Conservation measures result in an 80% increase in population of small ‘Polaroid’ gecko
For immediate release, December 01, 2022
A small gecko with jewel-like markings is making a big comeback in the Caribbean, thanks to the hard work and commitment of Union Island residents, regional government, and a coalition of local and international conservation organizations. According to a recent survey, the critically endangered Union Island gecko’s population increased from 10,000 in 2018 to around 18,000 today, a significant increase of 80% and the kind of conservation success that Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Re:wild and local partners aim to accomplish together across the Caribbean.
“As a Unionite and a community leader, I am extremely proud to be a part of this success story,” said Roseman Adams, co-founder of the local Union Island Environmental Alliance. “Without a doubt, our shared, unwavering dedication and sacrifice has brought us this far. We now have to be entirely consistent with further improvements in our management and protection of the gecko’s habitat for this success to be maintained."
The only known population of the rare Union Island gecko, a reptile that is about the size of a paperclip, is confined to a 123-acre (50-hectare) patch of ancient forest in St. Vincent and the Grenadines—making it particularly vulnerable to human activities.
The species was first described by science in 2005 and immediately became a coveted exotic pet. By 2018, the wild population had shrunk to one-fifth of its former size due to aggressive poaching for the international pet trade. A study in 2017* found the gecko was the most heavily trafficked reptile from the Eastern Caribbean.
A number of organizations, including FFI, the Union Island Environmental Alliance and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Forestry Department, stepped in in to prevent the Union Island gecko from imminent extinction. A species recovery plan, developed with local residents in 2016, has guided a range of conservation efforts—from greater protected area management and expansion to anti-poaching patrols and 24/7 camera surveillance in the forest.
“It is truly a testimony to the determination of the Forestry Department—and the amazing community wardens on Union Island—that this gecko has become one of the best guarded reptiles in the world,” said Jenny Daltry, Caribbean alliance director for Re:wild and FFI. “This is something for which the whole community of Union Island can be rightly proud.” According to Daltry, the geckos change slowly from dark brown to multi-colored when brought into the light, like a developing Polaroid picture.
In 2019, the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines also successfully pushed for the Union Island gecko to be listed on Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), affording the species the highest level of protection against exploitation and illegal trade. With the new legislation, authorities around the world, including those in countries driving demand for the gecko, are empowered to take action against traders.
“Our surveillance efforts, alongside the CITES legislation, have gone a long way in deterring poachers, but we know that there are still people out there with the Union Island gecko on their target list,” said Isabel Vique, FFI’s program manager for the Caribbean. “In addition, with its sensational landscape and myriad of beautiful species, the geckos’ habitat is becoming under threat from destruction. If not properly managed, the development of Union Island not only puts the future of the gecko at risk, but will impact a large number of other threatened species that are endemic to this area.”
Described by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund as ‘globally irreplaceable,’ Union Island’s well-preserved tropical dry forest and coral reefs host many endemic species, including the newly described Caribbean diamond tarantula and the Grenadines pink rhino iguana, as well as nesting leatherback and hawksbill turtles.
Building on their efforts to protect the Union Island geckos, FFI, Re:wild, UIEA and the SVG Forestry Department are working on a wider initiative to protect the future of the island and its local community, which involves the development of nature-based, climate-sensitive solutions to poor employment opportunities, as well as sustainable development opportunities, as the island’s unique wildlife and forests start to attract visitors from all over the world.
“The recent improvement in the population of the geckos—thanks to work of FFI, UIEA and the Forestry Department, and the support of several funding organizations—provides crucial evidence that successful conservation is a collaborative and inclusive effort, where the overall beneficiary is species survival,” said L. Fitzgerald Providence, director of forestry for the ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, St. Vincent & The Grenadines. “We now have to astutely work on securing the Chatham Bay Forest as a reserve to sustain the habitat for the Union Island gecko and other endemic species."
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*Noseworthy, J. (2017) Cold-blooded conflict: tackling the illegal trade in endemic Caribbean island reptiles. MPhil thesis, University of Cambridge, UK
Re:wild protects and restores the wild. We have a singular and powerful focus: the wild as the most effective solution to the interconnected climate, biodiversity and human wellbeing crises. Founded by a group of renowned conservation scientists together with Leonardo DiCaprio, Re:wild is a force multiplier that brings together Indigenous peoples, local communities, influential leaders, nongovernmental organizations, governments, companies and the public to protect and rewild at the scale and speed we need. Learn more at rewild.org.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI)
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and that enhance human well-being. Operating in more than 40 countries worldwide, FFI saves species from extinction and habitats from destruction, while improving the livelihoods of local people. Founded in 1903, FFI is the world’s longest established international wildlife conservation organisation and a registered charity. https://www.fauna-flora.org
Union Island Environmental Alliance (UIEA)
The UIEA is Union Island’s foremost environmentally focussed community-based organisation. Formed in November 1999 the initial focus was upon a garbage and litter pick-up project to beautify the island. Over the years the scope and focus for the group has expanded to include collaboration with international organisations such as FFI on endemic species conservation and sustainable development. A major focus for the group is the improvement of the livelihoods of Unionites in balance with healthy natural ecosystems. The UIEA aims to promote a more environmentally conscious and concerned community, strengthen group competence and attract local and international support through education, empowerment and building trust. Its mission is “to prevent and reverse environmental degradation and depletion of our island's natural resources, to nurture our ecological and cultural diversity and secure sustainable livelihoods.”https://unionislandenvironmentalalliance.org/
St Vincent and the Grenadines Forestry Department
Forestry Department sits within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labour for the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The Forestry Department is responsible for the management of the country’s forest resources, which include several forest and wildlife reserves. It works in collaboration with several Government and non-governmental agencies locally, regionally and internationally and is currently involved in programmes that are designed for the effective delivery of protection, conservation and development principles geared towards the sustainable management of the nation’s forests. https://bit.ly/3XyFY1H