Some notes on Abaco’s environment after Hurricane Dorian
Originally published in Hope Town Bulletin digital magazine, July 2020:
Hurricane Dorian significantly affected our built and natural environments and both are in a long recovery process. Loss of habitat or even minimized habitat function due to storm damage could have an impact on how successful our wildlife is in recovering after Dorian. Our marine life may be getting somewhat of a reprieve due to the reduction in tourism caused by Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19, however it’s not enough to ensure the future of our fisheries. As with many aspects of our lives following the storm, now is a great time to reflect on how our behaviors can have positive or negative effects on the sustainability of our natural resources. Additionally, we need to consider what we, as a population, can do to ensure that our environment is healthy and resilient in the face of climate change.
Coral reefs, sand dunes, and mangroves are all critical ecosystems that provide habitat for wildlife and help protect our shorelines from storm damage. Thanks to surveys of Central Abaco’s reefs conducted by the Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS) before and after Dorian, we know that the majority of our reefs came out very well. The exception are nearshore reefs, particularly Mermaid Reef, which were subject to inundation by debris from land. FRIENDS partnered with PIMS, EcoBlue Projects, and the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) to undertake a marine debris removal project at Mermaid Reef. Two dump trucks worth of debris were removed by hand! PIMS will be studying the recovery of the coral following removal of the debris, and BMMRO is investigating potential contamination of the marine environment at Mermaid Reef and throughout Central Abaco.
Sand dunes are very fragile right now as there has been a lot of erosion and movement of sand. For the most part, the sand will recover naturally, but some areas of the dune may need more help. It will be very important to restore native plants along the dune and prevent the further spread of invasive species like Casuarina and Hawaiian seagrape. (Casuarina trees cause erosion, and Hawaiian seagrape outcompete native plants for space and resources, which reduces diversity and weakens the health of the ecosystem). Deposition of seaweed on the beach is a natural process that helps strengthen our dunes. Any coastal engineering should be carefully considered and any excavation activity on the beach must be reviewed and permitted by Government.
Our mangrove ecosystems experienced significant leaf loss and some tree death. Mangroves provide several very key functions in the environment: they help retain soil which keeps our seas clear (necessary for healthy coral reefs), they trap excess carbon in that soil, their roots provide habitat for over 80% of Bahamian marine life, and their limbs provide nesting and roosting habitat for birds. We will be observing the recovery of mangroves in Abaco and working with partners to help initiate a restoration project. Any remaining healthy mangroves should be preserved!
As we gradually work in phases back to a restored economy and restored communities following the hurricane, let’s set the best example by being stewards of our natural environment. Plant native, encourage pollinators in your garden, follow Bahamian fishing regulations, only harvest what you need at the time (a fish in the ocean is much more valuable than one in your freezer), consider renewable energy sources, build in a way that is sustainable and resilient to our changing climate.