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Protecting the island's rarest species
By Simon Jones
Friday July 05, 2013 9:20 AM
Guardian: Mark Outerbridge, Wildlife Ecologist for Conservation Services, has been
tasked with protecting Bermuda’s rarest species including our skink. *Photo supplied
Mark Outerbridge has been charged with no minor task.
As Conservation Service’s new Wildlife Ecologist he is responsible for ensuring that Bermuda’s rarest and most endangered species are not wiped out in the sands of time.
Whether it’s the diamondback terrapin, the Bermuda skink or even the unique killifish that live in the island’s brackish water, it’s his job to safeguard their survival.
Mr Outerbridge has spent the last 10 years on a range of biodiversity projects with the Bermuda Zoological Society,
He recently completed a Master’s degree on Bermuda’s endemic killifish and is putting the finishing touches to a PhD that explored the ecology of diamondback terrapins.
Mr Outerbridge, who took over his new role as ‘guardian’ of Bermuda’s protected species just last month, told the Bermuda Sun he was looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead.
He added: “I’m responsible for ensuring the continued survival of some of Bermuda’s most rare and unique species including insects, fishes, reptiles, plants and terrestrial animals.
“It’s a very wide spectrum but there are animals and plants that have yet to be studied and we need to ensure we understand them and preserve them on our island.
“Bermuda has a number of unique endemic species, and some of these have become so rare that we are afraid they might drop of the radar.
“I have always felt we have a responsibility to keep the plants and animals that make Bermuda unique with us.
“Culturally we are very proud of things that make us Bermudian like Bermuda shorts and codfish and potatoes, but we need to apply that to our wildlife.
“We have a number of iconic creatures, but because of the threats facing them, they have begun to fade from our collective consciousness.”
Over the coming months Mr Outerbridge will continue to work on projects to preserve and protect animals like the diamondback terrapin and the island’s unique killifish species.
He will also be working with experts abroad to develop management plans on the most endangered creatures.
He said: “There are some exciting times ahead.
“We are waiting on some DNA tests that are being conducted in the US to tell us whether we have a third unique species of killifish in Bermuda.
“There’s ongoing work with the diamondbacks — and trying to figure out why their hatching success in the wild is so low.
“We will continue to feed data and information to Chester Zoo to help the Bermuda skinks settle in over there.
“And then Robert Marirea, the head zoo keeper, is doing some incredible work with yellowwood tree propagation too.
“So there’s a busy time ahead and there are still plenty of opportunities to work with and protect some of Bermuda’s most precious wildlife.”
Skinks safe in UK
The latest initiative to safeguard one of Bermuda’s most endangered species has got off to a great start.
The Lifeboat Project saw 12 skinks flown to Chester Zoo in England where it is hoped they will begin to breed in the new year.
The animals were captured on Southampton Island in Castle Harbour.
They were then transported in an insulated box made by Chris Davis, from the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, on a British Airways flight last month.
Once they cleared customs in the UK they were driven to Chester Zoo and introduced to their new pre-made home.
The Bermuda skinks will not be on display to the general public, but instead will be kept in an enclosure behind the scenes.
Conservation Service’s Wildlife Ecologist, Mark Outerbridge, told the Sun: “It has gone well so far.
“All 12 animals survived the journey and are now in place at their new home.
“We have been told by the guys at Chester Zoo that by the third day all the animals were feeding and seemed to have recovered from their journey.
“Over the coming weeks I will continue to relay data about what their living conditions were like at this time of year in Bermuda in a bid to replicate that in their new home.
“It’s a case of ‘so far so good’ – we could not have hoped for more.
“The feedback we have had from Chester Zoo has been very positive. “If everything goes well we hope that the six pairs will be breeding by next year.
“We have had skinks in Bermuda for at least one million years, so it is absolutely vital we do everything we can to ensure the survival of these unique species.”