2019 Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana Report
“Save the Swamper” Conservation outreach and population monitoring of Utila Spiny-tailed iguanas
Daisy Maryon – Kanahau Utila research and Conservation Facility / University of South Wales
Overview and Objectives.
This project continues fieldwork investigating the population size and demographics of Ctenosaura bakeri (known locally as the swamper), while starting to conclude information regarding the species’ spatial patterns and temporal trends using data from previous years. This data enables us to determine overall population change as well as the best region for proposed designation as a protected area. Environmental education and conservation outreach will continue to promote C. bakeri as a flagship species for the island by providing education and activities to schoolchildren aged 5-14 in six schools. We also expand our outreach through developing the Kanahau School of Nature (children aged 10-16), to organize nature themed events and weekly activities for youth that engage them in biodiversity and environmental awareness. The project on a whole combines both scientific research and active species management, with environmental education and community outreach. It aims to secure effective conservation results for the critically endangered C. bakeri using a diverse multidisciplinary approach.
Outcomes and Impact
Environmental Education and Outreach
Thanks to our grant from IIF we were able to provide an internship for an Environmental Education coordinator and intern for the environmental education programme. Daniela Sansur joined Kanahau as Environmental Education (EE) Coordinator in February 2019, part of Daniela’s role is to train and teaches the local environmental education intern, Sapphira Jackson in environmental topics, which are then taught in a collaborative education programme in the schools of Utila (6 schools reaching 700+ children). During her role as EE Coordinator Daniela created Kanahau School of Nature in March 2019. It aims to become a learning center without walls, turning the different ecosystems of Utila, Honduras into the “classrooms” where children learn about ecosystem functions and services, flora and fauna, and general environmental education topics. Through nature walks, expeditions and real biological surveys Kanahau pretends to get the children in contact with nature. It is targeted to local children from 10 to 16 years of age, focusing on children from the public school, with a lower and middle-class background, as they are the most vulnerable group identified. It is hoped that by giving the opportunity to children that are interested in the environmental will help developed their leadership and science skills to make Utila a more sustainable place in the future. Students in the School of Nature took part in 10 different activities outside of the school curriculum including iguana surveys and iguana awareness day.
The field guide training is progressing well; as well as continuing to provide an alternative income to our first field guide (Nahun Molina), this year we were also able to pay and train a new guide from the island, Bryan Neper, a 24year old Bay Islander who also used to hunt iguanas when he was younger. As well as their work as field guides, Bryan and Nahun performed conservation outreach through informal talks with the local community, social media posts and taking part with the School of Nature activities.
For the Utila carnival in July this year the team from Kanahau again brought out the mobile “Iggy the Recycling Swamper” float made from trash found on the beaches of Utila. The float was part of the parade and people could place any recyclable material inside the Recycling Swamper as we moved through the town. The float was featured on the national news covering the carnivals! The Iggy has been instrumental in spreading the #SaveTheSwamper message and many people on the island welcomed Iggy’s return tourists have been taking selfies with the float and using the “#SaveTheSwamper” hashtag to further the campaign message.
Iguana awareness day was made into an island event this year, on the 7th September (1 day earlier than the national day due to scheduling) Kanahau collaborated with a local restaurant (Mango inn grill) to bring an activity day for the kids and a fundraiser for iguanas together. During the day time the children from the School of Nature came and played games such as “Iguana puzzle” “Swampers catch the crab” to win an Iguana awareness day T-shirt and enjoy some free pizza! In the evening Adults were invited to a Swamper “Shot challenge” a novelty on the island to win an iguana awareness day t-shirt by afterwards pinning the tail on the swamper blind folded! This resulted in $300 being raised for the School of Nature project and awareness increase in the community.
We continued with our Distance sampling and capture mark recapture across the island. We have now marked and captured cover 1100 animals. Sadly, many areas we have surveyed are currently being cleared for development, especially on the east side of the island. We have focused efforts this year on the west side of the island to find remote populations of Iguanas and start to determine where stable populations of iguanas may currently reside using satellite habitat data.
This year we were able to visit another section of the Turtle harbour wildlife refuge on the western side of the island to sample the iguana population, and inspect the nesting grounds which in this area are not covered in much oceanic pollution. We also visited an inland pond on the west which although surrounded by neotropical savannah has some mangrove habitat which harbours a population of C. bakeri. This site is very undisturbed and animals of all age classes were sighted, which is promising. This brings which brings our total to 12 different survey sites and 32 transects across the island. We were also able to further shortlist areas that are be suitable for a new protected area for C. bakeri and the other endemic species of Utila.
Significant levels of deforestation and land-use change have been observed along our transect lines leading to the turtle harbor wildlife refuge. This untamed land of mangrove and savanna was pristine and untouched when our transects were established. Unfortunately, now this area has been declared private property, and a boardwalk has since been installed along our transect line (potentially without legal planning permission). All this means that we are no longer allowed access to the survey site. Our surveys of this area proved the habitat was not also important for sustaining large populations of Ctenosaura bakeri, but also a hotspot for other endemic wildlife and a great diversity of unusual flora. This habitat destruction was reported to the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) and ICF, of which both are co-managing institutes for this protected area. The habitat loss we observed is directly encroaching and entering the protected savannah area of turtle harbor wildlife refuge, and large areas have been cut back and already planted with crops such as plantain.
It is clear that for this species to survive a privately protected area must be established and community engagement and education must continue. We will continue to work with land owners to see the availability of land of sale on the western side of the island and monitor all sites for population fluctuations.