The Bahama Banks are home to the Exuma Islands where you can learn about and see first-hand: Stromatolites (underwater stone-like hassocks built by bacteria); ooids (that extra soft-spherical sand, that really isn't sand at all), manta rays, sea turtles and catch iguanas found nowhere else in the world. There is no real need to describe the colors of the sand and sea once you've seen it all here. Words like golden, sunshine yellow and every conceivable color of blue would only serve to limit what is one of the most beautiful places on earth. As you snorkel one small cay after another, through one underwater sea cavern after another, you realize the depth and breathe of our beautiful, much stressed oceans. They are stressed because there are floating islands of trash (called gyres) larger than Texas and beaches full of pulverized plastic. Yet the damsel fish will courageously guard her small coral reef home, not realizing the danger she faces.
Walk into a small inlet and find water warm as a bathtub. Then the tide comes in just over the other side of the rocks. Giant waves reach all the way in and can make you shriek with delight as the cold tidewater meets the warm with a sizzling fizz. You actually feel like a champagne cork bobbing about. Within the tidepools, you will find limpets, starfish, mussels, chiton, and a Giant West Indies Topshell Snail as big as your hand. Make your way out of the champagne bath and you may meet a small Caribbean reef shark that decides to swim up for a closer look at your feet. Then, smile gratefully and count your toes, as he swims away disinterested. Just before the sun sets on the horizon, look closely for the green flash. Close to midnight, hunt for hutia (the only native land mammal in the Bahamas) on Warderick Wells. There are no street lights or roads, but you can find your way by moonlight. Did you know that if you hold your flashlight parallel, right next to your eye and scan the scrub, you will see brilliant blue lights in the bush? Those are the eyes of spiders. Each time I searched and walked up to the sparkling indigo diamond, I found a spider. You can try this at home, though there will probably be too much light around in your backyard.
In the Exuma Land and Sea Park, salt lashed stunted coastal scrub forests hold small brine ponds of colored lichen. The groves of buttonwood look like they were taken out of middle earth. Small coral island sanctuaries are a haven for sea birds and a variety of iguanas, all of whom are endangered. The islands here are eroded from small, shady salt ponds that eventually fill up with rotting vegetation and eat away at the limestone. This also leaves stunning underwater caverns and magnificent blow holes. If you listen closely, you can hear the dragon breathing within the heart of each island. You will see dragonflies, cactus, orchids. Beautiful and rare tropicbirds soaring together in a courtship dance. She may make her nest on a bluff near a mangrove forest. The roots of the mangrove are "dead men’s fingers and slow the water currents and allow sediment to collect, which actually builds up the land. So the erosion is matched with a slow building up all meeting at the bio-erosional notch, making some of the smaller islands look like toadstool caps with wild green shrubbery on their heads. Captain John says if you had 45 foot stilts you could walk all the way from one end of the Exumas to the other, as the water is no deeper than that. The enigma that geologists have yet to figure out is that on the opposite side of this chain of islands is the "tongue of the ocean," an oceanic trench over 6,000 feet deep called the Great Bahama Canyon. Clean up the flotsam and jetsam from the beach on Pasture Cay and marvel at just another piece of God’s country where the Antillean Nighthawk roam.