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

A FROG CALLED TOAD: NEW AMPHIBIAN SPECIES FOR ABACO


Eastern narrow-mouthed toad (Todd Pearson / ABSCI)

A FROG CALLED TOAD: NEW AMPHIBIAN SPECIES FOR ABACO

Welcome to the wonderful world of the tiny Eastern narrow-mouthed toad. This non-native species has just been discovered on Abaco and formally identified. It looks like a toad. It’s called a toad. It’s actually a frog. There’s a song from the ’60s (dread decade) called ‘Walkin’ my cat named dog…’. But no one has come up with ‘Check out my frog named toad’. Yet.

Eastern narrow-mouthed toad (Sean Giery ABSCI)

THE FIRST EVIDENCE ON ABACO

A year ago, Sean Giery reported on the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST website that he had heard the unmistakeable (to him) mating call of Eastern narrow-mouthed toads Gastrophryne carolinensis in the Marsh Harbour area, Abaco. Denizens of south-eastern US, the species had previously only been recorded in the Bahamas on Grand Bahama and New Providence.

Sean estimated that he heard several dozen of these tiny 2.5cm frogs, suggesting a well-established population. A veritable Frog Chorus.** However, he wasn’t able to obtain a specimen, so his identification was by sound alone – vividly described as “like a bleating lamb with a stuffy nose”. You can read the full article from last May HERE.

Eastern narrow-mouthed toad (P. Coin / ABSCI)

THE FIRST SPECIMEN IS FOUND 

In a further article one year later HERE, Sean relates how he was called to the home of alert student Donte Richard, who had remembered the original post. This was in a different area of MH, suggesting a spread of population. Others had reported the distinctive bleating calls as well. Identification of the specimen frog was made by researchers at the Frank Kenyon Centre, Friends of the Environment, and confirms a new addition to Abaco’s vertebrate fauna.

The evidential specimenEastern narrow-mouthed toad (ex Brian Kakuk)

WHERE WERE THEY FOUND?

ENM Toad Map MH

MIGHT THEY BE HARMFUL? 

Sean writes: “With Abaco added to the list of islands we see a distribution pattern that echoes another recent invader (the corn snake). Perhaps they share a similar route of entry? Whether or not the narrow-mouthed toad poses any real threat to Abaco’s native flora and fauna is unknown. However, given their diet of small invertebrates (ants, mites, termites), it seems unlikely that they could pose any substantial risk. That said, who knows?”

WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE WITH NO CLOTHES ON?
Tidelands Toad Skelly 2

CAN I BUY ONE AS A PET?

Yes, by all means you can. But they are remarkably expensive for a 2.5cm creature. ‘Urban Jungle Reptile’ sells them for $80 each. You might need a pair. But you’d be better off hanging round Marsh Harbour in May with a small bucket and spade. And they are useless for taking on walks. You’d be far better off with the cat named dog…

“My name is Freddie and I am for sale to a good non-amphibian-eating home”Narrow-mouthed frog (Urban Jungle Reptile)

**COMPLETELY THE WRONG SORT OF FROG CHORUS
CREDITS: foremost to Sean Giery / ABSCI for use permission for photo use and info; Todd Pierson (header), Sean (2, map 5), P.Coin (3); Brian Kakuk for posting the specimen initial shot (4); Tidelands Nature Center for the terrific skeleton photo taken at the Smithsonian (6); Urban Jungle Reptile ad (7).
DISCREDITS: Paul McCartney for his ill-advised foray into amphibian-based songwriting, a close second to David Bowie’s ‘Laughing Gnome’ for star career low points. Some might say.

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

‘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

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