IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

At the moment it can still be said that the static (‘sessile’) members of the Abaco reef community are relatively unscathed by the impact of (and I don’t want to get into any arguments here) whatever causes mass bleaching and the death of reefs elsewhere in the world.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen. 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defense mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL (more of which quite soon). Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development. It’s tempting to say that by way of gratitude, we pollute the waters they need for their very existence. So, consider it said…

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)    Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

All the photos featured are by courtesy of Capt. Keith and Melinda Rogers of the well-known local scuba dive and snorkel centre DIVE ABACO, located in central Marsh Harbour. As prime enablers of reef exploration in Abaco waters, it can truly be said that they too have plenty of fans.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: Keith and Melinda Rogers; Dive Abaco @DiveAbaco, Marsh Harbour, The Bahamas ** The answer to the questions in the Title is… it’s both!

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)


Artocarpus altilis - breadfruit (Hans Hillewaert)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)

Capt. William Bligh achieved fame for all the wrong reasons. Despite a distinguished and wide-ranging seafaring career he is widely remembered for just two things: (1) The Bounty and (2) Mutiny On. In 1787, he was dispatched to Tahiti to collect specimens of BREADFRUIT (a fruit of the Pacific islands, in particular Polynesia) to help provide food for the British colonies in the West Indies. To be clear, the breadfruit was intended to be a basic and cheap staple food not just for settlers but also for the indigenous population. I think we can all guess the status of the latter at that time.

Breadfruit 2

‘BLIGH’S BLIGHT’ – MUTINY!

Capt. Bligh’s Bounty crew unfortunately mutinied – possibly to do with the amount of water the breadfruit required in transit, compared to their own meagre rations. So they threw overboard the hundreds of breadfruit plants that were in transit. Then they set Bligh with his loyal officers and crew adrift… He was later court-martialled but cleared of culpability for provoking a mutiny by his conduct. 

Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (Robert Dodd)

This isn’t the place for a disquisition on the Mutiny. You can read all about it HERE. Or better still, watch one of the rollicking all-star-cast films based loosely on the episode for a careful and accurate historical record of the events that will buckle your swash…

Mutiny_on_the_Bounty_Poster (1935) 220px-Poster_for_Mutiny_on_the_Bounty

BLIGH’S SECOND CHANCE

Following that skirmish, and indeed blemish, on his record, in 1793 Capt. Bligh was yet again charged with the task of shipping breadfruit trees from their origin to the Caribbean. His heart must have sunk, yet finally he succeeded, only for those on the eating end to express considerable distaste for such a bland, starchy fruit. It took a long time to catch on, and its culinary versatility was only discovered many decades later. By which time slavery had thankfully been abolished anyway.

 Breadfruit image (Pacific site)

The most famous breadfruit tree in all Abaco is to be found in Hope Town, on Elbow Cay. I can do no better than display the notice that proudly proclaims the historic significance of the tree and its eponymous fruit.

Breadfruit Tree Notice, Hope Town Abaco (Dp PatersonBreadfruit Tree, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

Unusually for a fruit plant, a true breadfruit Artocarpus altilis does not produce seeds. It is propagated by removing the suckers that grow at at the base of the tree.

For those unfamiliar with the fruit and its interior, here it is in both slice and cross-sectionBreadfruit sliced (US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center)

BREADFRUIT IN ART

Breadfruit has (somewhat surprisingly?) received some artistic recognition over the years. Here are a few examples. The first, very jolly, includes early representations of the Polydamus Swallowtail butterfly; the second is quite dull; the third is instructional (oddly equating breadfruit with tea, coffee and chocolate); and the fourth, frankly not at all appetising to look at…

Breadfruit with butterflies (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew)Breadfruit (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

                                 Breadfruit (John Frederick Miller)                                  Breadfruit drawing John Frederick Miller

      Breadfruit & related plants used as food (William Rhind (1841)     Breadfruit etc William Rhind (1841)

Breadfruit - Bahamas Stamp

SO WHERE DOES BREADFRUIT GROW NOW?

Breadfruit will flourish only within a certain latitude range where the rainfall and temperature suit it, as this map shows. I include this information in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of being socially stranded with someone whose conversation has become soporific. Be armed with some useful worldwide breadfruit stats for just such an occasion – the fact that Madagascar is a suitable yet not a very good location, for example (not enough rainfall). You will soon find yourself alone…

Breadfruit - the world propagation range

A CULINARY TREAT

Breadfruit is sometimes thought to be a dull and untasty, at least compared with many other fruits. I thought I’d include a recipe or two that rather appealed to me – the second because even I could do that… it’s within my shamefully limited culinary skill-set.

Breadfruit Recipe (myrecipefriends.com)

BAKED BREADFRUIT

Large, ripe breadfruit 1 cup water Butter 1 lime or lemon

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the water in a shallow pan and place the whole breadfruit in the water. Bake in oven for three hours. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, peel, removing the large core and stem. Cut the fruit into sections and place in a serving dish. Cover with butter and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.

A PERFECT HOPE TOWN BREADFRUIT
Breadfruit, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

This post was inspired by an article on breadfruit and the Hope Town tree by local historian Deb ‘DP’ Patterson, who will be known to many for her committed involvement with the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town. I’m grateful to her for permission to use her idea and indeed some of her material, in particular her photos of the tree and its notice. I originally posted this about 4 years ago, and have dusted it off for the benefit of new (thank you!) followers who might also have breadfruitphilia.

If you do visit this delightful little town, the museum is a treasure house of Abaconian history that deserves a visit. You can check out its website HERE and the FB page HERE.

Wyannie Malone Museum Crest, Hope Town, Abaco

BLIGH’S END

Capt. Bligh managed to put his breadfruit adventures and the mutiny behind him. He continued a distinguished naval career with successive command of an impressive number of  ships. He ended up a Vice-Admiral, and (on his death in 1817) in a grave in Lambeth, London.

V-A William Bligh (1814)

Grave of William Bligh, Lambeth, London (Geograph, Commons Media

HMS BOUNTY II (Full Sails). A 1960 reconstruction (Dan Kasberger)HMS_BOUNTY_II_Full_Sails 1960 reconsrtuction (Dan Kasberger)

Credits: First and foremost, Deb Patterson; Magpie Pickings including Hans Hillewaert, US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Royal Botanic Garden Kew, myrecipefriends, M Kwek, whatsonbahamas, Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, ‘Geograph’, Dan Kasberger, and Wiki; and anyone else I have omitted…

A LIGHT EXTINGUISHED: LITTLE HARBOUR LIGHTHOUSE REVISITED


Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

A LIGHT EXTINGUISHED: LITTLE HARBOUR LIGHTHOUSE REVISITED

The words ‘Abaco Lighthouse’ are near-synonymous with the splendid striped edifice in Hope Town, Elbow Cay. This beloved building is truly iconic, in the modern sense of the word (see HERE). But it would not do to forget the other principal lighthouse of Abaco at Hole-in-the-Wall, also with its original Fresnel lenses (see HERE for a post written ages ago).

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

However, there’s a third lighthouse on Abaco. The small light at Little Harbour is, by contrast with the other two beacons, relatively unknown, unvisited, and unloved. Derelict, in fact, and a sad  relic on its lonely promontory. Recently we prised ourselves away from the delights of Pete’s Pub and found the start of the overgrown track to the light. There’s a wooden sign that helps to locate the path. 

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

This small lighthouse station – “The Old Lighthouse” – was established in 1889 close to the entrance to Little Harbour. Originally, it was manned, with the first lighthouse keeper and his wife being the only inhabitants of that part of Little Harbour. The light presumably served to guide shipping to the channel leading to the secluded and safe harbour.

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

In due course the living quarters fell into dereliction and the existing beacon (type unknown?) on a small tower was converted to a solar-powered light. This arrangement did not survive the devastation of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The replacement was a modern steel framework tower that carried an active light until eventually it was blown over by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Sandy was also the hurricane that destroyed forever the rock ‘hole’ – an important navigation mark for centuries – that gave Hole-in-the-Wall its distinctive name (see HERE and links).

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The views from the elevated position of the ruin are spectacular, both from the outside and from inside. In good weather, anyway… It remains to be seen whether the lonely light is now considered completely redundant, or whether another automatic light will in the end be positioned here when funds or willpower permit. I’m not aware of any groundswell of opinion suggesting that, in the absence of a beacon at Little Harbour, there is a potential safety issue. 

The view north from the light to the tip of the promontoryLittle Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The view roughly south past the fallen tower towards CherokeeLittle Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Over time, I have been contacted by people with family associations to previous keepers; and with personal experiences of life there. One or two Americans have wanted to track newly discovered family connections to the light, and even possible relatives. I have the makings of ‘Lighthouse Family’ tree. When I last wrote about the light, Chuck Rickey contacted me with his story, which gives a wonderful insight into the history of the light and its hardy occupants: 

“My grandmother’s first cousin, Curtis Lowe, was lighthouse keeper here for many years and along with his wife, Bessie, raised children Hartley, Maitland, Lois and Robert, obtaining staples buy walking a tract road or sailing to Cherokee Sound. Later on, they were able to motor to Snake Cay, to get provisions from Owens Illinois’ company store aboard the “Robert Fulton”, an old side-wheel steamer, permanently moored there. I was fortunate to spend much fun time there during school vacations growing up”.

WHEREABOUTS IN LITTLE HARBOUR IS WAS THE LIGHTHOUSE

Little Harbour Lighthouse 1 jpg copyLittle Harbour Lighthouse 4 jpg

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HOLE-IN-THE-WALL LIGHTHOUSE

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Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Darlene Chisholm)

Credits: all photos Keith Salvesen except the last, Darlene Chisholm. Also, with thanks to Sandy Estabrook. 

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

LITTLE HARBOUR ABACO (1): JOHNSTON FOUNDRY & GALLERY


Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

LITTLE HARBOUR ABACO (1): JOHNSTON FOUNDRY & GALLERY

Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour needs no introduction. The place is an integral part of Abaco life, in much the same way as the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. Everyone knows that one runs effortlessly on beer and rum; the other on kerosene and a bed of mercury (just don’t mix up which is which, and best not to drink the mercury). Some visitors may happily while away an hour or three at Pete’s, not knowing of the amazing sculpture gallery almost next door, where works from the historic Johnston Foundry are displayed. Here is a taste of what you will find there.

Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

In the 1950s Randolph Johnston built a bronze casting foundry at Little Harbour that is still very much in use today. Much of the wonderful work produced by members of the Johnston family over 3 generations can be found on display in the Gallery. Here you will find genuinely locally produced sculptural works of art ranging from the simple to the incredibly complex. Some large outdoor pieces can also be found dotted around the settlement – here, a huge ray; over there, a pair of leaping dolphins.

Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Unsurprisingly, the sculptures on display mostly relate to the sea, which laps the shoreline only a few yards in front of the gallery. These are works of art, and of skill refined over decades. They do not come cheap. There are however smaller and less expensive items to tempt the visitor who may have a baggage allowance to live down to. Here is a snapshot of some of these.

Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen) Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

You might be entertained by this short video, which will give you an idea of Pete’s set-up at this unique off-grid settlement. And if you do visit, coincide with a mealtime – the freshly caught fish is outstanding.

All photos: Keith Salvesen, with thanks for permission to photograph some of the artworks on display. Video by Pete’s! [PS I have not been paid for my writing, not even a beer…]

MAPPING ABACO: BELLIN’S MAP 1764


Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

MAPPING ABACO: BELLIN’S MAP 1764

Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703 – 1772) was a French naval hydrographer & geographer. He was a prolific mapmaker, especially of French territories, and was noted for his meticulous technique and attention to detail. He was elected to the Royal Society; and in due course was appointed Official Hydrographer of the French King.

Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

In 1764, Bellin’s Petit Atlas Maritime was published. I am featuring one sheet from the atlas, the “Carte des Isles Lucayes”. The whole work came as a 5-volume set of map sheets, containing a total of 580 detailed charts. As you will see here, this copperplate engraving can be found in various forms: plain black & white; hand-washed or hand-coloured; or grandly multicoloured. These variations are the consequence of the distinction of Bellin’s work, which led to repeated re-publication in the c18 and beyond. Additionally, his work was admired and copied abroad.

Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

Bellin’s map contains plenty of information – including depth markings and advised shipping routes – though some of the topography might be considered debatable by modern standards. As you look more closely, some of the details are startling. For example, on New Providence (see above) the only place-name is simply designated ‘Ville’, as though the settlement there lacked the significance to merit a name. And look at it now… Andros is completely name-free, with not even a Ville marked – as is Grand Bahama for that matter, though a few Cays are named. Let’s turn to Abaco.
Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes
This section of the Bellin map also appears in my Abaco mapping article relating to HOLE-IN-THE-WALL. This geographical feature at the southern extremity of Abaco (now sadly blown apart by HURRICANE SANDY after millennia) was an important navigational landmark for shipping  by c17. The name, in French here, underwent a number of changes of the centuries, as you can see using the HITW link above.
Also of note is that at least Abaco was credited with a single named location – Little Harbour, the first settlement to feature on early maps, and the only one for a surprisingly long time. I imagine the position of this inlet and the safe anchorage it could provide for relatively large vessels became well-known. Like Hole-in-the-Wall, it was of seafaring significance.
A c18 mariner, looking at Bellin’s map in contemplation of a trip to the Isles Lucayes, might conclude that the seas around Abaco and Grand Bahama might be treacherous. The profusion of rocky areas and the indication of depth changes around the islands and cays suggest caution would be needed for a voyage. And as we know, throughout history ships have been wrecked in these seas – a situation somewhat improved (but not entirely eliminated) when the three ABACO LIGHTHOUSES were built.
Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes
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Credits: Library of Congress; Barry Ruderman Cat.; OS auctions inc eBay (!)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH


Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH

Yellowtails are just one of several damselfish species in Bahamas waters. These small fish are conspicuous not just for the bright tails that give them their name. More striking if anything – especially if seen underwater in sunlight against the coral – are the electric blue spots visible in both adults and juveniles.

Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The body of adults is dark blue to brownish to almost black 

The body of juveniles is blue

Yellowtails are a common and widespread variety of damselfish. They have a limited ability to change colour according to their surroundings, but with their bright tails and luminous blue flecks, it’s hard to see how they can look, to a predator, anything other than a tasty snack.

I have enjoyed seeing these little fish at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. The reef there makes for easy and rewarding snorkelling, with a wide variety of small and medium-size reef fishes to be seen. It’s an expedition I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to see a healthy and active reef in a completely natural protected area.

I found that a video I took with a tiny camera was sadly of use only to myself. No one else would be able to make anything out due to the marked camera shake. Novices, huh? You are spared that: here’s a brief example of yellowtails swimming instead, showing the difference between juveniles and adults.

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; video from Desert Diving

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS


Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS

Bottlenose dolphins! Tursiops truncatus! These engagingly playful show-offs of the inshore waters round Abaco are 99.99% adorable**. It’s been a harrowing few weeks in the western Atlantic, and everyone is hoping that the 2017 hurricane season has had enough of causing death and destruction over vast swathes of vulnerable islands and on the US mainland. Some cheer is needed.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Dolphins are good for the soul. And if you are out on a boat watching them – and especially tracking them for a whole day – every encounter reinforces the impression that all the leaping, bow-wave riding, boat under-swimming, and general sociability and interaction is often as much for sheer enjoyment as anything else. 

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Abaco is fortunate in having the HQ of the Bahamas Mammals Research Organisation (BMMRO) based at Sandy Point. That just happens to be an excellent area for bottlenose dolphin spotting in the turquoise shallows. Many sightings are made within clear sight of land. Further south, where the bright blue gives way to darker and deeper water, live the equally frolicsome Atlantic spotted dolphins. The 3 photos above were all taken on the margins of where the colour of the sea changes from light to dark.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

I’m a bit of a collector of collective nouns. For dolphins, apart from the matter-of-fact ‘group’ or ‘pod’, there is no exotic word to describe a number of them when they are having fun. No equivalent of ‘exaltation’ (larks), ‘charm’ (goldfinches) or ‘parliament’ (owls). So I’m nominating an ‘exhilaration’ as a candidate to fill the gap…

The photo above shows clearly how individual dolphins can be identified by researchers. All tend to have scars or tears to their dorsal fins that enable them to be distinguished. The closest has distinctive scars near the tip. The furthest has a W-shaped nick at the back. In fact, it could even be Rocky, a well-known dolphin on Abaco that has been sighted over many years. There are regular reports annually. I saw him myself once, in 2012, playing about in Hopetown harbour. 

STOP PRESS To demonstrate how the ID methods work, I’ve now cross-checked with the BMMRO photo ID archive. Here is Rocky’s original dorsal fin ID image (“Tt15”) from October 2010. There’s a W-shaped nick, sure, but my speculation above was wrong because overall the two fins are clearly different…

Rocky the Dolphin Tt15, from BMMRO ID photo archive

** The 0.01%? Dolphins may, rarely, be alarming for divers in circumstances I won’t repeat here (hint: to do with over-friendliness, ok? Yes, the thing that dogs do)

Credits: all photos BMMRO – and taken in the last 2 months