The Bahamas are often grouped as a singular destination, which is somewhat like saying I vacationed in Europe: It's a big place. The Bahamas are not one island or even a single diving area. It is, like Europe, a multi-destination country. Besides the ease and convenience, diversity is the next part of the equation for a great dive adventure. After 15 years of photographing the Bahamas, I still feel like a stranger. Since there are reported to be 29 islands, 661 cays and 2,387 exposed rocks that stretch over 100,000 square miles of ocean, it's no wonder!THE ABACOS The Abacos combine the yachting atmosphere of New England with the tropical Caribbean. Marsh Harbour, on the island of Great Abaco, is the largest settlement in the chain. It even has a traffic light. Easily visited cays invite exploration, like the lighthouse of Hope Town on Elbow Cay and the historic shipbuilding sites on Man O' War Cay. The Abacos have wonderful beaches, shipwrecks and immense stands of elkhorn corals. At Pelican Cays National Park, islets feature lush coral gardens, populated by grouper. Stroll through the gingerbread houses of picturesque New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay and enjoy dramatically angular reefs for a fish-filled day. On Guana Cay, divers can even occasionally spot wild dolphins. Walker's Cay is most famous for its huge population of reef sharks that go into a frenzy when a fish chumsicle is dropped in, but its waters also include coral caverns, shallow reefs and other nifty encounters.ANDROS The first thing you notice aboutAndros is its huge spreading forests of mahogany and pine trees. If you wonder why Andros has never been fully settled, it may be a result of the legend of the Bahamian gremlins called chickcharnies. So if you happen to come across a little elf-like creature, be friendly; it could bring you good luck. The blue waters of the Tongue of the Ocean stroke the eastern edge of Andros, supporting the third-largest barrier reef in the world. A fascinating maze of freshwater streams and mangrove islands divides the island into a patchwork, ideal breeding ground for tiny fishes and invertebrates. Blue holes offer fascinating exploration that has become a trademark of Andros.BIMINI Barely 7 miles long and 700 feet wide, Bimini lies along the warm currents of the Gulf Stream, forming a remarkably diverse marine environment. Just offshore, the continental shelf drops vertically for more than 2,000 feet into the Gulf Stream. Currents can be swift, but the result is an amazing arena for large pelagics, including wild dolphins. Nowhere else in the world can you dive with a land-based dive operation that guarantees daily snorkel trips with wild spotted dolphins. Bimini's wild dolphins are the Bahamas' best-kept secret. CAT ISLAND Cat Island is as much a topside eco-adventure as an underwater experience. You'll find ancient Amerindian campsites, a fascinating cave system and even a replica of a 12th-century medieval monastery. The reefs of Cat Island are virtually unexplored. In some areas, passage by any but the smallest boat is nearly impossible due to the abundance of coral. Deep water, coupled with mangroves and inland waterways, means a wealth of marine life including some of the biggest lobster around, several varieties of sea turtles, and clouds of colorful reef fish.ELEUTHERA Quiet, isolated communities and well-developed resorts, tall rock bluffs and low-lying wetlands, blue holes and massive coral reefs: That's Eleuthera. First settled in the 1600s by Bermudians seeking religious freedom, the same folks had the tough luck of settling near the Devil's Backbone, an extensive shallow reef line bordering the north end of the island. The immense coral reef system has ripped open the bottoms of countless ships. Divers today appreciate the Backbone and the many other coral reefs skirting the island's long coastline. Forests of elkhorn corals interspersed with star and brain corals are crowned by slow-waving sea fans. It still holds remnants of ill-fated ships' anchors, boilers and plating; even a fascinating Civil War train wreck await exploration. EXUMAS Some 360 sparsely populated islands and cays spill down the west side of the Exuma Sound for 100 miles before culminating in Great Exuma and Little Exuma.From iguanas to regattas, the Exumas offer a chance to just kick back and enjoy the natural wealth of the land. The reefs reveal the true wealth of the Exumas. Corals and sea fans scattered across the brilliant white-sand bottom. Turtles and grouper huddle with lobster under each sun-dappled nugget of coral.GRAND BAHAMA Take a break from the sun and surf and spend the day searching for hidden treasures of a different kind. On Grand Bahama, you'll find everything from art to meticulously handcrafted jewelry. Grand Bahama includes the Freeport and Lucaya vacation areas, featuring luxury hotels, casinos and restaurants. Just offshore of Lucaya Beach, the reefs begin. The shallow corals extend toward the deep reef line and drop over the wall. Shallow reefs, mid reefs, deep reefs and shipwrecks define Grand Bahama. But so do shark diving and swimming with bottlenose dolphins. LONG ISLAND Facing the rich blue Atlantic on one side and the turquoise Caribbean on the other, Long Island lives in the juxtaposition of the two worlds. The rugged Atlantic coast features corals and species appropriate to the varying conditions; on the Caribbean side, look for waving soft corals instead. Bottomless blue holes and sunken freighters add to a top-notch diving atmosphere. An excursion to the uninhabited cay called Conception Island is a must for any diver who believes he has seen the best of the Bahamas. The reefs are truly mind-blowing. NASSAU For almost 10 years, Nassau diving has become synonymous with shark diving. But Nassau is more than just sharks; it is the epitome of the complete vacationer's destination, with of the top hotels and night-life attractions found anywhere in the world. There are also many miles of beautiful shallow reefs, spectacular wall diving and many shipwrecks. Directly offshore Paradise Island is a grouping of shipwrecks so close together it is often possible to explore two or more on a single dive. You can even dive on many of the same wrecks that were featured in James Bond thrillers and other films such as Flipper, Jaws and Splash. SAN SALVADOR The shores of San Salvador have changed little since Christopher Columbus planted his booted foot here over 500 years ago. The exposed peak of a subsea mountain, San Salvador is surrounded by waters thick with marine life. Legions of dancing fish await encounters with humans entering their world, and friendly local grouper follow each visitor like loyal pets. For information about live-aboard diving the Bahamas from West Palm Beach, click onto the information bar below.
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