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Signs of hope for one of the world’s rarest trees

December 21, 2021

The threats to endangered species, especially on islands, are often complicated and multidimensional. Invasive species, climate change, and destruction of sensitive habitats all put island species at disproportionate risk. On the other hand, sometimes a simple intervention can go a long way toward preventing an extinction.

In the case of our project in Bonaire, a territory of the Netherlands in the southern Caribbean, something as basic as a fence can make a real difference for the prospects for an endangered species.

The Bonaire palm (Sabal lougheediana) is one of the rarest plant species on Earth, with only a couple dozen mature trees found in one small area of the island. The tree was only recently identified as a separate species in 2019. At the time of its discovery, no new trees were growing to maturity, in large part because feral goats and donkeys were eating the seedlings before they could flower. The area of the island where the trees grew had shrunk by roughly 80%, to just one square kilometer. Many of the older trees were in poor condition, leaving a short window to protect the palm seedlings before it was too late for the species.

Seacology quickly took action last year. Working with local NGO BonBèrdè and the Florida-based Montgomery Botanical Center, we secured permission from the local government to construct a fence around the perimeter of the trees’ remaining habitat. The barrier is now complete and effectively excludes larger grazers, while being permeable enough for smaller animals to cross their habitat unimpeded.

The signs so far have been very encouraging. A survey after the fence was finished found many new seedlings growing, undisturbed by hungry herbivores. After Seacology announced our support, our partners received matching funds from Cargill. And the island’s government has voiced support for a larger, more formal reserve, restoring the Bonaire Palm to some of its former territory.

Read more about this important collaboration in the winter issue of the Montgomery Botanical Center’s newsletter.


Researchers conducted a survey of Bonaire palms after the fence was built.

A donkey looks in from outside the fence.