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Maio Biodiversity Foundation

Maio Biodiversity Foundation
Islands like Cape Verde are powerhouses of biodiversily. When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1838, he was fascinated by the massive ground turtles and large number of indigenous plants and animals. Ever since Charles Darwin's explorations, the world's islands have played a major role in the study of ecology, evolution and behaviour, and contributed immensely to the understanding of life on Earth.

However, islands are also fragile and vulnerable environments, and can be rapidly destroyed by the careless actions of man. Animals that evolve on islands have not evolved escaping mechanisms to protect them from predators, and therefore are easy targets for introduced predators like cats, rats and mice that can cause havoc by eating the native animals' eggs, young and adults. For example the dodo, the plump flightless land pigeon of Mauritius Island was rapidly hunted to extinction by sailors as it did not have any fear of man, nor the capacity to escape from predators.

Other things that cause major problems for island ecosystems are the introduction of exotic plants and animals to the islands. A good example is soil erosion caused by goats that were deliberately placed on many tropical islands to feed marine crews. In a short period of time goats destroyed most of the native vegetation leading to erosion and soil degradation. So the short term benefit of goat meat for sailors is vastly outweighed by the long term disastrous consequences of infertile and deserted soil that plague many previously well-vegetated islands including Cape Verde.

Maio Biodiversity Foundation
Maio Island is the oldest in the Cape Verdean archipelago, and since the first arrival of Portuguese settlers, it has been suffering some of these problems that influence the ecosystems of many islands. Nevertheless, the biodiversity of the island is still high with some of the last remaining undisturbed beaches and spectacular landscapes like Salina Porto Ingres and Terras Salgadas. The extensive sandy beaches are important for nesting loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), second only to Boa Vista. Bird watchers can get good sightings of 3 species of desert-dwelling larks that are elusive in mainland Africa, and a magnificent shorebird, the cream-coloured courser (Cursorius cursorius) that is hard to spot except in Maio and Boa Vista.

To study and protect the rich natural heritage of Maio in order to preserve it for everyone, a new NGO Maio Biodiversity Foundation (FMB) was created in 2010, with the main objective "to know and protect nature for sustainable development" (www.maioconservation.org). For this purpose the Foundation invites both national and international volunteers to work with us, and we also give special attention to education with activities both in local schools and at university.

We recently signed a protocol with University Cabo Verde, Praia that will bring biology students to Maio to study plants, animals and wildlife. We are proud to be supported by local communities, the Municipality of Maio, the Directorate General of Environment (DGA), and by our international partner, Fauna and Flora International (FFI, UK). The Foundation has three ongoing projects. The first is the protection of marine turtles on the immense unspoiled beaches of the island. It is now known that Maio has the second most important nesting beaches in Cape Verde, and this is significant from an international perspective since Cape Verde is home to the third largest rookery of loggerhead turtles.

The education of the local population, the protection of nests and guarding the beaches are the main objectives of FMB's turtle project. Killing female turtles for meat and poaching eggs from nests is still common, and FMB with the help of local authorities, is fighting against these illegal actions. Only in this way will we be able to guarantee that the next generation of Cape Verdeans and tourists visiting the island are able to witness the run of the baby turtle hatchlings to the sea.

Maio Biodiversity Foundation
The second project targets the protection of the SaRna Porto Ingres. This sallpan has an extraordinary importance both cultural and historically. In effect, the history of Maio is intimately connected to salt extraction and the very foundation of the city of Porto Ingle's, the island capital, was driven by salt production to satisfy the immense demand for preserving meat on long journeys at sea.

Today, salt extraction still plays an important role for the livelihood of many families and is a significant source of income for the island's economy. This wetland is also very important in biological terms. It is an important site for wintering shorebirds coming from northern Europe, and has the largest breeding population of Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) in the tropical Atlantic. For all these reasons it is imperative that the Salina do Porto Ingles ecosystem is preserved.

The third project aims to design the best possible tourism for the future of the Island. Tourism plays a crucial role in the economy of the whole of Cape Verde, and although Maio has few tourists currently, it is likely to accelerate in the future. Tourists and foreigners that move to reside on the islands however, can be a mixed blessing: they do not only bring important revenue for the local population, but may also jeopardise the key attractions of Maio: its tranquil nature and spectalular landscapes.

The Maio Biodiversity Foundation is working with tourism officials and the national authorities to develop a tourism system that will bring in cash but will also preserve the environment. FMB favours high quality tourism that appreciates the benefits of nature and spectacular scenery. Maio has immensely rich marine fauna with coral reefs, whales and sharks that is wailing to be explored. Rural tourism is another favoured option: local-run pensions and small hotels will not only improve living standards for the people of Maio, but will also help in preserving nature. All of these developments should be carefully designed by keeping the natural biodiversity potential of Maio.

The Foundation is always active. Along with its numerous activities, we are also designing a new project involving the study, monitoring and protection of the future National Park of Terras Salgadas. This park covers the north part of Maio and hosts a spectacular mixture of sand dunes, salt marshes and rocky deserts. It is one of the least disturbed terrestrial ecosystems in Cape Verde. It holds an important seabird colony on !heti Lage Branca (White-faced Storm-Petrel Pelagodroma marina), and is a feeding and rearing ground for sharks, whales and their offspring. FMB is planning to develop an action plan for the management of this unique area with specific measures designed to maintain the important biodiversity and beauty of this still wild park.

The Foundation's projects are based on national and international funding, and also on donations and voluntary work.

Our major funding agencies are currently The Rufford Foundation (United Kingdom), MAVA Foundation (Switzerland) and Marine Turtle Conservation Foundation (USA).

To further develop our work we need more funds, more volunteers and better resources - please see our website for more information on how to participate:
Visit Website - www.maioconsevation.org
Email - office@maioconservation.org
Phone - 1-238 977 8834.

Only with the help of dedicated people, will we be able to make Maio a world case study on conservation and sustainable development that will directly benefit both the local population and wildlife.

Maio Biodiversity Foundation
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