Size: 112,640 Acres
The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, the first land and Sea Park in the world was established in 1959. This 112,640 acre park is famous for its pristine beauty, outstanding anchorages and breathaking marine environment. Under the transparent turquoise waters are beautiful natural gardens of coral teeming with fish and lobster. Within the boundaries of the ECLSP are: Little Wax Cay, Shroud Cay, Little Pigeon Cay (private), Hawksbill Cay, Little Hawksbill Cay, Cistern Cay (private), Long Cay, Warderick Wells, Halls Pond Cay, Little White Bay Cay, South Halls Pond Cay (private), Soldier Cay (private) O’Brien’s/ Pasture Cays, Bell Island (private), Little Bell Island (private) and Rocky Dundas.
In 1953, Superintendent of the Everglades National Park in Florida, USA, Daniel B. Beard, began urging explorers, naturalists and researchers of the importance of setting aside a section of the Exuma Cays as a buffer area, eventually to become a Land and Sea Park. Upon favourable response and cooperation, he went ahead with his idea contacting other conservationists and eventually the Governor and the Colonial Secretary of the Bahamas. His idea was received with enthusiasm and even received support from Nassau newspapers.
In 1955, Colonel Ilia Tolstoy presented a proposal to the government that a stretch of the Exuma Cays should be placed under protection. On February 13, 1956, Beard received a letter from the Governor of the Bahamas confirming that the Crown had set aside approximately 22 miles of the Exuma Cays from Shroud Cay to Little Bell Island inclusive. The area was set aside for one year providing during that time, some organization would undertake to explore the possibility further and give concrete recommendations to the Bahamian government. This organization would be responsible for the financial support of the programme.
Around this time Beard met Carleton Ray, then the Assistant Director of the New York Aquarium, who had spent a great deal of time in the Bahamas doing underwater photography and scientific research. Ray headed up a survey under the auspices of the New York Zoological Society, to explore the feasibility of establishing a park in the Exuma Cays. A one-year extension was granted until June 30, 1958. The team began their survey in late January 1958. The team comprised representatives of the following Explorer’s Club (Ilia Tolstoy), National Audubon Society (Robert P. Allen), US Parks Service (Daniel B. Beard), Bahamas Department of Agriculture and Marine Products (Oris S. Russell), American Museum of Natural History (Donald F. Squires) and University of Miami’s Marine Laboratory (John E. Randall).
In 1958 the team’s report was received by the Bahamas government and Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, the first of its kind in the world, was officially established. On July 13, 1959, by a special Act of Parliament, The Bahamas National Trust was incorporated and powers were conferred upon the Trust charging it with the conservation and preservation of places of historic interest and natural beauty in the Bahamas. This placed the park’s management in the hands of the Bahamas National Trust.
In 1985, the Bahamas National Trust made the Exuma Park a protected replenishment zone. It is considered the first marine fishery reserve in the wider Caribbean. Scientists have established that 10 million conch produced in the Park each year after natural exploitation are expected to reach adulthood, producing a $25 million fisheries resource potential annually. Scientific research in 1996 also established that 72% of the grouper spawned in the Northern Exuma Sound is produced in the Park and findings pertaining to crawfish show similar results.
Importance to Biodiversity
Without a doubt, the rarest living creatures in the Park are the blue-green, reef-forming algae known as ‘stromatolites’. Stromatolite reefs are the oldest living evidence of life on earth, with some fossil stromatolites dating back 3.5 billion years. In 1983 and 1984 stromatolites were found in The Bahamas off Stocking Island, Lee Stocking Island and in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. These stromatolites are estimated to be about 2,000 years old.
Check back here for images on the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.