First-ever conservation plan announced for the Agami Heron
Agami Herons are a nocturnal and discreet species of birds. While their range includes a large part of Central and South America, since they are so difficult to observe, nothing is known about their diet, breeding, feeding grounds or areas frequented by them during the nonbreeding season. Nor is there much information about the species’ population size. However, a huge colony of 2,000 breeding pairs exists in the Kaw-Roura Marshes in the tropical rainforests of French Guiana, France’s largest overseas département.
One thing we do know: the Agami Heron (Agami agami) is a Vulnerable species according to the IUCN Red List assessment; the population is expected to decline rapidly over the next three generations. The colony in French Guiana represents more than 90% of the world’s known breeding population.
Mining and logging (which cause deforestation), the construction of new roads (especially in densely populated coastal regions), and lack of knowledge on the species and consequently what our conservation priorities need to be are exposing this species and its habitat to degradation. To make matters worse, the pillars of the EU’s nature laws – the Birds and Habitats Directives – do not apply in Member States’ overseas regions.
To right the situation, the French Guianan Groupe d’Etude et de Protection des Oiseaux en Guyane (GEPOG) launched a study on Agami Heron (Agamia agami) conservation from 2011 to 2015, as part of a LIFE programme (the EU’s financial instrument supporting nature conservation). Data was acquired by monitoring eight Agami Herons fitted with satellite transmitters. In September 2015, the first Agami Heron conservation plan, co-written with HeronConservation (the Heron Specialist Group of IUCN) and other contributors from around the world, was published.
The purpose of this plan is to provide a range-wide framework for the conservation and management of Agami Herons and their habitats from limited legal protection, deforestation, urbanisation, rising sea levels due to climate change and other human activities and disturbances.
The plan advocates additional research and monitoring to improve our knowledge of the species, including finding the most important colony for the species in general and for the regional populations as well as the feeding areas associated with them; determining the impact of disturbances as well as mitigation and protection measures of colony sites; better understanding the range and distribution of the species; and better understanding their feeding behaviour, prey and feeding/breeding cycles.
But the plan is not just about getting to know the species better for future protection. It also includes various conservation actions that must begin now. These include: creating an Agami Heron Working Group (AHWG) to coordinate the monitoring of the population at each important colony site ; protect breeding sites, feeding areas and migratory stop-over sites; protecting mangrove forests throughout the species’ range; determining habitat areas containing important numbers of Herons outside the nesting season; and encouraging campaigns to educate people living near known colonies about the species’ importance and protection.
Most importantly, the conservation organisations involved aim to revise this plan every 10 years, so that they can stay updated on the conservation status and needs of the Agami Heron.