Wondrous West Indian Wetlands Workshop

 On Thursday April 28th and Friday April 29th I had the great opportunity to attend the Wetlands Education Workshop and Fieldtrip organized and conducted by the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre, and the DECR.  Lisa Sorenson, President of the SCSCB, has spent over 25 years researching birds in the Caribbean region, a well known “hotspot” for biodiversity.  We boast over 770 species of birds, 148 of which are endemic and 54 of which are globally threatened.  Lisa explained that many of our birds are neotropical migrants, and our islands wetlands serve as important resting points for many species on their long journeys.  The Important Bird Area Program (IBA) has determined that there are over 283 IBA’s identified in the Caribbean and alarmingly 43% of these are unprotected.  Studies have shown that only 10% of birds original habitat remains which is why many species are declining rapidly.  Among them, the endemic West Indian Whistling Duck, one of the rarest ducks in the Americas.  This large nocturnal duck perches in trees and is unique in that both parents incubate eggs in 24 hr shifts and have long term bonds.  Loss of habitat, mongoose and rat introductions, and overhunting has caused their populations to diminish.  If you are lucky enough to see one of these graceful, goose-like brown spotted birds or hear them vocalising with their enchanting chiriria whistle, please log your siting on ebird.org

The West Indian Whistling Duck is depicted on the Wonderous West Indian Wetlands Resource Book, a copy was given to each workshop attendee for future reference.
  Wetlands have historically been viewed as wasteland, and that development of wetlands was a sign of progress.  Lisa, and her colleague Michele Kadind from the oak hammock marsh interpretive center, were here in the Turks and Caicos to educate us on just how inaccurate those mistruths really are.
“through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.”
-Freeman Tilden
Michele is an educator who leads programs and training workshops at oak hammock marsh and her speech dealt with teaching techniques.  She highlighted the basic steps of educating: first, introduce, second, expand knowledge, third, nurture their caring, and fourth, encourage action.  She stressed that showing enthusiasm, addressing fears, and managing fears are vital throughout the process.   She also touched on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, relaying the theory that the physiological needs of the student must be paramount, followed by safety and security, then social acceptance, then the students esteem will be at a level conducive to learning and that learning will  lead to wisdom.  Learning is maximized through the senses.  People retain 10% of what they hear, 30% of what they read, 50% of what they see, and 90% of what they do!  Makes sense right?  She then went through the various learning styles and explained that most people are a combination of two or more.  Verbal/linguistic/auditory are individuals who learn through listening.  Visual learners learn through seeing things, they often need to write things down to retain them to memory (these are the to-do listers and I am definitely one of them).  Kinesthetic learners are educated through action, demonstrations and hands on activities.  There are mathematical/logical learners who like to apply formulas and calculations to their learning.  Musical learners will often put lessons to song  (remember your ABC’s).  Interpersonal learners enjoy group dynamics and working with others whereas intrapersonal learners that soak in information the best on their own.  Last but not least, there are the naturalists, those that investigate, research, and categorize.  Which learning styles are you?
  Next up we had local naturalist B. Naqqi Manco discuss TCI’s wetlands.  Naqqi explained there are 20 different categories of wetlands but the three broadest are palustrine, estraurine, and lacustrine.  Palustrine wetlands lack flowing water, are non-tidal, and contain concentrations of ocean derived salts.  An estuarine system is a partly closed wetland with a coastal body of water flowing into it, a connection to the sea. is present.  A lacustrine system is a wetland that is permanently fed groundwater,   Cottage pond would be a good example.  Naqqi explained that wetland flora is typically diverse and ephemeral but and that a forested wetland is technically a swamp.    The most well known wetland flora are mangroves and here in the TCI, the red mangrove would be the most identifiable.  Popular wetland shrubs include the locally known jamaican trash, sleepy morning, ollie bush, and false frangipani.  A wetland made up of herbs, grasses, or forbs is a marsh.  Naqqi demonstrated a musical learning technique with his short poem to help differentiate the three; “sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have joints when their folks aren’t around!”  Maybe not a good poem for the kiddies but hey, a little humor helps people learn too!  Popular TCI marsh shrubs would be ferns, heliotropes, heather, and sea purslane.  As for wetland fauna, flamingos are likely the best known of the bird species but waders, waterfowl, sandpipers, plovers, seabirds, and birds of prey all frequent wetlands.  Sometimes these birds can be seen feasting on other wetland inhabitants, invertebrates such as fairy shrimp, sea monkeys (whose eggs can live 6-8 miraculous years!), crabs, dragonflies, damselflies, diving beetles, remipedes, butterflies, moths, toe biters, and everyone’s most despised, mosquito’s.  Fish like killifish can also be found in wetlands, and sometimes even marine fish like small barracudas and snappers.  Reptiles and amphibians love wetlands.  We all know frogs, especially greenhouse frogs and cuban treefrogs, live in our wetlands but also snakes like the rainbow and pygmy boas, anoles, and geckos are often found in these systems.  The only mammals typically seen in wetland areas would be bats and feral livestock for watering.  All of these animals make wetlands their homes and our ecosystem relies on all of these flora and fauna to survive and thrive.  Sadly the largest threats to wetlands are . . . us.  Development; infilling and draining these areas mean loss of habitat to all of the above mentioned. If you live or own property near a wetland, preserve it, protect it!  Pollution and littering can have severe effects on the wetlands and the wildlife that rely on these areas.  NEVER throw any piece of non plant based garbage into the environment, ANYWHERE!  Garbage belongs at the dump, not on every road, beach, and wetland in our beautiful islands.  Invasive species such as livestock, dogs, and cats, can also have ill effects on these areas.  Make certain your dog, cat, goat, horse, or cow is not endangering any other species in a wetland area or natural habitat. 
Images by pepperkeystacie

  The term “wetland” would be quite logical except for the fact that they are not always wet.  Wetlands are often seasonal, transitional habitats, that are regularly flooded with water.  Here in the Turks and Caicos we boast 23,600 acres of wetlands!  Once educated on the many benefits of wetlands, you will see why they play such an important role to our safety and the islands overall health.  Wetlands firstly provide flood control, these areas basically act as sponges that soak up excess waters from heavy rains and surges.  Hurricanes would be far more devastating should our wetlands deteriorate as they provide coastal protection by impeding storm forces.  In addition they help provide climate control.  Wetlands act as filtration systems breaking down and removing pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and pesticides.  They also act as a sediment trap, which can be valuable in slowing down sediments before they cause damage to coral reefs and other areas.  Wetlands can be used as a a water supply, both for human and animal use.  They literally are living nurseries; they host a great deal of sea life at some stage of development in their lives which means that much of the seafood we eat needs these areas to develop.  They are a habitat full of biodiversity of which the Caribbean is rated in the top 6 of the top 25 most biodiverse regions on the planet which gives our wetlands an even greater importance. Workshop attendees got to see for ourselves just how beautiful and active our wetlands are on day two of the workshop, the fieldtrip.

The group was given binoculars, bird identification cards, and a journal to log entries.  Within minutes a dozen different species of birds were spotted.  Lisa and Michelle demonstrated how to properly use the binoculars (you should never see two separate circles like in the movies), how to register various markings and bird shapes, and how to listen for clues to assist bird identifications. 
Each attendee was also given a Mangroves of the Caribbean Identification Guide, please click here for a great website that explains and shows the differences between the Rhizophora mangle or Red Mangrove, the Black mangrove, the Laguncularia racemosa or White Mangrove, and the Conocarpus erectus or Buttonwood mangrove
For more information on how valuable wetlands are and what you can do to help protect them please visit ramsar.org.  If you live or plan to visit Turks and Caicos, please spend some time appreciating our wetlands and the many species they support.  Then do your part to introduce that knowledge upon others so that they too may be able to appreciate, then care, then take action to protect a wetland near them.  My sincere gratitude to these two passionate ladies, Lisa and Michele, who lead a fantastic workshop that was enlightening and enjoyable for all who had the pleasure of attending. The Turks and Caicos Islands thank you for your incredible and steadfast efforts to keep our region “beautiful by nature.”

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