Audubon in Action

New Bahamas National Park Will Protect Migratory Piping Plovers, Red Knots, Other Atlantic Coast Birds

Formerly unknown shorebird wintering grounds receive permanent protection after discoveries and collaboration.

NEW YORK (Sep. 1, 2015) – A new national park in the Bahamas—one of several created yesterday by the Bahamian government—will help ensure the survival of several at-risk Atlantic Coast shorebird species, including Piping Plovers and Red Knots.  The new 113,920-acre Joulter Cays National Park protects a group of uninhabited islands and intertidal sand flats in the Bahamas. The National Audubon Society collaborated with the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) on the proposal for the new national park. The area will be protected from unregulated development and destructive practices while ensuring a sustainable local economy.

“This is a great victory for heroic birds that don’t know borders and the people who depend on the shores and waters of the Joulter Cays to make a living,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold (@david_yarnold). “By protecting these birds’ winter homes, we create the opportunity for new ecotourism jobs. That reflects the true power of Audubon’s partnerships across the hemisphere and we commend the government of the Bahamas for its leadership in protecting migratory birds.”

In 2012, Audubon research expeditions, alongside the Bahamas National Trust and other organizations, solved the mystery of where endangered Piping Plovers spend their winter. The Joulter Cays were revealed to be a critical wintering location for Atlantic plovers, Red Knots and other declining shorebirds. The cays were later designated as a globally Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, an essential initial step in protecting the site to benefit all wildlife.

The Bahamas is a coral-based archipelago of more than 700 islands and 2,500 cays sprinkled across 100,000 square miles of the Caribbean with over 340 bird species and vital pockets of marine and coastal biodiversity. The Joulter Cays National Park represents 113,920 acres of pristine habitat located approximately two miles north of the main island of Andros. The area showcases an astonishing congregation of birdlife and is a globally recognized hotspot for sports fishing.

“The Bahamas National Trust is extremely pleased that the government of the Bahamas has approved the creation of this new national park, which will provide much needed support to our thriving fly-fishing industry while also protecting the critical wintering habitat of several endangered shorebird species,” says Lawrence Glinton, president of Bahamas National Trust. “The park also has tremendous ecotourism potential and can generate significant revenue from bird based tourism. BNT and Audubon are presently developing a program that will allow local residents to take full advantage of these exciting new opportunities.”

Of the bird species documented in the Bahamas, more than 50 percent are migrants from the U.S. and Canada. The national park’s isolated sand flats and mangroves provide essential habitat for thousands of shorebirds representing 13 species, including the largest congregation of the endangered Piping Plover outside the U.S. The region is also important for breeding White-crowned Pigeons, wading birds and seabird populations and its mangrove forests support numerous migrating songbirds.

The distinct environment of the Joulter Cays gives rise to many irreplaceable habitats. The park encompasses a portion of the Andros Barrier Reef, second largest in the Western Hemisphere, with intact healthy reefs and deeper waters important for fisheries productivity, including impressive bonefish populations that contribute to a vibrant fly-fishing industry. Extensive banks of oolitic sand, seagrass meadows, mangroves and tidal creeks provide nursery areas and feeding grounds for sharks, conch, sea cucumbers, spiny lobsters and marine turtles. These marine ecosystems support local communities, as well as a lucrative tourism industry that draws snorkelers, divers and sport fishermen from around the world.

“People want more on a vacation than just sun, sand and sea,” said Matthew Jeffery, deputy director of Audubon’s International Alliances Program. “Bird-based tourism is growing rapidly and offers an opportunity to learn more about the Bahamas, its geography, history and wildlife. Those involved tend to practice sustainable and socially responsible ecotourism. This will ensure that animals like Piping Plovers and Red Knots have a safe and sustainable place to reside for years to come.”

Audubon and the Bahamas National Trust together with Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism continue to develop educational and economic opportunities that support conservation through bird-based tourism—or avitourism—by engaging interested Bahamians who complete a 14-week tour guide course to receive a birding certification. These initiatives spread awareness about the importance of habitats to endemic and migratory species and help preserve the heritage of the Bahamas.

The Bahamas has 42 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas though the majority do not have legal protection from habitat destruction and degradation. Limited opportunities for income generation often drive local communities to engage in activities that compromise the natural base.  As a national park, the Joulter Cays will now be protected in perpetuity from damaging practices such as sand mining, to preserve essential ecosystem functions while also safeguarding traditional recreational and commercial uses.

The National Audubon Society and the Bahamas National Trust are both members of the BirdLife International Partnership, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership.

The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.

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