The Joulter Cays, located just north of Andros Island, is well known by research biologists and provides a is prominent for its unique geological features, by research biologists, divers, for its
- Impressive bonefish populations that contribute to a sustainable vibrant recreational fly-fishing industry in Andros;
- Extensive banks of unique oolitic sand, and
- Sand flats that provide habitat for thousands of shorebirds, including the largest congregation of the endangered Piping Plover outside the United States;
- Mangroves and tidal creeks that provide nursery areas for sharks and commercially important reef fish species;
- Seagrass meadows that sustain nursery habitats for lobsters, conch and sea cucumbers, and feeding grounds for marine turtles;
- Areas of coppice that supports breeding populations of White Crowned Pigeon;
- Intact healthy coral reefs that provide shoreline protection and enhances fisheries productivity.
The primary users of the Joulter Cays are sports fishermen who target bonefish and permit on the flats and in the creeks, commercial fishermen that harvest demersal fish (grouper, snappers, grunts etc.), lobster and stone crabs on the reef, and commercial harvesters of sponge and conch on the banks. Fishermen that use the Joulter Cays are concerned by the increased fishing pressure they have observed on the flats, and the declining state of the reefs that will have a significant impact on their livelihoods. Other threats to this area include, poor handling of bonefish, vessel groundings that destroy reef sites, discarded fishing gear, and other marine debris.
Although classified as a Wild Bird Reserve and an Important Bird Area (IBA), these designations do not afford the Joulter Cays any protection against current and future threats. As a National Park, the Joulters will be protected in perpetuity, preserving the habitats and ecosystem functions, while safeguarding the traditional uses by local people. Its designation as a national park will protect the Joulter Cays from unsustainable development and sand mining to ensure long-term sustainability of the area, and the economy for the local communities and the country.
The proposed Andros Joulter Cays National Park boundaries extend east and west from the cays, to offshore reefs, encompassing the IBA, a portion of the Andros Barrier Reef, deeper waters incorporating habitats for pelagic species, mangroves and tidal creeks, seagrass beds, coppice forests, and the vast oolitic sand banks that support the bonefishing industry, and provide habitats for endangered shorebirds.
The development of this park proposal was a participatory process involving resource users and local people through a series of outreach activities including Focus Group Meetings with fisherman and fishing guides, public meetings and survey assessments to reach the wider communities of Northern and Central Andros, avian surveys to identify areas of conservation importance for birds, and a Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA). The proposal focuses on providing economic stability and opportunities for Bahamians, and habitat protection to prevent unsustainable development and uses that are detrimental to marine ecosystems and shorebird habitat.
Based on the results of scientific investigations and community outreach initiatives, the Joulter Cays is highly prioritized for legal protection. The Bahamas National Trust has received support from The National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, the Andros Conservancy and Trust, The Bahamas Environment Science & Technology (BEST) Commission, The Department of Marine Resources and the communities of Northern and Central Andros, to recommend to The Government of The Bahamas that the Joulter Cays Wild Bird Reserve and Important Bird Area be designated as a National Park, allowing traditional uses. This will ensure that the important matrix of habitats that support a recreational and commercial fishing industry, offers current and future economic growth for the Bahamian people, while protecting against threats that can cause irreversible damages to the environment.