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TCI: Collaborative Shorebird Monitoring for Grand Turk and Salt Cay

#TurksandCaicos, April 6, 2021 – The Turks and Caicos National Trust (TCNT) and the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) are collaborating, on the weekend of 26 March 2021, for the Spring National Audubon Society Shorebird Surveys as part of a larger partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Funding from the National Audubon Society will allow for an intensive weekend of shorebird surveys on the salinas and ponds of Grand Turk and Salt Cay. These vital habitats provide crucial resting and feeding points for wintering and traveling migratory shorebirds, many of which fly thousands of miles seasonally.

The DECR will be assisting on training TCNT staff on shorebird identification and techniques, following training given based on international partner BirdsCaribbean’s excellent bird identification training modules and trainings. The TCNT team will be logging data and getting up-close familiarity with the important natural, cultural, and historical wetlands and salinas of the Turks Islands. Shorebirds, including sandpipers and plovers, can be quite difficult to identify, especially in their winter plumage – so team members will be armed with binoculars, spotting scopes, and field guides as well as lots of field experience to log the numbers and species of shorebirds seen.

Shorebirds are considered important indicator species, especially for the long-term effects of climate change as both sea level rise and increased frequency and intensity of severe weather events affect their winter and summer habitats. Surveys will focus on historical salinas such as Town Pond, Red Salina, and Great Salina and natural ponds such as North and South Wells of Grand Turk, and the Balfour Town salinas of Salt Cay. Their shallow, muddy bottoms and both graded and steep entries provide diverse habitats that allow a wide variety of shorebirds to use them – from the tiny least sandpiper to the much larger willet.

The wintering shorebirds also vary from the very common, numerous sanderling, which can appear in flocks of hundreds, to the red knot, a much rarer bird. The bird counts will be logged using the free mobile app eBird, which uses citizen science technology to gather data on birds around the world. The data will be able to be used by scientists around the world, but in TCI will also contribute to the collaborative Darwin Plus funded project Restoring and Safeguarding Wetlands of the Caribbean UKOTs, also involving partners in Montserrat and Anguilla.

The project seeks to protect and restore wetlands in the Territories, while providing public education about the valuable ecosystem services they provide, such as flood control, carbon storage, and high-value ecotourism and birdwatching opportunities.

“The development of restoration and conservation actions that have identified environmentally significant wetland sites has provided the opportunity to engage our communities and promote the cultivation of eco-tourism. Furthermore, we are educating the public about the importance of safeguarding our natural treasures and appreciation of the diverse bird life in the TCI”, said Winema Sanders-Penn, Executive Director, TCNT.

DECR Director Lormeka Williams stated, “We are blessed in Turks and Caicos Islands to have this incredible free resource for birdwatching opportunities in the historic salinas and ponds of the Turks Islands. Once an economic powerhouse of salt production, they now offer a focal point for the lucrative birding guide industry. Through surveying migratory shorebirds, DECR and the National Trust gather data to demonstrate the natural importance of these sites as well as their income potential. “

The DECR and TCNT welcome interest in birdwatching and encourage anyone passionate about nature to use the eBird app to report observations.

Photo Credit:  MyTurksandCaicosBlog

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