Some prettier pictures from Redonda

Alright, yesterday’s pictures were a bit gross, I apologize. Today’s will be a little nicer. Here’s just a quick photo dump and some captions of a few more scenes around the island, plus lizards!

RedondaHelicopterLanding.jpgHere’s the helicopter coming in for a landing. Notice all the beautiful grass!

A.Nubilus.M.TreePerch.jpgHere’s a male on a perch checking out this fellow (below) who was on the next branch over and sending some pretty strong “get outta here” signals.

A.Nubilus.M.DewlapSide.jpgAnd here’s a female. Not the one the two guys above were fighting over but another, that I spotted not too far away.

A.Nubilus.Fem.jpg

Here’s a shot from up on Redonda of Geoff taking a picture in the evening sun.

IMG_8832.jpg

And here’s one showing the rocks up top and the path along the spine of the island.

IMG_8893.jpg

And, finally, here’s another pretty picture from the Helicopter because I just can’t get over how fun and pretty it is riding up front!

HelicopterAntigua.jpg

We were live on national TV!

After we got off Redonda (and had had a day to scrub up and do some laundry) Geoff and I were asked to give a live TV interview for Antigua and Barbuda Today! The Redonda Restoration Program (like them on FB if you can!) and a Fulbright Fellow named Andrew Maurer working in Antigua this year on Sea Turtle conservation have been doing a terrific job trying to get word out about the restoration efforts around the country. To help, I agreed to give a talk about my research on Redonda.

As I was hurriedly putting together the talk in the couple of days after we returned from Redonda, it was a surprise when Andrew asked if I’d be interested in doing a live TV interview with Antigua and Barbuda today. I was nervous. Really nervous. I’d never done TV before and live on camera means there’s no room for asking for a do-over. Geoff gave me some sage advice though, something along the lines of: Well, you’re going to say yes eventually because it’s a great opportunity even though it’s terrifying. You might as well just say yes instead of worrying about it… but I’m glad it’s not me.

So I said yes. And then I asked the producers if Geoff could come on too – we’d do a scientist/conservation writer one-two punch. Take that buddy! He said yes after I parroted his advice back to him.

We did a practice interview with Claire doing her best Katie Couric and we wrote up a few questions for Antigua and Barbuda Today to use to prep their host. Claire tried to stump us with questions like “Why is Redonda unique?” and hard-hitting follow-ups like “So what do lizards eat?” In reality, the practice session with Claire made us realize just how fun it is to talk about Redonda, the plants and animals, and the incredible efforts going into transforming it. Come Monday morning we were feeling relaxed and excited to get a chance to talk to a TV audience.

We arrived at the TV station early in the morning. It’s election season in Antigua and Barbuda right now so before (and after) us was a politician stumping for his district. Good news because that means we might get some more eyeballs tuning in. At about 7:40 they ushered to us sitting in the green room (which wasn’t green at all) to follow the stage manager into the studio. I’ll admit, at this point anxiety spiked again just a little bit.

We tip-toed into the studio as an interview was finishing and were given two microphones to snake up under our shirts. I couldn’t quite figure out where to put mine, first it was too high, then too low. Luckily the fellow doling them out was a pro and was able to sign to me the right position. Then, all of a sudden, it was a commercial break and we were quickly ushered onto the couch where our host was waiting.

He immediately made us feel right at home but it was clear he had no idea who we were or why we were there. His cheat sheet was just a list of names for the schedule of the day (none of our pre-baked questions had made it) so we quickly filled him in that we were talking about Redonda. Luckily, (and what are the chances?) he’d been there before as a youngster and so was immediately engaged and excited. Whew! And, well, you can watch the rest:

Revisiting Redonda

Revisiting Redonda one year after the goats were helicoptered off and the vermin e-rat-icated was every bit as exciting and gratifying as I could have hoped last year. I’d guessed we might see some grasses fighting their way up through the dust and rocks, maybe a few extra lizards happy to not have to watch out for day-hunting monster rats. What we actually saw exceeded my most optimistic expectations though.

Here’s a panorama I captured in 2017:

2017And another, from exactly the same spot, in 2018: 2018

With the astounding regrowth of grasses and sapling trees all over the island has come a complete transformation. The roots are locking in all of that dust and so instead of a fine powder of aerosolized guano, walking through Redonda is mostly dust-free and soil is starting to be stabilized and created. I can only imagine what this is doing for water quality in the immediate vicinity.

In addition, we saw insects everywhere and a much larger diversity than last year. Our helicopter was greeted by butterflies and on the first night we discovered several terrifying amblypygids had made our workspace their home; scuttling around every night on the prowl.

IMG_8561 2.jpg

Some things remained the same; we still worked in the concrete manager’s house which is still the best source of shade and shelter on the island. Our work was overseen this year by more than a dozen anoles who agreed it was a terrific spot to escape the heat of the day.

IMG_8562.jpg

The lizards of Redonda have made a pretty staggering recovery from last year. We calculated density in two ways: with a long transect around the whole island where we counted each lizard we saw, and a mark recapture plot where we catch each lizard, give them a unique number, and then resurvey two days later to see how many of them we find and how many unmarked ones we’d missed. By both estimates we think the anole population and the ground lizard (Pholidoscelis) have doubled.

IMG_8868.jpgHere was lizard number 50 at one of the plots and we weren’t even done catching that morning!

Redonda is doing great and I am so pleased to get to see the first year of its transformation. I can only imagine how much it’s going to continue to change into the future. I can’t wait to go back and find out!

IMG_8870.jpg

IMG_8884.jpg

We’re back from Redonda!

The trip to Redonda was a huge success and even more importantly, the restoration project is going tremendously well! Last year, Redonda was dusty and dry, overrun with goats and rats that were mowing through the vegetation and hurting the islands’ unique mix of plants and animals, including three endemic lizards.

This year, the island is now rat- and goat-free and the lizards and birds are flourishing. It seemed like there were birds nests everywhere you stepped, and every time we rounded a corner, new birds were squawking their heads off — even the little fluff-ball babies got into the racket.

IMG_8865

The lizard populations have increased tremendously. I’ll save lizard details for the next post though so stay tuned. The rest of this week has been focused on analyzing the data and jump starting some science communication and outreach while I’m in-country. I gave a talk to about 60 very enthusiastic people, including a lot of school kids and biology majors at the local university. The questions were terrific – everyone was incredibly attentive – and I even got a cheer when I posted my preliminary bar graphs. That’s a first!

Screenshot_20180313-112925

I even got to do a live TV interview on Antigua and Barbuda Today, the morning show for the country. The anticipation was nerve-racking but getting to talk with the host about the important work happening on Redonda was really exciting. I’ll post the video as soon as I have some decent internet – I’ve had to start this post multiple times because the internet has disappeared on me. I’m leaving for Miami in a few hours where I’ll present some of these results in a symposium about current work in Anole ecology and Evolution. I’ll be in Miami for 48 hours before flying back to Paris. I’ll try to sneak in some more picture uploads tomorrow on fast internet and will be writing longer stories next week from France. Stay tuned!

 

Next Stop, Redonda

It’s been a hurried couple of weeks in Paris with lots of work on writing and slowly getting acquainted with working and living in a new country. Just as I was starting to find my way around the neighborhood though it’s time to head back into the field.

redondaThis time last year I was on the island of Redonda to survey the endemic lizards in tandem with a group working to eradicate the invasive rats menacing the islands’ fauna and flora. The eradication was a success, and now I’m heading back out to the island to see how things have changed. I’ll be catching and measuring lizards again, taking pictures of the vegetation, and looking to see what immediate differences removing these pests can have. I’m excited to see the changes and I’ll be posting updates as soon as I get off the island. For now though I’m at a run trying to get final supplies because we won’t have access to anything we haven’t brought with us for the next week!

Until I get back though, here’s a recent story in the Boston Globe about the lizards I’m working on at Harvard.

 

A few photos and videos from Redonda

I’m prepping for the next trip to check out a rat infested island in the Caribbean and it’s bringing back a bunch of memories from Redonda. A few members of the eradication team have put together some terrific videos and photo galleries and I just want to quickly highlight them here.

For some stunning pictures of the flora, fauna, and landscape of Redonda check out Ed Marshall’s gallery here. He’s a fantastic photographer so keep poking around at some of his other trips (and maybe buy a print!).

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 3.24.19 PM

And for an even more immersive look, watch Thea “the terrific” Eldred’s fantastic video from her time climbing the rock faces of Redonda to set rat traps in some of the most unreachable corners of the island.

 

Walking around Redonda

One of our first goals on Redonda was to get a good sense for the density of lizards on the island. This is one of the key metrics that has changed following rat eradications elsewhere in the Lesser Antilles. To do that we used a few different methods, we’re hoping that each will give us a slightly different sense for densities that we can compare one year to the next.

The first was a mark-recapture study in two different locations. We’d survey a fixed area (one of the big fig trees at the north of the island and a boulder field at the south) and catch all the lizards we could find. Every time we caught a lizard we’d write a number on its belly and put a little white dot on its backside (see below). The paint spot will help us see the lizard from a distance without spending lots of time trying to catch a lizard that’d already been caught that day.

1D4_2225edit

Lizard number 22 getting a number on its belly. Photo credit: Geoffrey Giller

MarkRecapture-1

An anole hanging out on a branch after getting a white spot. Photo credit: Geoffrey Giller

We spent two long days marking all of the lizards we could find in the tree and the rocks. After each site had had a day to rest, we returned. By figuring out which lizards we’d previously caught and how many new lizards had shown up we can get an estimate of just how many lizards are using that area. The lizards in the tree were particularly plentiful – we’re estimating a population of around 50! with unlimited time we’d continue marking, revisiting, and recapturing a few more days but our island time was short so we compromised with a single recapture day at each site. We’ll repeat the survey next year in the same places to see if there are changes in density.

Our next survey method was the tried-and-true walk around, look on both sides of your path, and count ’em up. For this Anthony did a big hike around the perimeter of the island counting all of the lizards he saw. He did this twice and found a lot of lizards! Here’s a page from my notebook showing the track. Unfortunately the map only really makes sense to us, but as you can see, he saw 61 anoles and 65 ameiva that day. The next day he ended up seeing 73 anoles and 118 ameiva! Those are pretty wide margins, but they’ll provide a baseline for next year’s repeat transects.

2017-04-03 08.43.00 (1)

Now, I decided to strap a GoPro to Anthony’s head for the second survey. It’s two hours long though so I had to speed the video up. Grab your dramamine, you’re going to need it!

This video is just a short segment of the hike in the vicinity of the “Hanging Gardens.” It’s one of the prettiest parts of the island I think. You can tell too how tricky some of the traversing is. On this section Anthony saw 10 ameiva and 24 anoles. Can you find them? I slowed down the first ameiva so you can get a good look. You’ll also notice a few other surprises along the way.