29 November, 2007

Invasive Species

Goat’s Foot. Beach morning glory is called “goat's foot” in Anguilla, and erroneously sea bean, which is a different species often found growing on or near the same beaches. In the US, where it's commonly found on the Atlantic Coast, it's called railroad vine.

In 1999 the Anguilla National Trust commissioned a report on the ecology of Sombrero. The following is from the resulting 1999 report by Dr. Michael A Ivie, a conservation biologist who is a Professor at Montana State University:

"Ipomoea pes-caprae. The Beach Morning Glory is a very common beach plant, familiar to every naturalist with expertise in the West Indian region. It was not present when Ogden et al did their inventory in 1985, but was established by the time ICF Kaiser made their visit in 1998. In their report (ICF Kaiser 1999) it is misidentified as Sea Bean, Canavalia rosea, a member of the Fabaceae. The lighthouse keepers say the plant was introduced with sand from Anguilla used in the reconstruction after Hurricane Luis. This plant is a very large vine, highly invasive, and an aggressive competitor. It is currently beginning to spread out of the immediate housing area, and is a threat to the native species of plants to the north of the bunkhouse, and the large populations of natives in the southern pit we called the Hanging Gardens of Sombrero. No native invertebrates were observed utilizing this species".

Karim Hodge, then of the National Trust, agreed to see to its removal, which at the time might have required five minutes with a shovel or hand trowel. Dr. Ivie says he offered to remove it at the time, but was told it would make a great field trip for the National Trust and they would take care of it right away. By the year 2007, the goat’s foot has taken over the island of Sombrero. It now threatens to strangle the remaining native species that provide food for the lizards and insects living on the island.

Nothing that I know of eats or uses any part of the goat’s foot plant. If left alone it will completely take over Sombrero and strangle to death all forms of life on the island.

Dr Ivie has a website with some more revealing photographs. He writes,

I tried to send a power point file with 8 photos on 3 slides of the plant situation in 1999, but file was too large and got kicked back. Therefore, I loaded it on my server at [link here]

The left hand photo in the first slide is the total extent of the beach morning glory in 1999. The light house is to the right in this view, the "dock" to the left. The second page has views of the native plants in the pit to the south. The third slide shows the area infested in the 2007 photo without BMG. Note that the low angle of the top photo obscures the many native plants actually on the rocks, visible at the feet of the folks in the lower photo. These plants were the ones eaten by the Ameiva, and by several of the native insects that were also eaten by lizards. This might give some idea of how much has changed.
Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D., F.R.E.S.

How many government officials have visited Sombrero in the ensuing eight years?

And, now we read of an initiative by the British House of Commons. Yesterday, 28 November, Joan Ruddock (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) stated in the House of Commons:

"On non-native invasive species, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation, has undertaken a review of non-native species in the UK Overseas Territories. This review is being used to guide various projects relating to invasive species in Overseas Territories. In June 2007 JNCC also hosted a workshop on invasive species in the Overseas Territories bringing together a range of stakeholders to share information, and to discuss future collaboration in this area of work."

Why are they spending money sending people to invasive species workshops if we then fail to do the actual work?

If we can be this nonchalantly negligent over what might seem to be simple issues, can you imagine how careless we are over the important issues?


  1. In case there is any doubt about this, all the greenery surrounding the man in the red shorts in the picture is beach morning glory. A visitor to Sombrero just a month ago reported that "there are vines growing all over the island."

    If it chokes out what little plant life survived the mining operation in the 19th Century, the insects will have nothing to eat. If there are no insects or edible plants, the two or three species of lizards that are found nowhere in the world except Sombrero will be exterminated as a result of our laziness and negligence.

  2. Because of its isolation, Sombrero has a large number of endemic invertebrates (insects). Because only very limited study has been done, their number is not known, but it may be several dozen.

    Those who depend on income from tourism (which includes nearly all of us) may not care about bugs, but may care about the resulting publicity surrounding these crimes against nature.

    Who can't hear will feel.

  3. "Sombrero is an ecosystem in balance."
    --Dr. J. Lazell
    Harvard University

    No longer. Feeling is believing.

  4. Clicking on a photograph will always enlarge it to better see the detail.


  5. If the prison is full (or approaching that stage) and the inmates need some exercise while being fed and housed by courtesy of the taxes and fees we pay, perhaps they can take turns being shipped over to Sombrero under guard and be given the task of removing the stuff. This will be a very useful contribution they can make as part of their rehabilitation.

  6. "there was a...gap that existed between what strategies were in place and what was really needed to achieve the desired results."
    - Karim Hodge, October 2006

  7. 13,000 years ago there were no humans in North America, Central America, South America or the Caribbean. Is this species going to be cleaned off next?

  8. The Beach Morning Glory probably covered Sombrero before the human mining operations. So maybe things are now back to the natural way and we should not mess with it further.

  9. Beach morning glory leaves its seeds everywhere and is almost impossible to eradicate. If it were there before the mining operation it would have survived.

    In the book "Marooned," about a Royal Navy sailor who was illegally abandoned on Sombrero and left to die, before there were mining or a lighthouse or anything man made there, describes the island has having almost no vegetation.

    Mary Walker, who wrote the book about Anguilla's botany, says the plant is an invasive, and that she is both horrified and saddened at what has been allowed to happen.

  10. Speaking of environmental problems on Wednesday, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua said officers cannot simply remain in office and prepare papers and reports, they must go out into the field and monitor developments. "They need to have a greater sense of responsibility," he added.

  11. The quote by Dr. Lazell about Sombrero being an ecosystem in balance has caused some confusion.

    When he said it, in 1999, it was an accurate description of the environment.


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