Shelling Eleuthera

Make Mine Eleuthera
By Martin E. Tremor Jr.

Article from Jacksonville Florida Shelling Club

On Sunday, September 5th, eleven eager shelling enthusiasts boarded two small planes in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We were on our way to the Bahamian Island of Eleuthera for a six-day shelling trip sponsored by the Astronaut Trail Shell Club. Our group consisted of Jim and Bobbi Cordy of Merritt Island, Conrad Forler and myself from the St. Petersburg Shell Club, Brian and Celeste McKissick from Ohio, James and Janene Brunson from Ohio, and Roger and Mary Jo Bunnell from the Astronaut Trail Shell Club and their guest Merilyn from Virginia.

As the coastline of Florida faded away behind us, all eyes were on the horizon. Below us was the incredibly deep blue of the Gulf Stream. It wasn't long before the Bahamian Islands of Bimini, Andros and Nassau appeared on the horizon, and then, just one hour after leaving Ft. Lauderdale, the beautiful island of Eleuthera appeared in the distance. A long and narrow thread of an island dividing the usually tranquil Exuma Sound from the open Atlantic Ocean, Eleuthera is actually slightly more then 100 miles long and runs in a northwest to southeast direction. Our concern on this trip was the southeastern end of the island from Governor's Harbor to Cape Eleuthera - a distance of about 50 miles.

By no stretch of imagination could this trip be called a “world class Eleuthera beach resort” kind of vacation. It was, just as intended, a shelling trip plain and simple. Our accommodations were more then adequate and consisted of three small two-bedroom cottages, with each cottage sleeping four. Amenities were air-conditioned bedrooms, a bathroom and a sparsely furnished kitchen that did have a microwave. Each cottage came with an older car for four people - just perfect for our needs. The one thing that there was always plenty of was clean linen. Ethel, the owner of our home away from home, was a lovely woman and was always available for anything we might need. Throughout the trip we fondly referred to our happy little accommodations as the “Tarpum Bay Hilton.” No waterfront restaurant here, but there was an ice cream "shop?" just around the corner and a bakery just up the hill.

After clearing customs in Rock Sound, we found our cars waiting for us just outside the Eleuthera airport at Rock Sound. Ethel had them brought there to await our arrival. We jumped onto the “Eleuthera Freeway,” that super narrow, and I might add somewhat rough, ribbon of asphalt also known as the Queens Highway that runs the entire length of the Island. A short drive of about 20 minutes, and there we were on the shore of Tarpum Bay. All those dreams of the weeks and months before were now a reality. Almost everyone wanted a bit of lunch before plunging into Tarpum Bay - their choice but not mine. I donned a mask and snorkel just as fast as I possibly could. I just knew that somewhere under the surface, under some unsuspecting rock, some shell somewhere was waiting just for me.

The water of Tarpum Bay was warm, calm and clear. There were conch pens scattered around the area where the fishermen would keep their catch until they could be used. This method of keeping the animals alive until needed was probably necessitated by the lack of good refrigeration on the island. The members of our group from Ohio (Brian, Celeste, Jim and Janene) were fascinated by the beautiful Queen Conchs (Strombus gigas) in the pens. Scattered around the pens were many others that had already been cleaned. Some of the shells were really quite nice. However, they all had the usual hole in the apex - the result of cracking the shell to remove the animal for food. Although useless as specimen shells, these were nice enough to make very attractive display shells to take home to friends and family.

For those of us seeking specimen shells, there were Atlantic Marginellas (Prunum apicinum), Netted Olives (Oliva reticularis) and beautiful True Tulip Shells (Fasciolaria tulipa) - all for the taking. In some of the piles of dead conchs, we found live Apple Murex (Chicoreus pomum). On the rocks, down along the cemetery just south of town, we found live Lace Murex (Chicoreus florifer) and under the rocks, the Chestnut Latirus (Leucozonia nassa). Attached to the rocks were many Atlantic Pearl Oysters (Pinctada imbricata).

Although shelling in Tarpum Bay was not fantastic, it was a beautiful spot and right in front of our accommodations to boot. It was the perfect place to spend a few hours working on our snorkeling skills so as to be ready for some serious shelling in the morning. Before the afternoon was over we had added a few Milk Moon Snails (Polinices lacteus) and small Gaudy Naticas (Naticarius canrena) to our list of species found. The latter two were crabbed but good representations of the species. A walk down to the concrete jetty with a flashlight that evening was successful in producing some decent West Indian Top Shells (Cittarium pica).

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