Protecting endangered Caribbean parrots

Off the coast of Venezuela, the tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire is home to a small population of Amazona barbadensis: the Yellow-shouldered Amazon Parrot, an IUCN-listed threatened species. Since 2005, NERC has funded three Open CASE PhD Studentships that are making an impact on the conservation of these birds and their habitat.

NERC Studentships

Working closely with partner the World Parrot Trust (WPT) – a conservation NGO that brings together parrot enthusiasts, researchers, local communities and government leaders to protect parrots – brought a strong conservation focus to gathering data about the birds. Dr James Gilardi, World Parrot Trust Executive Director, said: “This partnership not only multiplied our support of conservation and research on endangered bird species, it also brings a great deal of legitimacy to this work which is crucial for long-term success.”

Bonaire is a unique environment for parrot conservation: sufficient numbers of parrots mean that research will not put them at risk of extinction, the local government is welcoming and co-operative, and wildlife conservation is already recognised as important within the community. An NGO manages the extensive marine and terrestrial national parks on the island.

Research carried out by the first two students – Dr Sam Williams and Dr Rowan Martin – sought to build predictive models of the likelihood of extinction by studying the parrot’s lifecycle, its reproduction and mortality. They found that the population is stable and has the potential to grow if the habitat can be properly managed. A major goal of the current PhD studentship, Isabelle Dean, is to use more sophisticated tracking methods to map the adult phase of the parrot’s life, the final piece of data necessary to make reliable and effective management decisions.

Echo

Once he’d completed his PhD, Sam established Echo, a species-specific NGO dedicated to the protection of Amazona barbadensis on Bonaire. Together with the World Parrot Trust, Echo works with other local and regional NGOs in the Caribbean and the Bonaire/Dutch government to secure the future of the parrots, building on the NERC-funded fundamental science.

Dr Williams said: “With the NERC funding we could determine the limiting factors for this threatened bird population. This meant we could establish Echo to tackle those problems using solid science as a basis for our work.”

With a growing international reputation, Echo is establishing itself as a key stakeholder in the development of Caribbean Netherlands Nature Policy and Biodiversity Monitoring Strategy. It works closely with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and advises other conservation programmes. Visiting UK and European undergraduate, masters and PhD students continue to add to the strong foundation of scientific knowledge.

Central to Echo’s approach is the development of sustainable economic activities. These aim to shift local people’s view of the parrots away from poaching and the illegal pet trade and towards realising the potential for the parrots to be a sustainable tourist attraction. Scuba-diving tourism already accounts for around 60% of Bonaire’s visitors making the parrot tourism economy a highly promising opportunity for conservation.

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