Research from a long-term study reveals that the year mega-resort construction in Bimini deforested almost half a lagoon’s mangrove shorelines, the survival rate of newborn lemon sharks plummeted to only 26 per cent.
The startling statistic was revealed during a presentation on the closing day of last week’s Bahamas Natural History Conference in Nassau.
During the presentation, marine biologist Dr Kristine Stump demonstrated that successive developers of the Bimini Bay project, currently operated by Resorts World Bimini, have failed to use mitigation measures such as silt curtains while dredging and filling, sending plumes of dangerous silt into the lagoon, an important nursery ground for sharks, conch and lobster.
The loss of important submerged mangrove habitats and accompanying siltation can have negative effects on the marine community, and results from her study showed declines in several important fish species that occurred after mangrove deforestation.
Environmental advocate Joseph Darville, education officer for the fast-growing Save The Bays advocacy movement, said he was overwhelmed by Dr Stump’s presentation.
“Save The Bays has been saying this all along. And now we have the proof, now we have the science. There can be no backtracking from here,” he said.
Save The Bays has been a strong advocate for the creation of additional marine protected areas around the Bahamas, including a North Bimini Marine Reserve.
“The most important step now is to prevent further loss by finalising the long-awaited North Bimini Marine Reserve,” said Dr Stump. “By protecting what remains, there is hope that the lagoon can still function ecologically as a nursery for resources critical to the Bahamian economy.”
Mr Darville added: “The country has already lost significantly in Bimini, one of the most delicate and valuable ecosystems in the world.”
The research presented by Dr Stump used data on Bimini’s marine environment going back over 14 years to investigate the effects of habitat loss through mangrove deforestation. It compared data before the development, originally known as Bimini Bay, to newly-collected post-development information.
The findings indicated that due to the threat of predation outside the lagoon, juvenile lemon sharks remained in the nursery where they were born, despite severe environmental degradation and a drastic decline in available resources, including a more than 50 per cent drop in their preferred prey. There was also a significant drop in species richness, a measure of biodiversity, after the development.
“We found acute and chronic effects on not only the sharks, but also the entire marine community following the development within the lagoon,” Dr Stump told the dozens of scientists and conservationists attending the conference.