GETTING THE MEASURE OF TURTLES ON ABACO


Hawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scub 4

GETTING THE MEASURE OF TURTLES ON ABACO

A recent summer course on Abaco was held in partnership between Elizabeth Whitman (Florida International University) and Friends of the Environment/Frank Kenyon Centre. Participants learned about sea turtle biology and ecology, and discussed potential threats to the vulnerable population. After a classroom session, the team headed out to Snake Cay Creek to carry out a field survey. The turtles caught were measured, weighed, tagged (if not already), and given a general health assessment. Each turtle was then released.

The data captured by such courses is invaluable in the continuing assessment of the health of the local turtle population. In addition, such projects provide a valuable opportunity for people to become involved in a fascinating and rewarding local conservation project – with a literally hands-on experience.

Turtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, Abaco

Credits: Beth Whitman, Friends of the Environment, Jacque Cannon, Maureen Collins, Melinda Riger

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: A RARE FIND & SWIMMING WITH ANGELS


Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: A RARE FIND & SWIMMING WITH ANGELS

There is something unusual about this juvenile hawksbill turtle peacefully noodling round some impressive elkhorn coral with the grunts and sergeant majors. He’s a rarity. He was found at West End, Grand Bahama (just 67 miles swim from West Palm Beach Fl.), a place where hawksbills are very scarce. Loggerheads, they have. And there are plenty of hawksbills elsewhere in Grand Bahama waters. But not at the western tip. So finding this little guy and getting some good photos was a particular pleasure for Linda Cooper. And maybe the presence of a juvenile is a sign that hawksbills may begin to populate the reefs of West End, as perhaps they did historically.Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

Linda and her husband Keith run West End Ecology Tours. They have a comprehensive website HERE and a Facebook page HERE. Check it out to see how much there is to explore at West End. The birds, the corals and reef life, the starfish – and a speciality, swimming with rays. To which can now be added the chance of seeing a hawksbill turtle…Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

A DOZEN HAWKSBILL FACTS TO CHEW OVER

  • All sea turtles are classed as reptiles (something that always surprises me, somehow)
  • The top shell (carapace) consists of scales that overlap like roof shingles
  • The yellowish bottom shell is called the plastron
  • Adult hawksbills weigh around 100 pounds
  • Sea turtles sleep at night, and can stay underwater for a hours without breathing
  • Hawksbills are omnivorous, eating algae and seagrass but also sponges, urchins and small fish
  • Females lay about 100 eggs like ping-pong balls, and then at once return to the sea for good
  • The sex of baby turtles is determined by relative nest warmth – females from the top eggs
  • Baby turtles hatch almost simultaneously: all must work to dig their way out.
  • They tend to hatch at night and head straight for the sea’s phosphorescence…
  • …except that artificial lights confuse them & lead them away from the sea to likely death
  • Threats: predation, coastal development & habitat destruction, pollution, & illegal collection

SWIMMING WITH ANGELS

As I was writing this, another fact about hawksbills popped into my head. I checked through my archive – mainly Melinda Riger’s wonderful shots from elsewhere on GB – and yes, it is true. There seems to be some sort of symbiotic relationship between the turtles and angelfish. They are often found feeding together. A bit of research confirms this general observation, without giving a clear cause for it. Maybe it is simply that they eat some of the same food; and that there is plenty of it on healthy reefs so there is no cause for aggression on either side. It’s fine for a hawksbill to share with an angel.

10245Green Turtle, Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copyTurtle with Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyHawksbill Turtles, French Angelfish eat sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyHawksbill Turtle eats sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

NOTE The Hawksbill is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN red list of Threatened species as its populations have declined dramatically throughout the world and especially in the Caribbean region. It is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on the InternatIonal Trade of Endangered SpecIes (CITES) meaning that Hawksbills are near extinction or very endangered. All marine turtles are now protected under Bahamian law, as is the taking of eggs.

Credits: West End Ecology Tours / Linda & Keith Cooper (photos 1, 2, 3); Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, all other images; BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST  for their very useful fact-sheet (one of many) which I have adopted and adapted; Aquoflite for the vid.

WORLD OCEANS DAY 2016: “STASH THE TRASH”


View from a Skiff, the Marls, Abaco, Bahamas

WORLD OCEANS DAY 2016: “STASH THE TRASH”

Today the NOAA and other worldwide ocean guardian organisations are celebrating World Oceans Day. Looking at the websites and FB pages, one message is clear: People Are Rubbish. To put it another way, the global pollution of the oceans is caused solely by humans. The pristine seas and beaches of the world were unsullied until, say, the last 200 years. In 4 or 5 generations, all that has changed irreversibly.

Leave only Footprints - Delphi Beach, Abaco

My rather (= very) negative intro is counterbalanced by some more positive news: there are plenty of good guys out there working hard to make a difference to the rising tide of filth polluting the oceans. Clearing seas and beaches of plastic and other debris. Collecting tons and tons of abandoned fishing gear. Rescuing creatures trapped, entangled, injured and engulfed by marine debris and pollutants. Educating adults and – far more importantly – children and young people by actively involving them in their campaigns. Conducting research programmes. Lobbying and protesting. And a lot more besides.

A marine garbage patch: the sea creatures’ view (NOAA)Marine Garbage Patch from below (NOAA)

Abandoned fishing gear: a monk seal that was lucky; and a turtle that wasn’t (NOAA)Monk Seal in discarded fishing nets (NOAA)Sea turtle trapped in abandoned fishing gear (NOAA)

Four shearwaters killed by a cone trap. A fifth was rescued (NOAA)13138799_1188762361142231_1433873125345242619_n

The NOAA and sister organisations carry out massive programmes of clearance of marine debris, with working parties of volunteers who do what they can to deal with an intractable problem.Clearing Beach Debris (NOAA) Clearing Beach Debris (NOAA)

But you don’t need to be on an official working party for a large organisation. In the Bahamas and on Abaco, the BAHAMAS PLASTIC MOVEMENT, FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT  and BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST among others, do wonderful work on a more local level.
Childen collecting beach debris, Abaco (FotE)

HOPE  FOR  THE  FUTUREYoung conservationist on Abaco, Bahamas

Elsewhere, some tackle the problems caused by particular types of trash, balloons being an excellent example. I have posted before about BALLOONS BLOW, the brainchild of two sisters who learnt of the serious consequences to wildlife caused by mass balloon releases. Their work has been so effective that increasing numbers of mass releases are being cancelled in favour of other forms of celebration. A minus for balloon-makers of course, but a big plus for wildlife. The BB sisters also keep their own beach clear of the junk brought in on every tide.

Balloons Blow - Beach Debris (http://balloonsblow.org) Balloons Blow - Beach Debris (http://balloonsblow.org)

And on an individual basis, any old fool can make a tiny difference to a local beach. Here is one such doing just that…

A tangle of balloon strings on Delphi beachBalloon Strings, Delphi Beach (RH)

Guinea Schooner Bay: little visited, rarely cleaned. Plastic crap from a 10 foot radiusRH & trash, Guinea Schooner Bay

Credits: NOAA, FOTE Abaco, BPM, Balloons Blow, RH, Mrs RH

A FROG CALLED TOAD: NEW AMPHIBIAN SPECIES FOR ABACO


Eastern narrow-mouthed toad (Todd Pearson / ABSCI)

A FROG CALLED TOAD: NEW AMPHIBIAN SPECIES FOR ABACO

Welcome to the wonderful world of the tiny Eastern narrow-mouthed toad. This non-native species has just been discovered on Abaco and formally identified. It looks like a toad. It’s called a toad. It’s actually a frog. There’s a song from the ’60s (dread decade) called ‘Walkin’ my cat named dog…’. But no one has come up with ‘Check out my frog named toad’. Yet.

Eastern narrow-mouthed toad (Sean Giery ABSCI)

THE FIRST EVIDENCE ON ABACO

A year ago, Sean Giery reported on the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST website that he had heard the unmistakeable (to him) mating call of Eastern narrow-mouthed toads Gastrophryne carolinensis in the Marsh Harbour area, Abaco. Denizens of south-eastern US, the species had previously only been recorded in the Bahamas on Grand Bahama and New Providence.

Sean estimated that he heard several dozen of these tiny 2.5cm frogs, suggesting a well-established population. A veritable Frog Chorus.** However, he wasn’t able to obtain a specimen, so his identification was by sound alone – vividly described as “like a bleating lamb with a stuffy nose”. You can read the full article from last May HERE.

Eastern narrow-mouthed toad (P. Coin / ABSCI)

THE FIRST SPECIMEN IS FOUND 

In a further article one year later HERE, Sean relates how he was called to the home of alert student Donte Richard, who had remembered the original post. This was in a different area of MH, suggesting a spread of population. Others had reported the distinctive bleating calls as well. Identification of the specimen frog was made by researchers at the Frank Kenyon Centre, Friends of the Environment, and confirms a new addition to Abaco’s vertebrate fauna.

The evidential specimenEastern narrow-mouthed toad (ex Brian Kakuk)

WHERE WERE THEY FOUND?

ENM Toad Map MH

MIGHT THEY BE HARMFUL? 

Sean writes: “With Abaco added to the list of islands we see a distribution pattern that echoes another recent invader (the corn snake). Perhaps they share a similar route of entry? Whether or not the narrow-mouthed toad poses any real threat to Abaco’s native flora and fauna is unknown. However, given their diet of small invertebrates (ants, mites, termites), it seems unlikely that they could pose any substantial risk. That said, who knows?”

WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE WITH NO CLOTHES ON?
Tidelands Toad Skelly 2

CAN I BUY ONE AS A PET?

Yes, by all means you can. But they are remarkably expensive for a 2.5cm creature. ‘Urban Jungle Reptile’ sells them for $80 each. You might need a pair. But you’d be better off hanging round Marsh Harbour in May with a small bucket and spade. And they are useless for taking on walks. You’d be far better off with the cat named dog…

“My name is Freddie and I am for sale to a good non-amphibian-eating home”Narrow-mouthed frog (Urban Jungle Reptile)

**COMPLETELY THE WRONG SORT OF FROG CHORUS
CREDITS: foremost to Sean Giery / ABSCI for use permission for photo use and info; Todd Pierson (header), Sean (2, map 5), P.Coin (3); Brian Kakuk for posting the specimen initial shot (4); Tidelands Nature Center for the terrific skeleton photo taken at the Smithsonian (6); Urban Jungle Reptile ad (7).
DISCREDITS: Paul McCartney for his ill-advised foray into amphibian-based songwriting, a close second to David Bowie’s ‘Laughing Gnome’ for star career low points. Some might say.

*BIRDWATCHER ALERT* A BIG DAY FOR BIRDS EVERYWHERE!


Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 5

Sanderling, Delphi Beach, Abaco

*BIRDWATCHER ALERT* A BIG DAY FOR BIRDS EVERYWHERE!

It’s here again – GBD, the second Global Big Day. A chance for anyone and everyone to participate in a worldwide celebration of birds at just the level you choose.

Global Big Day Flyer (Cornell Lab)

No need to try to cover 100 square miles in a day and record 300 species. Unless you want to, of course. You could as easily spend an hour or two in a garden. In a clearing in the coppice. Down a track in the pine forest. Sitting on the beach with a cooler full of beer. Whatever suits you. 

Western Spindalis, Delphi, AbacoWestern Spindalis, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

As the second Saturday in May, today also happens to be the official IMDB – International Migratory Bird Day – for the U.S. and Canada (the Caribbean is in October – reversed migration routes. Geddit?).

IMBD 2016 poster

However, this post is not primarily about that event, but rather an encouragement to people to join in with some easygoing birding today. And if you happened to want to do it tomorrow, that’s OK too! If you want to send me your checklist (iphone photo should be fine), please do. Or send 2 or 3 best photos, and I’ll post my favourites – though preferably rather than post to my FB page, email to rollingharbour.delphiATgmail.com .

Palm Warbler, Delphi: a migratory warbler. Unlikely to be on Abaco – all hightailed north by nowPalm Warbler, Abaco 3 (Keith Salvesen)

Wherever you happen to be, just take a little time to look for some birds. There are plenty of places you can rule out straight away. Indoors for example. So it means being in the fresh air. And it’s probably best to set an hour or so as a minimum target time to spend on the task.

Green Heron hunting (successfully) – Gilpin Point pond, AbacoGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

WHAT DO I NEED?

Keep it simple. A pen that works. A spare pen just in case. A note book or even a large sheet of paper. Binoculars maybe. Camera if you are that way inclined. Sustenance. Maybe a friend for a joint effort. Possibly a bird book. If you have a North American one, it will help with most of the species you are likely to encounter. 

Antillean Bullfinch, Delphi, AbacoGreater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

In an ideal world you would then upload your checklist officially to eBird by May 17 so that your findings can be included in the global statistics. Or you could pass your record to a local birding group to upload for you. Or just have a bit of fun, why not, and see how many different birds you can find (even if you can’t put a name to them). Last year 268 Caribbean species were recorded. Imagine if one of yours was the only one of its kind to be seen?

Bananaquit, Delphi, AbacoBananaquit, Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

WHY DO IT?

The stats gleaned from this initiative, and others like it (‘Shorebird Day’; ‘Warbler Day’ etc) are a good indicator of the state of health of the bird population both in general and by location. Perhaps an area previously having worrying low numbers for a particular species will show an encouraging upswing, indicating a successful breeding season and  / or effective habitat protection initiatives. Or maybe one species will show an unexpectedly low figure, indicating a need for research and the instigation of protection measures. 

Red-tailed Hawk giving me ‘The Look’Red-tailed Hawk 2 NYC (Keith Salvesen)

So every return made for every region in the world is significant; and if you can add 20 species to the count, you will be adding to the vast fund of accumulated knowledge that in the long term helps to preserve the birds that surround us.

Let the count begin…

Royal Tern, The Marls, Abaco – taken while fishing. Camera + rod. Cool, huh?)Royal Terns Abaco (2) 2 (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen, taken on Abaco (ok, you got me there, not the red-tailed hawk, which is a cheat and was taken in Central Park NYC. Never got this close on Abaco. But I like it anyway)

“TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL”: WHERE CONSERVATION BEGINS


Young conservationist on Abaco, Bahamas

“TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL”: WHERE CONSERVATION BEGINS

“Catch ’em young”. The perfect plan with children. On Abaco, wonderful work is continually being done with young children on the mainland and on each cay to teach them how precious their environment is, how fragile, and how important it is to take good care of it. The huge enthusiasm of the youngsters casts a beam of light onto the rather dark global picture of habitat destruction, pollution and ecological neglect that we have become depressingly accustomed too.

Young conservationists on Abaco

Education and training is carried out in schools; field work is done involving children of all ages; and camps are organised. FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT carries out this invaluable and rewarding task on an almost daily basis, offering students an astounding range of environment-based activities. Even the very youngest are catered for: the “Sea Beans Club”  is an after-school club for ages 3-5, which introduces young minds to their environment through educational activities and outdoor play.

Students and researchers from CWFNJ survey the beach to make sure that their activities will not disturb any plovers feeding in the areaYoung conservationists on Abaco

Students and volunteers selectively remove small invasive Casuarinas, which were encroaching on plover roosting habitat. By removing the invasive plants, native plants will be able to flourish and help stabilize the beach.Young conservationists on Abaco

The BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST, too, plays its part in educating children about the fascinating yet frail world around them. For example, Scott Johnson’s snake protection work, in which he demonstrates to small kids that Bahamas snakes are completely harmless and to be respected not feared, is a wonder to behold.

BNT’s Scott Johnson visits a school with his non-scary snakesScott Johnson - BNT - Bahamas Snakes - Children's Education

In addition there are strong partnerships with organisations many miles away from the Bahamas, of which the CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NJ is the prime example. Todd Pover, Stephanie Egger and the team take their remit beyond their well-known piping plover conservation work by engaging with the pupils of Abaco’s schools each year and inspiring them.

Amy Roberts Primary School CWFNJYoung conservationists on AbacoYoung conservationists on AbacoYoung conservationists on Abaco

Much of the work is done in the field, getting the children interested in birds, the shoreline, the vital ecological role of mangroves, and the problems of marine debris. Other important work can be done in the classroom.

Young conservationists on Abaco Young conservationists on Abaco(A quick shout-out to Tom Reed, who I know took the piping plover photo!)

The clear message being sent out to the schoolchildren on Abaco is this: you are never too young to learn how to appreciate, respect and look after your environment. And they are responding with intelligence and enthusiasm. We are lucky that these kids are the future.

IMG_7390

Stephanie Egger of CWFNJ writes: “This year, we’ve reached over 120 students through the Shorebird Sister School Network Program, both from the Bahamas and in the United States. We hope to foster a greater appreciation for wildlife, especially for the Piping Plover and its habitat, and inspire students to help now — and later on in their lives as adults — ensuring the recovery and survival of the bird for years to come”.

VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

“Teach your Children” is the second track of Déja Vu, the 1970 CSNY album. Nash wrote it much earlier, when still with the Hollies, then stored it in his musical lumber room. Just as well: it fits perfectly with the rather fey hippy vibe of the rest of Déja Vu.

Young conservationist on Abaco

Credits: huge thanks for general use permission for material to FotE, BNT and CWFNJ; and to all the individual photographers concerned

CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (6)


Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (6)

The photos you see in this post were all taken by Hitoshi Miho during an amazing 3 days of diving with Brian Kakuk deep in the pine forests of South Abaco. It’s not the first time they have explored together the wonders that lie beneath those hundreds of acres of pines and scrub; I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The most spectacular cave systems are the adjacent Ralph’s and Dan’s Caves. These systems are believed to be linked, and I know Brian has been trying to find where they meet – a difficult and dangerous task carried out underwater many metres below the forest floor, and requiring sophisticated diving equipment and great expertise. 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The latest 3-day exploration involved 12 dives and nearly 30 hours underwater in Ralph’s Cave. Narrow passages open out into massive caverns filled with wonderful and complex crystal stalagtites and stalagmites formed over eons. I hope you enjoy examples from the ‘Rooms’ and passages, many with exotic names (Glass Factory, Ninja Passage, Erabor); some more prosaic (Fred’s Room). Then try to imagine that you are actually swimming there.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

I shall be posting some more photos in due course showing some of the details of the cave formations – intricate patterns, delicate tracery, irridescent colouring, pencil-thin rods, ‘rock’ folds that look like the finest linen. As always I am immensely grateful to both intrepid divers for use permission. I won’t pretend that these thrilling caves are easily accessible – this is emphatically not an adventure to try unguided with a snorkel and flippers. But as you drive along the highway past miles of forest, it’s worth reflecting that far below you are some of the most magnificent cave systems anywhere in the world – right there, on your very own island… 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

As it happens, the Delphi Club is very close to these caves, which lie within the boundaries of the newly created ‘South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area (see map). This is one of several such conservation areas on Abaco and in the wider Bahamas that are designed to protect the natural resources of the islands from development and exploitation. The second map shows how tantalisingly close Dan’s and Ralph’s caves are… and suggests that further exploration may lead to the missing link.

abaco-caves-map-jpgAbaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Finally, here is a 4-minute video of one small part of the exploration, which gives a very good idea of what is entailed in investigating the narrow passages and huge cathedral-like caverns. Welcome to the Fangon Forest…

Hitoshi Miho, Ralph's Cave, Abaco

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