Fishermen have long known to look to the sky to identify bursts of feeding activity beneath the waves and to target big game fishes chasing bait balls to the surface. In an area with limited prey and abundant oceanic predators, seabirds must be fierce competitors to get their share of the baitfish and squid that make up the bulk of the diet of these subsurface hunters.
Preliminary surveys offshore have shown that the Exuma Sound hosts a diverse assemblage of seabird species that are of conservation interest, including the Audubon’s shearwater, bridled and sooty terns, white-tailed tropicbirds, magnificent frigatebirds, brown noddies, white-crowned pigeons, Wilson’s storm petrels, and even black-capped petrels.
Many of these species breed in the Bahamas, but practically no information exists on the importance of the Exuma Sound as a foraging area during the reproductive season. To support the sustainable and often international management of these species, we hope to conduct a series of research projects that shed light on the following:
When and how far do these species travel? Are they Bahamian residents or seasonal visitors? On which islands do they nest and where do they feed and roost? What are critical foraging and breeding habitats for each species within the eastern Bahamas?
Feeding Ecology & Toxicology
What are the predominant prey species for seabirds in the Exuma Sound, and where do these birds fall in the pelagic food web? How does their diet influence the accumulation of toxins in their tissues? Do seabirds contain high levels of toxins here, in a relatively pristine environment, compared to more developed areas in the region like the east coast of Florida?
What is the population status of pelagic seabirds around the Exuma Sound? Are their nests preferentially located in places that lack egg predators, such as on isolated keys off of the main Bahamian islands?