Bird conservation-climate change conference a success!

Dr. Howard Nelson, President of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB), the largest organization devoted to wildlife conservation in the Caribbean, has described the Society’s 19th international meeting in Grenada as a resounding success.  

The theme of the conference, held on the St. George’s University campus from July 27-31, 2013 on the island of Grenada, was "Bird Conservation in a Changing Climate". Over 200 individuals attended the meeting including 165 international delegates from 37 countries. Important issues discussed included the threats and management needs of Grenada’s now iconic national bird, the Grenada Dove.

Dr. Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director, said, "Given the threat of climate change to the survival of the critically endangered Grenada Dove, the international focus was timely and essential." Bonnie Rusk, Founding Director of the Grenada Dove Conservation Programme, believes there are fewer than 150 doves left in the wild. Its coastal dry forest habitat is threatened by hurricanes and fires, which are exacerbated by region-wide climate change trends of increasing drought and more severe storms. Loss of habitat from development and predation by mongoose, rats and feral cats are other important causes of the dove’s extremely small and fragmented population.

Dr. Nelson noted that both local and international support is urgently needed to prevent further population decline and possible extinction of this uniquely Caribbean bird. Nelson noted that the dove had now become a symbol of the urgent need to ensure that human development does not lead to extinction on islands. Conference delegates toured the bird’s habitat in small groups and had the opportunity to see Grenada’s iconic dove along with other species found only on Grenada, such as the endangered Grenada Hooked-billed Kite.

Mr. Tyrone Buckmire, chair of the Grenadian Organizing Committee said he was thrilled that Grenada hosted this year’s meeting in the Isle of Spice. Senator Simon Steil, Parliamentary Secretary in Grenada’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment and Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture Alexandra Otway-Noel addressed the meeting’s Opening Ceremony.

The meeting provided an unparalleled opportunity for sharing of information and dialogue about the science, management, education, and community outreach and engagement needed to conserve Caribbean birds and their habitats, especially under the threat of climate change. Key presentations, developments and outcomes of the meeting included:

Reviews of the effects of climate change on biodiversity conservation in the Caribbean and mitigation strategies by Drs. Adam Terando and Ruth Blyther, and others.

The development of an alien invasive species eradication plan for the habitat of the Grenada Dove that seeks to manage the rat and mongoose threat to nesting doves.

A workshop on building and expanding the Caribbean Birding Trail, an unprecedented effort led by the Society to connect many countries, islands and languages in a pan-Caribbean bird watching interpretive trail.

The society’s members also reviewed a new five-year strategic plan that proposed far- reaching changes to the Society’s structure and program of work. Key elements of the new strategic direction include a re-branding of the organization and a strengthened approach for working with and through regional partners to promote conservation of birds and their habitats. Nelson said this would involve the organization:

– Serving as the Caribbean’s primary forum for sharing best practices, tools, innovations, and lessons learned about the conservation of birds and their habitats.

– Expanding and developing flagship programs, such as the highly successful Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival that draws over 100,000 participants from 23 Caribbean nations.

Generating core operational funds needed to hire and sustain fulltime staff, field projects and Caribbean-wide education programs.

Many local persons attended the conference including tour guides trained under the Caribbean Birding Trail Project; Grenada Scouts, who assist with the conservation of the Grenada Dove; concerned members of the public; and the staff of the Grenada Fund for Conservation and Grenada Forestry Department. Major sponsors of the conference were St. George’s University, Grenada Fund for Conservation, the Grenada Forestry Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Wildlife Without Borders and Division of Migratory Birds), The Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Forest Service – International Programs, Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Bermuda Audubon Society, Caribbean Horizons, Sunsation Tours, True Blue Bay Resort, Blue Horizons Garden Resort, Osprey Lines Ltd., De La Grenade Industries, Grenada Distillers, Grenada Scouting Association (volunteers), Grenada Board of Tourism, Belmont Estate & The Grenada Chocolate Company, Island Catering, and the Grenada Art Community.