Who hasn’t dreamed of being able to enter another world and be surrounded by the beautiful and the bizarre? One aspect of our cruising adventure that we had both looked forward to was checking out the underwater world of the Bahamas. About 30 years ago, Tim and I had backpacked (separately) through parts of the South Pacific. We both vividly recall the visceral thrill of entering into that foreign-to-us world of coral and tropical fish.When we first arrived in the Bahamas, in the areas we explored in the Abacos, we didn’t find much underwater life, although we weren’t looking too hard. The temperatures were a little cool to be able to stay in for any length of time without proper gear. We were told the Exumas, though, was the place to go. The Exumas would be amazing, with warm, clear water and lots of undersea life. Yes, the Exumas.
We’re hitting many of the marked snorkelling areas in the Exuma Land & Sea Park and also poking around other areas that look promising, in and outside the park. The winds have continued to be exceptionally strong, so we’ve had to forego some sites that are a little too risky to get to. We’ll leave them for next time. We’ve put miles on our dinghy Poco and on our biceps, exploring. If we can find a large enough sandy spot that our anchor or rode won’t damage neighbouring coral, we’ll even drop Ariose’s hook for a few hours, don our snorkelling gear, and drop in.
Neither of us are strong swimmers, nor have much experience in the water, so we’re a little tentative. My heart (Shirley speaking) still pounds when I think of an incident from 3 decades ago in Fiji, when a large shark came out of the depths directly at me and my ex-husband only to turn at the last minute to skim by at arm’s length. Later we discovered that animals had been slaughtered to feed a village gathering, and their entrails dumped in the water adjacent to where we were snorkelling. Yikes! Anyways, that’s another story from another adventure a lifetime ago. Tim and I are finding that each time we go in, the undercurrent of anxiety we carry with us is diminishing and the excitement about what we’re discovering grows.
Some areas, though, have been disappointing. Although it’s a lot of fun poking around underwater and finding anything of interest, many areas seem to be struggling for survival, with much of the coral dead and silted over. The few solitary fish, looking like the last hold-outs, dart for cover as we invade their space. We hadn’t seen anything close to what we remember from snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji, the Cook Islands … maybe the passage of time has exaggerated our memories of those experiences? Perhaps in part. We do suspect though, that what we’re seeing or rather what we’re not seeing is a result of lots of factors that have taken their toll on life beneath the surface: global warming, pollution, over-fishing, boaters dropping & dragging anchors… We even wonder since this is a part of the world that regularly gets hit by hurricanes, if the resulting volumes of soil being washed into the water (especially since the Bahamian forests have been decimated by logging), if some reefs never get a solid chance to take hold.
One day, after a vigorous row from our anchorage at Cambridge Cay against current out to a rocky islet, Tim was first to get his mask and fin on. No, that’s not a typo. That’s fin, singular – the other donated overboard a few days earlier. Perhaps Neptune was pleased with the offering and decided to reward us. Tim dunked under, came up to shout “bingo”, and was gone. Finally! We had found healthy, vibrant life, in warm crystal clear water. It was like we were swimming in an aquarium that stretched to eternity. Spectacular.
Another absolutely amazing experience for us has been the caves. At the first one, Thunderball Grotto, close to Staniel Cay, we had no idea what to expect. We swam in and then came up to find that we had been transported into an ethereal world. Light was reflecting from submerged openings in the rock, flooding through the clear water, and a brilliant spotlight beamed down from above. It felt like sacred space. What a moving experience. The other caves we swam at Rocky Dundas have been equally awe-inspiring.
This is definitely a post where we think our photos will do a far better job than our words could possibly achieve in sharing a glimpse into the amazing underwater world of the Exumas. Grab your snorkelling gear, join us at the water’s edge, take a deep breath & jump in with us …
First, a caveat from the terrestrial biologist on board: We have limited resources to help us identify species, and in some cases, it’s downright tricky for our unaccustomed eyes to register the identifying features of often skittish fish (was there a spot on that dorsal fin of those little purple & yellow guys??), … So consider our id’s as best guesses, certainly not definitive.
Hope you enjoyed snorkelling with us. If you’re interested in sharing, we’d love to hear about your underwater experiences.
Until next time, we’ll leave you with this marine interaction we witnessed: