Nature management in the Caribbean: invasive plants and an elfin forest

Published on
May 3, 2018

This research-focused internship combines working on a scientific experiment with practical involvement in management of valuable natural areas. Situated in the Caribbean island of Saba, it deals with the issue of controlling invasive plants in an island ecosystem and awareness raising within the local community.

Invasive alien plants pose a significant threat to Caribbean islands, which can be clearly seen with Coralita (Antigonon Leptopus) on Saba. The Caribbean region is considered one of the top hotspots of biodiversity in the world because of the high number of endemic species found in the region as compared to its geographic area. During the past 20 years, however, the invasive Coralita has started spreading on the island and it is now creeping in into valuable nature areas. These are a major attraction for tourists, which gives the problem an important economic dimension as well.

This project is a research-focused internship, in which the balance of research and practice can be tweaked according to your interests. In the research element, you will work with two PhD candidates experimenting with the germination and regrowth of Coralita under different degrees of shade. The main research question: Is creating shade a suitable management approach to Coralita? In addition, a new experiment could be set up that addresses revegetation options: what are attractive options for local land owners that help keeping Coralita out? The outcomes of this study will be used to engage the local community in containment of the plant, by offering them an effective management approach.

In the practice part of the project, you will assist the terrestrial natural park manager from the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) in his daily activities. SCF manages two terrestrial areas. One of them is a 43 ha pie-shaped tract of land on the north coast of Saba. The area has important biological, geological and historical values. It encompasses all vegetation zones present on Saba, an abandoned sulphur mine, hot springs, and it is an important nesting area for Red-billed tropicbirds and several other species of seabirds. The other is the Elfin Forest Reserve. This an 8.6 ha plot of montane cloud on the top of Mt. Scenery. It consists of two areas of primary forest and represents climax vegetation. In addition, SCF maintains several hiking trails around the island, for which the terrestrial manager is responsible as well.

Expected results

The student is expected to write a scientific report on the outcome of the experiment(s). Furthermore, the local partners will be working closely with the student to ensure the outcomes are translated into practical recommendations. Saba does not have an invasive management programme, and it is our hope this study will help in pushing that forward. Next to that, outreach to the general public is very important for this project, since we want to raise awareness amongst Sabans concerning the difficulty of controlling Coralita, but also the best way to go about it. Appropriate outreach activities will be decided on with the student, for example school visits, a policy brief for the government, and a public lecture.

Supervision and facilities provided

The SCF regularly hosts interns and can offer work space, a network of scientists and support in managing the experiment. There will be other interns you can discuss your research with. In your work with the terrestrial manager, tools and transportation will be provided. The expenses for housing on and travel to Saba are for the student. The manager of SCF can offer academic supervision, as well as the Utrecht University researchers who set up the experiment.


The student should be able to monitor and maintain a field experiment. In addition, some rudimentary statistical analysis are needed for analysing the data. Ecology, plant biology or a botanical background are needed, and familiarity with tropical vegetation or invasive species would help. We would like the student to start the 1st of June, and the final report should be finished one month after the student has left Saba.

Interested? Please get in touch at