An Inventory of Breeding Seabirds of the Caribbean.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Authors: Gochfeld, Michael
Burger, Joanna
Pub Date: 12/01/2009
Publication: Name: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology Publisher: Wilson Ornithological Society Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Wilson Ornithological Society ISSN: 1559-4491
Issue: Date: Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 121 Source Issue: 4
Topic: NamedWork: An Inventory of Breeding Seabirds of the Caribbean (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Bradley, Patricia E.; Norton, Robert L.
Accession Number: 216267568
Full Text: AN INVENTORY OF BREEDING SEABIRDS OF THE CARIBBEAN. Edited by Patricia E. Bradley and Robert L. Norton. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, FL, USA. 2009:353 pages, 74 tables, 51 maps, and 44 plates. ISBN: 978-0-8130-3329-7. $75.00 (cloth).--Bradley and Norton have assembled an amazingly comprehensive regional inventory and account of 22 species, distributed among 25 sub-regions (Bermuda to South America). Chapters vary in detail depending on the diversity of species, currency of data, and provide data through 2006. Some chapters provide time trends; in others, baseline data are lacking or only semi-quantitative. Chapters have a common format and a common story. Data are arranged by species and by colony site within species. Tables provide information on all species for each colony site or island in most accounts. Many of the authors have long experience with the birds and colonies they summarize, but it is promising that many relative newcomers are living in the islands, offering the promise of dedicated field work for many years to come.

There have been other attempts to survey Caribbean seabirds (including Halewijn and Norton 1984, ICBP Technical Publication Number 2; Gochfeld et al. 1994, BirdLife Conservation Series 1:186-209; and Schreiber and Lee 2000, Society of Caribbean Ornithology Special Publication Number 1). So why now another treatise and in book form? In Chapter 1, the editors explain "why now", invoking declines in many species as "an alarm call" and emphasizing that although declines have been noted repeatedly in the past, some are becoming critical as the region's human population and tourist volume expand. Harassed or harvested in breeding colonies and hooked, netted or out-competed for food at sea, seabird species and colonies are declining around the world. John Croxall's Foreword avers that seabirds have declined world-wide faster than any other group of birds, while resources devoted to monitoring and protection are negligible.

Gloom (but not doom) permeates the reports. There is cause for pessimism, indeed sadness. Habitat degradation by logging, introduced predators, and hunting for food threaten the endangered Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata), and there is no chapter on Dominica, where a relict population of the petrel may survive. On the optimism side, the increase of Cahow (Pterodroma cahow) from eight known pairs when rediscovered in 1951 to > 70 pairs currently is both exciting and sobering. A global population of 70 pairs makes this still one of the world's most vulnerable species which requires intensive ongoing management

The book emphasizes that surveys to identify new breeding sites and monitor populations, particularly for priority species continue to be important. Particularly ambitious is anticipation of the impacts of climate change on sea level rise, increasing surface temperature, and the expected proliferation of tropical storms. Some low lying sites will inevitably be lost, while "innovative ways to provide more secure habitat for nesting seabirds must be planned", including artificial islands.

Chapter 28 summarizes the local, regional and global threats and Chapter 29 provides a readable summary by species for the entire region and compares populations to earlier accounts. Halewijn and Norton (1984) acknowledged the incompleteness of their data. However, compared with even the incomplete 1984 data, 14 species have declined, while four have increased and four seem stable.

Methodologic issues are important as different observers contribute to counts in different years. Standardization of data collection is desirable. Each species and location poses its own species-specific and site-specific constraints on how well breeding can be detected, numbers of pairs estimated, and success calculated. The availability of experienced and trained (or trainable) personnel is the first variable. Accessibility by land, sea or air is a close second. In retrospect it would have been useful to republish in this volume, the extensive coverage of history and techniques by Schreiber and Lee (2000).

Twenty-one nations (plus territories and departments) occupied by 26 million people, are represented in the Caribbean. Some of these nations have no seabird protection laws, and none has completely adequate regulations that protect habitats, create buffers, and place nesting colonies off limits during the breeding season. The catalogue of hazards is long and not unique. Overfishing threatens the food base, while long-line fishing harvests unconscionable numbers of adults. Neither is covered in detail in this book. Pollution includes oil, sewage, and plastics as well as organochlorines and heavy metals. Ecotourism is both boon and bane. Overflights by airplanes and close approach by tour boats can be devastating. Among ecological threats are invasive plants as well as feral goats and rabbits threatening nesting habitat on the ground, and algal overgrowth which may in the future threaten the marine environment, as in the Mediterranean and Hawaii. Predation occurs mainly by humans and by introduced cats and dogs, mongoose, rats, and even monkeys.

Bradley ties the volume together in her "Conservation" chapter. At present only two disparate groups appear to care about seabirds--those who watch and worry about them and those who catch and eat them. The adversities and warnings, repeat those of previous authors, but the synthesis and suggestions for integrating seabird conservation into the policies of many nations is thoughtful, and provocative, if not prescriptive. Her governmental experience shines through as she turns broad ideas into actionable proposals. She emphasizes four overarching themes: capacity building, research and monitoring, conservation strategies at breeding sites, and sustainable nature tourism.

Ultimately overpopulation fuels other hazards either directly or indirectly. The region's human population is expanding, both in numbers and distribution, as remote unoccupied cays become havens for people. A universal theme is the need to establish protected areas first for breeding, then for feeding. But protection is just the first step. Protected areas throughout the world are vulnerable to poaching, intrusion, and even invasion by settlers. Manpower and will to maintain and enforce protected status is crucial, particularly in the face of burgeoning human populations, unrestrained development, increasing demands for land and fish, not to mention local harvesting of seabirds and eggs.

Tourism is a leading source of revenue for most of the region's countries, but promoting ecotourism for seabirds is a two-edged sword. Imbuing a resource with intrinsic financial value (other than for food), provides a rationale and incentive for local communities to protect the birds, while at the same time subjecting birds to new and sometimes excessive disturbance. Balance is crucial.

The data portions of this volume will inevitably need to be updated, at least each decade, although the historic and ecologic information in most chapters form a firm foundation for many years to come. Maintaining a usable electronic data base is certainly a crucial interim measure. It is gratifying to know there is a Caribbean data base with every entry of at least estimated breeding pairs per species x colony x year. It has been important in seabird conservation to understand meta-populations (Spendelow et al. 1995, Ecology 76:2415-2428), and this data base will facilitate this process.

The beginning and ending chapters are must-reads, and readers will sort through the 25 geographic accounts with greater or lesser enthusiasm. All authors seemed knowledgable and cautious, although some chapters have little recent data. It is gratifying to read a book where the names of species are capitalized (as in this journal). Of the 10,000 plus species of birds, each individual species is a discrete entity, a proper noun, deserving capitalization. This volume is indispensable for seabird conservationists anywhere in the world, for ornithologists and conservationists in the circum-Caribbean region, and for seabird aficionados who as ecotourists may plan frequent trips to various parts of the Caribbean to experience its marine and coastal biodiversity, including seabirds which are familiar (although often overlooked) signs and sounds, and sometimes smells of tropical islands.--MICHAEL GOCHFELD and JOANNA BURGER, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ 08854, USA; e-mail:; e-mail:
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