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Hannah Madden St. Eustatius National Parks. St. Eustatius, Netherlands

Biography

Hannah Madden has lived on St. Eustatius and worked for St. Eustatius National Parks (STENAPA) since 2006. She is responsible for a variety of terrestrial research and monitoring, including bird, butterfly and orchid surveys. She has a vast network of contacts across the Caribbean and has worked with scientists, researchers and experts such as New York Botanical Garden, University of Puerto Rico, Clemson University, Berkeley College and Coastal Carolina University. Many of these collaborations have been so successful that they continue today. She is the (co-) author of a number of publications relating to Statia’s flora and fauna, and even has a species of tarantula named after her. Hannah has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and is preparing for an MSc in Tropical Biodiversity and Sustainable Development in the Caribbean with the University of West Indies.

My research

I have been living and working on the tiny Dutch island of St. Eustatius, affectionately known as Statia, since 2006. I am National Park Ranger with nature conservation organization STENAPA (St. Eustatius National Parks) and my second home is the Quill, a dormant volcano that rises at its highest point to 600m above sea level. Since 2008 I have conducted orchid surveys on two species of orchid in a collaborative project with the University of Puerto Rico. Brassavola cucullata grows in the Quill and towards the summit of Boven, an extinct volcano in the northern part of the island. Epidendrum ciliare can be found in most areas but grows abundantly in the Quill. Every year, during flowering season, we relocate the plants via their numbered tags and take measurements, count leaves, flowers, note fruits. The aim of this project is to assess the long-term health and viability of the orchid populations. Unfortunately, however, due to the existence of many hungry goats roaming the parks, Statia’s orchids have a 50/50 chance of being eaten if they grow below a certain height.

Talking of goats, in 2012 we set up nine exclusion zones in the Quill to monitor the effect of goats. We only have one year’s worth of data so far, however it is clear that they are having the desired effect. When we visited the areas this year there were more young plants growing within the excluders than the controls. This will strengthen our case in removing invasive roaming herbivores from the parks.

In addition to orchids, twice a year I conduct bird surveys across the island. All bird species within a specific radius are recorded. I have been doing this since 2009 following a training in 2008. Certain bird species such as the Bridled Quail-dove only inhabit the shaded slopes and moist crater of the Quill. We are in the initial phase of setting up a research project on this poorly-studied species. I have also been doing butterfly monitoring since 2009. Butterflies and birds are important indicators of the general health of the ecosystem and any data relating to these is valuable.

My big project this year was on Red-billed Tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus). Together with my intern, Andrew Ellis, we conducted an assessment of the breeding success of this elegant seabird following alarming reports of chick predation on nearby Saba. We visited 85 nests weekly, documented the progress of the chicks from egg to fledging, and set up cameras and traps to capture potential predators. I am happy to report the majority of our tropicbird chicks successfully fledged, however we did suffer relatively high egg loss at a few nesting sites which we will investigate next season.

Overall, I have a very varied job that enables me to improve my skills and knowledge every day. I get to work with amazing people on fascinating projects. For an island with a landmass of just 21 km2, that is quite an achievement.