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  • Writer's pictureLynn

Saba's First Citizen Scientist?

MW616 Hell's Gate RED-BILLED TROPICBIRDS

The first use of the term "citizen science" can be found in a January 1989 issue of MIT Technology Review. That's the same year Mandy showed up on Saba. Martha "Mandy" Walsh arrived on the island not long after her U.S.V.I. home was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo. A frequent local diver on Sea Saba boats, I never forgot the surface interval story she told of being buried beneath the rubble of her home for days as looters ignored her cry for help. Saba was her new safe haven.

As the gin and tonics and dinner parties continued, we not only learned of her travels from Bhutan to Antarctica and beyond, but of her dedication to protect nature. Mandy sat on numerous boards and created her own foundation (ICE--Island Conservation Efforts), an organization that helped fund the dive boat moorings in St. Croix and more. I'll take credit for "buddying her up" with a guy who came to Saba as a single diver, Don McGehee. They married soon after and Don joined Mandy at her home they named "Hummingbird House".

Mandy was passionate about nature, but specifically birds. By the early 90's, Mandy embarked on her own Red-billed tropicbird research; Don was her dedicated assistant. Recognizing the high density of the birds, they established a one-hectare research site on the sloping hillsides near the Fort Bay harbor. Their bi-weekly ventures registered more than 75 nesting sites.


Along with other volunteers (regulars were Evette Peterson and Jo Bean), I accompanied her on several occasions to learn how she tagged the birds, marked nest sites and eggs and logged the data--and experienced the fun to be able to hold a fluffy fledgling in the process! Mandy documented the habits and populations of Saba's Tropicbirds which represent more than 35% of the Caribbean population and 17% of the world's nesting population. Her work also proved these soaring seabirds are poor take-off and landers, nest year-round, stay out to sea for months at a time and return to their original nesting sites. Thereafter, the attention brought by her work led to the island's feral cat and rat control and a real effort for spaying and neutering of all cats.

Don and Mandy eventually moved to the Carolina's due to health concerns; Don is no longer with us. Mandy was back on Saba in 2019 to experience the Sea & Learn program for which she was a great inspiration. During her visit, she collaborated with another tropicbird



researcher, Hannah Madden, from nearby Statia. Hannah, like all of our invited experts, inspired citizen science with hands on activities for all participants--from kids to the elderly!!


Nesting sites of Saba and more about our resident and migrating species can be found here: Birds of Saba | Saba Tourism. Birding training for Saba Conservation Foundation employees has been provided by Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance ("DCNA"). This storyboard was generously sponsored by Vogelbescherming Nederland. Look for 4 additional storyboards under their sponsorship: Bridled Quail Dove, Brown Trembler, Magnificent Frigatebird and Audubon's Shearwater. Photos and text approval for this storyboard thanks to Kai Wulf, Manager of the Saba Conservation Foundation and bird enthusiast.







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