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Saving Bahamas’ Beaches, for the Birds

When LightHawk pilot Jimmy Roswell teamed up with Conservian, a coastal bird conservation group, it represented an historic approach to protecting shorebirds and coastal habitats in the Bahamas. That work is now paying off as they launch a shorebird and habitat protection program in the Bahamas. image: Margo Zdravkovic/Conservian/LightHawk

Buzzing the islands of the Bahamas for six days in a seaplane has paid off. LightHawk flights in December 2014 were intended to empower our partner Conservian with information to begin their ground work. This May, they will initiate their Bahamas program of protecting nesting shorebirds and their habitats.

A Snowy Plover chick hides amongst low-growing plants on a Bahamas beach. Beginning in May 2016, Conservian, their partners and volunteers will post signs to alert beachgoers of active nesting sites. image: Margo Zdravkovic/Conservian.

Conservian is using data gained during their LightHawk flights with pilot Jimmy Roswell to prioritize the islands and areas for their ground work protecting nesting shorebirds. Species of interest include the endangered migratory Piping Plover (Charadruis melodus), Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia), as well as the American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates).

Without the data made possible through LightHawk flights, we wouldn’t know where to begin. - Margo Zdravkovic

The non-profit group will also attempt to control invasive Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) which destabilizes coastlines, and releases a chemical that destroys surrounding native plants. Disappearing coastlines are a big threat to shorebirds who nest on open beaches.

LightHawk volunteer pilot Jimmy Roswell fuels up his Piper Supercub seaplane in December 2014 during the aerial survey of the Bahamas. image: Margo Zdravkovic/Conservian/LightHawk

Last year, we covered the story (and made a video) of the historic aerial survey for Conservian over the Bahamas. “Captain Roswell and I surveyed … from the northernmost Abacos down to the Aklins and Ragged Island,” says conservation biologist, Margo Zdravkovic co-founder of the non-profit. “I took over 8,000 digital, geo-referenced photographs and 30 hours of HD video.”

“Aerial surveys are the most efficient way to collect the essential data we need to begin habitat conservation work in the Bahamas Archipelago,” said Zdravkovic. “We are using these new data in our grant proposals to successfully engage conservation partners and raise funds to support our project in the Bahamas.”


“It was a challenge to cover so much of the Bahamas in a short amount of time,” explains Roswell. “I have lived part-time in Cat Island for the past nine years, but I have been cruising all the Islands for 55 years. I like to help the Islands any way I can, so this is my contribution to nature and the place I most like to be.”

The 75-foot “Dream Catcher” is home base for Conservian’s Live-Aboard Schooner Expedition this May. Volunteers choose one of four weeks to spend in the Bahamas doing shorebird conservation with experts.

Conservian is enlisting crews of up to eight volunteers each week to join live-aboard schooner expeditions on the 75ft “Dream Catcher” which powers their program.  “Our days will be filled with much adventure,”promises Zdravkovic. “We will work in both populated and remote areas, sail blue Caribbean waters, visit white sandy beaches, boat to little islands, conduct ground surveys for beach-nesting birds, protect nests and downy chicks, and meet new people.” She continues, “we will increase Bahamian capacity to conserve shorebirds and restore their habitats.”

Conservian co-founder and “head pirate” Margo Zdravkovic at the helm of the “Dream Catcher” research schooner. image courtesy of Conservian. Interested in joining Conservian’s “conservation pirate crew”? Visit their Facebook page.

Shorebirds like the Snowy Plover will lure intruders away from nest sites in an effort to protect their eggs. But, says Zdravkovic, “If you know what to look for, suddenly you see eggs in the sand, well camouflaged but still so vulnerable on the open beach.” image courtesy of Conservian. Before the LightHawk aerial survey, there was very little information about shorebird breeding habitat distribution or the extent of Australian pine impact throughout the Bahamas. Now, Conservian knows exactly where to focus their work on the ground.

Working with LightHawk has enabled Conservian to prioritize their work for shorebird surveys and habitat restoration. “The partnership with LightHawk,” says Zdravkovic, “has allowed us to focus our planned ground surveys, monitoring, and protective measures. It also allows us to target pine eradication in the areas that have the greatest potential to support shorebirds. Without the data made possible through LightHawk flights, we wouldn’t know where to begin.”

The generosity of our supporters keeps us flying missions like this one to save the earth, in this case, restoring shorebird habitat.