Home Of The Milk Conchs And Lace Murex
On this trip, Jim and Bobbi Cordy were our official representatives of the Astronaut Trail Shell Club and therefore officially recognized as our fearless leaders for the next four days. The following morning Jim led us about 40 miles north to Governor's Harbor. On this particular morning the commuter traffic on the "Eleuthera Freeway" was especially heavy. We must have seen at least three cars during the drive. Looks like we will have to get an earlier start to avoid such a rush in the future.
Suddenly Jim came to an abrupt stop. “This is where we turn,” he said. As we made our turn onto the narrow sand and coral road, we could see ahead a huge dump truck coming towards us in a cloud of dust. Being no place to pass, we backed up on to the main road again. Lucky the other two cars in our caravan had not made the turn and were still on the main road. As the one truck passed us, the driver told us another truck was right behind him and that we should wait. Sure enough, another truck appeared in a cloud of dust and then the road was clear, we hoped. The road started out rough and rapidly went down hill from there - dry potholes, then potholes filled with water, then ruts and then gullies. Our fearless leader pushed on. Suddenly we were in a massive garbage dump. Pushing further, we found that the dump was smoldering on both sides of the road. Good grief, the place looked like a war zone. Where in the world was Jim taking us?
One should trust his leader. Jim knew exactly where he was going. Abruptly we came out of the smoke and haze of the fires, and there, right in front of us was a most beautiful tropical sandy beach. Gently curving with a point to the left and a lovely island just off shore - paradise found. We donned our gear and waded out into the shallow water that was warm and crystal clear. Then it was heads down and bottoms up as eleven people went on their way. I immediately came upon a Milk Conch (Strombus costatus) and it wasn't long before we realized that these lovely conchs were everywhere - literally by the hundreds. They were all small shells (88-110 mm.) but fully mature. I suspect that this part of Eleuthera has a dwarf population. I quickly collected six, and then and for the next thirty minutes, constantly exchanged those for better specimens. There were so many that this soon became boring and it was time to look for something else.
I did not have to look long. Half buried in the sand I spotted the unmistakable shape of a West Indian Chank (Turbinella angulata). So far this had been mostly sand bottom, but before long, the bottom changed to sand mixed with rocks and beds of small mussels. On these mussel beds Bobbi was finding found lovely Chicoreus florifer. They were not easy to spot, but Bobbi showed me the trick of what to look for and soon I too found them. Again there were enough that one could be selective as to which ones to keep and what to release. In this same environment we found quite large Star Shells (Astralium phoebium), they too blending in well with their surroundings making them difficult to spot. In some of the sand patches were long wispy growths that looked like long feathers. Growing on these were some really nice Atlantic Wing Shells (Pteria colymbus), and on the rocks were Atlantic Pearl Oysters (Pinctata imbricata). Jim and Bobbi both found Atlantic Carrier Shells (Xenophora conchyliophora). Other finds included some dead but paired bivalves all complete with hinges; Lister's Tellin (Tellina listeri), the American Tiger Lucina (Codakia orbicuaris), beautifully colored Egg Cockles (Laevicardium serratum), the Faust Tellin (Arcopagia fausta) and the Pennsylvania Lucina (Linga pensylvanica).
While most of us worked along the beach to the north, Conrad snorkeled a little south and then across the channel to the offshore island. He reported a beautiful reef off the far side of the island that was just loaded with angelfish, tangs and butterfly fish. He returned with a few very large Cittarium pica that he retrieved from the deep coral crevices as well as some Short Coral Shells (Coralliophila abbreviata) that he found at the base of the sea fans. This had been an absolutely fabulous morning, but after some lunch under the shade of the shoreline casaurina trees, it was time to move on to where Jim promised us some Dunn's Murex (Chicoreus dunni).
Not A Very Pretty Home For Such A Lovely Little Murex
Between Governor's Harbor and Palmetto Point, right along the road, lies a quite large saltwater pond. It is in this pond that the "endemic" Chicoreus dunni is found. Access is over a very rocky shore. The water is clear, very shallow, quite silty on the bottom and not very pretty. The water was very warm and the algae bloom was profuse - certainly not a very likely looking spot. Jim was confident that we would find the little black Murex, so in we went. One had to quickly move on after entering the water as it soon silted up making vision impossible. As long as we moved ahead, everything was fine. And there they were, plentiful to be sure, those lovely little Murex. Most were very small, but careful searching produced some larger ones (about 35-40 mm.). We also found tiny little Prunum pellucidum in the pond. To top it all off we found small little black True Tulip Shells (Fasciolaria tulipa) and small very dark brown Bubble Shells (Bulla striata) mixed in the clumps of algae, and Cayenne Keyhole Limpets (Diodora cayenensis) clinging to the blades of grass. It was a strange place at best, so we did not stay long - just long enough to obtain representative specimens of each species.
Magical Cape Eleuthera
Probably the best shelling of the whole trip was on the day we went to Cape Eleuthera. This was a fantastic and diverse spot offering several types of shelling opportunities from deeper water channels, to shallow water sandy coves, to shallow water rocks to turn over at low tide. And the shells were not all we found. While we were all getting organized with our gear, Conrad sat down on a low rock wall right near the cars. Casually he looked down at the side of the wall next to him and there sat one huge and hairy black spider - counting legs, he was as big as a saucer. He was one big tarantula! Being in no hurry, he just sat there for several pictures before we left him in peace. When we returned hours later he was still in almost the same place just patiently waiting for a meal to come by. We were latter told that the Bahamains call them the "Grand Spider," and a "Grand Spider" he was indeed.
To start the morning, Jim walked us down to the tip of Powell Point. Pretty little land crabs, maybe 4 inches across, were everywhere, quickly scurrying out of our way as we approached. We entered the water here, and as we approached the point, the current took over. Spread-eagled, we were carried around the point over some beautiful coral covered rocks with sea fans and colorful soft corals. Once we cleared the point, the current subsided. There was a deep channel here (maybe 15-20 feet deep) leading into a marina further down the shore. Dead coral slabs were scattered along the bottom of the channel and a rock jetty extended about 50 feet from shore - a shellers paradise. Underneath the coral slabs, quietly sharing space with Moray Eels, were an assortment of lucky finds. Conrad was the first to surface triumphantly with a live Triton's Trumpet (Charonia tritonis variegata). He was ecstatic! And it just kept getting better.
On the top of the coral and rock rubble we found Flame Helmets (Cassis flammea), King's Helmets (Cassis tuberosa) as well as Queen Conchs (Strombus gigas). One member of our party from Ohio found a crabbed Queen's Helmet (Cassis madagascarensis) - a rather unusual find. We also found several, both live and crabbed, Scotch Bonnets (Semicassis granulata granulata). Under the coral slabs were the large Measled Cowries (Cypraea zebra) as well as the smaller Atlantic Gray Cowrie (Cypraea cinera).
On the cove side of the Cape it was shallower snorkeling. Here in the pure sand were the Spotted Marginella (Prunum guttatum). In the turtle grass were beautiful little Hawk-wing Conchs (Strombus raninus). Juvenile Strombus gigas were everywhere by the hundreds. As the tide dropped, we explored the exposed rocks and found the Gold-mouthed Triton (Cymatium nicobaricum) and an Atlantic Yellow Cowrie (Cypraea acicularis). Everyone was amazed at the serpentine like Brittle Starfish, which were abundant under the rocks. Walking back up the beach to the cars, we found some Gaudy Asaphis (Asaphis deflorata) - those many hued bivalves in lovely shades of blues, pinks and yellows. What a day this had been - one not soon to be forgotten. Our spider was still there when we left.
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