TRIP TO ABACO AND ELEUTHERA, THE BAHAMAS
TRIP OVERVIEW.--- Flew with my friend, Melanie Wegner, from New Mexico, on Airgate Airlines from Daytona to Abaco, The Bahamas, on Monday morning, March 21st. The hour-and-half-flight would take us to Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Here, we plan to meet friends, study fossil tortoises at Abaco Friends of the Environment, and visit local blue holes, including Sawmill Sink. We will be staying with Michael and Nancy Albury at their home on Man-of-War Cay, while in the Marsh Harbour area. Later, we will fly with them in their plane to North Eleuthera where we will join other members of the team of scientists and divers from Florida, Abaco, and Texas to explore inland blue holes and caves on Eleuthera. We plan to spend a total of 13 days in The Bahamas before retracing our steps back to Daytona on April 2nd and then home again.
ABACO.--- Monday… We arrived in Marsh Harbour at 10:30 AM. Nancy was waiting for us at the airport. There was a short ride to Marsh and the Abaco Friends of the Environment office, where we greeted friends, and then had lunch with Nancy at the Conch Inn in Marsh…and the day just evaporated. We repeated these patterns each day for 3 days, each evening retiring to Man-of-War Cay for the night’s rest. Each morning we returned by boat to the big island for a day of fossil-related activities, working on a manuscript on Bahamian fossil tortoises, and getting ready for the trip to Eleuthera.
Abaco is a large island on the Little Bahama Bank. It lies east of Grand Bahama Island and Freeport. It is one of the Bahamian pine islands, along with Andros, New Providence, and Grand Bahama. Its low flat pine lands look a lot like south Florida. The southern end of the island is protected as a national park and conserves native plant communities and the Abaco parrot. Blue holes with fossils are found within these pineyards of south Abaco. Melanie and I visited several, including Sawmill Sink, Dan’s Cave, Ralph’s Chimney, and Lost Reel. Fossil tortoises and Cuban crocodiles have been found in each of them.
Man-of-War Cay is a small island that lies about 4 miles off the coast of Abaco, northeast of Marsh. The island is about 2.5 miles long, half a mile wide, and with about 300 people living there. Michael and Nancy’s house is located on the northeast side of the island, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. There is about a half mile of back reef flats before the fringing coral reef in front of their house. Their guest house is spacious, comfortable, and a wonderful place to spend relaxing time. The mulberry trees in the yard were full of ripe fruits…mulberries with ice cream, mulberry pie, mulberries, and more mulberries.
The curlytail lizards seemed more abundant at the Man-of-War house than I had remembered. The large males dominated the females and lesser males. They were all over the yard and the adjoining ball field. Nancy’s pond turtles remained attentive in her pond, bobbing at the surface, until they realized we weren’t going to feed them, then down they went, disgusted with our lack of offerings.
Melanie and I went exploring Man-of-War Cay in M & M’s electric golf cart one morning…the common transportation used on the island. We made a point to hire the local Mz Lucy as our guide. She was a little short, only about 10-inch high to be exact, but loved to ride in the front seat of the cart. This pup knew her way around the island, and the local people knew her… Neighbors wanted to know how we managed to obtain the services of such an experienced guide. At the local grocery store, however, we were eyed suspiciously by the local shoppers as possible dog kidnappers. I didn’t realize HOW RENOUNED THIS LOCAL RESIDENT WAS!
ELEUTHERA.--- Thursday, the 24th… The flights to Eleuthera occurred on Thursday with Michael taking Nancy, Melanie, and Rebecca and their personal gear from Marsh to North Eleuthera, a flight of about 45 minutes. He then flew back to Marsh, picked me up with the rest of the gear, and we flew back that afternoon. Upon arriving, Michael and I had some time to kill so we found some Kalik beers to drink, while we waited for Nancy to retrieve us from the airport. We also picked up Tom Iliffe (cave crustacean guy) at the airport. Tom is on the faculty at the University of Texas A&M (at Galveston), who is also a member of the team. He had flown commercial from the states to join us at North Eleuthera. The team began to assemble: Melanie, Nancy, Michael, Rebecca McKinney, Tom, and Brian Kakuk. We all stayed together at The Cay guest house near Gregory Town, just south of the Glass Window.
Eleuthera is a long slender limestone island, east of New Providence, on the Great Bahama Bank. It is about a 3-hour drive from top to bottom. There are three population centers, North Eleuthera (including Harbour Island, Spanish Wells, and Royal Island), Governor’s Harbour, and South Eleuthera (including Cape Eleuthera). The island is extremely hilly with a long cove-abundant coastline. The island has many caves, inland blue hole sinks, and limestone depressions. This was what attracted our attention to the island.
Friday, our second day on Eleuthera, the 25th… Team members, Dave Steadman (Florida Museum) and Janet Franklin (Arizona State University) joined us. They had arrived independently on Thursday and stayed at a guest house in Governor’s Harbour. Dave and Janet joined Melanie and me to explore Preacher’s Cave. While there, Melanie and I also visited the adjacent beach and were surprised to see large ships moving only a few hundred yards from shore. Apparently the Gulf Stream cuts a deep channel right off the coast. Later, on our way back from the cave, we stopped at the local grocery store for more water, food, and other rations. Water at The Cay guest house was really brackish and not drinkable so we had to constantly replenish our drinkable water at local grocery stores.
The team returned to the Preacher’s Cave area in the afternoon, splitting up with Dave, Janet, Melanie and me exploring the limestone cliffs west of the developed cave for more caves and the rest dove Preacher’s Blue Hole. The cliff area was dense with coppice, a plant community made up of tropical hardwoods, including fig trees, gumbo-limbo, mastic, pigeon plum, poison wood, thorny plants that ripped at our skin, and lots of thorny vines. Thick-billed vireos, many warblers, 3-4 foot tall termite mounds, and swarming bees greeted our intrusion. We discovered only a few small shelter caves, but none went anywhere and none had sediment or vertebrate fossils. The limestone cliff team then drove over to Preacher’s Blue Hole, just down the white sandy road from the cave. This blue hole was absolutely stunning with deep blue water and steep rock sides. Tom Iliffe had discovered on his first dives several underwater owl roosts of the extinct giant Pleistocene barn owl at 85 feet water depth. Hutia bones, an extinct giant rodent, their usual meals, littered this part of the cave floor. Tom made collections of bones, as well as samples of his cave-adapted crustaceans from the dark zone in this flooded cave. The Pleistocene roost deposits included also the bones of lizards and birds. This accumulation of bones was the result of regurgitated meals. These barn owls used this cave when sea levels were 80 or more feet below the present stand. This is what we came for…. Finally Some Success.
CLICK ON PICS
Team leaving Abaco for Eleuthera in Michael's plane
Flight over northern Eleuthera
View in front of the Cay Guest House
-Melanie looking for water babies
Dave Steadman and Nancy Albury discussing the day's work
Melanie looking for new caves
The Cay guest house in north Eleuthera