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How to Protect the Virgin Islands and Prevent Extinctions

The Virgin Islands are under threat from a number of invasive species, but there are ways you can help.

The Virgin Islands are a biodiverse group of islands and islets within the Caribbean that host a plethora of seabirds and boast spectacular coral reef habitat. Protecting these ecosystems is integral and they are under threat from a myriad of invasive species including feral cats, goats, and rats. 

One of the most notable species is the Magnificent Frigate bird of which a colony is currently being protected and managed within the Great Tobago National Park by the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands. The well-being of this species is currently threatened by the presence of feral goats, which the National Parks Trust are actively working to remove. Feral goats were introduced by European settlers and in conjunction with their harm to native bird colonies, they also pose a threat to rare, native plants, through overgrazing and have an adverse effect on sensitive coral reef habitats due to increased sedimentation.  

A Magnificent Frigate Bird, currently at risk due to the presence of feral goats in the Virgin Islands. Credit: Andy Morffew

The introduction of feral and outdoor cats is another tremendous stressor on wildlife on the islands. When left outside, they kill millions of wild birds each year and threaten lizards, frogs, and the Critically Endangered Anegada Rock Iguana. This is just one of many reasons why keeping domestic cats indoors is so beneficial to wildlife.  

The Anegada Rock Iguana, another Critically Endangered species in the Virgin Islands. Credit: Keith Roper

Invasive rats are also a source of harm and have proliferated across the Virgin Islands; originally introduced as stowaways on ships. They may be small, but their impacts on native wildlife and plants is anything but. They spread disease and have caused extinctions of a number of island species. When traveling to the islands, or anywhere that is suffering from the effects of invasive rats, storing food in rat-proof containers to avoid spreading the invasive rats to new locations is crucial. Always check your belongings while traveling to ensure an invasive rat is not hitching a free ride by boat.

Source: National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands
Featured Photo: Aerial view of the British Virgin Islands.
Credit: dajinx46

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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