The Cabo Rojo Salt Flats – within Puerto Rico’s Suroeste Important Bird Area – have been designated as the Caribbean’s first site of regional importance for shorebirds by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN, an international shorebird conservation strategy). The nomination was submitted by Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña (SOPI, BirdLife in Puerto Rico) and supported by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), North Carolina State University and the BirdLife Caribbean Program. ”This designation represents a significant step for the conservation of shorebirds in the Caribbean as it helps demonstrate the importance of wetlands on islands throughout the region for the conservation of both migratory and resident shorebirds”, said Xicoténcatl Vega, subdirector of the WHSRN and Shorebird Recovery Program, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.
The Cabo Rojo Salt Flats is a 500 ha National Wildlife Refuge managed by the USFWS, and it supports over 5% of Caribbean breeding population of ‘Snowy’ Plover Charadrius alexandrinus tenuirostris and 2.5% of the Caribbean’s Wilson Plovers C. wilsonia. Over 20,000 shorebirds representing 28 species congregate at this special site. This includes large numbers of Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla, Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus, and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres. “Shorebird conservation at these salt flats is a priority for the Service and this habitat is managed to protect and conserve populations of important shorebird species”, said Oscar Díaz, Refuge Manager, USFWS.
The Suroeste IBA is also important for globally threatened and island-endemic species such as the Endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird Agelaius xanthomus (with almost 80% of the known population occurring in the IBA) and the Critically Endangered Puerto Rican Nightjar Caprimulgus noctitherus, and also as a nesting site for the Least Tern Sternula antillarum.
The nomination of Cabo Rojo Salt Flats as a WHSRN site, submitted by SOPI, was an outcome of the BirdLife International project Saving the treasures of the Caribbean: sustainable livelihoods, management and restoration for the Suroeste IBA, Puerto Rico – funded by the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation. SOPI established a collaborative Cabo Rojo stakeholders’ network including the Site Support Group Comité Caborrojeños Pro Salud y Ambiente (CCPSA), Empresas Padilla, Inc., the USFWS and professors and students of the University of Puerto Rico (Mayagüez and Aguadilla campuses).
Other conservation actions implemented by the network as part of this catalytic project include the construction of a (shorebird-friendly) brine shrimp farm, administered by CCPSA, to generate income in support of research, education, sustainable development and management of the IBA.
Photo of El Combate’s salt flats in Cabo Rojo/DEANJOHNC at http://travelandsports.com/ca4.htm