Fortunately, training has been one of the major priorities for several international agencies, such as the USFWS, the USDA USFS, The Nature Conservancy, and DU who have done much to build the institutional capacity of both NGOs and governmental agencies in Latin America and the Caribbean. Still, research and monitoring are far from being addressed properly and although these activities are considered of great importance by conservationists in the Latin American and Caribbean countries, very few international organizations are willing to support them. Enhancement and restoration are two actions which slowly are becoming of concern and interest to local governments and NGOs, but these usually are perceived as expensive and not as urgent as securing protection for areas which still appear to be in good condition. Unfortunately some of the wetlands that once were of great importance for waterfowl have disappeared or are almost gone.
Up to now, most international organizations involved in conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean have only included wetlands where and when they are of great importance to biodiversity in general, considering waterfowl just as one more taxonomic group within that biodiversity.
Clearly, there is great room for DU to deliver expertise on research and monitoring of waterfowl populations and management, as well as the enhancement and restoration of wetland habitats in Latin America and the Caribbean. Through the building of partnerships with both national and international institutions and a sound and well-focused strategy, DU would make significant contributions to wetland and waterfowl conservation in this region.
At least 14 species of the 44 North American breeding waterfowl winter south of Mexico. However, very little if anything is known about their numbers, their main staging and wintering areas, their natural history, and their basic ecological requirements. No regular surveys have been carried out over any wetland, and existing data are occasional and have been collected from small areas. Large extensions of wetlands have not been surveyed and potential threats to waterfowl populations on their wintering grounds remain unknown.
Conservation efforts at the breeding grounds must be accompanied by conservation efforts in staging and wintering grounds to ensure that the annual life cycle needs of migratory species are met. Scattered data indicate that Central America, the Caribbean, and at least the northern portion of South America are of great importance to migratory waterfowl from North America. For example, in the 1970s in Palo Verde, a 1,500 ha wetland in Costa Rica, observations were made of 60,000 blue-winged teal and several hundreds each of northern shoveler, American wigeon, ring-necked duck and lesser scaup. DU's 1994 Continental Conservation Plan indicates that most blue-winged teal winter in northern South America. In Suriname an aerial survey in the late 1970s of a portion of the coastal wetlands indicated at least 20,000 blue-winged teal, and several Cuban authors indicate that both white-fronted goose and snow goose were common winter visitors, while blue-winged teal, pintail, American wigeon, northern shoveler, wood duck, ring-necked duck, and lesser scaup are still common.
Current conservation programs
DU has been involved in a small number of projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. Money has been provided for waterfowl surveys in South America, for coastal restoration in the Bahamas, for waterfowl monitoring, and the development of a GIS and management plan for the Llanos of Venezuela.
There is tremendous potential for DU to achieve further conservation success of North American waterfowl and wetlands by developing projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. There are great opportunities to get involved in a direct and active way in projects, from the development of proposals and the search for additional funding, to the implementation of projects on the ground, whether it is using GIS technology or carrying out engineering and biological work.
- Develop several "flagship" projects incorporating research, monitoring, enhancement and/or restoration) that will serve as demonstration for the kind of work DU is capable of doing, while at the same time helping to improve habitat for North American migratory waterfowl.
- Develop the national capacity for wetland and waterfowl conservation in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Quantify existing information about major wintering and staging sites of North American migratory waterfowl.
- Build partnerships with technical and/or funding agencies, at the local, national and international levels.
- Contribute to the institutional capacity building of government agencies and NGOs responsible for conservation in Latin American countries.