Site description (2007 baseline)
This IBA includes Great Pond to the limits of its wetland delineation and the adjoining baymouth bar on its southern edge. Great Pond is a 50 ha mangrove-fringed, saline lagoon situated on the southeastern shore of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Great Pond is contained on the south by a vegetated baymouth bar. The baymouth bar, approximately 1,100 m long with a maximum width of 105 m, separates Great Pond from Great Pond Bay. Pond level and area fluctuate as a result of rainfall and tidal flow. Ground water discharge and runoff from the 470 ha of hills and pastures in the upland watershed result in a large influx of fresh water into Great Pond during and following heavy rainfall. A narrow channel with a maximum depth of 1.5 m connects the pond to Great Pond Bay at the pond’s southeast corner. Salinity varies from 20 ppt, after heavy rainfall events, to more than 40 ppt (Sladen 1992). At low water levels, mudflats are exposed around much of the pond, particularly along the western border, and extend outward 30 - 100 m from the pond edge. Mudflats are surrounded on the west and north sides by gently sloping, fallow pastures of dry grassland with mixed thorny scrub. In some areas, rainfall runoff amplified by former cattle grazing has left shallow eroded gullies and ledges where the pasture meets the mudflats. A failing barbed wire fence intersects the mudflats on the north and west sides. A Boy Scout Camp is located to the southwest. A paved public road (Rt. 60) flanked by an electrical transmission line is separated from the east side of the pond mudflats by a narrow row of black mangroves (Avicennia germinans). Approximately 100 houses have been built in the upland watershed, primarily to the northeast. An open fishermen’s shanty or camping kitchen and an outhouse built on the beach berm have been in use for years. When the western mudflats are not submerged, the beach and camp site are accessed by way of a temporary track along the pond’s western edge and a well worn road along the western end of the baymouth bar. A track through the southeast mudflats is used by fishermen launching small fishing boats from the shore into Great Pond Bay. Occasionally blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) are taken from Great Pond for food. Likewise land crabs (Cardisoma guanhumi) are trapped on the baymouth bar and wetland fringes. Like all lagoons in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Great Pond is owned by the Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The land surrounding the pond is currently owned by Golden Resorts, LLLP.
Surveys by D. B. McNair, L. D. Yntema, C. Cramer-Burke and S. L. Fromer from 2002 to 2007 have confirmed 72 species of birds at Great Pond, including 39 migrants and 33 resident species. This includes 18 species of migrant shorebirds. 19 nesting species including 3 resident shorebirds have been recorded at Great Pond. White-crowned Pigeons are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List and are on the U.S. Virgin Islands Endangered Species List. White-crowned Pigeons nested in the mangroves at Great Pond every year from 2002-2007 (DBM and LDY, pers. obs.), most commonly in the interior red mangrove manglars (McNair 2005; LDY and CCB, unpubl. data). Interior pond surveys conducted by DBM in 2003 documented 55 nesting pairs (McNair 2006). In May 2007 birds were observed from the pond’s interior, flying from nests containing eggs or young in many of the red mangrove manglars. However, most surveys since 2004 have been conducted from the perimeter of the pond. Birds calling from the tops of manglars and flying out just after dawn were counted in the months of May and June. Least Terns are listed as Endangered in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2006 the northwest mudflats of Great Pond supported the third largest nesting colony (134 pairs) of Least Terns on St. Croix (Lombard 2007). In 2007, approximately 30 pairs nested on the northwest and southeast mudflats. High water levels inundated the northwestern nesting area in June 2007, destroying all 20 nests and rendering the area inappropriate for re-nesting for the remainder of the season. Some pairs in the southeastern nesting area produced fledged young in 2007. Every August from 2002 – 2007 more than 200 Least Terns have congregated at Great Pond in preparation for post-breeding migration, even though birds did not breed from 2002 - 2005. Green-throated Caribs and Antillean Crested Hummingbirds, both restricted-range species within the Eastern Caribbean (A26), are present at Great Pond. Green-throated Carib nesting has been confirmed in the black mangroves. Wilson’s Plovers have nested annually from 2002 to 2007 on the dry mudflats on all sides of the pond. A 2002-2003 island wide survey by DBM confirmed Great Pond, with 20% of the island’s population, as the best breeding site for Wilson’s Plover on St. Croix. V.I. Fish and Wildlife has proposed that Wilson’s Plover be listed as a Species of Special Concern in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Another resident shorebird, the Black-necked Stilt regularly nests on the silt surrounding some interior red mangrove manglars and along the western pond edge. The shallow pond edges and mudflats provide feeding and roosting grounds for hundreds of migrant shorebirds including Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrels, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated, Least and Stilt Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers and others Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Willet all occur regularly at Great Pond and are considered Species of Special Concern in the USVI. Nests of Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron have been confirmed in the interior red mangroves in recent years (McNair et al., 2005; McNair and Sladen 2007; LDY and CCB, unpubl. data). Zenaida Dove, Common Ground Dove, Caribbean Eleania, Gray Kingbird, Northern Mockingbird and Black-faced Grassquit have nested in the black mangroves and/or in a variety of trees on the beach berm.
Non-bird biodiversity: Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas) have nested along the ocean side of the baymouth bar.
Lisa D. Yntema, Douglas B. McNair, Claudia D. Lombard and Carol Cramer-Burke.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Great Pond. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/site/factsheet/great-pond-iba-virgin-islands-(to-usa) on 04/10/2023.