Alto Velo Island, Dominican Republic 

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Alto Velo Island, Dominican Republic 

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Big impacts on a small island

The Dominican Republic’s Alto Velo Island, a peak of the Beata Underwater Mountain Range, is just 1.5 square kilometers (less than a square mile) in size and located 27 km off the southern coast of Hispaniola. Yet this small, remote island plays an outsized role for biodiversity. 

Alto Velo is home to ttwo reptiles found nowhere else: the Alto Velo Curlytail and the Alto Velo Anole. It also provides critical habitat for breeding seabirds, including the largest colony of Sooty Terns in the Caribbean. 

Unfortunately, this ecosystem is in peril, due in large part to the introduction of damaging invasive species during the 18th and 19th centuries, with intensive guano mining stripping the island’s natural wealth. Invasive species’ negative impacts have also led to a massive reduction in vegetation and ground cover, threatening Alto Velo’s unique lizard species and making the island more vulnerable to erosion. 

Both the curlytail and the anole are now listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Several species of seabirds have been extirpated. Bridled and Least Tern are no longer present, and populations of Brown Pelican, Brown Booby, and White-tailed Tropicbird are reduced to very low numbers. Today, the Sooty Tern colony is only 25% of its historic size. 

Alto Velo has the potential to serve as a key nesting site for many key connector species—not just Sooty Terns, but also sea turtle species, and potentially the highly endangered Black-capped Petrel. The near-shore ecosystem also stands to benefit, with many coral species. Restoring Alto Velo will bolster the resilience of Caribbean biodiversity and preserve unique species found nowhere else on the planet. 

A Voice from the Field

SOH Conservación is thrilled to be a part of the Island-Ocean Connection Challenge, SOH has worked in the Caribbean region, especially in Hispaniola, for more than 20 years, restoring habitat, evaluating populations, conserving unique places and helping the Ministry of the Environment preserve the protected areas of the Dominican Republic. Through the IOCC, SOH Conservación envisions a future where islands in the Dominican Republic and surrounding ocean flourishes for generations to come.

- Jorge Luis Brocca, Executive Director of SOH Conservación leading work on IOCC island Alto Velo, Dominican Republic.

The Project

In 2026, American Bird Conservancy and IOCC partners will begin the process of restoring Alto Velo to health, starting with elimination of invasive species. To remove invasive rats, the team will test drone-based application of bait — a first for the Caribbean. Other invasives, such as feral cats and goats, will also be removed, providing the native wildlife with a chance to rebound.  Once invasive species are no longer a threat, the team plans to use social attraction methods such as decoys and audio systems to encourage Brown Pelicans and Roseate and Bridled Terns to return. Through translocations, the project aims to establish the first predator-free colony of the Endangered Black-capped Petrel, currently known to breed only on Hispaniola. A recent survey of the Beata Mountain ridge reported Black-capped Petrels hunting along the upwelling, signaling that birds restored to Alto Velo could have an easy commute to feeding grounds.   The team is beginning to lay the groundwork to assess how the restoration of Alto Velo may reverberate into the surrounding marine environment. Exciting new research has revealed that nutrients deposited by seabirds play a vital role in healthy coastal ecosystems, and it’s hoped that baseline and future assessments will show improving reef conditions – including coral and fish populations – into the future.   To ensure sustainability, the project will build regional capacity for invasive species removal, species restoration, and monitoring. 

Project Partners & Funders

American Bird Conservancy, Fundemar, Government of the Dominican Republic, Island Conservation, SOH Conservación

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