FRIDAY, FEB. 10: Damaging cedar trees and hermit crabs could land you in prison, under new conservation laws.
The Protected Species Amendment Act makes it a criminal offence to destroy or interfere with 33 new species that were not previously protected.
The new rules, which came into force just last month, mean that disturbing a Giant Land Crab or a Common Tern could lead to two years behind bars. Uprooting a Bermuda Palmetto or a Bermuda Cedar could result in a six-month jail term.
The move aims to safeguard vulnerable species and provide tough penalties for those who interfere with them.
Drew Pettit, Director of Conservation Services, said: “This is the first time that animals like Killifish, eels, and Diamondback Terrapins get official protection under a piece of legislation. The act also provides teeth so that these new laws can be enforced.
“It’s also the first time that plants and trees are properly protected.
“It is ground-breaking legislation and will help to preserve our fragile and unique eco-system for years to come.”
Don’t mess with Mother Nature
Dozens of Bermuda’s most endangered species have been protected for the first time under new regime of conservation laws.
Thirty-three kinds of plant and animal from Turtle Grass to Diamondback Terrapins and Mangroves to Cave Shrimps are now safeguarded under the Protected Species Amendment Act 2011.
And as of January 17 it is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment to interfere, disturb, damage or destroy any of the 82 species listed in the legislation.
The new act divides the island’s endangered species into three levels of protection; Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.
The 57 species contained in Level 1 are considered the most at risk and the punishment for uprooting or killing them is the most severe — a maximum of two years in prison or a fine of up to $25,000.
Level 1 species include new additions like the Common Tern and the Green Heron that have not been protected before.
The category also contains Cahows and Longtails that had been protected under the Protected Species Order 2007 and the Birds Act.
The fact that they now come under the new act means harsher penalties can be imposed for interfering with these protected birds.
While interfering with the 15 species in Level 2, which include the Diamondback Terrapin, American or European Eels and Killifish, can result in a year’s imprisonment or a fine of $15,000.
Level 3 contains 10 species of flowering plant such as the Bermuda Snowberry, the Palmetto and the Cedar.
Damaging or uprooting one of these trees could lead to a six-month jail term or a fine of $15,000.
The enforcement of the new rules and sanctions is the job of Conservation Services.
And director Drew Pettit insisted that the legislation is not designed to be draconian, but would be strictly enforced by his team.
He told the Sun: “This new legislation is not a ban on anyone interacting with protected animals and plants.
“People can apply to the department for permits to handle, relocate, or restore these species and each application will be considered on its merits.
“Obviously Level 1 species require a high level of expertise to handle so licences will only be given to experts and scientists.
“The purpose of the act is very simple; protecting our endangered species and the penalties for those who breach the rules
give it teeth.”
Under the new act the Department of Conservation Services will also be able to assess planning applications to see if they interfere or encroach on protected species or their habitats.
Mr Pettit said: “This is the first time that plants have been protected in Bermuda so it is a big step.
“Developers have to be aware of this.
“This is not another level of bureaucracy and we will not charge any fees nor will it take any more time.
“We do not need to get involved with all planning applications, but if you are taking out or destroying a protected species that is when we are interested.
“We would like to preserve and relocate specimens when possible.”
The American Eel
The American Eel (right) is common in Eastern North America where it lives in rivers, lakes and ponds.
They feed on invertebrates, fish, insects and carrion.
They are closely related to European Eels that lead a similar life in European lakes and rivers.
In Bermuda, these eels can be found in coastal ponds and occasionally Pembroke Canal.
They grow to four feet long and are coloured brownish grey on top with a slivery belly.
Both species of eel migrate down rivers and into the Atlantic to breed in the Sargasso Sea.
Eels are threatened by pollution of rivers and hydroelectric dams. They are also heavily fished for food.
Both the American and European Eel are protected as Level 2 protected species in Bermuda’s waters.
Today the native Yellowood is extremely rare — there are believed to be less than two-dozen left in the wild.
Once the wood was very popular for making cabinetry and furniture.
This business was stopped by the Governor as early as 1632.
The Yellowwood is a smooth barked, evergreen tree that prefers sheltered garden and woodland locations away from salt and wind. It is slow growing, with male and female varieties, which has resulted in a slowly declining population. Today there are only approximately 20 mature specimens in the wild.
Despite much effort made by the Government Plant Nursery in the 1980s very few of the 1,000 saplings produced survived. Propagation efforts have begun again and the Yellowwood is now protected as a Level 3 Protected Species.
Seagrass is a family of flowering plants adapted to life in the ocean.
Seagrasses found in Bermuda include Turtle Grass, Manatee Grass, Shoal Grass and Paddle Grass.
Seagrasses provide a key habitat for many of Bermuda’s juvenile fish, marine plants and animals.
They also provide as essential food for our turtle population. Furthermore seagrasses provide other benefits such as capturing carbon, providing oxygen and controlling erosion control.
Between 1997 and 2004 Bermuda experienced a substantial loss of seagrass meadows.
This prompted the Government to start a long-term monitoring and assessment programme.
As a result of its findings four important seagrass species are now protected as Level 2 protected species.
It is estimated that there are fewer than 100 Diamondback Terrapins (pictured right) left in the wild in Bermuda.
They are only found in three ponds island-wide.
Diamondbacks seldom grow longer than nine inches in length and have a distinctive diamond pattern on their shells.
They are strong swimmers and well adapted to living in tidal ponds and mangrove swamps.
Diamondbacks are one of only two native terrestrial reptiles present in Bermuda — the other one is the Bermuda Skink.
And the island has the only known wild breeding population outside of North America.
Bermuda’s small population of Diamondbacks is under threat from development, and their hatchlings are often eaten by rats and herons.
Diamondback Terrapins have been listed as a Level 2 protected species.
Giant Land Crab
The Giant Land Crab is native to Bermuda, the Caribbean, Florida and Central America.
It is the largest burrowing crab in Bermuda and grows up to 12 inches in size.
One of the most characteristic features of Giant Land Crab is the different sized claws of the male; with one claw growing as big as its shell.
The crab, which is sometimes called the Blue Land Crab, is found in Bermuda’s Mangrove swamps.
They are mainly active at night, eating leaf litter, fruit and dead marine life along the shore.
The habitat of the Giant Land Crab is threatened by development and human activity.
It is now a Level 1 protected species.
There are around 1,270 different species within the Killifish family. Two of these species are found only in Bermuda — Fundulus Relictus and Fundulus Bermudae.
They were once abundant and widespread throughout Bermuda’s wetlands, but now they are isolated to just nine small ponds. These endemic fish are well adapted to ever changing water levels and salt levels.
The killifish grows to a maximum of 2.5 inches.
The females tend to be a drab olive gray and the males, while smaller, are brightly coloured. They are omnivorous and fond of eating mosquitoes.
Bermuda’s Killifish has been assigned as a Level 2 protected species because of its small population and threats to its habitat.
The Bermuda Cedar
The Bermuda Cedar is perhaps our most well-known tree and is unique to the island.
It is actually a Juniper and not a Cedar. The Cedar’s hard wood, strong root system and small leaf make it is well adapted to Bermuda’s climate.
It is found in almost all of the island’s habitats and stands up well to hurricanes and winter storms.
Between 1946 and 1953, 95 per cent of Bermuda’s cedars were destroyed by a Juniper Scale that was inadvertently imported from the U.S.
A major replanting effort has been made since then but the Bermuda Cedar is still under threat from development and landscape maintenance.
The Bermuda Cedar is now a Level 3 protected species.
Mangrove swamps are among the most ecologically rich habitats for animals and plants.
They provide shelter for a diverse range of terrestrial and marine life and act as a buffer against storm erosion.
Bermuda is home to two of the three Mangrove varieties; the Black Mangrove and the Red Mangrove
The Black Mangrove looks more like a tree than the “spidery” Red Mangrove. It has thick, black bark and “pneumetaphores” or air breathing roots. Bermuda is the most northerly limit of mangroves in the Atlantic Ocean. Mangroves are threatened by development and landscape maintenance.
Both of Bermuda’s native mangrove species have been listed as Level 2 protected species.