SGU Marine and Wildlife Students Help Recovery Efforts in Dominica

Dominica—the first island hit by the full category-five force of Hurricane Maria last September—continues to call upon its Caribbean neighbors during its ongoing recovery efforts. Answering that call was a seven-member team from the Marine and Wildlife Department at St. George’s University. The group, comprised of two faculty lecturers and five students, spent 10 days in Dominica, lending its expertise in its post-hurricane ecology impact assessment of the country’s forest and endemic parrots, Amazona Imperialis and Amazona Arausiaca.

“As one might expect after a hurricane, the government’s resources are really stretched thin in regard to man power, so Dominica appreciates all the assistance it can get,” said Stephen Nimrod, lecturer at SGU. “Following a natural disaster, we now have the opportunity to document and measure the time it takes for forest regeneration and wildlife recovery. This is the kind of technical assistance that SGU was there to provide.”

Aiding the Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Parks, the SGU team conducted rapid assessment surveys while collecting quantitative data detailing the extent of the damage done by the hurricane. Additionally, the team documented the hurricane’s impact on Dominica’s flagship species, the Imperial Parrot. Most of the bird’s natural habitat had been destroyed, forcing it to leave the forest in search of food in the nearby villages.

“Our focus while there was on the regeneration of the forest and the conservation of the island’s native parrot,” added Mr. Nimrod. “The data collected will be analyzed and compiled into a comprehensive report together with real-time recommendations as a guide forward. This includes continuous monitoring of the rainforest and the change in behavior of the island’s endangered parrots in particular. We hope that by recording these lessons learned in Dominica, we can now create a network that will be beneficial to other islands going through the recovery process.”

Unsurprisingly, the mission was met with a few challenges. Much of Dominica’s population was left stranded without power, running water, or communications. The island was stripped of vegetation, and according to team leader Leon Radix, approximately 60 percent of its rainforests have vanished.

“Dominica markets itself as the Nature Island of the Caribbean so therefore its forest is one of its major resources,” stated Mr. Radix, lecturer at SGU. “However, following the passage of Hurricane Maria, as you can imagine, conditions on the ground are not good. Many vehicles were damaged and the road network is broken, making it time consuming for us to arrive at the various sites, which resulted in limited time for us to work in the field. Generally speaking, we can see that the island has been ravaged.”

“When we got there, it was clear that the people were still traumatized,” commented fourth-year marine and wildlife biology student Quincy Augustine. Yet, armed with their binoculars, field vests, and notebooks, the team quickly went to work conducting wildlife surveys and generating a post-hurricane impact assessment of the area in Dominica. “Overall, the trip was a really good experience,” added classmate Amonie Holas, also a fourth-year marine and wildlife biology student. “We got to apply the various skills and methods that we learned from our courses here at SGU into a professional setting, and working with different people from the same field was really inspiring.”

Funded by the Office of the Dean within St. George’s University School of Arts and Sciences, GAEA Conservation and EC $4,000 in funds raised by Education Conservation Outreach (ECO), the Dominica outreach provided an opportunity for SGU students to gain invaluable real-life experience with wildlife rescue work and a glimpse into their future careers in conservation.

“Being a part of the outreach in Dominica will serve as both hands-on training in the field and will also elevate the status of our students, especially when sending out their resumes,” said Dr. Andrea Easter-Pilcher, Interim Dean, School of Arts and Sciences, SGU. “Highlighting that they were involved with the recovery efforts on the ground will be extremely beneficial for them. SGU had a big role to play in that. The fact that the University provides funding for student development speaks volumes about its commitment to the international education of its students.”

– Ray-Donna Peters