Conservation in Action: Mona Rhino Iguana Survey

Post by Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research

During the month of October, four GSC staff members journeyed to the Caribbean to participate in a laborious data collection study to help protect the endangered Mona iguana. Mona Island, affectionately referred to as the Galapagos of the Caribbean, is home to many rare and endemic species. This 34-square-mile island is located between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on the Mona Passage.

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One of the endangered species on the island is the Mona Rhino iguana. This large-bodied, slow-growing, ancient-looking lizard thrives in the hot, humid environment found on the island. Today Mona does not have any permanent residents as it is a difficult island with no freshwater access, tough terrain, and unfriendly vegetation. But, humans have lived there in the past, utilizing the many caves on the island. And, explorers visited in the past and brought with them other vertebrate species, which are now a major threat to the iguanas and other native wildlife. Feral pigs, cats, goats, and rats threaten the future for the iguanas as they predate on the eggs, hatchlings and juvenile iguanas, compete for resources, and destroy nesting habitat.

Over 20 years ago a population survey was completed and estimated there to be around 5,000 iguanas. This is a very low count compared to similar iguanas on other islands. Even more concerning is the lack of recruitment by the species, with only 5-10% of the population being juveniles. In order to enact change and remove invasive species, we first need to understand the population.

Therefore, in October 2019 GSC staff joined our Puerto Rican partners on Mona Island. After a 6-hour boat ride, our team arrived on Mona Island – a towering rock of limestone, greenery, soil and sand. Eight teams of two people set out to lay 200-meter-long transects around the island in a randomized pattern. Those transects were then surveyed over the next three weeks. Every iguana seen while walking the transect was counted and included in the study. Each transect was surveyed multiple times and data is currently being compiled. The same survey will be replicated in October 2020.

Staff had the opportunity to experience the beauty and challenges found on Mona Island. The terrain is jagged and unforgiving. The temperature is hot, the bugs voracious, and the cacti are prevalent. But, there were also moments of wonder and beauty as we stepped on rock very few others have or will ever get to explore. The endemic plants and animals provided rare photobook memories. And the people we worked with were just wonderful and by far a highlight of our experience.

For many years, the GSC has been informing guests about conservation of species. But providing a hands-on, field experience in such a physically and mentally demanding island left lasting impressions on the staff who participated. We can only hope this work and the work we will do next year provide the data needed to support our goal of protecting Mona iguanas through removal of vertebrate invasive species. Stay tuned – we will continue to bring you more information about the great conservation work and scientific research taking at the GSC.

Greensboro Science Center Announces 2019 – 2020 Conservation & Research Grant Recipients

The Greensboro Science Center’s (GSC) Research Committee is pleased to announce the recipients of its annual Conservation & Research Grant. Each year, GSC employees are given the opportunity to apply for funds to pursue a conservation or research project. The 2019 – 2020 grantees are as follows:

Michael Motsch, Zookeeper

Project: Red Panda Network’s Zoo Eco Trip

The Zoo Eco trip allows keepers to track red pandas with the professionals who study and monitor wild populations. Michael, the lead red panda keeper at the GSC, will travel to Nepal in December to participate in this program. The experience will unite Michael’s passion for red pandas and his interest in their conservation via hands-on field work.

Sara Payne, Exhibits & Design Manager

Project: Human-Chimpanzee Conflict Awareness Project

The Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) works with primate conservation organizations across Africa. Sara will develop educational materials, including banners and posters, for Chimpanzee Trust, a PASA member, that will be distributed throughout the region to inform locals about human – animal conflict and emphasize the importance of primates.

Katie Ruffolo, Educator

Project: North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (NCWRC) Website Content- Species Profile Updates

The NCWRC is updating the herpetofauna species profiles on their website. Katie is combining her love of herptiles with her love for writing to assist the commission in creating profiles. She will travel across the state to meet with species specialists, gather information for their profiles, and write content that will appear on the NCWRC’s website.

Lindsey Zarecky, the GSC’s VP of Conservation & Research, says, “We are excited to have such diverse projects submitted for this year’s grant cycle. The Research Committee is happy to support these unique and individualized projects.”

 

 

Greensboro Science Center Vet Technician Responds to Flamingo Crisis

In May, the Greensboro Science Center’s (GSC) Veterinary Technician, Sam Beasley, spent two weeks in Kimberley, South Africa, assisting with a flamingo crisis thanks to the GSC’s Conservation & Research Grant Program.

In January, the Kamfers Dam began drying up. As adult flamingos followed the dwindling water source, they left hundreds of eggs and hatchlings exposed to the elements. Through funding made available by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), locals in Kimberely South Africa built a large pen, complete with a makeshift dam, at the local SPCA where the abandoned hatchlings could be rehabilitated, then released.

Beasley, who was originally scheduled to use her grant money to assist with a sea turtle project, changed her plans to respond to this more urgent crisis.

Sam and Flamingo

Beasley says her day began at 7:45 each morning. She, local volunteers in Kimberley and a fellow volunteer from the GSC were responsible for feeding 600+ birds four times each day and misting them 3 times per day. In addition, they maintained water quality by conducting regular water changes on the dam and smaller pools, performed grounds maintenance both inside and outside of the pen and administered any daily medications.

The birds were primarily fed a flamingo red feed, in addition to duck pellets, dog food and additional supplements. Unfortunately, the flamingo red feed’s consistency had begun building residue on the bird’s beaks and feathers, at which time volunteers were instructed to begin cleaning all birds individually.  Manually removing the residue from the bills and bathing the birds occupied much of her time on site. Beasley says the sheer number of birds and the limited resources available made the situation extremely challenging. With one hose and no hot water on site, it took between 45-minutes and one hour to bathe just one bird.

The hard work did pay off when Beasley assisted in the release of 110 of those 600+ birds during her last two days in South Africa.

“I would do it over again any day of the week,” Beasley says. Thanks to her time spent in South Africa, she says she knows more about flamingos now than she could have ever hoped, which will be extremely beneficial when the GSC exhibits these birds in its Revolution Ridge zoo expansion (expected to be complete in 2020).

Museum Week – Women In Culture

This year, Museum Week is all about Women In Culture, so it’s the perfect time to tell you about one of our very own wonderful women, Laura!

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Laura, the GSC’s Robotics Coordinator

As the Robotics Coordinator at the GSC, Laura maintains robotics classrooms for kids age 5-14 years old, creating class themes and lesson plans. She’s also involved in our YAM (Young Adult Mentor), Robotic Ambassadors and Teacher Assistants programs – programs designed for students who have aged out of our camps and classes but would like to remain involved in robotics through volunteering their time to help with teams and classes.

We took a few minutes with Laura to hear about the role of women in our culture.

What does the GSC do to support girls in STEM and what specifically is your role in this?

At the GSC, we support girls in STEM by providing classes in brick building, programming, design, coding, and a girls-only FIRST Lego League team, the Flying Robo Puggles. We also support up to five FIRST Lego League teams and four FIRST Lego League Jr. teams, open to all students. As the GSC’s Robotics Coordinator, I directly provide support to all of these initiatives.

Why do you think it’s important to encourage girls to get involved with STEM?

I think it’s important to encourage girls to get involved with STEM because as they get older, they’ll need confidence to share their ideas. Traditionally, there’s often a focus on male ideas and points of view, more so than the female perspective. As a society, we still have this bias but need to get to a point where gender doesn’t matter. What matters, instead, is a person’s skills and knowledge.

Can you share a success story?

Meenakshi Singh is a young lady who came to the GSC to join the girls-only Flying Robo Puggles in 2012. She spent three years on the team, then became a YAM for four years. As a YAM, she shared her experience being on a team and supported the students with their ideas and projects. This year, Meenaskshi is graduating high school from NC A&T STEM Early College and was a member of FIRST Tech Competition (FTC) team, Wannabee Strange, where she was one of the main robot programmers over the last two years. It has been so wonderful to watch Meenakshi share her love of robotics and to see her find her passions in life. Meenakshi will be attending MIT in the fall to study electrical engineering and computer science.

Left: Meenakshi working on coding the robot. Right: Meenakshi and her FTC team.

Read about Meenakshi’s personal experience here.

How does it make you feel to see girls like her transition through our programming and follow a career directly related to what you’ve been teaching?

I feel so blessed to be a part of someone’s journey through life. It’s incredible how that small amount of time we spent together has given her the confidence to follow her passion.

#MuseumWeek #WomenInCulture #thefutureisfemale

Why We GSC: Featuring Sarah H.

Meet Sarah H., the GSC’s Curator of Aquatics. Her job is to help develop a vision for the department and ensure that the Aquatics team has the tools and knowledge they need to accomplish their jobs.

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Sarah’s story is an especially interesting one. She worked here for a short while about six years ago, then left for five years – but ultimately decided to come back. When we asked her what drew her to return, she had this to say:

I’ve been very fortunate to work at three different facilities and even luckier to find a place I can call home.

After six years in the aquarium field, I was looking for a challenge. The idea of helping the Greensboro Science Center bring a bit of the ocean to a landlocked city seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Shortly after helping to open the GSC’s aquarium back in 2013, I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work at a world-renowned facility – an opportunity that, had I turned it down, I would have wondered about it the rest of my life. So I made the difficult decision to leave the GSC to reach for a dream.

However, I found I missed those intangibles that made the GSC feel less like work and more like home. After five years away, I made a much easier decision to come back to the opportunities that awaited me here.

I am proud to be a member of the Greensboro Science Center family and am excited to create a new dream with Greensboro’s only public aquarium.

GSC Penguin Keeper Shares South African Experience

IMG_0307GREENSBORO, NC — Shannon Anderson, lead penguin keeper at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), spent 10 days in South Africa assisting with the rescue, rehabilitation and release of seabirds at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).Anderson’s participation was part of SANCCOB’S Animal Professional Experience, an exchange program for penguin keepers wishing to apply their husbandry knowledge in order to assist with the conservation and welfare of wild penguin populations. Her experience was sponsored by the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant, funding which offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project.

Anderson worked side by side with the organization’s bird rehabilitation staff and volunteers, practicing her current skills and learning how to care for sick, injured, oiled, and abandoned African penguins and other seabirds. Most of her time was spent working in the chick rearing unit, where she was responsible for as few as eight chicks and sometimes as many as 23. There, her responsibilities were preparing and administering food and medications – which included tube feeding chicks four times each day – as well as cleaning the pens and reporting welfare checks.

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Anderson says she learned a lot during her time at SANCCOB. The autonomy of the work reiterated how capable she is at husbandry and affirmed the depth of knowledge she has about African penguins. She enjoyed the opportunity of working with wild penguins, which was far different from her zookeeper work. Anderson says, “It was very different working with wild birds. We were encouraged to be rough. There was no talking. We didn’t handle the birds. You didn’t caudle them, you pushed them to meet milestones to keep them on track with their development and growth. In the end, the chicks were going to rejoin the colony and they had to have the skills necessary to survive. We didn’t want them to get imprinted or they’d just end up needing additional human intervention.” Anderson says that this approach has proven successful for SANCCOB, which boasts an 85% success rate of returning birds to the wild following admission.

Anderson’s experience in South Africa greatly contributed to the conservation of wild birds in her care, but it also gave her new knowledge that she was able to apply at the GSC. Shortly after she arrived home in late December, Anderson found a compromised egg in one of the nest boxes. By following SANCCOB’s protocols regarding incubation, humidity, temperature, and timing, she was successfully able to hatch the chick using sterile forceps and precise timing. All the skills applied to make sure this chick survived, she learned during her time in South Africa. She also took the skills learned from working in SANCCOB’s ICU unit to create a new diet for an ill bird, leading to that bird’s quick recovery. Anderson will admit the confidence to take the lead and use those skills also had something to do with her time at SANCCOB.

Anderson was one of three staff members who received project funding through the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant program. The GSC’s staff can apply for funds to support research projects, conservation work or relevant professional development. Applicants must submit a written application, provide a presentation to the research committee and, if funded, present a program recap to the GSC’s board and staff.

The GSC has long supported SANCCOB via its annual Tuxedo Trot, a 5K and Kids’ Fun Run designed specifically to raise funds for endangered African penguins. The event, which has raised $50,000 since its inception in 2013, will return on Saturday, April 27, 2019. More information about the event can be found online at http://www.tuxedotrot.com.

Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research at the GSC said, “The GSC Research Committee was thrilled to send Shannon to assist with a conservation organization we have supported for years. We receive thank you letters, photos, progress reports, and field updates from SANCCOB, but to see the glow in the eyes of someone who got to experience wild penguin conservation makes our 5K fundraiser so much more meaningful.” When we asked Shannon what her major takeaway was from this trip she said, “In our hearts, zookeepers want to do this, we want to make a difference, and that is why we work with animals. But you never know if you will actually get a chance to use your skills. This trip just made everything worthwhile.”

Greensboro Science Center Aquarist Participates in Prestigious Coral Restoration Workshop

Rachel-PR-BlogGREENSBORO, NC — Rachel Rodgers, coral aquarist in the Wiseman Aquarium at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), participated in a five-day coral restoration workshop at Mote Marine Laboratory in December, 2018. Rodgers’ participation was sponsored by the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant, funding which offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project.

The workshop was led by Dr. David Vaughan, President and founder of Plant A Million Corals and former Senior Scientist and Program Manager at Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration. Workshop participants were exposed to the history of coral restoration (both land-based and ocean nurseries), coral reproduction and the future of restoring coral reefs in light of bleaching, or starvation, episodes occurring around the world.

The workshop offered hands-on experience in land-based micro-fragmentation and fusion coral restoration efforts. Participants learned how micro-fragmentation expedites the growth of corals. Using a specialized saw to cut very small pieces of coral, usually 1-5 polyps, the coral tissue is stimulated to grow, allowing scientists to clone at 25-50 times the normal growth rate. Clone fragments of coral recognize each other and fuse together to form large colonies. By implementing techniques such as micro-fragmenting and fusion, scientists and aquarists hope to bolster the resilience of reefs at local scales.

Workshop participants included coral biologists, conservationists and academics who have been doing coral fragmentation on existing reefs. As the only aquarist to participate, Rodgers brought valuable knowledge about land-based work to the team, including water quality, building of aquarium systems and coral husbandry. Now that the workshop is complete, Rodgers is excited to maintain relationships she built during the experience. She plans to continue collaborating with fellow participants so coral labs can be built all around the world.

“This workshop brought a lot of hope,” Rodgers says. “You hear ‘50% of coral reefs are bleached and 30% are dead’ and you begin to feel hopeless. But, when you have dedicated people learning to build reefs, there is hope for coral reefs.” This experience not only taught Rodgers techniques for restoring corals, but strengthened her passion for the work she does as well as drew her into a world of coral restoration opportunities.

Rodgers was one of three staff who received project funding through the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant program. The GSC’s staff can apply for funds to support research projects, conservation work or relevant professional development. Applicants must submit a written application, provide a presentation to the research committee and, if funded, present a program recap to the GSC’s board and staff.

Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research at the GSC says, “The GSC research committee is thrilled to be able to offer this grant opportunity. There is such gratification in seeing the hope, passion and illumination in the eyes of staff who experience field conservation work and become re-energized to do what they can to conserve wildlife.”