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Thousands learn about Seabird Conservation

Thousands learn about Seabird Conservation
Bequia fisher outreach – Educator Lystra Culzac (left) discusses seabirds with fishermen, who rely on the birds to find fish.

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Environmental awareness is essential for protecting our natural heritage. During 2019, two organizations, the Science Initiative for Environmental Conservation and Education (SCIENCE) and Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), partnered to reach over 4,000 participants with outreach activities aimed at supporting seabird conservation in the transboundary Grenadines archipelago of the nations of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada.

Thousands learn about Seabird Conservation
SVG_Bequia outreach mascot – Children enjoy wearing the Terri the Tern seabird mascot costume.

Among the seabird conservation issues addressed were the impacts of burning and overgrazing of uninhabited islands and the poaching of seabirds and eggs. Marine pollution, especially plastic pollution, was also addressed.

Given the direct connection between fishers and offshore islands, outreach was focused on fishing communities. To date, events have taken place on Bequia, Mustique, Union Island, Mayreau, Petit Martinique, Carriacou and mainland St Vincent and Grenada. Activities included school presentations, community displays, radio and television interviews, fisherfolk meetings and one-on-one discussions.

A main highlight of the outreach was the seabird mascot Terry/Terri the Tern. Children of all ages were drawn to mascot and quite naturally interested in learning about the bird’s plight. Students were also given the opportunity to wear the costume, further helping them to identify with the conservation icon.

Thousands learn about Seabird Conservation
Students of Mary Hutchinson Government School (Union Island) display their enthusiasm for seabirds, holding bird posters and cards.

Outreach activities, while intended to disseminate information regarding seabird and biodiversity conservation, were also aimed at gathering data to inform other aspects of the project. For example, many fisherfolk informed project staff about the value of seabirds to their industry. They emphasized that seabirds very often helped them to locate fish. One fisherman stated that he “depended on seabirds 90% of the times” to locate his catch. Another spoke of many days without fish until seabirds showed him “a bumper catch that almost sank his boat”. Others told of the reliability of different species of seabirds in “pointing out” different species of fish. The Brown Noddy Anous stolidus is a favoured and trusted seabird among fishermen. They mentioned time and again of its dependability in locating fish.  They also spoke of the reliability of birds such as the Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens in forecasting the weather.

Fishermen also utilized fisherfolk meetings, community displays and one-on-one discussion to express their concerns about the amount of pollution that is found in our rivers and beaches.  While many are aware that some fisherfolk are themselves responsible for marine debris, especially because of poor practices related to the disposal of old fish pots, nets, ropes and plastics, they lamented their concerns over the growing amount of plastics and other debris being encountered in their fishing space.

Inspired by the need for action, partnerships have also been established with fisherfolk, community groups and individuals who have pledged to support conservation efforts.  It is evident that many illegal practices are ongoing. For example, seabirds and their eggs are harvested despite laws against the practice and offshore islands are burned, causing the erosion of soil onto surrounding reefs, loss of native species, and the death of wildlife. What is evident too, is that efforts such as those made under this project are having a positive impact on awareness, and once continued, will lead to increasingly positive practices towards island biodiversity.

This project is made possible with support from USAID, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and donors.

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