BirdLife: The Magazine June 2017 - Page 60

GOOD PRACTICE Thus far, more than 275 people have attended basic guide training, and more than 70 have completed the advanced training. Beyond the guides themselves, more than 400 local busi- ness owners participated in trainings, and 5,500 children attended environmental and bird edu- cation classes. The project has also shown other benefits: it has boosted the capacity of citi- zen science initiatives such as bird counts and censuses, and added some 120 participants to eBird, an onl ine database of bird observations which supports IBA monitoring. The initiative dovetails with the BirdLife Fly- ways Programme, which is working to protect chains of IBAs that are critical for migratory birds, and to reduce threats along these routes. That’s good news for birds and birders, since the bird-guiding programme’s target areas include some of the most threatened eco- systems in the region – many of which host migrating species that are familiar to bird- watchers in North America. AMERICA’S HIDDEN BIRD DESTINATIONS BirdLife Partners in the United States, Bahamas, Belize and Paraguay are clubbing together to promote ecotourism in places where poverty overlaps with IBAs, in a pioneering project that will enrich these areas for both people and nature Tom Clynes H urricane Matthew struck Andros Island in October 2016, ripping the roof off Car- lene and Doral Woods’ house as the couple and their children huddled in their living room. No one was hurt, but a lingering pile of ruined fur- niture and other debris in the family’s front yard serves as a reminder of just how vulnerable the people on this Bahamian island are. That vulnerability extends to economic circum- stances as well. Andros is not the Bahamas most tourists see. On this and other less developed islands unemployment is high, poverty is increas- ing; ambitious, talented young people usually leave to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. 0 But the Woods family say that this past year has been one of their best ever, despite the hurri- cane. The couple have launched a bird-guid- ing business, with training and other assistance from the Bird-Based Tourism Initiative. This is an THE PROGRAMME TRAINS LOCALS IN BUSINESS, HOSPITALITY AND BIRD-GUIDING 60 The emerald waters of Andros Island, Bahamas. Photo Troutnut/Shutterstock The programme is funded by the Inter-Ameri- can Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) and the National Audubon Society, which teamed up with local BirdLife Partners Bahamas National Trust, Belize Audubon Soci- ety, and Guyra Paraguay. Additionally, in Guate- mala, Audubon partnered with local conserva- tion groups Asociación Vivamos Mejor and the Wildlife Conservation Society. innovative programme that promotes conserva- tion in Latin America and the Caribbean by cre- ating economic opportunities and incentives to protect wildlife and ecosystems. The question we were asking was: “How. can we encourage communities to value ecosystems enough to protect them, and in turn have eco- systems contribute to the economic well-be- ing of the communities?”, says Matthew Jeffery, Director for the Caribbean – and Deputy Director of the International Alliances – Programs for the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the USA). Together, Audubon and its partners developed a bird-guide training curriculum tailored to local cultures and languages, as well as providing basic business, hospitality, and language training. The programme also supplied equipment for guid- ing and trail development, plus other support. The objective was to build ecotourism capacity and create a network of community-based bird- ing destinations that offer skilled local birding guides, high-quality interpretation and lodging, food, and related goods and services tailored to the birding market. Jeffery and his team chose sites by layering pov- erty maps over maps of Important Bird & Biodi- versity Areas (IBAs) and important protected areas that are likely to attract birdwatchers. The pilot phase of the programme focused on supporting birding-focused entrepreneurs in the Bahamas, Belize, Paraguay, and two regions of Guatemala. To encourage demand for local entrepreneurs’ services, Audubon reached out to its members, urging birdwatchers to consider stepping out- side the tourist mainstream to visit destinations where a birding vacation could help to support struggling communities in and around pro- tected areas. BIRDLIFE • JUNE 2017 JUNE 2017 • BIRDLIFE Cuban Lizard-cuckoo Coccyzus merlini. Photo gailhampshire/Flickr 0 AFTER THE SUCCESS IN THE BAHAMAS THE PROGRAMME IS EXPANDING TO COLOMBIA On Andros Island, for instance, a visitor might see world-traveling shorebirds such as the Pip- ing Plover Charadrius melodus, or inland resi- dents like the Cuban Lizard-cuckoo Coccyzus merlini. The island is also home to numerous globally threatened birds, including Bahama Oriole Icterus northropi (Critically Endangered), Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis (Endangered) and West Indian Whistling-duck Dendrocygna arborea (Vulnerable). Since these birds are restricted to limited ranges, the preser- vation of the island’s natural habitats is critical to their continued existence. With the success of the pilot phase, Audu- bon is expanding the programme to other sites throughout the Americas, beginning with Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. Supported by USAID and the Colombian Government, the ini- tiative will soon be replicated across Colombia, a country with stunning bird biodiversity. “We’ve demonstrated that bird-based tourism is an economic alternative that can raise incomes in communities living close to biodiversity-rich areas, while helping to conserve natural capital”, says Jeffery. Back on Andros Island, birding guide Carlene Woods is optimistic that the coming year will be a good one. “We know it’s not an overnight thing that’s going to radically change the island econ- omy right away, but we know that it’s viable”, says Woods. “We’re getting clients.” “That hurricane was pretty tough,” she says, glancing at the pile of debris in her front yard, “but the next day a Painted Bunting flew into the yard and started singing the most beautiful song. That was really a mood brightener!” 61