Conserving our natural heritage: From one Caribbean island to another

Antiguan and St Lucian conservationists visiting St Lucian conservation worksites (Photo courtesy Tahambay Smith
St Lucian Field Monitor, Saphira Hunt assists with rat eradication on Antigua's Pelican and Codrington Islands (Photo courtesy Saphira Hunt)
St Lucian Field Monitor, Saphira Hunt assists with rat eradication on Antigua’s Pelican and Codrington Islands (Photo courtesy Saphira Hunt)

The Offshore Islands Conservation Programme (OICP) has been working to conserve Antigua and Barbuda’s rare and globally significant biodiversity for the last 19 years. A huge part of the OICP’s success is local support and involvement. Today, almost all of OICP’s conservation activities are led by home grown experts.

Take, for example, Andrea Otto, a biology teacher at Clare Hall Secondary School. She has led the Antiguan Racer Snake Census for several years now and has been doing a fantastic job. We have comprehensive reports on the progress of this endemic reptile and can chart its population growth and survival threats across the years.

Again, who monitors the offshore islands to ensure that alien invaders such as rats are kept at bay? None other than Sean Lee and Tahambay Smith … pharmaceutical delivery agent and tax recovery agent, respectively, during the week, and Invasive Species Monitors by weekend.

As we strive to continue to increase the capacity of resident Antiguans and Barbudans in conservation management, we endeavour to share our expertise with and learn from our Caribbean counterparts as well. It was with this idea that only two years ago Andrea was able to train three Saint Lucian colleagues in snake monitoring techniques to assist them with monitoring the ‘now world’s rarest snake: the Saint Lucian Racer’. This was such a success that further cross-training took place, again between Antigua and Saint Lucia.

Very recently, the OICP expanded its conservation scope by eradicating rats from three offshore islands: Pelican, Codrington and an unnamed island, all found within the North East Marine Management Area. Eradicating these foreign mammals from our fragile ecosystems allows our own biodiversity a chance to recover and thrive. Before eradication work began, a feasibility study was conducted in June 2013 to verify whether or not rat-eradications on said islands were possible and beneficial to local biodiversity. Interested residents received training on conducting a feasibility study and were able to carry out feasibility research with three Saint Lucian colleagues (Murlina Murray, Saphira Hunt, and Lance Peterson) on Pelican Island. Lance and Saphira, in April 2014, were afforded the opportunity to return to Antigua and visit some previously restored offshore islands as well as receive training in rat eradication techniques while camping on the offshore islands. They worked hard and greatly assisted with the eradication efforts. They also described their time here as an unforgettable, invaluable learning experience.

It was time for Saint Lucia to return the favour. Two field officers and one field biologist, on behalf of the Environmental Awareness Group, and two staff members from the Government’s Forestry Unit left Antigua over the Easter break and were off to Saint Lucia. There, they kept to a busy itinerary: meeting with Saint Lucian colleagues, visiting the rainforest, and working alongside Saint Lucian Field monitors on some of their offshore islands, including Maria Major and Praslin Island. Field Officer, Tahambay Smith was also able to share an interesting presentation on OICP’s work in Antigua with the Saint Lucia National Trust and Saint Lucia Forestry Staff. At the end of the trip, Tahambay presented both groups with copies of the EAG’s The Wildplants of Antigua and Barbuda by Chris Pratt, Kevel Lindsay, Carolyn Thomas and Melanie Pearson.

Both cross-training exchange trips were supported and funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund under the projects: Offshore Islands Conservation Programme: Maintaining Rat-Free Islands for the Benefit of Antigua’s Biodiversity and People and Islands without Aliens: Building Regional Civil Capacity to Eradicate Alien Invasive Species.

Please visit our Facebook page: Environmental Awareness Group to see photos from the trips.