On this still-sleepy Caribbean island, I discovered delightfully abandoned seashores and different attracts for nature lovers

On Grand Bahama Island, Gold Rock Creek meanders slowly via a forest of pink mangroves in Lucayan National Park. Our household of 4 paddles tandem kayaks alongside the brackish waterway, recognizing a fantastic blue heron overhead and a snowy egret wading within the shallows.

Sam Rampersad, our information with Grand Bahama Nature Tours, factors out the upside-down jellyfish that appear to be aqueous snowflakes feeding on the underside of the creek. He gestures to useless branches denuded of leaves, proof of Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the island in 2019.

“Mangroves are crucial for coastal safety, they usually assist construct wetlands,” Rampersad explains.

Additionally they present an important nursery for fish. Needle nostril gar, barracuda and sea turtles are frequent on this salty recent water, and conch — the Bahamas’ most well-known meals — begins its life within the mangroves as pin-sized gastropods, he says.

“The mangroves will come again,” states Rampersad. “Nature wants time to heal.”

Three years post-hurricane, and only a few months after the Bahamas dropped its COVID journey restrictions, it’s not simply the wetlands beginning to flourish once more. Grand Bahama is making a comeback, enjoying up its distinctive ecosystem and abandoned seashores to draw travellers with an affinity for nature. That’s why our household is right here.

Positioned east of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Grand Bahama Island isn’t as nicely referred to as New Windfall, residence of Nassau; it welcomed simply 280,000 guests within the first 10 months of 2022, in comparison with Nassau’s 2.4 million.

Although the hurricane’s wreckage continues to be seen, from deserted houses to the quite a few graveyard forests of useless pine timber, tourism to the island is on the upswing — direct weekly flights from Toronto to Freeport (about three hours, quarter-hour, continuous) began up once more in December.

You should still really feel like you could have the island to your self, although.

Lucaya Beach, one of the beautiful (yet uncrowded) beaches, on Grand Bahama.

After kayaking, we see Lucayan Nationwide Park’s different points of interest, together with the oddly abandoned Gold Rock Seashore, one of many nation’s prettiest, the place scenes from the second and third “Pirates of the Caribbean” films had been filmed.

The park additionally protects one of many world’s longest charted underwater cave techniques, the place the preserved stays of six Indigenous Lucayans had been found in 1986. We discover the 2 caves open to the general public and encounter only a handful of vacationers.

Grand Bahama is residence to 2 extra nationwide parks. Peterson Cay, a limestone islet, shelters nesting seabirds and a surrounding reef, whereas Rand Nature Centre in Freeport is a sizzling spot for wintering northern songbirds between October and Might.

With so many points of interest and actions, from snorkelling excursions to sampling conch on the native barbeque at Smith’s Level each Wednesday night time, it’s stunning the island nonetheless appears so sleepy. Upcoming modifications — together with plans for a soon-to-be-redeveloped airport and a brand new Carnival cruise port — ought to wake it up considerably.

Our household’s nature schooling comes collectively at Coral Vita, the Bahamas’ solely coral farm, the place we discover out on a tour {that a} whopping 50 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are useless.

Their decline is partially a results of overfishing, poorly managed shoreline improvement, and careless recreation by snorkellers and boaters. However the main perpetrator is local weather change: hotter water temperatures and better acidity ranges could cause mass bleaching of coral, and that is taking place extra incessantly, says Veronica Cuccurullo, Coral Vita’s operations supervisor.

“I’ve been diving my entire life, and I’ve seen this great change right here,” says Cuccurullo. “And this isn’t simply in Grand Bahama; this can be a world concern. Our economic system depends closely on coral reefs — individuals come right here to see the seaside and go snorkelling.”

Over time, I’ve seen useless coral extra incessantly on tropical holidays, so it’s fascinating to study what’s being executed to assist restore these underwater treasures.

At Coral Vita, coral plugs are placed onto "cookies" like this, growing together over time.

Opened in 2019 and named the Earthshot Prize’s “Revive Our Oceans” winner in 2021, Coral Vita grows 18 completely different coral species on land, relatively than within the sea like different coral farms. The corporate is trying to engineer climate-change-resilient coral utilizing an “assisted evolution” course of.

Principally, Coral Vita selects coral which have confirmed naturally hardier after which manipulates the water high quality and temperature, which scientists have discovered results in “larger survivorship” of coral as soon as they’re planted again onto reefs, says Cuccurullo.

The corporate micro-fragments, or cuts, wholesome coral, after which places comparable fragments collectively. This causes them to develop 50 occasions quicker than they’d in nature — type of like how a lower in your finger mends rapidly. On this approach, a mind coral can develop in months relatively than years like it could in nature, Cuccurullo explains. When the coral are prepared, they’re outplanted onto native reefs.

“This isn’t one thing that occurs in a single day,” says Cuccurullo. “We’ll make a distinction, however it can take some time.”

Although not as thrilling as kayaking over jellyfish or exploring caves, Coral Vita is an “aha” second for us.

“Coral are dying in every single place, not simply within the Bahamas, so it’s vital to guard them,” echoes my animal-loving 17-year-old daughter, Avery. She’s significantly struck by Cuccurullo’s description of reefs as “the cities of the ocean” — the place all the colorful fish congregate, as she’s seen on earlier travels.

To place our new information to the check, we snorkel proper off Fortuna Seashore, the place our Viva Wyndham resort is situated. Not 10 metres from shore, we discover coral heads with wholesome mind and finger coral, two species we noticed rising at Coral Vita.

Throughout us dart small reef fish — rainbow-striped wrasse and yellow tangs — which we realized clear algae off the coral to maintain them wholesome. My daughter and husband even spot a stingray huffing via the sand, possible looking for small fish or crustaceans.

After 5 days in paradise, we’ve come to understand Grand Bahama’s empty postcard seashores, laid-back vibe, and the passionate residents attempting to guard its land and sea wonders. It’s not as glitzy as neighbouring Nassau, however for nature lovers that’s a part of what makes it grand.

Lisa Kadane travelled as a visitor of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, which didn’t evaluation or approve this text.


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