ASAC Webinar: Hurricane Dorian Research
Updated: Feb 8
The Abaco Science Alliance Conference is typically a biennial conference held in Abaco with the goals to provide a forum for networking and information sharing for Abaco and Bahamas-based research projects, encourage the use of research for local education and environmental management purposes, and stimulate further research in The Bahamas. I say "typically" because 2018 was the last year that FRIENDS hosted ASAC. January 2020 was due to be our next conference, however following Hurricane Dorian neither FRIENDS nor Abaco was in a place to consider it. The years that followed have been challenging, compounded by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dedicated researchers have continued their work through equally challenging conditions and FRIENDS is bringing them together in a webinar format to share updates on how Hurricane Dorian and the COVID pandemic have impacted our natural systems. Join us on Wednesday February 23rd from 12-2pm! (Register Here).
Stephanie Archer: The impact of Hurricane Dorian on Abaco’s seagrass beds and nearshore contaminant levels
The passage of Hurricane Dorian impacted many of Abaco’s nearshore marine environments in multiple ways, including physical damage and the introduction of large amounts of terrestrial debris. These impacts resulted in seagrass loss and the likely introduction of a wide suite of contaminants into the marine environment. Here, we present initial results tracking the response and recovery of seagrass abundance and contaminant loads across Abaco.
Coauthors: Makeda Serju, Abigail Bockus, Yanilla Salas Ortiz, Phoebe Zito, David Podgorski, Diane Claridge, and Charlotte Dunn
Biography: Dr. Stephanie Archer is an Assistant Professor at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium where she leads the Benthic Ecology lab. Generally, her research program is focused on the ecology, conservation, and management of coastal habitats like seagrass beds, sponge grounds, and oyster reefs. Stephanie has conducted research on Abaco since 2012 where her work has largely focused on how sponges contribute to the health and biodiversity of seagrass beds.
Diane Claridge: Building resilience of Abaco’s coastal bottlenose dolphins to impacts of climate change
Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco Island as the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the Atlantic, threatening a declining population of resident bottlenose dolphins in the Sea of Abaco. With predictions of more frequent and intense tropical cyclones as the result of climate change, actions are needed to build the resilience of this local dolphin population. We report on research since Dorian to document impacts of the storm on dolphins and their environment, and the development of a recovery plan to save these charismatic top predators.
Biography: Diane Claridge, PhD, a native Bahamian, is the Executive Director of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation, a local NGO based in Sandy Point, Abaco that conducts conservation-driven research on marine mammals and educational outreach. Her research focus is on population ecology of whales and dolphins providing information on the status of local populations. She has been a long-time Board member of Friends of the Environment, serves on the Bahamas National Trust’s Scientific Advisory Board and continues to be active in conservation in The Bahamas. Diane is a Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, Scotland where she co-supervises undergraduate and graduate students.
Charlotte Dunn: Anthropause Aquatic
As ambient noise from ship traffic increases, profound effects on the marine environment have been documented. Reduction in ship speed is the key driver in reducing sound source levels of vessels. Due to its proximity to the US, the Bahamas provides important international shipping routes. Prior to the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, commercial shipping traffic was increasing in Northwest Providence Channel, raising concern for a resident population of sperm whales. We used data from an Automatic Identification System station combined with recordings from a bottom mounted acoustic recorder to measure sound levels produced by ships before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The datasets comprise 2900 and 3181 ten-minute-long wav files, respectively.
The mean speed of vessels in the pre-COVID-19 dataset was 13.5 knots, compared to 12.2 knots during COVID-19, resulting in a soundscape with 46% lower sound pressure level during the pandemic than pre-COVID-19. Reductions in anthropogenic noise such as we describe, but implemented using shipping management initiatives, will aid ecosystem fidelity.
Charlotte Dunn co-runs the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation based in Sandy Point, Abaco. She is a bioacoustician and her PhD focused on beaked whale communication.
Justin Lewis - Seedlings of Hope: Kickstarting Mangrove Recovery In The Northern Bahamas After Hurricane Dorian
Hurricane Dorian was the most powerful and destructive hurricane to ever hit The Bahamas. Fishing communities were devastated by the storm where recreational bonefishing and commercial fishing are cornerstones of East Grand Bahama's and Abaco’s economy. Initial surveys suggested that the underwater habitat on the flats were intact, and bonefish populations were healthy. Results from remote sensing surveys showed that on Abaco an area of 40.12% (21,000 acres) of mangroves were damaged or destroyed, and on Grand Bahama an area of 73.77% (22,000 acres) of mangroves were damaged or destroyed. These high levels of damage and mortality indicated that restoration efforts were needed to kickstart mangrove recovery on Grand Bahama and Abaco. The Northern Bahamas Restoration Project is a multi-year effort with the goal to help kickstart mangrove recovery in areas that suffered severe damage or total loss due to Hurricane Dorian, to maintain the ecological function of flats and coastal habitats essential to the economic health of The Bahamas. It’s essential that this work is conducted now since erosion of sediments as dead mangroves decay would make areas unsuitable for mangrove recolonization. The project includes an education and outreach component that will involve schools, community groups and fishing guides. Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) is the focus of this project, with black mangroves (Avicennia germinans) and white mangroves (Laguncularia racemose) being planted in appropriate areas. Propagules are being collected from around The Bahamas where they are being grown in nurseries to sapling size. BTT and our partners Bahamas National Trust, Friends of the Environment, and MANG have been focusing restoration planting in two types of areas: those that lost mature seed-bearing mangrove trees, so that mangroves planted there will grow to adult size and produce propagules that will re-seed the surrounding area; and areas that would be prone to erosion over time if mangroves don’t become re-established.
Justin is a Bahamian native from Freeport, Grand Bahama. Being raised on the island around the water, his passion for fishing, science and the ocean started from a very young age. Justin attended St. Francis Xavier University on the East coast of Canada where he received a BA in Aquatic Resources with Public Policy and Social Research. After he completed his undergraduate degree, Justin went to the University of York in England where he completed an MSc in Marine Environmental Management. Justin is the Bahamas Initiative Manager for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and is in charge of leading conservation and restoration efforts, outreach & education, including bonefish spawning site identification and mangrove restoration.
Sean Giery - Effects of Hurricane Dorian on brown anoles
There is increasing interest in the evolutionary effects of hurricanes. In this study, we assess whether hurricane Dorian had an evolutionary influence on the brown anole (Anolis sagrei). By comparing lizard populations before and after Dorian our data show strong natural selection on brown anoles and suggest the potential for a widespread evolutionary influence.
Sean Giery is an evolutionary ecologist currently at Penn State University. He has been conducting ecological research on Abaco since 2009. His research focuses on understanding how variation arises within species and how that variation can influence ecological processes.
Perry Institute for Marine Science
Hurricane Dorian Coral Reef Impacts & Recovery
In June of 2019, the Perry Institute for Marine Science led a research expedition to survey coral reef health around the Little Bahama Bank, assessing conditions of fish, benthic and coral communities at over 30 sites spread around Grand Bahama and Abaco. These data unexpectedly became incredibly valuable as baselines for determining how Hurricane Dorian impacted reefs, and our team resurveyed most of the same sites in October of 2019, just a month after the storm hit, and again in April of 2021 to see how the reefs are recovering from Dorian’s impacts. We present here an overview of the damages and patterns observed, drawing on qualitative experiences, in-water Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveys, and time-series photomosaic data, to give as complete a picture as possible of the effects of Hurricane Dorian on coral reefs, and their outlook for the future.
Hurricane Dorian Mangrove Damage Assessments and Restoration
Hurricane Dorian caused extensive damage to mangrove ecosystems throughout both the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama. Initial maps based on satellite data estimated that more than 44,000 acres of mangrove habitat had been damaged, but the scope of the damage was not assessed in great detail. We conducted assessments in July-August of 2021 at 39 sites throughout the Little Bahama Bank that involved in-water fish and benthic surveys as well as high-resolution and multispectral drone maps to reveal the health of mangrove systems in unprecedented detail. These site assessments are being coupled with more detailed and specific satellite maps to better determine the amount of damage in each area to assist in restoration planning efforts. We are also combining scientific data with stakeholder assessments and community outreach to prioritize areas where restoration is most critical from both a social and ecological perspective.
Bradley Watson - Biodiversity Conservation, Climate Resilience, and Sustainable Development
The Bahamas is a big ocean nation with big ocean challenges that can be overcome by actively preserving, restoring and communicating about terrestrial and marine systems – safeguarding the biodiversity within them. I will describe biodiversity conservation in the context of the UN’s sustainable development goals to illustrate how integral environmental restoration, preservation and communication are to Bahamian sustainable development. The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and its partners have engaged in research, conservation and outreach initiatives focused on mangrove, coral, and pine habitats over the two years since Hurricane Dorian. By considering these efforts through a sustainable development framework, we can highlight connections between nature and society while increasing our impact on the people, species, and spaces the BNT serves.
Bradley is an environmental scientist and sustainable development professional who helped organize the Bahamas National Trust’s terrestrial surveys and outreach activities after hurricane Dorian. His expertise lies in plant and avian ecology, and he is currently completing a masters in Sustainable Development to add to his master’s degree in Biology. Upon completing his studies as a Chevening Scholar, Bradley plans to integrate biodiversity conservation with sustainable development to help the Bahamas develop a climate-change resilient society that benefits from and protects its natural resources.