PIONEERING SEABIRD SURVEYS IN ST. KITTS AND NEVIS How many seabirds are there in the Lesser Antilles? On which islands do they nest? Where do they feed? The answer? Nobody is sure. Isn’t that incredible when you think about the millions of people who live, visit and sail through the Lesser Antilles each year, that something as huge as a pelican or as a spectacular as tropic bird can be missed? Well, that is where the non-profit organization Environmental Protection In the Caribbean (EPIC) comes in. Over the next two years they will be compiling a Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles. Katharine and David Lowrie will be sailing from St Kitts and Nevis to the Grenadines searching for seabirds, in their 75-year-old wooden Norwegian converted fishing boat, Lista Light. The crew are keen to talk to islanders and fishermen who may have information about where seabirds nest and whether they are familiar with the Wedrego or Audubon Shearwater, a seabird that flies back to its nest at night. ‘We also hope to give a presentation on the island about our work and speak to local schools”. Katharine outlines the project plan, ‘We will visit islands and cays that have not recently been surveyed for seabirds, sometimes not for decades. Using the latest survey techniques we will determine seabird population sizes. This will involve documenting seabird nests, eggs, chicks and adults. Of course a seabird’s idea of a smart, comfy home is different from ours. They are often found under a cactus, dangling on a vertical cliff ledge or in thick acacia shrub, so our job will not always be that easy.” The EPIC team will also be working closely with island governments and conservation organizations to collect any existing information about seabirds. They also hope to speak to schools and residents about their work while gaining local knowledge. But why do we need to know about seabirds? ‘Well, lots of people enjoy watching colorful seabirds, it’s part of what makes the Caribbean the beautiful tropical holiday destination that millions of tourists choose each year and that residents can take pride in. Seabird populations also indicate the ecological condition of the ocean and whether fish stocks are healthy. ‘Potential threats to nesting seabirds include human disturbance, trampling of nests by livestock, and predation by introduced species such as rats, cats, dogs, and mongooses. Also, because seabirds tend to nest in a small number of colonies throughout the Caribbean, the entire population of a species can experience a major decline with the loss of just one breeding location. In addition, populations are slow to recover due to low reproductive rates, with many species laying just one or two eggs a year. Some species cannot breed until late in life, like the Audubon’s Shearwater or Wedrego, which doesn’t nest until the eighth year of life. All of these factors put seabirds at risk. Many species are threatened or endangered, while some, such as the Jamaican petrel, are most likely extinct.” The final Atlas will be available online through interactive maps and databases at the West Indian Seabird GIS. The results will also be integrated into the Caribbean Waterbirds Conservation Plan being drafted by the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds. If you have any information on the location of seabird breeding colonies in the Lesser Antilles please do contact Katharine at klowrie@epicislands.org or phone (599) 581 6986 For more information on EPIC’s Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles project visit www.epicislands.org.