Beneath the Sea in the Bahamas

Performing AGRRA surveys (rapid ecological assessment of the reefs) off the coast of southern Abaco. Photo credit: Alannah Vellacott.

Performing AGRRA surveys (rapid ecological assessment of the reefs) off the coast of southern Abaco. Photo credit: Alannah Vellacott.

The Bahamas recognized early on the need to protect and preserve its marine resources. Since 1892, they have established 35 marine protected areas (MPAs). A recent report found that these marine protected areas and the ecosystem services they provide are worth more than 6 billion dollars. This value includes not only local benefits like providing nursery habitat for spiny lobsters, protecting shorelines from storm damage, and supporting tourism, but also benefits to the international community such as the carbon sequestration in these areas that protects against climate change impacts.

When I dive in the Bahamas, the benefits of these protections - like the crystal blue waters themselves - are exceedingly clear. Fish abound, often in much higher numbers and greater sizes than I ever see in south Florida. Large predators such as sharks - including threatened species like the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) - congregate seasonally off Bahamian coasts in numbers rarely seen anywhere else. In many areas, coral cover remains relatively high compared to the rest of the Caribbean, having escaped most of the devastating impacts of human activity, land-based pollution, overfishing, bleaching, and disease. Huge, centuries-old coral colonies still create complex 3D structures that sustain teeming communities of fish and invertebrates.

Though it certainly isn’t perfect, in many ways the Bahamas sets an example for other countries around the world struggling to halt the decline of their coastal ecosystems. I feel extremely fortunate to conduct a significant portion of my research in the Bahamas, and to be able to witness its stunning marine resources firsthand several times per year.

Here are some of the images I have captured since my first trip to the country in April 2018:

Elkhorn coral ( Acropora palmata ) on a reef near Abaco.

Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) on a reef near Abaco.

Reef spider crab ( Mithrax spinosissimus ) near Eleuthera.

Reef spider crab (Mithrax spinosissimus) near Eleuthera.

Caribbean reef shark ( Carcharhinus perezii ) off the coast of Nassau.

Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezii) off the coast of Nassau.

Mountainous star coral ( Orbicella faveolata ) off the coast of Abaco.

Mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) off the coast of Abaco.

Close-up of mountainous star coral ( Orbicella faveolata ) near Eleuthera.

Close-up of mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) near Eleuthera.

A bluehead wrasse ( Thalassoma bifasciatum ) under an elkhorn coral ( Acropora palmata ) in Nassau.

A bluehead wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum) under an elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) in Nassau.

Close-up of pillar coral ( Dendrogyra cylindrus ) polyps near Eleuthera.

Close-up of pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) polyps near Eleuthera.

A green sea turtle ( Chelonia mydas ) takes a breath at the surface off the coast of Nasau.

A green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) takes a breath at the surface off the coast of Nasau.

A southern stingray ( Hypanus americanus ) rests in the sand off Abaco.

A southern stingray (Hypanus americanus) rests in the sand off Abaco.

A large pillar coral ( Dendrogyra cylindrus ) colony off Abaco.

A large pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) colony off Abaco.

Christmas tree worms ( Spirobranchus giganteus ) make their homes atop a grooved brain coral ( Diploria labyrinthiformis ) near Eleuthera.

Christmas tree worms (Spirobranchus giganteus) make their homes atop a grooved brain coral (Diploria labyrinthiformis) near Eleuthera.

A reef scene off the coast of Eleuthera mainly dominated by mountainous star coral ( Orbicella faveolata ).

A reef scene off the coast of Eleuthera mainly dominated by mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata).

Grooved brain coral ( Diploria labyrinthiformis ) off the coast of Abaco.

Grooved brain coral (Diploria labyrinthiformis) off the coast of Abaco.

Great star coral ( Montastraea cavernosa ) polyps.

Great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa) polyps.

A queen triggerfish ( Balistes vetula ).

A queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula).

A flamingo tongue snail ( Cyphoma gibbosum ) clings to a soft coral.

A flamingo tongue snail (Cyphoma gibbosum) clings to a soft coral.

A diver hovers above a colony of staghorn coral ( Acropora cervicornis ).

A diver hovers above a colony of staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis).

A maze coral ( Meandrina meandrites ) colony near Eleuthera with tiny blennies along its side.

A maze coral (Meandrina meandrites) colony near Eleuthera with tiny blennies along its side.

A diver swims by a nursery tree growing coral fragments off the coast of Eleuthera.

A diver swims by a nursery tree growing coral fragments off the coast of Eleuthera.

Flamingo tongue snail ( Cyphoma gibbosum ) near Eleuthera.

Flamingo tongue snail (Cyphoma gibbosum) near Eleuthera.

A Christmas tree worm ( Spirobranchus giganteus ) makes its home atop a coral colony near Eleuthera.

A Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus) makes its home atop a coral colony near Eleuthera.

A colony of tunicates near Grand Bahama.

A colony of tunicates near Grand Bahama.

A red lionfish ( Pterois volitans ) hovers in a cave off the coast of Grand Bahama. This species is invasive in the Altantic/Caribbean.

A red lionfish (Pterois volitans) hovers in a cave off the coast of Grand Bahama. This species is invasive in the Altantic/Caribbean.

A southern stingray ( Hypanus americanus ) off the coast of Eleuthera.

A southern stingray (Hypanus americanus) off the coast of Eleuthera.

A Caribbean reef shark ( Carcharhinus perezii ) swims by a wreck off the coast of Nassau.

A Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezii) swims by a wreck off the coast of Nassau.

A diver swims over a reef of mainly mountainous star coral ( Orbicella faveolata ) near Eleuthera.

A diver swims over a reef of mainly mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) near Eleuthera.

A juvenile nurse shark ( Ginglymostoma cirratum ) near Bimini.

A juvenile nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) near Bimini.

A large pillar coral ( Dendrogyra cylindrus ) colony near Abaco.

A large pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) colony near Abaco.

Wreck dive with photographer Josh Liberman off the coast of Nassau.

Wreck dive with photographer Josh Liberman off the coast of Nassau.

Intricate details on a green sea turtle’s ( Chelonia mydas ) shell near Nassau.

Intricate details on a green sea turtle’s (Chelonia mydas) shell near Nassau.

A Caribbean reef shark ( Carcharhinus perezii)  cruises past the wreck of a barge near Nassau.

A Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezii) cruises past the wreck of a barge near Nassau.

A green sea turtle ( Chelonia mydas ) off the coast of Nassau.

A green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) off the coast of Nassau.

A reefscape off the coast of Nassau.

A reefscape off the coast of Nassau.

A Christmas tree worm ( Spirobranchus giganteus ) near Eleuthera.

A Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus) near Eleuthera.

Photographer Josh Liberman checks out the marine life off the coast of Nassau.

Photographer Josh Liberman checks out the marine life off the coast of Nassau.

A mountainous star coral ( Orbicella faveolata ) colony surrounded by reef fish near Eleuthera.

A mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) colony surrounded by reef fish near Eleuthera.

Intricate details of a sea fan ( Gorgonia ventalina ) near Eleuthera.

Intricate details of a sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina) near Eleuthera.

For more information on my story or my research, please visit livwilliamson.com.

All the best,

-Liv


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