The Exumas

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Map of the Exuma Cays in The Bahamas

The Exumas and cays, which are low-lying banks that have appeared atop reefs, corals, and rocks and are chock full of soft white sands and even in some cases pink sand!  Did you know, a cay (pronounced “key”) is distinguished from an island by the fact that there is no fresh water source.

While diving in The Exumas I learned that there was an “Inside” and “Outside”, which contained different conditions.  The Inside refers to the western side of the chain of the Exuma cays and often offers more protected, calmer waters with many options for shallower reef dives.  The Outside refers to the eastern side of the cays, which hosts the great depths of the Exuma Sound that stretches between the Exuma cays and Eleuthera.  The conditions on this side may occasionally be rough depending on the direction of the winds.  In addition, many of the dive sites, whether they are on the Inside or the Outside, are tide dependent.  We often wait for the Slack Tide, which is the time when the tide changes, so there isn’t a flow of moving water.

Lobster, No Lobster (10-30ft) 

Lobster, No Lobster, Exumas Cays, The Bahamas

This is a beautiful shallow dive located on the inside of the Exuma Cays just off of Ship’s Channel Cay.  There is a large coral mountain with several scattered coral heads, which are surrounded by sandy eel grass, which is a haven for Nurse Sharks, Southern Sting Rays, and Eagle Rays!  This site is perfect for taking photos as the vivid colours of the corals are clear and bright and with a keen eye, this is definitely the right location to spot the beautiful Red-Tipped Sea Goddess nudibranch!  You may also have a great opportunity to see a Lobster…or, maybe not ;)

 

Barracuda Shoals (15-35ft) 

Barracuda Shoals, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

Often when you name a dive site after some of the animals you see there, for some reason, you never see the animal again!  However, this is not the case on Barracuda Shoals, which similar to Lobster, No Lobster resides on the inside of the Exuma Cays just off of Ship’s Channel Cay.  Barracuda often hover just under the boat giving divers the eye and a toothy grin!  I’ve had many fantastic dives on Barracuda Shoals both during the day and at night.  During the day, you can explore in and around the many scattered coral heads to discover Hawksbill Turtles floating by, Yellow-Headed Jawfish poking their cute heads out of their homes in the sand, along with the chance to see Nurse Sharks and Southern Sting Rays gliding over the reefs.  At night, take your flashlight and see what you can find in the many crevices and overhangs and maybe you’ll have the chance (like I did!) to come across the enormous and striking face of a Goliath Grouper also known as a Jewfish!

Dog Rocks (40-100+ft) 

Dog Rocks, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

This is everyone’s favourite dive site!  The top of the reef lies in 40ft of water and is surrounded by incredible swim throughs and underwater canyons to explore.  This dive site is found on the outside of Ship’s Channel Cay and can be strongly affected by the current, but can offer an endless amount of diving exploration!  My favourite route is to venture through the swim through known as “The Church”. Here you can enjoy a large cavern swim through with beams of light shining through illuminating your path like the rays passing through windows in a cathedral.  When you exit The Church, you will be on the wall where you can see giant and beautiful varieties of the fascinating Black Coral.

Crab Mountain (40-90ft) 

Crab Mountain, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

Something for everyone on Crab Mountain!  This is a great dive site for both beginner and experienced divers looking to float through canyons and neat overhangs with great Nassau groupers and their giant mouths open getting a good clean, or pretty Atlantic Spadefish fluttering around the mooring line.  For the more experienced divers venture towards the wall and enjoy a glimpse of a reef shark cruising the ocean highway.  Keep your eyes open for moray eels in the many nooks and crannies of the various coral heads along the way.

 

Flat Rock (10-25ft)

Flat Rock, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

There is one word for this dive site and that is – Gorgeous!  This is a very shallow slack tide dive that is nestled into a small cay called “Flat Rock Cay” where the current can flow pretty quick if the splash time is not followed closely enough.  The cay runs north and south with the mooring pin in about 25ft of water.  I like to make a nice north south swim pattern leading closer and closer towards the shallows.  Make sure you look closely at each of the scattered coral heads to see a lazy nurse shark resting, or perhaps a beautiful Red-Tipped Sea Goddess, or a shy but smiley porcupine fish.  This is a perfect site for photographers on a sunny day not to mention a fantastic snorkelling site for our surface-dwelling friends!

Basket Star (5-25ft) 

Basket Star, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

Basket Star reef is located right in the middle of the channel next to Highbourne Cay and can either be seen after flying through the Washing Machine or during slack tide.  Either way, divers should be vigilant and aware of boaters if they need to surface away from the boat.  Underneath the surface lies a superb coral reef that is fresh and clean as it is cleansed daily with currents bringing a variety of wildlife.  Always look on the leeward side of coral heads to see if you can locate hawksbill turtles enjoying their coral lunches and after you’ve taken beautiful photos of butterfly fish, queen angels, and damsel fish, make your way to the edge of the reef where the eel grass starts.  Sleepy nurse sharks and cruising eagle rays love to make this area their home!

Austin Smith Wreck (50-70ft) 

The Austin Smith Wreck, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

In the 1970s a Cuban ship was boarded by Bahamian authorities.  The Cubans attacked and killed 4 Bahamians.  The US donated 4 Cutters in honour of the lives lost and named them after each of the 4 who were killed.  In 1995, the Austin Smith was sunk among coral heads lying with the bow to the east.  This is a small wreck in a popular reef shark location.  Take a peek inside any of the holds or hatches to find a disarray of mangled metal, oil drums, and cables.  After you’ve explored this wreck head north to enjoy some interesting rock overhangs and formations.  Try to find the green moray eel!  NOTE:  This wreck is not suitable for penetration.


The Washing Machine (15-50ft)

This dive site is SO much fun!!!!!  You can find this location right across from the entrance of Highbourne Cay marina.  When you time this dive right according to the tides, you can have an exhilarating and unique drift diving experience!  The current will sweep you down into the hollow base of the “washing machine” at 40ft and then will lift you right back up to 15ft tossing and turning you all the way through!  The best position to be in is with one hand on your nose for equalizing and, for a zippy fast ride, curled in a ball and for a slower pace, star fish formation :)  Once you’ve flown through the ups and downs, the “washing machine” will spit you out onto a beautiful dive site complete with a garden full of colourful coral heads.  Click here for the best Washing Machine video ever!

Hammerhead Gulch (20-35ft)

Bahamas_HammerheadGulchTurtle

Hammerhead Gulch, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

This has become one of my most favourite dives since I started working on the Aqua Cat.  The reason being is that it is a slack tide dive with tidal water consistently flowing over it rendering it a colourful and healthy reef area.  The area of coral clusters situated amongst sandy valleys is surrounded by flat eel grass where nurse sharks, eagle, and southern sting rays can be found.  You can explore this reef by swimming along the edge keeping an eye in the distance for large animals and checking behind mounds of coral mountains for resting hawksbill turtles.  This is a shallow dive with a maximum depth at around 30-35ft or 10m, so bring along the camera!  Make sure you check the tides and current prior to entry to enter the water during slack tide and plan accordingly so as not to be far from your exit point when the current picks up again.

Wax Cut Drift (20-35ft)

Because the Bahamas is made of hundreds (thousands??) of cays, the ocean tides are continually moving in and out between them offering perfect opportunities to catch a free ride and enjoy drift diving!  If you’ve never done a drift dive, the idea to let yourself just “go with the flow” may be a little daunting for some.  But I encourage you to give it a try because it is one of my most favourite types of dives out there!!  Because the current is constantly flushing water over the reef, usually drift dives are home to clean and healthy reefs teeming with all kinds of animals and Wax Cut Drift is no different!  Underwater you will find a shallow wall at about 20ft down to 35ft or so that you can drift along with eel grass and sand on either side.  Enjoy the magnificent colours and peek among the bushels of coral to find lobsters clustered together and grand Angelfish adding to the scenery.  As you “fly” over top of the corals do take the time to look back to discover hiding Hawksbill turtles and sleepy Nurse sharks protecting themselves on the leeward side of the corals from the current.  Always keep an eye on the edges of the reef where Southern Stingrays and Eagle Rays are bound to hang-out.  Enjoy the ride!!  Take a look at this video of a Southern Stingray that has been bitten by a shark on this dive site.

Danger Reef & Amber Jack Reef (30-60ft) 

Danger Reef, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

These lovely dive sites are within 200ft of each other along a maze of high profile coral heads starting in the sand at 60ft and rising up in some places as high as 20ft.  You can enjoy exploring in and out of these mountains to experience performances of luscious lobsters dancing through the sand.  In the Exuma Land and Sea Park, these animals are protected from any forms of fishing and hunting – and they know it!  They enjoy proudly displaying themselves for all to see!  These sites also offer excellent opportunities to view the Caribbean Reef Sharks who used to be fed in this location prior to the establishment of the park.  Their memory serves them well as they cruise close by in hopes of a good chum feeding!  Enjoy the huge Nassau Groupers who hover under the boat and sit back and watch during your safety stop while the schools of Horse Eye Jacks careen around you in their underwater choreography.

Jeep Reef (10-30ft) 

Jeep Reef, Exuma Cays, The Bahamas

When you imagine tropical diving, Jeep Reef should come to mind.  Here you will find a slack tide dive with a white sandy bottom where the glowing eyes of southern stingrays peer out from amongst the valleys dotted with colourful coral mountains.  If you are lucky you will witness a performance of southern sennets flickering this way and that in their school.  This dive site lies within the Exuma Land & Sea Park boundaries and thus the lobsters prance about freely knowing the spearfishermen are exempt from lobster hunting here.  In the middle of this true coral garden there is a cute coral-encrusted “jeep”.  The stories of why it is there are many.  What do you think?!

Georgetown, Great Exuma, The Bahamas

Enjoying the view and scuba dives with Dive Exuma!

Georgetown, Great Exuma, The Bahamas

Georgetown is the capital of the Exuma island chain and also the largest city with approximately 1000 permanent residents.  It is also my most favourite of the islands I have visited in The Bahamas so far.  A step away from the tourism of Nassau, it maintains a traditional, friendly, and natural way of life that seems more true to The Bahamas than the Atlantis of Paradise Island, for example.  Not to mention the endless white sandy (empty) beaches, awesome sea food, and perfect conditions for scuba diving as well as kiteboarding.  I’ve stayed in the small village of Rolleville on the northern tip of Great Exuma twice now to enjoy gorgeous kiteboarding with Gary from Exuma Kitesurfing and the lovely hospitality (and conch fritters!) of Violet and Kevin of Shoreline Beach Club and greatly enjoyed two local dives with the super friendly Dive Exuma located downtown Georgetown.  The diving was lovely reef diving with a special dolphin encounter on the way back to the marina!

 

 

 


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