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Americas
12 Jun 2015

Protection for key nature sites in the Bahamas

Three of the new parks will protect key marine species like the Hawksbill Turtle (Markus Fritze; creative commons flickr.com)
By Kirsty MacLeod

Five new National Parks have been established on San Salvador island in the Bahamas as part of an expansion of the Bahamas National Protected Area System – a system that the Bahamas National Trust (BirdLife Partner) manages. The new parks encompass 8,500 ha of pristine land and seascapes, including all or part of the island’s four Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). Two of the five new parks are recognised as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) due to the occurrence of a threatened endemic iguana species.

San Salvador island, some 400 miles south-east of Miami, is thought to be the location where Columbus first set foot in the New World, 11km wide by 21km long, it has a population of fewer than a thousand people. Despite its isolation, it is a popular destination for scuba-divers who come for the beautiful reefs and exceptional diving conditions. The island supports diverse plant communities, including mangrove swamps and seagrass beds, both important for local wildlife and fisheries.

San Salvador is well-known for its birdlife, and in particular, its abundance and high diversity of seabirds. The island hosts 14 of the 17 seabird species that breed in the Bahamas, the largest diversity of breeding seabirds in this area. It is also home to a number of globally threatened species, including the Endangered San Salvador Rock Iguana, endemic to the island and with fewer than 600 individuals remaining. An endemic (and threatened) race of the West Indian Woodpecker is found only here and on Abaco island.

Due to the island’s small size and isolation, the key habitats of San Salvador are extremely vulnerable to man-made influences. However, large areas of these habitats are now contained by the five new parks. Graham’s Harbour Iguana and Seabird National Park and the Southern Great Lake National Park are internationally recognized as IBAs and KBAs, and between them embrace an extensive mangrove system, important nesting seabird populations and  populations of the San Salvador rock iguana, in addition to healthy reef systems and seagrass beds. The three other new parks also protect key habitats, including tidal creeks, and a reef system home to the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle, and a migratory route for humpback whales. It is hoped that the designation of these five new parks will help to prevent habitat and animal disturbance, and wildlife trafficking of threatened species.

“We are especially pleased with the tremendous amount of expressed and documented community support for these parks,” said Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust. “We are thrilled to see the results of all of our joint efforts, including that of other NGOs, come to fruition through this momentous declaration by the government.”

The San Salvador National Parks project was supported by funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund