Thursday , December 7 2023

Orchids endangered by roaming goats

Sea and Learn Saba guest lecturer James “Jim” Ackerman gave an expert presentation on the orchids of Saba and the limited impact of invasive species Sunday, at Brigadoon restaurant in Windwardside, writes The Daily Herald. The orchid research appears to have prompted an Island Government pledge to address the perennial challenge of roaming goats. Ackerman conducted several field trips with dedicated volunteers who established an extensive orchid research programme on Saba. Highlighted during the field trip was a research experiment on Spring Bay Trail designed to determine if Saba’s native orchids are endangered by the uncontrolled boom in the roaming goat population. Humorously titled “Poop n’ orchids” the exercise involved counting goat pellets density in the proximity of affected orchids.

The Island Government supports local orchid research. Volunteer work led to the formal identification last year of 16 orchid species on Saba, an achievement made possible by American Mike Bechtold and former Saba Comprehensive School principal Michiel Boeken, a trained biologist. The two, with the assistance of Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) had furthered the research legacy of former resident Stewart Chipka. Ackerman, a Puerto Rico University professor and an academic powerhouse on Caribbean orchids, has been influential in accrediting Saba’s local research. While conducting research on rare orchid species Psychillis corellii, Chipka established collaboration with St. Eustatius National Parks Stenapa ranger and education officer Hannah Madden. Chipka, Bechtold and Madden played a pivotal role in convincing Ackerman to extend the survey on the rare Brassavola cucullata orchid from Statia to Saba. Bechtold and Boeken were also important in implementing the survey on Saba under the auspices of SCF.

During his lecture, Ackerman pointed to the positive ripple effects research on the survival of one orchid species could have on protecting all others. After the lecture, SCF Manager Kai Wulf thanked Ackerman and Bechtold for their work and perseverance. “There is a lot of buy-in in the orchid research,” Wulf said. A nature policy plan had been developed in the last three years, “initiated by the Dutch Government who brought a bunch of experts together to see what is important, and where we need to invest in terms of protecting nature and promoting conservation.” He said that “while the Dutch government has their own priorities,” the local representatives also “had the opportunity to have our priorities” placed on the agenda. Wulf stressed that “it was our Commissioner Chris Johnson who brought orchids in focus within the document to ensure that in the future there will be support to continue the work that has begun.” Wulf also said the Island Government understands “they have a problem with the goats and as a result the island government has decided to implement a goat programme. In the past they called it a ‘goat buyback’ programme.” Wulf believes that the conservation work of volunteers “has convinced the local policy makers that this is a really huge issue, so the programme is going attempt to reduce the goat population by about 80 per cent within a three-year timeframe.”

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