Written by: Jen Valiulis, Executive Director
At the end of July, I attended the 22nd International Conference of BirdsCaribbean, a non-profit organization committed to the conservation of wild birds and their habitats in the insular Caribbean. Its focus on conservation, outreach, education and science make it the most broad-based conservation organization in the region.
FUN FACT: the first conference for this organization was in 1988 in St. Croix, when the organization was called the Society of Caribbean Ornithology.
This is the third BirdsCaribbean conference that I have attended and each time I come away with a list of great ideas and projects that we can do on St. Croix. Presentations and workshops covered a broad range of topics from scientific studies of specific bird species to engaging education and outreach.
One of the most relevant symposiums focused on the value and success of hurricane relief efforts following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. While we were still digging out from under the mess of the hurricanes, the BirdsCaribbean office in the U.S. started mobilizing to provide assistance to islands that were hit by the hurricanes. They sent 300 hummingbird feeders and 800 pounds of bird seed to St. Croix (and to other islands), which SEA then distributed at community giveaways. During this recent symposium, we discussed whether those efforts were helpful after the storms (they were!), lessons learned, and what we can do better next time. We all agreed that having relief supplies and information in place before the storm will greatly improve our ability to help affected wildlife.
Dr. Joe Wunderle, from the U.S. Forest Service Puerto Rico Office, presents information on hurricane recovery efforts
I also attended several presentations detailing efforts to accelerate reforestation of disturbed areas through the installation of bird perches. It’s a pretty simple idea – give the birds more places to sit after a meal of fruit or berries and they will “deposit” the seeds underneath the perch. This approach may greatly help our efforts at reforestation at the Southgate Coastal Reserve and at other locations around St. Croix.
Perhaps the most inspiring talk was by Orisha Joseph of Sustainable Grenadines. She presented on the restoration of the Ashton Lagoon in the Grenadines. This lagoon was damaged in a failed attempt to build a marina/casino/golf course complex. When the development project was abandoned, the lagoon was left in a highly damaged state, affecting both on land and marine resources. Through an immense effort, SusGren not only restored the lagoon, but made it a pilot project for building coastal resilience using ecosystem-based adaptation to provide benefits for humans and nature. It took many years of persistence, patience and hard work, but the success of this project is inspiring to those of us that aim to restore some of the damage that has been done to our valuable ecosystems. To see more information on this project, see SusGren’s website.
Finally, no wildlife conference would be complete without some wildlife viewing and trips into the field. I arrived a few days early to Guadeloupe to participate in a pre-conference field trip around the island. We saw lots of exciting birds including the endemic Guadeloupe woodpecker, the purple-throated Carib, and the Plumbeous Warbler. I also took a mid-conference break and hiked up the La Soufriere volcano. Hiking up the steep, slippery slopes of the volcano while chatting with other conservationists from around the Caribbean about the challenges and successes of our work seemed very appropriate. I think we could all agree that like the hike, our work is a challenging uphill battle, made easier by working together.