Since 2016, EPIC has been training members of the Grenadines Seabird Guardians to monitor and protect the remote islands where regionally and globally important populations of seabirds nest. The group of citizen scientists includes fisherfolk, tour operators and others who live in the ocean-dominated landscape of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Guardians monitor nests, remove litter, and assess threats like poaching. The team of nearly 50 trained individuals is growing into a community focused on protecting their natural heritage, a significant shift from the previous decades.
Training for the Guardians includes seabird identification, monitoring techniques and reporting of threats. They also collect vital scientific information on the status of seabird populations and threats to their survival in the region. During 2020, the Grenadines Seabird Guardians conducted a record number of seabird surveys which was a remarkable achievement in light of Covid-19 restrictions and limitations.
The Grenadines Seabird Guardians represent a diverse set of dedicated individuals. For example, participants include St. Vincent and the Grenadines Forestry Department, the Mustique Company, Science Initiative for Environmental Conservation and Education (SCIENCE) non-profit organization, and fisherfolk of Bequia, Mustique, Carriacou, and Mayreau. Also, the Grenada Birding Club, marine biologists, a veterinarian and the non-profit Ocean Spirits, are all involved.
Over the years, the Grenadines Seabird Guardians have noted thousands of nesting seabirds at remote islands, and in one case documented a Gull-billed Tern, which is a seabird species that had not been recorded in Grenada in more than 130 years. Participants frequently say that they are captivated by seeing the impressive numbers of nesting seabirds close-up and they enjoy putting their field identification skills to the test. In addition, participants typically see a variety of wildlife, including reptiles and land birds, which demonstrates the biodiversity value of these sites.
EPIC’s Project Coordinator Juliana Coffey noted “A major strength of this program is being able to mobilize 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 to the birds they care about, ranging from invasive species, such as goats, sheep, and cats in abundance, to marine litter and evidence of illegal harvesting of seabirds. Lystra Culzac, a Conservation Biologist with SCIENCE 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 data collected through the Grenadines Seabird Guardians program is contributing 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 contact firstname.lastname@example.org.