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More protection for Cahow

Bermuda's new National Park extends IBA protection

The largest island in Bermuda’s Castle Harbour, part of Bermuda’s only Important Bird Area (IBA), is to become the Cooper's Island National Nature Reserve, classed as a National Park.

The entire world population of Endangered Bermuda Petrel or Cahow Pterodroma cahow nests within 1 km of Cooper’s Island, and the southern promontory of the island is the only area from which the Cahow can be easily observed from land. Cooper’s Island is close to the Nonsuch Island Nature Reserve, site of a five-year translocation project to re-establish a breeding population of Cahows beyond the reach of hurricane damage.

The 77 acre (32.2 hectare) Cooper’s Island is also home to a large number of nesting White-tailed Tropicbirds Phaethon lepturus, and with the other Castle Harbour islands plays host to the largest colonies of this species on Bermuda, at over 600 nesting pairs.“Almost all of the area designated as an IBA is now protected to some extent,” said Jeremy Madeiros of Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services.

Parts of the island are still used for purposes not strictly compatible with a Nature Reserve, including a radar tower, marine communications antenna and police firing range, but the Department of Conservation is talking to all parties to minimise light levels, guy wires and similar threats to Cahows and other night-flying birds.

“Public access to the site will also present some challenges to management, as there are some sensitive areas,” Madeiros said. “But the reserve is of great importance for both recreation and public understanding of the environment.”Cooper’s Island is one of the most important sites on Bermuda for neotropical migrants, both passage migrants and overwintering birds.

“It is especially important for shorebirds, including the listed Piping Plover Charadrius melodus, Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola and Killdeer Charadrius vociferous, which use the large beach areas, and raptors, especially Osprey Pandion haliaetus and Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus,” said Madeiros.

“Wooded areas on the island can be very good for neotropical migrants in fall and spring, with nearly 30 species of North American Wood warblers recorded over the last 15 years, for example. They also support local woodland bird species, including the non-migratory endemic Bermuda subspecies of White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus bermudianus, which differs from the North American race in having much shorter wings, larger head and a different call.”

The island is one of the best places on Bermuda to watch the offshore migration of four species of Shearwater (Cory’s Calonectris diomedea, Great Puffinus gravis, Sooty P. griseus and Manx P. puffinus) as well as skuas, jaegars and terns, and to see the Humpback Whales Megaptera novaeangliae which use Bermuda as a rallying point on their way north from their wintering grounds.The Critically Endangered Bermuda Skink Eumeces longirostris, a ground lizard which lives in Cahow nest burrows, eating insects and parasites and helping to keep the burrows clean, will be re-introduced to Cooper’s Island.

Native forest and plant cover will be re-established, following the same methods used to restore the nearby Nonsuch Island Nature Reserve. Culling of introduced invasive plant species, such as the Australian Casuarina and Brazil Pepper, is already underway, as is the replanting of native and endemic plant species such as the Bermuda Cedar, Bermuda Palmetto Palm and Bermuda Olivewood.

Dr. David Wingate, the former Bermuda Conservation Officer who directed the successful restoration of Nonsuch Island, has welcomed the plans. He told Bermuda’s Royal Gazette: "I've said all along that making Cooper's Island into a national park and nature reserve is potentially the greatest payback in terms of nature conservation of any land in Bermuda… It's my hope that it could become a nature reserve of international significance."

4th July 2014