Parrots of the Caribbean

Parrots of the Caribbean

If you have heard of Bonaire at all, you may think of it as a haven for scuba divers or, maybe, loggerhead turtles. But this tiny island might also offer the best chance of survival for the yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot.

By Ted O’Callahan/Photography by Kim Hubbard
Published: July-August 2009

When we visit the office of Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, the group credited with protecting the island's turtles, Mabel Nava, the director, remarks on our serendipitous timing. Because nests are so closely monitored, she is able to invite us to Klein Bonaire, a small uninhabited island a half-mile off the coast, for the anticipated hatching of a loggerhead nest that night.

With the sun quickly dropping, we arrive just in time to see a volcano of tiny turtles erupting from the sand. Eggs are buried deep enough that no single hatchling could dig its way out, but collectively they rise through the sand in a living ladder. It is an extraordinarily affecting experience to watch each palm-size turtle blink away the sand and begin crawling with great urgency.

Word has spread about the event, and a series of small boats have arrived. About 30 people, mostly expatriates though a few native islanders, form a sort of red-carpet phalanx cheering the turtles toward the water. Children scramble to reorient inland-wandering hatchlings. The mood is joyous. Soon the water is polka-dotted with tiny turtle heads. They are bound for the sea, where they live for between five and ten years before beginning the migratory life of adult sea turtles. All told, there are 149 dramatic launches. But only an estimated one in 1,000 turtles reaches adulthood.

With survival odds like those faced by the turtles or the parrots, Williams and Martin see both Bonaire and the parrots teetering on an excruciating balancing point, but the people working on environmental issues there give them hope. "It is hard not to be cautiously optimistic for the future," Martin says. "The parrot is very much a part of Bonaire." And as the success with turtles has shown, the islanders are very capable of transforming perceptions to save one of their own.

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