One new national park and the expansion of two existing parks announced by Minister of the Environment

Photo from the announcement on park expansion by Minister of the Environment the Hon. Earl D. Deveaux
Ancelino Davis, The Nature Conservancy; Eric Carey, Bahamas National Trust; Tamica Rahming, Bahamas National Trust; Neil McKinney, Bahamas National Trust; Peter Douglas- ANCAT; Lynn Gape, Bahamas National Trust; Lindy Knowles, Bahamas National Trust; Sharon Henfield, Nature’s Hope; Casuarina McKinney, BREEF; Minister of the Environment the Hon. Earl D. Deveaux.

Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux recently announced the establishment of the Fowl Cays National Park, a new national park for Abaco between Scotland Cay and Man o’ War Cay; the expansion of the Conception Island National Park and the expansion of the West Side National Park on the island of Andros.

Fowl Cays National Park

Fowl Cays has long been identified on marine charts as a protected area. The new Fowl Cays National Park now encompasses 1,920-acres and is particularly attractive to scuba divers and snorkelers. The reefs and three 25′ to 40′ dive spots in untouched water are renowned.

Fowl Cays National Park also has great value as a “spillover” area, whereby surrounding habitat is enriched because of the park’s protection. In addition to fish, rays and sponges, the park is also home to endangered stag horn and Elkhorn coral, along with 12 other coral species.

The Conception Island National Park

The land area of Conception Island was placed in the national park system in 1964. The park (island) has historical significance as one of three islands visited by Columbus in 1492. The 2,100-acre island is important for nesting sea turtles and as a seabird nesting area. It is important as a nesting site for Tropicbirds, Noddy Terns and Sooty Terns.

A vast Montastraea reef lies to the north of Conception Island and is the largest continuous example of such habitat in the Caribbean, measuring 40 km2 (more than four times larger than the island itself). Montastraea reefs are important because these habitats possess the highest diversity and density of reef organisms in the Caribbean.

The lagoon also has mangrove stands and extensive beds of Laurencia red algae, many of which provide key nursery habitat for young Nassau grouper and spiny lobster. The waters surrounding the island host relatively large numbers of Nassau grouper and Caribbean reef sharks as well as goliath grouper. The Nassau grouper stocks are particularly vulnerable to trap fishing.

Expansion of the Andros Westside National Park

Andros Island currently has five national parks. The protected areas in Central Andros encompass the highest concentration of blue holes, land crab habitats, two portions of the Andros Barrier Reef, pine forest, a portion of the extensive Andros freshwater lens, and large areas of the North Bight mangrove/ inertial wetlands that are important fish nurseries. The Parks are habitats for the rare Bahamian boa, Andros rock iguana, Andros land crabs and Atala hairstreak butterfly, and are also used by many migratory songbirds which winter in Andros. Of all the protected habitats, the coral reef areas are probably the most diverse and species rich. The Andros Barrier Reef is unique in the region because of its large area, luxuriant coral growth, low levels of recent coral mortality and low incidence of coral disease.

The inshore and intertidal areas of Andros are a mosaic of habitats including patch reefs, sea grass beds, sand flats, creeks, bights and mangrove forests. These habitats support important species such as conch, sponges, bonefish and crabs. Many important reef species, including grouper and crawfish also use these habitats during parts of their lifecycle.

Although still largely unexplored, some blue holes contain rare species of fish and shrimp as well as Lucayan Indian artifacts.

The west side of Andros Island is a relatively untouched and remarkably astounding area that is both ecologically and economically important to Andros and the greater Bahamas. The west side plays a vital role in sustaining the nation’s local and commercial fisheries market. Its intact, healthy mangroves provide breeding and nursery areas for commercially important marine species which replenish marine stocks throughout The Bahamas. The west side’s tidal creeks and flats also support thriving bonefish populations which contribute significantly to the island’s bonefishing industry. Sport fishing is an important multimillion dollar industry which benefits many Androsians.

The West Side National Park is also an important feeding area for the endangered West Indian Flamingo. In this park, marine resources will be protected from destructive fishing practices, ensuring that the West Side remains a natural wilderness for the people of Andros forever.

The Bahamas National Trust is mandated by parliament to manage the national parks of the nation. Included in this mandate is the duty to advise government of new areas that are important to the biodiversity of the country and to the sustainable livelihoods of its citizens. These parks are created to enhance and expand the way of life for all Bahamians. We invite you to use, see and enjoy them – wisely.