Reefs of Andros Island, Bahamas

Andros Cave and Blue Hole Diving:

“You can touch both walls at the same time and the passage seems to go on forever. There is no sign of the ceiling and the floor disappears into the darkness.”
– Brian Kakuk, Work Class Cave Diver 

The image that this statement invokes would send a chill down the spine of most people, I know it does me. But make this statement to a group of cave divers and you will have an attentive audience indeed. Now just mention Andros Island and you will be able to hear a pin drop

Andros Island has long been regarded by many world class cave divers as the ultimate diving destination. With literally hundreds of Blue Holes, fault line caves and Ocean Holes, cave divers and scientists using advanced diving technology have been given an opportunity to see deep within the interior or the Bahamas limestone platform.

 

Coconut Grove

Coconut Grove is a patch reef located about 200 yards off the shore. In order to reach the patch reef a determined snorkler must pass through a narrow channel surrounded by rock.  Some of the unique animals seen on this snorkel included a spotted eagle ray, blue tang, queen triggerfish, and blue striped grunt.

 Bluehead wrasse
Scientific name: Thalassoma bifasciatum
The bluehead wrasse is a cleaning fish, which feeds on the parasites present in live animals. It can be identified by a yellow, black and blue horizontal stripe across its entire body. The super male, dominant male, may at times grow up to six inches. The juvenile blue head is all yellow.
The coral here were abundant and healthy. Coconut Grove housed the dangerous fire coral, which burns a diver’s skin and causes a rash. Other kinds of coral viewed were the elkhorn coral, sea rod, and the giant brain coral.
 Encrusted stinging coral
Scientific name:  Millepora allcicornis
This coral can be identified by its white tips.  It defends itself with its stinging cells. A diver who accidentally touches it will never make the same mistake twice! The effect will last for about a week. Along with the encrusted stinging coral, there is also leafy stinging coral, which is also seen in the picture.
Three Sisters

Three Sisters is a patch reef located about two miles from Forfar Field Station just on the southern tip of Calabash Cay.  Sea Life viewed in this area included the Sergeant Major fish, sea urchins, sea anemones, squirrelfish, beehive sponge, and donkey dung sea cucumber.

Donkey dung cucumber

Scientific Name:   Holothuria mexicana
The donkey dung can be most easily found in sandy areas surrounding reefs and hiding amongst sea grass. It ranges in size from ten to fourteen inches and can be found in depths of up to sixty feet.  A line of defense for the donkey dung is to excrete its digestive organs. In a short time after this excretion it will cultivates new organs.

Rat Cay

This cay is so named because it resembles the body of a rat. Rat Cay is unique because it contains a salt water blue hole on it’s east side. This is where most of the reef creatures can be found. A trip to Rat Cay is a definite highlight of a Bahamas snorkeling expedition. Some of the many creatures viewed were blue striped grunt, French grunt, juvenile and adult blue tangs, queen angelfish, rock beauty, and Spanish hogfish.

 Nurse Shark
Scientific name:   Ginglymostoma cirratuma
A nurse shark sighting is always a rewarding experience. It resides in shallow water so Rat Cay blue hole makes an ideal home for the creature.  The nurse shark holds a reputation of docility but approach is not advised!  This shark may attack if provoked. The nurse shark can grow up to fourteen feet and has a very distinctive tail. The tail of the nurse shark lacks an extended lower lobe. According to Greenberg, this shark ” is the only Atlantic shark with barbells.” It is most often found in the shallow waters residing on the sandy bottom floor.
 Southern stingray
Scientific Name:   Dasyatis americana
Rays are also numerous in Rat Cay. Southern stingrays lie motionless on sandy bottoms often covered in sand.  They have a nasty sting if they are accidentally stepped on! Their whip-like tail has two venomous spines at its base.  There is a distinguishing pale spot located before the eyes. In addition, the southern stingray has wing-like pectoral fins that encompass the head.
 Mastic Point

Mastic Point is located about an hour away from Forfar Station. The main snorkeling highlight of this location is a wreck close to shore and patch reefs further off shore.  Also spiny lobsters, donkey dung cucumbers, sea stars, and giant tube sponges can be frequently seen. Mastic Point has many cultural points, one of which is the graveyard. Due to hurricanes and the rising and falling of the ocean, all of the people are buried above ground.

Sunken barge at Mastic Point

Calabash Cay

This Cay is somewhat like Pigeon Cay on both land and sea. It is hard to navigate due to the thick brush which surrounds the entire island. The mystery of the island is enhanced by rumors of old treasure and bat caves. This island is also unique because it was once inhabited but now stands abandoned.  This is a very good place to snorkel because it is uninhabited and the fish, along with the turtle grass, are plentiful.

Barrier Reef

The barrier reef is the third largest reef in the world. It extends a distance of 142 miles along the eastern shore of Andros Island. It separates Andros from the tongue of the ocean a two thousand-foot drop-off point within the ocean.  The barrier reef is about one and a half miles from shore.  Some of the most diverse sea creatures can be seen here. Not only is the barrier reef beautiful, it is very sensitive to environmental conditions. The water temperature must remain around 74 degrees for the coral to survive.

The entire reef is made up of coral heads; and in order to show the biodiversity of the barrier reef, a study was done to see what was found on a ten foot diameter coral head. The following is a list of fish and coral found on the coral head.

Coral:
Giant Tube Sponge
Sea Rod
Sea Whip
Common Sea Fan
Venus Sea Fan
Gonialithon
Encrusting Stinging Coral
Mat Zooanthid
Red Wall Sponge
Smooth Brain Coral
Elkhorn Coral
Giant Brain Coral
Mountainous Star Coral
Smooth Star Coral
Finger Coral
Deep Water Gorgonia
Staghorn Coral
Fish:
Juvenile and adult Bluehead Wrasse
French Angelfish
Stoplight Parrotfish
Yellowhead Wrasse
Juvenile and adult Blue Tang
Queen Angelfish
Fairy Basslet
Queen Triggerfish
Black Durgon
Gray Snapper
Banded Butterflyfish
Sergeant Major
French Grunt
Bluestriped Grunt
Yellowtail Snapper
Foureye Butterflyfish
Spanish Grunt
Squirrelfish
This happens to be the same coral head, which housed all of the creatures from the list above. ;Due to the abundance of creatures living in or around the coral, one can say this is a very healthy coral head.
French Angelfish
Scientific name:  Pomacanthus paru
This angelfish has a bright yellow ring around its eyes. It is black with many bright yellow spots covering its body.  It is normally found living in or around reefs, and often in pairs. The juvenile French Angelfish is black with five bright yellow bands running down its body. It is a cleaning fish, in that it cleans the parasites off larger fish. This fish is very approachable and remains relatively unafraid.
 Blue Striped Grunt
Scientific name:  Haemulon sciurus This grunt has blue stripes running all over its yellow-gold body.  It lives in small to medium-sized schools, as seen above, on reefs.  These fish tend to be very timid upon approach. They can live in depths of up to 50 feet and are about eight to fourteen inches in length.
 Stoplight parrotfish
Scientific Name: Sparisoma viride
The parrotfish likes to eat algae growing on coral and then it excretes sand. It is known as the stoplight parrotfish because of its red, yellow, and green coloring on its tail fin.  They can reach up to about twenty inches in length. It has a crescent shaped tail along with an overall emerald green color.
Common sea fan

Common sea fan
Scientific Name:  Gorgonia ventalina
The sea fan lives in shallow reef areas and uses its body as a filter through which current flows. Polyps atop its body grab floating plankton to consume for nourishment. The sea fan may reach up to five feet tall.

Sea rod
Scientific Name: Pseudoplexaura sp
The sea rod provides places where fish can hide from predators or ambush their prey. The sea rod is usually oriented so that it is a single plane. The color of a sea rod can vary from brown to purple.