Piping Plovers Get a Protected Park in the Bahamas
In 2012, when Audubon scientists Matt Jeffery and Walker Golder discovered
hundreds of Piping Plovers wintering at Joulter Cays, a smattering
of remote, uninhabited islands in the Bahamas, it was something of a
coup. Worldwide, the Piping Plover is a near-threatened species (the
global population is estimated at just 8,000 breeding birds), and any
new knowledge about its winter hideout would offer a fresh opportunity
for protection. But once the exhilaration of the discovery wore off,
Jeffery and Golder were faced with a question: What next?
The two shorebird experts knew they had to find a way to guard Joulter’s
plovers—sand mining, overfishing, and pollution all pose big threats to
the local ecology. The answer, they decided, was to persuade the
Bahamian government to designate
the area as a national park.
To build a case for Joulter’s ecological significance, Jeffery and
Golder teamed up with the Bahamas
National Trust, an NGO tasked with preserving the country’s
natural resources. The partners
surveyed the birds in the islands and
found that at least 4 percent of the world’s Piping Plovers winter
there—the second-highest known concentration, after Texas. They also
came up with significant numbers of Short-billed Dowitchers, Reddish
Egrets, Red Knots, and Clapper Rails.
“The protection of shorebirds really vaulted [Joulter Cays] to a higher
level of importance and urgency,” says Eric Carey, executive director of
the Bahamas National Trust. The BNT also surveyed Joulter’s vast coral
reef and inventoried the many marine species that would benefit from
protection, including bonefish and sponge populations—both of which are
important to the Bahamian economy. By the time they were finished, the
conservationists had put together a solid argument that protecting
Joulter would be a boon for wildlife and local communities alike.
The government agreed. In September, when the Bahamas
added 11 new national parks to
its roster, Joulter’s 113,920 acres of land and sea were among them.
“This is a great victory for heroic birds that don’t know borders and
for the people who depend on the shores and waters of the Joulter Cays
to make a living,” says Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold.
That doesn’t mean the work is over. Although Joulter’s new status brings
an immediate end to the threat of sand mining, the BNT still has to
write a management plan to regulate fishing, boats, and foot traffic in
the park. “The designation takes certain threats off the table,”
explains Jeffery. “But that’s only the first step.” Still, 113,920 acres
is a mighty big step.