For immediate release
9 November 2019
Community Consulted on Managing Seabirds
This week the organization Environmental Protection in the Caribbean continued its community consultation and planning session regarding the seabirds and offshore islands of the Grenadines, this time with a dozen fisherfolk and other interested residents on Mayreau, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Fisherfolk who participated in the event proved to be highly knowledgeable about the diversity and distribution of seabirds in the Grenadines, while some held particularly detailed knowledge such as the difference between male and female and various age classes, such as with Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Boobies. They also revealed the importance of seabirds for finding fish, navigating and interpreting weather patterns. One fisherman simply stated “All seabirds are very important to us.” For example, Magnificent Frigatebirds are useful for indicating changes in weather, which has been supported by fisherfolk on other Grenadine islands. While Royal Terns are useful for finding baitfish, Red-billed Tropicbirds can lead the way to larger commercial species at sea, such as tuna. After the workshop, participants were asked if they learned anything during the presentation and discussions. All present were shocked to learn that some seabirds regularly dive more than 50 meters and that some can live to be up to seventy years old. One fisherman stated “I always wondered which seabird meant tuna in the water – I know now!”.
Those present were also aware that certain birds are present for different parts of the year. For example, booby species are present year-round, but terns, noddies and gulls are present for only a portion of the year. Although currently many breeding species have departed the Grenadines, now is the time to see Royal Terns, also referred to as “Catbird”, which breeds in nearby Barbados.
Names for seabirds differ between islands. While a Magnificent Frigatebird is referred to as “Seaso” on Carriacou, in reference to shape of the tail feathers, on Mayreau they are known as “Man O’War”. Booby species, known as “Booby” on other islands, are also called “Dive Bird” on Mayreau, which describes its tendency to dive after fish.
Participants discussed gradual declines in seabirds, particularly of Laughing Gulls, which are known as “Mauve” throughout the islands. They engaged in conversation about the various threats to seabirds in the Grenadines. They also discussed issues outside the region, as some seabirds migrate very far and simply don’t make it back to their breeding grounds in the Grenadines due to threats encountered elsewhere.
Harvesting of seabirds, their chicks and eggs was also discussed, including the laws making this practice illegal. One participant indicated that in the past seabirds were traditionally served for Sunday dinners. While illegal harvest of seabirds, their chicks and eggs still occurs, participants recognized that harvesting would eventually lead to population declines.
All meetings thus far with fisherfolk have indicated that seabird harvesting is still widespread in the Grenadines, but the extent is unknown. Environmental Protection in the Caribbean is now conducting a region-wide survey to determine whether seabird harvesting levels have changed since the last survey by Sustainable Grenadines Inc. in 2014. The 2014 survey revealed that approximately 70% of those interviewed engage in harvesting activities. EPIC is aiming to reduce that number through education and outreach sessions targeting various sectors of society.
When asked about how we can recover seabird populations in the future, general consensus was that protection needs to focus on their breeding islands, which in the Grenadines are threatened with development, invasive species and pollution arriving by sea. Some participants called for a halt to harvesting activities, particularly of seabird eggs and to clean up the plastic pollution arriving on the shores of remote seabird breeding islands. In addition, they requested that notifications prior to seabird season be made via poster and radio to alert persons that taking of seabird eggs and chicks is prohibited.
Participants were asked which research activities they would like to see concerning seabirds in the future. All present were troubled by the presence of plastic pollution on the islands, which can entangle wildlife and be mistaken for food, and felt more research was necessary on this problem in the Grenadines. As on other islands, they were also interested in tracking studies to better understand movements of seabirds, and requested that information on seabirds is provided in schools.
Many thanks to the group Southern Grenadines Animal Kindness (SGAK) on Mayreau, which volunteered assistance with notetaking and photography and to Ms. Annie Adams of Combination Café for catering and recruiting participants for the event.
Consultations with a variety of communities will continue until the end of the year. For more information on the project please contact Juliana Coffey (Project Coordinator) at firstname.lastname@example.org or on WhatsApp 1-709-770-6877.