Once again to Bahia Lomas
Today we leave for our 11th trip to study the red knot wintering flock in Bahia Lomas, Chile. We started our work in Chile in 2000 when one could see single red knots flock of over 10,000 birds that when flying overhead sounded more like a jet plane than 20,000 beating wings. Then the knot population in Bahia Lomas was estimated at over 46,000 birds. Sadly, the last count was only 13,000 birds. Over the last 11 years we have documented the cause of this decline – the entirely-avoidable collapse of the Delaware Bay stopover. Once the abundant eggs of the horseshoe crabs replenished the energetic reserves spent by red knots and other shorebirds while making their amazing flight from South America to the US. They needed these fat reserves to fly on to the Arctic and start the year’s breeding, egg laying and incubation. Without reserves they failed to breed or died enroute. Over time as adults died and no young replaced them the population crashed. Hopefully this year we will see signs of improvement.
And we might. Our work has helped create change. In Chile, the federal government used our data to successfully appeal to the United Nations for a RAMSAR desgination so that Bahia Lomas could join the roster of great wetlands in the world. With help from Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences we raised money to create a new bird observatory, the southern-most in the world, right on the shores of Bahia Lomas and the adjacent Strait of Magellan. The observatory is still being planned, but a structure is ready and a consortium of important federal agencies, the national oil company, the University of Santo Thomas and the local municipality of Cerro Sambrerro have adopted the Tierra del Fuego Bird Observatory and will shepherd it to completion.
At home the results are mixed. The states of NJ and DE have done some heavy lifting to protect the birds and crabs including a moratorium on harvest in NJ. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to list the Red Knot even though it was recommended for listing three years ago by all the scientists working on Knots. The Atlantic State Marine Fish Commission, the regulatory entity that allowed the overharvest of crabs causing the collapse of the shorebird migration stopover, reluctantly agreed to reductions in harvest but the outcome is still uncertain. This year almost 400,000 crabs will be harvested even though there are no signs of recovery in adult crabs and the prospects are still a distant mathematical projection.
Yet we will work on and do our best to collect the data necessary to make the case for more conservation. We will focus on several important objectives. First, we will estimate numbers, catch a small sample of birds to attach geolocators and assess condition, and finally to collect habitat data to create a new GIS maps of intertidal habitat on Bahia Lomas. Our internet connection will be spotty, but we hope to report regularly on our progress.