A video from Pine Cay, Turks and Caicos

I haven’t posted all that many photos from our time in Turks and Caicos, in part because I was worried about my friends on the islands as Hurricanes Irma and then Maria rolled through. Luckily the team stayed safe through both storms. Unfortunately, the damage and time delay from the storms means that the eradication efforts are going to have to be put on hold for a year.

Before the eradication was postponed I put together this little video. I held off posting it when the project future was in limbo but it seems a waste not to share it. We will be continuing this work and returning as soon as we can to look at the Anoles of Pine Cay following removal of the rats. It’s just going to be a slightly longer timeline than originally planned.

Hope you enjoy the footage. Remember to watch on “HD.”

Advertisements

I’m back from Turks and Caicos

I’m back from Turks and Caicos, and not a moment too soon. For those of you watching the weather they’re buckling down for a pretty hard hit from Hurricane Irma. I’ll update you all with more information about the trip – it was fantastic – but for now just wanted to post a few pictures and say I’m safe and sound back in Cambridge!

IMG_6626IMG_6660IMG_6743FullSizeRender

Next stop, Turks and Caicos!

Frequent visitors to the blog will remember my Redonda adventure earlier this year. If you want to catch up, here are a few posts about my trip to Antigua and Barbuda, and from there to the remote island of Redonda. My goal was to collect baseline data so I could figure out how three endemic lizards adapt following a rat extermination effort.

The group responsible for the rat eradication is at it again, this time in Turks and Caicos.  Next week, I’m headed to Pine Cay to see how lizards, specifically Anolis scriptus, will change following the eradication.

I don’t have pictures to share just yet, but here’s a map of the destination:

(by the way, who could possibly give this place a one-star review?!)

Continue reading

A great video about FFI conservation in Antigua

If you’re curious who I’ll be working with in Redonda, check out this video about FFI’s conservation efforts in Antigua. Dr. Jenny Daltry is the leader of the Redonda restoration effort and the one who initially contacted us about the lizard research, so I’ve been working closely with her to coordinate plans.

FFI has been working in the area for years. They were instrumental in bringing the Antiguan racer back from the brink of extinction. I’m so excited to work side-by-side with some of their staff in the field! (… and grateful that they’re the ones collecting rat carcasses, not me. I’ll stick with the lizard research, thank you very much.)

If you want to skip ahead, Jenny talks about the Redonda conservation efforts starting about 15 minutes in.

Redonda

I know this is a bit last minute notice but it seems like that’s how this whole project has been. I’m headed to Redonda in a week!

Redonda you ask? Never heard of it? Yeah, well, neither had I. Redonda is a little tiny island in the Lesser Antilles and to save you the trouble of searching for it, here it is on a map:

(you’re going to have to zoom out a few clicks to get some context)

Redonda is owned by the government of Antigua and Barbuda. Up until a few days ago the only residents on the island were goats, rats, and three species of endemic lizard. (Alright, there are a few avian reptiles too but my mother’s the birder of the family and the four-legged ones are just so much cooler). I say up until a few days ago because the government of Antigua and Barbuda have decided to designate a beautiful, massive new marine sanctuary with Redonda as the jewel in the center. The only problem being that that jewel is currently crawling with goats and rats and that just won’t do!

In partnership with some great conservation organizations (Flora and Fanua International [FFI] taking the lead) the goats are being ferried off the island (they are a rare breed) and the rats are being removed somewhat less ceremoniously with a highly targeted poison that won’t hurt any of the native species. You can read more background on the project here. The removal of goats and rats is going to change the face of Redonda.

Judging from other islands in the neighborhood, Redonda probably used to be covered with lots of vegetation and was definitely a lot more lush than it is today. Unfortunately, after goats and rats were introduced a little over a century ago all of that vegetation has been nibbled down, making Redonda into a barren boulder moonscape. Conditions are so harsh now that the goats are actually dying of starvation (you know it’s bad when even goats can’t find something green to nibble) and the rats have turned into diurnal apex predators, stalking lizard prey even in daytime!

This is particularly problematic because the only place in the whole world these three lizard species are found is on this island. There’s a little tiny gecko that’s so rare it doesn’t even have a formal scientific name yet. There’s a large “ground lizard” called Ameiva atrata that is almost completely black and looks really awesome. And there is an anole called Anolis nubilis, known as the Redonda tree lizard. That name is unfortunately ironic because there is exactly one tree left on the entire island. It’s a non-native Casuarina species from Australia that was planted on the island decades ago and was so unpalatable that even the starving goats let it be!

It’s for these lizards that I’m headed to Redonda. I’m teaming up with FFI and the government of Antigua and Barbuda to put together as comprehensive a dataset as possible on these lizards in the wild. Our goal is to see how they change as Redonda recuperates following the rat and goat removal.  I’m flying to Antigua in exactly 1 week and I’ll be in Redonda 2 days after that. Over the next few days I’ll post a few more times with details of the trip. I’m extremely excited but my brain is fairly bursting with packing lists and contingency plans. I’m looking forward to filling you in on the details.