THE SYMBOL OF A RESILIENT BAHAMAS: BAHAMA PARROTS


ABACO (BAHAMA) PARROT for Hurricane Dorian (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

THE SYMBOL OF A RESILIENT BAHAMAS

 THE BAHAMA PARROT

Hurricane Dorian makes landfall on Abaco later today. The island has been in an unwavering direct line for several days, gaining force to Cat. 4** while slowing down as it approaches. The skies have darkened, the seas are turbulent, danger to humans, wildlife, property, landscape is imminent.

** UPDATE just before landfall today, Dorian strengthened to a rare and very dangerous Cat. 5 hurricane. This is when not just property and land is threatened, but life itself. Early reports are of flooding and structural damage. Now is not the moment to pick through the information filtering through. Better to assess the impact after the storm has passed on to the north-west, where it is currently headed via Grand Bahama.

When we first became involved with Abaco, the parrot numbers were believed to be fewer than 1000, a barely sustainable population. An intensive, continuing conservation program over several years has seen the numbers treble or more. This recovery is as much due to the resilience of the species as to human intervention. 

The parrots will be lying low in the National Park, some in the limestone caves they nest in during the breeding season. As humans take equivalent protective measures we are watching from a thankfully safe distance. We wish the very best of luck to our friends, and to all on the island and its cays during the next 48 hours.

Abaco Parrots in limestone cave, breeding season (Caroline Stahala)

BURIED TREASURE: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES


The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho)

BURIED TREASURE: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES

Over the years I have posted a number of times about the extraordinary and beautiful underground caves of Abaco that lie beneath the thousands of acres of pine forest that cover much of South Abaco.

The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho)

I have previously featured sets of wonderful photos taken Abaco’s renowned cave-diving expert Brian Kakuk; and also some by his diving colleague Hitoshi Miho (in conjunction with the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation). Here are a few more from Brian and Hitoshi to wonder at.

The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho) The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho)

The existence of the caves is not exactly secret but for obvious reasons they are not freely accessible except with permission, with expert guidance and with extreme care. Exploration of the complex systems is definitely not to be approached like a snorkelling dip.

The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho)

The dives are challenging, and require specialist skills and equipment to avoid risking damage to the delicate centuries-old structures. And there’s undoubtedly a personal safety aspect to be considered as well.

The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho)

The main caving area on Abaco is about 1/2 hour’s drove south of Marsh Harbour. Within a now-protected area lie the 2 main cave systems (Ralph’s and Dan’s); Nancy’s; and the well-known SAWMILL SINK, where it is possible to swim.

The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho)

There are other cave systems on Abaco, not least at Hole-in-the-Wall where the descriptively-named ‘8-Mile Cave’ presents further challenges that include the drive down 15 miles of rough track (and of course back again). For an old account of this epic journey, see HERE.

Map of 8-Mile Cave, Abaco Bahamas (A. Walker OS)

Next time your are driving along the Ernest A. Dean Highway with the pine forest stretching out on either side of the road, give a thought to the caves that lie just off your route – or even (for all you know) deep down right under your wheels.

The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho)

Credits: Hitoshi Miho, Brian Kakuk, Bahamas Caves Research Foundation, with many thanks as ever for use permission; A. Walker (8-Mile Cave map_

The underground Cave Systems of Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk, Hitoshi Miho)

ABACO’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, MARSH HARBOUR


Prehistoric crocodile skull fossil, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

ABACO’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, MARSH HARBOUR

The Abaco Field Office of the AMMC is located at Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour. Primarily geared toward the study and research of the natural history and prehistory of The Bahamas, the expanding collection makes a huge contribution to the knowledge and understanding of the environment from both before and after the arrival of people to the archipelago.

Turtle shells & Prehistoric crocodile skull fossils, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The cases shown below hold carefully labelled exhibits, against a background showing the structure of the cave systems and blue holes of the island. Prehistoric fossils and turtle shells, early lucayan human skulls, a HUTIA (extirpated from Abaco in times past), a deceased parrot, bats, butterflies, and a whole lot more are on display.

Exhibit cases in the Museum of Natural History, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

There is even a small reminder of Abaco’s once-thriving logging industry, in the shape of two circular blades from the area around the Sawmill Sink blue hole. For more of the ‘industrial archeology’ at the site (with photos,) check out what was revealed by a still-smouldering forest fire HERECircular saw blades from Sawmill Sink, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)The activities conducted through the office include site surveys, excavation and documentation, collection, the conservation and curation of artifacts and fossil material, and public outreach. .  Fossil / ancient turtle shells, natural history museum Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Specialised scientific activities include researching the blue holes and cave systems of Abaco. The explorations have discovered the prehistoric remains of now-extinct vertebrate species; geologic anomalies; evidence of prehistoric storm and fluctuating sea levels; and valuable data about the biodiversity of cave-adapted fauna and vegetation.

Cased butterflies, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Dry caves and blue holes also provide evidence the arrival of the first humans that migrated to the Bahamas, beginning with the early Lucayan Amerindians, as well as the plant and animal communities during their initial occupation more than 1000 years ago. One skull (r) demonstrates graphically the effect of the Lucayan practice of (deliberate) cranial deformation.

Human Skulls, Lucayan - Cased butterflies, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The Field Office’s collaborative research involves a number of scientific organisations; and the educative outreach includes schools, universities, scientific conferences and public forums. As importantly, the valuable community resource of a first-rate small museum that contains many fascinating exhibits it right there in Marsh Harbour. And it is free to all.

Crocodile skull, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)   Hutia, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Display cases, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Some of the cave bats of Abaco. In Ralph’s Cave, to this day there’s a fossilised bat entombed forever on the floor of the cave.

Display of bats, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Fossilised bat, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The museum is located at the Abaco offices of the AMMC and Friends of the Environment. It is open for viewing during 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. There is no admission fee, but donations for exhibit development are gratefully accepted. School groups should call in advance to arrange a tour. LOCATION: just drive up the hill past Maxwell’s, to the junction at the top and turn left. If you want to know about Abaco’s past in the broadest sense, this should be your first stop. You can even ‘get the t-shirt’ to complete the experience and support the institution…

Display cases, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

This strange, ill-clad male is either (a) trying to give an authentic traditional Lucayan greeting or (b) trying to high-five Nancy Albury (who is ignoring it) or (c) just behaving bizarrely. I go for (c).

Rolling Harbour Abaco...

Credits: first and foremost, curator Nancy Albury and her team; Friends of the Environment; AMMC. All photos are mine (with plenty of excuses for poor indoor colour, display glass reflections etc), except the tragically entombed cave-bat in the bat-cave from well-known diving and cave-system exploration expert Brian Kakuk / Bahamas Cave Research Foundation; and the wonderful photo below of a Barn Owl flying out of a dry cave on Abaco, by kind permission of Nan Woodbury.

Barn Owl flying out of a cave on Abaco (Nan Woodbury / Rolling Harbour)

HUTIAS: ABACO’S EXTINCT RODENTS LIVE ON… ELSEWHERE


Bahamian Hutia (Cole Fiechter)

HUTIAS: ABACO’S EXTINCT RODENTS LIVE ON… ELSEWHERE  

The Bahama hutia (Geocapromys ingrahami) has the distinction of being the only indigenous land mammal in the Bahamas. Historically found on a number of islands, the species is now confined to very limited locations. Abaco is, sadly, no longer one of them; they are officially shown as extirpated here from about 1600. Hutias had been recorded on Great Abaco by early explorers from Europe, but their survival was already threatened by hunting and land clearance as the human population expanded.

Bahamian Hutia (Cole Fiechter)

Further evidence of their long-term existence on Abaco – prehistoric, even – comes from research carried out by divers in the land-based Blues Holes. SAWMILL SINK has been a particularly rich source of the remnants of early creatures, including well-preserved skeletons, carapaces or other remains of crocodiles, turtles, birds, bats – and hutias. These date from the Pleistocene epoch of the Quartenary period, spanning roughly 2.5m years and ending some 12,000 years ago. You can see some of these treasures in the wonderful Natural History Museum at Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour.

A c20 hutia from the Exumas on display in the museumBahama Hutia Museum Exhibit (FOTE, Abaco)

Exhibits in the museum – there’s even a dead parrot for Monty Python fansMuseum of Natural History, Abaco Bahamas

The population of the extant Bahama hutia species Geocapromys ingrahami became so depleted that by the 1960s they were considered to be extinct. Then in 1966 a colony was discovered on East Plana Cay. Some have since been relocated (see below) and the overall population is now confined to a handful of locations, for which reason the Bahama hutia is IUCN listed as vulnerable. All the usual man-caused threats to their survival apply, as well as predation by dogs and feral cats. One place to find them is in the Exumas, but because they are mainly nocturnal creatures and there are few of them, a sighting is a rare event, let alone getting a decent photo op. 

A ‘Demarest’s Hutia’ – not the Bahamian species, but very similarDemarest's Hutia (Yomangani, wiki)

The terrific header image and the second image were taken by teenager Cole Fiechter while on a sailing trip with his parents and brother in the excellently named ‘Truansea’. On the beach of the Exumas Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells, they encountered “a guinea pig with a rat’s tail”: a hutia. Cole’s photograph will hopefully grace the forthcoming Field Guide to the Natural History of the Bahamas, now in the late stages of production, and with which I am peripherally involved.

MARK CATESBY‘s take on the hutia in the c18, where he describes it as a rabbitHutia by Mark Catesby (c18)

The BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST notes that “Bahama hutias occur naturally only on East Plana Cay (located between Acklins and Mayaguana). Historically however, they were found on ten Bahamian islands. In a move to protect the species, a small Bahama hutia population was transplanted to two locations – Little Wax Cay and Warderick Wells (Exumas). These three locations now host the only known populations of this particular species in the whole world”

It looks as though Warderick Wells might be your best bet to see a Bahama hutia if you are visiting the Bahamas. Don’t be too confident of coming across one – but if you do see one, you will have had the pleasure of seeing a very rare creature.

Bahamian Hutia Drawing (Princeton UP)

A HUTIA’S TAIL (very different from a rat…)

IMG_7500

Credits: Cole Fiechter (1, 2); Keith Salvesen / FOTE (3, 4); ‘Yomangani’ wiki (5); OS (6); Princeton UP (7). Research credits PNAS, BNT, FOTE

CRYSTAL CAVES OF ABACO: CHANDELIERS


CRYSTAL CAVES OF ABACO: CHANDELIERS

It’s been a while since I posted about the incredible cave systems that lie beneath the vast acres of pine forest on Abaco. Under the direction of Brian Kakuk, these networks of narrow passages and  huge caverns are being gradually explored and mapped. In the process, Brian and the other divers exploring the caves have created an amazing archive of photographs. Here are some taken by diver Hitoshi Miho. This sequence concentrates on the astonishing, crystal chandeliers hanging from the roofs of the large caverns.

The two main systems are in Dan’s Cave and Ralph’s Cave – which may even be linked

All photos: Hitoshi Miho, with thanks to him for use permission and as ever to Brian Kakuk

EXPLORING ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES


Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

EXPLORING ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES

This post is another in a series showcasing the strange and wonderful world that lies beneath the many thousands of acres of pine forest that cover the majority of South Abaco. Many thanks to expert cave diver and photographer Brian Kakuk and the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation for use permission to bring you some more unique glimpses of Abaco’s crystal visions. You’ll find some additional links at the end. As Brian says, Abaco is an underwater cave photographer’s dream come true.

Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk) copy Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk)-1Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk)-1 Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk)-1 Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk)-1 Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk)-1 Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk)-1 Ralph's Cave, Abaco Blue Hole 4.16 (Brian Kakuk) 1Crystal Visions: Ralph's Cave, South Abaco (Brian Kakuk)-1

All photos were taken in Ralph’s Cave and Dan’s Cave – two extensive but separate systems

IMG_0340

These caves lie within one of the recently created protected areas

IMG_0341

To get the ‘live’ experience of exploring these underground geological wonders, here is a 6 minute video of a dive in Ralph’s Cave made in June 2014 by Ramon Llaneza of Ramon Llaneza Technical Diving

RELATED POSTS

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING CAVES (1)

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING CAVES (2)

CRYSTAL CLEAR (3)

DIVERS VIEWS (4) 

PAN’S LABYRINTH (5)

CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS (6)

‘RALPH’S OLD BAT’

SAWMILL SINK Industrial Archaeology / Post-apolcalyptic Landscape

Credits: Brian Kakuk, Bahamas Caves Research Foundation, Ramon Llaneza, Hitoshi Miho

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Delphi, Abaco (Craig Nash)

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!

Today is the 46th Earth Day, a global event to encourage ecology and conservation, and to discourage the spoiling of the planet by mankind. What becomes lost now may never be retrieved. Plant a tree. Grow some bee- or butterfly-friendly flowers. Clear a patch of beach of plastic trash. Recycle stuff. That sort of thing. 

Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala – DelphiAtala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae – Neem FarmGulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’d lined up some horror-images of plastic-filled birds, entangled turtles, damaged reefs and so forth, of which I have a depressingly large archive. Then, in a spirit of *vogue word alert* positivity I scrapped that miserable idea and decided instead to celebrate some of the natural wonders that can be found on Abaco. 

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT – one of Abaco’s 5 ENDEMIC BIRDSBahamas-Great Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (f) preening – Gilpin PointCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Some signal species serve as a continuing tribute to those who work to conserve them. The gorgeous ABACO PARROTS, now saved from the brink of extinction – and currently establishing a new colony on New Providence. The rare PIPING PLOVERS that find a safe home to spend their winters on Abaco’s beaches. The 5 ENDEMIC BIRD species. The WHALES & DOLPHINS that populate the waters. The west-indian MANATEES, until very recently almost unknown for Abaco yet now providing a curious addition to the scene as they visit their favourite haunts.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE (m) approaching the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

BOTTLENOSE DOLHIN, Sandy Point (about to dive under the boat)Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

Habitat protection has been provided over substantial areas on both land and sea by the creation of natural parks and preserves. These have very recently been extended by the establishment of 4 large PROTECTED AREAS for East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, the Marls and the South Abaco Blue Holes, a wonderful reward for a great deal of hard lobbying by conservation organisations and by many concerned individuals. 

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Stevens Riger / G B Scuba

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPBanded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Scientific research and conservation work is continuously carried out in Abaco waters. The CORAL REEFS that form the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world; the BLUE HOLES that lead to wonderful caves and cathedral caverns of crystal; the vast area of the MARLS and the species that rely on the mangrove swamps; the MANGROVES themselves: all these are watched over and monitored for ways to protect them best for future generations. 

PIPING PLOVER pair, Delphi (taken last month)Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

PIPING PLOVER on AbacoPiping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

I’ve mentioned trees and plants. There are a variety of well-known sources for both on Abaco – on the mainland, anyway, and maybe some cays. Any will advise on bee and butterfly attractants. Thinking of which, bird seed feeders and hummer sugar water feeders are cheap and guarantee the interest of garden and coppice birds, and during the winter months some brightly coloured migrants such as buntings and grosbeaks. 

HIBISCUS – DelphiHibiscus, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 BOUGAINVILLEA  – DelphiBougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Bird of Paradise flower STRELITZIA – Marsh Harbour (seemingly on a steep slope!)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU!

RALPH’S CAVE South AbacoRalph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

Credits: all images RH except: Abaco parrot, Craig Nash; Bahama yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer; Angelfish & Shrimp, Melinda Riger; single piping plover, Bruce Hallett; Ralph’s Cave, Brian Kakuk

CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (6)


Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (6)

The photos you see in this post were all taken by Hitoshi Miho during an amazing 3 days of diving with Brian Kakuk deep in the pine forests of South Abaco. It’s not the first time they have explored together the wonders that lie beneath those hundreds of acres of pines and scrub; I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The most spectacular cave systems are the adjacent Ralph’s and Dan’s Caves. These systems are believed to be linked, and I know Brian has been trying to find where they meet – a difficult and dangerous task carried out underwater many metres below the forest floor, and requiring sophisticated diving equipment and great expertise. 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The latest 3-day exploration involved 12 dives and nearly 30 hours underwater in Ralph’s Cave. Narrow passages open out into massive caverns filled with wonderful and complex crystal stalagtites and stalagmites formed over eons. I hope you enjoy examples from the ‘Rooms’ and passages, many with exotic names (Glass Factory, Ninja Passage, Erabor); some more prosaic (Fred’s Room). Then try to imagine that you are actually swimming there.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

I shall be posting some more photos in due course showing some of the details of the cave formations – intricate patterns, delicate tracery, irridescent colouring, pencil-thin rods, ‘rock’ folds that look like the finest linen. As always I am immensely grateful to both intrepid divers for use permission. I won’t pretend that these thrilling caves are easily accessible – this is emphatically not an adventure to try unguided with a snorkel and flippers. But as you drive along the highway past miles of forest, it’s worth reflecting that far below you are some of the most magnificent cave systems anywhere in the world – right there, on your very own island… 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

As it happens, the Delphi Club is very close to these caves, which lie within the boundaries of the newly created ‘South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area (see map). This is one of several such conservation areas on Abaco and in the wider Bahamas that are designed to protect the natural resources of the islands from development and exploitation. The second map shows how tantalisingly close Dan’s and Ralph’s caves are… and suggests that further exploration may lead to the missing link.

abaco-caves-map-jpgAbaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Finally, here is a 4-minute video of one small part of the exploration, which gives a very good idea of what is entailed in investigating the narrow passages and huge cathedral-like caverns. Welcome to the Fangon Forest…

Hitoshi Miho, Ralph's Cave, Abaco

PAN’S LABYRINTH, DAN’S CAVE: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND WORLD (5)


Dan's Cave, Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk)

                                  PAN’S LABYRINTH, DAN’S CAVE                                      ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND WORLD (5)

June brought news of a wonderful exploration of a near-inaccessible part of the Dan’s Cave complex in South Abaco, deep under the acres of pine forest. The expedition involved Brian Kakuk, Steve Bogaerts, Hp Hartmann, and a ‘Razor’ sidemount camera.  As Steve later wrote, “…I had the privilege to film probably the most beautiful caves in the world and to take my camera to places where nobody else has filmed before. Special thanks to Brian Kakuk to make this video happen”.

Brian’s account of his first exploration of Pan’s Labyrinth in 2010 (link below, scroll down the page you reach) is extraordinary. The difficulties faced in negotiating the narrowest of passages while carrying essential equipment makes for tense reading…

The cave systems of South Abaco within the proposed protected areaAbaco caves map jpg Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

LIMESTONE CAVES ON ABACO: WELL WORTH LOOKING INTO…


Abaco Parrot nest (Caroline Stahala)

LIMESTONE CAVES ON ABACO: WELL WORTH LOOKING INTO…

I have written several posts in the last few months featuring Brian Kakuk’s amazing photos of the underwater caves of Abaco. These caves, mostly beneath Abaco’s pine forests, are fabulous treasures of rock and crystal. A recent post example can be seen HERE. I have also featured some of the famous Blues Holes of Abaco from time to time, for example HERE. So now it’s time to turn attention to ‘land caves’, the dry(ish) limestone holes and caverns that are dotted around Abaco, especially in the South, and bear witness to aeons of geological development through erosion.

The coppice and extensive pine forests are pitted with holes of widely varying sizes. I’m way out of my depth here, geology-wise (polite corrections invited), but this sort of landscape is I believe known as KARST. This term presumably includes Abaco’s ‘dry’ holes, the blue holes and the substantial network of underwater caverns. Small examples can readily be found in easily accessible places such as non-dense coppice. We were very surprised when we pushed our into the coppice bordering the Delphi Club guest drive and took a closer look at a hole. Although the weather was hot and dry at the time, you will see that the hole has some form of micro-climate, with damp walls and interior and wet-climate plants like small ferns and forms of what I take to be moss and algae.

ONE OF MANY LIMESTONE HOLES BESIDE THE DRIVES AT DELPHILimestone Hole, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

A HOLE NEAR HOLE-IN-THE -WALL – LARGER INSIDE THAN IT LOOKS 

Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco01  Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco03

THE CAVE-DWELLERS OF ABACO: THE FABULOUS PARROTS

Among the best-known special residents of Abaco are the ground-nesting parrots, gorgeous birds that I have often featured in the past – see the parrot page HERE. Not so long ago, their numbers had reduced to an unsustainable population – fewer than 1000 – that faced extinction. The creation of the National Park covering the pine forests where they breed, coupled with a vigilant and intensive conservation program, have reversed the trend. There is now a sustainable breeding population again, exceeding 3000 birds.  

The only other breeding Cuban parrot population in the Bahamas is found on Inagua, where they nest conventionally in trees. There is a very small non-breeding population on New Providence. Abaco’s cave-dwelling subspecies of the cuban parrot is unique. Here’s an insight into how they live, deep in the pine forest, during the summer breeding season, with many thanks to Caroline Stahala, the scientist who spent some 10 years researching and protecting the parrots.

PARROT NEST HOLES: VULNERABLE TO PREDATORS, PROTECTED FROM FOREST FIRESLimestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala) Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

PARROTS MAY NEST DEEP – OR SHALLOW. Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

THE BREEDING SEASON: NEST, EGGS, HATCHLINGS, FLEDGELINGS…Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots 08Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

HOW BIG DO THE ‘DRY’ HOLES GET?

TBH my personal experience is somewhat limited. I believe there are large, sea-scoured caves along rocky parts of the south coast, but those are rather different from the eroded ground holes discussed here. As so often I rely on Mrs RH – far more intrepid than me – and her exploring skills. The cave shown below is right down at the far south of Abaco, at Hole-in-the-Wall, hidden in the coppice along the ‘Soldier Road’ from the T-junction (we are talking rough tracks here – very – not proper roads) towards the lighthouse. 

Soldier Road Sign, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco

Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco15Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco16Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco06Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco13

The rock is far more colourful than you  might expectLimestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco09

Credits: Caroline “The Parrot Lady” Stahala; Mrs RH for investigating the last cave and taking the camera with her; RH the rest; Woody Bracey for our great day of birding at Hole-in-the-Wall and his local knowledge of the area… 

‘RALPH’S OLD BAT’: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (5)


Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 4

‘RALPH’S OLD BAT’: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (5)

It’s time to revisit the wonderful caves that lie below the landmass of Abaco. Unknown to many, there are parts of the island where below your feet are huge networks of caves and tunnels packed with beautiful crystal and mystery. I lack any of the necessary qualifications to explore these for myself (some serious equipment including camera, ability to swim properly, and courage) but thanks to diving exert Brian Kakuk, my own deficiencies are irrelevant…

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 3

Two caves in particular, Ralph’s and Dan’s, are rich in exotic crystals, stalactites and stalagmites. They can be found close to each other on South Abaco, deep in the pine forest. All images here are from Ralph’s cave, one of several cave / blue hole complexes that are soon to form part of the South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area (boundaries shown in fig. 1). Rolling Harbour (where the Delphi Club is situated) is the curved bay to the bottom right corner, under the acronym GEBCO

Abaco caves map jpg Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Apart from the amazing sight of the cave chambers themselves, the details of the crystal formations – often geometric -are remarkable close-to. Here are 3 examples that demonstrate how they range from strong-looking structures formed over millennia to the most delicate forms such as in the third image that appear to be made from fine fabric.

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 1 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 2 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 5

And if you wondering about the title of this post, this is the reason: Brian discovered a bat, believed to be at least 13,000 years old, entombed in crystal – not so much a fossilised bat as a crystallised bat… In other caves (at the Sawmill Sink blue hole for example), fossilised bones have been found, including of a prehistoric species of crocodile that must have lived on the island many thousands of years ago. This is the first crystallised creature I have ever seen… I am checking with Brian whether he has seen anything else quite like it during his explorations.

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 6 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 7

Credits: all images by Brian Kakuk, with thanks as ever for use permission; all crystal by magic; preserved bat by gradual accretion

DIVERS VIEWS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (4)


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DIVERS VIEWS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (4)

The birds have had a very fair share of posts for the month so I am returning to some of Brian Kakuk’s astonishing images from his dives of the underground cave systems of Abaco.

Abaco caves map jpg

Here, he explores Dan’s Cave, one of several huge caves beneath the pine forests of the west side of South Abaco. This complex cave system is within the proposed South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area, one of four designated Protected Areas that I wrote about recently HERE SABHCA.

Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

You get a good idea of the massive size of this column in comparison with the diversDan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk) Dan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk)

‘Rooms’ are connected by narrow tunnels or passagesDan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk) Dan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk) Dan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk)

Individual caves have memorable names. This is the ‘Fanghorn Forest’ full of HelictitesHelictites, Fanghorn Forest, Dan's Cave, Abaco

Stalagmites or stalagtites? ‘Tites’ hang tight to the ceiling so they don’t fall off…Dan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk)

All photos © Brian Kakuk, with thanks for use permission

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS


ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT (Caroline Stahala)

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS

The latest version of the 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAHAMAS PROPOSAL FOR THE EXPANSION OF THE PROTECTED AREA SYSTEM OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS has been published. It is a joint proposal by the Bahamas Government, The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust. The breadth of the scheme is very ambitious, affecting all the principal Bahama Islands. To understand the objectives and scope of the project, you can see the whole 34-page project by clicking BAHAMAS PROPOSED PROTECTED AREAS 2014 It is in pdf format, so you should be able to save it if you wish to.

Many people will be familiar with the proposals as they affect Abaco. However since the latest version appears to be a final draft, I thought it might be helpful to show the 4 proposed areas of protection and conservation in their present form. These are, in summary:

  1. THE ABACO MARLS NATIONAL RESERVE A vast area of nearly 200,000 acres (300 square miles) of mangrove flats, sandbanks, creeks and wetland habitat
  2. EAST ABACO CREEKS NATIONAL PARK 13,000 acres (20 square miles) of wetland habitat that provides a vital wildlife nursery, and includes blue holes, creeks and a significant area for recreational activities (though Pete’s Pub at Little Harbour may be just outside the zone…)
  3. CROSS HARBOUR PROTECTED AREA 14,000 acres (21 square miles) in South West Abaco, a crucial breeding area for a number of species,including bonefish
  4. SOUTH ABACO BLUE HOLES CONSERVATION AREA  A huge 34,000 acre (53 square miles) swathe of South Abaco to the west of the E D Highway, incorporating 4 inland blue holes and important cave systems, and 13 offshore blue holes. This is an area of mainly pine forest on land and low waters at sea, with an anticipated value for eco-tourism

Here are the BNT maps showing the extent of each area. Far more information will be found via the link to the report given above. 

THE ABACO PROPOSALS

Abaco Preserves 1 copy

Abaco Preserves 2 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 3 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 4 copyjpg

Credits: Parrot, (ex-)parrot protector Caroline Stahala; Maps, BNT; acres to sq m conversion, Gizmo!

CRYSTAL CLEAR: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (3)


Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)

CRYSTAL CLEAR: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (3) 

This is the third in a series showcasing the wealth of beauty that lies beneath the many thousands of acres of pine forest that cover the vast majority of South Abaco. I have previously  featured sets of wonderful photos taken by diver Hitoshi Miho in the underground cave systems of Abaco, in conjunction with the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation. The links to these posts are given below. This post showcases some of the photos taken by Abaco’s leading cave diver, well-known Brian Kakuk. The following images all come from RALPH’S CAVE, one of several systems that lie within the proposed South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area.

The maps show the 3 main caves in the SABHCA area, Ralph’s, Dan’s and Nancy’s – also Sawmill Sink. The curve of bay, bottom right, is Rolling Harbour – and one excuse for ‘borrowing’ the map is that I notice that it includes a (tiny) photo of mine of the Delphi Club from the beach that I uploaded to Google Earth a while back…

Abaco caves map jpg    Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk) Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)

To get the ‘live’ experience of exploring these underground geological wonders, here is a 6 minute video of a dive in Ralph’s Cave made in June 2014 by Ramon Llaneza of Ramon Llaneza Technical Diving

RELATED POSTS

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING CAVES (1) Hirohito Miho

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING CAVES (2) Hirohito Miho

SAWMILL SINK Industrial Archaeology / Post-apolcalyptic Landscape

 Credits: Brian Kakuk, Bahamas Caves Research Foundation, Ramon Llaneza

BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS: BOOK REVIEW


Birds of San Salvador (cover) JPG

THE BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS

  • Authors: R. Hays Cummins, Mark R. Boardman, Mark L. McPhail
  • Published 1 Jan 2013, 132pp with 400+ images covering 54 species
  • Available spiral bound for $29.95 on Am@zon; and a steal at $3.16 for Kindle (£5.99 in the UK)
  • STOP PRESS Also available on iTunes for iPhone / iPad, where I imagine it looks great. Once downloaded, author Hays says it can be viewed on a Mac, certainly if you have the latest OS X Mavericks. UK price: a very modest £1.99 (= $3.30)

Within a couple of weeks of the decision to use Tom Sheley’s wonderful Bahama Woodstar as the ‘cover bird’ for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, another Bahamas bird book was announced. The same colourful and enchanting endemic bird had also commended itself to the authors for their cover. I wrote to Hays Cummins at once to check whether he would mind another Bahamas bird book encroaching on the territory, especially one using the same cover bird into the bargain. He very charmingly said it would be fine and declared his support for our (luckily) rather different project.

It’s been a while since I added to the section BOOKS, but I thought I’d mention this one for two reasons. First, it is described as ‘A Photo Essay of Common Birds’, which in practical terms means that most if not all of the species featured will be common to the northern Bahamas and therefore familiar on Abaco. Secondly, I very much like the format of the book: there are clear photos; and all necessary general information including notes on individual characteristics and similar species is presented in an easily assimilable way. Were the Delphi book not designed to be the 2 kg bird-showcasing non-field guide doorstop it is, the San Salvador book is one I should liked to have produced! Birds of San Salvador (sample page 1) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 2) DESCRIPTION “This enchanting book addresses a need for an important audience, the budding naturalist, which many of our students are. Without fanfare and pomposity, the book presents beautiful and inspiring photos and lively discussion, but does not indulge in the details of the accomplished birder. The authors present information about the natural history of birds on San Salvador, Bahamas, not through the eyes of a professional or advanced birder, but through the eyes and photographic lenses of inquiring educators and naturalists. This book will help capture and catalyze the interests of aspiring birders and will be an asset for introductions to the birds of the Bahamas and neighboring Caribbean. Over 400 images, representing 54 species, are all original and include a variety of behaviors and highlight recognition characteristics. The authors’ aesthetic photography, printed on high quality paper, will help reinforce identification and enjoyment. Birds are organized by habitat (Coastal, Interior, and Lakes & Ponds), not by taxonomic affinities. A taxonomic index is included.” 

I’m pleased to see the decision to depart from the usual taxonomic ordering of species, though I recognise that for a serious field guide that tradition is pretty much sacrosanct. We played around with categories and sub-categories a bit (sea birds, water birds, land birds; big, medium, small; cute, splendid, dull, plug-ugly) before settling on Peter Mantle’s excellent idea of straight alphabetical organisation. For a mainly photographic book this gives an element of surprise to turning the pages, and avoids  e.g. 37 pages of warblers species, mostly yellow, all huddled together.  Birds of San Salvador (sample page 4) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 5) I notice that there is a single Amazon review, a good one, that says “This guide to one of the lesser known islands in the Bahamas is a nice one. While not exhaustive, it covers most of the species likely to be seen on San Salvador. The style is unorthodox for a field guide (elements of humor, gives brief description of species, but no real key field marks), the descriptions, locations on the island, and behaviors make this guide useful for those visiting San Salvador. The photographs are excellent.” Birds of San Salvador (sample page 3)For anyone interested in a useful reference guide to the common birds of Abaco, and in possession of a Kindle, this book is easily worth getting electronically.  ‘To be brutally honest’ (™ Sandy Walker), I’d like in due course to produce a small book very like this for Abaco, but it would obviously be naked plagiarism to do that, so of course I won’t. Still, all the same…

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (2)


ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (2)

This is the second of a series of photos taken by diver Hitoshi Miho in the underground cave systems of Abaco in conjunction with the  Bahamas Caves Research Foundation. This series forms part of a wider project for the blog in due course. With Hitoshi’s kind permission, here are a few more examples of his wonderful images of the silent and mysterious world that lies beneath Abaco. I’ve recently been lightly involved with marine pollution and the environmental effects of ill-considered development. One dreads to imagine the adverse effects on these caves and the blues holes that might result from a massive dredging project of the sort currently being contentiously and litigiously carried out in the pristine waters of Bimini. Thousands of years of crystal development could be lost in a comparative blink of an eye. 

To see the first post in this series CLICK HERE

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ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (1)


ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (1)

Hitoshi Miho is a diver and photographer who takes amazing photographs of the underground caves he explores. These include some of the cave systems on Abaco, where he has recently accompanied renowned Abaco diver Brian Kakuk of the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation. In due course I hope to produce a page dedicated to the Caves and Blue Holes of Abaco including maps but that’s a project in the mind for now. Meantime, with Hitoshi’s kind permission, here are a few preliminary examples of his fabulous work that showcases the wondrous crystal palaces that lie deep beneath Abaco. 

Abaco Underwater Caves 1 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 2 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 3 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 4 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 5 (©Hitoshi Miho)

All images © Hitoshi Miho and displayed by kind permission