Protecting nature in the Bahamas


This video series is called Birds of The Bahamas.

From BirdLife:

Protection for key nature sites in the Bahamas

By Kirsty MacLeod, Fri, 12/06/2015 – 10:35

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.”

Ancient beaked whale fossil caught by fisherman


This video says about itself:

16 January 2009

In the deep waters of the Bahamas, Wild Chronicles and Crittercam® gain a fleeting glimpse of a rare and most remarkable sea creature, the beaked whale. Incredibly, Crittercam® captures the first video of a birth among these rare whales. What you see will astound you.

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

A nice discovery! A piece of bone that Ecomare received in October turns out to be a piece of skull from a beaked whale. The bone was petrified, and therefore probably from the early Pleistocene, about 2 million years old. Ecomare received the bone from the Vonk family. The crew of their fishing vessel, the TX1, had this year netted it in the North Sea, near the English coast.

Fishing ships with TX are from Texel. Scientists cannot say which beaked whale species exactly this was.

Bahamas sharks, new research


This video from the Bahamas is called Bimini Sharklab Naturalist Course: The Shark Dive.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The truth about sharks: Far from being ‘killing machines’, they have personalities, best friends and an exceptional capacity for learning

A tribe of marine scientists has set up base on the tiny island of Bimini in the Bahamas to unravel the secrets of the creature most misunderstood by man. Oliver Duff dives in..

Oliver Duff

Friday 28 November 2014

I was snorkelling far offshore when the bull shark appeared. Movement in the corner of my eye, then a silhouette 30 metres away, slipping through the turquoise haze on that late afternoon. He was fat, with a bright white belly and distinctive snub nose. He studied the two-legged intruder and began to circle, slowly closing the gap: 20 metres, 15, 12…

I stuck it out for as long as I dared, then, trying to avoid panicked splashing, I kicked for the boat, not taking my eyes off him. You don’t want to mess around with a bull.

These waters off tiny Bimini, in the Bahamas, teem with sharks. A tribe of marine scientists, led by the grandfather of shark biology, Samuel ‘Doc’ Gruber, has set up base on the island, determined to unravel the secrets of the creature most misunderstood by man. The research coming out of the Bimini Biological Field Station – better known around the world as the Sharklab – is transforming our knowledge of what glides beneath the seas and oceans.

This video is called Take A Tour Of The Bimini Shark Lab In The Bahamas.

Turn off the spine-tingling music and forget everything you thought you knew about this solitary, “mindless killing machine”. Sharks have individual personalities. They socialise, choose best friends and create social networks of unusual complexity. They can be trained by humans to complete simple tasks, much more quickly than rabbits or cats, for instance, and retain the knowledge for much longer. Sharks also teach each other new tricks: how to find food, identify predators and charm mates. Like sea turtles, some travel huge distances to return to their own birthplace, again and again, to give birth themselves. Most don’t need to swim continuously to survive. And rather than being near-blind and reliant on smell, which is the general perception, they in fact have advanced sight. They feel pain. And the boldest sharks face a greater risk of dying before adulthood.

Why does any of this matter? Well, we’re killing about 100 million sharks every year, 11,000 an hour, either for the Chinese soup trade (where the de-finned shark is chucked back into the sea to sink and die on the bottom) or as bycatch.

The idea of shark-free waters may seem appealing, until you consider the havoc that would be unleashed on the rest of ocean life if that happened. Sharks, as apex predators, balance ecosystems, stopping animals in the middle of the marine food chain from proliferating and destroying life still further down. Sharks also pick off the weakest, sickest and slowest fish, helping to prevent the spread of disease and parasites, and strengthening the gene pool of prey species. That’s why scientists consider sharks to be ‘keystone’ species in marine ecosystems. Take them away and the structures collapse.

Five years ago, I was a phobic rattled by shadows in the swimming pool. Now I’m a shark nut. I have free-dived – no cage, armed with nothing more than a snorkel and an underwater camera – with about 100 big sharks (by that, I mean longer than two metres). No ‘great’ whites or oceanic whitetips among them, but tiger, yes, bull, great hammerhead, sand tiger, lemon, Caribbean reef, blacktip, grey, and perhaps the laziest, the nurse shark. (This sluggish character loiters near the bottom and sucks in small prey that happens to pass by.) I have not yet been eaten on sight, but I have been stared at with alarm and curiosity.

This video says about itself:

The Sharklab (Bimini Biological Field Station) research team catch a 283 cm tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) in 900 feet of water just off the coast of Bimini, Bahamas.

The Independent article continues:

Underwater, I’m still prone to pangs of claustrophobia from poor visibility, or agoraphobia from the vast expanse, but I’ve rationalised my fear of sharks. Only about a dozen of the 500 species have posed any danger to humans, and even then, very rarely. Calling sharks man-eaters is like judging the whole of humanity by a handful of serial killers. Every year, billions of people around the world enter shark habitats; on average, four of them die.

My infatuation began on the Barrier Reef in 2009, scuba-diving in Queensland. Your heart drums the first time you see that unmistakeable shadow emerge from the gloom. Two long grey reef sharks approached us. Time stopped as they span back and forth, inspecting the huddle of novice divers. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they slipped back into the unseen Pacific. I was awed by their grace, power and inquisitiveness.

Fast-forward to 2014 and I’m on South Bimini, 50 miles east of Miami, to see the Sharklab scientists in action. I spotted an advert online: anyone can visit to take part in their ‘research experience’, five days a month where outsiders can live and study at the field station. It’s a means of fundraising and spreading the urgent conservation message. (I paid my own way.)

The biologists give lectures and take us out on the boats to help with their day job: capturing, tagging and releasing sharks, then tracking their movements, in the hope of finally understanding their behaviour. You get to wear swimming trunks to the office, but have to watch your fingers.

This video is called Ayla visits a shark research lab on South Bimini and talks to the scientists about the tagging program.

Uniquely in the Bahamas, all species of sharks are protected. If you get in the clear, warm water, you will meet large sharks. So an hour after landing at the airstrip, I’m already on a small boat a mile offshore, ready to jump in.

All around us, the dorsal fins of large Caribbean reef sharks chop the surface. Looking over the side I could touch them as they glide beneath us. The main thing to remember is not to jump in right on top of one – unlikely to be enjoyable for either party.

Within seconds of plunging in, we’re face-to-snout with them. Caribbean reef sharks are the bold, boisterous puppy dogs of the Bahamas. It’s utterly thrilling, sometimes too intense for comfort as they dart by – you have to fend off the nosier ones with a raised fin. After 40 minutes, I don’t want to get back on the boat.

The island looks stunning from the air – a spit of sand in coral shallows –but life onshore is less glamorous. The scientists live in a crowded bunkhouse with little privacy and personal space, hungry bugs and stifling heat.

The lab’s executive director, Dr Tristan Guttridge, aged 32, admits: “It’s not easy to get time alone or to reflect. People here endure some tough conditions to experience life-changing moments, like free-diving with a great hammerhead.”

While free-diving with sharks cannot ever be completely ‘safe’, it is a calculated risk, taking account of species, water conditions, and the size of the diving group. I reasoned that the scientists wanted to send us home with all our fingers and toes.

The real stars of the show at Bimini are the great hammerheads, Sphyrna mokarran. These charismatic, elusive and endangered giants grow to six metres long, and for a few months a year they live in the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary. Being close to such a beast – buffeted by its wake as it rockets past your head – leaves you certain of your insignificance in the cosmos.

We floated in the shallows following three of them for an hour. They are superb hunters and glorious to watch, as they spin and dive through the water column, swinging their wide heads packed with electro-sensors over the seabed to scan for hidden stingrays or flatfish. Their attitude to us? Majestic indifference.

Dr Guttridge and his colleagues have pioneered a research project to find out why the great hammerheads visit the Bahamas, where they have come from and where they go. Great hammerheads respond badly to capture – 90 per cent caught on a line die – so they have to be individually tagged by free-diving researchers who hold their breath, kick down and spear an acoustic transmitter through the shark’s dorsal fin.

The first results are in: one female swam a staggering 750 miles from Bimini up to Virginia in four weeks, making dives as deep as 200 metres on the way. The suspicion is that great hammerheads swim from the Caribbean to the United States, where they have no federal protection and fall prey to commercial and sports fishing. To save them from extinction, biologists first need to know exactly where they go.

One of the extraordinary things about the Sharklab is its genetic database, which contains 3,500 lemon sharks, 500 tigers, 200 blacktips, 150 nurse and 50 bulls. This allows the team to discover family ties between sharks and has provided definitive evidence of mothers returning to their own birthplace to deliver their young. Recently the researchers were delighted to catch a lemon shark whose pups were first detected back in 1993, making her at least 37 years old.

Debunking the popular image of sharks as killing machines is Jean-Sebastien Finger, a 29-year-old marine biologist who swapped Paris for Bimini.

“They are not machines, they have personality,” Finger explains. He is conducting the first study into the personalities of lemon sharks – the lab mice of the sea (but feistier). By observing them for thousands of hours he’s built a “Facebook of sharks” and found that they have their own distinct personalities which are consistent over time. Some are sociable, bold, others shy, territorial, mellow, novelty-seeking, risk-averse, leaders, followers… “You can’t generalise behaviour of one individual to a species,” he cautions. The research may eventually be compared across species, including humans, to try to shed light on the evolution of personality.

Another man dedicated to challenging stereotypes is the Belgian photographer Jean-Marie Ghislain. He has chosen art over science, publishing his stunning black-and-white work (pictured on these pages) in a new book, Shark: Fear and Beauty. Ghislain was scared of water until the age of 52, when he was still working in real estate. A friend persuaded him that he could overcome this fear by swimming with sharks. Over the past five years he has spent thousands of hours diving with them, trying to capture their beauty and presence. “I realised it was a projection of a fear,” he says. “Once I faced the sharks, it was gone.”

Danger is something few of us experience. For me, though, swimming with sharks is about more than sensing your own mortality. It’s the exhilaration of finding the last real wilderness on Earth, just a few inches beneath the ocean surface.

And if all this seems too much, you will soon be able to marvel at sharks without getting your hair wet. The BBC’s Natural History Unit has been filming a startling new series, Shark, scheduled for broadcast on BBC1 next year. Four decades after Steven Spielberg’s hysterical big-screen effort, rehabilitation cannot come soon enough.

For more on Bimini Biological Field Station, visit biminisharklab.com

‘Shark: Fear and Beauty’, by Jean-Marie Ghislain (Thames & Hudson, £29.95)

Bull shark intelligence: here.

Tropical fish on Dutch beach again


This video says about itself:

9 April 2012

This video was taken in shallow water off Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas. The Unicorn [Leatherjacket] Filefish is normally a deep water fish but is occasionally seen in shallow water. You can see the fish change its coloring as it swims away.

Recently, a tropical fish, an oceanic puffer, beached on Texel island in the Netherlands. The first time ever for that species in that country, and in the whole North Sea.

It turns out that a few days before this, another tropical species beached near ‘s-Gravenzande, more to the south in the Netherlands.

It was a unicorn leatherjacket filefish. Also, the first time ever in the North Sea.

Paleontology helping to restore Abaco, Bahamas biodiversity?


A new University of Florida study shows scientists are only beginning to understand the roles of native species in prehistoric island ecosystems. Researchers discovered this 3,000-year-old fossil skull of a Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, in the Bahamas. Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History, by Kristen Grace

From the University of Florida in the USA today:

Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but University of Florida scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity.

The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study available online and in the September issue of the Journal of Herpetology. Pre-human island ecosystems provide vital clues for saving endangered island and re-establishing , said lead author Alex Hastings, who conducted work for the study as graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF department of geological sciences.

“Our work is particularly relevant to that are currently living in marginal environments,” said Hastings, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. “A better understanding of species’ natural roles in ecosystems untouched by people might improve their prospects for survival.”

Thousands of years ago, the largest carnivore and herbivore on the Bahamian island of Abaco disappeared. The study reconstructs the ancient food web of Abaco where these two mega-reptiles, the endangered Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and the now-extinct Albury’s Tortoise (Chelonoidis alburyorum), once flourished. Today, there is no modern terrestrial ecosystem like that of ancient Abaco, with reptiles filling the roles of largest herbivore and carnivore.

In the study, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society, researchers embarked on the difficult task of reconstructing an ecosystem where few of the components still exist. To understand these missing pieces, scientists analyzed the types of carbon and nitrogen in well-preserved from the Cuban Crocodile and Albury’s Tortoise, which was unknown to scientists before its 2004 discovery in the Bahamas. The data reveal the crocodile and tortoise were both terrestrial, showing that reptiles “called the shots” on the island, Hastings said.

The terrestrial nature of these creatures is a great indicator of how biodiversity has changed in the Bahamas and what the ideal circumstances would be for these or similar species to return, said Florida Museum ornithology curator and study co-author David Steadman.

“On islands like Abaco that have always been dominated by reptiles, the flora and fauna are more vulnerable because they have evolved to lead a more laid back, island existence,” Steadman said. “Understanding this is important to designing better approaches to conservation on the island.”

Early paleontological sites in the Bahamas have yielded bones from numerous species of reptiles, birds and mammals that no longer exist on the islands. James Mead, a vertebrate paleontologist with East Tennessee State University, said more research into the evolutionary history of native plants and animals on Abaco is needed as well as conservation programs based on paleontological research that aims to restore these species.

“The Cuban crocodile is living today in small numbers in Cuba, but this new research shows that it is not living to its fullest potential,” Mead said. “The crocodile could live more abundantly in a much wider habitat if we allowed it.”

Bahamas, built by bacteria from Saharan dust?


This video says about itself:

Wildlife of Exuma Island, Bahamas – Lonely Planet travel video

Visitors to sparsely populated Exuma, a remote island in the Bahamas, can expect a close encounter with sharks and iguanas.

From New Scientist:

Bahamian paradise built by bacteria using Saharan dust

13:40 28 July 2014 by Flora Graham

The Bahamas may have been created by bacteria thriving on minerals in dust from the Sahara desert, 8000 kilometres away.

In this NASA satellite image from 2009, it is possible to see how the many islands of the Bahamas are actually the highest points of distinct areas where the sea is shallow and turquoise.

These turquoise waters mark the top of the Bahama Banks – underwater columns of coral reef limestone more than 4500 metres tall that have formed over the past 100 million years. It was thought that tiny plants and animals generate the vast amounts of carbonate that make up the towers, similar to how coral reefs are formed. But the surrounding sea is poor in nutrients, so what would have sustained them is a mystery.

Now researchers including Peter Swart from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Florida are showing that photosynthetic cyanobacteria may actually have done much of the construction.

Cyanobacteria are involved in the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the sea, but they would have needed an enormous amount of iron to do their work. This could have been provided by the dust that blows across the Atlantic from the Sahara.

There are characteristic traces of iron and manganese in recent carbonate sediment on the banks, pointing to their Saharan origin. So the team suggests that the Bahama Banks are being built up by cyanobacteria and may also have been in the past.

The results of this research are here.

Protecting piping plovers in the Bahamas


This video says about itself:

People and Plovers by David Yarnold

8 July 2014

On a recent visit to the Bahamas, David Yarnold and other Audubon [Society in the USA] leaders saw the true power of working along the Flyways of the Americas, the core idea of the vision of a new Audubon.

From Audubon Magazine in the USA:

The View: People and Plovers

Meet some of the folks who drive our on-the-ground conservation.

By David Yarnold

Published: May-June 2014

On a recent visit to the Bahamas, we saw the true power of working along the Flyways of the Americas, the core idea of the vision of a new Audubon. The flyways along which birds migrate connect us to one another and to the birds’ world.

We saw Kerri Dikun from Audubon New York, Lindsay Addison from Audubon North Carolina, and Marianne Korosy from Audubon Florida come together in the Bahamas as part of Audubon’s international alliances team to help protect and preserve one of the world’s largest wintering grounds for piping plovers. These birds, which breed and migrate along the Atlantic Coast, were the thread that drew us all together to collaborate on the sands of the Joulter Cays. The passion and tenacity of the scientists was clear. But as I talked with them, I came to understand that something important had happened here: Their view of coastal protection grew because they were able to connect with others along the flyway. Their worldview shifted. They were moved, and they moved us. I asked them, “What do you want people to know about these birds?” This is what they had to say.

Kerri Dikun

Long Island Bird Conservation Coordinator, Audubon New York

“For those of us who work on the breeding grounds, it’s sometimes hard to let go of the belief that piping plovers are ‘our birds.’ We pour ourselves into protecting them each summer and experience their every trial and triumph firsthand. But I want people to know that after seeing them on the wintering grounds, imagining their arduous journey to get there, and meeting the dedicated people who await their return in the winter, it’s evident they’re still ‘our birds’—the ‘our’ is just bigger now.”

Lindsay Addison

Coastal Biologist, Audubon North Carolina

“I would like people to know about and be amazed by migration. Piping plovers are extremely true to their nesting and wintering sites. They return to the same sand flat every winter and nest on the same stretch of beach every summer. We’ve seen one little piping plover at the same inlet in North Carolina every winter for six years. She flies there from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore without a map or a GPS unit. There’s a semipalmated plover that winters on a beach near where I grew up that arrives in the same week every fall from the Mackenzie River Delta, Northwest Territories, near the Alaska-Canada border. I often think shorebirds know better where they are in the world than people.“

Marianne Korosy

IBA Coordinator, Audubon Florida

“Andros Island hosts many miles of sandy mudflats where piping plovers can feed undisturbed by beach volleyball, sunbathing visitors, ATVs, low-flying hang gliders, or gulls attracted by picnic leftovers. These special places, where piping plovers and other shorebirds can feed and rest in peace, are vital to the survival of this species.”

You can see more of the work these dedicated scientists are doing online at audubon.org/bahamas2014 and learn more about Audubon’s International Alliances Program and partnership with the Bahamas National Trust.

Author Profile

David Yarnold

David Yarnold is the president and CEO of the National Audubon Society.

Piping plovers on abaco: here.