THE SOUTHERN BAHAMAS
Sharks, dolphins, reefs and walls
Water Temperature: 27-29°C/81-84°F
Diving: Sharks, walls, sea mounts, coral gardens, swim-throughs, caves
Willing to share option
Gazing down from an aeroplane on the fabulous cays, islands and islets of the southern Bahamas makes one realize that this island nation is only just above water in some places and only just below water in others. Ocean shades of blue, from the palest turquoise to the deepest sapphire, and sand banks and coral cays shading from vanilla to cappuccino, sparkle and twinkle in the sunlight far below. Located east and south of the Florida Keys, the Bahamas are a vast series of islands with blue holes, caves, walls and shipwrecks. Their tropical location in the Atlantic means that not only sharks of all kinds, but Humpback Whales, several species of dolphins, Spotted Eagle Rays and even Whale Sharks make their way here at various times of the year. The whole region offers an amazing variety of diving experiences in an area of more than 1,000 square miles of some of the clearest oceanic waters in the world.
The Southern Bahamian islands include the Exumas, Conception, Long Island, Stocking Island and San Salvador. A necklace chain of three hundred and fifty islands and cays makes up the Exumas, and it is on Great Exuma, at George Town, that divers will join Turks and Caicos Explorer II. A liveaboard boat is the finest way to explore these remote islands, many of which are uninhabited.
From George Town there is a two-and-a-half hour sail to appropriately-named, string-bean-shaped, Long Island. Grouper Valleys is a stunning dive of around 15-25 metres in water that can be so clear that divers can be deceived by the depth. Because there is little coral in the area, this dive site feels more like ‘blue water’ diving and the fish life here is the main attraction, with Tiger Groupers and Graysbys hiding in the channels. Nassau Groupers and huge Jewfish can also be found here. Shark Reef is one of the most popular dives on Long Island and is an area where local divemasters have been feeding sharks for some time. Blacktip and Caribbean Reef Sharks are the most commonly sighted, but there have been occasional sightings of Bull Sharks and Scalloped Hammerheads. A school of Horse-eye Jacks often frequent the dive site and barracuda are sometimes seen, but it is the sharks that are ever-present!
From Long Island the boat may move on to Conception Island, an uninhabited reef-rimmed speck on the map with a Land and Sea Park of only 6 square miles. Above water the island is a nesting site for Green Turtles and seabirds. Underwater, large coral heads are interspersed with sand chutes, and elephant ear and barrel sponges are prolific. Schooling Horse-eye Jacks, snappers and groupers can all be found here. Keep an eye on the blue beyond as turtles and sharks cruise the area. Bull sharks have been seen infrequently at Conception, so it is worth keeping your eyes open. Coral formations commence at around 5 metres and black coral can be found as shallow as 18 metres.
From Conception it is around a three-and-a-half hour trip to San Salvador, the exposed peak of a sea mount, and there are times when the boat cannot get out this far, but when it does there is a choice of around 15-20 dive sites, depending on the weather and currents. Perhaps one of the most famous is Great Cut, where a 70-metre section of the main reef wall splintered away, creating a double drop-off. Cross the first ridge at 12 metres and you will come to the chasm between the ridges, which drops to around 50 meters. The second section of the wall dips vertically out of sight. On the threshold of the open sea, one can expect the unexpected, but more common reef fish include Bermuda Chub, Blue-stripped Grunts and Midnight Parrotfish. Double Caves are like slides that start at around 15 metres and end at 30 metres. Swim up or down the tunnels! The walls have good populations of purple tube sponges and large plate corals.
At the shallow Stingray Reef on Stocking Island, French Grunts, Queen and French Angelfish, snappers and tangs can be seen as well as some large Southern Stingrays for whom the dive site is named. There are several opportunities for macro photographers as the area is great for small wrasse and blennies peeping from rocks and crevices as well as large lobsters and crabs tucked away in rocky cracks. Stingray Reef is sometimes used as a night dive location as it is only 9-15 metres deep.
On selected weeks, Turks and Caicos Explorer II makes cruises from Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands to Mayaguana and Samana Cay, in the so called ‘Undiscovered Bahamas’. Samana Cay is in fact deserted and now a village lies in ruins, but now you can visit this remote spot with Explorer Ventures. Many sites on this itinerary have not yet been named. Perhaps you can suggest your ideas after exploring these sites?
Samana Cay and Mayaguana lie north of Providenciales and on the eastern side of the chain of islands comprising the Bahamas. Mayaguana, is a surprisingly diverse, pristine and unspoiled territory. Walls begin at around 23 metres and hard coral growth and intact sponges cover huge swathes of the reef. Devil’s Point is a popular site where coral heads serve as oases of marine life. Keep an eye out for larger game fish too. At Samana Cay the underwater topography provides for shallow sandy areas and sections of reef dropping to over 300 metres! The island is surrounded by a continuous ridge of coral reef where larger fish and rays congregate. Here you may be able to spot the rare Jackknife Drumfish amongst Queen Angelfish and hawkfish. At Plana Cay swim throughs and crevices harbour a wealth of marine life and turtles frequent the walls. Over the sandy slopes the patch reefs hold critters in the cracks and crevices, and garden eels abound. Coral life here is very healthy with some giant gorgonians.
The variety of dive sites from close-up reefs to wide angle, blue water dives, walls, swim-throughs and drop-offs, along with the amazing range of marine life, including a variety of sharks, make a visit to the Southern Bahamas a great choice for both beginner divers and the more experienced.
Turks and Caicos Explorer II operates a number of 7 nights cruises in the Southern Bahamas during May and June, departing from the Exuma Services Marina in George Town on Greater Exuma.
There may be opportunities to make landings and enjoy land tours (subject to local conditions), so you are not at sea for the entire week. Turks & Caicos Explorer II is an ideal choice for those who want to try out a liveaboard for the first time. Sailing times are relatively short with the run from Conception to San Salvador being amongst the longest sailing at around three-and-a-half hours. In certain weather conditions it may not be possible to reach San Salvador.
FLIGHTS: Example price: from about $360 return from Miami to Georgetown. Stop-overs are available in Nassau.