The Andros West Side National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the Western Atlantic/Caribbean region, located in the Andros Island, the Bahamas. It was first established in 2002 under management of The Bahamas National Trust and it encompasses areas of significant wetlands, extensive mangroves, and pine upland habitats that support exceptional natural systems on Andros. The Andros West Side National Park is also the home of the national bird of the Bahamas, the endangered West Indian flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber).
Since its creation in 2002, the Park was submitted to an unprecedented survey of natural resources of western Andros to assess the status and health of habitats and species on the west side of Andros. This work was lead by the Bahamas National Trust and The Nature Conservancy in 2006 and the Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of scientists, Androsian fishing guides, and Bahamian students.
Resulting reports concluded that the park boundaries did not encompass crucial habitats for several important species, recommending park boundaries be substantially expanded. In 2007, the REA results were shared throughout the communities of Andros through public meetings and one-on-one interviews, in collaboration with local conservation organizations Andros Conservancy and Trust, and Nature’s Hope for South Andros. Many Androsians supported park expansion initiatives, however emphasized that their livelihoods and lifestyles are intrinsically linked to traditional uses of the west side of Andros.
Size and location
At about 6,000 square km (2,300 square miles), Andros is the largest island in The Bahamas archipelago. Andros lies 45 km west of New Providence Island, 185 km north of Cuba, and 230 km from the Florida coast.
The Andros West Side National Park essentially covers the entire west coast of Andros Island. When it was established, in 2002, the Park encompassed 185,000 acres. In 2012, the Government of The Bahamas approved the expansion of the Andros West Side National Park to 1.5 million acres, one of the largest Protected Areas in the Western Atlantic/Caribbean region.
Flora and fauna
The Andros West Side National Park is rich in flora and fauna. The Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis) occupies the pineland areas of the park, providing critical habitat for endemic species including the Atala hairstreak butterfly (Eumaeus atala). The mangrove forest of the Andros West Side National Park consists of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), white mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa), black mangroves (Avicennia germinans), and buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus).
The endangered Andros rock iguana (Cyclura cychlura cychlura) is endemic to Andros Island, inhabiting the pine woodlands and palm shrublands within the Park. Other species of reptiles in the Andros West Side National Park include the Bahamian boa constrictor (Epicrates striatus fowleri), blue-tail lizard(Ameiva auberi), Cuban twig anole (Anolis angusticeps), Bahama brown anole (Anolis sagrei), Bahama green anole (Anolis smaragdinus), curly-tailed lizard (Leiocephalus carinatus), and Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis).
The endangered West Indian Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber) is the national bird of The Bahamas. A resident non-breeding flock of 100 – 1,000 flamingos occupy the lake systems within the Andros West Side National Park. The endangered hawksbill and green turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate and Chelonia mydas) forage and nest throughout the Park, while loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) are found in the northern sections of the Park.
Bonefish (Albula vulpes) and Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) are of economic importance to the Bahamas, with healthy populations found within the Park. Healthy populations of nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum), bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) are also found within Park boundaries.
Challenges and opportunities
Climate change due to global warming and the resulting sea level rise and increasing sea surface temperatures continue to represent a serious threat to Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
Invasive plants and animals are serious threats to the Andros West Side National Park. Wild pigs occupy essentially all upland areas in the north, with their constant rooting and omnivorous diet having a devastating impact on the Andros rock iguana and West Indian Flamingo populations. Additionally, feral and domestic cats and dogs have taken a toll on iguana and other wildlife populations. Lionfish also threatens the marine habitats, preying on juvenile species of commercial and ecological importance.
Illegal fishing and hunting is a major threat to the Andros West Side National Park, where its remoteness results in an increase in foreign poaching activity, depleting commercial fish stocks. Hunting for iguanas is illegal, however still persists in Andros. Iguanas are also threatened by illegal burning to clear vegetation for hunting land crabs. Flamingo hunting for food was a common practice in the Bahamas, and while this is now an illegal activity, this practice may still threaten their populations.
While the west side of Andros is protected from development by its remote location and challenges of access, if not carefully planned, future development on the island could adversely affect park resources, most directly by polluting or reducing fresh water resources.
The concept of protected areas has been changing over the years in the Bahamas and as result, multiple sites each with specific preservation objectives and needing customized management strategies and associated resources were created. The Bahamas National Trust (BNT), having responsibility for the Andros West Side National Park and 26 other national parks, recognized these management challenges and identified the application of a standardized classification system as a potential mechanism to help address the management and resource challenges.
In order to support this opportunity, BIOPAMA contributed to building the capacity of protected areas stakeholders to make the right decisions in the assignment of a protected area category, according to the IUCN protected area management categories. This activity responds primarily to the objective of the BIOPAMA Capacity Building Plan for the Caribbean to support country-level implementation of the NBSAP (National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan) and PoWPA (UN CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas) through strengthening governance and management frameworks of protected areas. This training also achieved the objective of enhancing the professional development and networking of protected area staff and practitioners.