cirriculum vitaecurrent researchrecent literaturecontact meShelly Franz 1952-2008homePage [1] [2]


We came to Eleuthera with the expectation of finding caves and blue holes with significant deposits of vertebrate fossils.  We targeted this island because of the number of rumored dry caves and flooded blue hole caves.  I wanted to find tortoise bones…lots and lots of tortoise bones.  Nancy and Brian had made several trips to Eleuthera to locate potential dive sites.  On one trip, they discovered a few bones of tortoises and crocodiles in two blue holes on the south end of the island, but we wanted the mother lode.  I desired to compare Eleuthera tortoises from the Great Bahama Bank with Abaco tortoises from the Little Bahama Bank.  Remember there are no living tortoises today in the Bahamas or anywhere in the West Indies. They are all extinct.

The two carbonate banks are separated from one another by a really deep geologic trough that is flushed daily by strong ocean currents.  This seaway could represent significant barrier to the dispersal of terrestrial organisms across it.  Each bank, therefore, might have been isolated for thousands of years and developed its own unique fossil fauna.  In other words, the Bahamian archipelago may be another Galapagos.

The first part of the week we focused on the caves and blue holes of North and Central Eleuthera (north of Governor’s Harbour).  We stayed at The Cay House and had the pleasure of meeting our neighbors, Mike and Susan Johnson, and their son, Louis.  Louis was very familiar with the local terrain.  He accompanied the divers, Brian and Tom, each day as their guide and great friend.  The dive team explored the underwater sections of several small caves.  One partially-flooded cave, Valentine’s Cave, had a sump that brought the divers into a tunnel-like passage with an extensive air chamber that went for several 100 yards, but with no connections to the surface.  The cave produced no fossils, but Tom and Brian were able to find lots of blind white crustaceans that brought smiles to cave animal specialist Tom.

Nancy, Rebecca, Melanie, and I had a chance to witness the shear might of the Atlantic Ocean as it attacked the limestone headlands just south of the Glass Window.  Huge waves hitting against the limestone were carving large gapping sea caves into the formidable cliff faces.  Investigations of one of the largest sea caves gave Nancy and me first-hand observations of the cross-bedded nature of the cave’s limestone walls. Flights of sea birds and the smell of bat guano were also constant reminders that these caves were already developing a biotic history that at sometime in the future could revival Preacher’s Cave. Before leaving the North, we visited Hatchet Bay Cave and Garden Cave to explore for fossils in these dry caves.  Like so many dry caves in the Bahamas, the locals had mined all of the cave dirt from Hatchet Bay Cave to fertilize their gardens. This cave is one of the largest dry caves in the Bahamas, with three levels, the bottom one partially-flooded.  It must have been a treasure-trove of fossils prior to the mining.  However, Garden Cave, much smaller than Hatchet Bay Cave, but just down the road a couple of 100 yards, had not been mined and fossil hutia bones littered the surface.  Dave is planning a return trip with his UF biogeography class to this cave to excavate the bones this next school year.

Dave Steadman and Nancy Albury discussing the day's work
Lobster guy at the restaurant in Rock Sound
   The team moved on at mid-week to begin surveys in South Eleuthera. We stopped at James Cistern, a blue hole that is used for a local water supply and an unnamed blue hole in a mangrove swamp before meeting up with Dave and Janet for lunch at Four Points Marina Village in Rock Sound.  We were surprised by a fisherman who wandered into the restaurant with a giant West Indian spiny lobster, intent on finding a customer to buy his prize.  After lunch, we stopped at AME Church blue hole and the adjacent dry Owl Cave in Rock Sound.  We explored the dry cave, but did not dive the blue hole. Owl Cave was immense with large skylights penetrating the ceiling where Figus (fig) trees at the surface grew their aerial roots downward into the cave, becoming rooted in the cave floor.  Again the cave miners had done a job on any cave soils, again for fertilizer for their gardens.  Another missed opportunity for finding fossils in the dirt…


Team leaving Abaco for Eleuthera in Michael's plane
Sea cave south of the Glass Wall on the Atlantic side of the Eleuthera.

Flight over northern Eleuthera

View in front of the The Cay guest house
Team at lunch in Rock Sound

Preacher's Cave on north Eleuthera
Owl Cave with skylights and fig trees
The Cay guest house in north Eleuthera
Brian emerging from Kelly's Blue Hole south of Green Castle
We pushed on to two sites, south of Green Castle, Kelly’s Blue Hole (=Bung Hole) and Crocodile Cave, where Nancy and Brian had previously found fossils.  We were given permission from owner, Mr. Kelly, to dive his blue hole, but couldn’t get into Duck Pond cave, which is across the road.  The owner, a new resident to the area from Nassau, did not want us on his property.  So, Brian and Tom dove Mr. Kelly’s cave that afternoon, while the owner and I stood by and watched from the surface.  The divers brought up some incredible fossil tortoise and crocodile bones after an hour in the cave.  They had amazing tales of bacterial mats they encountered in the entry shift rolling down the slope, obscuring their vision.  They had to stick very close to their lines. However, as they came to the surface with bags of fossils, very pleased with the results, they excitedly handed us their prizes, and got out of the water, as we 

pawed through the bones.  At that point we were all tired and were anxious to go onto our new home at a condo on Cape Eleuthera.  Fortunately, Melanie, Rebecca, and Nancy had already arrived there earlier, shopped for groceries, and had us set up for the night and were preparing the evening FOOD as we arrived.

We met Kenny Broad, another team member from University of Miami, at Cape Eleuthera that night. He became the third member of the dive team. We returned to Bung Hole the next day for a second dive with the result of more wonderful fossils. For the next several days we visited local blue holes and caves, dived more caves, looking for fossils and cave animals.  On Sunday, Melanie and I decided to kick back and rest, while the others were out and about.  This allowed me time to examine the specimens that had already been collected.  Great stuff!  The following day we visited several more dive sites at a new golf course in a land development project at Cotton Bay.  A few more hutia deposits, probably from extinct giant barn owls, and a few tortoise bones, were found in 85 feet of water in one of the Cotton Bay blue holes.  We also worked a dry cave nearby for fossils…lots of dirt but very few fossils, mostly hutia teeth.


We left the condo for North Eleuthera on the morning of April 1.  Winds were howling, much too strong to have Michael fly over from Abaco to pick us up. So, at the last minute Nancy got us a commercial flight on Cherokee Air back to Abaco.  By that afternoon we hitched a ride with Rebecca and her husband, Don, to make the crossing to Man of War Cay, and Nancy and Michael’s house.  The next day Melanie and I flew back to Daytona, and attended an art opening of Melanie’s best bud, Audrey, at a gallery in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and then pushed home to Wall Lake late that evening.  Long day…  The bottom line… the Bahamas trip was Wonderful! Successful! And another mutual experience for Melanie and me!

Fossil tortoise remains from Kelly's Blue Hole

Blue hole on the newly-developed golf course at Cotton Bay


Website Designed
 and Maintained by

Luke Taft