NCC to consider protection plans for seabirds

| 24/11/2021 | 16 Comments
Cayman News Service
Brown booby birds on Cayman Brac, one killed by feral cats (photo courtesy DoE)

(CNS): When it meets today, the National Conservation Council will be considering a proposed Species Conservation Plan to protect nesting seabirds of the Cayman Islands and help stabilize and grow increasingly threatened populations. On the agenda for the NCC’s first public meeting for more than four months are a number of local environmental issues, including this protection plan, which, if adopted, would protect six different species of sea birds and the habitat they need to nest. It would also enable a programme to remove the threat from non-indiginous animals, including feral cats.

Experts from the Department of Environment who drafted the plan point out that the main threat to most of the birds is the unnatural predation in nesting colonies from feral cats and dogs, as well as rats, which are all responsible for attacking chicks, especially on the Sister Islands, where many of the sea birds nest.

Other threats to the birds are green iguanas that take eggs, habitat loss from coastal development and human disturbances.

The conservation plan would provide protection for the red-footed booby (Sula sula), the brown booby (Sula leucogaster), the magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), the bridled tern (Onychoprion anaethetus), the least tern (Sternula antillarum), and the white-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus).

Putting a formal species protection plan in place for these birds will enable the designation of protected areas under the National Conservation Act as well as critical habitat at nesting sites, pave the way for management plans and enable a formal programme to remove feral mammalian predators, a battle that the DoE has struggled with for years.

It will also enable the creation of marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) based on recorded foraging places for both booby species and magnificent frigatebirds around the Sister Islands and mechanisms for protective measures for those areas. A conservation plan would also allow for National Red-list assessments of seabird colonies in the Cayman Islands.

The plan would protect currently unprotected crown land supporting colonial seabird nesting, and through voluntary crown purchase and protection, any areas of privately owned land that also support significant nests. Conservation Agreements can also be used to safeguard nesting colonies and ensure their sustainability long-term.

In the draft proposals the DoE lays out the threats to Cayman’s seabird species, such as the taking of both adults and chicks at colonies by invasive species, particularly mammals.

“Feral cats have been recorded feeding on chicks and juveniles of Red-footed Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds on Little Cayman, and killing adult and juvenile Brown Boobies on their nests on Cayman Brac,” the draft plan states.

“Feral cats and free-roaming dogs have been recorded taking Least Tern nestlings, and rats are suspected to be predators of young Tropicbird and Least Tern eggs and chicks. Rats also pose a threat to Brown Booby nests and it is a concern that invasive green iguanas may also pose a threat to seabird eggs, particularly of Tropicbird nests as the Cayman Brac population of Green Iguanas continue to grow.”

But humans are also playing a part by contributing to habitat loss and disturbance arising from coastal development, which pose a serious threat for many of these species, particularly for brown boobies nesting on the shorelines and cliff edges of Cayman Brac.

“Recreational activities on and around the small cays on Grand Cayman and along stretches of nesting beaches and bluff on Cayman Brac further cause disturbance to seabird colonies during their most vulnerable life-stage,” the plan states.

Additional threats, particularly for frigatebirds and the two booby species, include getting caught up in fishing gear at sea, marine oil pollution events and plastic pollution.

See the draft plan on the NCC agenda here.

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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature

Comments (16)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    With all the time wasted litigating with the Friends of the Feral Cats, I am sure the conservation lawyer was really working for the other side. When I ask about that, I get the working pro bono explaination. If the government would just enact section 46 and 47 of the National Conservation Law the National Conservation Council would have the money to hire a proper lawyer and the culling of the feral cats could have begun a year ago. Why not?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Little Cayman is normally a relatively convenient and important checklist spot on the Audubon “birder” world tour, and one of the few stops that can be bundled with an extraordinary diving vacation. There are several unique bird species found nowhere else. It also hosts the largest colony of red footed boobies in the western hemisphere. These birds fly for 12 hours every day, some 250km round trip, then navigate the frigate bird harassment colonies and return to their nests to now find feral cats waiting to kill them and their eggs and chicks. Guy Harvey calculated that the lifetime tourism value of a single stingray is about $1,000,000. Applying that same thinking, how much are each of our other species worth? We should prize each of them like they matter, because they are Cayman’s product advantage.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The plan should include working with input the existing humane societies.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The planning approval laws need to be updated or else ridding ourselves of invasive species will be a waste of time and money. All the lots along the bluff where the birds nest have been sold for development. Try and find a corner of the Brac right now where you don’t hear heavy machinery destroying a forest.

    If the government cares about our dwindling seabird populations they could do what other rich countries do and establish a National Park System so that the land is permanently protected for future generations.

    • Matt says:

      That’s just not true. I have a nesting pair on brown boobies, and a second pair that are building a nest, right in front of my property. I am VERY concerned about the feral cats and this is a huge danger. I am installing a camera this week with infra red so we can observe.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Coral is re-growing in the harbour area. I guess Cabinet took that as a sign that it was necessary to bring back cruise ships to destroy it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Oh stop it.
    How do you know it was killed by a feral cat? There is no blood.
    We just have to take your word for it?
    Do you realize how damaging your report can be if it is not true?
    Please can we have responsible journalism?

    CNS: The DoE, not CNS, determined that the bird had been killed by a feral cat, which should be apparent from the caption. The facts are only “damaging” to those unwilling to accept reality.

    • Anonymous says:

      On behalf of the rest of your readership I would like to state – Thank You CNS for patiently explaining so many things that ought to be obvious from your excellent reporting.

    • Some Like it Fresh says:

      Feral cats, like their ‘big cat’ cousins, kill their prey by choking off victims’ respiration with their jaws- there is teeth penetration to a relatively sparsely veined area of the bird, and so there will rarely be blood splashes or pooling visible. Feral cats also stalk and hunt without necessarily butchering their kill at the scene of attack but will drag the carcass off to consume over following days. Some feral (and ‘domesticated’) cats will abandon the carcass entirely, especially when local kindly humans are feeding them…

  7. Anonymous says:

    They need to include a ban on feeding frigate birds in this, similar to the ban on feeding sharks.

  8. Anonymous says:

    But humans are also playing a part by contributing to habitat loss and disturbance arising from coastal development, which pose a serious threat for many of these species, particularly for brown boobies nesting on the shorelines and cliff edges of Cayman Brac.

    “Recreational activities on and around the small cays on Grand Cayman and along stretches of nesting beaches and bluff on Cayman Brac further cause disturbance to seabird colonies during their most vulnerable life-stage,” the plan states.

    Here we go! Soon won’t be able to go fishing or enjoy the ocean unless you own a Hatteras

    • Beaumont Zodecloun says:

      With respect, we don’t traditionally espouse a philosophy of conservation in the Cayman Islands. We have traditionally considered everything our bounty and to take as we wish, all we wish, whenever we choose to.

      I am of course, painting with a broad brush. Some locals understand the need to not overfish, to not abuse the resources. Others will go door to door trying to sell vastly undersized whelks — whelks that would have been far too small to reproduce.

      We need to take care with our resources, imo. I think we have an obligation toward our youth and their future. If it is your perception that the youth of the day don’t really care, then perhaps we owe them an education of the value of our resources and national treasures.

      The sea birds are among those treasures. I was once walking along Long Beach in Cayman Brac and saw several Brown Boobies nesting at the BASE of the bluff, perfectly exposed to any predator. Why would they do that, and not nest higher up on the bluff? I believe it was in response to Hurricane Paloma, which injured or killed so many bluff-nesting Boobies.

      They need our help. Same goes for the Rock Iguanas, and I support the efforts on the Sister Islands to cull the green iguanas.

      • Anonymous says:

        Beg to differ, most and I say most Caymanians understand that extinction is forever, there are a few who exploit and plunder but the vast majority don’t. I really don’t see why we need to be restricted from fishing which is a Caymanian tradition. Perhaps restrict other nationalities but certainly not Caymanians. It is our country after all!

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s not about restricting fishing. Rather, staying away from the cays in breeding season, keeping the bluff face free of construction or cultivation, intrusive lighting at night, keeping pets under control. You know, just the same as for turtle nesting.

          Have a care for other living creatures. They create the environment that allows you to survive on this planet

  9. Anonymous says:

    ‘Bout time

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