Biosfera: Protecting the desert islands (Cape Verde: Santa Luzia, Raso, Branco)
16 June 2016
Cape Verde: a volcanic archipelago, a developing nation. 600km off the coast of West Africa.
Santa Luzia, Raso, Branco: one remote desert island and its two rocky islets are a unique remnant piece of Cape Verdean wilderness, now threatened. They must be protected:
– Thousands of nesting endemic seabirds
– Raso Lark (facing extinction)
– Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Vulnerable)
A passionate and dedicated team is strengthening every day to save these species and restore their remote island homes.
Biosfera, with the support of SPEA (the Portuguese Society for the Protection of Birds; BirdLife Partner), have received conservation grants from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). This video shows the progress they have made for the conservation of the desert islands and in the building up of their organisation. And of course it shows the beautiful wildlife of the islands…
Cordas do Sol (used with permission):
Kevin MacLeod incompetech.com (CC):
At the Shore
© BirdLife International / CEPF 2016
Winning hearts and minds in Cape Verde
By Shaun Hurrell, 19 July 2016
Conservation work in these desert islands delivers heartening, long lasting, results: “Now the fishermen work with us, they help us count the birds instead of killing them. They even adopt turtle nests. It is a big, big change.”
Piercing sun, dry, rocky ground, and a solitary ex-military canvas tent ripped bare by strong Atlantic winds. Off the rocky shore, an osprey is seen diving for a fish. In the shade, dust sprays as sparrows can be seen scuffling for water dripping from the tent’s fresh water barrel tap. This is the scene on arrival on Raso, after six hours of a sea-sickening boat ride. Not the place you’d expect to find the entire population of a Critically Endangered lark, let alone a small passionate team of conservationists there to protect it and other unique endemic species from extinction.
A volcanic archipelago 600km off the coast of West Africa, Cape Verde is a developing nation. Surrounded by sharks and coral reefs, the desert island of Santa Luzia and its two rocky islets Raso and Branco are a unique remnant piece of Cape Verdean wilderness, too remote for permanent inhabitation.
However, thousands of nesting endemic seabirds, such as the Cape Verde Shearwater; the Endangered Giant Wall Gecko, and nesting Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Vulnerable), also make these islands their homes. But it doesn’t mean they are safe from threats.
One of the most threatened birds in the world, the Raso Lark is suffering from climate change effects, whereby hurricanes and drought can wipe out a lot of the minimal grasses on which it feeds. On this 7 km2 islet in 2006, the population dropped to 70 birds. The dedicated conservationists are a local NGO, Biosfera, who is working with the support of SPEA (the Portuguese Society for the Protection of Birds; BirdLife Partner) and volunteers to restore nearby Santa Luzia (which has similar vegetation and is much larger) for a translocation of the Raso Lark to help it bounce back to its original numbers.
Poaching is another threat. Fishermen used to come to these islands to take ‘boatloads’ of Cape Verde Shearwaters and female Loggerhead Turtles that nest on the beaches.
In the past, Tommy Melo Melo, Co-Founder of Biosfera, has camped out on Branco to protect turtles from poachers, and when his food ran out, he risked shark-infested waters to freedive for fish.
“Now the fishermen work with us,” he says. “They help us to count the birds in the nests for example.” They now even adopt turtle nests. “It was a big, big change.”
Tommy has a vision: “A huge marine protected area in Cape Verde that includes the three islands.” To reach this has so far involved years of work: from walking along beaches kilometres every day to guard nesting turtles and relocate their eggs to a hatchery to increase their chances of survival, to building the organisation’s ornithological expertise and capacity to work with government and large international conservation projects.
Thanks to the support of SPEA through grants from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Biosfera has grown and grown.
“Biosfera is a fantastic organisation,” says Pedro Geraldes, Project Coordinator, SPEA. “They started just as father and son working together to protect these islands.”
“Before we were an NGO in the name. Now we are an NGO properly,” says Tommy.
Now, they aim to work in partnership with the government to manage the marine reserve.
“We are the link between the fishermen and the government,” says Patricia Rendall-Rocha, Coordinator, Biosfera.
Recorded on a field visit by CEPF, this video [top of this blog post] shows the progress Biosfera have made for the conservation of the desert islands and in the building up of their organisation. And of course it shows the island’s beautiful wildlife.
Since the field visit, Biosfera have been awarded a follow-up grant from CEPF to continue building their capacity in financial operations and communications. Now they are conducting further field research and investigating the impact of invasive fire ants which have ended up on Raso Islet, threatening the Raso Lark and other endemic species. Tommy, Patricia and Pedro say the major translocation of the Raso Lark is within their sights.
As part of the support to grantees, the CEPF Regional Implementation Team conduct field visits, like this one to Cape Verde. In this phase of the programme, Project Officers have been on supervision missions to Algeria, Morocco, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Macedonia.
“The CEPF support and the communication with the Regional Implementation Team was really good in terms of dealing with this project’s difficulties,” said Pedro Geraldes, SPEA. “Because it is remote, some plans have to be changed and altered.”