Bermuda

Map of Bermuda

About the territory

The name ‘Bermuda’ comes from the Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez, who is credited with discovering the islands in about 1505. The islands were settled in 1609 by the English crew of the ship Sea Venture which wrecked on the Bermuda’s reefs on their way to America.

Bermuda is located in the subtropics of the North Atlantic at latitude 32° 19’ North, longitude 64° 46’ West. The islands lie 1,476 km (917 miles) Northeast of Nassau, Bahamas and 1,052 km (654 miles) East of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina which is the closest point of land. Bermuda consists of around 193 coral limestone islands and islets extending along the edge of an extinct submarine volcano. The eight main islands are connected by bridges or causeways to form a chain about 35 km long. The total land area is 54 km2.

In 2016 the population of Bermuda was 63,779, 79% of which were Bermudian (Dept. of Statistics, 2016). Tourism and international business are the main sectors of the economy. Out of all the UK overseas territories it has the most recorded non-native species and suffers from significant problems caused by invasive species.

Biodiversity

Bermuda has at least 8,299 recorded species, 4,597 of which are marine and 3,702 are terrestrial. Of these, 110 marine species (2.4 %) and 137 terrestrial species (3.7%) are considered endemic. Bermuda contains no native mammal or amphibian residents, although four species of visiting bats have been recorded. There is one endemic bird species, the cahow, or Bermuda petrel (Pterodroma cahow), thought to have become extinct in the 1620s and rediscovered in 1935. The only native terrestrial reptile is the endemic Bermuda skink (Eumeces longirostris), a rock lizard that is also unique in being the sole non-avian, native land vertebrate. Bermuda has the highest number of globally threatened endemics of the island OTs, with 94% of the 32 endemic species which have been assessed against the Red List criteria listed as Globally Threatened.

The Bermuda islands were once covered in dense forest of endemic tree species, with mangrove forests lining the coasts and inland saltwater ponds. The islands have the northernmost mangrove forests in the Atlantic, made possible by the warm Gulf Stream current. Bermuda’s isolation led to the evolution of many endemic species. Since human colonisation, the islands have seen the extinction of many species, and only very small areas of natural habitat remain. Though the islands have a well-managed and well-funded system of protected areas, this is one of the world’s most densely populated regions. Additionally, Bermuda is subject to intense pressure from a heavy tourist industry.

A remarkable success story was the rediscovery of the great Bermuda landsnail (Poecilozonites bermudensis) in 2014 in a small alleyway in Hamilton, the main town. Thought to have become extinct, a population of the snails was taken to Chester zoo for captive breeding, and 4,000 were repatriated to Nonsuch Island, a small nature reserve, in Bermuda in 2019.

Policy and legislation

Bermuda has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the government of Bermuda will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species. Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016, read the 2016 review report (external link).

Bermuda holds the distinction of having passed the first conservation laws in the New World, protecting the cahow and other birds as early as 1616 and limiting the uses of native cedar as early as 1622. A comprehensive and well-managed protected areas system currently exists, comprising 12 nature reserves that cover some 48 hectares, as well as 63 parks.

There are several biosecurity and invasive species items in the 2003 Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan, but no stand-alone strategy. A number of sections of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are involved in long-term management of invasive species, as are the Department of Parks and a number of local NGOs.

Biosecurity legislation is focused on plant health and animal health issues for agricultural production and livestock. Border control is fairly strong (with some additional legislation/policy needed). A species can be denied entry on ecological grounds, but once found in Bermuda, the ability to control it does not appear in legislation other than in defence of some protected species. e.g. smuggled. Seizure of property becomes a Bermuda constitutional issue.

Powers exist with relation to prevent of the spread of diseases for animals and plants (powers of inspection, entry, search, restriction of movement, seizure and destruction). Diseased imported plant and animals can be seized. No sand, soil or earth allowed is allowed on stock, and no sand or gravel can be imported without a permit.

There are no legal powers to seize/destroy plants that have become invasive (e.g Schefflera, now invasive and sold in commercial nurseries); no flexibility to restrict sale or propagation of a plant species that becomes a pest once it is on the island; no legal right to access private property to cull invasive plants; and no legal power to induce land owners to cull invasive plants.


Thin strip of image show tree trunk and bark