The St. Maarten Nature Foundation recently concluded its annual Pelican research Project. The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is one of St. Maarten’s national symbols, the depiction of which can be found on the island’s Flag and Coat of Arms. The bird also lends its name to various businesses and institutions on the island but despite this there was previously very little information publicly on the status of Pelicans on St. Maarten. The Nature Foundation therefore decided that in order to properly conserve and manage this culturally important species there was a need to collect vital information on nesting areas, how many pelicans we still have left, and what type of threats the bird faces. Research has shown that the pelican population has severely decreased over the last few decades. The health of St. Maarten’s pelicans also reflects the general health of the marine ecosystem; with more pelicans present the better the environment.
Research was carried out from St. Maarten’s Day the 11th of November 2013 to St. Maarten’s Day the 11th of November 2014. Each site was counted once every two months with the General Public also assisting on numerous occasions.
Based on the conducted research an overall total of 339 individuals were recorded on St. Maarten with 8 chicks and 35 sub-adults recorded. It was further determined that breeding season for adult pelicans runs from approximately the beginning of June through August with the peak occurring at the end of July through the beginning of August.
The numerous threats faced by the resident pelican population on St. Maarten were also researched with the primary threat being related to habitat destruction. The resident pelican population has decreased drastically in the last four decades which coincides with the building boom experienced on St. Maarten during the nineteen sixties and seventies when numerous breeding locations had to make way for sea-front development.
The final threat to the species is related to the entanglement in fishing line and marine debris such as plastic bags and other garbage. The Nature Foundation often responds to incidents where pelicans are caught in fishing line or hooks, fishing nets, plastic bags, or soda can holders. Steps are therefore currently being taken by the Nature Foundation to introduce a line recycling program which the Foundation hopes will reduce incidents of Marine Entanglement to not only Pelicans but numerous other Marine Wildlife.