John and Jane’s two-week stay with us was
well-timed in terms of our cruising area, with the cruising community and
activities of George Town
contrasting with the emptiness and solitude of many of the other places in the
Exumas we visited.
One of the things that surprised me about the Bahamas
has been the lack of wildlife. The islands cannot be described as lush
and even if they can provide a habitat for birds, what can they eat?
(Remarkably for me, one small bird flew over and landed on my hand,) The ocean
waters provide exciting sport fishing. For us it has been exciting to
catch three fish, all about 5lbs, but it amused me looking through the
‘Atlantic Ocean/Bahamas identification chart’ that if you catch a
Great White Shark (up to 3000lb) you are supposed to tag it and release it!
Yet the stunningly clear waters of the Bahamas
seem almost bereft of fish. When we visited the research station on Lee Stocking
Island what was really
brought home was that it takes hundreds of years for the coral reefs to grow
and yet their existence is so fragile. Pollution and physical damage are
factors in the loss of reefs, but it seems that higher temperatures and strong
sunlight have been the major factor in an alarming percentage of coral reefs
dying in the last few years.
As we headed north to Nassau a highlight was to
snorkel in Thunderball Cave, not because of its famed connection with the James
Bond film, but because of the treats in store when snorkelling through to the
chamber, its roof lit by shafts of sunlight. The guide book suggested you
take a snack (ideally frozen peas) to feed to fish. As we got out of the
dinghy a veritable barrage of colourful fish were leaping, competing, nibbling
to get to them first. We quickly emptied the contents and hoped they
would calm down!
Coral at its best is a surreal world. Walt Disney would be proud of the rainbow palate of
colours, diversity of creatures, the darting flashes of sparkling jewels, weird
and wonderful formations with the threat of the sinister lurking. Great
domes of coral rise imposingly from a seemingly lifeless seabed, one community
reaching out to the next as the whole life support structure meets the sunlight
and swell of the breaking waves. Here, perhaps more than anywhere,
provides a haven for shoals of golden striped fish, whilst small indigo blue
fish loll around in twos and threes. Lower down the angel fish are very
haute-couture with their precise suited scales and flouncy tail, whilst
individual blue fish with their fluorescent fins provide little jewels of
brilliance. But it is the parrot fish that always draw my attention. They
must have been designed by an elite artisan of the Ming dynasty. They are
large, solid with surprisingly short tails and fins and with such a criteria
could have little to charm you: yet not only is their clothing opulent,
flamboyant and dramatic, the lips seem to have been drawn by a child using its
mother’s lipstick which gives a comical twist to the whole appearance.
But the awe of this underwater world also comes from the diversity and
colour of the coral itself: fans of purple and yellow wafted by the
swell, domes of brain coral with its intricate design and others of turquoise
blue etched with red striping.
Yet when the coral has died it is silent, brown,
devoid of all colour – a forlorn graveyard of nothingness where once
there had been a glorious, virtually inconceivable and magical world. It is a
frightening and startling illustration of the effect of climate change.
“A true conservationist is a man who knows that
the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his
children” (John James Audubon 1785-1851)