Litter a death trap’ for skinks
Discarded glass and plastics bottles strewn along the coastline have become a death trap for one of the Island’s most endangered animals.
Earlier this summer, wildlife ecologist Mark Outerbridge and British student Helena Turner embarked on a pioneering new project to monitor and protect the Bermuda skink.
The pair’s findings that included dozens of skink carcasses trapped in empty bottles paint a worrying picture for the future of the mainland population.
“It’s a real problem, especially along the coastline, which is of course where most of our skinks are found,” said Dr Outerbridge.
“In one of the worst locations in Southampton, we were finding that one bottle in three had a dead skink in it.
“The number of skink remains that we found in a bottle varied from one to five.
“There was one bottle which had the remains of five skinks in it.
“The trouble is that the remnants of the liquid in the bottle attract insects that in turn attract skinks.
“Then once they get trapped in the bottle and die, other skinks are then attracted by the smell of the dead skink.
“These bottles are death traps to skinks, or what we call lethal litter.
“We really need people to think before they discard their bottles and not to just leave bottles of beer and other drinks on the shoreline because the damage it is doing to the mainland skink population is very significant.”
Dr Outerbridge and Ms Turner spent two weeks trapping and tagging Bermuda skinks at various locations across the Island.
It was the first time that very small Passive Integrated Transponders (also known as PIT tags), which are placed just under the skin, have been used to help to study the Bermuda skink population.
The initiative is part of an ongoing partnership between Conservation Services and Chester Zoo in England and is designed to provide the first comprehensive archive of skink data across the Island.
Dr Outerbridge added: “The overall survey went very well, overall. Over the two months we captured nearly 400 skinks at various locations across the Island.
“The majority of those were found on Castle Island and Southampton Island. In fact, I would say that they made up about half of the total number captured.
“The skink populations on the small islands around Bermuda seem to be very healthy, but we did have much more difficulty finding species on the mainland.
“That is obviously because they face more threats on the mainland from cats to rats and, of course, the lethal litter.”
Ms Turner, who is taking a Master’s at the University of Kent about Bermuda skinks, and Dr Outerbridge took a raft of measurements from each captured skink, as well as a genetic mouth swab that will form part of the new skink database.
She has now returned to the UK where she will continue to collate the data that will then be shared with experts in Bermuda.