Read more here about CAVU and Defensores de la Naturelza’s successful wetland and waterfowl surveys in Guatemala from February 23 to 27, 2009.
On Monday February 23, 2009, CAVU team members volunteer pilot Captain Bob Morrison, researcher/photographer Dave Sherwood and Flight Program Director Michele Gangaware departed in CAVU’s Cessna N206WY for Guatemala City, Guatemala. The mission involved daily scientific over flights of wetlands that serve as important habitat for resident and migratory waterfowl species, and the assessment of overall wetland health. Staff from Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza (FDN), an NGO based in Guatemala, and biologists from the University of San Carlos, helped fund, staff and coordinate the effort. In 2008, Defensores celebrated its 25th year as a respected leader in Guatemalan conservation efforts and is currently responsible for the management of four key protected areas in the country.
More than three dozen wetlands were targeted, including many of international importance (Ramsar) in the country. Three regions were surveyed: the Pacific Coast (Manchón-Guamuchal, Monterico), Atlantic Coast (Bahía La Graciosa, Bocas del Polochic) and South East (Lago de Guija) – covering much of the country, from the Mexican and Salvador borders on the Pacific side to the Belize border on the Caribbean slope.
Biologists documented a range of valuable information on the flight, thanks in part to careful coordination and pre-flight preparation by the pilot, Defensores and CAVU staff. Multiple new wetlands were discovered to be inhabited by waterfowl, several first sightings of species were reported and various wetlands were found to be endangered by agricultural and development practices.
Every wetland was photographed; accompanying high-resolution macro- and micro- photos (made available to FDN by CAVU) were embedded with GPS and directional information, altitude, time and date EXIF-data. Additionally, CAVU provided Defensores with data files that include the flight track, waypoints of interest and route maps of the completed surveys. This data enabled researchers to precisely identify not only the wetland location, but also to count birds, distinguish sex and species and identify aquatic vegetation types and coverage. Complimentary photography catalogued adjacent environmental degradation and all types of agricultural activity, including African palm, banana, sugar cane, melon and cattle ranching, per biologists’ requests.
FDN staff and University of San Carlos biologists were impressed by the quality of flights, photos, organization, meticulous planning and efficiency of the missions, and heartily expressed their appreciation throughout the week. They are currently preparing post-flight passenger reports and will be sending detailed information regarding their findings on species identified and complimentary data, all of which will be posted soon. CAVU team members Gangaware, Morrison and Sherwood left with a deepened appreciation for both Guatemalan conservation and for the growing partnership with an organization as dedicated as Defensores.