Apr 18

Earlier in 2014, sixteen tiny eggs were collected from two small pockets of mangrove forest on the western side of Isabela in the Galapagos Archipelago. These eggs, each the size of the nail on your little finger, belong to one of the rarest and most range restricted birds in the world: the mangrove finch (Camarhynchus heliobates). This small, brown, unassuming bird is one of the famous Darwin’s finches and is today the rarest endemic bird in Galapagos. There are less than 100 mangrove finches alive today and last year there were only 14 breeding pairs. But why are they so critically endangered?

Mangrove Finch © Michael Dvorak

Mangrove Finch © Michael Dvorak

Until recently, one of the main threats to mangrove finches was introduced rats. As generalist carnivores, rats would seek out and feed on the eggs and chicks of finches during the breeding season. Fortunately, rats are now being controlled at the breeding sites but now a much smaller invasive species poses an even larger threat.

Philornis downsi is a species of fly native to Trinidad and Brazil. It was introduced to Galapagos in the 1960s and has now spread to 14 islands within the Archipelago. The adults of this fly are harmless, feeding almost exclusively on nectar, but in their larval stage they are blood-sucking parasites. Female flies lay their eggs in the nests of small breeding land birds. Blind, naked and weak, the mangrove finch hatchlings are an easy target for the fly larvae which feed on their blood, very often resulting in the death of the chick. In 2013, 37% of chicks were killed this way – a massive hit to such a tiny population.

Philornis downsi larvae © A. Muth

Philornis downsi larvae © A. Muth

So why are the scientists removing eggs? In an effort to ensure that the mangrove finch does not become the first bird to go extinct in Galapagos since before Darwin’s time, scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation and San Diego Zoo are, with support from the Galapagos National Park, taking action. During the mangrove finch breeding season, females lay up to five clutches of eggs but the first few rarely survive. By taking this first clutch, hatching and raising the chicks in captivity, then releasing them back into the wild when they are old enough, the project should result in more individuals being added to the population each year.

Chick being hand fed © Juan Carlos Avila

Chick being hand fed © Juan Carlos Avila

By raising the chicks in captivity, they will have avoided the nest-bound parasites and will have been given a ‘head-start’ in life. 2014 was the first time ‘head-starting’ has been trialled on mangrove finches and it is proving a great success. The sixteen eggs have hatched and the mangrove finch chicks are being released back into the mangroves right now. The future of the mangrove finch is starting to look a little brighter.

2. Remaining mangrove finch habitat 2 - (c)Francesca Cunninghame

Remaining mangrove finch habitat © Francesca Cunninghame

For more information on the project and to keep up to date with progress, please visit www.mangrovefinchappeal.org

Apr 17

Located in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the volcanic Galapagos Islands are a living laboratory of evolution and a template for conservation for the rest of the world. Consisting of 14 large islands and 120 smaller islets and rocks, and surrounded by the 53,000 square miles of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (a World Heritage Site in its own right), this isolated environment is home to many unique species which vary from island to island. Charles Darwin’s appreciation of this distinctive quality has given Galapagos a special place in history and the development of modern science.

Galapagos Islands Map

Galapagos Islands map

Since Darwin’s time, travellers and settlers have disturbed the Islands’ ecological balance. In some cases, natural habitats and endemic species have been decimated and invasive plants and animals have become established, yet Galapagos remains one of the best-conserved tropical oceanic archipelagos in the world.

1. Bay with Pinacle Rock

Bay with Pinacle Rock, Galapagos © Phyl King

The Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) is the only UK charity to work exclusively towards a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands. Supporting projects in the fields of science, education and culture since 1995, we have been working in programme areas including habitat restoration, invasive species management, sustainable development and education both locally in Galapagos and internationally.

1. Giant Tortoises

Galapagos giant tortoises © Alex Hearn

In the UK, we raise awareness of conservation matters in Galapagos through our network of committed supporters and the media. This year we are set to launch Discovering Galapagos - a brand new bilingual educational resource for use in the UK and Ecuador through which school children, our future conservation ambassadors, will use Galapagos as a template to learn about global conservation issues.

1. Marine Iguana

Galapagos marine iguana © Vanessa Green

Over the next few weeks, we are excited to be sharing with you via our friends at ARKive some of the cutting-edge conservation projects that we are supporting right now in the Islands.

For more information:

GCT Email: gct@gct.org
Website: www.savegalapagos.org
Discovering Galapagos website: www.discoveringgalapagos.org.uk
GCT Blog: http://galapagosblog.org/
GCT Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Galapagos-Conservation-Trust/33337561833
GCT Twitter: @galapagossip

Apr 7

Readers of the ARKive blog may remember that last year we featured a guest blog introducing the fantastic Barren Isles Project, which is working towards creating Madagascar’s largest locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in the Barren Isles. Recently Olivier Raynaud, the Barren Isles Project Coordinator, got in touch let us know how the project is progressing.

Barren Isles image

Head down under the rain the whole morning, bailing water out of the pirogue as it crashes back in at once, one can’t help but reflect on how this mission hasn’t quite gone to plan…

We’d originally set out for a two-week mission covering all of the nine islands and eight coastal villages which make up the Barren Isles, but now, just 6 days in, we’re headed home early, and let’s face it; this particular consultation trip to the Barren Isles has been less than successful. Uncooperative equipment was daunting enough, but a patch of unexpected inclement weather added insult to injury, forcing us to abort the mission and scramble back to the mainland.

Under more auspicious conditions, travelling in the Barren Isles does by no means convey a sense of hardship (© O. Raynaud)

Under more auspicious conditions, travelling in the Barren Isles does by no means convey a sense of hardship (© O. Raynaud)

In contrast to this undeniably disappointing mission, overall project development is relatively stable and encouraging, as we work our way towards Madagascar’s largest locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in the Barren Isles. If there’s anywhere that warrants protection in Madagascar’s coastal waters, it’s the Barren Isles archipelago. When out on the islands, I never miss a chance to duck in for a snorkel, and am always rewarded with pristine coral reefs teeming with fish. Despite hosting hundreds of migrant fishers every year, fish populations remain relatively in tact here, as the fishers, mostly coming from Madagascar’s southwest coast, are here in search of high-value sharks and sea cucumbers.  As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why we’re engaging with local and migrant fishing communities, before these reefs and fish go the way of many of the reefs of southwest Madagascar. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for local shark and sea cucumber populations, which are already largely fished out.

The Malagasy government now has in its possession all the paperwork required to establish an official Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Barren Isles. Throughout the creation process, and beyond all the legal and scientific requirements, we, as project promoter, have gone to great lengths to ensure transparent and constant communication between all stakeholders by gathering together, on a regular basis, all actors relevant to the Barren Isles conservation initiative.

Indeed, strong community support and collaboration between stakeholders are the only chance for the MPA to be a success, as it will depend on local communities to both create and enforce the rules and regulations, in partnership with government representatives and industrial sectors.

Stakeholder meeting on the establishment of the Barren Isles Marine Protected Areas, Antananarivo

Stakeholder meeting on the establishment of the Barren Isles Marine Protected Areas, Antananarivo

For instance, when the initial outline for the MPA perimeter overlapped with industrial shrimp fishing grounds, back-to-back delimitation propositions were exchanged between traditional fishermen and the national industrial fishing lobby (Groupement des Aquaculteurs et Pêcheurs de Crevettes de Madagascar – GAPCM). The negotiations reached a win-win compromise, where a considerable portion of the ecosystem is to become off limits to trawlers, hence allowing the regeneration of stocks, and in turn increasing the productivity of adjacent fishing grounds.

This MPA protection status will regulate external and industrial threats to the local marine resources. It will also provide a legal framework for the broader LMMA approach, through which local issues (such as destructive fishing practices) will be addressed by elaborating and implementing a marine dina – a set of rules agreed on and enforced by the community.

It is precisely in order to finalize this dina with the fishing communities that we headed back off to the isles on our ill-fated trip.

Perimeter of the future Barren Isles Marine Protected Area

Perimeter of the future Barren Isles Marine Protected Area

Though the mission got off to a good start, with weather forecasts predicting clear skies and smooth sailing, by the second day it was quite apparent that the weather was not going to cooperate much longer. An evening thunderstorm on Nosy Lava put a serious damper on the open-air outreach activities we had planned- a mix of showing environmental documentaries, giving updates on the MPA creation process and fielding questions from the community- sending everyone running for cover. A downpour the following day, as well as confirmation that our resupply pirogue bringing fresh water from the mainland would not be able to make the trip, made up our minds, and so on the third day we headed out early, while the sea was still calm and the skies relatively clear.

Consultations with fishing communities on Nosy Lava and Nosy Manandra - when the weather cooperates (© O. Raynaud)

Consultations with fishing communities on Nosy Lava and Nosy Manandra – when the weather cooperates (© O. Raynaud)

After the very first leg of the trip, and its occasional waves actually crashing in the boat, our generator had already drowned. A day spent drying – as far as sitting disassembled in the ambient dampness can be called drying – and it was back to life; hopes were high!  All the Nosy Dondosy fishermen gathered round, and… as we pulled the starter rope, it snapped. The final blow. Bummer.

Encounters in the Barren Isles – ones we did not get a chance to have this time... (© O. Raynaud)

Encounters in the Barren Isles – ones we did not get a chance to have this time… (© O. Raynaud)

Back home, after a quick stop for a – not so well-deserved but nonetheless necessary – hot pizza and icy beer (funny thing about being on the islands during inclement weather is that the fishers can’t go fishing, so our dinners were limited to rice and beans), and nothing left to do but pull ourselves up by the boot straps, plan another trip and keep our fingers crossed that this crazy atypical weather finally moves on to bother someone else… Heads Up!

By Olivier Raynaud, Barren Isles Project Coordinator

Feb 21

562995_460205190743127_1808199899_nWhat is your job, where do you work?

My name is Neil Green and I am the Avon Invasive Weed Forum (AIWF) Project Officer.  I work mainly on the rivers and watercourses within Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset.

What is your background?

My background includes life guarding in Cumbria, teaching English in Madrid, exporting oil for BP lubricants, building balconies in Bondi Beach and running my own landscape gardening business in sunny Swindon!  In more recent years I  have been a Coastal Ranger for the National Trust in North Cornwall and worked on the Source to Sea Invasive species project for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

What is the Avon Invasive Weed Forum, what projects are you working on?

The AIWF is an independent group of relevant stakeholders such as Bristol City Council, Bristol Zoo Gardens, The Environment Agency and South Gloucestershire Council, currently funded by Defra. The aim is to survey as much of the Avon catchment as possible for Non-Native Invasive Weeds (NNIW), so far we have over 70 kilometres of riparian habitat logged. Once the surveys are mapped we then get the NNIW into the appropriate management to control and reduce the abundance of these alien nasties.

How are you helping to fight invasive species in the UK?

We are helping by engaging with local conservation and community groups to take ownership of their local areas and the invasive species that they may have. In the Spring and Summer we carry out many practical Himalayan balsam weed pulls – we managed 22 ‘BIG PULL’ events last summer.   Himalayan balsam has a very shallow root system and is easy and very enjoyable to yank out of the ground. Removing the plants stop them from seeding, which is of paramount importance to help fight the invasion!

brislingtonbrook

How can people get involved?

You can get involved by volunteering to help manage the Himalayan Balsam as part of our ‘BIG PULL’ campaign or help survey the watercourses and open water in the Avon Catchment.   You can do this by contacting your local conservation groups, community groups or myself at the Avon Invasive Weeds Forum, we welcome individuals, groups and corporate social responsibility requests.

If you are not in the Avon area you can take a look at the GB NNSS website and find an Invasive Species Project closer to home.

You can also help by following the guidelines in the Check, Clean and Dry and Be Plant Wise Campaigns too.

Find out more about the Avon Invasive Weed Forum by visiting their website or their Facebook page.

Learn more about invasive species in the UK by visiting our UK invasive species page.

Jan 17

The fight to save one of the world’s most endangered birds, the Bali starling, got a major boost with the hatching of four tiny, healthy chicks on Bali’s Nusa Penida Island.

Bali starling image

The Bali starling is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

The captive-bred chicks hatched in early October, and are the offspring of two pairs of birds housed at Friends of the National Parks Foundation’s (FNPF) community centre in the island’s Ped village. We bought the hatchlings’ parents from West Java’s Soehana Oetodjo, one of Indonesia’s most experienced Bali starling breeders, and took them to Nusa Penida in December 2012 in the hope they would breed. They came with six other Bali starlings which were released on nearby Lembongan Island.

Wildlife welfare standards

It’s very exciting – after ten months, these are the first offspring to be produced. We would like to show people who are interested in the captive breeding of starlings for conservation purposes that you don’t necessarily need fancy cages. We used very simple, secure, inexpensive enclosures which met wildlife welfare standards – something that people on Nusa Penida can copy. In addition, we trained our local staff to breed the birds, showing you don’t need any previous specialist skill to do this – it’s very much about how much you care about the birds.

Bali starling chick image

One of the captive-bred Bali starling chicks © Friends of the National Parks Foundation/Nengah Sudipa

We are a grassroots conservation NGO, working to protect wildlife and its habitat at the same time as supporting local communities. Our projects have been recognised by global organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme and the Whitley Fund for Nature.

We have transformed Nusa Penida, 14 kilometres off the coast of Bali, into an unofficial bird sanctuary and a haven for the Bali starling. We gained the trust of the 46 villages, and persuaded each one to introduce traditional Balinese regulations to protect Bali’s emblem bird, as well as other threatened bird species, from poachers and wildlife traders.

Today, the sanctuary, which also takes in two nearby islands, is estimated to be home to more than 100 Bali starlings. When we started in 2006, there were believed to be less than ten of these birds surviving in the wild in Bali.

Bali starling on branch image

The Bali startling is Bali’s national bird

Surprise arrivals

FNPF’s Nusa Penida Bird Keeper Nengah Sudipa, himself a former wild bird poacher, is rapt with the new arrivals. He helped to select the birds that would be kept for breeding from ten Bali starlings that arrived in late 2012. But after four months, and no success, he was worried because the birds were only making nests and not laying eggs.

Then one morning while cleaning out the nest box he found two chicks inside. He says he was so happy, and kept going back and forth to the nest box all day to make sure they were healthy. Two days later, two more tiny chicks hatched from the next cage.

Later this year we will release some of the hatchlings on Nusa Penida, and loan some to local people interested in getting involved in captive breeding. Anyone who is given the opportunity of a breeding loan should return at least double the number of birds they receive, and those birds can then be released back on Penida.

Bali starling pair image

Illegal capture for the caged-bird trade is a major threat to the Bali starling

We have won the ongoing commitment and support of the Penida communities to help protect birds through our work operating a variety of community development and community education projects, all of which bring social and economic benefits to the local residents.

We rely solely on donations to fund our work saving the endemic Bali starling. Please support our project by sponsoring the rehabilitation and release of a Bali starling, or sponsor a Bali starling nestbox and we will attach a plaque in your name. For more information, visit us at www.fnpf.org or email info@fnpf.org. Thank you to Alan El Kadhi for covering the cost of purchasing these ten Bali starlings.

By Friends of the National Parks Foundation, CEO and Founder Dr Bayu Wirayudha and Communications Manager Kirana Agustina

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