Thursday, June 20, 2024

Sanctuary In the Caribbean: 30,000 Hectares of Land and Sea at Redonda Island Protected

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The government of Antigua and Barbuda has designated the barren island of Redonda a wildlife sanctuary —making it one of the largest protected areas in the Caribbean.

With strong backing from local and international conservation NGOs including Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), Fauna & Flora, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Re:wild, the Caribbean’s freshly minted Redonda Ecosystem Reserve spans nearly 30,000 hectares, encompassing the entire island, its nearby seagrass meadows, and a substantial coral reef stretching over 180 square kilometers.

While largely unexplored, the area is presumed to be home to at least thirty species that are globally endangered or nearly endangered, as well as critical seabird habitats. The initiative follows the triumph of a significant restoration venture initiated in 2016 that metamorphosed Redonda from a bleak and desolate ‘dusty moonscape’ into a vibrant sanctuary teeming with biodiversity.

Baby Frigate bird
Baby Frigate bird on Redonda Island | Courtesy Re:wild

Helena Jeffery Brown, the technical coordinator at the Department of Environment and a key member of the Redonda Restoration Program, expressed her pride in their efforts in restoring the island. “Now with the creation of the Redonda Ecosystem Reserve, we have made a great stride towards fulfilling our government’s commitment to conserve at least thirty percent of terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, adopted at the COP 15 of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity in December 2022.”

The initial phase of the restoration, led by organizations like EAG, DoE, and Fauna & Flora, focused predominantly on eradicating invasive species from the island, a move that allowed native species to flourish once again. By 2017, the island began showing signs of revival with a surge in vegetation biomass by over two thousand percent, a return of fifteen species of land birds, and a significant increase in the population of endemic lizards, including the critically endangered Redonda ground dragons.

Johnella Bradshaw, the coordinator of the Redonda program at EAG, said restoration of this landscape “has been truly remarkable.”

“So much hard work and dedication, from so many people, has gone into making the establishment of the Redonda Ecosystem Reserve possible – this designation will ensure we can continue rewilding the island to the beautiful, biodiverse environment it once was,” Bradshaw said.

Volunteer working on Redonda Island
Volunteer working on Redonda Island | Courtesy Re:wild

The island, first recorded by Europeans in 1493, was initially bustling with life, like many of its Caribbean counterparts. However, invasive species brought by European colonizers ravaged its vibrant ecosystem, driving many unique species to extinction and harming the surrounding coral reefs. Since the removal of these invasive species, the island has witnessed an extraordinary recovery with native flora and fauna populations soaring.

While the protected status marks a major step forward, supporters say the restoration process is far from over. A consortium of organizations, including EAG, Fauna & Flora, and Re:wild, are collaborating on several strategies to nurture the island’s biodiversity further.

Jenny Daltry, Caribbean Alliance director for Re:wild and Fauna & Flora, emphasized the urgency of this mission: “The Caribbean Islands are facing the highest extinction rates in modern history, and the restoration and protection of areas like Redonda are critical,” Daltry said.

“While the removal of invasive species has been key to Redonda’s revival so far, that’s by no means the end of the story. The protected area designation is vital for our ongoing commitment to restoring Redonda to its former glory, and could pave the way for Redonda to become an incredible sustainable tourism attraction in the near future.”

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