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Bahamas Initiative: Berry Islands REA

Over the past nine years, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust has accomplished a lot through its Bahamas Initiative, from identifying bonefish home ranges and pre-spawning aggregation sites to developing an education curriculum for Bahamian students. One of the top accomplishments of BTT’s Bahamas Initiative is the designation of six national parks on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama in collaboration with guides, anglers, and NGOs, for the purpose of protecting bonefish populations on these islands.

Recently, BTT Bahamas Initiative Manager Justin Lewis joined a team of scientists on an expedition to the Berry Islands. The trip was hosted by Bahamas National Trust (BNT) to conduct a rapid ecological assessment (REA) of an area near Great Harbour Cay that is in consideration to be designated as a national park. The survey area is a chain of low lying cays separated by deep turquoise channels and surrounded by vast flats.

Lewis was there to identify key bonefish habitat and anything else of importance found on the flats that would support this area becoming a national park. The team’s hard work did not disappoint. Lewis surveyed all the flats in the area of interest and found an abundance of ecologically and economically important species. Justin observed thousands of bonefish in distinct areas, which were ideal home range and foraging habitat for these fish. The bonefish in this area also support a growing flats fishery; flats fishing in The Bahamas contributes in excess of $141 annually to the Bahamian economy. Also observed on these flats were juvenile green turtles, juvenile conch, and piping plover, an endangered species of shorebird. All of these animals that utilize the flats, along with other bird and plant life, make this area a prime candidate to be a national park, a status which would grant it protection from unsustainable development. Recommendations are currently being developed for this area and will soon be presented to the Bahamian government for consideration.

BTT would like to thank BNT for inviting us to be a part of the REA in the Berry Islands. Collaboration is key to the success of the Bahamas Initiative, and we look forward to continuing to work with BNT and all our partners to better understand the flats and to identify important habitats for bonefish and other flats species to help ensure their conservation. (photos: Justin Lewis)