May 16

Island species are under threat.  Despite only making up about 3% of the Earth’s land area, islands are home to about 20% of all species and 50% of endangered species.

Approximately 80% of all known extinctions have occurred on islands. One of the primary causes for extinction of island species is the presence of invasive species. Since 1994, the charitable organisation Island Conservation has fought to prevent these extinctions by removing invasive species from island ecosystems.  Focusing on islands where the need is greatest, as biodiversity is concentrated and the rate of extinction is high, Island Conservation has deployed team members to 52 islands worldwide to protect 994 populations of 338 native species.

Invasive species are a threat to the Critically Endangered Juan Fernández firecrown

Once invasive species are removed, island ecosystems can often recover with little or no extra intervention. After the removal of invasive rats from Hawadax Island (formerly known as Rat Island), Alaska, bird species on the island increased dramatically and for the first time ever, breeding tufted puffins were documented on the island.

Working together with local communities, government management agencies and conservation organisations, Island Conservation enables many species to be brought back from the brink of extinction.

One such success story is the Anacapa Island Restoration Project. Invasive black rats on Anacapa Island, part of the Channel Islands Archipelago in California, were decimating native species populations, particularly the threatened Xantus’s murrelet (now renamed Scripps’s Murrelet),and the endemic Anacapa deer mouse. In 2001 and 2002, Island Conservation and partners removed invasive rats from Anacapa Island.  Since the removal of the rats, the nesting success of Xantus’s murrelet has increased by 90% and the Anacapa deer mice are thriving. In 2013, scientists documented the endangered ashy storm-petrel breeding on the island for the first time in history.

Anacapa Island

The removal of invasive species from island habitats has also led to the rediscovery of species once thought to be extinct. In 2011, Island Conservation and their partners removed invasive rats from Rábida Island, Galapagos to protect the native species.  A return visit to the island two years later led to an unexpected discovery of a gecko species, known only from subfossil records, which was thought to be extinct.

To date, Island Conservation have recovered and protected 338 seabird nesting colonies and taken action to restore 52 islands from the most damaging invasive animals.  With their continued work and the launch of Small Islands, Big Difference – a campaign which aims to save our world’s most vulnerable species by removing invasive species from islands at an accelerated rate, many more island species can be rescued from extinction.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing with you more about the great work that Island Conservation have carried out.

For more information about Island Conservation visit their website or facebook page.

Discover ARKive’s favourite island species from around the world.

May 1

As the first light of day spills over the sea like lava, we set off in a small boat to explore the waters around Goat Islands. Paulette, the only registered fisherwoman in the community, tells me when I ask about local opinion about the development, “The government claims it will bring jobs and opportunity to the area, but we are not qualified, and we are not being trained, for the jobs that will need to be done. They tell us what they want us to hear, but the reality is that we will be worse off”. I recently read a comment that said the government is, “selling straw baskets to the poor to carry water”, and could not think of a better analogy.

Herman and Paulette Coley rely on the fish they catch in the waters around Goat Islands to earn their livelihood.

Herman and Paulette Coley rely on the fish they catch in the waters around Goat Islands to earn their livelihood

As we circle Goat Islands, Herman points out two fish sanctuaries fringing the mangroves and asks, “How can they say this won’t impact our livelihoods?” Despite being protected under four laws and containing two forest reserves, six game sanctuaries, and three fish sanctuaries, and despite the fact that the Jamaican Constitution states that all Jamaicans have “the right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage,” the government appears to believe it can sell off a living, breathing ecosystem for the right price. The reasons that other sites, such as Kingston Harbour, have not been considered have not been fully explained.

Owen Blake, a fisher from Old Harbour Bay in Portland Bight Protected Area whose livelihood will be jeopardized by plans to dredge the sea, containing three fish sanctuaries, around Goat Islands

Owen Blake, a fisher from Old Harbour Bay in Portland Bight Protected Area whose livelihood will be jeopardized by plans to dredge the sea, containing three fish sanctuaries, around Goat Islands

The old adage says that we will conserve only that which we love. I cannot claim to love Goat Islands, and my relationship with Portland Bight Protected Area has been fleeting. After experiencing it first hand, I do feel more of a personal affinity to the place and to the people fighting to protect it, and can claim to appreciate its unique beauty.

Brilliant hues of turquoise, azure and white dance under a tropical sun

Brilliant hues of turquoise, azure and white dance under a tropical sun

As a photographer, my job is to translate my personal experiences of being there into something universal; to move others to feel as I did. But as I try to decipher what made me care enough to hop on a plane to Kingston, I keep returning to the feeling that was stirred in me before I had set foot on Jamaican soil; before I had sat in dappled limestone forest overlooking the Hellshire Hills, or stared into a star-filled sky over the Caribbean while sand cooled my feet. I keep returning to how I felt when I first learned of the loss of somewhere I had never been. What I felt was outrage that something as sacrosanct as a protected area – a natural treasure – could be sold off for a quick profit. I felt empathy toward those that had devoted their lives to recovering the Jamaican iguana, and angry that all their hard work could go up in smoke. I felt as if I had just learned that the government of Italy was chipping away at the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to sell piece by piece. This was not the world that I wanted my son to know; and so, I had to play my part to try to protect Goat Islands.

Magnificent frigatebirds rest in the trees fringing the Hellshire Hills

Magnificent frigatebirds rest in the trees fringing the Hellshire Hills

Find out more about the #savegoatislands campaign

Find out more about the Jamaican iguana on ARKive

Find out more about the American crocodile on ARKive

Discover more Jamaican species on ARKive

Find out more about Robin Moore and his photography

Read Guest Blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part one

Read Guest blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part two

Apr 30

The recovery of the Jamaican iguana is hard work, as introduced predators like the Asian Mongoose are continually captured to relieve predator pressure. “We catch them and kill them. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. The way it has to be”, says Booms, whose real name is Kenroy Williams, with a bashful smile. Booms is a handsome young Jamaican who grew up in southern Kingston before moving seven years ago to work on the Jamaican iguana recovery project.

The Jamaican iguana is considered to be one of the greatest conservation success stories

The Jamaican iguana is considered to be one of the greatest  success stories in conservation science

I ask Booms what his friends and family think of his career choice. “Some think I am crazy when they hear that I am touching the iguanas and the crocodiles. But if they were here like me, they would understand, and they would do everything that I am doing”, he says. As he cradles a young American crocodile, a Vulnerable species, found at night in one of the lagoons fringing the Hellshire Hills, he adds, “You’ve got to respect another life, so that the other life can respect yours. It’s all about respect”.

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area

In order for the iguana to survive without the life support system provided by Booms and team, the Jamaican Iguana Species Recovery Plan outlines steps to establish Goat Islands as a predator-free haven for the large lizard. That was the dream – until now.

“I just returned from Jamaica, and it’s bad”, began an email I received last month from Rick Hudson at Fort Worth Zoo. Hudson has devoted more than twenty years to recovering the iguana, and was distraught. The Jamaican government had announced that it was going to sell Goat Islands to a Chinese conglomerate that had been disbarred by the World Bank for fraud, to build a massive trans shipment port. The development would involve bulldozing the islands, dredging the sea around them, and building a coal-burning plant – in addition to razing forest and concreting over wetland on the mainland for an associated logistics hub. With opposition from local groups led by the Jamaica Environmental Trust falling on deaf ears, Jamaicans were crying out for some international intervention.

The Portland Bight Protected Area contains the largest intact mangrove forest in Jamaica

The Portland Bight Protected Area contains the largest intact mangrove forest in Jamaica

Tourism brings in half of all foreign revenue and provides one quarter of all jobs in Jamaica; most tourists who visit the country do so to enjoy pristine beaches, clear waters, ample wildlife and a landscape free from the scars of industrial development. The proposed development is akin to the UK government selling off the Lake District for a quick profit, and could hurt tourism if potential tourism outfits are outraged by the destruction of a natural national treasure. And so, in the humble hope that I could do something to shine a spotlight on what was happening in the international press – to alert potential tourists to Jamaica what the government has planned in the hopes that the government may listen – I boarded a plane to Kingston.

A coal burning plant, as seen on Old Harbour Bay, could be built on Goat Islands

A coal burning plant, as seen on Old Harbour Bay, could be built on Goat Islands

Diana McCaulay, co-founder and CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, meets me at the airport and we drive an hour south to the Portland Bight Protected Area, a 187,515-hectare area mosaic consisting of the largest dry limestone forests in the Caribbean and the largest intact mangrove forest in the country. This, the largest Protected Area in Jamaica, contains the Hellshire Hills and Portland Ridge Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), defined by IUCN as “places of international importance for the conservation of biodiversity through protected areas and other governance mechanisms”. The area was deemed so special that it was under consideration as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, until last year when the government backtracked on the proposal.

A curious pelican in Old Harbour Bay, a community that fish in the waters of Portland Bight Protected Area

A curious pelican in Old Harbour Bay, a community that fish in the waters of Portland Bight Protected Area

Diana introduces me to residents of a fishing community in the heart of Portland Bight Protected Area, Paulette and Herman Coley, who invite me to join them on the water the following morning. I return the next day a little before 4:30 am to join them and their six-year old son Jabari, who seems less than thrilled about being hauled out of his bed at 4am and dressed in a bright yellow lifejacket and facemask.

Jabari does his best to stay awake after being rudely awoken at 4am to join us on our boat trip around Goat Islands

Jabari does his best to stay awake after being rudely awoken at 4am to join us on our boat trip around Goat Islands

Find out more about the Save Goat Islands campaign

Find out more about the Jamaican iguana on ARKive

Find out more about the American crocodile on ARKive

Discover more Jamaican species on ARKive

Find out more about Robin Moore and his photography

Read Guest Blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part one

Apr 29

Wildlife photographer Robin Moore is an award-winning photographer, author and conservationist who recently visited the Goat Islands in Jamaica after hearing about plans to convert the area into a shipment port. Over the next few days we will be posting the story of his visit and detailing his campaign to prevent the loss of this vital habitat and the species found within it.

As I find shade in a small field station in the Hellshire Hills of Jamaica, a leather-brown lizard with bluish thighs lumbers towards me through forest sprouting from jagged limestone. Its tail scatters red dust as it moves in rhythm with a large flap of scaly skin that swings like a metronome underneath its thick jaws. It stops two bodies length from my feet, tilts its head to inspect me with blood-red eyes and, deciding that I probably don’t pose a threat, collapses onto its stomach to take a well-deserved rest. As we sit in silence, I feel privileged to be in the presence of such a beautiful and iconic creature.

The Critically Endangered Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collie, was described as the “rarest lizard in the world” after its rediscovery in 1990. It has become a flagship for conservation in the West Indies and the subject of an international recovery program.

The Critically Endangered Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collie, was described as the “rarest lizard in the world” after its rediscovery in 1990. It has become a flagship for conservation in the West Indies and the subject of an international recovery program

The Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collei, is a Critically Endangered species that has achieved iconic status through a story of chance, perseverance, collaboration and resurgence. At the start of the 20th century the lizard – the largest native land animal in Jamaica – was thought to survive only on Goat Islands, two small islets close to the Hellshire Hills just south of Kingston. After this population disappeared in 1948, the iguana was believed to be extinct. And then, in 1990, a hog hunter chanced upon an iguana in the limestone forests of Hellshire Hills, triggering exploration that revealed around 50 of the “rarest lizards in the world”.

A view from the Hellshire Hills of the Portland Bight Protected Area, containing one of the largest dry limestone forests in the Caribbean and the largest intact mangrove forest in the country, over to Goat Islands.

A view from the Hellshire Hills of the Portland Bight Protected Area, containing one of the largest dry limestone forests in the Caribbean and the largest intact mangrove forest in the country, over to Goat Islands

The iguana promptly became a flagship for conservation in the West Indies and the focus of an international recovery program, and inspired the formation of the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group. A consortium of twelve zoos, spearheaded by the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, built a facility at Hope Zoo in Kingston to rear eggs and hatchlings brought from the wild. This process of “headstarting” involves rearing hatchling iguanas in the safety of a cage to release them back into the wild once they are big enough to ward off predators – a technique that has worked. Since 1991, the number of recorded nesting females and annual hatchlings has increased over six-fold, with at least 200 individuals in the wild today. The recovery of the Jamaican iguana is, according to the IUCN, “considered one of the greatest success stories in conservation science”.

Jamaican iguana

Young Jamaican iguanas are raised in a facility in Kingston to see them through the most vulnerable months before being released back into the wild – a process known as “headstarting”

Find out more about the Save Goat Islands campaign

Find out more about the Jamaican iguana on ARKive

Find out more about the American crocodile on ARKive

Discover more Jamaican species on ARKive

Find out more about Robin Moore and his photography

Apr 19

Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)

Species: Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Vancouver Island marmot is thought to be one of the rarest mammals in North America, with a wild population of fewer than 100 individuals.

More information: The endemic Vancouver Island marmot is a stocky rodent that has a chestnut-brown pelage with a cream-coloured area around its nose and mouth. As with all marmots, the Vancouver Island marmot lives in family groups that usually contain one male, two females and the juveniles and young produced that year. The families occupy complex underground burrow systems in which they hibernate between the end of September and early May, surviving by using up the fat reserves that are built up throughout the summer.

Logging activities and weather fluctuations within the habitat of the Vancouver Island marmot are thought to have caused population declines. Additionally, the local deer population has recently increased and their presence is known to increase the amount of predators in an area which may also take Vancouver Island marmots.

The Vancouver Island marmot is legally protected through its listing on the British Columbia Wildlife Act. A recovery plan was established in 1988 in an attempt to save this species from the brink of extinction, and a captive breeding programme is now in place, with reintroductions of captive-bred individuals planned for the future.

See images of the Vancouver Island marmot on ARKive

Find out more about Vancouver Island and other islands of the North Pacific

Find out more about other marmot species

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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