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Assessment and conservation actions for Cayman Islands’ seabirds

tmp_4902_6-9-2016_25722_From Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce

Last month, the Cayman Islands’ Department of Environment (DoE) began work on the Sister Islands as part of an exciting new project, which aims to provide comprehensive data on regionally and globally important seabird populations in the Cayman Islands. This project is primarily funded by the Darwin Initiative, a UK Government grant scheme aimed at helping to protect biodiversity and the natural environment within the UK Overseas Territories.

Over the next two years, DoE will be working in partnership with the National Trust of the Cayman Islands, and seabird experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Exeter, UK, to collect urgently needed information on the movements, ecology and status of resident seabird populations. It is hoped that the knowledge gained through this work will contribute to conservation management around the Cayman Islands. The project will focus largely on red-footed boobies (Sula sula) on Little Cayman and brown boobies (Sula leucogaster) on Cayman Brac. While these species breed in colonies on the Cayman Islands that are recognised as globally and regionally important, they remain poorly understood throughout much of their foraging range.

A combination of electronic tags and biogeochemical markers will be used to provide insights into the habitat use, foraging strategies and dietary habits of the birds. Breeding adults at the Booby Pond Nature Reserve (red-footed boobies), and at multiple sites on Cayman Brac (brown boobies), have been fitted with miniaturised GPS loggers that trace their movements as they travel over the ocean to find food. The data collected from these devices should help to reveal the strategies that these animals use to exploit their surrounding environment, and will enable the DoE to identify appropriate conservation measures on land as well as at sea.

Using visual survey methods, information on breeding behaviour and population biology is also being collected at seabird colonies. This information, in combination with previous data recorded by volunteers, will allow scientists to assess the status of populations, as well as develop longer-term seabird monitoring programmes.
The outputs of this project will feed directly into the development of Species Conservation Plans that are required under the National Conservation Law of the Cayman Islands. For more information, please contact the DoE by phone (949-8469) and/or email ([email protected] / [email protected]), or to learn about our latest activities follow them on twitter @CaymanSeabirds.

IMAGE: Brown booby adult and chick at nest on Cayman Brac beach (photo: R Meier).

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