Nonsuch Island

Nonsuch Island
Nonsuch Island

Nonsuch Island (originally Nonesuch Island) is part of the chain which makes up Bermuda. It is located in St. George’s Parish, in the northeast of the territory.
The island, which covers 14 acres (5.7 hectares), is situated at the eastern entrance to Castle Harbour, close to the southeasternmost point of Cooper’s Island (now ostensibly part of the much larger St. David’s Island).

Latitude (DMS): 32° 20′ 52 N Longitude (DMS): 64° 39′ 48 W.
In 1865 it served as a Yellow Fever quarantine hospital and in 1930 it served as a base for William Beebe and Otis Barton’s landmark bathysphere dive.
The island is a wildlife sanctuary. Wooded and with a small freshwater marsh, access to the public is strictly limited. The restoration of the once barren island into a ‘Living Museum of pre-colonial Bermuda’ is the lifetime work of now retired Bermudian ornithologist and conservationist David B. Wingate, and part of his effort to bring back from near-extinction the once plentiful, endemic nocturnal seabird, and national emblem of Bermuda, the Cahow.This project also involved the reintroduction of other species, notably the West Indian Topshell and the Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Accounts written at the time of Bermuda’s settlement leave no doubt that herons and egrets of several species were resident and breeding on the island. Diego Ramirez (in Wilkinson 1950) describing the events of his shipwreck on Bermuda in 1603, wrote of “the many very large dark herons” and Sylvanus Jourdain, (in Lefroy 1877), a survivor of the Sea Venture shipwreck of 1609 that led to British settlement, reported in 1610 that “there arc also great store and plenty of herons and those so familiar and tame that we beat them down from the trees with stones and staves, but such were young herons.

Besides many white herons without so much as a black or grey feather on them.” Likewise, William Strachey, (in Lefroy 1877), another survivor from the Sea Venture and the official chronicler of the Virginia expedition, wrote of the “white and grey Hernshawes and bittons.”


The “Living Museum” Project

Shoreline on Nonsuch Island
Shoreline on Nonsuch Island

Nonsuch was ideal for this project. It is isolated and remains comparatively uncolonized by exotic introductions. As a result, it has retained native and endemic plants and animals that were rare on the mainland.
This meant that an almost true representation of the prehistoric “native” environment of Bermuda could be recreated on Nonsuch by reintroducing those native plants and animals extirpated by man and his domestic animals over the years.
Nonsuch had been virtually deforested by the cedar blight in the late 1940s, and non-endemic trees had replaced them. In the first three years of the museum project more than 3,000 seedling trees of native species, such as Bermuda Cedar, Palmetto, Olivewood Bark and Southern Hackberry, were planted. In addition, 1,000 non-native trees, such as Casuarina and Tamarisk, were planted to provide temporary windbreak protection.

The upland forest of large trees and understorey became well-established, with many trees and shrubs self-propagating. In 1987, additional cedars were planted as the proportion was not truly representative of the original forest. As the forest develops, the non-native trees are girdled (an outer band of the lower trunk is severed, causing the tree to die over a long period).

Nonsuch Island Map
Nonsuch Island Map – Click to enlarge

This method is used to prevent the ecological stress caused by instant removal of the tree.
Hurricane Emily in 1987 caused very little damage to the native and endemic trees, demonstrating how well adapted they are to local conditions.

The excavation of two artificial ponds in the late 1970s, and their establishment as freshwater and saltwater marshes, meant that the six major habitats with their individual flora are all represented on the island: rocky coast, coastal hillside, marshes, upland forest and beach dune.

Special permission must be obtained by anyone wishing to visit Nonsuch Island. Only boats belonging to BBSR and the Bermuda Aquarium are permitted to dock at Nonsuch, and visitors must be accompanied by a qualified guide. Group visits and guides must be booked through BBSR’s Education Officer.

For more information see: Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences