BRI's Ecotour to Cay Sal Bank
Experience innovative wildlife science through BRI's unique new Ecotour program that will allow you to join our research biologists on scientific expeditions in locales around the world. Groups will include a mix of experienced wildlife biologists and interested participants. Our inaugural Ecotour will take us to the Cay Sal Bank in The Bahamas.
Seabirds of the Cay Sal Bank, The Bahamas
Science Expedition: May 26 - June 1, 2012
The Cay Sal Bank, a remote and rarely visited island group in the southwestern corner of the Bahamas archipelago, is one of the largest atolls in the world. Human inhabitants have established permanent settlements on only two of the hundreds of cays and rocks on the Bank.
Working alongside BRI wildlife biologists and ornithologists, as well as guest biologists and conservation experts, you will help make important contributions to science while exploring breathtakingly beautiful islands. Experiences you can expect include:
- Exploring the most remote, wild islands in the Caribbean region
- Discovering the seabirds of The Bahamas, both on land and at sea
- Sighting and identifying magnificent marine birds at sea
- Monitoring nests of sea turtles on unspoiled beaches
- Snorkeling spectacular reefs and coral heads
Thousands of seabirds nest on the Cay Sal Bank; the area is designated as an Important Bird Area by the Bahamas National Trust and BirdLife International. The seabird colonies here have never been properly documented, however they include significant portions of the region’s seabird populations. As we strive to halt the decline of seabirds in the Caribbean, it is critical for us to know the size and status of these large populations.
Join our experienced seabird biologists to locate and carefully estimate current numbers of breeding seabirds, including: Audubon’s Shearwaters, Brown Boobies, Sooty Terns, Bridled Terns, Brown Noddies, Least Terns, Roseate Terns, Royal Terns, and Sandwich Terns.
On this expedition, we will visit three major island groups—Cotton and Anguilla Cays in the southeast corner of the Bank, the Double-Headed Shot Cays on the western side, and the Elbow Cays in the southwestern corner. At each stop, we will divide into teams, each led by an experienced field biologist. Teams will set up permanent census plots to document the populations and enable monitoring of the health of the populations with future surveys. All fieldwork is voluntary; no matter your participation, your experience will undoubtedly enhance your appreciation for these amazing animals.
William A. Mackin, Ph.D., specializes in the conservation of Caribbean seabirds. He earned his doctorate (UNC-Chapel Hill) studying the behavior of Audubon’s Shearwaters and other seabirds in the Exuma Cays. In 2010, he worked in The Bahamas to determine if oil from the Gulf of Mexico was polluting the Cay Sal Bank; that experience inspired him to promote ecotourism to this amazing island group. For more information on seabirds in the Caribbean visit: http://wicbirds.net/
Lisa F. Eggert, M.S. is the director of BRI’s coastal bird program and a Ph.D. candidate at Clemson University. Since 2010, Lisa has been leading studies of health and movement of seabirds affected by the DeepWater Horizon oil spill. She and her Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Patrick Jodice, have partnered with Dr. Mackin to track the movements and health of seabird populations in the Bahamas since 2008.
Our charter will depart from Freeport, Grand Bahama on May 26, 2012. All participants should plan to arrive in Freeport the day prior to departure. The following represents our itinerary—please be advised that weather and other factors may necessitate changes to our proposed schedule.
Day 1: Saturday, May 26 – Depart Grand Bahama to sail to the Cay Sal Bank (30-36 hours). Enjoy the opportunity to observe marine birds and other wildlife in pelagic waters between the Little and Great Bahama Banks and in the waters off the Western Great Bahama Bank.
Day 2: Sunday, May 27 – Arrive at Anguilla and Cotton Cays in the afternoon. Teams will experience the chaos of a shearwater colony as young birds search for mates and breeding birds return to feed their hungry chicks. Instruction and preparation for seabird surveys begins.
Day 3: Monday, May 28 – Teams will establish plots and use the kite camera to survey seabirds on Anguilla and Cotton Cays. Explore sea turtle nesting areas on the beaches. At night, teams stationed along Anguilla Cay will survey Audubon’s Shearwaters, while a team at the southern end searches for birds carrying tracking devices.
Day 4: Tuesday, May 29 – Enjoy an early morning sail to the bird-rich Damas Cays to continue surveys. Survey tern colonies on the rocks within the Damas Cays. Depart for Elbow and Double-Headed Shot Cays to arrive before dark; a team remains on Elbow Cay to survey the shearwaters and terns there. Search for three shearwaters on the island that carry tracking devices.
Day 5: Wednesday, May 30 – Document terns, shearwaters, boobies, and other birds at Elbow and Double-Headed Shot Cays.
Day 6: Thursday, May 31 – We begin the journey back to Freeport (24 hrs).
Survey seabirds throughout the return trip.
Day 7: Friday, June 1 – Our adventure ends with our arrival in Grand Bahama.
During our expedition, we will live aboard the sailing vessel, Sea Explorer. This 65-foot sailboat, chartered by Blackbeard’s Cruises, accommodates 18 passengers in rustic, bunk-style sleep quarters. The ship’s crew will provide three meals a day plus beverages. (Note: this will not be a diving cruise typical of Blackbeard’s Cruises, however participants will have opportunities to snorkel.)
The Cay Sal Bank is remote and terrain on the cays can be rugged. Little to no shade is available on the cays and conditions may be strenuous. Fieldwork will include activities during the day and night. Participation in all field activities is voluntary.
Please contact trip leaders for more information.
Support for this expedition is given, in part, from The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds.