A Day Out at the Bird Cayes

As we stepped out of the boat into three-foot deep crystal clear water, we began to quietly wade through the water, approaching the six acre mangrove caye known as Cayo Rosario. Stepping onto the caye covered with a blanket of mangrove prop roots, we gingerly tiptoed around the perimeter, ducking under branches and trying our best to watch where our feet were landing. Above us was a canopy of mangrove and palms, housing such birds as the magnificent frigate bird, great blue heron, and reddish egret. As we made our way through a screen of branches and vines, we made our first discovery: two mounds of crumpled gray feathers, barely recognizable as dead cormorants. Then, around the corner, we saw another pile of feathers, but this time the feathers were pink-a dead roseate spoonbill, one of the most endangered bird species of the Caribbean.

    Thus began the excursion that Green Reef made with members of the Ministry of Natural Resources last week to cayes located on the leeward side of Ambergris Caye. In the past year, Green Reef submitted a proposal to expand the existing bird sanctuaries of Little Guana and Los Salones to include sixteen adjacent cayes (including Cayo Rosario) and wetlands; all of which are critical bird nesting and feeding habitats. The purpose of this recent trip was to better inform Natural Resources of the project since the expansion of the sanctuary hinges upon the approval of the Ministry. In addition, only two weeks ago, Green Reef received reports of alleged bird-hunting occurring on Cayo Rosario, so we took this opportunity to investigate the reports.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
    It's difficult to know exactly how the aforementioned birds were killed, but it is common knowledge that hunting on the leeward cayes still occurs. There is a history of birds hunted for their meat and unfortunately, the more endangered species, such as the spoonbill or reddish egret, are most commonly chosen.

    Bird hunting may seem like the most immediate danger to the birds, but in actuality, it is development of the cayes and surrounding wetlands that poses the greatest threat. Along the leeward coast of Ambergris Caye, land is currently being surveyed and plans for housing developments are underway. This area includes wetlands, lagoons, and littoral forest, all considered

to be primary feeding grounds for many of the bird species found on and around Ambergris Caye. Green Reef is not opposed to development in this area, but we believe there are ways of maintaining the habitat so that both humans and wildlife can benefit. One residence that we visited along the leeward side provided an excellent example of sustainable development, leaving most of the natural mangrove and littoral forest intact. Within only a few minutes of walking around this residence, more than ten bird species were identified. Green Reef is currently lobbying the Ministry of Natural Resources to expedite the process of approving the expansion so that better management and protection of the cayes can be enforced. When the expansion is passed, we plan to make the cayes more accessible to bird watchers and researchers, as well as encourage sustainable development of the surrounding coastal wetlands and littoral forest of Ambergris Caye.

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