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.
Two other birds of conservation concern spend all or part of the year in the Bahamas, but they weren’t affected by the hurricane:
• Bahama Oriole, a Critically Endangered species, lives year-round only on Andros Island, which wasn’t hit by Dorian. The bird is the subject of the Bahama Oriole Project, run by Bahamas National Trust and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Estimates had put the total population below 300 individual birds, but the group recently said: “Given that we now know that ‘BAHO’ breed throughout the pine forest, we are optimistic that way more than 300 individuals remain. Our fieldwork this year, including radio tracking, will help us hone in on better estimates.”
• Kirtland’s Warbler (pictured above) breeds primarily in Michigan forests, as well as in northern Wisconsin, and it migrates to the Bahamas for the winter. The birds were still in their breeding range when Dorian hit, so they weren’t in danger. And for the most part, they don’t spend the winter on the affected islands. A recent paper clarified the wintering range, showing that the warblers “are most abundant in the central Bahamas, but also winter elsewhere in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Cuba, and possibly southern Florida and Bermuda.”
Photo by Paul Poronto
Post update, September 10: death toll revisedOriginally Published