Andros Island is the largest island of the Bahamian archipelago; its land area is greater than that of all the other Bahamian islands combined. Andros Island’s diverse ecosystems include freshwater and marine blue holes, the coral barrier reef, extensive mangrove flats, tidal creeks, wetlands and extensive pine forests. While the island’s abundance of natural resources and endangered species make it a conservation priority; its low human population density and broad local support for such action presents a great opportunity to advance protection efforts.
Andros contains some of the most intact marine and terrestrial habitats left in the Bahamas. The eastern side of the island is characterized by a well defined coastal ridge, which reaches over 100 feet and is primarily comprised of dry broadleaf evergreen forest. This ridge provides important feeding, breeding and nesting habitat for both resident and migratory birds. The interior of the island is heavily forested with Caribbean Pine, which eventually gives way to an extensive carbonate mud complex virtually saturated with small islands and estuaries, including tidal creeks and wetlands. The mangrove and seagrass assemblages found throughout the tidal creek systems and nearshore waters support vast amounts of marine life. Many of the fish species are highly migratory and travel from the West side estuaries through the creeks and bights to the Eastern side of the island where they spawn.
Andros Island currently supports a small population of approximately 10,000. The people of Andros remain closely connected to the land and sea, which serves as a basis of the local economy and culture. Predominant industries in Andros include sponging, fishing, crabbing, fly fishing, tourism, basket weaving and woodcarving. Due to the island’s small population and vast uninhabitable areas, impacts on the island’s biodiversity are still relatively low. However, despite its relatively intact ecosystems, compared to other areas in the Caribbean, the perception of some deterioration is shared by almost everyone who has known the natural environment well over the last few decades including scientists, divers, fishermen and crabbers. The most noticeable changes are declines in the numbers and size of adult fish, particularly grouper, as well as reduced numbers of conch and crawfish, all of which are exploited commercially. In addition to declines in several commercially targeted species, several of the island’s tidal creeks and estuaries on the Eastern side of the island have been fragmented to varying degrees by roads and bridges built in the 1960’s to support the logging industry. Fragmentation of estuaries results in dramatically lowered fish production, which is not only detrimental to the health of the estuary and offshore reefs, but also to the sustainability of the Bahamian economy. Residential and resort development has also led to some deterioration, primarily from the physical restructuring of the shoreline, rock mining for construction material, and the inadequate disposal of solid waste and sewage. This has resulted in vegetation loss, the spread of exotic and invasive species including Casuarina, Scaevola and Brazilian Pepper, and decreased the water quality.