Prehistoric Caribbean boa snake bone beads

This 2018 video is called Dominican Red Mountain Boa, Caribbean Island of Hispaniola.

From the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany:

Beads made of boa bones identified in lesser Antilles

May 14, 2020

Today Boa snakes have a patchy distribution in the islands that form the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, but the constrictors are nearly absent from archaeological deposits in the region. Whether this scarcity is due to past species distribution, poor preservation conditions, or a lack of interaction with human communities, remains unknown.

To find out why boas occur sparsely in the Lesser Antilles today but hardly at all in archaeological contexts, Corentin Bochaton of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Bordeaux, conducted a multidisciplinary study combining archaeological evidence with historical and biological data sources. The study, published in Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, describes eight archaeological Boa finds on islands where the reptiles have never previously been identified and provides insights into the relationship between Amerindian groups and Boa before Western colonization.

Boas had a special status in pre-Columbian Lesser Antilles

To conduct the study, Bochaton investigated the animal remains from three sites: Dizac Beach on Martinique, Basse-Terre Cathedral on Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe) and Pointe Gros Rampart on La Désirade (Guadeloupe). Using a binocular microscope, Bochaton observed the surface condition and taxonomic features of the finds, eventually identifying eight vertebrae from the Boa genus.

Despite the presence of many other snake species in the archeological assemblages of the Lesser Antilles, these Boa remains are the only snake bones that appear to have been made into beads, an important clue as to their cultural significance. “The extreme scarcity of Boa in zooarchaeological assemblages, combined with the fact that these are the only snake bones to be modified, reflects the prominent status Boa had in Pre-Columbian Amerindian communities,” says Bochaton.

The fact that Boa are largely absent from archaeological finds suggests they probably weren’t hunted or eaten by human populations, at least not near their settlements, and evidence from historical records further points to an elevated status of Boa snakes. A chronicle of a 17th-century voyage to the Caribbean in a document known as Carpentras Anonymous describes the indigenous people of the islands as unwilling to kill Boas, believing the harm they did to the snakes would also be done to their grandchildren. Further, an account by Charles de Rochefort (1658) retells a story told by the people of Dominica of a monstrous snake who carried on its head a stone of great worth that would glow when it drank or moved in the abyss.

“These documents show us that Boa snakes had, among all snakes, a special status and were especially feared and respected, which could help explain their scarcity in archaeological deposits,” says Bochaton.

Multiple lines of evidence help to reconstruct lost past

The islands of the Lesser Antilles were first colonized by Amerindian groups between 7,000 and 5,500 years ago, but molecular evidence and the presence of Boa in fossil deposits show that the snakes colonized these islands thousands, if not millions of years before. Approximately 2,500 years ago, ceramic producing cultures arrived and evolved until the first European contact. At this point a ceramic style known as Cayo emerges.

Western colonization in the 17th century almost completely depopulated the Lesser Antilles of Amerindians and wiped out indigenous cultural practices. It also brought about the extinctions of a long list of species, ranging from terrestrial and flying mammals to birds and scaled reptiles — a list this paper shows to remain incomplete.

“Because of their absence in the archaeological record, Boa snakes were presumed absent from Guadeloupe,” Bochaton explains. “These remains not only show that Boas were here, they remind us how much of the cultural and natural history of these islands has been lost, and how important it is to use different lines of evidence to discover and interpret the past.”

Caribbean lizards evolution, new research

This 8 March 2020 video says about itself:

How Lizards are Turning Our Knowledge of Evolution Upside Down

Lizard biologists in the Caribbean have observed a fascinating phenomenon: different lizard species across different islands appear to share specific physical traits. But how, if they’ve never been in contact?

Prehistoric Floridans ate sea turtles, new research

This March 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Florida beaches are some of the highest density nesting sites for loggerhead turtles in the world. As such, they’re a major focus for conservationists looking out for this endangered species.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Ancient bone protein reveals which turtles were on the menu in Florida, Caribbean

November 4, 2019

Thousands of years ago, the inhabitants of modern-day Florida and the Caribbean feasted on sea turtles, leaving behind bones that tell tales of ancient diets and the ocean’s past.

An international team of scientists used cutting-edge technology to analyze proteins from these bones to help identify which turtle species people fished from the ocean millennia ago. This can aid modern conservation efforts by helping construct historical baselines for turtle populations, many of which are now endangered, and illuminate long-term trends of human impacts.

The technique, known as collagen fingerprinting, allows scientists to visualize distinct chemical signatures in collagen, the main structural protein in bone, that are often species-specific. This provides a complementary alternative to comparing specimens’ physical characteristics and analyzing ancient DNA, two methods that can be unsuccessful for species identification in fragmented archaeological bones found in the tropics.

Applying collagen fingerprinting to more than 100 turtle samples from archaeological sites up to 2,500 years old, the researchers found that 63% of the collagen-containing bones belonged to green turtles, Chelonia mydas, with smaller numbers of hawksbill turtles, Eretmochelys imbricata, and ridley turtles, Lepidochelys species. Some specimens previously identified as sea turtles from their skeletal features were in fact bones from snapping turtles, terrapins and tortoises.

“This is the first time anyone has obtained species-level information using proteins preserved in archaeological sea turtle bone,” said Virginia Harvey, the study’s lead author and a doctoral researcher in marine biology and zooarchaeology at the University of Manchester. “Our method has allowed us to unlock ancient data otherwise lost in time to see which species of turtle humans were targeting thousands of years ago in the Caribbean and Florida regions.”

Globally, sea turtles have been exploited for millennia for their meat, eggs, shells and other products. Today, they face threats from habitat loss and disturbance, poaching, pollution, climate change and fisheries. Only seven species of sea turtle remain, six of which are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Gaining a historical perspective on how turtle populations have changed through time is a crucial component of conserving them, Harvey said.

One of the research team’s initial goals was to discern whether any collagen still survived in ancient turtle bone remains. In an analysis of 130 archaeological turtle samples, the team was able to detect collagen in 88%.

“We were very impressed with the levels of protein preservation in the turtle bones, some of which are thought to be up to 2,500 years old,” said study co-author Michelle LeFebvre, assistant curator of South Florida archaeology and ethnography at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “The fact we were then able to use the protein signatures for species identification to better understand these archaeological sites was very exciting.” …

Using collagen fingerprinting to correct misidentifications based on physical characteristics was “a nice additional outcome of the study,” said Michael Buckley, senior author of the study and senior research fellow at the University of Manchester.

Susan deFrance, study co-author and professor in the University of Florida department of anthropology, said juvenile sea turtles are often misidentified because they are small and may lack the characteristics used to distinguish adult sea turtle bones.

“This is the first time we have been able to look so specifically into the preferred food choices of the site occupants,” she said. “At the Florida Gulf Coast site, they captured a lot of juvenile turtles. The positive species-level identifications of these samples could not have been accomplished without this collagen fingerprinting technology.”

At the same site, researchers found green turtle remains in both refuse heaps and mounds, but ridley turtle specimens were only found in mounds, suggesting they may have been reserved for feasting rituals, LeFebvre said.

“We knew these ancient people were eating sea turtles, but now we can begin to hone in on which turtles they were eating at particular times,” she said. “It’s no different than today — we associate certain foods with certain events. It’s how humans roll.”

The researchers are also eager to continue to apply collagen fingerprinting to other archaeological museum specimens, many of which have yet to be positively identified to the species level.

Harvey said she hopes the study inspires further research on sea turtles and other vulnerable and endangered animals.

“Now that this method is available, we hope that biologists, archaeologists and conservationists globally will continue this important work.”

Casper Toftgaard of the University of Copenhagen and Andrew Kitchener of National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh also co-authored the study.

Dutch Caribbean colonies elderly people are hungry

Elderly people in Dutch Caribbean, photo by  NOS | Dick Drayer

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Elderly people in the Caribbean Netherlands skip meals due to poverty

Many elderly people on Bonaire lead unworthy lives, the National Ombudsman noted last month. People over 65 have to live on a much too low pension, while the cost of living is only increasing. Today, the Dutch House of Representatives is discussing this issue during the debate on Kingdom Relations.

Shopping on Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire is expensive. For a cucumber that is on the shelves in the Netherlands for 75 cents, you pay 3.18 euros on Bonaire. A litre of freshly squeezed orange juice costs 3.09 euros at the Zaanstad supermarket, while you pay 5.45 euros at the branch of the same supermarket in Kralendijk on Bonaire.

An old-age pension for a single person over 65 on Bonaire is 586 euros per month. Commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the Regioplan research agency has calculated that this should actually be 1385 euros, the so-called subsistence minimum.

Empty refrigerator

Ms Romana Boezem (87) is one of the 2500 elderly people on Bonaire who has to manage with such a low AOV (the Caribbean version of the Dutch state pension). It does not work. In order to have extra income, she makes woollen hats for four euros each. But selling them does not really work because she has difficulty walking.

Ms Romana Boezem, photo by  NOS | Dick Drayer

A look in her refrigerator betrays poverty. There is virtually nothing in it. But she is not hungry, she says. In the kitchen she makes funchi with diluted milk powder, corn porridge. She eats it seven days a week, every day of the month, all year round. Sometimes she has some vegetables, but she doesn’t eat anything else.

“Most elderly people no longer have money by the middle of the month,” says Filomena Winklaar. She works as an elderly carer at a daycare centre. There are three of them on the island. In addition to daily activities, the elderly also receive a meal there. “But on weekends they are closed and many people skip their meals. In addition, there are only a limited number of places in daycare. Most elderly people are left out.”

The Netherlands

The Caribbean islands are responsible for the level of prices. But the level of pensions and benefits is determined in The Hague.

Ten years after Saba, Sint-Eustatius and Bonaire joined the Dutch state system, the Netherlands has not yet succeeded in raising it substantially towards the subsistence minimum.

Dutch State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment, Tamara van Ark, has promised to increase pensions step by step. The target amount for a single person, who currently receives 586 euros, has been set at around 864 euros per month on Bonaire. According to the research agency, this is still too low, but the government wants Bonaire and the private sector to do something: the cost of living must be reduced.

Bonaire has little faith in an early solution of the poverty issue. Ten years after the island left the Netherlands Antilles federation and came under the direct authority of The Hague, poverty is still a major problem. While most residents had hoped for a dynamic Dutch government.

Manatees, research and conservation

This October 2018 video says about itself:

There are three species of manatee in the world and they can be found in coastal rivers and waters.

From the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama:

Underwater manatee chatter may aid in their conservation

September 30, 2019

Summary: Scientists propose a new method for calculating populations of the Antillean manatee, a marine mammal in danger of extinction, through underwater recordings.

Listening in on manatee conversations could help restore populations of this endangered marine mammal. Each manatee has its own voice: their calls can be traced back to specific individuals, offering a way to estimate how many of them are present in a particular habitat in a given time. Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the Universidad Tecnologica de Panama, (UTP) propose a new method for detecting these calls from underwater recordings.

Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) populations have been continuously decreasing for a decade and are predicted to drop an additional 20% within the next two generations, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria. There are a few reasons for this, most of which are due to human pressure, including illegal hunting, habitat degradation, boat collisions and pollution.

In order to counter this decrease, conservationists need to be able to estimate manatee numbers and understand how they use their habitat. In Panama’s Bocas del Toro province, however, manatees live in turbid brackish waters, covered by aquatic vegetation, so standard visual counting methods are less than ideal.

“Estimating the manatee population in Panama is like working in total darkness: you cannot count what you cannot see,” STRI marine ecologist, Hector M. Guzman, said. “We made a first attempt few years ago using a side-scan sonar within the protected wetland, which yielded good preliminary results. However, the method was not suitable for other non-navigational rivers with dense aquatic vegetation.”

Although hard to sight, manatees often communicate with one another underwater, emitting whistles, squeaks and chirps to attract mates, warn their neighbors of danger or stay in touch with their offspring. With this in mind, researchers turned to sound.

“Working with a marvelous team of signal-processing specialists from the UTP, we created a new research horizon for manatees, opening the field for a continuous monitoring system of the populations based on vocalizations,” Guzman said. “Now, we can identify where, when and who is there, which we ecologists need to model population size and changes in time and space.”

The proposed new method for counting manatees, based on their vocalization spectrograms, was tested on a large data set of underwater recordings from the Changuinola and San San rivers in Bocas del Toro. This scheme uses the uniqueness of manatee sounds to generate individual clusters, with each cluster corresponding to a single manatee.

“This approach required the collaboration of several different specialists, and almost two years of development and analysis, to process over 375,800 two-minute audio clips from three years of continuous monitoring, to be able to successfully count and identify individual manatees from Bocas del Toro protected wetlands,” said Fernando Merchan, signal-processing specialist from UTP and lead author of the publication.

The scientists found that this method offers similar estimates of manatee counts than those encountered in previous studies, through different approaches. By linking individual vocalizations to specific manatees, this underwater acoustic-monitoring technique may become a valuable tool for ecologists to infer the seasonal presence of manatees in certain sites.

With the support of the National Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation of Panama (SENACYT), this method will be further extended to include wetlands in the Ngabe-Bugle indigenous reserve in Panama, and it could potentially be implemented in a network of manatee habitats in the region, such as in Mexico, Belize and Colombia, allowing for a greater comprehension of manatees’ migration patterns and regional population changes.

Future research projects, also financed by SENACYT, involve the development of a real-time detection and alert system that could continuously monitor the rivers and wetlands to prevent boat collisions, a substantial cause of manatee deaths. The team is also interested in developing advanced classification methods that would identify the sex and age range of manatees from their individual vocalizations, contributing to a better understanding of their habitat use for mating and nursing, and, ultimately, helping to inform conservation policies.

Hunger, poverty in Dutch Caribbean colonies

This 2014 Dutch video is about poverty on Bonaire island. Beautiful Bonaire has coral reefs and other wildlife. It attracts many tourists. However, many people are poor.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today, by Dick Drayer:

Hundreds of elderly people on the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius regularly have to go to bed with empty stomachs. They have no food at home and at the daycare center, where there is food, there often is no place. The National Ombudsman, Reinier van Zutphen, sounds the alarm with the publication yesterday in Kralendijk (Bonaire) of his report Eye for the Elderly in the Caribbean Netherlands.

Older people in the Caribbean Netherlands often live unworthy lives, Van Zutphen writes. “They have an AOV benefit (a variant of the Dutch AOW benefit) but can hardly make ends meet and often live in bitter poverty.”

High housing costs

The costs of basic necessities in the Caribbean Netherlands are often almost twice as high as in the European Netherlands, while an AOV benefit is 450 euros lower for single elderly people [than Dutch AOW]. Housing costs are high and groceries expensive. Fresh vegetables and fruit are not affordable for many elderly people.

Nina den Heyer is happy with the ombudsman’s report. She is the alderwoman for Society and Care in the local island government of Bonaire. “The big problem for the elderly is that they cannot do extra jobs to raise their income. We call it [in Papiamentu] Lora Man here, doing odd jobs. Almost everyone has an extra job besides work or arranges other things, because they do not earn enough to get around. The elderly can’t do that anymore. ”

In addition, the facilities on the island are inadequate. “Public transport is poor, the elderly do not leave their houses. Usually, they live with one of their children or children live with them. Yet they are lonely, because everyone is making money away from home.”

The poverty problem among the elderly can be solved, but then the Netherlands will have to take a serious approach to the problem, according to Alderwoman Den Heyer. “The group is 2500 people, so how difficult can it be to raise the AOV to an acceptable and already calculated level? Companies should have a mandatory pension provision for their workers”, she says.

Caribbean table

Den Heyer agrees with the Ombudsman’s recommendations. He wants the Netherlands to start today: “We have to work with our hearts”, says Van Zutphen. “The bitter irony is that everyone thought it would get better on the islands after 10-10-2010.” On that date, the old Netherlands Antilles colonial setup was dismantled and Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius fell under the direct authority of The Hague. “But it just got worse, it didn’t help the poor.”

The ombudsman wants the Netherlands to create a so-called ‘Caribbean table’. “All departments in The Hague with a task within the Caribbean Netherlands must join, under the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.”

“Government agencies now rely too much on their own duties, powers and budgets”, says Van Zutphen. “They do not sufficiently realize that their policies come together, affecting vulnerable elderly people in the Caribbean Netherlands.”

“Great plan”, says Den Heyer. “But I also want to sit at that table myself, have a say and make decisions. The Hague should not stop with the elderly, but also face the poverty of children. They grow up in poverty. I can predict how children who grow up in poverty will fare later in society. While they do have the talents!”

How bluehead wrasse fish change sex

This 2008 video says about itself:

Caribbean Fish Identification: Bluehead Wrasse

Bluehead Wrasse fish experience a variety of color changes and are difficult to identify. Learn to identify Bluehead Wrasse with tips from a Caribbean scuba instructor in this free tropical fish identification video.

Expert: Don Stark.

Bio: Don Stark has over 20 years of active diving experience. He has been a frequent participant on fish collecting expeditions in the Bahamas with New England Aquarium staff.

Filmmaker: Don Stark.

From the La Trobe University in Australia:

Secrets of a sex-changing fish revealed

July 10, 2019

We may take it for granted that the sex of an animal is established at birth and doesn’t change.

However, about 500 species of fish change sex in adulthood, often in response to environmental cues. How these fish change sex has, until now, been a mystery.

The secrets of fish that change sex have, for the first time, been revealed by an international collaboration led by New Zealand scientists and including La Trobe University geneticist and Prime Minister’s Prize for Science winner 2017, Professor Jenny Graves. The findings were published today in the journal Science Advances.

“I’ve followed the bluehead wrasse for years because sex change is so quick and is triggered by a visual cue,” Professor Graves said.

“How sex can reverse so spectacularly has been a mystery for decades. The genes haven’t changed, so it must be the signals that turn them off and on.”

Bluehead wrasses live in groups, on coral reefs of the Caribbean. A dominant male — with a blue head — protects a harem of yellow females. If the male is removed, the biggest female becomes male — in just 10 days. She changes her behaviour in minutes, her colour in hours. Her ovary becomes a testis and by 10 days it is making sperm.

Using the latest genetic approaches — high-throughput RNA-sequencing and epigenetic analyses — the researchers discovered when and how specific genes are turned off and on in the brain and gonad so that sex change can occur.

The study is important for understanding how genes get turned off and on during development in all animals (including humans), and how the environment can influence this process.

“We found that sex change involves a complete genetic rewiring of the gonad,” Dr Erica Todd from the University of Otago, the co-lead author, said.

“Genes needed to maintain the ovary are first turned off, and then a new genetic pathway is steadily turned on to promote testis formation.”

Co-lead author PhD candidate Oscar Ortega-Recalde, also from the University of Otago, said the amazing transformation also appears possible through changes in cellular “memory”.

“Chemical markers on DNA control gene expression and to help cells remember their specific function in the body. Our study is important because it shows that sex change involves profound changes in these chemical marks,” Mr Ortega-Recalde said.

La Trobe’s Professor Jenny Graves said the project links to studies of sex reversal in Australian dragon lizards that she is collaborating on with researchers at the University of Canberra.

“With dragon lizards the trigger for sex change is temperature, which overrides genes on the male sex chromosomes and causes embryos to develop as females,” Professor Graves said.

“Sex reversal in dragons and the wrasse involve some of the same genes, so I think we are looking at an ancient system for environmental control of gene activity.”

Hurricane season restarts in Caribbean, USA

This 16 May 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Hurricane Season 2018 Outlook: provided by MeteoMark’s Weather Northeastern, complete with the tropical factors, total number named storms, and which areas stand the chance of seeing the greatest hurricane activity this year for the Atlantic basin, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean. Find out how this tropical season will stack up to last year’s 2017 blockbuster Category 5 year.

From the League of Conservation Voters in the USA, 3 June 2018:

URGENT: Hurricane season has begun, yet many are still struggling from last year’s disasters. Urge FEMA to support the continued recovery of communities of color and low income communities and commit to more equitable recovery


Hurricane season is underway, yet communities still need support to recover. Urge FEMA to support the recovery of ALL communities.

FEMA failed communities in Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida last hurricane season – and it had deadly consequences.

While climate-fueled Hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Irma devastated communities, the delayed, chaotic, and ineffective response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) exacerbated the crisis. And FEMA’s inequitable and insufficient responses disproportionately harmed communities of color and low income communities.

We cannot let this injustice continue. As the 2018 hurricane season, which we know will be made more intense by climate change, begins this weekend, it’s critical that FEMA ensures that the communities most impacted by these disasters have the resources and support to recover. Stand with impacted communities and urge FEMA to provide federal equitable recovery support before the next hurricane strikes.

We cannot adequately prepare for this hurricane season if we don’t support communities that were impacted by the 2017 hurricanes. Tell FEMA to fix systemic issues that lead to inequitable recovery

The destructive impacts of 2017’s storms, made worse by climate change, were felt first and worst by communities of color and low income communities. Many of these communities lacked the resources to prepare for and respond to these climate-exacerbated disasters.

Despite the extraordinary loss of life, property, and infrastructure, FEMA’s insufficient response failed these communities time and time again. Here are a few key examples of the egregious ways their ineffective, delayed, and insufficient responses had astounding consequences for communities of color and low income communities:

  • In Puerto Rico: According to a study from Harvard University, the death toll from Hurricane Maria was nearly 5,000 people — 70 times larger than the official government death toll of 64 people. Many of these deaths were caused by lack of medical care and insufficient access to water and electricity. And, more than nine months later, 90,000 Puerto Ricans are still without access to power. Tell FEMA to repair Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and ensure that this hurricane season doesn’t have the same devastating impact
  • In Texas: A Politico investigation found that historically African American and low income communities in Texas have been left behind by FEMA. Even former FEMA officials have agreed that there is a recurring and systemic problem with the delivery of federal recovery funds to most impacted communities. Urge FEMA to allocate recovery funds to the communities that need them to most
  • In Florida: In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the Los Angeles Times reported that Immokalee, a Floridian city comprised largely of immigrant and low-income families, was severely damaged, but received little assistance from FEMA. FEMA delayed not only in immediately responding, but also, in providing permanent shelter and housing solutions for families. Demand that FEMA respond immediately to impacted areas during the 2018 hurricane season and continue to provide long-term support to impacted families

As hurricane season begins again it’s imperative that we speak out now. If we don’t act, FEMA will continue with business as usual, even if it means that thousands of most impacted people are held in limbo. We cannot let FEMA continue to leave communities of color and low income communities behind and in danger. Raise your voice now and help elevate the critical needs of these communities to FEMA as they consider response and recovery efforts this season.

SIGN: Thousands are still struggling after 2017’s climate-fueled hurricanes. Demand that FEMA equitably support all impacted communities and prepare for more equitable support in 2018

We must ensure that ALL our communities have the vital resources they need to continue on the long road of recovery ahead.

Thank you for standing up for our communities.

Sara Chieffo
Vice President of Government Affairs
League of Conservation Voters

Policymakers are being misinformed by the results of economic models that underestimate the future risks of climate change impacts, according to a new article: here.