If you have been paying even the slightest attention to the news over the last few days, you know that Hurricane Dorian unleashed a humanitarian disaster on the Bahamas. At least 50 people have died due to the storm, and the death toll is expected to rise. Our hearts go out to the Bahamian people, and we’re thankful for the aid agencies and others who are stepping up to help.
It’s worth noting that the hard-hit islands of the northern Bahamas are (or were) home to several bird species and subspecies, as well as other wildlife. Their plight should not be forgotten in the aftermath of the storm.
Dorian was “highly likely to have also been an ecological disaster affecting the already fragmented areas of Caribbean pine forest, which support birds and other wildlife that are not found anywhere else on the planet,” says Professor Diana Bell, an expert on Bahamian conservation at the University of East Anglia.
Dorian slammed Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands, the two large islands in the northern part of the archipelago, with sustained winds of 185 mph (298 km/h), wind gusts over 220 mph (355 km/h), and significant flooding.
Matthew Gardner, a bird researcher with the University of East Anglia, gave me the run-down on several endemic and near-endemic bird species and subspecies and their potential fates.
“Due to the severity and prolonged battering taken by the northern Bahamian islands, we currently have concerns for a multitude of species depending on the scale of damage to the habitat, which is yet to be fully revealed,” Gardner says. “The levels of flooding on Grand Bahama are a particular concern where the large areas of forest that died as a result of the storm surges of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 have still yet to recover and further losses on this scale could severely impact endemic bird species as well as the rest of the community of the unique Northern Bahamian Pineland habitat.”
Gardner concludes: “I would like to add that I am hopeful that the action of conservation agencies, particularly the Bahamas National Trust, who we have been closely involved with and their dedicated staff who we are all thinking of at the current time, will be able to step in and address some of these fears. I must stress this is still a developing situation, but at the current moment there is grave concern about the future of these species until we can get a better picture of the impacts and how the species are coping in the aftermath of the storm.”
Scroll through the slideshow below for summaries about several Bahamian birds. Many thanks to the talented and prolific photographer Dubi Shapiro for sharing his photos of many of these birds.
Update: BirdsCaribbean is raising funds to assist the Bahamas National Trust in their work to help birds survive and clean up and restore vital habitats. Here’s how you can help.
Read more from BirdsCaribbean about the devastation, including the threat of a serious oil spill on Grand Bahama.
Until a few years ago, this bird was considered a subspecies of Yellow-throated Warbler of the southeastern U.S. But its longer bill and more extensive yellow underparts set it apart. The bird is endemic to Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands.
Gardner says he and other scientists “are particularly concerned about the Bahama Warbler, considering the range-restricted nature of the species, living only in Grand Bahama and Abaco’s pine forests. The total population of the species had never been fully surveyed prior to the storm. My colleague David Pereira’s study of the Grand Bahama population last year was the first. Although this study indicated that the population on Grand Bahama before the hurricane was reasonably healthy, it was still very much under threat, and with the inevitable damage to its habitat this will undoubtedly put a severe dent in the population. This may leave the bird in a much more precarious situation and more at risk from its other threats, and when considering the rapid downward spiral exhibited by the Bahama Nuthatch in the last 20 years is a cause for great concern. These species and the habitat are well suited to hurricanes and have survived with them for millennia, but the actions of climate change and the apparent increase in major hurricane strikes on the islands in recent years combined with human pressures and invasive species have already caused the local extinction of the West Indian Woodpecker from Grand Bahama in the 1990s and almost certainly now the total extinction of the Bahama Nuthatch, meaning Hurricane Dorian could very easily tip other vulnerable species like the Bahama Warbler toward the same fate.”
Photo by Dubi Shapiro
Post update, September 10: death toll revised