Large marine apex predators have become exceedlingly rare in shallow neritic waters around most Caribbean islands, including the ABC-island (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) of the Leeward Dutch Caribbean. This is especially the case for several species of sharks. In May 2000, 24 2-hr long deepwater submersible dives were conducted off the isaldns of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, at depths ranging between 80-900m. Eight shark sightings were recorded, amounting to 6 different species, among which the endnagered Hexanchus griseus. These observations suggest a surprising diversity and density of deepwater sharks aroudn the steep island slopes of leeward Dutch islands.
We estimated occupancy, abundance (lambda), detection probability, density/ha and abundance of a regionally endemic snake in the Colubrid family on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba in 2021, four years after hurricanes Irma and Maria impacted the island. Line transect surveys were conducted at 74 sites covering 6.7 ha. The proportion of sites occupied was estimated at 0.74 (min 0.48, max 0.90), with occupancy varying between vegetation types and across elevational gradients. Similarly, lambda was estimated at 1.61 (min 0.7, max 3.7) but varied between vegetation types and elevational gradients. Detection probability was estimated at 0.15 (min 0.10, max 0.21). Using Distance sampling, we estimated 10.9 (min 7.3, max 16.2) racers/ha, with a total population estimate of 4,917 (min 2,577, max 6,362) across the entire study region (438.6 ha.) Based on anecdotal observations from Saban residents and prior literature describing the pre-hurricane population as “abundant” (at least 2.0 racers/hour), we posit that the population experienced a hurricane-induced decline but may have since recovered, though not to previous levels (1.28 racers/hour). Nevertheless, our results suggest that racer densities on Saba are currently higher than those on St. Eustatius. Despite this, given the species’ extremely limited extant range and the presence of invasive species on both islands, prevention of local extirpation should be a high conservation priority.
Catastrophic events, like hurricanes, bring lethal conditions that can have population-altering effects. The threatened Caribbean dry forest occurs in a region known for its high-intensity hurricane seasons and high species endemism, highlighting the necessity to better understand hurricane impacts as fragmentation and clearing of natural habitat continues. However, such studies remain rare, and for reptiles are mostly restricted to Anolis. Here we used single-season occupancy modeling to infer the impact of the intense 2017 Atlantic hurricane season on the critically endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana, Iguana delicatissima. We surveyed 30 transects across eight habitats on St. Eustatius during 2017-2019, which resulted in 344 individual surveys and 98 iguana observations. Analyses of abundance and site occupancy indicated both measures for 2018 and 2019 were strongly reduced compared to the pre-hurricane 2017 state. Iguanas at higher elevations were affected more profoundly, likely due to higher wind speeds, tree damage and extensive defoliation. Overall, our results indicate a decrease in population estimates (23.3-26.5%) and abundance (22-23.8%) for 2018 and 2019, and a 75% reduction in the number of opportunistic sightings of tagged iguanas between 2017-2018. As only small and isolated I. delicatissima populations remain, our study further demonstrates their vulnerability to stochastic events. Considering the frequency and intensity of hurricanes are projected to increase, our results stress the urgent need for population-increasing conservation actions in order to secure the long-term survival of I. delicatissima throughout its range.