Searching for Piping Plovers and other coastal species in the Bahamas
The 700 islands, cays, and large rocks that make up the Bahamas archipelago are home to some of the world's most vital ecosystems. They host more than 300 bird species, of which 109 breed on the islands, 169 are migrants, and 45 are vagrants, birds that stray far outside their expected breeding, wintering, or migrating range. These species rely on safe and healthy habitats for their wintering destination. Without significant conservation measures, these protected areas will no longer be wildlife sanctuaries. While the wetlands are relatively healthy, they are beginning to show signs of ecological stress, especially Harold and Wilson Ponds National Park, which is classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Audubon works to maintain the array of reefs, forests, and mangroves that provide habitat for birds through campaigns that educate and engage local community members around the many benefits provided by these wetlands.
The Piping Plover is a small shorebird, measuring about 7 inches in length, and weighing only about 2 ounces. The Plover is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and has a worldwide population of approximately 8,000 birds. By taking better care of Bahamas' ecosystems, we hope to increase scientific knowledge on the Piping Plover population, shorebird habitats, and the distribution and population status of crucial bird species on Andros Island.
In another long-term goal, the IAP team is closely working with the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) to engage local citizens in shorebird conservation, build Bahamian awareness of the importance of Andros Island as a wintering site for Piping Plovers and other endangered shorebirds, and foster local support for protecting and restoring important sites that host these wintering birds. IAP is also initiating the incorporation of the Joulter Cays into a National Protected Area System to guarantee the long-term conservation of these critical areas. Formal protection and good governance of key areas for wintering Piping Plovers and other shorebirds in the Bahamas is crucial for our flyway conservation efforts.
In 2006, a group of scientists from Audubon and volunteers from BNT counted 417 Piping Plovers in the area. In 2011 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) increased its coverage of the Bahamas with the assistance of local biologists, as well as scientists from the United States and Canada, and counted a total of 1,066 Piping Plovers during their expedition.