Piping Plover Gains Ground in The Bahamas

Three sites in The Bahamas are recognized as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) and international conservation priorities for the endangered Piping Plover. Audubon Americas celebrates the result of this collaborative effort to map these critial sites.

WASHINGTON - A new initiative to identify and map Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) in The Bahamas using historical bird population data led to the recognition of three sites by the KBA secretariat in March 2022. This achievement is the result of a collaborative network of national and international organizations and volunteers, among them the National Audubon Society (NAS), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and The Bahamas National Trust (BNT), who have been monitoring Piping Plovers and other shorebirds in The Bahamas for more than ten years. 

The compendium of a significant amount of survey data allowed for a comprehensive assessment of the three sites: Joulter Cays, Kemp Cay to Pigeon Cay, and Stafford Creek to Andros Town. These sites are now identified as critical for the global persistence of Piping Plovers under the 2016 IUCN's Global Standard of KBAs. The recently updated and expanded KBAs cover an area of ​​approximately 514 km2 of coastal, terrestrial, and marine habitat.

Over 33 shorebirds, alongside many important marine species, depend on the resources and habitat provided on The Bahamas coasts to survive. Sanderlings, American Oystercatchers, Red Knots, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Least Sandpipers are some birds that come together in the updated KBAs. In addition, the Piping Plover has been recorded in the hundreds at these sites, making it the species that triggered the KBA criteria. 

The Piping Plover is one species that will benefit the most from these extender areas. Its range extends along the Atlantic coast from eastern Canada to North Carolina during the breeding season. It can also be found around rivers and wetlands of the northern Great Plains. When winter comes, plovers migrate to coastal ecosystems from South Carolina to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean, spending most of the year on these grounds. But this little bird is one of the most endangered shorebirds in the United States and Canada because of loss and degradation of their habitat, human disturbance, and predation by wild and domestic animals.  

Given the importance of The Bahamas in providing habitat for Piping Plovers and many other species, the Audubon Americas program coordinated the efforts to compile historical shorebird surveys into a single database and use it to update The Bahamas KBAs portfolio. The compilation of data, analysis and development of KBA proposals took about a year and involved consultations with multiple national and international researchers. The results of this work include the global recognition by the KBA secretariat of Joulter Cays, Kemp Cay to Pigeon Cay, and Stafford Creek to Andros Town as KBAs based on the most up-to-date standard and criteria. It also includes the expansion of the previously identified Important Bird Areas (IBAs) of Joulter Cays and Stafford Creek to Andros Town to incorporate critical roosting and feeding areas for Piping Plovers. 

The recognition of these sites as KBAs highlights their role as international conservation priorities, and it emphasizes the need to continue developing effective strategies to protect their species and habitats. The updated KBA status will serve as a decision-making tool; it will validate the need for conservation funding at these sites, and encourage continuous shorebird population monitoring from researchers and local authorities. 

Having Joulter Cays and Kemp Cay to Pigeon Cay located within protected areas preserves them from unregulated development and destructive practices such as sand mining. This bold step by the Bahamian Government is critical for recovering this species and many others.

It is important to highlight that the database used for this analysis is published in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), making it an open-access downloadable data product.  This database reflects the efforts of more than ten years of challenging field research, which allowed recording data for 62 bird species, including 24 shorebird species, in The Bahamas between 2006 and 2020.

Audubon Americas invites the scientific community and all bird lovers to access the open shorebird monitoring data in The Bahamas to learn more about these birds and inform research and conservation efforts.