Flora & Fauna
the beauty of the bahamas
With over 700 islands and 2,400 cays, the Islands of The Bahamas offer an overwhelming variety of historical, cultural, and natural attractions. Although the size of The Bahamas is traditionally estimated by its land mass (about 5,400 square miles, including many tiny, uninhabited rocks and isles), these islands extend over a marine territory of about 100,000 square miles--almost twice the size of Spain and substantially larger than Great Britain. This marine territory is as important as the land mass itself, for a while the land provides a place to live, the sea is a place to play and explore.
Most people come to The Bahamas for its phenomenally clear waters and its abundant and varied marine life. In fact, almost 5% of the world's coral reefs are located here, an amount surpassing even Australia's Great Barrier Reef. In addition to the unparalleled diversity of its marine life, the islands are rich in terrestrial flora and fauna. Because The Bahamas is an island nation, there are only two indigenous mammals-- the raccoon and the hutia, an endearing sort of tropical guinea-pig. Larger mammals introduced during colonization, such as wild donkeys, wild boars, and horses, do roam in less populous areas--and of course, whales and dolphins frequent the waters. Reptiles and amphibians such as the endangered Bahamian rock iguana, the Cat Island terrapin, and the Hawksbill turtle share the cays and islands of The Bahamas with the largest nesting colony of West Indian flamingoes in the world, as well as nesting colonies of the Bahama parrot. Unique among New World parrots, the Abaco parrot nests in natural limestone cavities on the ground. This nesting habit makes the parrot more vulnerable to predators, especially the wild cats of the Abaco forests.
While the islands of The Bahamas are not lush, their flora is distinctive, colorful, and varied. Among the Bahamian plants are the bull vine, whose bright red blooms attract butterflies, the wild grape, several kinds of fig, and the boldly colored and shaped bromeliad. There are also wild tamarind and pigeon plum trees, both of which produce edible fruit, and the ubiquitous casuarina pine. The various national parks encompass a wide range of environments--from hardwood forests and whiteland coppices to sand dunes and eerie, impenetrable mangrove flats. Perhaps because there's so much to conserve, Bahamians have a strong tradition of appreciating and protecting their environs. As a result, the 12 government-funded national parks of The Bahamas are exceptional. They exist on several islands, encompassing every kind of habitat that the islands possess and ranging in size from the tiny gem of Lucayan National Park to the 20,000-acre National Park on Abaco.
The Bahamas has allocated an additional 58 sites for future development as National Parks, in particular the Andros Barrier Reef, third largest living coral reef in the world, and the Athol Island/Rose Island marine environment.