Imagine a wall of groupers, so densely packed that it is difficult to see the reef on the other side. Or, picture lines of marching lobsters. Neither of these events is easily seen by the casual visitor to The Bahamas, as they occur at specific times and in specific places. Yet, they are more common here than in any other place in the world—and they are an indication of the excellent state of underwater affairs. Currently monitored and protected by a number of governmental and private organizations, there is every reason to be optimistic about the future of The Bahamas’ marine environment.
Groupers in the Bahamas Groupers are among the larger fish well known to divers throughout The Bahamas—and by far the best known and most often encountered is the Nassau Grouper, the “national fish” of The Bahamas. These fish are usually solitary creatures, and little is known about their reproductive habits. However, on occasion when spawning, they will gather in great schools. In The Bahamas, grouper spawns have been observed off Andros, Long Island, Cat Cay and in the Berry Islands. Estimates reported off Cat Cay indicate that somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 groupers took part in a recent spawning there. Grouper spawning is timed with a full moon and usually occurs in late January or early February. At that time, shoals, balls and walls of groupers can be witnessed.
The Spiny Lobster The “March of Spiny Lobster” is a widespread phenomenon, occurring on both the Great and Little Bahamas Banks. It was first scientifically investigated and photographed in the early 1970s. As with groupers, lobsters are often found solitary on the reef; occasionally dozens will pack underneath a ledge.
March of the Spiny Lobster.
A lobster march occurs when a mass of young adult lobsters gathers on the banks. The march is triggered by the first autumnal storms that reach The Bahamas from the north and west in late October or early November. Agitated by the storms, hundreds of lobsters, which have been gathering beneath ledges and overhangs, will begin to march across the shallow bank, into deeper water. When the water returns to crystal clear, chains of lobsters marching in single file can be observed in water as shallow as 15 feet. In this supposedly defensive position, with each lobster’s vulnerable soft parts protected by the lobster behind, they become fearless: If a diver lies down on the sand in front of them, they will march over him. If the leader is removed from the chain, the next lobster in line will assume command.
In the past, grouper spawns and lobster marches have reached incredible proportions. However, commercial fishermen have taken advantage of these gatherings, racking up tremendous catches. Pioneered by the Bahamas National Trust (the government organization in charge of land parks and reserves that evolved into the Bahamas Marine Trust), several important areas of the archipelago are now under protection. The primary areas under their jurisdiction, and already well established, are the Exumas Land and Sea Park and the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park.
Other governmental organizations, such as National Fisheries, and private organizations, such as the Bahamas Reef Environment and Educational Foundation (BREEF), have been instrumental in promoting and establishing additional protection measures and boundaries throughout The Bahamas. Proposed protection areas include the southwestern reefs of New Providence Island, the Abaco Marine Park, Walker’s Cay and the Biminis. Since the first marine parks were established, it is possible to see the numbers of groupers, lobsters and all forms of marine life increasing therein. The banks of The Bahamas are great marine nurseries, and with protection and conservation, they will remain a great natural environment.
A squadron of Eagle Rays.