More than 3,000 islands and islets surrounded by brilliant coral barrier reefs and light-pink sand beaches rise from a 750-mile (1,200-km) underwater platform known as the Bahama Banks, lying 75 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida extending south to 55 miles (89 km) northwest of Cuba. These superbly beautiful low-lying islands, which began to take present form as the Bahamas Archipelago 500,000 years ago, sit atop one of the great limestone masses of the world, a reef-shelf of solid sea fossils 20,000 feet (6,100 m) thick dating back almost 150 million years.
Jewel among them is Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, centerpiece of the 365-cay 140-mile (225-km) Exuma chain, a turquoise-jade mosaic covering 175 square miles (460 km2), visible to astronauts in outer space. It is renowned not only for natural beauty and tropical inhabitants but because a far-thinking government set it aside in near-pristine state.
It is a dazzling reservoir for sea life including not only exquisite tropical reef species but huge endangered sea turtles, marine mammals such as dolphins and whales, and conch, lobsters, and groupers overfished elsewhere, along with birds that subsist on and around it. Streamertailed tropic birds nest as do Audubon’s shearwaters, least terns, and Wilson’s plovers, among 97 avian species. All these thrive—and nourish the area around them—because the park sternly enforces a no-take policy banning all hunting, fishing, spearing, and removal of living creatures and natural objects, including shells. As a result, waters teem with tame, beautiful, readily visible marine life in crystalline waters averaging 10 feet (3 m) in depth.
Only way to visit is by boat, in waters acclaimed as best cruising in the western hemisphere. One way to arrange this is to fly from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Staniel Cay (three James Bond movies were shot there) where there is lodging and charters can be arranged. Or fly from Miami or New York to Nassau and take a boat tour from there.
Park headquarters is at Warderick Wells Cay, with moorings, visitor center, park ranger, and staff, also bird lists and trail maps. Bahama woodstar hummingbirds come to feeders July– December, and clapper rails, Zenaida doves, yellow warblers, white-cheeked pintails, and graceful wading birds are common. Migrants go through in September and April–May. Land animals include curly-tailed lizards, dragonlike iguanas and on several islands, endangered hutias, catsized brown rodents akin to guinea pigs.
Climate is pleasant year-round—George Washington visiting in the 1760s called them the “Isles of Perpetual June”—with rains in May–November coming mostly in short heavy bursts.
Also in the Bahamas is 32-square-mile (83-km2) Abaco National Park, breeding and foraging ground of Bahama (aka Abaco) parrots; Black Sand Cay off Green Turtle Cay, important wintering waterbird habitat; Tilloo Cay, pristine wilderness nest site for streamer-tailed tropic birds; and Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park, with abundant reef and terrestrial wildlife.
Inagua National Park, 287 square miles (743 km2) on Great Inagua, protects the world’s largest West Indian flamingo breeding colony (60,000 birds). Conception Island Land and Sea Park is sanctuary for seabirds and endangered green sea turtles. Andros Barrier Reef is one of the world’s longest, 140 miles (225 km).
BAHAMAS as well as...
Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
Abaco National Park
Black Sand Cay
Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park
Inagua National Park
Conception Island Land and Sea Park
Andros Barrier Reef
More about the Reserves in the bahamas
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