Engaging Caribbean Conservationists in a Shorebird Training Workshop in Puerto Rico

“The workshop was one of the best I ever attended. I was very impressed with the vast knowledge that Manomet and BirdsCaribbean has accumulated and also the way you transfer this knowledge to workshop participants. It was very valuable for me and allowed me to deal with some conservation hurdles I am facing especially regarding how important water level management is for the birds.” – Binkie van Es with the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation shares his impression of the Conserving Caribbean Shorebirds and Their Habitats International Training Workshop hosted by Manomet and BirdsCaribbean in partnership with local NGO Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña (SOPI).

 Group Photo

The workshop took place at the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico from February 11 – 15, 2019. This area was a perfect backdrop for the workshop; the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats are a site of Regional Importance within the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. The salt flats, nearby beaches, and freshwater wetlands provided a perfect place to review and emphasize the lessons developed and shared by BirdsCaribbean and Manomet’s Habitats for Shorebirds Project to help local leaders protect shorebirds in the Caribbean.

 

Great Egrets (Ardea alba) alight in the freshwater wetlands of Laguna Cartagena (Lisa Sorenson)

Great Egrets (Ardea alba) alight in the freshwater wetlands of Laguna Cartagena (Lisa Sorenson)

Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus)make their way through the shallow waters of Salina Fortuna  (Brad Winn)

Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus)make their way through the shallow waters of Salina Fortuna (Brad Winn)

 

The group of 33 Caribbean conservationists in attendance learned about how different threats affect not only shorebirds and waterbirds, but also the places where they live and work. Participants also learned how to monitor birds which collects important information that helps track species populations regionally and internationally. They also learned strategies for conducting conservation activities and improving habitat management. All of this led to a deeper understanding of the birds’ ecology and conservation needs.

“We were thrilled to work with this enthusiastic group of conservationists this week,” said Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean. “They have all have pledged to use what they learned to help study and protect threatened shorebirds in their home countries.”

The group of students, wildlife managers, and educators from both the government and the non-profit sectors came from 14 island nations: Antigua, the Bahamas, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, and the US Virgin Islands. Over five days, they shared ideas, compared experiences, visited wetland and coastal habitats, and learned about two critical monitoring programs, the International Shorebird Survey (ISS) and Caribbean Waterbird Census (CWC).

Ajhermae White, Machel Sulton, and Natalya Lawrence work on bird identification at Combate Beach (Monica Iglecia)

Ajhermae White, Machel Sulton, and Natalya Lawrence work on bird identification at Combate Beach (Monica Iglecia)

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Nahira Arocho shares the invertebrates collected from the wetland at Laguna Cartagena (Monica Iglecia)

Nahira Arocho shares the invertebrates collected from the wetland at Laguna Cartagena (Monica Iglecia)

 

Through 30 hours of classroom time, six field trips to local wetlands and beaches, and group dinners, participants were fully immersed in the course content while also strengthening existing friendships and identifying new potential collaborations. The field trips around Cabo Rojo offered students the opportunity to identify birds and to practice estimating the number of birds in a flock. “The workshop was amazing!” said Zoya Buckmire of the Grenada Fund for Conservation. “We went to a variety of wetland habitats from salt ponds to lakes. We got to see many different birds and learned some fantastic techniques for identifying and counting them.”

 

A Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus )surfs a cattail at Laguna Cartagena (Monica Iglecia)

A Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus )surfs a cattail at Laguna Cartagena (Monica Iglecia)

A Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) validates its name on the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge (Brad Winn);

A Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) validates its name on the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge (Brad Winn);

A Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) keeps an eye on approaching onlookers at Combate Beach (Brad Winn)

A Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) keeps an eye on approaching onlookers at Combate Beach (Brad Winn)

A significant threat to shorebirds across the hemisphere and especially in the Caribbean is plastic pollution. The theme of World Migratory Bird Day 2019, Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution, reflects this. With a growing awareness of the harmful impact of plastic across the region on both public health and the environment, the workshop group was soon busy with a cleanup at one of the field trip sites, collecting 50 pounds of trash. The exercise was led by Sheylda Diaz Mendez of Environment for the Americas (EFTA) and representatives from the Scuba Dogs Society. This was an excellent hands-on exercise for participants to learn about the management and organization of a cleanup Plus, the beach benefitted from the removal of a large amount of plastic waste.

Adrianne Nahira Luis Jeanette_MI

Adrianne Tossas, Nahira Arocho, Luis Ramos, Sheylda Diaz-Mendez, and Jeanette Victor conduct a beach clean-up at Bahia Sucia (Monica Iglecia)

Bottle caps are one of the top ten plastic items found on beaches (Monica Iglecia)

Bottle caps are one of the top ten plastic items found on beaches (Monica Iglecia)

The workshop group in the field with their collected trash after the beach-clean up exercise.

The workshop group in the field with their collected trash after the beach-clean up exercise.

“There are many threats to shorebirds throughout the year, but by working locally at sites in the Caribbean and beyond, we can support the conservation of their great migrations. This workshop is the start of great things ahead,” commented Monica Iglecia, Assistant Director of Shorebird Habitat Management, Manomet.

A group works on bird identification in the field (Monica Iglecia)

A group works on bird identification in the field (Monica Iglecia)

Natalya Lawrence, Machel Sulton, Shanna Challenger, and Lisa Sorenson in the field (Monica Iglecia)

Natalya Lawrence, Machel Sulton, Shanna Challenger, and Lisa Sorenson in the field (Monica Iglecia)

While the first three days focused on bird identification, ecology, and collecting and exploring data, the final two days turned to conservation solutions. After sharing the challenges they face in their countries, many of which are similar, trainees and their facilitators shared ideas and strategies for reducing threats. In the coming days, participants will have the opportunity to apply for funding from BirdsCaribbean to carry out conservation activities. They will receive support for their efforts from both Manomet and BirdsCaribbean.

KILL

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) (Brad Winn)

Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)(Brad Winn)

Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)(Brad Winn)

Most Caribbean people live on or near the coast, but many do not know about the resident and migratory birds that inhabit their seashores and wetlands. One of these was participant Reneive Rhoden, from Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency. “I grew up on the seaside and I didn’t know anything about shorebirds – and now I know a lot! I can now teach my kids, children in school, and Jamaicans that I work with in my job.” said Reneive.

The participants came away with plans to share their newfound knowledge with colleagues and new tools to help them in their efforts. “Thank you so much for always providing opportunities for conservationists in the Caribbean like myself,” wrote Laura Baboolal from Trinidad. She aims to start a shorebird monitoring program for Trinidadian wetlands. All participants also received new Vortex binoculars and ten organizations received a new Vortex spotting scope and tripod – “must-have” equipment for monitoring programs and ensuring proper identification. The group also received field guides and other resources for bird identification and data collection.

We are very grateful to the following generous sponsors and partners for contributing to this workshop including Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña; US Fish and Wildlife Service (Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Fund); US Forest Service International Programs; Environment Canada; The BAND Foundation, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, Para La Naturaleza; Optics for the Tropics, Inc.; Environment for the Americas; Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, and Vortex Optics.

Heading back from the field after a long, educational day (Monica Iglecia)

Heading back from the field after a long, educational day (Monica Iglecia)

 

 

 

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