Text and Photography by Michael Lawrence
One Nation with a World of Diving Opportunity
iscover our diversity—these are the key words in understanding the nature of diving The Bahamas. Within the boundaries of this island nation, our closest oceanic neighbor, divers have access to one of the most varied and extensive rosters of dive experiences available in any single nation in this hemisphere. Lush shallow and medium depth coral reefs, vertical walls dripping with sponges and gorgonians, a healthy population of both tropical and pelagic fish, wrecks—both modern and historic—labyrinthine coral tunnels and caverns, blue holes leading to elaborate submerged cave systems, thrilling shark encounters, dependably frequent exchanges with dolphins—both wild and trained—it’s an impressive list that just seems to go on and on. The Bahamas is a true multi-destination country, offering a variety and diversity of dive profiles, lifestyles and vacation options that few can match. This is a land of many faces; a thorough exploration is the work of a lifetime.
The Bahamas have stood for years as one of the most popular dive and vacation destinations in the world. Given its tropical climate, superb dive conditions and services and all-around accessibility, it is easy to understand why this should be so. Close proximity allows The Bahamas to serve ideally as either a quick getaway or as a destination for extended periods of exploration and leisure. While there are common threads that run through life in these islands, there is also a tremendous variety of lifestyles. Atmospheres vary from the honesty, the simple relaxation and basic, natural concerns of the Out Islands, to the casinos, shopping, nightlife and the cosmopolitan sophistication of Nassau or Freeport.
Impressions of The Bahamas are easily dominated by images of the sea—and though technically a part of the Atlantic Ocean, the waters of The Bahamas possess a distinctive life of their very own. With virtually no runoff (nearly all rainfall is absorbed by the porous limestone islands), sedimentation is minimal, creating some of the clearest tropical waters in the world. Divers can expect visibility to run from 80 to 150 feet year-round, with the very best visibility often found immediately after a winter nor’easter has moved through. During these periods, the sea can become flat calm and visibility can exceed 150 to 200 feet.
Much of the diversity of dive options offered by The Bahamas is a direct result of the huge area that this nation covers. With its westernmost islands resting only 50 miles off the Florida coastline, The Bahamas stretches southeast over 750 miles. Contained within its boundaries are more than 100,000 square miles of water, dwarfing a land mass of a mere 5,382 square miles. This land mass is distributed between 25 islands or island groups, more than 650 cays (pronounced “keys”) and some 2,400 islets and exposed rocks. There are active, professional dive operations on well over a dozen of these islands. Areas beyond reach of day boats and land-based operations are made accessible by a fleet of high-quality live-aboards, departing both from the United States and from strategic jumping-off points within The Bahamas.
The Bahamas owes its very existence to the ocean and its creatures. The archipelago sits upon a platform of pure limestone that was created by marine sediment deposited over the millennia—the skeletal remains of thousands upon thousands of generations of both large and small marine creatures. Over the years the water levels have varied greatly, receding as much as 400 feet or more during the ice ages. The evidence of varying sea levels can be seen in the different ledges along the drop-offs, each indicating an ancient shoreline.
|Underwater thrills, such as wreck diving, can be found throughout the islands of The Bahamas.|
To the north is the Little Bahamas Bank, bordered by the Abacos and Grand Bahama Island. To the south is the massive Great Bahamas Bank, roughly shaped in the form of a U. The western branch is the base for Bimini, the Berry Islands and Andros. The eastern branch gives us New Providence, Eleuthera, the Exumas, Cat Island and Long Island. To the southwest of the Great Bahamas Bank one finds the small Cay Sal Bank. With only barely exposed rocks and dunes above water, underwater it is ringed with fringing reefs and also offers splendid world-class drop-offs and walls. There are also several islands to the south that are the isolated peaks of undersea pinnacles. These include wall-diving legends such as San Salvador, Rum Cay and Conception Island, as well as Mayaguana, the Inaguas, Plana Cays and Hogsty Reef (the only Atlantic atoll).
The highly productive shallow banks function as huge juvenile nurseries, constantly replenishing the piscine inhabitants of The Bahamas. The deep waters of the Atlantic, the Gulf Stream and the assorted rifts running through the banks introduce pelagic species into the formula. This combination creates a population of fish much denser and more varied than the Caribbean norm.
Whether it’s dolphin diving, relaxation or cruising with the power of the wind, The Bahamas has it all.
Transportation to and from the islands is made available by commercial plane, cruise ship, live-aboard dive vessels or private plane or boat. Standard commercial air service is provided by a number of airlines, including the national carrier, Bahamasair. Departing from a full array of conveniently located U.S. gateway cities, and utilizing Nassau and Freeport as hubs, connections to the entire archipelago are made convenient. Some of the Family Islands utilize my personal favorite means of travel, smaller four to 12 passenger charter planes. These give an ideal birds-eye view of the swirling shoals and isolated cays of the island chain. This is flying heaven, and private pilots will find The Bahamas convenient and comfortable. There are dozens of functional airstrips and casual customs and immigration clearance points.
Welcome to The Bahamas, the island nation where you can have it all and do it all or simply relax and do nothing at all. The following pages will give you some big hints on the possibilities awaiting you. Read, explore and enjoy!
The Bahamas Experience | Parade of Marine Life | Shark Diving | Grand Bahama Island | Bahamas Dolphins Encounters | Nassau | Out Islands of The Bahamas | Ten Reasons To Take The Whole Family | Walls and Blue Holes | Rapture of The Wrecks | Exploring The Bahamas by Live Aboard | Bahamas By Snorkel | Bahamas Diving Association | Index