11 Mar 2020

5 ways we’re protecting unique wildlife in France’s overseas territories

Nassau Grouper © RLS Photo / Shutterstock
Nassau Grouper © RLS Photo / Shutterstock
By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

More than 80 percent of France’s biodiversity is located in just five overseas territories: French Guiana, Réunion Island, Martinique, Saint-Martin and Mayotte. But forestry, mining, urban sprawl, tourism and predation by invasive alien species are threatening the regions’ wildlife. Five species, already globally threatened, are particularly vulnerable. Fortunately, the LIFE BIODIV’OM project, coordinated by LPO (BirdLife in France), is working to protect these unique areas and species. Here’s how…

1. Madagascar Pond-heron (Mayotte)

© Gilles ADT

The Madagascar Pond-heron Ardeola idae (Endangered) is a species of contradictions: despite its name, it can found as far north as Kenya. And despite its range it has very limited breeding grounds, where the bird’s eggs and chicks are routinely harvested, despite legal protection.  On the archipelago of Mayotte, BIODIV’OM is erecting fencing and putting in place surveillance patrols to fend off poaching and habitat destruction, helping to secure a future for this incredible bird. In addition, the nests will be protected from rats with automatic traps.

2. Nassau Grouper (Saint-Martin)

© RLS Photo / Shutterstock

The Nassau Grouper Epinephelus striatus is a big mouth – literally. The way this grouper catches food is by opening its jaws and ‘inhaling’ prey. Unfortunately this unique behaviour may soon disappear from the sea as the species is classified as Critically Endangered, threatened by loss of its coral reef habitats and sport fishing around the island of Saint-Martin, largely due to tourism. The project aims to help conserve the fish by developing a good practice guide for sport fishers, and potentially restock populations in Saint-Martin.

3. Reunion Cuckooshrike (Réunion Island)

© Jaime Martinez

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Endemic to the island nation of Réunion, the Reunion Cuckooshrike Lalage newtoni was never blessed with a large range to begin with. And the spread of invasive rats across the island who prey on their nests (exacerbated by tourists dropping litter, encouraging the rats to spread) means this Critically Endangered species is now confined to just two remaining sites. BIODIV’OM is training local volunteers in rat eradication, translocating birds between the two sites to increase gene flow, and repatriating it to a third site.

4. White-breasted Thrasher (Martinique)

© Théo Tzélépoglou

The island of Martinique has a (sadly, all too familiar) problem. Invasive alien species like Black rats, Small Indian Mongooses and Common Possum are threatening the White-breasted Thrasher Ramphocinclus brachyurus (Critically Endangered). But the island also has a potential solution. BIODIV’OM is training ‘Thrasher Squads’ – trained volunteers who work to control the birds’ predators.  The project will create a natural corridor that will give the species more freedom to move, expanding its habitat beyond its current five square kilometres.

5. Atlantic Goliath Grouper (French Guiana & Saint-Martin)

© Kyle Lippenberger / ShutterstockGrowing up to 2.5 meters and weighing as much as 360 kilograms, the Atlantic Goliath Grouper Epinephelus itajara certainly lives up to its name. This enormous fish eats sharks and barracudas for breakfast (literally). While the grouper may be unafraid in the face of marine life, fishing on Guiana has proved a major problem. BIODIV’OM is looking to put in place regulations that would lead to sustainable fishing of the species, so that the sport can continue without such negative impacts on the population.

This project was made possible through a generous grant from the European Commission’s LIFE fund for nature. You can find more information at: www.lifebiodivom.fr/en/