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.
This bird is one of four subspecies of the Cuban, or Rose-throated, Parrot. In the Bahamas, it’s found mostly on Abaco with smaller numbers on Nassau. Habitat loss, the illegal pet trade, invasive cats and hogs, and other pressures caused the population to drop below 2,000 in the early 1990s. The birds nest in cavities in the ground, making them particularly vulnerable to non-native predators, flooding, and rising sea levels. To help the parrots, the Bahamas created Abaco National Park, and in 2009, a program to trap and remove cats was started. The species has since recovered, and according to a 2018 Birds Caribbean article, the birds numbered 8,832 on Abaco.
After Hurricane Dorian, Gardner says, for the Abaco population “there is once again concern that mortalities as a result of the storm and shortages in food in the aftermath may set back conservation efforts to protect that population and potentially threatening the long-term viability of the Abaco population when combined with the action of the other threats to the island’s parrots. But this will very much depend once again of the mortality rate and the state of the forests in the aftermath of the storm.”
A GoFundMe page was set up after the storm to raise funds to help the parrots.
Photo by Rick Lowe Images (Creative Commons)
Post update, September 10: death toll revised