The Undiscovered Bahamas
The farther south you travel in The Bahamas, the wilder the out islands become, featuring an undisturbed beauty rarely touched by development. The hundreds of islands, islets and cays on the southern fringe of The Bahamas offer a lifetime of worldclass diving and discovery. Still within 700 miles of the continental U.S., they may as well be a world away, often supporting only small settlements and a few hotels. Numerous southern islands, such as Conception, Rum Cay, the Exuma chain the Ragged chain, Samana Cay, Crooked, Acklins, Mayaguana and Great and Little Inagua provide stations for reaching an unlimited and nearly unimaginable area of wilderness diving adventure.
Even shallow diving in these waters is wondrous, with vast fields of pristine corals and clouds of multicolored fish on parade. But it is the majestic coral walls, painted in throbbing, bold hues, that thrill the most worldexperienced divers. In addition there is the best possibility of encounters with rays, sharks, schools of dolphins, Pilot and Humpback Whales anywhere in the hemisphere. Presently, the most common way to dive these areas is from a liveaboard dive boat or via one of the all day excursions offered by several land based operators on neighboring islands. The trip through these islands is a great adventure in itself! The following is a small sampling of Bahamas wilderness diving, starting with the Exuma chain and going south.
THE ELKHORN GRADENS OF THE EXUMAS: These are a perfect example of the nearly limitless and pristine shallow diving available in The Bahamas. Huge, acre wide stands of golden Elkhorn Coral stretch as far as the 200 foot visibility will allow a visitor to see.
THE EXUMA NATIONAL LAND AND SEA PARK: The government of The Bahamas established this 22 mile long park, which encompasses a total of 176 square miles of island and sea bottom. It is a vast underwater preserve offering exquisite shallow reefs, blue holes, drop-offs and cave and cavern dives. The park also appeals to birdwatchers looking for frigates, garnets, nighthawks and the redlegged thrush. This area is also the home of the endangered and now protected rock iguana. These native Bahamian dragons can be found on Allan's Cays, a group of tiny islets just north of Highbourn Cay.
The Exuma chain offers some of the best cays for exploration. In order to reach Sail Rocks or Allan's Cays, one must cross the Yellow Bank. In the heart of the Great Bahama Bank, the Yellow Bank is a shallow sand area seldom exceeding 15 feet in depth. From the air it appears as a watercolor painting, thousands of scattered coral heads sprayed in random patterns. Each coral head is a separate, thriving community. The prolific marine life includes The Bahamas' leading the citizen, the Nassau Grouper, clusters of Spiny Lobster and clouds of brilliantly tinted tropical fish.
Among these coral heads are expansive beds of Queen Conch. Conch is a favorite staple of the Bahamian diet, served in salads, chowders and many other dishes and as fritters. The crossing of the Yellow Bank usually provides equal amounts of fun, sun and snorkeling.
CONCEPTION ISLAND WALL: Parallel to the coast of beautiful, deserted Conception Island are three miles of nearly unexplored walls. Size and color are so extravagant on Conception Wall that they present the very definition of world class diving.
SNOWFIELDS, RUM CAY: Excellent visibility and a glistening bottom of pure white sand provide a frame for statuesque pinnacles of coral.
CROOKED ISLAND POINT DROP OFF: Echoing the sharp contours of the northern tip of Crooked Island is a horseshoe shaped wall. The drop-off, dripping with sponges and Black Coral, begins in only 40 feet of water.
RAGGED ISLAND FRINGING REEF: Here, in 50 miles of fringing reef, huge coral platforms bisected by countless fault cracks provide a haven for thousands of coral fish, lobsters and groupers.
HOGSTY REEF: Reached only occasionally by the periodic visit of a liveaboard dive vessel is remote and enigmatic Hogsty Reef. Virtually in the middle of nowhere, this large area, which is similar in formation to a true Pacific atoll, is barely explored. Of particular interest to modern divers are the hundreds of ancient shipwrecks within this reef system. Hogsty is also a base area for launching dolphin, Humpback and Pilot Whale expeditions, animals that frequent this area as part of their migratory route.
GREAT INAGUA WALL: North of Mathewtown at the edge of the Great Bahama Wall, is a pure sand drop-off pocked by giant coral heads that tumble toward a great abyss. Great Inagua is also the site of one of the largest nesting grounds of the roseatte or pink flamingo. The National Trust of The Bahamas protects a large area around Lake Windsor, in the interior of the island, where the birds reach a population of 50,000.
The Bahamas is so vast there will probably always be diving to be discovered. This guide provides a glimpse of what awaits the diver.
We also recommend checking for current information prior to planning a visit to The Bahamas. The various dive operators, diving magazines or Bahamas Tourist Office at (800) 866-DIVE are all good sources of information.
There may be new operators in some locations since this guide was published. New government policies have encouraged investment in many of the islands. In time, the Undiscovered Bahamas may become more accessible. But, there will always be more to explore. Why wait? Make plans now to come dive one our many underwater treasures.
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