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Bird Watch SXM

Portland-Bight-Protected-AreaBy Mark Yokoyama

 

The state of conservation

 

Last week, over 200 delegates from the Caribbean and beyond met in Jamaica to share the latest in Caribbean bird science, education and conservation at the 20th International Meeting of BirdsCaribbean.

 

Coming from St. Martin, it can be hard to believe that Jamaica is an island at all. Whether speeding down miles of straight highway past endless sugar cane fields or winding through the Blue Mountains, it is an island on a different scale than anything in the Lesser Antilles. At the same time, it is undeniably Caribbean. During our week-long conference on bird conservation, bird researchers and educators working throughout the Caribbean found that many of our opportunities and challenges are simultaneously both as similar and different as the islands we work on.

 

A mid-conference field trip to the Portland Bight Protected Area puts many contemporary conservation issues into sharp focus. It is the largest protected area in Jamaica and is over 20 times the size of St. Martin. It includes dry forest, wetlands, coastline, offshore islands and marine areas. We toured a facility that, when finished, will include multiple boardwalks through mangrove forests, a bird blind and a three-storey interpretive centre where visitors can learn more about Jamaica’s wetland ecosystems. It is a testament to the growing local interest in natural heritage and its potential as a tourism attraction.

 

At the same time, the very same protected area is under serious threat. Plans are on the table to build a large transhipment port on the Goat Islands, which are part of the protected area. This development would be a huge blow to islands themselves as well as the entire Portland Bight, which would be fragmented by the development. The push and pull of increased interest in conservation and sustained development pressure is present throughout the region. The hopes and concerns we have on St. Martin are mirrored from island to island with surprising consistency.

 

With over 120 presentations and workshops, the meeting gave attendees the chance to learn the latest news from each island and also piece together a bigger picture of conservation in the region. Seabird research, for example, is progressing in parallel on many islands. With seabird populations globally under threat, teams are working to understand where seabirds are nesting, identify threats to nesting success and protect seabird populations by eradicating rats and other invasive animals.

 

Although conservation can feel like an uphill battle, there was also plenty of optimism. It was announced that the Black-capped Petrel was rediscovered on the island of Dominica, where it was thought to be gone for over 150 years. Young scientists presented their findings, highlighting the growing community of Caribbean researchers and conservationists. The fact that hundreds of people from dozens of countries can come together to share and learn is itself a powerful statement about the Caribbean commitment to conservation. Back at home now, the delegates are working on all kinds of projects throughout the region – separate, but not alone

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Saturday Oct. 17, 2015
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Friday Oct. 16, 2015
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