Saint Lucia IAS Awareness Survey 2010

St Lucia IAS Awaarness SurveyThis awareness survey on issues related to invasive alien species (IAS) in St. Lucia aimed to establish a baseline that could inform the strategic approach of a public awareness campaign as well as provide a basis against which the success of such interventions could be assessed. A general, island-wide and two pilot site-specific questionnaires (for 50 respondents each) were elaborated and used as guidance for pairs of interviewers, who were instructed to encourage a free flow of opinions from 505 respondents, who were randomly selected from the general public in all Forestry Ranges. Data were categorized and analyzed by χ2-analysis in order to arrive at strategic recommendation for environmental education. Methodological recommendations for follow-up surveys are also presented. Overall the survey appears to be representative of the St. Lucian pubic, but backstopping against the 2010 National Census is recommended for future fine-tuning.

Despite clear evidence of on-going environmental education having an impact, the understanding of biodiversity issues remains rather limited and largely restricted to the better-educated professionals. Therefore, as a foundation to the public education campaign, the fundamental concepts of biodiversity should be reinforced. Cultivated species that have been introduced several generations ago were frequently and incorrectly viewed as indigenous to St. Lucia, including some highly invasive species, such as water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). This widespread misconception needs addressing systematically and suitable case-study species (plant and animals) for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are suggested.

A case in hand is the alien iguana, which was regularly and explicitly flagged as native. Awareness of two geographically separate iguana populations and the implication for management seems to be negligible. It cannot be assumed that the meanings of the terms “native” or “alien” are generally understood. These basic concepts, particularly the potential effects of the alien iguana, need to be communicated with clarity and objectivity to avoid fuelling poorly rationalized fears. On the other hand, observations contributed by a well-informed subset of Soufriere respondents, who clearly have benefitted from the groundwork done by the on-going alien iguana eradication programme there, strongly suggest that initial escapes of captive iguanas must have happened well over a decade ago. The lesson learnt in Soufriere could serve as a trusted example to illustrate the risks of holding potentially invasive animals in captivity to the wider public. The Soufriere experience could instruct the formal and informal pet trade, which enjoys growing popularity in the north of the island.

Deforestation was the most frequently mentioned threat to terrestrial biodiversity, followed by garbage, chemicals and pollution, three threats that coincided with the freshwater threats of greatest concern. The top three perceived threats to marine biodiversity were garbage, pollutions and oil spills. IAS ranked 18th as a perceived threat to terrestrial biodiversity and 21st as a marine threat; they did not feature at all in perceptions of freshwater threats. None of the respondents regarded IAS among the top two threats to marine biodiversity. Clearly, the current ranking of IAS as a threat to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems needs to be improved with the aim of a widespread appreciation of IAS being the second most important threat to biodiversity (after habitat loss) across all ecosystems. Awareness on freshwater ecosystems is furthest behind at present.

The IAS public education campaign should build its programme around a solid conceptualization of IAS, their effects and dynamics, as this seems to be the missing link in fragmented but punctually quite accurate and often rather detailed baseline awareness. Many St. Lucians named one or more IAS, which they were familiar with, often through agriculture. Fewer were aware of the impact on biodiversity, especially in Soufriere, where general IAS awareness was relatively high. Respondents cross St. Lucia were well-aware of humans as the main vectors for terrestrial IAS, via both deliberate and accidental introduction. In contrast, sea and air currents were held responsible for most introductions of aquatic IAS. Thus, human involvement in the introduction of aquatic species (freshwater and marine) will require clarification. Not surprisingly, baseline awareness of the Pacific lionfish, which has spread through the northern and western Caribbean to date, was low. However, there was widespread concern about the potential threat posed by lionfish to St. Lucian native fish and other biodiversity, as well as human health. This indicates fertile grounds for a public education campaign, also on still absent IAS – a prerequisite to encourage behavioural changes in favour of preventing IAS introduction and spread.

There was significant baseline awareness of the importance of St. Lucia’s off-shore islands for the survival of certain plant and animal species among respondents in the Vieux Fort area. This should be reinforced by stressing the importance of keeping the islands predator-free and rolled out nation-wide. Baseline knowledge seems sufficient to combine this with an introduction to the concept of meta-populations. Once these elements connect logically in the mind of the general public, citizens are likely to head warning against re-introductions of rats or mongooses to off-shore islands, as the key role of humans as vector (deliberate and accidental) is relatively well-understood. Thus, the country is ready for concrete, practical guidelines on how to avoid carrying predators back onto off-shore islands.

In general St. Lucians appeared very open to the destruction of existing IAS and to collaboration with authorities for IAS management. Some respondents, particularly in the Soufriere area, expressed a preference for invasive animals to be taken into captivity. As stated above, the risks of such an approach need to be disseminated. Overall, there is a highly constructive public attitude that should be cultivated by a transparent information policy.

Television, radio and internet were the most important information sources for environmental issues in St. Lucia and should all be employed by a multimedia campaign. Television enjoys the widest audience so that IAS television programmes should be designed to have general appeal. Radio is most suitable to reach the mature generation and should lean towards traditional values. Local radio stations could be instrumental in disseminating pilot-specific information in a targeted manner. While students ranged somewhat above national average for awareness on general biodiversity, their incipient concepts of IAS issues were disappointingly below national average. Education programmes for schools and colleges should make extensive use of the internet in order to reach this target group, together with their teachers. A recent knowledge, awareness and practices (KAP) survey on environmental awareness in relation to protected areas in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) indicated that St. Lucia compares well with other OECS countries. Thus, St. Lucia should strive for a leadership role in raising sub-regional awareness on IAS issues and share the lessons learnt from this current project.

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