Conservationists are expressing great concern for a development project in Saint Lucia that could cause some of the country’s endemic and threatened wildlife to become extinct.
The Pearl of the Caribbean project will occupy almost three km2 and includes the construction of a causeway linking the Maria Islands to the mainland.
“The Maria Islands are a treasure trove of biodiversity and home to many unique and threatened Saint Lucian species,” said Matthew Morton, the Eastern Caribbean programme manager for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
“If built, the proposed causeway would undo decades of hard work to protect this nature reserve, opening up the islands to the devastating impacts of invasive alien species. The tragic result would likely be the complete eradication of the Saint Lucia racer, and possibly other species with it.”
It is thought that the causeway will provide a direct route for rats, mongooses and other non-native predators.
Maria Islands, showing proximity to mainland © Jenny Daltry / FFI
The Maria Islands Nature Reserve is one of only two wildlife reserves on Saint Lucia and is home to critical populations of six endemic reptile species, including the world’s rarest snake, the Saint Lucia racer.
The racer is a non-venomous snake, found only on the island of Maria Major. It was once thought to be extinct, and the global population is estimated to be fewer than 20 individuals.
The other endemic reptiles include the Maria Islands pygmy gecko, the Saint Lucia thread snake, and the whiptail lizard, which has 90 per cent of its population on the Maria Islands Nature Reserve.
Saint Lucia whiptail lizard on Maria Islands © Twyla Holland
Bishnu Tulsie, director of Saint Lucia National Trust said, “The Maria Islands are a jewel in the natural crown for Saint Lucia and source of national pride. This causeway would spell the end for the Saint Lucia racer; it’s that simple.”
The Maria Islands Nature Reserve is only around 0.12 km2 in total, but has also been designated as an Important Bird Area and a Key Biodiversity Area.
Conservationists believe that there are many more species which have not yet been identified and described, which are likely to be endemic as well.
Aerial view of the Maria Islands © Jenny Daltry / FFI