This project, entitled Migratory Neotropical Birds and the Restoration of the Coastal Mangroves of Venezuela, is conducted by the organization Provita and seeks to restore 49 acres (20 hectares) of mangroves in Laguna de la Restinga National Park. The mangroves are located along the coastal plain of the central isthmus of Margarita Island, in the most important area of the island for threatened migratory aquatic birds. The project aims to replicate in La Restinga a very successful wetlands creation project done in Colombia, which used mangrove areas as biological filters. The project will also establish the natural flows of water in the park. Another important project activity is the identification of areas critical to migratory birds and the creation of a map with the types of habitat and the evaluation of possible management activities that favor these animals. During the restoration, we will document environmental changes that result in the arrival of new species of migratory birds that generally nest in mangroves. An important component of the project is community participation in monitoring, environmental education, and planning, including tourism, which is very important for the island. This project is the first time mangrove restoration has been tried in Venezuela, an experience that we plan to use as a model for other areas of La Restinga, Laguna de Tacarigua National Park, and other regions of the country.
Margarita Island, Nueva Esparta, Venezuela, 10.9970723, -63.91132959999999
Country or Territory:
Estuaries, Marshes & Mangroves
Area being restored:
NGO / Nonprofit Organization
Primary Causes of DegradationInvasive Species (native or non-native pests, pathogens or plants), Mining & Resource Extraction
The park is threatened by illegal hunting, exotic species introduction, the extraction of sand and stone for construction, illegal fisheries, growing pressure from tourism, flora and fauna extraction, an increase in human population pressure, and the absence of a strong institutional presence to regulate and keep watch over its management and conservation.
Reference Ecosystem Description
Approximately 1058 ha of mangrove forests surround and cover La Restinga national park. Several internal lagoons interrupt these forests creating canals of singular beauty that go off in all directions and provide ideal spawning conditions for many marine species (Hoyos 1985). Red and black mangroves (Rhizophora mangle and Avicennia germinans) cover the main body and edges of the lagoon. The first spans approximately 500 ha and the latter about 400 ha in the canals with less circulation. White mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) is found in the western sector of the lagoon and the buttonwood or button mangrov(Conocarpus erectus) is on the lagoon edges where there is less water. Because the sand bar substrate is mainly sand and shells it has a special type of vegetation. Mangroves dominate towards the eastern end of the lagoon. In the west, shrubs, creepers (like the introduced Asian species Calotropis procera) and other halophilous species such as beachwort (Batis maritime) and purslane (Portulaca oleracea) dominate. Among the arboreal species are Cercidium praecox, Cordia dentata, Cesalpinia coriara, Parkinsonia aculeata, Bourreria cumanensis and Prosopis juliflora. Individuals of these species are generally dwarfed due to the poor soil. Cacti like Ritterocereus griseus, Subpilocerus repandus, Piloerus lanuginosus, Pereskia guamacho, Opuntia wentiana, Opuntia schumanii, Opuntia caribea, Melocactus caesius and Acanthocereus tetragonus, are also abundant (Hoyos 1985).
Margarita Island is especially important with respect to the numbers of endemic species it harbors. The island was connected to mainland until the Pleistocene. As a result, there is a predominance of typical continental bird families like Tinamidae, Dendrocolaptidae, Formicaridae and Furnaridae (Bisbal 2001), which are for example totally absent from the Antilles. There are 31 mammal species on Margarita, of which La Restinga holds important
populations of two endemic subspecies, Margarita’s cotton-tailed rabbit Sylvilagus floridanus margaritae and the white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus margaritae.
Four species of sea turtles nest on beaches located within the park. The most common is the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). The hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) are also found within the park boundaries. According to IUCN criteria, the first two are critically threatened with extinction, and the latter two are globally threatened. In the Red Book of Venezuelan Fauna, the loggerhead is classified as vulnerable and the other three species as endangered (RodríÂguez and Rojas-Suárez 1999). During the year 2001, 323 nesting events were recorded on Margarita Island. There were over 8,000 eggs by the end of the season (GTTMNE 2002). Approximately 12% of these nests were laid on park beaches. This year 39 turtles were reported in the park, 32 of which were nesting (Vernet 2001).
Of the 107 species of birds reported from Margarita, 21 are migratory and 15 of these are restricted to Margarita and Trinidad in the Caribbean islands and 16 are restricted solely to Margarita in their Caribbean range (Rojas-Suárez et al. 1998). Among the latter, the greenbacked heron Butorides striatus robinsoni is endemic to Margarita and Trinidad, while another 7 species are endemic only to Margarita: Margarita’s ferruginous pygmy owl, Glaucidium brasilianum margaritae, the yellow oriole Icterus nigrogularis helioeides, the pale-breasted spinetail Synallaxis albescens nesiotes, Margarita’s brown-throated parakeet Aratinga pertinax margaritensis, the straight-billed woodpecker Xiphorhynchus picus longirostris, the bluecrowned parakeet Aratinga acuticaudata neoxena and the clapper rail Rallus longirostris margaritae (Rojas-Suárez et al. 1998). The last three species are endemic to the park and its surroundings.
** Train park personnel in environmental vigilance, law enforcement, ecological restoration, and wildlife monitoring.
** Restore dead mangrove forests in La Restinga National Park.
** Identify and strengthen the protection of critical habitats for migratory birds.
** Design habitat conservation plans to recover the park’s most threatened species.
** Create baseline information about the distribution and abundance of migratory birds and begin a long-term monitoring program.
** Design and implement environmental education and public awareness programs that highlight the role of the La Restinga and Tacarigua National Parks as wetlands of international importance, and as sites of great value for migratory birds.
The project does not have a monitoring plan.
There are several distinct groups of stakeholders with an interest in the outcome of this project. The local population has an interest in the restoration, as the mangrove provides protection from storm damage and erosion, fresh water, an important source of wood and an abundant source of food from scores of fish and mollusk species that depend on this natural nursery. Moreover, Provita also hopes to train local residents so they can be nature guides and own small, low-impact tourism businesses.
Tourists and tour operators are stakeholders in the project, as about 70 boatmen make their living from taking both local and foreign tourists through the serene and wild mangroves. In fact, it was this group of boatmen that first raised the alarm about increasing deterioration.
National park personnel represent another important group of stakeholders. The project has as one of its objectives the training of park employees in environmental vigilance, law enforcement, ecological restoration, and wildlife monitoring.
Stakeholders in environmental education will also be stakeholders in this restoration project. One of the project goals is to design and implement environmental education and public awareness programs that highlight the role of the La Restinga and Tacarigua National Parks as wetlands of international importance, and as sites of great value for migratory birds. Five young people from the community, called “bio-monitors,” are participating in the project, collecting data about mangrove tree species and thereby gaining valuable insight into conservation and ecology. Other important project allies are the teachers in five local public schools, who teach students about the importance of La Restinga as an internationally significant wetland and one that is invaluable to them, their families and neighbors, migratory birds, and other wildlife. Also as part of the project, a list of common and easily identified birds will be developed for each restoration site, effectively investing students, amateur birdwatchers, and park guards in biological monitoring activities.
Lastly, the international community at large constitutes a group of stakeholders, as Laguna de la Restinga National Park has been designated a Ramsar site. It is a wetland of recognized international importance and is the only site in the Caribbean that is home to wild carnivores, including ocelots and the Amazonian hog-nosed skunk. Moreover, loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtles nest on the park’s beaches.
Description of Project Activities:
The first step of the project was the implementation of a geographic information system (GIS) for the island. Using the ArcView 3.3 software and 1:100,000 paper base maps, in collaboration with a team of students based at IVIC (Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas) we digitized the island, its protected areas, roads, hydrological network, and population centers. These data were placed in IVIC's website in mid 2004, and are available without cost to anyone interested (ecosig.ivic.ve). As we develop further georeferenced datasets, they will be added to the database as well. Over the last year and a half, fifteen rural schools around the Macanao area have been participating in reseeding activities under Provita's supervision, planting more than 3.000 mangroves plants and more than 4.500 new dry forest plants. After PROVITA's technical presentation in 2007, representatives of the Environmental Ministry, together with 5 other local governmental institutions and 9 representatives of the sand mining companies, agreed that the need for an integrated ecological restoration program for Macanao and La Restinga is urgent. Thus, the project has enlisted the support of influential local agencies as well as members of the business community.
Ecological Outcomes Achieved
Factors limiting recovery of the ecosystem:
The limited funding which supports Provita's activities (i.e. human resources, financial resources and infrastructure) is a limiting factor, as it is for any NGO. We realize there is a need to increase our presence in the area with more researchers and an actual research and capacity building infrastructure inside Macanao--and we have the sketch and blueprints to build a Conservation and Development Center in this area. However, due to a lack of funding, we haven't yet been able to realize this goal.
Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved
Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
Since the establishment of the project in 2004, Provita has developed and strengthened a collaborative network of 35 teachers and 3,500 children at 15 schools across the Macanao peninsula, as well as in the towns of Chacachacare and La Restinga (which are located just outside of Macanao). Our interactions with the schools are directed by the teacher participants of the workshops described above, who organize "environmental brigades" with their students. Therefore, teachers serve two functions: they formally implement and evaluate the impact of educational interventions, and they also organize the most motivated students to carry out other conservation activities. This affords a valuable opportunity for environmental education and community involvement in the project.
We will hold meetings with local stakeholders at least once a month throughout the different stages of the project. We will periodically analyze the project’s successes and weaknesses, with the goal of designing phase two.
Before starting field work a geographic information system was used to create a database of available cartographic information, superimposing this onto recent Landsat satellite images. This, along with consultations with park personnel, will lead to creation of a vegetation map and a map of the principal threats to the park. Later, we will select permanent monitoring sites to count birds, based on the relative importance of these sites for migratory birds. We will use a telescope to do these censuses in selected sites at least once every two months throughout the year. Permanent monitoring will be done from the highest peak during the highest migration period. In addition to the migratory birds, we will compile a list of easily identified common birds for each of the sites. The idea is to develop a monitoring program that is accessible to students, birdwatchers, amateur naturalists, and park rangers. This will increase the number of potential park monitors, as they will not need to possess advanced skills for bird observation.
In the future we plan to restore mangrove forests within coastal communities in order to reduce human pressures on the protected mangroves. Because the project will include an environmental education component and planning with the communities, local residents are understanding that the mangroves benefit them. We strongly believe that without the involvement of local communities, long-term success is not possible. This has been the central point of our work in conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity in the La Restiga and Tacarigua National Parks for 13 years. We have focused on threatened species and habitats, directing the public’s attention to those cases that are most urgent. In this way, people come to identify with their own resources.
Sources and Amounts of Funding
33,000 USD US Fish and Wildlife Service – Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA)
Jon Paul RodríÂguez, Project Director
Instituto Nacional de Parques (INPARQUES)