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Blue Holes Expedition: Rocks, Water, and a Workout

Team member Tom Morris has been exploring caves around the world the world for almost fifty years. Tom is a biologist and diver who lives in Gainesville, Florida. Today, Sunday, is his 70th birthday. His birthday present was a passport that he left in his car before heading across the Florida Straits by boat to join the team. He can now leave the Bahamas when the time comes, although he would rather remain in the Bahamas, where the pines sing, the bracken is tall, and every other plant is an aphrodisiac.     

Expedition Blog 2 / Dec. 5 / By Tom Morris

Most people who visit the Bahamas end up on New Providence Island, home to Nassau and all its tourist amenities. I appreciate Nassau’s attractions, but I am drawn by the wilder side of the great archipelago, and by its rich geological and natural history. So, when my friend Kenny Broad invited me to join this expedition to Abaco Island’s newest nature preserve, I jumped at the chance.

Most everyone on the expedition team flew over from Florida, but Kenny and I needed to ferry a ton of expedition gear on his boat. Crossing the Gulf Stream is always a great adventure. After loading gear we left Miami in the dark AM and motored into the confused and rough seas of the Gulf Stream. As the sun rose we were treated to the visually stunning deep blue of the Straits of Florida, caused by two-thousand-foot depths and nutrient-poor clear water. Fortunately, Dramamine worked its magic, and my usual tendency to seasickness was no problem.

The Land and Water

Hours later, the taller buildings of Grand Bahama Island came into view, and the water gradually changed to the nice torquoise color of shallower Bahama Bank waters. We worked our way along the coast—recently ravaged by hurricane forces—keeping a close eye for dangerous rocks, and entered the main Grand Bahama Port of Entry. The overrated problem of my missing passport was overcome and we fueled up and headed over to the infamous Lucayan Waterway to anchor in protected water for the night. The Waterway is a more-or-less 100-foot-wide canal dredged across the entire width of Grand Bahama Island to create valuable waterfront property. The canal was a horrible idea, and it drained part of the island of billions of gallons of scarce fresh water and allowed salt water to contaminate a significant portion of the island’s rocky aquifer.

The next morning we cruised in the calm, protected waters of the Little Bahama Bank. The Bahama Banks are a carbonate factory, and corals, calcareous algae, and chemical processes have—over millions of years—deposited an incredible 19,000 feet of limestone sediments. The sediments were all formed in shallow marine conditions, just like today, with subsidence (the weighing down of the layers) matching the rate of production (or adding on of new layers). The many islands of the archipelago, large and small, are just the tiniest tip of this carbonate “iceberg”.

Inadvertent Exercise

Afternoon found us dockside in Marsh Harbor. Here the generally unrecognized part of every expedition began in earnest. All the thousands of pounds of equipment had to be unloaded and taken to our vehicles. Everyone gets to enjoy the work, even the expedition leader (Kenny). Fortunately for Kenny, his labors were interrupted by a necessary visit to the harbor master. This was the second of many times that the expedition members will delight in moving the gear. Expeditions are a great weight-loss program.

It was great to be back in Marsh Harbor. This small town is reputed to be the third largest town in the Bahamas. It is full of friendly people, all driving on the wrong side of the road. I have heard a number of people remark that most of the Bahamas is like Florida used to be one hundred years ago. I believe it, and I like it.

We drove a mile or so to the Friends of the Environment compound, where we moved all the gear once again (third time). This excellent organization, along with the National Museum of the Bahamas (Antiquities, Monuments, Museums Corp.) is helping sponsor the expedition and is letting us use their new guest house. The rest of the day and much of the night found us putting together scuba and other gear.

Portrait of a Forest

The next day found us moving (fourth time) much of the equipment out to Dan’s Cave and setting up shelters and prepping for the arrival of primary school students on Monday. The site is beautiful. The setting is picturesque Caribbean slash pine forest (Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis), known locally as pineyards. The bracken fern (Pteridium aqualinum), usually about two feet high in Florida, is head high in the pineyard shrub layer. Poison wood (Metopium toxiferum), is scattered throughout. Winter migratory birds from the continent are moving about in the bushes. Forestry burns the pine forests about every three years to keep combustible fuel at safe levels. The trade winds sing in the pines.

The December temperatures are pleasant.

Perfect for moving gear.

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LIVE Interview With Kenny Broad and Team

Lesson Plan: Exploring the Blue Holes

Full Teacher’s Guide

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