The National Audubon Society is working alongside the Bahamas National Trust to establish a new national park on the Joulter Cays, a group of small uninhabited islands and intertidal sand flats to the north of Andros Island in the Bahamas. The area was recently discovered to provide critical winter habitat for the threatened Piping Plover and Red Knot.
This week, Audubon staff visited the site with the Honorable Kenred Dorsett, minister of environment and housing for the Bahamas, other senior government officials for the Island of Andros, the board of the Bahamas National Trust and local sports fishing guides to highlight the site’s significance for migrating and wintering birds, marine wildlife and local economies.
“The Joulter Cays are rich in birds, fisheries and other wildlife. This is true paradise, a treasure for the Bahamas and it deserves protection for all that it has to offer,” said Matt Jeffery, deputy director of Audubon’s International Alliances Program.
The Joulter Cays were designated as a globally important bird area (IBA) for the threatened Piping Plover in 2012. The IBA supports more than four percent of the global population of the species. This assembly is an important step in the process of formally protecting the region, an action that will benefit all wildlife utilizing the Cays and help preserve the natural heritage of the Bahamas. Audubon research expeditions in 2012 recorded previously unknown wintering locations for Red Knots, whose population has declined to alarming levels in recent years. This revealed the region’s importance for the species, along with other declining shorebirds.
“It is clear to me that the Joulter Cays and Andros West Side National Park represent tremendous opportunity for our people” said the Honorable Kenred Dorsett. “The Piping Plover is a species of bird whose numbers are dwindling in the United States, but there are significant numbers that fly here during the winter season between July and March. I dare say that it is a Bahamian bird.”
Red Knots have one of the longest annual migrations on the planet, over 9,000 miles between their wintering grounds in far South America and their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic. But not all of them make this long migration. Audubon’s research shows that some overwinter in the Bahamas. Additional research is needed to better understand the importance of the Bahamas to Red Knots during migration.
The majority of Red Knots seen (172) in the Bahamas were on the Joulter Cays, including one which had a leg band indicating that it had passed through Delaware Bay during its migration to the Arctic. The banded Red Knot, Light Green Flag H5M, was originally banded in May 2008 at Moores Beach, NJ. Since then, the bird has been seen five times along the coast of the U.S. but was never recorded internationally, until Audubon scientists discovered it in the Bahamas.
As part their journey north, Red Knots stop along Atlantic coast beaches to rest, forage and pack on fat that will sustain them during migration. Many stopover on the beaches of the Delaware Bay, feeding on the billions of horseshoe crab eggs that line the shores, before continuing on to Arctic breeding grounds. Red Knot numbers have sharply declined in the past decade due to the increase in harvesting of horseshoe crabs, loss of habitat and other threats. The species has recently been proposed to be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
Findings from Audubon’s research are helping to better understand the importance of the Bahamas and places like the Joulter Cays to Piping Plovers, Red Knots and other shorebirds. This is an essential step in protecting shorebirds and recovering their populations.
“We have always known that the Joulter Cays were important for fly fishing but the discovery of significant numbers of wintering Piping Plovers and other shorebirds like the Red Knot has been phenomenal and has significantly elevated the area’s importance to the Bahamas and the international community,” said Eric Carey, executive director for the Bahamas National Trust.