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

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These caves lie within one of the recently created protected areas

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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