Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sea Level Rise at 3 mm per year since 1993

This current rate - 3 mm per year - is shocking. Since 1999 when I started studying Audubon's Shearwaters in The Bahamas, global sea level has risen 4.5 cm. I find nests that are right in the spray zone of the high tide, including at least one nest that I started studying in 1999. At Little Tobago, there is a shearwater nest that is below the high tide line by a couple of millimeters. They can nest in the same site for 50 years once established. When that nest originated, potentially hundreds of years ago, it was probably 10-20 cm above the high tide level. Now, it gets swamped in Spring tides and likely fails every year.

I often cynically joke that sea level rise is not a problem we will worry about for seabirds -  not because it won't kill them but because we will be so busy dealing with "natural" disasters in coastal areas that no one will think about the seabirds. But this math is pretty scary. 

Shearwaters prefer coastal nests just above the high tide line. In the image above, you can see the spray zone of Long Cay, which is uninhabitable by shearwaters, as the barren area of eroded rock without vegetation. As the sea rises, the spray zone will encroach on this prime habitat and all the nests within it could become sinks that fail every season as a spring tide or storm surge inundates the nest with saltwater and drowns the chick. 

A high percentage - maybe 10% - of their current nests will be unusable within the next 20 years. Of all the seabirds in the Caribbean, this species might be the most affected by sea level rise. Perhaps the new seabird nest boxes (see previous post) could help provide alternative sites above the tide line.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nest Boxes for Cavity-Nesting Seabirds are Ready to Order!

Designed by David Wingate of Bermuda, these nest houses for cavity nesting seabirds represent decades of design from the world's expert on saving endangered petrels and tropicbirds.

The devices are ingeniously simple and the pieces stack inside one another. The top is vented and held on with sturdy molded tabs that lock in. They can be buried in sand, covered in rock or cemented in place, and you can install them in any location that will be safe from Dogs, Cats or other predators.

Bermuda Audubon and the Bermuda Department of Conservation Services sells the previous version and has had great success filling cliffs with White-tailed Tropicbirds. Special baffles for the entrance can limit the tunnels to smaller species including Cahows or Audubon's Shearwaters. The first 25 are available for installation in the Caribbean. Just contact me with shipping information and an explanation of when and where you will put them in. The only costs are shipping and an agreement to send pictures and reports on the success of your nest boxes.

The molds were funded by Bermuda Audubon Society, while BirdsCaribbean and the National Fish and Wildlife Federation funded the molding of the first 50 boxes. They can be used anywhere in the world. Contact me for ordering information.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

We too care about Laughing Gulls

At the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds meeting in Grenada in July 2013, the Seabird Working Group of SCSCB hosted a symposium on seabird biology and preparations for the recovery efforts from the oil spill. I gave a talk about a paper a group of us have prepared on Priorities for Seabird Conservation in the Caribbean. 

Apparently, I made a crack at the expense of one particular bird: The Laughing Gull. Although it was the most harmed bird in the spill, I am not advocating for restoring that species in the Caribbean. I did not intend to make light of the more than 3000 Laughing Gulls that were found dead in the cleanup efforts. I apologize for doing so. 

I received some feedback about that talk that I will share here. I share it mostly because it is an important oversight of what I said at the talk and I need to clarify my careless words. I will redact information about the person who sent it to me to protect her anonymity. 

"Subject: Lauging Gulls are NO laughing matter

Dear Mr Macky:

A friend of mine who works for a "fancy" environment organization recently attended the birding meeting in Granada where you spoke. She says you made a joke about the brutal death of thousands of laughing gulls and then said "the laughing gulls didn't do anything wrong." Lots of people "snickered" and then later on when you talked about working together to save birds you made a point of saying there would be NO HELP FOR LAUGHING GULL PROJECTS with incoming funding. I have  lived my entire life in _______, State where I am a retired school teacher. The Gulf oil spill disgusted me and I was so pleased to hear that something was being done to help increase importance of these animals and to help protect them. I know I am not a "scientist" but a group of my friends-all older gals- LOVE gulls. In fact, these birds have been so therapuetic- helping see us through happy and sad times. We have nicknamed ourselves "the gull girls."
We love gulls, but we do not love you.  So your "scientists" may laugh, but these gulls are no laughing matter.  who mr. macky, do you think you are? We know who you are now and on behalf of the gulls, FLOCK YOU!
Jane Doe"
Here is my response:

"I apologize for making light of the death of laughing gulls in the oil spill. I did not intend to disrespect this magnificent species, but if your friend came away with that impression, then  I failed to communicate well.

I was also devastated by the destruction from the oil spill and do not take any deaths lightly.

As far as restoration goes, Laughing Gulls will likely be restored in the Gulf area, and I support that action. In the Caribbean region, Laughing Gulls have increased over the last century. In general, this species does very well around humans and benefits from the extra food that humans provide. That fact in no way justifies their killing in the DWH disaster.

Laughing Gulls are actually a major predator of the other seabird species, taking eggs, chicks and even adults. Because many of those species have severely declined over the last century, our efforts in the Caribbean after the oil spill should focus on restoring other birds.

I take your opinion seriously and appreciate the fact that you contacted me with your concern. You are right to love Laughing Gulls, and i share your emotional connection to them and to seabirds in general. They are fantastic birds.

I will choose my words more carefully in the future. Too frequently, gulls are used as a punching bag for dismissive comments about wildlife, even by people who have the responsibility to protect them. They are great and beautiful animals and they deserve the full protection of the law.

Please relay this message to your friend and let me know of any other comments or questions you have. I will clarify my thoughts on Laughing Gulls to everyone in the Caribbean Seabird Working Group and on my blog and other forums.


Will Mackin"