Snorkeling & Diving in Abaco - Bahamas
Snorkeling Reefs and wrecks
The Sea of Abaco on which the Abaco islands lie stretches for about 62 miles from west to east and the average depth of the sea is only 5 meters. So being a shallow sea it is also considered as a lagoon. And the water here is mostly protected and sheltered due to the fringing islands and the mangroves around. The calm shallow water in Abaco and combined with plenty of scattered reefs and shipwrecks full with colorful marine life makes it a haven for snorkelers.
Here are some of the great snorkel sites in the Abaco islands:
The Mermaid Reef in Marsh harbor about 1 mile south east to the entrance of the main harbor is one of the most well-known reefs. The reef is protected under the Bahamas National Trust. No photography, pilferage, fishing and anchoring are allowed here.
Mermaid Reef Water Area. Photo: Killian77, flickr, cc by 2.0
You can only take small boats (less than 25 feet) here and you can harness the boat at one of the many mooring buoys. The beach area is rough and rocky but the reef is exceptional… it houses yellowtails, four eyed butterflies, green moray eels and trumpet fish. Don’t miss saying hello to the resident barracuda… he is named Rambo!!
has a lot of water taxis that you can use to discover the nearby cays and 2 wrecks that lie in shallow water here. Two steam engine locomotives that date back to civil war times are buried in about 20 feet of water and they host sea fans, schools of fishes and corals. There is a US Adirondack that’s a 208 feet wooden gun boat commissioned in civil war times that’s buried in ten feet of water. Both wrecks are shown around to tourists by most major snorkeling charters that operate in this area.
The Sandy Cay Reef
(on the seaward side of Sandy Cay) has a huge concentration of Elkhorn coral that gives it a distinct character. Eagle rays, south stingrays, green turtles and loggerhead turtles inhabit the area. This reef is part of the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park
. Shelling, conch hunting and spear fishing are not allowed here.
Sandy Cay. Photo: Killian77, flickr, cc by 2.0
Green Turtle Cay:
There is a shallow reef around 50 yards away from the Ocean Beach
at Green Turtle Cay
. You will see signs see for Ocean Beach from Green Turtle Club in White Sound. This reef has Elkhorn and staghorn corals and in the waters here you can see lots of colorful fish, sea fans and huge sponges. This area also has a famous wreck… the remains of USS Jacinto that sunk at 2 a.m. on the new year’s day of 1865. The shipwreck is on a slope on 40 feet of water.
Great Guana Cay: Great Guana Cay has lots of lovely shore bound reefs with a large population of angelfish, parrotfish and eagle rays… the reefs are mostly clustered around Atlantic beach and Guana Cay Beach. A popular place to snorkel here is at Nippers. The reef is about 75 yards offshore and drops to a depth of about 20ft. You can see lots of small fish here. You may well be able to spot barracuda.
Stingray. Photo: Killian77, flickr, cc by 2.0
The entire western shoreline of Elbow Cay
as well as its southern sandy area (Tahiti Beach) are also popular for snorkelers. There are offshore wrecks here as well which can be approached with a boat. You can see lots of colorful fish including blue parrotfish, rainbow fish, yellowtail snapper, bluehead wrasse etc. You can also see great Brain and Elkhorn corals in the waters here.
Tahiti Beach & Sand Bar, Photo: Geoffrey Bartlett, flickr, cc by-nd 2.0
Manjack Cay: Want to swim with the stingrays? Go to the north end of Manjack Cay. There is a beach between the cay and Manjack rocks. There are lots of stingrays here all through the year that come very close to you, but they are harmless, You just need to wade around on the water.
Diving Reefs, Wrecks and Blue Holes
There are plenty of reefs with depths ranging from 20ft to 200ft in Abacos teeming with marine life and suitable for both novice and experienced divers. And there are numerous shipwrecks as well. However the experienced divers usually go for one of the many blue holes around Abaco.
Fowl Cay. Photo: Killian77, flickr, cc by 2.0
Some of the great dive sites in Abaco are located at:
1) few miles South of Green Turtle Cay where you can find the shipwreck of Adirondack at 35ft to 50ft water with exposed cannon, lots of marine life and coral formations around it,
2) northern shoreline of Great Guana Cay which is well known for shore diving,
3) Fowl Cay located north of Man-O-War Cay... this is a government preserve, you can find many towers, tunnels, reefs at 25 - 40ft teeming with fish,
4) Hole in the Wall located at southern most part of Great Abaco Island... the offshore reefs are awesome including a coral head at 50ft water which you can even swim through.
Photo: Killian77, flickr, cc by 2.0
One of the most interesting elements found in the islands of Great Abaco are Blue Holes... these are basically underwater caverns that hold geological and marine life wonders. These blue holes are located along the shoreline of Abaco or within the green wilderness of its huge pine forests. These underwater cave systems are supposedly the most extensive specimen of its kind and National Geographic has done a major project on them.
Scientists say that the sea level changes in the Pleistocene Ice Age created the development of these Blue Holes that sometimes reach depths of 300 feet. The color of waters in these holes range from crystal blue to greenish blue… these spots are preferred by experienced divers.
Treasure Cay Blue Hole. Photo: Tommy Miles, flickr, cc by 2.0
Fossilized tortoise shells and crocodile skull preserves were discovered in Sawmill Sink (a blue hole) following which a lot of attention was focused on the blue holes of Abaco. Currently the environmental protection Entity FRIENDS have partnered with Bahamas AMMC to create a Blue Holes National Park that will protect 4 of the inland blue holes of Abaco along with 13 oceanic ones….this Park was finally declared to be official in 2015 and is now a part of South Abaco Blue Hole National Park.
Blue holes are generally meant for experienced divers… it’s suggested that you partner with a good underwater sports vendor who have professional diver guides …they will be able to help you explore these geological marvels safely. While a boat is needed to reach an ocean blue hole (deans blue hole on Long Island is an exception)…the inland blue hole will require you to hike or drive.
If you are a non-swimmer then choose a nice inland blue hole where you can explore the shoreline and peep at the marine life inside. Some of the inland blue holes have stone grills and picnic tables nearby allowing for some rest and relaxation.
Some good inland blue holes are Nancy’s Blue Hole (near Coopers Town), Far Side Blue Hole, Dan’s Cave, Sawmill Sink, Treasure Cay Blue Hole, and Ralphs Sink.
Some well-known Ocean blue holes are Big Blue, Reel Breaker, Star Fish Blue Hole. Remember that some these blue holes teem with marine life (especially tasty ones like lobsters) but you won’t be allowed to catch them if you are using SCUBA equipment.
Dive and Snorkel Operators
Dive Abaco - Conch Inn Resort Marina, Marsh Harbor
Veteran diver Keith Rogers runs this outfit and offers both diving and snorkeling packages. There are packages for one and two tank scuba dives, snorkel boat tours (two sites), night dive etc. He also offers Scuba Refresher with instructions. Gears are provided. 1-tank dive costs $120 and 2-tank $145. Snorkel trip costs $85 per person.
Brendal's Dive Center - Green Turtle Cay
Brendal and his wife Mary have been running this scuba operation since 1985. They offer several dive packages including Tarpon Dive (dive with Tarpon at 50' along a coral wall and hand feed a resident grouper), Coral Cavern (dive at 50', explore underwater caverns and many colorful fish), Coral Condos (dive at 60' and explore coral heads and plate coral), Wreck of San Jaconto (explore the 1847 built shipwreck which sank in 1865 and hand feed a moray eel), Horseshoe Reef, Elkhorn coral and several more.
Dive Guana - Great Guana Cay
Maria and Troy Albury run this dive shop. They offer half-day as well as full-day dive from their 36' Dive Boat. They also offer snorkel trips. One Tank Dive: $110; Two Tank Dive: $130.00; Snorkel per Adult: $55.00 (includes two sites). Includes all gears. There is also a nice full-day tour that offers morning dive or snorkel followed by guided tour of island hopping, shopping, sightseeing etc.
Dive Time - Abaco Beach Resort Marina, Marsh Harbor
They offer dive packages (1 or 2-tank morning dives and blue hole dives) as well snorkel trips. You can explore coral reefs, historic shipwrecks and coral gardens during dives. Snorkel trips take you to two reef sites. 1-tank dive costs $115, 2-tank is $130, snorkel boat trip: $75.
Froggies Out Island Adventures - Hope Town, Elbow Cay
They also offer 1 and 2-tank dives as well as snorkeling trips. 1-tank dive with all gears is $130, snorkeling rate is $90 per adult. They also run several tours with different themes on different days of the week such as snorkel at Fowl Cay, Man-O-War Cay and trip to Great Guana Cay on Mondays ($120 per adult), Sting Rays, Sharks and snorkeling on Tuesdays ($190 per adult), Swim with the Pigs on Wednesdays ($190 per adult), etc.
Bahamas Underground - Marsh Harbor
A great option for exploring the blue holes and underwater caves of Abaco is to partner with a dive facility. Bahamas Underground (located in Marsh Harbor) is supposedly the most superior agency around here as it’s managed by Brian Kaluk (internationally acclaimed cave explorer) and Michael Albury. They have a good rental equipment program with support for re-breather diving and open circuit diving. Many levels of technical and cave training along with certification programs are arranged via the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers and National Association Cave Diver. You can contact them via phone or email to book classes, certification programs or simple dive tours Phone: (242) 359-6128; Email: [email protected]
By Raj Bhattacharya
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