of thousands, on islands, rocks and cays situated on the shallow (<100m) Grenada Bank, between the mainlands of the nations of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Studies have shown that some of the breeding colonies in the Grenadines qualify for international (3) and regional (18) Important Bird Area (IBA) status, due to harbouring >1% of the global or regional population of a species (Lowrie et al 2012). Due to their remoteness and inaccessibility, islands in the archipelago collectively represent one of the last remaining refugia in the Caribbean for nesting seabirds. 

Historically, seabirds and their remote island habitats in the Grenadines have received very little protection and monitoring, and an overall inaction to enforce protective legislations, such as poaching or removal of fauna from protected areas. Despite several important breeding islands being declared Wildlife Reserves, or lying within marine protected areas, these are effectively “paper parks” where seabirds are concerned. Monitoring and enforcement are complicated by the remoteness, inaccessibility, weather, availability of personnel and resources, and weak protective legislations on both sides of this transboundary seabird hotspot. While Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have legally designated protected areas on many seabird breeding islands throughout their Grenadines, there are currently none in the Grenada Grenadines that feature seabirds or their habitat.


Worldwide, populations of seabirds have declined dramatically, with estimates of up to a 70% loss since the 1950s (Paleczny et al. 2015), while declines in tropical areas are believed to be much higher (Schreiber and Lee 2000). Seabirds worldwide are experiencing a complex and poorly understood crisis, which is the culmination of threats on land, in the air and in the sea. Many species only return to land for a couple of months per year to breed and raise chicks and otherwise lead relatively secret lives at sea for the remainder of the year. Some are
highly migratory and travel through areas where they are afforded little to no protection. Development of new technologies, such as tracking devices, have enabled researchers to learn more about seabird lives at sea, as knowledge previously was almost exclusively limited to their nesting colonies during breeding seasons. 

 

The overall goal of this conservation plan is to propose a framework of strategies to conserve and manage seabird populations and their island habitats throughout the Grenadine archipelago, while promoting nonextractive economic opportunity within local communities, as well as environmental education and/or the ability to participate in conservation and management programs. Given the remoteness of many of the seabird islands, complexity of access, and sociocultural relationships to seabirds (e.g. harvesting) a successful conservation approach must adopt multiple strategies to encourage seabird preservation. Currently, the primary sector of society in both nations that are using seabirds are fisherfolk, who use them to find fish, navigate, and understand weather patterns, while some additionally continue to exploit them for consumption at levels that are likely unsustainable. Each seabird species and colony have their own suite of threats, such as invasive species, poaching, and/or periodic burning of vegetation, requiring a customized approach.


This Conservation Plan additionally proposes to establish a coalition of community-based seabird monitors complemented by governmental agencies with the authority for enforcement, overseeing seabird management within island groups. Such a co-management approach is recommended in areas where human elements, such as seabird exploitation and livestock grazing, strongly influence conservation and management (van Halewyn and Norton 1984). Enforcement and monitoring in the future could much benefit from alternative  technologies, such as drones and remote cameras. These technologies would not serve to replace local bird monitors but rather to complement, while additionally providing a means to monitor other species and activities (e.g. sea turtles, illegal drug trade, human trafficking). Interdepartmental collaborations, such as between Forestry, Fisheries, National Parks and Coast Guard, could also improve island access and capacity to enforce regulations in remote areas. 

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