September 16, 2011
Bahamas National Trust Awarded $150,000 to Save Audubon’s Shearwaters and Endangered Iguanas at Allen Cay.
The Bahamas National Trust has been awarded a $150,000 grant from the US-based National Fish & Wildlife Foundation to restore Allen Cay as a critical habitat for Audubon’s Shearwaters. The project will also create ideal nesting sites for endangered iguanas. Allen Cay, in the Northern Exumas, is home to endangered Allen Cay Rock Iguanas and a declining population of Audubon’s Shearwaters. The shearwaters are nocturnal birds about the size of pigeons. They nest in small, rocky crevices on the cay. The excellent harbor next to Allen Cay provides one of the most accessible locations in the world to experience the mystical vocal and aerial displays of Audubon’s Shearwaters.
The project is being led by Ms. Tamica Rahming, Director of Parks and Science at the Bahamas National Trust, and Dr. William Mackin, a seabird biologist and expert on Audubon’s Shearwater. According to Ms. Rahming, “This restoration project was funded because it will mitigate some of the deaths of Audubon’s Shearwaters caused by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The goals of the project are to decrease the mortality of shearwaters by removing damaging invasive mice from the cay.”
The project will also decrease the population of Barn Owls roosting and nesting near the cay. In 2003, Dr. Mackin visited Allen Cay to investigate the shearwater deaths. He found that most birds were being killed by Barn Owls but were left uneaten. “We were puzzled as to why owl predation was so high at Allen Cay. One night, the light went on when I saw a house mouse run across a rock. They are a favorite prey item for the Barn Owl and their presence on the cay supports a large number of owls” said Dr. Mackin. Subsequent trapping and studies have confirmed large numbers of mice and dramatically higher rates of death for shearwaters at Allen Cay than on other cays in the Exumas.
“In addition to removing invasive mice and decreasing predation by Barn Owls, this project will create ideal nesting sites for iguanas on the island,” said Dr. John Iverson. “The iguanas on Allen Cay do not have appropriate nesting sites, so the population cannot breed.” Dr. Iverson, a biologist, has studied the Allen Cays Rock Iguana for decades, during which he and his students also documented dead shearwaters each breeding season since the 1990s. During the project, Dr. Iverson will remove the iguanas from Allen Cay, transfer them safely to a nearby island, and return them to the cay once the mice have been removed.
Island Conservation, a nonprofit conservation organization based in Santa Cruz, California, will assist in implementing the restoration project. Island Conservation’s mission is to prevent extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. According to Richard Griffiths, Island Conservation’s Project Director, “The Allen Cay restoration project is a wonderful opportunity that will provide lasting protection to significant Audubon’s Shearwater and Iguana populations. We are excited about the opportunity to be involved.”
Several local and regional groups wrote letters of support for the project, including Powerboat Adventures, The Shedd Aquarium, The Seabird Working Group of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, and the Smithsonian’s (U.S.) National Museum of Natural History.
Updates on the progress of the project will be available at www.bnt.bs or by contacting the science division of BNT at firstname.lastname@example.org. The project began in May 2011 and continued in August with the removal of 14 iguanas to a nearby cay by Dr. Iverson and a group of dedicated volunteers who paid their own way. Earlham College provided matching funds for the trip in August 2011. The next step is a two-week planning study in early December, 2011. The restoration will be implemented in 2012 after development of a detailed operational plan and approval of the project. The recovery of Allen Cay’s plant and animal populations will be monitored carefully. For information and to support this project, contact Ms. Tamica Rahming at email@example.com or (242)393-1317.
“This is an extremely important initiative and underlines the importance of strong relationships and communication with scientific researchers. The BNT has long established relationships with Dr. Mackin and Dr. Iverson, and the knowledge gained in this project will assist in the management of other protected areas.” Noted BNT Executive Director, Eric Carey.