Mangroves, The Marls, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour)


For some time now, there has been understandable concern about the increasing evidence of mangrove die-back in the Abaco Marls and elsewhere in Abaco waters. Scientific investigations are ongoing and you will find some of the survey results so far on the excellent Abaco Scientist interactive map HERE. You’ll find other relevant and authoritative mangrove material if you check out the BLOG menu of the website.
Abaco - The Marls

The ‘200 sq. miles’ in my map is debatable, depending what one includes. Other estimates are of 300 or even 400 sq. miles. Whichever, the Marls cover a massive area of mangroves, islets, flats, channels and wonderfully diverse wildlife. A large proportion of the many species – fish, birds, turtles etc – depend on the complex ecology of the mangroves for food, shelter and breeding. Depletion of the mangroves from whatever cause will have a direct effect on the creatures of the Marls.

Stingrays Abaco Marls 6

Ryann Rossi, a PhD student with North Carolina State University, has been researching the worrying phenomenon of mangrove die-back in the Marls this summer. She has written an interesting and informative  account (conveniently in the RH ‘Facts about…’ style) that was published in Abaco Scientist last week. The blue links will take you to the ABSCI site for further information on each topic. I’m grateful to Ryann and ABSCI for permission to use the material.

Five Things to Know About the Mangrove Die-back in The Marls (at this point, anyway)

1. This die-back appears to be the result of multiple stressors acting together. Think of it in the sense of our own body – when our immune system is down, we are often more susceptible to getting sick. The same thing is likely happening to the mangroves.Mangrove Die-back 1 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi)

2. It appears as though a fungal disease may be taking advantage of already stressed mangroves and causing die-back. We did preliminary surveys across Abaco and found fungal lesions nearly everywhere. However, the fungus was present in different densities in different areas. In the die-back area nearly all the leaves remaining on trees have lesions. We think that this pathogen capitalized on the mangroves being weakened by other stressors such as hurricanes, which cause extensive leaf drop, change in the movement of water, change in sedimentation and erosion.

Mangrove Die-back 2 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

3. We are still working on identifying the pathogen associated with the lesions we’ve found. We are confident that it is a fungus and are currently growing fungal cultures in the lab to examine defining morphological characteristics in addition to using DNA sequencing to identify the culprit.

4. We have documented the presence of the Robust Bush Cricket (Tafalisca eleuthera) in the die-back areas as well as other areas with high densities of lesions. These crickets are documented to consume Red and White mangrove leaves. As such, we were concerned about their potential role in die-back. We set out a caging experiment to exclude the crickets from certain dwarf Red mangrove trees to see just how much grazing they may be doing in the die-back area. This experiment is ongoing.

Mangrove Die-back 3 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

5. The take home: there is likely more than one causal agent of the die-back in The Marls. Many factors govern mangrove productivity and functioning: nutrient availability, salinity, sedimentation rate, herbivory, and disease are just a few of the factors that contribute to overall mangrove function making it very difficult to pin point which factors may be driving the die-off. On the bright side, we are confident that we have a lead on the causes and we are working hard in the field and laboratory to fully understand what is going on in The Marls.

By Ryann Rossi|August 26th, 2015|Disease, fungus, Insects, Mangroves and Creeks, The Marls
All pics below taken while fishing on the Marls except Melinda’s shark (I’ve never got a good one)
Hawksbill Turtle, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)Bonefish Abaco Marls 4Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyOsprey - Abaco Marls 1 Reddish Egret (White Morph), Abaco MarlsRoyal Tern, Abaco, Bahamas (Marls) 3Willet, The Marls, AbacoSouthern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has also included an article on die-back by Ryann in its latest Newsletter:

Mangrove Die Off on Abaco by Ryann Rossi, NCSU

This summer Stephanie Archer and I continued research efforts focused on determining the cause of the mangrove die-off in The Marls (work funded by the National Science Foundation). Our efforts were predominantly focused on the fungal pathogen we found associated with the die-off site. We created a small citizen science and outreach project to document the presence or absence of the pathogen across Abaco. This project consisted of short surveys and leaf collections. In total, 92 areas were surveyed including locations from Abaco and San Salvador. We also took this outreach project to the annual Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) teacher training conference.  There we disseminated survey packets to teachers from islands throughout The Bahamas who will help us collect more data on the presence (or absence) of this pathogen on other Islands.

3 men on a skiff, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen : Rolling Harbour)

Three men on a skiff – Abaco Marls

On Abaco, we constructed an experiment to investigate the role of grazing and the presence of fungal lesions on Red mangroves. We simulated grazing using crafting scissors to cut small sections on 600 leaves in 4 different mangrove creeks. We observed the leaves for 28 days to determine if cutting leaves predisposed leaves to fungal infection. At these sites we also trapped for insects to gain an idea of what kind of grazers may be chewing on the leaves. We also did a series of disease incidence surveys that will be routinely monitored for disease progress over the next 2 years. These surveys will allow us to systematically track the progress of the disease. In addition to our field work, we spent many hours in the laboratory isolating fungi from leaves to grow in culture. These cultures were brought back to North Carolina State University and will be sequenced in order to help us identify the fungal pathogen responsible for making the lesions on the mangrove leaves.

Mangroves, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Source material Ryann Rossi; Abaco Scientist; all photos © Keith Salvesen @ Rolling Harbour except those by Ryann / ABSCI in the main article and Melinda Riger’s cool shark


Piping Plover 32 (banded as an adult in 2010 at Manistee, MI Sleeping Bear Dunes N L, MI)

Banded in Michigan in 2010 – in Florida right now!


It’s started already. The autumn migration of piping plovers from up north to down south. It seems only the other day (April in fact) that the last PIPL were seen on Abaco. Since then, they have spent the summer in their breeding grounds, raising families. This seems to have been a successful breeding season, with good reports that included a record number in the tiny Great Lakes population. But the attrition rate to predation is high: for example, of the 4 chicks in one family that was closely observed on Long Beach Island NJ, only one (‘Beth’) has survived.

Piping Plovers - 2 chicks, 2 eggs - CT (Danny Sauvageau)

Piping plovers: 2 chicks & 2 eggs, Connecticut


A recent estimate put the world’s supply of these little birds at 8000. And of these, many spend their winter in the Bahamas, Abaco being one of their favoured destinations. The survival of the species is in the balance. Habitat degradation at either end of their migrations could be disastrous; at both ends, more than doubly so.

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

Piping Plover juvenile, Connecticut


A number of organisations and individuals are dedicated to looking out for the PIPL. This includes ensuring preservation of habitat integrity and protection on the beaches where they nest, and banding programs so that birds can be tracked and monitored during their migrations. This is one aspect which people on Abaco (and elsewhere) can help with – looking out for these birds, reporting their location and how many are seen, and if possible describing the bling: colour of bands, which legs, which order,visible numbers etc. Or better still, taking photos!

Piping Plover CT (Danny Sauvageau)


On beaches and shorelines. On the mainland, places where they were reported last year included Long Beach, Crossing Rocks, Schooner Bay, the beach at Delphi, Bahamas Palm Shores, Casuarina and Little Harbour. They also visit the cays, with a number reported on Man-o-War Cay for example.Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 3


Well on their way south. Danny Sauvageau, who combines monitoring beaches in Florida with being a wonderful bird photographer, has just reported the first arrivals. On 23 July he saw 3 unbanded PIPL in Dunedin Fl. – here’s one of them.Piping Plover, Dunedin, FL (Danny Sauvageau)

Then on 29 July Danny found his first banded Piping Plovers of the 2015-16 wintering season at Fort Desoto – 6 birds of which 5 were banded. This enabled him to recognise them as returners, and to identify their origin: “Two were from the Great Lakes (Michigan), two were from the Great Plains (North Dakota and South Dakota) and one was from Nebraska!”.

These 3 examples show the wide variation in banding in the different locations. Which is why a photo of a bird’s legs is particularly helpful for the research into the species.

PPL-106- 2nd year at Ft Desoto - Banded in Nebraska PPL-35 - 3rd year at Ft Desoto - Banded as a chick 2012 Vermillion, MI along Lake Superior PPL-2 - 3rd year at Ft Desoto - Banded as a adult 2013 Whitefish Point, MI along Lake Superior

The CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NJ is involved annually with researching the piping plovers of Abaco. Many will be familiar with the scientists Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger who visit each year to monitor the plovers. For those who do not already have a direct line to them I would be very pleased to receive reports of sightings to collate and pass on. The monitoring work provides exactly the kind of information that will help to ensure the survival of this adorable but vulnerable species. Please email me at or, better still, upload info / pics to the new FB page I have set up, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 2015 – 16Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF : wiki)

The most helpful information to have is date; time; location; number of birds; whether banded or unbanded; and if banded, as much information as possible or ideally a photo…



The referencing in the title to a famous ‘disc’ from 1966 by a ‘popular beat combo’ does not presage a re-formation. In the past there was acrimony. Some drink ‘n’ drugs hell. Splits and re-formations. Sadly not all former members are still with us. Here’s a memory of them from (arguably) their most satisfyingly inventive era… **EARWORM ALERT** now you won’t be able to get the wretched tune out of your head. It’s given you ‘excitations’. Sorry about that.

Credits: All photos courtesy of Danny Sauvageau except ‘lone chick’ MDF & ‘chick in hand’ CWFNJ; shout outs to Danny, Todd, Stephanie and all PIPL researchers. Plus Bay Soundings. And the Beach Boys…

ADDENDUM AUG 2 A good article about the significance of banding can be found at BAY SOUNDINGS (based around Tampa Bay). It includes contributions from Danny and a useful info box:

Reporting banded birds

Reporting banded birds is one of the most important activities for citizen-scientists, says Wraithmell. “It’s the only way we have to solve the mystery of migration – to learn where they stop and where they winter so we can protect that habitat too.”

Most photographers stumble upon their first banded birds accidentally because they don’t always see the bands until they review their images on a computer screen. After that, they’ll learn to watch for the bands even if they don’t get close enough to see them with their naked eye.

“There’s something very exciting about photographing banded birds, learning where they came from and following their travels if they’ve been seen and reported before,” Sauvageau said.

But capturing an image shouldn’t outweigh allowing the bird to rest or feed in peace, Wraithmell said. “One thing that’s really important is not disturbing the birds, whether they’re nesting or just resting,” she said. If nesting birds are disturbed, they fly off and leave their eggs or babies in broiling sun and defenseless against predators. Wintering birds need to rest and pack on the pounds before they fly back to their summer breeding grounds.

“Some birds, like piping plovers, actually spend more time here than they do nesting,” she said. “Their main job over the winter is eating and resting so they can nest successfully. And breeding is hard work – it takes a lot of energy to make an egg and then to feed and defend a chick until it’s old enough to take care of itself.”

For the scientists who band birds, “it’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the sea,” Wraithmell said. “Every resighting is valuable because we learn something new.”


Seahorse (Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign)


In this second part of the look at Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign and the photographs that illustrate the vital importance of the mangroves, reefs, sea grass and pristine sea to marine life, it’s time to look at some of the the smaller sea creatures in their underwater habitat. Many of these are vulnerable to changes in their environment; some are already rare. 


Spiny Lobster Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign copy 3 Spiny Lobster Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign


Sea Horse Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Seahorse Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Seahorses Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign


For more information on this creature, click HERE

164441_607403889277224_192821659_nSea Hare squirting ink Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign


To learn more about Batfish, click HERE

Batfish Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign

QUEEN CONCHQueen Conch Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign


At first glance you may wonder why these little fish are worth including. The answer lies in the food chain. The clean environment in which these bait fish thrive provides food for larger species and so on up the chain… If silversides ceased to exist, a vital source of marine nutrition would be lost.

Silversides Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign copySilversides Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign

CREDITS: Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign with many thanks for use permission of their material including images © Grant Jonson / 60 Pound Bullet Photography, and to all other photographers featured. Overall, cheers to Bimini, wildlife and conservation…


Loggerhead Hatchling Bimini BMPAC

Loggerhead Hatchling (Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign)


Abaco is fortunate already to have special conservation areas, both on land (e.g. the huge National Park) and at sea (e.g. Fowl Cay Marine Preserve). Other preserves are in active stages of development. Elsewhere in the Bahamas, where the natural life is equally wonderful, battles are being fought to protect pristine habitat from the encroachments of modern life such as unsuitable development (or development in unsuitable locations). For this first look at Bimini, I am most grateful to Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign  for permission to use some of their wonderful photographic archive that illustrates the vital importance of the mangroves, reefs, sea grass and pristine sea to marine life large and small. It’s worth checking out the background and surrounding context of these images to see the sort of habitat the creatures depicted prefer. This post features some of the larger species.


Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson/ 60 Pound Bullet)Hammerhead Sharks 3 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Hammerhead Shark 2 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Hammerhead Shark 4 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign


Nurse Sharks Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Nurse Shark BMPAC


Dolphin 2 Bimini's Marine Protected Area CampaignDolphin Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign


A pregnant female southern stingray, seen from belowSouthern Stingray (pregnant) Bimini's Marine Protected Area CampaignRay, Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Ray, Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign


Turtle in Mangroves Bimini's Marine Protected Area CampaignHawkshead Turtle 2 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign

CREDITS: Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign with many thanks for use permission of their material including images © Grant Jonson / 60 Pound Bullet Photography, and to all other photographers featured. Overall, cheers to Bimini, wildlife and conservation…


Red Hind Grouper Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy


The Red Hind is one of several grouper species commonly found in  Bahamas waters. Commonly for now, anyway. There is less information available about this species compared with other groupers, but sources seem agreed that it is (a) abundant and (b) IUCN listed ‘least concern’ but (c) heavily fished and (d) delicious.

Red Hind, attended by Cleaner FishRed Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Red Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba copy

One problem arises from the fact that Red Hinds form spawning aggregations in particular areas, making them vulnerable to fishing exploitation in those locations, and consequent population decline. Already, some of their spawning areas are protected.

Another threat comes from the degradation of coastal habitats coupled with increasing commercial and recreational fishing.  Red Hinds are targeted with speargun, hook and line, fish traps and nets. They may also be by-catch of other fishing operations. Fortunately Marine Protected Areas such as the ones in Abaco waters provide localised protection but these are not found throughout the Red Hind’s range. Closed seasons have been imposed in a few areas, another conservation method that has recently been introduced in the Bahamas for the Nassau grouper. 

Female spawning Red Hind Grouper (Univ of Puerto Rico:NOAA)

Getting the right balance between traditional fishing for food, and stock conservation is inevitably a tricky calculation. For the Red Hind, the factors that may result in the population decline of a plentiful species are in plain sight and will continue to be monitored by the various scientific research organisations involved…





Red Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 3

Credits: All images Melinda Riger at Grand Bahama Scuba except (4) NOAA / Puerto Rico Univ; research from several sources, tip of the hat to SCRFA


Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas 12

Sometimes things happen that completely take my breath away. Here is one of those moments, from our recent trip with Charlotte and Diane in the BMMRO research boat. As we returned from whale-watching to base in Sandy Point and moved from the deep dark ocean to the bright blue shallows, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. You can see my recent post featuring some of the adults HERE. That was exciting enough, as they played around the boat. Then another participant appeared… 

 Notice the dark area behind the adult dolphin… Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…which soon separated into a small dark splashing creature with its own fin cutting the waves…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…and next seen keeping pace with its parentDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

The sharp line between the light and the dark sea is where the sandy shallows abruptly give way to the deep waters of the Grand Bahama Canyon, a massive trench up to 2.5 miles deep with almost vertical cliff walls to the depths in some places

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

There were less active and splashy moments as the pair swam around togetherDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then it was back to doing what they like best…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then some more restful moments…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And finally the pair moved away. On the far horizon, the Massive Mickey Mouse Cruise ship moored at ‘Disney’s Castaway Cay’ (formerly the sober-sounding Gorda Cay), where you can be a Pirate of the Caribbean. Or anyway a very happy Tourist. The choice is yours. Would you like fries with that?Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And looking out to sea from the cheerful place that is Castaway Cay, I wonder if a small child was wondering “Ok, love Mickey and his Friends – but I’d also really love to see a wild dolphin swimming free… 

Disney Magic docked next to the Castaway Cay Family Beach copy

All photos RH (except Castaway, Wiki). Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day photo 2



Tm_Gina&JJWest Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ

Manatee Gina with her weaned calf JJ


Last year held hopes of a joyous reunion – and indeed union – in Abaco waters between young manatees Randy and Georgie. He had taken the trip from the Berry Is., around the top of Abaco and down the east coast as far at Little Harbour. She lives in Cherokee. Tantalisingly close. But then Randy retraced his steps as far as Gorda Cay and hopes for the production of Abaco’s first manatee calf (at least, in living / recorded memory) turned to seagrass mulch. The poignant story and some great manatee close-up photos (including a ‘selfie’ of sorts on a Go-Pro) can be found HERE

West Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ - weaning

But manatees do breed elsewhere in the Bahamas, in particular the Berry Is. They also seem to favour the north end of Eleuthera, and have been seen on Andros and NP. True, the absence of significant freshwater sources in the Bahamas – an essential part of their diet –  doesn’t make for an ideal habitat, but manatees do pair off and Bahamas calves are born. In summer 2012, there were four resident West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus) living in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Is. The adult female, Gina, had been there for 3 years – she originated from Florida. She had reportedly had 3 or 4 calves and was caring for her latest, a female calf called JJ, born in the late winter of 2011.

Adult female manatees are sexually mature at 6-10 years of age and have a gestation period of up to 13 months. The first two years of a calf’s life is spent with its mother. During this time they are taught where to find food, fresh water, warmth and shelter. Generally, after two years the calf is weaned and separates from its mother (see header image of Gina and JJ during that process)

 Nursing a growing JJ West Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ - nursing

Now there is more good news for Gina, who has been under regular observation by the BMMRO. At the turn of the year, Gina was re-tagged in Harbour Island, Eleuthera. As reported,  “she looks well, was very calm and is very pregnant… If the tag comes off and is found, please call the number on the tag to let us know – we are now monitoring her movements via the internet”.

Gina’s shows her best sideGina the Manatee 1

Coming atcher…Gina the Manatee 3

Tell-tale signs (to experts, anyway) of advanced pregnancyGina the Manatee 2

I will post any further news about Gina as it arises. Meanwhile, for more information about West Indian manatees, you can visit the MANATEE PAGE. There are several links there to specific manatee stories, especially about Rita and her adventurous daughter GEORGIE, Abaco’s current favourite (indeed, only) resident manatee… Both Links need an update, I notice –  they don’t cover Georgie’s subsequent return to Abaco and her contented settling down again in Cherokee where she seems happy as a… sirenian.

Dana & Trish greeting Georgie Manatee

Credits: All photos and primary fount of Bahamas manatee knowledge: BMMRO; Magpie Pickings



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