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Conservation benefit: Protection of last individuals of the critically endangered Bonaire palm

Date Approved: 06.2020

The critically endangered Bonaire palm tree (Sabal lougheediana) exists only on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, just north of Venezuela—and its foothold there is precarious. Only about 25 mature trees are left, making it one of the world’s rarest plants. And as old trees die, there are no new ones to replace them. When new seedlings sprout, the feral donkeys and goats that roam the island quickly eat them.

Seacology is funding construction of a fence around most of the surviving Bonaire palms, to keep out grazing animals. The fence will encircle about 35 acres, including the densest stand of trees. Our local partner is a Bonaire conservation organization, BonBèrdè, which has built similar fences on other parts of the island.

The fence will improve conditions for all of the island’s native plants and animals. In the newly enclosed area, there will be a rapid increase in vegetation cover and diversity. The fence won’t affect the island’s only large native terrestrial animals, iguanas and lizards, which will have no trouble passing through it.

A Seacology grant will also fund a program to grow and plant palm seedlings. The Montgomery Botanical Center in Coral Gables, Florida will operate the propagation program.

Project Updates

May 2023

A Seacology expedition visited the site and saw, first-hand, the huge difference in the areas inside and outside the fence. Because of the grazing animals, almost nothing grows outside the fence–but inside, tree seedlings are slowly growing to replace the older individuals.

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February 2022

Thanks to the new fence around the endangered Bonaire palms, feral donkeys and goats can no longer eat tree seedlings. This protection came just in time; our nonprofit partner reports that many of the oldest trees are showing signs of decline. There is, however, a good crop of new seedlings, which will now have a chance to grow to maturity. Building the fence was unexpectedly difficult and expensive because placing posts in the hard limestone rock surface required special equipment.

The island government now envisions a broader Sabal Palm Park that will protect the entire population of this unique species.

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June 2021

In May, the Bonaire government gave permission for the fence that will enclose the endangered palm trees and keep out the grazing animals that eat new seedlings. We expect to see progress soon.

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February 2021

We are waiting for government permission to start building a fence to enclose the palm trees and keep out the grazing animals that make regrowth impossible. Our project partner expects it soon.

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