Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Mangrove Adventures

For the last week I’ve had the rare opportunity to explore a really unique, and endangered ecosystem in the Grenadines. I’ve been sloshing my way through the Ashton Mangrove, weary of sinkholes, cutlass in hand, spooked by thousands of crabs, and of course, an ear out for rare birds.

To my delight, I flushed out a proper tropical denizen yesterday, the Fork-Tailed Flycatcher, a rare migrant from South America.

I’ve been establishing survey points for the Caribbean Waterbird Census and the Ashton Lagoon Restoration project, while working on Union Island with Sustainable Grenadines Inc. Exciting things are happening on the ground, but it follows a dismal example of corrupt and negligent development: a foreign company hacked and dredged its way through a formerly-vibrant lagoon and the last intact mangrove forest in the Southern Antilles, for a large-marina project. The company went bankrupt and abandoned the construction, but not without leaving the marina causeway behind, which has cut off water circulation to the lagoon, killing the it off of coral, seagrass and its associated conch, fish and other marine life. A peripheral road along the mangrove forest has also cut it off the from tidal flushing on all sides, leaving it to be filled up by the sediment-laden landbased runoff.

Hopefully, the restoration project can return proper circulation and water quality to the lagoon, but the mangrove is surely going to change from a marine system to a dry scrub, if it isn’t deforested and grazed before then.

I’m here to start the ecological monitoring of the restoration effects, and train community members to takeover once I leave. But despite high unemployment, few local people are interested to participate in ecosystem monitoring. One problem is that the vast majority of the Islanders are afraid of water! Swimming, wading through tidal channels, or sloshing through pools: a local’s idea of folly. I’m having the time of my life exploring these unique coral and mangrove systems, now the challenge is to find that same interest among the Islanders.

Photo by Cristóbal Alvarado Minic, distributed freely on the Neo Birds Flickr group

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