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Bermuda

Last edited: Feb 7, 2022, 3:34 PM

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.

Map of Bermuda

 

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.

Invasive species and biosecurity

A total of 901 non-native species (marine and terrestrial) was recorded for Bermuda by the RSPB Stocktake (Churchyard et al 2014).

Taxon

Total species

Non-native species

Invertebrates

5,708

467

Vertebrates

1,281

32

Plants

2,348

402

Problems with invasive non-native species

In Bermuda invasive species cause extensive ecological problems. For example, invasive Casuarina trees (Casuarina equisetifolia) over-shade native plants and increase soil erosion, while various species of introduced birds predate the endemic wildlife such as the Bermuda Skink, and displace native birds from nesting sites. The pressures of habitat loss and extensive development have made these problems more acute, as very little natural habitat remains. Bermuda is particularly vulnerable to the introduction of invasive species through the importation of food and other consumer products. These shipments can inadvertently introduce invasive species into the environment. Additionally, people smuggling plants, animals, seeds or fruit back from their vacations could accidentally introduce an invasive species that will seriously damage Bermuda’s environment.

An estimated 95% of the surviving population of native Bermuda cedar (Juniperus bermudiana) was destroyed between 1946 and 1951 following the accidental introduction of two coccoid scale insects. Only an estimated 1% of the original cedar forest survived the blight. Subsequent reforestation using a scale-resistant strain has returned the cedar to roughly 10% of its former abundance, though these efforts have been hampered by the introduction of fast-growing casuarinas and other exotics into much of the cedar habitat

Case Study - The Brazil Pepper Tree

The Brazil Pepper Tree (Schinus terebinthifolius), which is locally often referred to as Mexican Pepper, is arguably Bermuda’s worst invasive species. It was introduced as a garden plant prior to the 1950’s and has since successfully invaded all parts of the island and every terrestrial habitat. Brazil Pepper has been so successful that it has displaced many native plants and drastically altered the habitats it has invaded. 

Case study – the Pacific lionfish

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific but in the 1980s some were released off the coast of Florida. Since then, they have spread across the Caribbean and the US East Coast, with the first one recorded in Bermuda in 2000. They are now ubiquitous in Bermuda waters. Lionfish are voracious predators and have a devastating impact on native fish. The lionfish has no natural predators in the Atlantic, and some shallow sites in the Bahamas have 390 lionfish per hectare and the impact of lionfish at these densities has been devastating. 

Priority invasive non-native species and actions

The main priority invasive species and actions for plant and animal (vertebrate and invertebrate) species are shown below.

Plants

Scientific name Common name More info Actions Other notes
Schinus terebinthifolius Brazil Pepper      
Eugenia uniflora Surinam Cherry Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Still sold in garden centres. fruits are edible Looks like native Eugenia.
Casuarina equisetifolia Casuarina      
Ficus retusa Indian Laurel      
Asparagus densiflorus Asparagus Fern      
Livistonia chinesis Chinese Fan Palm      
Leucaena leucocephala Wild Mimosa (Jumbie Bean)      
Eichhornia crassipes Water Hyacinth      
Scaevola sericea Beach Naupaka Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link)   Looks like native Scaevola plumieri
Arundo donax Cow Cane      
Sphagneticola trilobata Seaside Creeping Daisy     Formerly Wedelia trilobata
Cenchrus setaceus Fountain Grass     Formerly Pennisetum setaceum

 

Animals 

Scientific name Common name More info Actions Other notes
Pterois volitans Lionfish   A lionfish control programme and related research is being coordinated by the Bermuda Aquarium  
Sturnus vulgaris European Starling Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) No control action This species is on the IUCN list of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species
Pitangus sulphuratus Great Kiskadee Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) No control action Introduced from Trinidad to control Anolis lizards in 1957.
Trachemys scripta elegans Red-eared Slider Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Periodic trapping in ponds and nature reserves. This species is on the IUCN list of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species. Unwanted pet terrapins should be taken to a vet or the Aquarium for euthanasia
Rattus rattus Black Rat Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Regular baiting programme island wide  
Rattus norvegicus Brown or Norway Rat Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Regular baiting programme island wide  
Mus musculus House Mouse Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link)    
Corvus brachyrhynchos American or Common Crow Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Subject to regular culls  
Columba livia Pigeon Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Native birds are being protected by creating artificial burrows and non-native pigeons are being culled. Feral pigeons foul the nest holes used by white-tailed tropicbirds (Longtails) making the nest sites un-useable.
Passer domesticus House Sparrow Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Very numerous, but no control programme in place. Competes for nesting sites with native Bluebirds. Sparrows will kill bluebird chicks and take over the nestbox.
Gallus domesticus Feral Chicken Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Control ongoing.  
Euglandina rosea Rosy Wolf Snail Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) The local population may have crashed due to lack of prey This species is on the IUCN list of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species
Pomacea sp. Apple Snail   An escaped or released aquarium species. Present in some freshwater ponds. No active control. This species is on the IUCN list of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species
Linepithema humile Argentine Ant Gov. Bermuda factsheet (external link) Ants are generally controlled by commercial pest control companies. This ant is the most common species. This species is on the IUCN list of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species
Pheidole megacephala Big-headed Ant     This species is on the IUCN list of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species

Biosecurity

In 2017 a biosecurity gap analysis (PDF) was completed. Bermuda capacity is reasonable for Early Warning and Rapid Response, but weak for Prevention. Risk analysis is done on an ad-hoc basis. Border operations cover both agricultural and livestock issues, as well as invasive plants and marine species and sea shells.

Baseline inventories are good across all taxa. The legal framework is weak overall, with a focus on plant health and animal health issues, and it does not cover species established on-island. There is no national biosecurity strategy or policy, although there are invasive species items in the Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan.

In 2018 a pathway analysis (PDF) was completed. Pathways of introduction to Bermuda are several, with direct access from a number of other countries outside the Caribbean region both by air and sea. There is one international airport, with daily direct flights to US, Canada and the UK. There are no direct flights within the region. Cruise ships depart cruise ports for Bermuda from the Azores, Canada, Guatemala, Panama Canal, and the USA, and within the region from the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico and USVI. Yachts have only one port of entry, St George’s Harbour, but once they have cleared Immigration and Customs they can take up anchorage anywhere.

Cargo arrives by both ship and plane. Within the region, cargo is mainly flown in from the USA but also arrives on the British Airways flight from the UK. There are at least 6 different companies on Bermuda that are directly involved with the air cargo business. One local company offers air consolidation service from USA, Canada, UK, Europe and the Far East (the latter goes through Dubai before being expedited to Bermuda). Cargo arrives by ship from the USA, with two regularly scheduled weekly callers in addition to car-carriers and special cargo ships, for example unloading gravel and building supplies for the new airport.

Horizon scanning was carried out in 2019, identifying a total of 38 new invasive species of concern which have the potential to arrive within the next 5 – 10 years; read a report on the horizon scanning (PDF).  

Projects

The Department of Conservation Services and the Department of Parks have ongoing programmes for removing invasive plants and re-planting these areas with nursery-grown natives.

Non-governmental organisations such as the Bermuda Zoological Society, Bermuda National Trust, Bermuda Audubon Society and Save Open Spaces are active in developing and promoting methods of controlling invasive species and assisting native species. The main invasive species projects include lionfish control, feral animal and invasive plant controls, and protection of Nonsuch Island through internal biosecurity measures to protect endemic species such as the cahow and great Bermuda landsnail.

The Lionfish Control Plan (2014) is a working document written by coalition members of the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force and is intended to guide those responsible for its implementation. The aims of the Lionfish Control Plan are to formulate an action strategy and provide a framework to coordinate activities among organizations and individuals with the overall goal of controlling the number of lionfish in Bermuda waters.

The Lionfish Task Force was established as the result of a Lionfish Control Plan Workshop in October 2012, attended by representatives from government, environmental, scientific and education organizations, fishermen, the dive community and other island stakeholders. The two biggest priorities in the fight against the lionfish are research and education.

Activities in the Control Plan include:

  • A culling programme utilizing private and commercial divers under special permit, and an annual tournament to catch and kill the most lionfish;
  • Eat ‘um to Beat ‘um campaign to encourage consumption of lionfish;
  • Statistics on stomach contents, genetic diversity, reproductive activity and population densities are being collected;
  • Education campaign on safe handling of lionfish and first aid for stings.

A record number of Lionfish were caught in the Lionfish tournament of 2020, when 87 registered competitors caught 1,072 lionfish. Find out more about the Lionfish Control Plan and Task Force (external link).

Drawing on commitments made under the Environment Charter, Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), 10 OTEP funded projects (external link) were delivered in total between 2004 and 2012. Read the OTEP brochure for Bermuda (external link).

Bermuda has received a number of Darwin Initiative funded projects, listed below. For more information read the project reports (external link):

  • Bermuda invasive Lionfish control initiative (DPLUS001)
  • Upgrade and revision of reef survey resource (DPLUS004)
  • Characterising Bermuda’s baitfish populations to improve management and fishery sustainability (DPLUS064)
  • Regional-scale marine conservation through multi-territory tracking of frigatebirds (DPLUS097)

The project ‘Tackling invasive non-native species in the UK Overseas Territories’ was implemented between 2016 and 2020 to strengthen biosecurity in the OTs, funded by the UK government Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). Bermuda benefitted from a number of activities to strengthen its biosecurity, including: pathway analysis, horizon scanning, pathway action planning, access to online learning, and technical support. Read further details.

Useful information

Information for visitors

Before travelling please ensure all items are clean, free from organic materials such as mud, faeces, seeds and invertebrates:

  • Check your footwear, outdoor clothing and day packs to make sure they are clean and free from weed seeds, mud, invertebrates and plant material. If possible we recommend that you travel with new outdoor clothing and equipment. Shake out or vacuum all the compartments and pockets before you pack.
  • If you have been camping, check that your tent and other equipment is clean, dry and free of dirt and invertebrates such as ants and spiders. Shake it out before you pack it up for travel and ensure no soil remains on tent pegs.
  • If you have been hiking, visiting a wilderness area, farm or zoo, make sure your footwear and clothes are clean and free from seeds, mud and faeces. Check boot soles for mud between the treads, Velcro fastenings for seeds and plant material, and shake out or vacuum pockets to remove any dirt and plant material.
  • If you are carrying golf, fishing or other sports and outdoor equipment with you, make sure they are clean, dry and free from dirt and any live creatures.

Advice for importers to Bermuda:

Contact

Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Department Headquarters
Botanical Gardens
#169 South Road
Paget DV04Tel: +441 236-4201

Documents

Barnsley, S., Cary, E., Pienkowski, M. and Wensink, C. (Eds) (2016).  Review of performance by 2016 of UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in implementing the 2001 Environment Charters or their equivalents and moving towards the Aichi Targets and Sustainable Development Targets. UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, April 2016. Churchyard, T., Eaton, M., Hall, J., Millett, J., Farr, A., Cuthbert, R. and Stringer, C.  (2014). The UK’s wildlife overseas: a stocktake of nature in our Overseas Territories.  Sandy, UK: RSPB.Edgar, P. (2010). The Amphibians and reptiles of the UK Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and Sovereign Base Areas: Species Inventory and Overview of Conservation and Research Priorities. Bournemouth, UK: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.Proctor, D. and Fleming, L. V., eds. (1999). Biodiversity: the UK Overseas Territories. Peterborough, UK: JNCC.Sanders, S. M., ed. (2006). Important Bird Areas in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories. Sandy, UK: RSPB.Varnham, K. (2006). Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. Peterborough, UK: JNCC Report No. 372.

Websites